Maundy Thursday

Courageous Humility and Service

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By Linda Rex

April 1, 2021, HOLY/MAUNDY THURSDAY—As we go deeper into Holy Week, it occurs to me that Jesus portrayed a type of humanity that was courageous and assured, while at the same time, humble and service-oriented. As a divine warrior, his weapons were not what we use in battle. Generally, when we think of going to war against the enemy, we think in terms of weapons, guns, knives, and war machines. Our effort to slay the enemy is in terms of taking away the life of another human being.

But evil is not truly defeated solely using physical weapons. We may execute the perpetrators of evil, but evil itself exists in the spiritual realm. Paul says we do not war against flesh and blood—this is a spiritual battle we are in (Eph. 6:12). The reality is that the most difficult war that a man or woman wages is the war within themselves. It is the evil that is within that is the most destructive enemy of all.

So often, our defeat comes not from without us, but from within—from the passions and desires that we allow to control and consume us. We allow evil free reign within and we become enslaved to it. The apostle Paul speaks to this when he cries out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” And we find his immediate and joyful response right after, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:24-25a)

Jesus is not the weak, mild-mannered man as he is often portrayed. There is an immense courage that is required when the humility of service and self-sacrifice are called upon to defeat the enemy. Christ knew what it would cost him to once and for all defeat the evil which had rooted itself in the human heart and mind. And he was willing to pay that cost freely.

On the night of his betrayal, Jesus humbly knelt and washed the feet of his disciples—a task the only the lowliest of the household servants did. When Jesus was washing Peter’s feet, Peter was offended by the idea that his teacher would stoop to such a level as to do a menial slave’s task. But Jesus said that if Peter did not allow Jesus to wash him, then he would never be clean. Jesus was not talking about washing the outside of Peter’s feet so much as washing his human flesh free of all sin, evil, and even death.

The path which leads to the removal of sin and evil is the cruciform path—there is a dying that must occur so that real life may come. And if we are not willing to allow Jesus to do what he came to do—to wash us free in this way—then we are unable to experience the precious gift of eternal life he forged for us in his life, death, resurrection and ascension.

Jesus was willing to go to the greatest extent possible to win the war against evil, sin, and death—even to death by crucifixion—so that the enemy would once and for all be defeated. Christ knew where Judas was headed when he left the room that night and said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified.” He knew exactly the price he was going to have to pay so that this war would be won and humanity would be lifted up to the place in the Triune life they were always meant to have.

We live in a culture here in America where being safe or comfortable seems to be the aim of our existence. When I think about how I was raised and how I raised my children, I realize that a lot of energy was expended keeping me and my children safe and healthy. Our current experience with the pandemic shows how we struggle with the tension between keeping ourself and others safe and taking the necessary appropriate risks to maintain relationships, provide for ourself and others, and to continue to live and work in this world. At what point to we come to the place where we are willing to risk all for the sake of others?

Right now, I can think of many people who are humbling themselves, laying down their lives in daily sacrifice for others. They are walking in the path Jesus walked when he chose voluntarily to go to the cross on our behalf.

Compare this attitude of humility and service with the attitude of the disciples when, shortly before the last supper, they were debating as to who would be first in the kingdom of God! Do you see that true courage, strength, and power are found in humility and service, not in positions of authority, popularity, and control? This is a counter-cultural way of being that Jesus forged into our humanity—that is, he conquered evil, sin, and death—through laying down his life, being a humble servant, and suffering whatever came his way for our sake and on our behalf.

On that significant night, Jesus told his disciples he was headed to a place that they could not go. He had the crucifixion on his mind and the disciples still did not grasp the magnitude of the sacrifice which was needed by each of them, and all humanity, so that they could be freed from their enslavement to evil, sin, and death. What Jesus then said was, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Jesus was calling them, as he calls all of us, to a new level of caring for one another—to the place of courageous, humble self-sacrificial love. On his knees, Jesus humbly washed the feet of those he loved. On the cross and in death, Jesus washed all humanity—those beloved by him and his Father in the Spirit. In the resurrection, Jesus lifted us up into new life. In the sending of the Spirit, Jesus offered himself as the source of this real life in loving relationship with God and one another.

In our once-for-all baptism, and as we in an on-going way take of the bread and the fruit of the vine in communion, we find renewal, restoration, and cleansing in him, remembering the extent Christ went to in order to draw us up into the divine life and love now and forever. Let us draw upon Jesus by the Spirit for the courageous humility to love and serve one another as God meant us to, bearing witness daily to the reality of Christ’s triumphant defeat of evil, sin and death on the cross.

Thank you, heavenly Father, for including us in your life and love through your son Jesus in the Spirit. Pour into our hearts Christ’s courageous humility and heart of service. Grant us the grace to humbly and lovingly serve you and one another in gratitude for all you have done through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

“Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” John 13:1(2–17, 31b–35) NASB

See also 1 Corinthians 11:23–26.

Calling Us Home

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By Linda Rex

SUNDAY, MARCH 1, 2020, ASH WEDNESDAY/1ST SUNDAY IN EASTER PREP—Recently, I was chatting with someone about current events and they were telling me about a program they heard on the radio. The person they were listening to was saying that the current issue with child abuse imagery has multiplied into millions of cases worldwide since the time of Clinton’s presidency. The implication was that his moral failure with Monica Lewinsky was the root of this alarming increase in the use of pornography. Personally, I would be more inclined to believe that this extreme numerical increase is more directly related to the use the internet as well as the ability to track the use of pornographic material on the internet. But that is not the point I feel led to make.

Over the decades our nation has been at certain times more concerned with particular sins than with others. I was reading a historical novel the other day which was set in the time of this nation when temperance and prohibition were promoted as the solution to all of the ills besetting the nation. I agree that the misuse and abuse of alcohol and/or drugs leads to many other sins, but there is so much more at stake. It is a greater issue that we can become so obsessed with a certain sin that we lose sight of our proclivity for living as though we are in charge and able to decide for ourselves what is good and what is evil.

The story of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden eating the forbidden fruit cuts down to the root of all human behavior from that time to today. We are all created for an intimate relationship with the God who made us and we can, at any time, walk and talk with God if we so desire. We may not experience this relationship with God in the same way they did, but it is what we were created for. However, we often trade this direct relationship with God we were given in Jesus Christ for a substitute relationship—dependency upon and reveling in the things of this human existence. Or as followers of Christ, we may even substitute church attendance, rule-keeping, moral purity, and community service for an intimate walk with our living Lord.

The truth is that we often are more concerned about repenting our mistakes or moral failures than we are repenting the bent we have toward rejecting God himself. What we need to do is to acknowledge the reality that we wish to live as though we are self-sustaining individuals, as little gods who run the universe the way we want it to be run. Let’s be honest with ourselves—we don’t want to have to answer to anyone for what we say or do—we want to create our own rules to live by and not have any consequences for our choices or behaviors.

So we come to the time on the Christian calendar called Lent (or Easter preparation) which begins on Ash Wednesday. This is the time when we honestly assess and confess our genuine and deep need for the Lord Jesus Christ. For, if he did not stand in our stead and on our behalf, we would have no interest in or desire for, nor the ability to have, a relationship with the God who made us and who cares for us. We don’t just draw up a list of sins and tell God about them. No, we go much deeper—down to the core of our being—down to the heart which turns away from God toward the things and people of this human existence.

God calls us to return to him. To return is to go back to the place where we started. We began at a place in which we were fully included in God’s life and love. And then we turned away. When God as the Word took on our humanity, he turned us back to his heavenly Father.

As Jesus stood in the waters of the Jordan River with the baptismal waters dripping off his frame, he heard the Father’s words of love—“This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased (Matt. 3:17 NASB).” On the mountain where he was transfigured, we again hear the affirmation of his heavenly Father—“This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him (Matt. 17:5 NASB)!” In Christ, we are beloved children. We are God’s pleasure and joy. God calls us to rend our hearts—to quit with all the religious externals and to get down to the core of our being: What drives us? What is the focus of our inner conversation? What directs our decisions and choices? Where does God fit in our lives? Does he even have a place in our heart?

The process of examining our hearts is not meant to be discouraging or depressing. Rather, as we take God’s hand and walk down the corridors of our inner sanctuary, we begin to see in a greater way our need for deliverance, redemption, and forgiveness. We see our need for a Savior. We begin to put God back in his rightful place as Lord of our existence. And most of all, the closer we get to the heart, we discover that waiting there all this time has been Christ himself by the Spirit.

For Jesus came, not to condemn, but to save us. He entered our human existence, not to destroy us, but to reconstruct us back into the image-bearers of God we were created to be. We do not look to Maundy Thursday or Good Friday with dread or to Holy Saturday with sorrow, but to Resurrection Sunday with anticipation and joy. What was meant for our evil, the destruction of our souls, God turned to good—the deliverance of all people. Jesus came to live our life, die our death, and rise so that the Spirit would be sent—so we would receive the very life of God within ourselves.

When we are called to return—to turn about, we are called back into the relationship which was ours from before time began. God has always meant to include us in his life and love, and even though we managed to turn away from this to the things of this world and ourselves, God has in Christ turned us back to himself. Receive the gift which has been given. Come to yourself, your true self. For Abba loves you dearly and is pacing on the porch, looking down the road, anticipating your return. Run to him!

Dearest Abba, thank you for not rejecting us because of our rejection of you, but giving us your Son in our place and on our behalf. Turn our hearts back to you again. Renew in us a desire for your will and your ways, but more importantly, for your very presence—to affectionately tend to your heart as you tend to ours. We praise you that this is all possible through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.

“‘Yet even now,’ declares the LORD, ‘Return to Me with all your heart, | And with fasting, weeping and mourning; | And rend your heart and not your garments.’ | Now return to the LORD your God, |For He is gracious and compassionate, | Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness | And relenting of evil.” Joel 2:12-13 NASB

“For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.” Romans 5:17-19 NASB