by Ervin Stutzman,
Weeks ago, as I contemplated the Lenten journey, I still saw occasional patches of snow or ice in the yard. These vestiges of winter made me long for the warmth of Easter, the bursting forth of spring. The season of Lent brings its own chill, a foreboding of hard things on the unseen horizon. It prompts in me a sense of humility, an awareness of deep need for all that God has to offer.
I think of Lent as a time for self-sacrifice, the occasion to give up something precious in the hope of spiritual reward. It is a time to lay aside unnecessary burdens which weigh down our shoulders and bow our backs. So like Christ’s sent disciples, I embarked on the Lenten journey after stripping off what I deemed as excess baggage. In a figurative sense at least, I determined to set off with only a change of clothes, sandals, and a staff.
After several days on the journey, I came to a place where the path disappeared in the thick woods. The way forward was not clear; no signposts were in sight. A branch lay fallen across the beaten path. I would have to wrestle my way around the barrier. I stopped to ponder and pray. Had I lost my way? Was God still leading the way?
It was difficult to see in the dim light. Where were the signs of God’s presence? In the absence of human footprints, was God beckoning me to blaze a lonely trail? I longed to see further ahead, to gaze around the next bend. Ever so slowly I made my way forward, hoping that I was hearing the whisper of God’s voice.
After I passed through that place of uncertainty and foreboding, God’s abundant light streamed onto the path. Splashes of light illuminated my way through tall trees. The sounds of the first birds of spring filled the air, accenting the sound of bubbling water in the nearby brook.
And now that I’ve come to the end of the Lenten journey, I muse about what I’ve learned on the trip. I’ve observed that a hunger and thirst for God yields its own sense of fullness and satisfaction. The ashes of repentance eventuate in the renewal of hope. The emptying of self makes room for the fullness of the divine. The somber joy of Lent brings the exuberant hope of Easter.
In this solemn walk, the story of God’s people has illuminated my own story. God’s people also walked on ancient paths with many twists and turns, at times through the wilderness. Yet they walked the path together, with the cloud of God’s presence going before them. To be truly embraced by the community of God’s people is to be received by God.
In the chill of Lent, in the emptiness of the desert, nothing is more precious than a sense of God’s daily provision. Truly I can sing with the chorus of God’s people – “our lives are in your hands.”
By Carmen Schrock-Hurst
1981 EMU alum, 1996 AMBS alum, co-pastor of Immanuel Mennonite Church
Read: John chapters 18 and 19 (focus John 19: 18-30)
Reflect: Just as Jesus hung on a cross between two common thieves, I have come to think of a good Easter celebration as hanging between two extreme ways of marking this Holy Season. On the one hand I have experienced Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Guatemala, Honduras and the Philippines where there is an extreme emphasis on Good Friday and Jesus’ suffering and where some of the devoted faithful even practice self-flaggelation, trying to earn God’s favor. But in those cultures I observed little emphasis on Easter Sunday and resurrection joy.
On the other hand, here in North America we find ourselves awash in pastel M&Ms and pink marshmallow chicks: a theology of fluff. Ours is a culture that likes to fast forward past the Good Friday story and go straight to Easter brunch wearing our Easter bonnets. We don’t like suffering. We no longer close banks, schools and businesses on Good Friday, as we’d rather worship the god of consumption than of redemption. Most of our society skips attending any type of Good Friday service, but our churches are full on Easter Sunday.
Jesus hangs in the middle, between the thieves and between all cultures: betrayed, tortured, suffering, forgiving. In his last moments he cares for his mother and for those beside him. Hearing about Jesus’ betrayal by a trusted friend, his condemnation by both religious and civil authorities, and his suffering and death is never easy. But it is the foundation of what we believe. Without Good Friday there is no Easter.
In our small congregation in Pittsburgh one of our Good Friday traditions was to each take a turn kneeling at the foot of a large wooden cross that was laying on the floor at the front of the church. With a large hammer we were invited to pound a nail into the cross. The slow and steady rhythm of many nails being pounded, “thump, thump, thump” echoed through an otherwise silent church and would pierce my heart, bit by bit. Sitting in silent reflection it was never hard for me to come up with examples from my day to day life of how I had failed Jesus. The harder part was letting those examples remain at the foot of that cross.
Jesus’ final words “it is finished” are a reminder that nothing we do can add to the saving work of his resurrection that triumphed over suffering, sin and death. We are freed from the thief of legalism and self deprivation that tries to earn salvation by proving devotion. And we are freed from the thief of over-consumption and the deceptive invitation to buy happiness and salvation with pastel M&Ms and marshmallow chicks. Thanks be to God that Jesus hung in the middle.
Respond: Jesus, in your dying you modeled suffering love. Help us to learn from the mystery of your life and death and to spend today willing to face some difficult truths in our own hearts, as we prepare to celebrate anew the power of your resurrection. Thank you that in you “the work is finished.” Amen.
By Barbara Seward,
Master of Divinity student
Read: John 13:1-17, 31-35
For a child without love, I remember the gift of Love.
For a child who hated, I remember being given the ability to Love.
For a child who lived according to the flesh, I remember losing my life.
As His hour approached, our Christ knew that he was returning to the Father. He had loved His own who were in the world and he was about to show them the full extent of his love. ( John13:1) He removed his outer garment to perform the act reserved for the lowliest servant; He washed feet. The cross stood before Him, yet he washed feet. His blood was about to flow upon the earth, yet he washed feet.
I have set you an example that you should do what I have done for you,” he said. (John 13:15) A little later, he says, ‘Love one another.”(John 13:34)
This example had so little to do with the act itself, but it had everything to do with love portrayed and humility displayed. This menial task didn’t garner any rewards or accolades. After all, who would do such a trivial thing? Our Christ did. And he didn’t stop at foot washing; he continued to demonstrate His love and walked to the cross. His life seeped from him and his love remained, he arose on the third day and his love remained, he ascended to the Father and his love remained, and as he lives within us today, his love remains.
Sweet brothers and sisters, we are to wash feet everyday of our lives, for love doesn’t stop. It is not conditioned upon approval or agreement.
For a child who knows love, I pray to act
For a child who loves, I pray to pour it out upon the earth.
For a child who has been given life…I return it to the One who gifted it.
Respond: May we always follow the wind, and shed that which does not glorify.
By Myron Augsburger
EMU professor emeritus and former president
Read: John 13: 21-32
Reflect: The refinement of spirit during Lent calls us to renewal of integrity in our love. Our Master is the one example of loving with integrity to the fullness of love.
Love means that one’s life is intimately open to that of another. In our text, following upon the story of Jesus’ act of washing the disciple’s feet, we need to note that Judas was among the disciples. Reading the account we must ask, what must have passed between Jesus and Judas as Jesus knelt before his betrayer, looked up into his eyes and washed his feet – “Judas, I haven’t changed, I still love you, you are the one alienating yourself from me.”
Of Jesus’ act, at the beginning of the chapter it says, “Having loved his own he loved them to the full extent of love” (13:1). This is a statement that searches our hearts in this Lenten season but always, do we love to the full those who may be the most unlovable. Our text makes clear that Jesus understood Judas and still showed him respect, he didn’t expose and humiliate him before his colleagues.
This section concludes noting that Jesus saw his glorification with the Father not in position or power but in the self-giving love that blesses others. He could suffer at the hands of humanity, our hands, and in his self-giving to the death his forgiveness is genuine, at the cross he is forgiving us who actually hurt him.
In contrast to Judas, “If we walk in the light as He is in the light we are having fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus his Son keeps on cleansing us from all sin” (I John 1:7).
Respond: Let us follow our Master, the the one example of loving with integrity to the fullness of love.
By Louisa Tindall
Junior English Secondary Education major
Read: John 12: 20-36
Reflect: I’m a country girl. I’ve lived next to fields of wheat, soy bean, and corn all my life, so today’s scripture reference to “corn of wheat” really jumped out at me. I love working with my hands in the dirt to watch plants grow.
But I have never heard of a “corn of wheat” before. When I looked at the footnote in my Bible, I discovered a “corn” is really one grain, a tiny granule of wheat. Jesus said, “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.”
When I read this verse, I was reminded of the parable of the mustard seed Jesus told in Matthew 13:31-32. Both a mustard seed and a corn of wheat are very tiny, yet both are used by God to create immense objects, in this case a tree or a huge wheat crop. But before the crop can be achieved, the corn of wheat has to die. Only then can “it bringeth forth much fruit.”
How can something die and yet make something else grow and live? The footnote in my Bible led me to 1 Corinthians 15:36, where Paul says, “Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die.” The crop won’t flourish until the seed has died. Then, and only then, does the growing process occur.
What a symbol of our own lives! A Christian has to die unto themselves in order to make a difference and for change to occur. Only then can the Lord use that person to make a difference in another person’s life, either leading an unbeliever to Christ or helping another Christian get back on the right path.
Jesus also used the corn of wheat symbol to reference His own death on the cross. Later in today’s passage, Jesus said, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” Jesus was specifically telling people that He was going to die. His death is both extremely sad and filled with hope. Jesus’ death allowed anyone to accept Him as Savior, to get rid of their old self, and to grow in Christ and become a new creation! How exciting and amazing! Jesus used His death on the cross to help all of us draw and grow closer to Him and be with Him forever in Heaven!
What also struck me about this passage was when Jesus said, “Yet a little while is the light with you…While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light.” As soon as I read this I remembered one of my favorite Sunday school songs called “This Little Light of Mine.” In that song, we are told to “Let [our light] shine till Jesus comes.” How very true for Christians in today’s changing world!
In these two verses, Jesus encourages all Christians to continue walking in His ways. The world may one day remove everything that is Christian, and followers of Jesus will find it very difficult to even read the Bible, go to church, or sing hymns praising God. In this passage, Jesus seems to be telling His followers to hold onto Him, focus solely on Him, and get rid of the “darkness” that the world wants a person to believe. While Christians still “have light,” we should use it to make a difference in people’s lives and spread God’s Word.
As I continue my time here at EMU, I am going to keep these thoughts and teachings of Jesus close to my heart and really put them into practice. I want to make a difference in someone’s. I need to give all of my sins up and make a change in my life in order to impact others. Even though I’m small and only one person, I want to share God’s light and reach a dark world. I want to be the corn of wheat that makes a difference.
Respond: How can you “die” to yourself to help make an impact in another person’s life and help others grow in Christ? Is there something God wants you to give up so that you can draw closer to Him? God can give you the strength to fully trust in Him and to give up anything that is holding you back from what He has planned for your life.
By the spring 2009 Latin America Cross-cultural Group (pictured above with Loren and Pat Swartzendruber)
This reflection was compiled by cross-cultural leader Ann Hershberger, EMU alum and current professor of nursing, after the group reviewed the passage on a recent Sunday morning for their worship together. Ann and her husband Jim, a pastor, have led several cross-culturals to Latin America.
Read: John 12:1-11
Reflect: Living in Central America this semester we can easily imagine hosts putting themselves in danger for inviting particular guests such as Jesus to a dinner in their honor. We have heard frequent stories of persons who were attacked or killed for offering hospitality to others. At the end of today’s story Lazarus and his sisters are clearly in danger for they represent evidence of Jesus’ power. Yet their love and care for Jesus carries them on.
Mary adds to their notoriety as she used a copious amount of very fragrant and expensive perfume to wash Jesus’ feet, aromatic enough to fill the entire house. Further, she then uses her hair to dry his feet, inappropriately revealing herself to a group of men. Martha continues to serve as she has before.
Their motives are not explained. Judas, however, gets the parenthesis of explanation in this passage. We are given the reasons for his words of condemnation for Mary’s extravagance. (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief.)
As our group discussed this passage it became clear that the state of the heart is the key behind the motivation for our actions. We might serve at tables, give ourselves to poor or other causes, host those seen as dangerous to the church or society, engage in an expensive act of celebration, or decry actions of others. But what is the state of our heart when we do these things? What if our motivations followed us around in parenthesis or those cartoon balloons for all to see? (She said this because……, he did this because…).
During this semester we are in a place where the poor certainly are always with us. That is true in Harrisonburg or anywhere else as well, though it is easier to live without seeing their presence. Jesus was clear in his overall message that response to the poor and others in need is imperative. And we must respond even if it means disapproval and danger from those around us. Yet, today, we recognize we must respond from a place at Jesus’ feet.
Respond: God, help us be aware of the state of our hearts with each action and word. May we know you and love you enough to risk bold actions on behalf of those around us.
by Wendy J. Miller
Associate professor of spiritual formation and author of SoulSpace
Reflect: Read slowly. Listen deeply. Indwell the scripture: John 15:12-17; 12:12-16.
Jesus knows it is time for him to enter Jerusalem. He knows what lays ahead, and in preparation for what awaits him – and his followers – he invites them to a love which holds in a deep listening to all that Jesus has shared with us. In this way we are Jesus’ friends. And just as he listens to his Father for what he is to say and do, so he asks us to listen. We are to love him in this way, and to love one another. This love will be tested over the next few days, but as we continue on this Lenten pilgrimage in the gospels we learn that even if his closest friends and followers abandon him, Jesus never abandons them.
As Jesus leaves Bethany, a crowd has already gathered: expectant, eager, sure of victory. As Jesus seats himself on a donkey the crowd gather around, cutting leafy branches from trees in the nearby fields to lay on the ground ahead of him. They begin shouting the prayer they know by heart from the Hebrew book of prayer, the Psalms.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord –
The King of Israel!” (John 12:13; see also Psalm 118:25,26)
Surrounded with the sound of the chant, blessing him, welcoming him as King of Israel, Jesus rides across the foothills of the Mount of Olives, knowing that his life and work have been misunderstood, and that no such political victory and earthly throne will happen. Deep in his heart he grieves over the inability of the people of Israel, God’s own people, to see and embrace the presence of God among them, and the peace that God offers .(See Luke 19:41-44)
Jesus is God among us; God coming to us offering peace, the way back home. The things that make for the peace which Jesus brings will challenge and dismantle the way of the world and all that is not of God. According to the world’s system peace is known when war ceases because the military might and strategy of one nation is greater than the other, when peace treaties are signed and national boundaries agreed on. But God invites us to a deeper peace-making; this peace begins as we embrace the truth that we are at war with God, within ourselves, and with each other. The way back home begins here as we accept God’s way of peace-making. Only later will the disciples grasp what the Hebrew scriptures were truly saying about Jesus, this One whom they had lived with, listened to, walked and worked with, for the last three years.
Take some time to be present for God, simply to be with God.
What are the things that make for peace in your life?
by Brian Gumm,
Master of Divinity/Master of Conflict Transformation Dual Degree student
Read: Philippians 2:5-11
Reflect: But [Jesus] made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant…” Our English teachers taught us that we’re not supposed to begin sentences with the words “and” or “but.” To be fair, the snippet of scripture listed above doesn’t start the sentence, but comes after a comma and a previous thought. But “but” is important to consider here, so we’ll suspend convention to make a point, which is this:
The nature of Jesus Christ is the eternal “but” to our human nature.
The dictionary defines “but” as “on the contrary.” Our nature is contrary to Christ’s. The disciples argued about who was the greatest, and Jesus washed their dirty feet. Furious religious leaders and powerful Roman officials held Jesus’ life in their hands, and he stood before them. Silently. A criminal hung on a cross next to Jesus, and he was invited to paradise. The world cries: “But that’s not fair!” We marvel at our Lord who works in such a strange fashion.
In this letter, written nearly two millennia ago, Paul is talking to a church in northern Greece. But Paul is also talking to us now. Today. He’s pointing to Christ. Listen! Jesus is calling us to pour ourselves out for the sake of the good news that he brought and continues to bring to this earth.
Will we hear the call? If so, what will our response be?
Respond: God, we come up with an endless string of “buts” to wiggle our way out of obedience to you. How amazing it is, then, that you continue to work with us and bless us. May we take Christ’s example of complete humility and obedience to heart and make it our goal. May his selflessness puncture the inflated balloons of our selfishness and bring us back down to serve our neighbors and bring glory to you. In Christ’s holy name we ask this: Amen.
By Lars Akerson
EMU class of 2008
Lars is currently traveling with EMU senior Jon Spicher on bicycle from EMU’s campus in Harrisonburg, Va., to Asunción, Paraguay for Mennonite World Conference in July 2009. Their website describes their cross-contintental journey as a pilgrimage that will allow them “to learn from and serve those we meet and to begin living in a community relevant to Christ’s call.”
As I’ve traveled through Mexico over the past several weeks, I haven’t been able to get the idea of self-sacrifice and self-sacrificial love out of my mind and soul. There are many ways this text interacts with my recent experiences, but this seems to stand in stark contrast to the rest. It’s so contrary to any other voice in the history of the world, and it nestles itself right at the core of the Gospel.
I’ve seen huge Aztec temples built and inaugurated with the sacrifices of thousands of laborers and captive warriors; read of massive corporate riches amassed at the cost of millions of people’s pensions and retirement funds; and participated in the incredible luxury afforded to those at the core of the developed world while those at the periphery sew it together and move from home to the ‘misery belts,’ or try to fight their way closer to the core. Where did we ever get the idea that this is what people are for? Did we somehow forget that we, too, are human?
Jesus seems intent to remind us what it means to be truly human. In John 12:24 He compares humans and their lives to seeds, whose sole purpose it is to give their all to allow for new life to spring forth. That’s the biology of a seed: it comes with just enough energy for germination, and when that is done, its job is over.
Jesus says in his own baffling way that that’s the essence of the glory of the Son of Man – the truly Human One. He says, in the words of Eminem, “Just lose it.” As he speaks, he’s not without fear, but he knows – as the voice reiterates – that his glorification will continue throughout future generations. Love can lead in no other way. This will be both the eternal glory of humanity and the unending shame of “the prince of this world.”
It’s the perfect culmination of the process of selflessness. The world cannot understand a life devoted entirely to Shalom, and so exposes its own lack by raising up – by crucifying – Love. Yet, we have no room for indignation. It is we who have not understood; it is we who have set the nails to Christ’s body. We, the residents of this world, must live – for now – in this twilight. We must recognize our complicity in both the evil and the holiness of this world. For, if we are willing, it will be the soil of our transformation.
Respond: LORD God, We await Your Spirit of Patience, as we live with ourselves, both holy and detestable; and of Humility, as we offer ourselves daily, by Your love, to Your world. Open our eyes, that we may see Your color and design in ourselves. Unstop our ears, that we may hear Your melody and harmonies in the world in which we live. For it is by Your Son that we are healed, Amen.