As we enter the Lenten Season for the next few weeks, The Ministry Collaborative staff will be inviting you into conversation with us on topics that we’ve seen bubbling under the surface of our work and experience as ministry leaders. Our goal is to use this time of spiritual repentance, sacrifice, risk taking and reflection to talk about issues we tend to avoid. With that in mind, can we please talk about…what’s really happening with Jesus.
…“I’ll take it from here.”
You will not read that in any of the Gospels’ Holy Week accounts.
In the midst of the second straight pandemic holy week, with some hopeful signs of normalcy beginning to form on the horizon, we are beginning to hear the jarring refrain that is not new but is re-emerging: “we’ll take it from here.”
For all of us, Holy Week – and specifically the Jesus of Holy Week – has arrived again just in time.
Just in time…
…to disabuse us of the notion that we can manage the crises of the past 13 months from here on our own.
…to dispel a hazy nostalgia that tempts us to forget there were deep challenges to the church in North America before Covid-19.
…to invite us to pay attention to the foundation of our faith and action.
…to re-order our faith formation: Jesus first, everything else growing out of what we experience in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
…to see clearly the peace-loving, justice-insisting, community-forming work of Jesus.
…to keep us from following conventional wisdom, striving, competition, our own egos, our own needs, our own passions—instead of Jesus.
Scripture portrays Jesus in the week of his passion in such fullness – a complete and total picture of the love of God lived out in one person. Jesus did not “take it from here” during this holy week – Jesus was wholly and completely obedient to and dependent on God whose name is love.
Jesus, attentively obedient to God, walked toward his destiny. Watch Jesus.
When Jesus is betrayed, the love of God responds by loving the betrayer.
When he is denied, the love of God responds by loving the denier.
When he is abandoned, the love of God responds by loving those who have abandoned him.
When he is beaten and crucified, the love of God responds by loving those who have beaten him and those who have crucified him.
When you look at the portrait of Jesus on the cross, you see the portrait of a whole person. Fully alive as he dies. Jesus is so whole and so free as God’s beloved child, that he spends the last moments on the cross giving away his love as he gives away his life.
To the soldiers who have nailed him to the cross, he offers the word of forgiveness, “forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
To the anxious man dying at his side, he says, “today you will be with me in paradise.”
To his bereaved mother at the foot of the cross, he is concerned about her well-being, so he commits her care into the hands of the one he calls the beloved disciple.
As the angry crowd screams for his blood and taunts him, he responds with the dignity of pouring
his life and his love out upon them.
This is the very model of peace-loving, justice-insisting, community-forming love. It is an unsentimental, anti-nostalgic, non-victim love that loves everyone in every direction, even when we betray and deny and seek to kill the love of God. Even then, the love of God responds by loving us.
From this comes all the church needs to understand its identity and purpose.
From this comes all the church needs to know about our rituals and traditions.
From this comes everything we will need to guide us into the urgent work of justice and the crucial quest to walk in the ways of peace.
From this flows all we will ever need for our confirmation class curricula, our strategic plans, our stewardship efforts, our institutional priorities and every other part of the church’s ministry.
So, when did the meeting among followers of Jesus occur where we decided that all this focus on the love of God embodied in Jesus is not enough?
As we are beginning to emerge from this year of pandemic, we are talking about our buildings, and our programs, and our gatherings, and our plans, and our possibilities, and our new technology, and our efforts to organize and act for justice, and our youth programs, and…and…and…all the things we think we know how to do. We can take it from here.
In a recent interview, the musician Wynton Marsalis was talking about art and knowledge and “the texture of life” when he said:
…you can find simplicity in complexity, ironically. The less nuanced your view is– it’s kind of like in a Biblical sense what the devil does. The devil simplifies things for you.
The simplicity the devil offers us right now is the notion that we have nothing new to learn from Jesus, so we can take it from here. The simplicity of the devil is to believe the hard, complex parts of ministry are in the rear-view mirror, so now we can go back to things we already know how to do, like buildings and budgets and programs.
One of the priceless observations of poet Mary Oliver is “attention is the beginning of devotion.”
Our devotion to Jesus in the church needs to begin with us paying attention to what really is at stake in our ministry—the holy complexity of the love of God as seen in Jesus that sweeps us up into community, that leads us into the de-centering work of God’s love in our striving for justice and peace, and gives us the only focus the church in 2021 needs.