He is risen! Happy Resurrection Sunday! The Lord is with us, among us, and living inside of each of us, his earthly family. Praise be to God for Sunday!

Reflecting on the resurrection seems such an overwhelming responsibility, like burping a newborn baby or paying student loans, but as I meditate on John 20:1-20, I am brought to tears with the familiarity of the story, and encouraged by the bravery of Mary. We find Mary Magdalene of John's gospel alone in the dark seeking the tomb of Jesus. It is empty, and in her fear and unbelief, she runs to tell the others. A couple of male disciples return to the tomb with her, see the empty tomb, and leave our courageous, brokenhearted Mary alone with her tears. The gift which follows is a gift perhaps only a woman could appreciate.

Jesus is the first man to ever acknowledge her intrinsic worth as a human being. He is her healer, her Teacher, her advocate, and most importantly, her friend. Mary has seemingly lost the best person in her life. Then, all of a sudden she hears her name spoken by the one she has lost...spoken only the way the one who loves her best could say her name, "Mary!"

"She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" John 20:16

Imagine her joy! Imagine Mary throwing her arms around her friend as though in a dream, in relief, and belief. Imagine our Lord embracing his friend in return, not wanting to let go, and once again, lost in human emotion, remembers he must let go. His gift to Mary is to say goodbye.

This beautiful goodbye between Jesus and Mary captivates my heart. Jesus teaches not with just authority, miracles, and parables, but he teaches us through relationship with eating, feet washing, and goodbye hugs.

Frequently, we may read John 20:17 as though Jesus is chastising Mary or giving her orders, but on this Resurrection Sunday, read this verse with more grace. Imagine Jesus is reluctant to let go of his earthly friends even though he still has more steps to take on earth before his ascension to heaven. Jesus could have simply vanished into heaven upon his resurrection to escape the pain of goodbye, but he didn't...he validated those who would continue to follow him to the ends of the earth. The best thing about Resurrection Sunday is knowing we will one day, turn around, cry out "Teacher!" and embrace our Lord. Goodbye is not forever.

Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"

Laurie Templeton
Children's Minister
Singing Oaks Church of Christ
Denton, Texas

“…one from whom others hide their faces”

He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him of no account.

(Isaiah 53:3)

Today is Saturday. Holy Saturday. The middle day. We don’t tend to like in-between spaces. We fast-forward through the pause in the action and fill with noise any silence in the story. For most of us, Good Friday bleeds as quickly into Easter Sunday as we can manage. But Saturday stands stubbornly in our way. In Friday there is the raging noise of pain. In Sunday there is the ecstatic song of victory. But in Saturday there is only the deafening silence of grief.

In the cross, our worlds have been shattered—the plastic palace, rose-colored glass, fantasy worlds where we too often live. Standing in Saturday, we can no longer pretend that we live in a world where only the guilty suffer and where the weak are always protected, because we saw Friday. We saw injustice inscribed on the broken body of an innocent man. But we try. We stick our fingers in our ears and shut our eyes and run as fast as we can into the bright light of Sunday.

But Saturday remains, asking us to stop, be still, and be silent. And from this in-between space, we uncover our faces. What do you see? Can you see the broken man inscribed on the bodies of those who are despised and rejected around you? Can you see him among those considered “of no account?” This is where Jesus dwells. Do not hide your face from him.

In the death of Jesus, in his suffering, he opens our eyes to the suffering of the world, the suffering that breaks the heart of God. And Saturday will not let us forget. This holy pause in the action, this sacred silence in the story keeps us from running so quickly to celebration that we forget how we got there. We forget that how we got there matters. The silence of Saturday gives us the space to look. To grieve. To remember. Remember that Jesus is one of those. One of those “from whom others hide their faces.” One of those from whom we hide our faces. One of those from whom I hide my face.

Today, stop for a moment. Be silent for a breath. Open your eyes. See. Grieve. Remember.

May we be a Saturday people. A people who never hide our faces from the suffering of the world God so loves.

Charissa Walters Wilson
North Penn Church of Christ
Chalfont, PA

​“Eli, Eli, Lema Sabachthani?”

It's been a difficult week. Again. Pictures of bloodied bodies on the ground in Brussels. Horrific violence.

Today is Good Friday and we remember a bloodied body on a cross. I prefer to look away. I don't like blood. Give me palm branches to wave, eggs to color, and candy to eat! But Matthew 27 is bereft of any hint of celebration; the palm's parade route led to the Place of the Skull.

Martin Luther King kept with him Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman, who wrote “whenever we disguise the violence and whenever we sanitize the grotesque image of a suffering servant, we again inflict violence on his identity and mission."

It was and is a violent and dangerous world. George MacLeod wrote in The Whirlwind, “Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves: on the town garbage heap: at a crossroad so cosmopolitan that they had to write his title in Hebrew and Greek and Latin: at a kind of place where cynics talk smut and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble."

We suffer and die due to circumstances beyond our control. Babies die. Mothers have strokes and fathers, cancer. Bombs are detonated. Guns are fired. There are enormous risks in choosing to live in full engagement -- refusing to let fear and sorrow keep us on the sidelines.

Jesus lived out his deepest passion, not in the safety of sanctuaries but in the messy, dangerous, ambiguity of the human community and... there Jesus refused violence even to protect himself or to save his own life! In a world undone by revenge, hate, and debates about torture, can Christians see the radical nature of Jesus? Do we really want to be like Jesus?

Today we watch as Jesus shows us how to do it -— how to live and passionately love . . . and how to die.

Yet often I have more questions than answers. I understand the incongruity of a loving god requiring the cruel murder of an innocent child; I do not agree with the Protestant Reformation's model of “substitutionary atonement”. Yet I need the cross.

Good Friday gives me the courage to tell the truth about life; it is filled with betrayals and struggles. Good Friday gives me the courage to look at the raw vulnerability of my mortal existence. Good Friday tells the truth about death; God is in it. The cross is the symbol of companionship and compassion. The Christ God prayed in Gethsemane for some way out of the pain; most have endured the night in that garden of tears.

We all, at least sometimes, feel deeply alone. Forsaken. Lost. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Žižek writes in Meditation on Michelangelo’s Christ on the Cross, “When Christ says ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?’ is he bluffing or not?” If he is in fact bluffing–and by bluffing I mean that he is simply saying this aloud but secretly knows that he is God–then the crucifixion is not serious. It is just a spectacle staged for humans. But if we take Christ’s statement seriously, then the implication is extremely radical. We must not forget that in Christian theology, Jesus Christ is not thought of in the same way as messiahs in other religions. Christ is not a representative of God; he is God. This means that God is radically split. A part of God doesn’t know what God is doing."

Paul writes, Jesus, “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself (Philippians 2:6).

If Jesus is God and Jesus died then God died on that cross. God experienced external evil, a violent death, internal brokenness and Godforsakenness. There is suffering in God; I find here a beauty and a love that makes me teary. Every time. As Kierkegaard wrote, "Love is all. It gives all. It takes all." Love is all God. God is all love.

When my world splits down the middle and all I can see is the darkness...and dead people walking -- as Matthew describes Good Friday -- when I feel forsaken by God and myself I hold to the hope that utter aloneness, pain, nor violence will have the last word.

But today is Friday. I hope Sunday will come again. Today's scripture ends -- with a terrified Roman officer who finally gets it, the faithful women looking on from a distance, and a forsaken God hanging on a cross.

And there is love.

"O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down...O make me thine forever; and should I fainting be, Lord, let me never, never outlive my love for thee."

May we find at the cross our source of hope and strength... calling us... to transformative love.

Micki Pulleyking
Preacher and Teacher
Springfield, Missouri

The Passing of the Chips

As a child I was fascinated with communion. All the adults would pass trays of what seemed to me to be just kids’ food - crackers and juice. They would take the tiniest bite and sip of each and kids were not allowed to participate at all. My first memories of communion all seem to revolve around how silly I felt the adults were. Their faces were always so tight and downcast. I didn’t understand what made crackers and grape juice so serious, sad, and not-for-kids. So since we were not old enough yet to participate in the worship service, we took turns at lunch, thirty minutes later, passing the tortilla chips around the kids table. Then we would pass around a cup of water for each of us to take a small sip. It was a game to us, trying to figure out what was so special about crackers and juice.

All of the make-believe communions that we shared got me to really start thinking about this strange act that my parents did every Sunday. Eventually, I asked my parents about why they participated in communion, to which they responded, “We do this in remembrance of Jesus and his sacrifice.“ These words rang a bell as most Sundays during church we would read a version of the Last Supper that used the same language.

“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, 'Take and eat; this is my body.' Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, 'Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.'” (Matthew 26:26-28)

With age comes understanding and eventually I began to realize how wrong it was that Jesus, who was so good, chose to die for me. I now need communion to remind me that I am not worthy. I now need communion to place me at Jesus’ feet, eager to learn more. I now need communion to give me a sense of community and belonging, as I participate in something that millions of other people around the world are also doing.

Recently, though, communion has turned into a time of worship for me. There aren’t too many rituals that Jesus models for us in the gospel that we continue to repeat today. The main ones are eating of the bread, drinking of the fruit of vine, and immersing yourself in water as a representation of death, burial and resurrection in Jesus, baptism. What these things seem to have in common to me is exactly how COMMON they actually are.

What Jesus asks his disciples to do at that Last Supper isn’t hard. We all eat. We all drink. When he tells us about baptism, we all understand the concept of being dirty, being immersed in water, and then being clean again. It’s in this moment of realization that I recognize that we aren’t dealing with just a powerful deity or an absentee father. We are dealing with the creator of the universe, who knows his creation intimately and desires a relationship with each of them. What other religion or belief system has something as simple and beautiful as basic human needs being transformed into worship?

What a beautiful final reminder Jesus gave us at the last supper. This boils down the good news Jesus came to share, that we are all God’s chosen. The gospel was made for everybody. Before Jesus dies as a final act of love, he shows us one more way to worship, know, and remember God. None of these things, Jesus shows us how to do, requires a doctorate in Bible to understand. He didn’t give us something only one gender could participate in. He could have chosen a ritual that would exclude the poor or the people full of sin, but he did not. His last bit of instruction involved reminding us that just as each person can eat bread and drink wine. Each person was created to live in fellowship with Yahweh, the great I Am.

So when the plate gets passed to me on Sunday mornings, I look around at all the sinners and reflect on my own brokenness, all the people who are not worthy to enter into the presence of God, and I am thankful that Jesus didn’t complicate it. I am transported back to the first time he explained it, and I almost imagine rolled eyes at the simplicity of it. But what isn’t simple is the greatness of God’s love. He is forever beckoning us, all of us, to his table, where we are all welcome. He beckons all of us to come and know him.

Holly Racca
Youth Minister
Southern Hills Church of Christ
Abilene, Texas

What’ll You Give Me?

Perhaps he had been expecting something more.

End our oppression, please.

Silence the government brutality, please.

Win back our esteem and our privilege and our rightful leading place, please.

Show me the money, please.

Isn’t physical restoration what Yahweh wanted for His People, the Jews?

And wasn’t Jesus the man to make that happen, just as the prophets promised?

Judas Iscariot had been an eyewitness to everything. All the healing and demons fleeing and Lazarus shuffling out of that tomb.

The walking on water thing. And the silencing the storm thing.

An exorbitant feast of food distributed from practically nothing.

Judas saw it with his own eyes.

But somehow, all of that amazing proof of power didn’t quite cut it for him. Judas, who was well rehearsed at taking for himself, had not found the satisfaction he continued to pursue.

Maybe Judas had lost hope for the victorious conclusion he expected when he heard Jesus talk about the end of things with predictions of a tumultuous loss and suffering. (Luke 18:31-34; Luke 19:41-44)

Physical defeat?

No one signs up for that, do they?

Judas, tired of waiting perhaps, pressed into some more obvious forward motion.

He went to the place he had been trained to trust. The chief priests.

He returned to the rule following, to the powerful and to the prestigious.

To the men who were in the know.

Judas approached with a question reeking of rationale and self preservation. (Matthew 26:14-16)

“What will you give me?”

In this most resounding historical moment, Judas whispered his own idolatry to some very religious folks. And he was well received.

What is in this for me?

The whole thing troubled Jesus in his spirit.

Gathered later with his apostles for the annual celebratory feast, Jesus pauses the festivities to announce to the room, “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.” (John 13:21)

It was not the usual script for the Passover. And his suggestion was renounced soundly around the table.

But Jesus stayed the course anyway.

He had communion to share, despite all the errant choosing.

“Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon.” (John 13:25-26)

If I knew a man was betraying me, I don’t think bread would be what I would instinctually offer first. But Jesus acknowledged Judas’ choice with the giving of bread.

“This is my body given for you…” (Luke 22:19)

In this moment of familial and comforting tradition, Jesus stays in a courageously authentic conversation creating all kinds of awkward for his apostles.

He was never afraid of the truth.

“What you are about to do, do quickly.” (John 13:27)

In every gospel account we read that Jesus knew his betrayer was Judas. Jesus knew. And he didn’t round up an infantry. Or call down angels. Or even exchange angry words.

He didn’t exclude him.

He welcomed him to the table and acknowledged the man’s choice. Bravely told him to get on with it.

But first He offered him the same broken bread and body he offered for me and you.

Jesus was shining His all knowing light into the darkness even then.

He persisted in the offering of communion—relationship—even in the shadows of faithlessness; and though Judas took the bread from Jesus’ hand another covenant was incumbent.

Judas had already rationalized and reasoned another way.

He had already arranged.

“You cannot serve both God and money…” (Matthew 6:24)

The chief priests offered Judas smiling approval and coins that shone like silver.

Jesus offered his very self.

What’ll you give me?

With the Passover lamb still warming his belly, Judas stepped away from the remembrance feast that evening leaving all the light behind him.

“And it was night.” (John 13:30)

Cheryl Cash
Fort Portal, Uganda

Who is the Greatest?

On more than one occasion, Jesus had to settle disputes between his disciples when they were arguing over who would be the greatest in the kingdom Jesus came to establish. On one occasion, the mother of James and John went to Jesus, along with her two sons, asking Jesus to put them in a place of honor in his kingdom, one on his right and the other on his left (Matthew 20:20-21). Can you imagine having your mother take you to your employer to request a promotion? Jesus had to explain to them every single time that being the greatest in the kingdom of God isn’t the same as being the greatest in the kingdom of this world. To be the greatest in the kingdom of God means to be willing to take the lowest position, not demanding the place of honor. While the world sees greatness as a position in which one has the privilege of being served, Jesus sees greatness as a position in which one has the privilege of serving others. Jesus said, “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:26-28)

In John chapters 13-16, we have the privilege of eavesdropping on Jesus’ final encounter with his disciples. Jesus knew that the time had come when he would have to leave this earth, so he used his final meal with his disciples to make sure they knew everything they needed to know to continue the mission he came to begin. His first order of business was to demonstrate to them something his words were unable to convey. In John 13:1-16, as Jesus and his disciples sit down for their meal, Jesus gets up, takes off his outer clothes, wraps a towel around his waist and begins to wash his disciples’ feet. The washing of feet was a customary practice in those times. Since people walked in the dirt wearing sandals, whenever they arrived at someone’s home for dinner, the servant of the house would wash their feet to get all of the dirt off. If we focus too much on the act of the foot washing, we risk losing the meaning of what Jesus was trying to demonstrate. Jesus. The Messiah. The Son of God. God in the flesh. The one who just days before was given a grand entrance into Jerusalem, taking the place of a lowly servant to wash the feet of his disciples. The man who was supposed to be their king, doing what no other king on earth would do, serving his followers.

When Jesus was done, he asked them, “Do you understand what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13:12-17) Jesus was showing his disciples that if they want to be great in the kingdom of God, they must be willing to be the least. The first thing Jesus wanted his disciples to know before he left this earth was that greatness in the kingdom of God is not how the world sees greatness. In a world that is obsessed with the power that comes with high status, be humble. In a world that is obsessed with being served, be a servant.

Philippians 2:2-5 says, “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death - even death on a cross!”

As we reflect on our Savior, and remember the sacrifice he made for us, let us also remember the example he set for us: his humility, servanthood, and his obedience. May the words to this song ring true on our hearts until he returns for us:
“Make me a servant, Lord, make me like you.
For you are a servant. Make me one too.
Make me a servant. Do what you must do—to make me a servant.
Make me like you.”

Karisa Madera
Executive Assistant Central Church of Christ
Del Rio, TX

Nevertheless… Easter

What is your response when you come into the presence of God? Do you petition for help? Do you come to God and share a meal, fellowshipping with Him and other believers like the disciples and Lazarus did? Are you hospitable Martha, the hands and feet of Christ? Or do you respond to the presence of God as Mary, collapsing at Jesus’ feet to pour and adore?

All of these choices are good and rooted in love. But John 12:1-11 is about time and place, and only Mary correctly discerned the moment.

God created seasons. On His calendar, Passover precedes Pentecost, which precedes the Day of Atonement, which precedes Tabernacles, which precedes Hanukkah… There is a time to mourn. There is a time to dance. There is a time to be silent. There is a time to speak.

Hanukkah precedes Atonement for a light must come out from the bushel to shine.
Likewise for us, there is a time to be Martha, and there is a time to be Mary, for we can never be an effective Martha if we aren’t Mary first. But what did Mary really do that was so appropriate to the time and place?

Song of Solomon 1:3 says, Your name is oil poured out.

Mary experienced the name Jesus over three years. She sat at his feet while He taught. She watched Him raise her brother from death. The complexity and power of His name overwhelmed her that her only response was oil poured out.

She poured out $10,000 on Jesus’ feet. But that wasn’t all. She poured out her understanding of His teaching. This was a burial, after all. Why didn’t anyone else grasp this? She poured out her love and her self-preservation. She poured out her reputation and dignity. (Would you do what she did to a man who is not your husband? Imagine how scandalous this hair-down adoration was then!)

The Name, Jesus, reverberated in Mary to such a degree that all she could do was pour out her entirety, and adore.

Many of us have done this. We’ve observed Lent. We’ve confessed our sin and kissed the feet of Jesus. We’ve given Him all we have and left our crucified selves at the cross. Then we jump up. We pour, adore and be Martha.

But love poured from an empty cup will leave the world thirsty.

How can we feed the hungry is we haven’t paused to experience Christ’s hunger? How we can pour Living water into the desperate mouths of humanity if we haven’t sat long enough with Jesus for Him to purify it?

I’m sure Martha was huffing and puffing that Mary wasn’t helping in the kitchen. The stomachs of the poor outside were growling. Worthwhile ministries were on pause. Even so, Mary stayed put awhile longer. And in that sacred pause through which most of us fast forward, Jesus filled her up.

“Leave her alone!” Jesus restores her reputation. She is worth protecting.

“She has kept this for the day of my burial.” Jesus validates her financial decisions and ability to discern a truth of His teaching everyone else missed. He affirms her mind.

“You will always have the poor with you. You won’t always have me.” He commends her priorities and vision.

It’s hard to sit silent and still and empty ourselves at Jesus’ burial. It’s humiliating to confess and vulnerable. It’s exposed and painful.

Yet, for some of us it’s even harder to sit silently with Jesus to be filled. We hop up to be Martha to avoid the awkwardness of receiving Divine affirmation. “You are chosen. You are holy. You are beloved.”

Such amazing love makes us squeamish.

But be warned. If we hop up too soon from Christ’s feet we’re nothing but crucifixion people. We bypass becoming nevertheless people. “I’ve been crucified with Christ, nevertheless, I live! Yet, not I, but Christ lives in me.” God’s oil, that healing balm of Gilead, poured over us-as uncomfortable and sticky and awkward and unworthy we feel to receive such an anointing-makes us nevertheless people. And nevertheless people can raise the dead.

Crucified friends, for a few more days, sit still and be filled with the fullness of God, for the sake of the world. Come Easter, the world needs the overflow. The world needs Resurrection people.

Tiffany Dahlman
Minister of Formation at Courtyard Church of Christ
Fayetteville, NC


A Palm Sunday Reflection on John 12:12-43

The next day the great crowd… took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,“Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord— the King of Israel!” (John 12:12-13)

It’s hard to imagine exactly what Jesus knew as he rode into Jerusalem that day. On the one hand, I think he was clear about his calling. He had “set his face toward Jerusalem” and he knew the cup he was going to be asked to drink. But despite profound convictions about the nature and implications of his vocation, I can’t help but think that the shouts of praise caused him, if only for a moment, to wonder. Did he hear the people shouting “hosanna” and hope, for a fleeting second, that maybe the end of the story would be easier than he had previously believed?

There is something so seductive about human approval. Our egos love applause. I can only assume that Jesus was no different than we are in this regard. Feelings of affirmation, validation, acceptance are universally positive. We all long to be truly understood and supported. When the crowds surround you and shout your praises, you believe, if only for a moment, that they truly love you and that they are going to stand by you.

Yet, these things don’t last. Approval, acceptance, affirmation are almost always temporary. As good as our motives are, we are going to be criticized. As loving and true and noble as our cause may be, we are bound to be misunderstood. As they say “You can’t please all the people, all the time.” This is true when you are trying to please people. If your goal is higher, if your calling is from God, you will most definitely not please the people. There may be a few who understand. There may be a couple who get it — who courageously invest in the holy work God has placed in your life — but you must know that the “hosannas” of today very well may be the “crucify hims” of tomorrow.

I wonder if Jesus was tempted to place his hope in the adoration of the people? Did the admiration of the people appeal to the deepest places of insecurity in his heart? I can only imagine that our high priest, the one who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, who has been in every way tested as we are tested, was tempted to anchor his confidence in the praise of the crowd. Because that’s what I would do. I would be so thrilled by their excitement. I would be intoxicated by their adoration. And I would be tempted, deeply tempted, to find my ultimate identity in their opinion of me.

But as the one without sin, the one who understood the call of God on his life in a way that I can’t even imagine, Jesus saw the temptation for what it was and knew that he had to resist. He reminded himself that human glory is nothing compared to the glory that comes from God (v.43). He understood that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains only a single grain, but if it dies, it bears much fruit (v.25). He was crystal clear about God’s call on his life, and followed with laser-like focus. “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (v.32) In the midst of the thronging crowd, Jesus sought the one in whom true glory lies. “Father, glorify your name.” (v.28)

Amy Bost Henegar
Minister for Family Life and Spiritual Formation
Manhattan Church of Christ
New York, NY