Easter People in a Good Friday World – April 12

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
Matthew 28: 1-10

From the looks of it, Jesus is getting the band back together. No, not like Elton John’s 2019 farewell tour, but a true summoning of His followers to return to Galilee and unite the Jesus movement. Why? Because a new world has dawned and there is work to do.

Many scholars have suggested that Jesus’ command to “Go to Galilee” really meant “Go back to where the story began, to the beginning of the Gospel.” And what do we find when we return to the beginning of the story? The announcement that “The Kingdom of God has come near!” In fact, these are the first words out of Jesus’ mouth in Mark’s Gospel. On Easter Sunday, The suffering servant became the reigning King, inaugurating a new kingdom into our world. A kingdom spilling over borders, crossing every sea, bringing together people from every tongue, tribe, and nation. The call to His disciples then and to us now is the same: to be about His business. To usher in the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. 

Easter therefore isn’t simply a one-time historical event to celebrate, it’s an ongoing invitation to join Jesus in the renewal of all things. Easter was day one of a new creation, with a new ruler, and a new way of life. We are Easter people living in a new age of resurrection. Yet even though we inhabit a new era, we face the same old devils: fear, violence, death, poverty, and injustice. That’s why there’s work to do. Whenever we care for the least of these, we see the risen Lord in our midst. Whenever we choose peace instead of violence, we usher in the kingdom of God. Whenever we welcome the stranger, we carry on the love of God in and for the world. There is work to do. Holy work for holy people. May we go forth as Easter people, following the risen Christ into God’s new future. Amen.

Family Reflection:

  1. If salvation is more than a ticket to heaven when you die, then what does your salvation mean for right here and right now?
  2. How can our family be about God’s business in our town, neighborhood, and even in our home? What “work” can we do to usher in His kingdom?
  3. Even though we still live in a world of fear, death, and doubt, Easter morning changes everything. How does the bodily resurrection of Jesus give you hope in the midst of a hurting world?

Family Application:

  1. We are Easter people living in a Good Friday world. Easter people live with boldness, courage, and hope. But to live that hope out, we need a plan. Over the next few days, create a family mission and vision statement, and then begin living out that mission as a family. Write down your plans, post them on your refrigerator, and create practical ways to live out your mission in and for the world. Here’s a great guide to helping you craft your family mission statement.

Closing Prayer to Pray Together:

Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord’s resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. 

The Book of Common Prayer


Thank you for joining us on the journey to Jerusalem this week. We pray this guide equipped you with the historical knowledge and context leading up to Jesus’ death and resurrection, and challenged you and your family to join the Jesus movement here in the modern world. Blessings and peace to you, and never forget: Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again. Amen!

God is Dead – April 11

Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
John 19:38-42

Between the cross and the resurrection sits silent Saturday. A day too dark for words, a day too important to forget. Frederick Nietsche famously declared, “God is dead,” and for this one day in history, he’s right. The worst thing has happened, God in Christ is dead.

The temptation is to skip past Saturday en route to the empty tomb. But that would be a huge mistake. Here on this holy day, God is fully revealed. For 2,000 years, followers of Christ have tried to make sense of the full revelation of God. A crucified God. That’s why we pause today and ponder this question anew: What kind of God does the cross reveal? In John Kavanaugh’s book Following Christ in a Consumer Society, he asks, “Can this God who is most frequently represented as a defenseless poor baby in a manger and as a defenseless man on a cross be a tyrant?” Of course not. It is Jesus who tells us, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” 

If you struggle to love God, to trust Him, to believe He is good, then look at Him today. See Him fully exposed, defenseless and dead, lying cold in the grave. Look at the length to which God will go to save us from ourselves. See Him through the eyes that only Holy Saturday can reveal. This is our God, this is what God looks like! He is not an angry parent waiting to punish you, but a suffering savior willing to save you. His name is Emmanuel, God with us. God with us in our pain, in our sorrow, and yes, even in death. Amen.

Family Reflection:

  1. When you close your eyes and picture the face of God, what do you see? Do you see an angry man shaking his fist at you or a loving face waiting to embrace you?
  2. Why is your vision of God so important to your relationship with God? 
  3. Do you ever struggle to reconcile the God of the Old Testament with God fully revealed in Jesus? How might the cross help to unite those two seemingly differing views of God?

Family Application:

If it’s possible, based on the age of your children and the health conditions of your family, choose to fast today as you wait on the risen Lord. If you cannot fast the entire day, choose to only eat after sunset. During the time of your normal meals, gather together as a family to pray and read John chapters 18 and 19. If you cannot fast from food, fast from entertainment, screens, and technology. Pause throughout the day and reflect on the death of Jesus. Pray for repentance, and to be ready to receive the risen Lord on Sunday morning.

Closing Prayer to Pray Together:

Merciful God, divine creator and sustainer: Grant that, as the crucified body of your dead Son was laid in the tob and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with Him the coming of the third day, and rise with Him to newness of life; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-Adapted from The Book of Common Prayer

The Worst Way to Die – April 10

And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take. And it was the third hour when they crucified him. And the inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left. And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!” So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also reviled him.

And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”
Mark 15: 22-39

Even though the Romans did not invent crucifixion, they certainly perfected it. Reserved for a special class of traitorous criminals, the cross was even more gruesome than being fed to the lions. This form of capital punishment was so heinous it was frowned upon to even mention it in public. But public it was, and for very good reason. Crucifixion was imperial propaganda, designed to deter future rebels from resisting the way of the empire.

Victims were typically stripped of their clothing, paraded through the streets, and led to a high place outside the city gates where their naked bodies would hang for all the world to see. Worse, most victims were crucified low enough to the ground that upon death, wild dogs and carrion birds would devour their body, leaving no remains for burial. In all of human history, only one crucified body has ever been found, pointing to Rome’s intended effect, “Here is a nobody, who has come to nothing, and is now nowhere.”

It’s difficult to make sense of such brutality, to wrestle with the almost necessity of the cross. But this is how it had to end, not merely out of divine necessity but from sin’s inevitability. Jesus died not only for our sins, but because of our sins. Looking back over the week, we caught a glimpse of what was to come of Jesus’ movement. On Sunday, Jesus rode into the city as a liberator. On Friday, Jesus was forcibly driven out of the city as an enemy of the state. Two kings rode into the city, one displaying the human way of domination, power, and control, the other modeling the divine way of love, equality, and grace. Two kings, two kingdoms, and two very different visions for the world. Good Friday culminates in the clash between the world and God, sin and holiness, hatred and love. And for now, it looks like love has lost.

Family Reflection:

  1. For hundreds of years, Christians have called today “Good Friday.” What, if anything, is actually good about the day Jesus died?
  2. Did Jesus have to die? Why or why not? 
  3. If the story ended here on Good Friday, how would the world be different today? 
  4. Why is it important for us to lean into the darkness of Good Friday and Holy Saturday? What can we learn as we wait patiently for the joy that Sunday brings? 

Family Application:

Most Good Friday church services end in total darkness, marking the darkness that befell Jerusalem on this somber day. Today, as you commemorate Christ’s crucifixion, “unplug” from technology from noon on Friday to Sunday morning as a way to enter into deeper reflection and eliminate distractions.

Closing Prayer to Pray Together:

Gracious God, you comfort of all who are sorrowful and you are the strength of all who suffer: Let the cry of those in misery and need come to you, that they may find your mercy present with them in all their afflictions; and give us, we pray, the strength to serve them for the sake of him who suffered for us, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

-Adapted from The Book of Common Prayer

All You Need is Love – April 9

So He got up from the supper, laid aside His outer garments, and wrapped a towel around His waist. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel that was around Him. He came to Simon Peter, who asked Him, “Lord, are You going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied,
“You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Never shall You wash my feet!” Peter told Him.

Jesus answered,
“Unless I wash you, you have no part with Me.”

“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not only my feet, but my hands and my head as well!”Jesus told him,
“Whoever has already bathed needs only to wash his feet, and he will be completely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For He knew who would betray Him. That is why He said,
“Not all of you are clean.”

When Jesus had washed their feet and put on His outer garments, He reclined with them again and asked,
“Do you know what I have done for you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and rightly so, because I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example so that you should do as I have done for you. Truly, truly, I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them….A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so also you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.
John 13:1-17, 34,35

Today is Maundy Thursday, named after the Anglo-French word “mandatum,” which means commandment. On the night before He died, Jesus had one more thing to say to His disciples. One more word that summed up all the law and all the prophets. One command epitomizing everything He’d said and done during His life on earth: Love one another. 

“A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so also you must love one another.” Love is the greatest, and most difficult commandment—love for God, for our neighbors, for strangers, for sinners, and yes, even for our enemies. Love birthed the universe into existence and love climbed up on the cross and died in our place. Love was Jesus’ first and last priority because His love will never fail

The heart of Christianity is learning how to love well. It is both that simple and that complex. Love is who He was and who we are called to be. More important than right doctrine, more powerful than our deepest purity, is the call to love, because love covers a multitude of sins. Ultimately, as the resurrection proves, love is even stronger than death. No matter who you are, no matter what you’ve ever done or ever will do, nothing can separate you from the love of God. Do you believe this? Why or why not?

Family Reflection:

  1. If love is the ultimate commandment, then what is love? 
  2. Who do you find the most difficult to love and why? 
  3. What would have to change in your life in order for you to learn to love those deemed unlovable? 
  4. Who are the groups or individuals the church has struggled to love throughout history? What would it look like for you to love them now? How much would it cost you?

Family Application:

  1. Listen to The Weeknd’s song “Blinding Lights.” Then, listen to Rich Mullins’ classic song “Bound to Come Some Trouble.” How do they portray love in radically different ways? How has the world’s vision for love stunted our ability to love those who are physically, emotionally, or personally unlovely?
  2. Host your own foot-washing ceremony. Here’s a practical guide for you and your family to experience this beautiful tradition in your own home. 

Closing Prayer to Pray Together:

Gracious God and Heavenly Father, we thank you for the example Jesus left us, that on the night before He died, He took on the lowly position of a servant and washed His disciples’ feet. And, having loved His followers, He loved them till the end. Give us the grace to love as He loves and to forgive as He forgives. Amen. 

Et Tu Judas? – April 8

While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.

Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume?  It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.

“Leave her alone,”
said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them. They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him money. So he watched for an opportunity to hand him over.
Mark 14: 3-11

It started with Judas and spread throughout Jesus’ small community of followers, infecting them all. We vividly remember Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s angry denial, but according to the scriptural witness, “all his disciples deserted Him and ran away.” All of them. Not one was left.

They followed Him for three years, but they couldn’t make it on the last leg of the journey, the final steps to the cross. They all betrayed him.

In some way or another, we’ve all felt the sting of betrayal. As Richard Rohr reminds us,  “The more love and hope you have invested in another person, the deeper the pain of betrayal is.” Whether it’s a broken marriage or a lost friendship, the hurt can stay with us for years. Yet, after His resurrection, Jesus does the unthinkable; He invites His friends back into relationship with Him. Appearing to some of His followers, Jesus said, “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.’”

Can you imagine His pain? Not just the physical pain of the cross, but the emotional pain of betrayal. Yet, instead of projecting His pain onto His followers, He transformed it. He didn’t use the occasion to punish His followers, but instead forgave them. Sooner or later we will all get hurt. The question is, what are we going to do with our pain? “If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it–usually to those closest to us: our family, our neighbors, our co-workers, and, invariably, the most vulnerable, our children.” 

Family Reflection:

  1. When was the last time you were hurt or betrayed by someone you loved? How did you react? What would it have looked like to model Jesus’ grace in that moment?
  2. Pop culture responds to betrayal in very different ways. Think of shows like Star Wars, Tiger King, or even Wonder Woman. How do these films normalize redemptive violence as the main response to betrayal?
  3. Have you ever knowingly hurt one of your friends or family members? How did they respond to your action? 
  4. Which is harder, to forgive or be forgiven? Why?

Family Application:

  1. Bring your family together around the fireplace or kitchen table. One by one, offer confessions to one another. Voice one particular way you may have hurt or offended your spouse or children and genuinely ask for forgiveness.

Closing Prayer to Pray Together:

Merciful Father, we confess that we have sinned, in thought, word, and deed; by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole hearts, and we have not loved our neighbor as ourselves. We are very sorry and we humbly repent, for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us, that we may walk in your ways and glorify your name, Amen. 

-Adapted from The Book of Common Prayer

Why Do You Judge? – April 7

Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?”

But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

And they were amazed at him.
Mark 12: 13-17

Tuesday was a full day. A day of confrontation, amazement, and growing tension between Jesus and the religious leaders. Staying with Mary and Martha in Bethany, Jesus must have arisen early to walk the two miles back into Jerusalem, spending much of the day teaching in the Temple. He’s returning to the Temple, the hot bed of hostility, and this time the religious leaders are ready, or at least they think they are. They spend the day trying to trap Him.  “Should we pay taxes to Caesar or not?” “Which commandment is the first of all”? “By what authority are you doing these things?” Their questions are reminiscent of a story from earlier in His ministry when the Scribes and Pharisees bring to Jesus a woman caught in the act of adultery: Do we stone her or let her go? 

The religious leaders were almost always rushing to judgment, hastily certain of their own righteousness and somebody else’s sin. Being the morality police was their business, it’s what they did because they saw sin as something out there, foreign to themselves. And they want Jesus to play along, but He won’t because He can’t. Instead of judgment, He gives grace. Instead of shaming the sinner, He restores them by welcoming them back into the community. 

In Taylor Swift’s Miss Americana, she opens up about the danger of being in the public eye, and the incredible judgment she has felt throughout her career. She admits sometimes she would see pictures of herself posted on social media and then starve herself because she hated what she saw and what she read about her in the comments section. 

In large part, our own spiritual maturity consists of rejecting a life of judgment and embracing the scandalous love of Christ, both for the world and for ourselves. The last few weeks have shown us just how easy it is to judge, to place blame, and to find scapegoats for the global health crisis. Covid-19 has changed how we see one another. Instead of viewing our neighbors as fellow image-bearers, we see them as threats, potential carriers of a hidden, deadly virus. Someone coughs and we run the other way. Judging makes us feel superior to ‘the other.’  But remember, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” As we move closer to the hour when our own sins drove Jesus to the cross, resist the urge to point the finger, to judge, to see the speck in our brother’s eye while ignoring the plank in our own. 

Family Reflection:

  1. Why is it so easy to judge someone else and ignore your own sin? 
  2. How does judging others create a sense of spiritual superiority, and why is that so dangerous to your own spiritual growth?
  3. What would it look like to model grace and forgiveness in your home instead of righteous indignation? 

Family Application:

  1. In Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird, protagonist Atticus Finch tells his daughter, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” Encourage each member of your family to name someone, or even a group of individuals, with whom they find it easy to judge based on their lifestyle, beliefs, or political persuasion. Now, picture the world from their vantage point. How does that build empathy or compassion even if you disagree with them?

Closing Prayer to Pray Together:

Merciful Father, thank you for your eternal grace and gentle mercy. May we, following your perfect example, walk in your ways and embody your love for a broken world. Give us the courage and grace to love as we have been loved. Amen.

Jesus Justice – April 6

The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.

On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said,
“Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.
Mark 11: 12-18

What a strange sequence of events! Why is Jesus cursing a fig tree and throwing a temper tantrum in the Temple? There must be more to the story than meets our modern, Western eyes.

In brilliant Markan fashion, the Gospel writer pairs the withering of the fig tree with Jesus’ act of clearing the Temple, but why? In ancient Israel, the “fig tree was an emblem of peace, security, and prosperity.” A withering tree, on the other hand, would represent God’s judgment. By linking this story with Jesus’ symbolic act in the Temple, Mark is also indicating the religious establishment. Jesus not only quotes, but embodies the prophet Jeremiah as, like the prophet of old, He stands in the Temple to confront all who come to worship:

“If you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place,  and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place…Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight?

With this as the backdrop, Jesus’ action is clearly understood both then and now. Daily acts of injustice exploit the poor and oppressed, turning God’s people into robbers. Jesus is insisting that worship without justice is meaningless. As the prophet Amos wrote, “I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them…But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

Gen Z in particular is very engaged in justice movements. Whether it be the #MeToo Movement, Black Lives Matter, or climate change initiatives, students are leading the way in linking their faith with their action. Whether you agree or disagree with these particular movements, what issues can you and your family engage with as you seek to put your faith into action. Also, what forms of injustice need to be cleared away in your heart and mind so you can truly worship? What, if anything, is keeping your praise from being heard by God? Since God is just, our worship is never separate from our daily lives since a life of justice will lead to a life of worship. 

Family Reflection:

  1. If the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control, where do you see that fruit being manifested in one another? 
  2. The Gospels show us just how much Jesus cared for the social causes all around him, from poverty to female subjugation. Specifically, how did Jesus confront injustice in His world and how did it change the lives of those He ministered to? 
  3. The Gospel not only saves, it also serves. How does your faith in Jesus move you to act on behalf of the widows, orphans, and the least of these?

Family Reflection:

  1. As a family, ask one another what you are each passionate about. Then, use that passion to motivate you to action. Find a justice issue in your community to join and support, both with your time and your treasures. 

Closing Prayer to Pray Together:

Merciful God, create in us new and contrite hearts, full of justice and abounding in mercy, that we may worthily magnify you and praise your name forever. Amen.

From Triumph to Tragedy – April 5

Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethpage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” and when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”
Matthew 21:1-4, 6-10

Historians tell us two parades took place that particular spring day in Jerusalem. Two “kings” entered the city representing two very different kingdoms: The Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world. Jesus arrives on the scene from the east just as Pilate and his cadre of Roman soldiers enter from the west. A passing glance reveals how starkly different they are from one another. Jesus, a peasant from Galilee, rides a lowly donkey and is greeted by the people as a prophet and liberator, a revolutionary sent from God to save His people. Pilate on the other hand, representing the imperial power of the Roman Empire, bursts into Jerusalem in high military fashion, with a column of cavalry, marching soldiers, and a cache of weapons reminding everyone who was really in charge. According to historian John Dominic Crossan, “Pilate’s procession displayed not only imperial power, but also Roman imperial theology. According to this theology, the emperor was not simply the ruler of Rome, but the Son of God.”

Two kings. Two kingdoms. Two radically different visions for the world. Pilate’s vision was a world dominated by power, violence, subjugation, and earthly glory. Jesus offered a vision of human flourishing centered on service, humility, peace, and community. In telling this story, Matthew’s Gospel references the prophet Zechariah, detailing exactly what kind of King and what kind of world he would usher in:

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
and the warhorses from Jerusalem,
and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
His rule will extend from sea to sea
and from the River to the ends of the earth.

The clash between these two kingdoms continues throughout the rest of Holy Week, culminating in Jesus’ death at the hands of both the religious leaders and the Roman Empire. As you join Jesus on the journey through Jerusalem this week, look for the myriad of ways He is seeking to liberate us not only from our individual sins, but from the oppressive societal sins seeking to dehumanize and debase our human existence. 

These two kingdoms are still present today. The kingdoms of this world trust the power of the sword. The Kingdom of God rests in the power of the cross. The kingdoms of this world are tribalistic, drawing lines around who is in and who is out. The Kingdom of God is inclusive, with every tribe and nation represented as equals. What other ways do you see the Kingdom of God being at odds with the kingdoms of this world still today? 

Family Reflection:

  1. Which kingdom do you find yourself being more a part of and why?
  2. What practical ways can your family embody the Kingdom of God in our broken world, and how would that look different to the people around you?
  3. We often talk exclusively of Jesus’ death as personal salvation, which of course it is, but how does His death also offer salvation on a cultural, communal level?

Family Application:

  1. As Christians, our faith is personal but it should never be private. Look for ways you can publicly proclaim your allegiance to God’s kingdom during this global crisis. Ask an elderly neighbor if you can grocery shop for them, or pick up their prescriptions for them. Do you know someone who has lost their job or insurance? If so, what would it look like for your family to pool our resources and give them help during their time of need? 

Closing Prayer to Pray Together:

Almighty God, creator and sustainer of the universe, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, to take upon Him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of His great humility. Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of His suffering, and also share in His resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Holy Week 2020 – April 4

What does it mean to celebrate Easter in the midst of a global pandemic? How can we proclaim Jesus as Lord when our friends, family, and even ourselves are suffering through pain, disease, and loss? Simply put, we proclaim Jesus is Lord because we serve a crucified God. The cross, rightly understood, is a universal lesson in God’s solidarity with our suffering. Jesus not only suffered for us, but He suffers with us.

Holy Week, or the seven days starting with Palm Sunday and leading up to Easter Sunday, is the highpoint of the Christian calendar, commemorating the passion of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The earliest recorded reference to Christians setting aside this week for special observation dates back to the third century, though no biblical mandate can be made to command it’s observance. Regardless, Jesus’ followers have celebrated the Paschal Mystery for over a thousand years as a way to prepare to meet the risen Lord on Easter morning. You cannot truly celebrate the end of anything without first starting at the beginning. Meaning, there can be no Easter without Good Friday or Maundy Thursday. There can be no resurrection of our Lord without first joining Him on the painful journey to Jerusalem. To rush past the cross on our way to the empty tomb is like opening a gift without the heart to embrace it. Bonhoeffer called this cheap grace, it’s “a grace we bestow on ourselves.” It’s preaching forgiveness without requiring repentance. As odious as the cross is, this is where our faith begins: in the cold, dark night of the soul when we dare to believe in the very God who is fully revealed in the suffering of Jesus. A suffering God was a scandal to the Romans and foolishness to the Greeks! As theologian Jurgen Moltmann reminds us, “The cross is the test of everything which deserves to be called Christian.” 

This will be a difficult year to celebrate Easter. Our corporate celebrations are likely suspended, and that new Easter dress will have to wait until next year. But in truth, there’s never been a better time to enter into the story of Jesus, to proclaim once again that there is no salvation without suffering, no rebirth without first tasting death. Dying and rising, falling and being raised again. That’s not only Jesus’ story, but ours as well. If we are to be transformed into His image, we must first die to ourselves. To help in that process, stop and enter into the re-telling of Jesus’ last week on earth. Remember His triumphal entry, the cleansing of the Temple, the Passover meal, His betrayal, death, and burial. And in so doing, you and your family may find yourselves more fully prepared to celebrate Christ’s bodily resurrection on Sunday morning even in the midst of our shared suffering. Amen.