Good Friday Communion

We’re doing a three-station, self guided, Communion-centered Good Friday come-n-go service in the Sanctuary of Portage Free Methodist.

This is what we came up with as the walking liturgy, in case you’d like to get a sneak-peek:

Good Friday

Good Friday is the day we remember the crucifixion of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  He hung on a cross to die a sinners death — pierced hands, pierced feet, pierced side.  It was most certainly not a good day in the sense of what took place, but it is good because of what follows on Resurrection Sunday: the defeat of sin and the end of death for those who put their faith in Christ.  Good Friday walks us through the story of Jesus’ death and prepares us to celebrate His victory on Easter Sunday.

The Sanctuary is set up as a self-guided tour which will take you through three stations.  The instructions for each station are below.  Don’t be in a rush; take time to work your way through each step at a worshipful pace.  Following each reading, take time to pray, then follow the instructions and head to the next station.  On your way out, there is a box to submit any prayer requests/comments.

Station 1: Jesus, the Light of the World

Isaiah 9:2, John 1:4, John 12:44-46

The Prophet Isaiah foretold the coming of Jesus, the Light: The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.  John writes that in him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  We are born into the darkness of sin and of a broken world, but God doesn’t leave us in darkness.  He sends Jesus, whose light is the only thing that will get us out of this mess. Jesus said Whoever believes in me does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me.  The one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me.  I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.

 

Light a candle — consider light, which pierces the darkness.  Jesus is the Light of the World, given for us.

Carry your candle to Station 2: The Table

Station 2: The Table of Grace

Luke 22:14-20, John 16:16-22, 33

The Light of the world gathered His disciples together for one last meal before His crucifixion.  He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.  He took the cup, saying This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.  The first disciples shared in the same meal that we share in today.  Though they didn’t understand it, Jesus was giving Himself entirely to us, which would cost Him His very life.  That night, Jesus prayed for His disciples and foreshadowed His crucifixion, saying In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.  This confused the disciples.  Jesus spoke truth and comfort as He continued, saying Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.  Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.

 

When we participate in Communion at this Table, we identify with the sacrifice of Jesus and remember that He gave Himself for us that we might feed on Him.  Jesus reminds us that the journey won’t be easy, saying I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.  

 

Take Communion – consider sacrifice, which is given for the benefit of another.

Carry your candle to Station 3: The Darkness

 

Station 3: The Darkness

Isaiah 53:4-5, Psalm 22, John 19:17-18, Luke 24:46, John 19:38-42

After the Last Supper, Jesus was arrested, charged, and crucified.

Isaiah describes what Jesus would endure on the cross, saying He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.  Jesus didn’t pay for His sin.  He paid for ours.  He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

On this cross, Jesus quotes Psalm 22 as He cries My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?  Jesus experienced all the pain of the crucifixion, all the weight of our sin, and, perhaps worst of all, the sense that God the Father had abandoned Him.  The price Jesus paid was higher than we could ever imagine.   Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha.)  There they crucified him, and with him two others — one on each side and Jesus in the middle.  After hours of excruciating pain, Jesus knew that everything had been fulfilled according to the Scripture.  Darkness came over the land.  Jesus called out with a loud voice Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.  When he had said this, he breathed his last.

The Light of the world.  Extinguished.

Extinguish your candle – consider the Light of Christ, extinguished by His death.  The world dwells in darkness.

 

In quietness we leave, for Jesus has been placed in the tomb.

(Remember — the story doesn’t end on Good Friday…)

Lent, Year A, Week 1 – Genesis

Lent, Year A, Week 1

Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7

Listen to the passage here:


I inherited a few tools from  my Grandpa’s garage that still make absolutely no sense to me.  The pliers with the weird hook.  The wrench you squeeze to make two points jut out from the side.  The weird turkey baster.    I’m not sure if Grandpa was  a mechanic or a turn-of-the-century dentist.

Yeah, I know what a screwdriver and a wrench are for, but to this day I’m still baffled by these weird upper-echelon tools.  What they are meant to do is beyond me.  I don’t use them per se.   I just… look at them, shrug my shoulders, and move on to familiar and less handy territory.  These brilliant tools are lost on my blissful ignorance, which I’m fine with.

If we don’t know what something is for, we miss out on brilliance and function.  That’s what makes this passage from Genesis so important: by remembering our history from the beginning, we get a better understanding of just how brilliant the Gospel is.  Until we know the problem, the solution seems out of place.  Unless we come to grips with the sin of humanity, the Gospel has no context.

Think about this in relation to Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7.  What, exactly, is the “problem” that the Gospel “fixes”?

2:15 – The Lord places us and purposes us.  God, perhaps using his finger and thumb in a little pinching motion, puts Adam in the garden.  Adam’s purpose is to work the garden and to take care of it.   Back then, as now, people are designed to get things done.  My hunch is that we’ve all had enough of the snow shoveling and would like a break, thank you, but most people have a really hard time doing absolutely nothing for long periods of time.  Before and After pictures inspire us for a reason.  As odd as it sounds, God  has created us for the joyful maintenance of His creation.  How often do you see the word “joyful” next to the word “maintenance”?   To our fallen world ears, this sounds like laborious busywork, but in God’s perfect world, this was the essence of our existence: fellowship and co-creation/co-management with Him.  

2:16 – God has created a perfect world, which includes human beings created in His image.  God has free will; humans have free will.  God gives us free will but also provides guard rails: enjoy the garden, but do not eat from the tree of good and evil.  If you do, you’re toast.   There’s no doubt that Adam knew the rules.  In his free will, he was able to choose between obedience and disobedience. God has not created robots that are programmed to say yes.  He has created humans who are able to choose the yes or the no.  This is important.

3:1 – Here comes the serpent.  The serpent is made by God.  In fact, the serpent is a crafty beast, able to really pull a fast one on Adam & Eve merely by  asking a few  questions.  “Did God really say…?”  Note that Satan did not ask “what did God say?”  Satan the snake knows the Word of God and will even quote it as a way of getting in.

3:2-3 – Eve tells the Serpent (as if he doesn’t know) the two sides of God’s command: enjoy all of it… except for this one.  Eve quotes the consequence given by God: touch this and die.   The claim of ignorance — “I didn’t know!” — simply won’t work in this scenario.

3:4 – The serpent twists the Word.

3:5 – The serpent speaks for God and makes Him sound like He’s holding back.  The line of thinking goes like this: “Why would God do this to us?   Is it because He doesn’t want us to have it as good as Him?  Is it because He’s keeping secrets from us?  I thought He was on my side!”  From this Genesis 3 day on, we have been trying to attain equality with God.  (Even Jesus didn’t do that— see Philippians 2:5-11).

3:6 – The woman saw.  Her eyes were already opening.  She could’ve run, but she saw what could be gained.  Nutrition?  Pleasure?  Wisdom?  Doesn’t God want these things for us?  Adam took the bait, too.  in their free will, they brought sin into the bloodline and into the world.

3:7 – Their eyes were opened.  You would think that they would look around and see another dimension in God’s creation.  You’d think that it would be like the Matrix, where Neo sees the DOS screen.  You’d think that the heavens would open up and they would be able to jump from planet to planet in some kind of surreal adventure that couldn’t be experienced because God was holding back.

No.

Indeed their eyes were opened… to their exposure.  They felt the first twinge of shame and guilt, two elements that were never meant to exist on this earth.  Their eyes were opened, and the first thing Adam and Eve did was make coverings for themselves.

Hear the fall of humanity as creation is fractured.

Remember: this is not how the story ends.

About Lent and Ash Wednesday

Lent is a season of intentional preparation for Easter.  How do you best prepare for the Resurrection?  By dying to self and being raised with Christ.  The question, then, is this: what needs to die in me?  What part of my life has started to overtake the areas in my life that should belong to the Kingdom of Jesus?  What corner of darkness has become so commonplace in my heart that I don’t even notice it anymore?  Though I follow Jesus and trust Him as my savior, I also know that I’m not yet shaped like Him.  We must daily die to self because darkness spreads like weeds. Weeds unchecked take over.  I need Lent because I need the structure of fasting, reflection, repentance, and prayer — not to re-earn my salvation, but to purposefully make room for God to shape me into the likeness of His Son by removing the garbage that accumulates in my heart.

We will be trying out something new at our church: our first ever Ash Wednesday service.  Though Ash Wednesday has been around for many years, it is brand new for us. Admittedly, the option of putting a little clump of ash on your forehead is a little strange.  In fact, it’s very strange.  We don’t see this happen within the flow of our culture.  Then again, we’ve all seen the dude who paints his face with the team colors and the girl who puts the team logo rub-on tattoo on her cheek.  Maybe we’re not as averse to symbol as we think we are.

Ash Wednesday reminds us of our humanity because it symbolizes the fact that we are but dust, and to dust we shall return (Genesis 3:19).  Ash Wednesday symbolizes remorse for sin and is the first step toward repentance (Job 42:6).  It isn’t happy, but it is joyful.  It isn’t uplifting, but it is encouraging.  The reality is this: throughout the Old and New Testaments, God is always calling us to realize our ongoing need for Him.  We are broken and bound in chains, but the grace of Jesus heals us and sets us free.

That kind of formation doesn’t just “happen”.  It takes some intentional moves on our part.  Enter Lent.  Enter Ash Wednesday.  The effect is profound as Jesus takes the centre of our hearts. So… get ready for Easter to take an even deeper meaning as we realize the Resurrection power of Jesus that is at work in our lives.

(This year, Ash Wednesday is March 5, 2014).

Storage Wars

We know that God gives us stuff.  Great stuff, actually.  Oceans.  Steak.  Breathing.  Creativity.  People.  Key Lime pie.  “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights” (according to Jim).*   This includes our families, our coats, our lawn mowers, our education, plants, golf clubs, etc.  Recognizing these as gifts is a first step toward having a heart of worship and humility.

Just for fun, let’s build a hierarchy of gifts, shan’t we?  Best to least, let’s rank what God has given us.  To build a complete  hierarchy, we need a proper inventory (don’t wanna miss a thing).  To gain a proper inventory of blessing takes perspective.  I don’t know about you, but I just rolled outta bed this morning and started making coffee.  Wait: I have a bed?  A coffee pot?  And I can walk from one to the other?  Point: I take much for granted.  We see now that we could really build an endless list of God’s gifts to us, and, while it would certainly be to His glory, it would also run the risk of becoming overly religious and, frankly, ridiculous.  Seriously — do we really want to say “God, I only sort of thank you for mosquitoes, but not that much.  If it be your will, please remove them from the earth you created, whose fallen nature is marked by the pointlessness of these devilish creatures.  Amen.”**

Let’s narrow down our hierarchy to just finding the top blessing from God.  What do we find at the top of the list?

(Reader:  “I bet it’s Jesus… let’s skip to the end before the pie in the oven  burns…”)

If you said “Jesus”, you’re right.   Also, the pie is not burning, so don’t skip this part.  If you’re going to agree that Jesus is the best thing God has given to us, I want to make sure you know why you think so.  A nod of the head does not equal critical thought.   Because, like you,  I’m running out of time and wonder how things are going over at Facebook (fine, by the way), let me just cut to it in the next paragraph:

Paul says “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.” (1 Cor 2:12).  In other words, God has given us a U-Store it locker full of blessing, which exists because God is a good and loving Father who knows what you need, and it’s ready for you to open.  But wait: you don’t have the key, nor do you have bolt cutters, nor do you have the camera crew from Storage Wars!   Then Jesus gives you the key by His life, death, and resurrection.  You thank Him profusely, submitting your life to Him, and then proceed to open the storage locker.  But wait: what is this stuff?  A box marked BRIGNSDF KWEF.  A case of &WERO(UVC.  Bottles of &.  Something that looks like a trapezoid.

I don’t understand what any of this is supposed to be.  I’m glad it’s all free and bountiful and such, but I’m pretty sure I don’t know what to do with it.  So… thanks?

Ah, but then the Holy Spirit enters into the equation and begins to open your eyes and help you to understand.***  One layer, one box, one odd shape at a time.   What was once written in gibberish (to your mind) suddenly makes sense in your life.  What was once shaped like a Tetris piece is uncovered to reveal exactly what you need.  How did God know?  Why didn’t I see it sooner?  WHOA.

God gives.  Jesus redeems.  Spirit reveals.

Bottom line: I believe that the best thing God has given us is the ability to understand what He has given us.  The Holy Spirit helps us understand mysteries that are beyond us.  Isn’t that the very best (and most useful) gift?

We have received the Spirit… that we may understand what God has freely given us.  What wouldn’t we know if we didn’t have the Spirit of wisdom and revelation?

(Reader: “Not much, I s’pose.”)

I agree.

————————

*Not the show starring Jim Belushi, but rather James, book of, New Testament, Chapter 1, verse 17, part a

** This would make an outstanding opening prayer (collect) for Worship.

*** I realize that I am tiptoeing around something that looks like modalism here, but  I promise to do my best to remain orthodox.

(Lectionary Cycle: Year A, 5th Sunday after Epiphany, Epistle Reading)

Abide – John 15:1-8 (for the 5th Sunday of Easter)

Jesus says “I am the true vine.”

God says “I am the vinedresser.”

You and I say “I will abide in Jesus.”

Have you ever wrestled with discovering the will of the Lord for your life?  Read John 15:1-8.  In this short passage, we get a clear picture of what God expects.  We see the key players and get a powerful image of the great story of God’s redemption.  A foundational expectation is established for the follower of Christ, which leads to a growing, thriving relationship with Him and others.

We know that Jesus is the vine and that God the Father is the vinedreser (one who takes care of vines).   As the vinedresser, God is always cutting away something.  If a branch doesn’t bear fruit, He chops.  If a branch does bear fruit, He’s still cutting, only this time He prunes away the undesirable parts of us.

Pruning leads to good fruit.  The vine nourishes and provides.  God desires healthy, shiny, robust, delicious, and desirable fruit in our lives.

But what are we to do?  Squint really hard until the fruit is ripe?  That sounds disgusting.  The point is this: our job is not to make fruit.  We get this mixed up all the time.  I need to try being more __________!  Noticing a deficiency and working toward a solution is one thing, but that’s not what we’re told to do in John 15.

The instruction: abide in Christ.

To abide is to remain in a relationship, to stick around, to be in.  This calls for:

1) Time (in prayer, in scripture, in community)

2) Intention (God, I want what you want for me)

3) Openness to discomfort and even pain (Cut away as you see fit)

4) Simplicity (I’m just a vine!  My job is to abide in Him).

So… do it.