Our Kind Of Story

I found myself talking with someone last week about stories, good stories, the kind we want to tell, and more importantly, the kind we want to live.

That’s the thing about stories – all of us have one, all of us are part of one, and stories, whether we like it or not, actually run our lives.

Today, we return again to the most intense part of the story we tell and try to live by. We call this part of the story Holy Week, and one way to tell it is as a story bookended by two crowds; two mobs with things to say and demands to make. But this story isn’t really about those crowds, because the wisdom we are looking for can’t be found in a crowd.

And so here we are, once again heeding Jesus’ instructions and preparing to make our way to a room to eat a meal and hear again what it is he would have us do. We are here once again, because even if we can’t remember all the details, we know a bit about trying to live out our faith in a new way and in the process getting a whole lot more wrong than right.

And that’s why we keep coming back to this story, because it is a story that is true in more ways than one. In it we discover what God is really like and in it we remember that we are a whole lot more than the dark details of our worst failures.

We follow the disciples to a table because we too know what it is like to misunderstand who Jesus is and what he is all about. We listen to Jesus teach about love because we know what it is to be in desperate need of it.

We walk behind Jesus on the road because we know what it is like to have tried to follow him and failed spectacularly. We stand outside by the fire with Peter because we know what it is like to disappoint those we care about most.

We follow Jesus up the hill because we know what it is like to stumble underneath the weight of carrying our own cross. We follow him all the way there and see it all again for ourselves because we know, that in the end, all of this is for us.

We are drawn to this story because it has become our story.

It reminds us that all of this is about God doing for us what we can’t do for ourselves. It reminds us that God is willing to help us – even us. It reminds us that the road to our freedom is a road of suffering that we cannot walk for ourselves, but it is a road that Jesus walks for us.

That’s what Love does, it does the things we need that we can’t do for ourselves.

And so, this story is for those who know what it is like to be called a loser while the winners celebrate.

This story is for those who desperately want to fix a broken relationship but who haven’t yet found the path to healing.

This story is for those who know all too well what it is like to find yourself on the outside and away from Jesus.

This story is for all of us who know that something is broken but that the healing is going to have to come from someone else.

That’s why if you find yourself at church this weekend you are likely to see something interesting.

Because the people who are there aren’t there because they have it all figured out. And they aren’t there because they know every part of it beyond a reasonable doubt. They are there for the same reason you are – they know what it is like to need help and they know this is a story about One who gives it.

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Prayers For the Path: The Prayer of the Cross

There are some stories we want to change, that we need to change. There are endings we would love to switch and details we would love to erase.

This is one of those stories.

Because it would be so much easier if we could tear this one up and write a different one.

We would do anything to break out our pens and mark this one up. We would love to find a way to detour around the Upper Room and discover a way to turn the page on everything that happens between now and Sunday morning. We would enjoy it so much more without the cheap betrayals and costly silence. We want to believe we aren’t the ones who deny and then run away.

We’d like to rewrite this story because we would like to avoid the truth we know about ourselves. We want to tell a different story this Holy Week, one that doesn’t require blood and sacrifice. Sure, we wish there was a better ending in it for Jesus, but what we really crave is a way to avoid facing ourselves in all our sin-stained glory. What we really want is a story that will allow us to justify ourselves.

That’s the thing about the truth, though – you can’t erase it no matter how big your eraser or how short your memory. And while we are pretty good at avoiding it the rest of the year, tonight and tomorrow we can’t.

As we make our way to the Upper Room we realize that all the things we have counted on to save us have fallen away. As we listen to the questions and answers of a trial we realize our need to have all the answers doesn’t satisfy the questions that really matter today. As we walk the final road with Jesus to the darkness of Good Friday, we realize the things we thought were significant – our bank accounts, our waist size, our last name – have disappeared in the shadow of the Cross.

We realize this week what we try to avoid every other one – that our rush to status and our desire for acclaim won’t give us what we need. We come to grips with the truth that there are problems beyond our capacity to solve them. We have to admit that we can’t provide what we truly need; absolution and redemption and the only status that matters come from somewhere else.

We all receive hope in the same way – by allowing the One with the towel and the water to cleanse us. No matter what we have searched for we find what we need in the One who was declared guilty. In the dark reality of the Cross all any of us can do is go to Dark Gethsemane and beg for mercy from the One who received none from us.

We can’t rewrite this story because its truth won’t be denied. We try to cover it up but the harsh reality won’t be silenced. We try to keep it hidden but it always finds us.

Truth and grace are persistent that way.

And so tonight and tomorrow we’ll tell this story again, to remind ourselves how they fit together. We’ll tell it to anyone who will listen and we’ll tell it to ourselves. That when everything falls apart, all isn’t lost. That when everyone else has left, we aren’t alone. That when all we’ve counted on has vanished, hope can still find us.

Hope is still here because he is still here. He is up there and what he has to offer is enough. It’s the only thing that is.

 

Note: This is the fourth post in a series, Prayers for the Path, prayers that keep us rooted and close to Jesus as we follow him this season to Jerusalem.

Prayers For the Path: 

The Prayer of Silence 

The Prayer of Gratitude

The Prayer of Lament

 

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This Week is Our Week

When I first began in ministry, I felt the need to make sure that my congregations knew how important it was to enter into the full drama of Holy Week.  I made a big, and likely annoying point, every year – that we couldn’t go straight from Palm Sunday to Easter. Instead, if our Sundays were to be filled with light, we had to experience the darkness during the week – lowlighted by the betrayal of Holy Thursday and the death of Good Friday.

I almost rejoiced in encouraging, maybe guilting is a better word, all of us to take our liturgical medicine.  It was for good reason, because for far too long we Protestants have struggled to proclaim a faith that speaks to our whole lives.  To put a theological word on it – we’ve struggled with Incarnation.  We know how to sing the Hosannas and to triumphantly proclaim that the Lord is Risen, but we have a much harder time finding our words when life calls for confession and the world’s events demand lamentation.

Holy Week, when we experience it well, becomes a school of formation and a way to help us find the words to speak our faith in a more authentic and complete way.

During the last couple of years, however, I have come to think and speak about Holy Week in a different way.  It isn’t that we don’t need to dwell and contemplate darkness and death – because of course there’s no Easter light and Resurrection without them.  It is just that its more than that – I’ve come to believe that Holy Week is less about Christian education and a whole lot more about identification

That’s because beneath the dramatic and other worldly moments that fill Holy Week are emotions and experiences that are much more common.  The high profile failures of Jesus’ disciples aren’t foreign to us.  In fact, the reason they are so powerful is that they aren’t beyond our imagination at all, but instead mirror our own failures in faithfulness.

 

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The hard truth we don’t want to acknowledge is that the gap between our promises and hopes for faith and the lived reality of our actual commitment to Jesus is what he himself once called a great chasm. No matter how many times we protest, most of us are always one opened mouth away from sounding a lot like Peter and one temptation away from becoming a betrayer like Judas for a lot less than 30 silver pieces.

That’s why this week is actually for us.  We need this week to be reminded of Gospel’s fullness and to once again receive its grace. We don’t need to worship on Thursday and Friday to learn a little more or to have a more defensible faith.  We need to hear these stories again and to live into this drama one more time so that we might relearn and take in the story God is still writing – that sin is costly but isn’t permanent, that darkness may loom but it doesn’t reign, and that no matter how bad your betrayal there is always a road to redemption.

That’s the thing about Holy Week, it never changes – it isn’t an obligation to slog through but is a gift to be received again and again.

And so, if you can recount the dark details of failing in faith and falling short of the glory of God – this week is for you.

If you are one of those people who knows what it is like to fall asleep while you are praying, or if your prayer life is so far gone you don’t even think about it before giving in to sleep – this week is for you.

If you are one of those people who shout with the crowds but haven’t yet figured out how to show up in crunch time or when the popular kids aren’t around – this week is for you.

If you are one of those people who got trapped into putting your hope in the promise that a politician or a coach or a preacher could lead you to the promised land only to be disappointed once they got your vote or your adoration or your check – this week is for you.

If you are one of those people who look at the damage and carnage in the world and are overwhelmed and paralyzed by hopelessness and powerlessness – this week is for you. 

If you are one of those people who made that long walk up the aisle one Sunday morning only to return to the life you were hoping to move beyond – well this week is for you.

If you are one of those people who can’t see God’s creative genius in yourself and can’t escape the muck of depression and self-loathing – this week is for you. 

If you are one of those people who long for a more real connection with God only to despair that it will never happen for you – this week is for you.  

If you are one of those people who has experienced the disappointment and darkness that comes from sin and a crooked path – this week is for you.

This week is for all of us who have tried with everything we have to follow Jesus and have still failed. No matter the shape the darkness is trying to take in your life – know that this week isn’t a burden to bear or another obligation to be weighed down by. This week is what it has always been – a gift to help us, a gift to rescue us, and a gift to redeem us.

My hope is that you can experience it again this year and can receive it as it was always intended.

It is a gift – and it is for you.

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