Reunion

‘He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him.’ (Mk 16:6)

Resurrection is reunion: Jesus, torn from His Father, now returns to Him. Evil demanded payment: crucifixion, the vast distance between God and God.
Love crossed over that gap, conquering sin and death.

Resurrection is the ultimate Father/Son reunion.

Every Easter, God extends to us a fresh invitation to reenter that reunion.
Jesus descended into hell to get us out of there.
He rose again into perfect union with His Father, that we might join Him there.

His reunion with the Father becomes ours, His triumph over sin and death becomes ours. The afflicting power of our ‘sin-sickness’ no longer prevails;
the sheltering, empowering love of our Father does.

Resurrection insists on it.
‘The resurrection of Christ is a sign of God’s purpose and power to restore His creation to its full stature and integrity.’ Alister McGrath

Resurrection ‘lays the foundation for a completely new life, a new order. In Christ, we become completely different men and women in the very depths of our beings.’ Christoph Blumhardt

Through His cross, Christ grants us a share in His suffering; how much more does He, the risen Christ, delight in granting us full rights and privileges as beloved children of the Father?

Jesus has transformed the burning sand into a pool, the cross of suffering into reunion with our Heavenly Father. May His triumph be ours this Easter—full of the same comfort, confirmation, and confidence that Jesus now shares with His Father.

Rejoice!

Isaiah 35
“The desert and the parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
it will rejoice greatly, and shout for joy…
Strengthen the feeble hands, and steady the knees that give way;
Say to those with fearful hearts: ‘Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come, he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution to save you.’
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs…
And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness.
The unclean will not journey on it: it will be for those who walk in that Way…
But only the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the Lord will return.
They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.”

‘You will go out with joy, and be led forth in peace.
The mountains and hills will burst into song before you,
And all the trees of the field will clap their hands…’ (Is 55:12)

‘As You have shown us mercy, O God, in the desert places of our lives, would You show mercy to the beleaguered state of marriage in the USA? As the Perry vs. Schw. case wends its way to the National Supreme Court, prepare for Yourself a victory. We shall render to Caesar what is Caesar’s but we shall prayerfully fight that what is Yours, O God. Prepare the hearts of each justice, especially Justice Anthony Kennedy, to uphold marriage according to Your merciful design. Remember mercy, O God.’

Abandonment

‘But I cry to you for help, O Lord; in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Why, O Lord, do you reject me and hide your face from me?
I have suffered your terrors and am in despair. Your wrath has swept over me;
Your terrors have destroyed me. All day long they surround me like a flood;
They have completely engulfed me.
You have taken my companions from me; the darkness is my closest friend.’
PS 88:13-18

Jesus’ rejection, abuse, and murder at the hands of men were not His greatest sorrow. It was His Father’s abandonment of Him on the cross.

Jesus expected the scourge of political and religious foes. The desertion of His disciples, however painful, was bearable.

Through it all, He held fast to His steadfast consolation–the Father who promised to never forsake Him. One cannot imagine His dismay when the Father abandoned Him to the darkness of sin.

He was willing, yet not prepared for the scourge and judgment of sin to fall upon Him. He knew the truth: what is holy cannot commune with what is foul. Jesus realized that the evil in humanity demanded a sacrifice. The price had to be paid. And He knew that whatever bears that sin becomes a horrible, stinking cancer that the Father cannot look upon.

Nothing can be further from the Father than that which is accursed!

That’s why Jesus’ lamented in the garden: ‘Father, all things are possible—remove this cup!’ The cup was the wrath and judgment of sin that Jesus agreed to drink.

Perhaps a part of Him still held out for a slightly less painful way to bear sin, one that would still include fellowship with the Father.

Listen to this prayer of David, a prophecy of Christ’s lament on the cross:

“All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads;
‘He trusts in the Lord; let the Lord rescue him.
Let the Father deliver him, since he delights in him.’
Yet you brought me out of the womb;
you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast…
From my mother’s womb you have been my God.
Do not be far from me, for trouble is near
And there is no one to help.” (PS 22:7-11)

Jesus prayer was not answered. He was not granted a cup that included fellowship with the Father. He had never been cut off from Him! Overwhelmed by the scourge of sin, Jesus was not ready for utter separation from the Father.

Accursed, veiled by the darkness of sin, the Son could no longer behold His Father. The One Voice, His One Hope, His Steadfast Source vanished, and Jesus cried out into the void: ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?’ (Matt. 27:46)

The weight of assuming sin’s darkness cost the Son His communion with the Father. Having abandoned Himself to the Father’s will, the Son found Himself abandoned. This was God’s supreme suffering. Not the mocking abuse, the smashing of the mirror, but the veil of sin separating Father and Son. The Son lamented His ‘fatherlessness’, the Father His ‘sonlessness’.

The pathos of the cross involved at core the grief of a parent releasing a child unto death. For the Son, a descent into complete darkness. And for the father, the horror of knowing His Son would be consumed by that darkness, without consolation.

Simone Weill conveyed with unparalleled artistry the distance sin imposed upon Father and Son: “So that love may be as great as possible, the distance must be as great as possible. This infinite distance between God and God [Father and Son], this supreme tearing apart, this agony beyond all others, this marvel of love, this is crucifixion…

This tearing apart, over which supreme love places the bond of supreme union, echoes perpetually across the universe, like two notes, separate yet melding into one, like pure and heartrending harmony. This is the Word of God. The whole creation is nothing but its vibration. When human music in its greatest purity pierces our soul, this is what we hear through it…”

Our twice-born lives, still subject to the ‘sickness-of-sin’, may at times tempt us to believe that we have been abandoned to the separation sin demands, that the curse still holds sway over the powerful blessing of the Father’s love.

The cross invites us this day to hear the music of mercy once more. We need to behold the distance once more that both Father and Son endured to bring us back. ‘For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion, I will bring you back… (Is. 55: 7)

Jurgen Moltmann writes: ‘When we recognize our helplessness and can do nothing more, the forsaken Christ gives us a share in His passion. Our struggle against sin and despair need not separate us from Him, but rather can draw us into deeper communion with Him. We join in His death cry and await resurrection.’

Today we do not focus on what we can do. We are all reduced to the same impotence. Like Peter, all we can do is behold the Lamb who has turned toward us.

Behold our faithful mirror, the One who manifests unfailing love to us, now smashed. Behold the true Image of God in humanity twisted and torn, abandoned by its Maker. Behold the agony of Love wrenched from Love. Behold our pretense and cowardice; behold the only Truth more powerful than our sin. Behold the crushing that cleanses, the fracturing that heals, the dying that makes all things new.

Today Father and Son do the terrible work that gives life to the world.

Beneath Thy Cross
Christina Rossetti

Am I a stone, and not a sheep,
That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy cross,
To number drop by drop Thy blood’s slow loss,
And yet not weep?

Not so those women loved
Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;
Not so fallen Peter weeping bitterly;
Not so the thief was moved;

Not so the Sun and Moon
Which hid their face in a starless sky
A horror of great darkness at broad noon—
I, only I.

Yet give not o’er,
But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock;
Greater than Moses, turn and look once more
And smite a rock.

‘As You have shown us mercy, O God, in the desert places of our lives, would You show mercy to the beleaguered state of marriage in the USA? As the Perry vs. Schw. case wends its way to the National Supreme Court, prepare for Yourself a victory. We shall render to Caesar what is Caesar’s but we shall prayerfully fight for what is Yours, O God. Prepare the hearts of each justice, especially Justice Anthony Kennedy, to uphold marriage according to Your merciful design. Remember mercy, O God.’

Turning for Good (Friday and Beyond)

We might receive foot-washing and communion and yet still not grasp the cross. Perhaps our need for that cross is not yet clear. We may still believe in our own capacity to follow Him, the self-inspired power of allegiance to Jesus.

Peter the ‘Rock,’ full of bluster and unrefined zeal, helps us here. He believed himself to be among the most radical followers of Jesus. Pride came before his fall on the eve of Jesus’ crucifixion. Until the midnight hour, Peter continued to be stumbled by the prospect of Christ’s humiliation.

He still did not grasp the cross. First he had to suffer the humiliation of his own infidelity.

How often have we seen this before? Many of us have followed Christian leaders whom we granted ‘Rock-like” status, only to be devastated when they fell. How could they? How could men or women espousing, say, ‘traditional values,’ prostitute themselves and so breach trust with us? (Not to mention with their families, their churches, and the greater Christian community?)

Easily. We can preach the cross and its merits for everyone else yet avoid it entirely when it comes to our own need for the cross. We can live in that divide as long as our weaknesses are kept in check. But seasons change, and under the stress of real life, weaknesses become wickedness.

God exposes us as the cross-‘dodgers’ that we are. Such exposure breaks ground in us for mercy.

Jesus’ prophesied Peter’s three-fold denial of Himself. In Luke 22: 54-62, we behold its fulfillment: the Rock boldly distances himself from Christ by refusing any connection with Jesus. The one who set himself apart by naming Christ as God, the sole source of salvation, refuses Him when the heat is on.

Peter tries to save himself in the face of Christ’s capture; to three inquirers, he denies the truth about Jesus and his own discipleship.

But the power of the passage rests not on his denial but rather on Peter’s repentance. By this point, we are used to blind, blustery Peter. But repentant Peter is quite another thing. The key verses in Luke 54-62 come after his third denial: “The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter…and he went outside and wept bitterly.” (vs. 61, 62)

Jesus turned first. This was the threshold of change. Yes, Jesus had rebuked the Rock sternly before, had washed his feet, fed him bread from Heaven—all preparation for the pivot that would change Peter forever.

Jesus turned first. One glance from the eyes of Jesus, burning with tender mercy, and Peter saw his sin. More importantly, he saw Jesus as the sole enabler and object of his devotion.

Jesus turned first. One wise woman put it this way: “In the presence of His integrity, our pretense is exposed. In the presence of His constancy, our cowardice is exposed. In the presence of His fierce love for us, we either fall down and worship Him or do anything we can to extinguish the light…”

Perhaps Peter would have rather looked in any one’s face than Jesus’ at that moment. He was exposed –his self-deceiving ways more apparent than at any other time. But such exposure ploughed deep ground in Peter’s heart. That is Real Presence: the Lamb of God revealing the truth of His servant’ sin in order to heal him.

Peter broke, and water poured from the Rock. His tears manifested a turning unto the Savior as he had never done before.

True repentance can occur only as God looks at us. He turns toward us, our only hope from the stranglehold of both the prostitute and the Pharisee. We can suffer a kind of narcissistic sorrow over sin. Truly this is wounded self-love, founded more on social shame or loss of a beloved idol than over genuine spiritual grief.

But when the God of fierce love turns toward us, we can feel deeply our sorrow over sin—our inspired regret at running away from our only Hope, the sole Source that loves us deeply in the full glaring light of who we are in our pretense and cowardice.

One wise man said it like this: “Genuine repentance consists of feeling deeply our helplessness, of knowing how God comes to us when we are completely broken.”

God deals firmly yet gently with us in our waywardness, the gap between what He wills, and who we are. He persists to shine the light of His mercy, daring to expose sin and brokenness in order to heal us.

Henry Drummond writes: “Today perhaps the Lord is turning and looking at you. Right where you are, your spirit is far away, dealing with some sin, some unbearable weight. God is teaching you the lesson Himself, the bitter and sweet lesson of your life, in heartfelt repentance. Stay where you are. Today, don’t look away.”

Peter reveals to us the revelation of sin that invites mercy. But not all turn toward Christ in the light of such exposure. A tearful pivot is one thing; a posture of murder—seeking to extinguish the Light—is another.

One pastor observed: “I remember being at a retreat when the leader asked us to think of someone who represented Jesus in our lives. One woman said: ‘I had to think hard about that one: I kept thinking—who is it that told me the truth about myself so clearly that I wanted to kill him for it?’

‘This is the verdict—light came into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light, because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.’ (Jn 3:19, 20)

“According to John, Jesus died because He told the truth to everyone He met. He was the truth, the perfect mirror in which people saw themselves in God’s own light. The religious and political leaders were so appalled by what they saw in that mirror they smashed it. They smashed Him every way they could.”

According to the Gospels, this ‘smashing’ included men: spitting in His face, striking Him with fists, slapping Him and mocking Him with prophesies, then stripping and flogging Him, followed by repeated head-bashings. The insults and mockery continued throughout His slow, agonizing death on the cross.

On Good Friday, we are reduced to mercy. In the mirror of His suffering unto death, we are exposed as those whose ‘sin-sickness’ persuaded Him to become our cure. Let His merciful eyes catch your gaze as you behold Him, Crucified for you.
Amazing love, none greater.

‘As You have shown us mercy, O God, in the desert places of our lives, would You show mercy to the beleaguered state of marriage in the USA? As the Perry vs. Schw. case wends its way to the National Supreme Court, prepare for Yourself a victory. We shall render to Caesar what is Caesar’s but we shall prayerfully fight for what is Yours, O God. Prepare the hearts of each justice, especially Justice Anthony Kennedy, to uphold marriage according to Your merciful design. Remember mercy, O God.’

Receiving the Fullness of His Love

Maundy Thursday makes one thing perfectly clear. It is God’s faithfulness that makes us faithful. On this night of foot-washing and communion, we behold the full extent of God’s love toward us.

Mercy takes on new meaning as Jesus grants us tokens of the cross that awaits Him. He washes away our filth; He feeds us with bread from heaven. Foreseeing our departure from Him, He grants us powerful assistance for our return.

In His faithful love, we see our unfaithfulness. Here we have a choice. In that gap between perfect love, and our own, our hearts either tenderize or toughen. We can fall forward into His mercy or flee His presence altogether.

Peter did not bolt. But he remained a slow learner. Just before the Passover meal, according to John 13, Jesus began to reveal “the full extent of His love” (v.1) by washing the disciple’s feet. ‘Maundy’ Thursday is derived from the Latin “mandatum”, referring to Jesus’ mandate of the disciples to wash one another’s feet (Jn 13:14).

Jesus came to Peter with basin and towel, ready to get low and cleanse his lowliest part. Feet in the Hebrew culture designated the most humble part of a person. Unlike today, feet were filthy as a result of hiking dirty roads in sandaled feet.

This washing is prophetic, a foreshadowing of Jesus’ life being poured out on the cross. We glimpse the essence of that flood when at the crucifixion the soldier pierced His side, releasing “a sudden flow of blood and water.” (Jn 19:34) That river alone has power to dissolve our deepest stains.

Foot-washing also foreshadows Paul’s words about the less honorable aspects of the body of Christ. The Apostle writes to the shamed ones at Corinth who were being neglected by the sleek and the strong there: “Those parts of the body we think are less honorable we treat with special honor…God has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it.” (1Cor 12: 22, 24)

Sometimes we don’t need others to neglect or reject us. We are very capable of hating ourselves for the broken and dishonorable parts. Feet represent those parts, the untouchable zones, the parts least likely to succeed.

These are the dimensions of our humanity which smell, that are unruly, that we stub unto more of a stench. These are the areas that are dangerous, and that can cripple God’s will for us unless they are properly attended.

That’s why we are tempted to hide our bloody feet. And often do. The religious man will even use spiritual language and rationale as to why he should hide them. In most Christian cultures, we lead out with our best foot forward, and may make Herculean efforts to conceal the club foot we drag behind.

Yet to deny foot-washing is to deny the very person of Jesus and His passion: the bloody God pouring out His life to remove the stench of sin. That involves God’s body—His basin, if you will, meeting us at our least honorable. He who receives such washing welcomes Christ right where Christ most desires him.

‘Foot-washing’ best describes the ministry of Desert Stream and its many pools of Living Waters around the world. Set in churches, these provide a protected, powerful opportunity for one to lower his/her shameful parts into the ‘mercy pool.’

But we must be ready. God is faithful to mirror back our lack of readiness for foot-washing, just as He did for Peter. Peter asked Jesus as He knelt down: “Are you going to wash my feet?” (v.6) Hearing His ‘yes’, Peter refused the offer: “No, You shall never wash my feet.” (v.8)

The Rock, the doctor of the Church, refuses foot-washing as stubbornly as he refused Jesus’ cross. Jesus replies simply: “Unless I wash you, you have no part of Me.” (v.8)

Peter was not ready for the cross and its benefits. He had yet to surrender old religious notions. The zealot still wanted to protect Jesus from His passion. And from his own smelly feet! The two are profoundly related. Jesus broken body, releasing a flood of cleansing, corresponds to our human brokenness and its defilement. Peter wanted neither a broken God nor the revelation of his own brokenness.

Maybe Peter was not yet desperate, not enough anyway. The Rock had more bluster in him yet, more of that good carnal energy that champions the Savior yet refuses to get saved. He did not yet see Jesus clearly. He did not see himself clearly. The mercy that might have made him meek eluded him.

Yet Peter’s time would come, and in the meantime, Jesus washes his feet. Jesus is patient; He waits for us, just as He waited for the time when its meaning would become clear to Peter.

Eating the Cross
Foot-washing prepared the disciples for Passover. The meal itself, described in Matthew 26:20-28, is a continuation of Jesus revealing the full extent of His love. During this meal, Jesus prophesies that His body and blood would be given “for the life of the world.” (Jn 6:51)

If foot-washing foretold cleansing from sin, then the bread (Jesus’ broken body) and the cup (Jesus’ shed blood) represent sustenance. Communion conveys the Real Presence of God indwelling the people of God. Its purpose? To fortify and empower the saints to become His manifestation on earth.

The bread and cup release the essence of Christ Crucified to our hungry, thirsty souls. We ingest Christ, a fulfillment of John 6:35 when Jesus says: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me will never go hungry; He who believes in Me will never be thirsty.” Jesus wants this meal to satisfy us deeply, to become a fulfillment of that verse.

In a way, communion is the means through which we most purely partake of the cross. We drink and eat of its fruit at the Lord’s Table. Jesus said: “My flesh is real food, my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains, abides, and rests in Me, and I remain, rest, and abide in him.” (Jn 6: 55, 56)

Communion also reminds us that we as Christians exist as far more than a group of highly individualized units; we are one beautiful broken unit partaking of a single loaf and cup. At the Lord’s table, we sit together with Christ and His disciples as one body representing the worldwide communion of saints.

Around that table we fulfill the truth that “together with all the saints we are learning to grasp the height and width and depth and breadth of the love of Christ…” (Eph. 3:18)

The washing of feet prophesies the cleansing flood released at Calvary, the basin, His body on earth; the communion meal conveys the sustenance of Jesus’ love made manifest on the cross. These are mercies unimagined, disorienting to our natural sensibilities, until Jesus reveals them to us.

The disciples struggled to grasp these mercies. Their feet washed, their stomachs full, they still did not yet see themselves clearly. Nor did they behold Christ and His purposes clearly. Yet His mercy prevails. He prophecies the falling away of those who had just partaken of His most tender and profound expressions of mercy.

“This very night you will all fall away because of Me, for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” (Matt. 26:31)

Amazing love. God prophesies restoration to His beloved betrayers before they violate Him. That is mercy: the all-knowing, all-seeing grace that knows our inability to be faithful and makes a way for us to fulfill our vows.

Blind Peter leads the blind. With typical bluster, he insists his response to Christ will be different than his wayward colleagues. Peter vows to go the distance.

“Even if all fall away on account of You, I never will, “said Peter.” “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered. “This very night before the rooster crows, you will disown Me three times.” But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with You, I will never disown You.” (Matt. 26: 33-35)

The Rock dies hard. Yet Mercy prevails; Jesus promises, in essence: ‘I will meet you in your abandonment of Me. My merciful love toward you shall liberate your turning back to Me.’

On Maundy Thursday, Jesus in His unfailing love reveals our unfaithfulness. At the same time He bridges the gap with His most tender mercies, mercies that wash us and feed us.

‘As You have shown us mercy, O God, in the desert places of our lives, would You show mercy to the beleaguered state of marriage in the USA? As the Perry vs. Schw. case wends its way to the National Supreme Court, prepare for Yourself a victory. We shall render to Caesar what is Caesar’s but we shall prayerfully fight for what is Yours, O God. Prepare the hearts of each justice, especially Justice Anthony Kennedy, to uphold marriage according to Your merciful design. Remember mercy, O God.’