Good Friday: The Silence and Stillness of Waiting

Good Friday calls for silence.

Our heart grows quiet as the Scriptures inform us with the facts of that Passover Friday so long ago.  The unimaginable reality of Jesus Christ of Nazareth enduring torture, suffering, and the weight of humanity’s sin cause our hearts to beat more slowly.  The facts of Calvary grip our conscience like a mother imparting urgent wisdom to her child, “Hush, now! Your very life depends on this silence.” 

Silence is sobering.  It brings you in touch with your own fragileness—the thumping of your heartbeat, the hard swallow of your stoic composure, the brushing of your own hesitant breath.  In the silence, you don’t get distracted from who you really are.

In the silence you deeply know how closely connected you are to the facts of Calvary.  Your torture He withstood.  Your suffering He endured.  Your sin He bore.  Left with only this knowledge, the silence might well be suffocating.   If the story ended on Good Friday the silence would be only death, sucking out life’s last gasp of breath.  Oh, what a bad Friday it would be!

There is more to Good Friday’s silence.

Good Friday’s silence comes with a stillness; a waiting for the rest of the story.  In Scripture we find that many a Passover is encored by a Pass Through.   It is in the encore that the information of Good Friday transforms us.  It’s the Pass Throughs that invite us into the waters of new life.

There’s another story tucked away, far removed from the time and place of Calvary.  It tells of God’s people exiting Egypt and its oppression.  Passover joy quickly silenced by their entrapment, with the oppressor’s destruction closing in on them.  Nothing dashes hope like a short-lived victory. 

“As Pharaoh drew near, the sons of Israel looked, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they became very frightened; so the sons of Israel cried out to the LORD.  Then they said to Moses, ‘Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?  [Hear them assume death?]  Why have you dealt with us in this way, bringing us out of Egypt?  Is this not the word that we spoke to you in Egypt, saying ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians?’  For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness’” Exodus 14:10-12. 

You know, if you’re being honest, you have had moments like this.  The moments where you forget the Lord’s provision.  Forget His powerful deeds.  Forget to marvel at His ways.  All you remember is how it used to be; only what it was like before the Passover.  I have to think this is how the disciples felt on the first Good Friday.  The Bad Guys have won. 

But Passovers always point to something that is not completed yet. 

“But Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear!  Stand still and see the salvation of the LORD which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians [your oppressors] whom have seen today, you will never see them again forever. The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent.’  Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Why are you crying out to Me?  Tell the sons of Israel to go forward’” Exodus 14:13-15.

Now it is finished.  We can all go forward.  “It is finished.”  Our oppression from sin is done.

We all need the work of Passover—most notably Good Friday’s Passover—but, it is the wonder of the Pass Through into the new and resurrected life that makes today’s silence bearable.  We pause to give thanks on Passover for what should have been ours, but by grace has passed us by.  So too we give thanks that we will not stay in this place.  We will go forward; we will Pass Through.  Do you not hear the Spirit saying, “Hush, now! Your new life depends on this silence”? 

The message of Good Friday transforms the silence into anticipatory stillness.  One of the most dramatic moments of a symphony is when the conductor’s baton rises in the still silence of the darkened auditorium and in one fail swoop it awakens the violin, flute, and bass.  In the silent stillness the song comes alive. 

The silence of Good Friday is not a slow creep to a meaningless death.  No!  It is the still watching for new life to be awakened.  Reflect today.  Be still.  Anticipate!

“Be still and know that I am God” Psalm 46:10.

Maundy Thursday: Greatness Bends

Maundy Thursday.  It’s the Church’s remembrance of the last will and testament of Christ–the washing of others’ feet and the necessity of His cup and bread.  ‘Maundy’ is Latin for ‘commandment,’  so today is supposed to be more than just a memory to examine.  It is a call to action from the red letters, “For I gave you an example to that you should do as I did to you” John 13:15.

The idea of foot washing is foreign to us, unless you’re paying to get your toes painted pink.  First Century Jerusalem was dirty and transportation was done on foot.  By the end of a long day, the feet would be caked with wear and tear.  Since dinner was eaten in a reclining position, a host would provide a courtesy wash for the members of his table.  Foot washing was an unglamorous necessity and a duty performed by the lowest level house servant who had no other choice than to obey his master’s commands.  Yet on this occasion, no servant was present.  Who would take the initiative to do the dirty work?

Jesus washing dirty feet.  The words don’t seem like they should all be in the same sentence together.  They sound so undignified, so degrading.  By this time in His life, the disciples had seen Him turn water into wine, heal the unheal-able, calm the storms, and feed the masses.  While a complete understanding of who He was might still have been cloaked by their simplicity, they knew that whoever He was, He was in the category of greatness. 

“Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands and He come forth from God and was going back to God, got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself.  Then He poured water into the basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded”  John 13:3-5.

Greatness bends.  Love can’t adequately love from a lofty place.  It lowers itself.  It lays aside position, power, and preeminence.  It resists pride’s inclinations.  Love humbles itself to meet the needs of others. 

The commandment is for us to do the same.  “If I then, the Lord and Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” John 13:14.

No true disciple is exempt from the commandment.  If we call Christ ‘Lord,’ we are going to take up the towel of His humility.  Not in washing tables.  Not in rallying the masses.  Rather, in being humble in the relationships with those who sit around our table–the annoying, the inept, the mistake-prone, and yes, even the betrayers.  The commandment calls us to the deeper places where real transformation takes place–for both the servant and the served.

This last commandment of Jesus reminds us people are messy.  Often, their feet isn’t all that stinks.  They are going to need frequent cleaning up.  You are going to have to gird yourself for a lot of dirty work. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him” John 13:16.

Who is “around your table” who needs to be transformed by your humility?  Don’t deceive yourself, there is someone and the command is for you to wash their feet.  I know.  They probably are difficult, and prickly, and easier left alone.  Pick up your towel today.   Don’t wait!  Bend and serve them.  True greatness bends.

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.  It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of  Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” Matthew 20:25-28.

Two Sides, One Hope

A door may have two sides, but rarely does one see both sides simultaneously.  The story told on one side is so much different from the story told from the other. 

I’m mindful how clearly the reality of the first Easter bears witness to that truth. 

To the Roman and Jewish officials the story of Jesus was finished; His antics securely sealed behind the stone tomb.  To the disciples–the friends of Jesus–His story concluding with a sorely disappointing ending, leaving them alone, scared, and uncertain of the future.  I suppose the story seemed only to be going better than expected for that lucky thug Barabas. 

We’re apt to close up the hardback before the story is finished, assuming we know how the last sentence will end.  We shoo hope out the door. Sealing it up.  Locking it out.  Resolving that the story will forever stay trapped in its current state.

When hope dies we forget what we used to believe would be the future of things.

Yet the story wasn’t over yet on the first Easter; it was just getting started!  On the other side of the tomb stone, a much different story was being told.   

Celebrating Easter draws us back to hope again for the things that aren’t quite yet.  It beckons us to trust, wait, and to keep looking for the life our heart needs to believe in to keep it beating.  Easter beckons us to respond to God’s promise that there is more than just what lies on this side of the stone.  Over two thousand years ago Easter morning declared, “There is more!  Keep the book open, the story isn’t over!”  Today Easter is calling to my heart, “You ain’t seen anything yet!  Do not let hope go!” 

Wherever you are, no matter what side of the door you are staring at, do not forget that it’s only part of the story.  On one side you can’t avoid the sobering reality of disappointment, regret, and maybe despair.  But just because you can’t see it, the other side is there.  It is there with all the victory, joy, and new beginnings of the first Easter.  What has been broken on one side, can find wholeness on the other.  While you wait in the darkness, hold on to hope.  Hold it until the light shines.  Hold on to the living, risen Jesus, who is our hope.  He knows what it is like on both sides and also knows that there is more to come than what you have now.  

“But God being rich in mercy because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace we have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the Heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” Ephesians 2:4-7. 

The Echo of Easter

Drawing close to Easter is an excellent calibrator.  Its message necessitates we focus on the things in  life that are really important.

Important things get lost throughout the year in the momentary clutter of frustration, confusion, and busyness.  I find that while Easter ought to be a holiday celebrated in my heart every day…every moment, I confess I sadly allow it to get stored away with neglected decorations pulled out only seasonally.

Not today.  Today Easter is alive and well in my heart.  It is finding victory in my thoughts. 

Here is how the message of Easter is making a difference for me today:

Not everything is as it appears.  For everyone present on Good Friday the story seems over.  Done.  Finished.  I suspect the disciples found themselves swirling in futility thinking.  The message of Easter is that appearances will give way to a greater revelation.  So many things in my life don’t make any sense on paper.  Yet faith speaks a greater confidence–God works in mighty ways beyond what the eyes can see.

Closed doors are nothing to fear.  Chapters close.  Roads end.   Death comes.  The message of Easter is that fear of change is replaced by the hope of the new which will come.   Where death snuffs out life, resurrection hope shouts “There is more!  Just wait.  There is more to come!”

Truth wins.  Things can be concealed for a night, but truth will eventually be awakened. There is victory.  Justice will be had.  No tomb will hide the truth long enough; no guards can hold back forever its power.  Truth will awaken triumphant.

God works in ways we wouldn’t choose.  The message of Easter is that God has and continues to use means and methods that no man would call common or expected.  He is using means today in my life that I wouldn’t use and Easter echoing in my heart reminds me that it’s okay.  Okay to trust His ways fully.  Okay to let things that make no sense to me be means for God to humble me with His might and power. 

How is the message of Easter echoing in your heart today?

My Favorite Someday

I haven’t been shy about my love for Palm Sunday.  Often my exclamations of “It’s my favorite day of the year!” is met with bewilderment.  “You mean you like it more than Christmas and Easter?”

Yes, more than Christmas and Easter.  I’m not minimizing the spiritual significance of these Holy days.  I treasure both days for their redemptive significance.  

Maybe the fickleness of the people’s cheers so quickly turned to jeers makes it a difficult holiday to enjoy because awareness of our own unfaithfulness jars the historical story into our present reality.  It would be inconceivable for me to understand how the people could be praising Jesus as King and by the end of the week be calling for His crucifixtion if it weren’t for the many times that I myself have not made it out of the church parking lot before my praise has turned to cursing. 

The Israelites had already rejected God as their King once (1 Samuel 8), so their rejection of Christ should really be of no surprise to us.  Yet their rejection stings me so because I’m profoundly aware of how fickle I am in surrendering to Christ’s rule and reign in my life.  Just like the Jews on Palm Sunday, I make demands of King Jesus, all the while making light of His commands that disrupt my comforts.  I’m torn between two kingdoms–I love the regality of Christ’s reign, but oh how I protest when He raises His scepter and commands me to love my enemy. 

But this is precisely why I love Palm Sunday!  It represents what is to come–a time when my heart’s devotion will no longer be torn.  A day is coming when Jesus’ rule and reign won’t be clouded by self-love and entitlement.  Instead, I will see Him for who He is and my unfaithfulness will end. 

“I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True.  With justice he judges and makes war.  His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns.  He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself.  He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.  The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean.  Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations.  ‘He will rule them with an iron scepter.’  He treads the winepress of the furty of the wrath of God Almighty.  On His robe and his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS”  Revelation 19:11-16.

So as I watched the children today wave their branches and sing ‘Hosanna,” a tear from my eye watered hope in my heart and I confidently declared, “Someday!”  I can’t wait.