[Update: this series has been completed. Part 1: the forsaking of God; Part 2: the Grace of Jesus; Part 3: the limits of Grace?; Part 4: the restoration of disciples; Part 5: conclusion & benediction]
In Part 1 of this series, we saw that we will all forsake Jesus many times in our lives, just as the disciples did on the Thursday night of Holy Week. In Part 2, we saw that in light of this abandonment, Jesus responds to those that forsake him by being unconditionally and unlimitedly gracious towards them in their forsaking of him. In Part 3, we looked at just how scandalous and beautiful this grace is and how and why we often try and limit it. Today, we give practical ways that we can prepare ourselves to come back to our Lord, even after we have forsaken him in our own “Thursday” seasons.
As we saw in Part 1, Holy Week was a week-long process in which everything–creation, creatures, and God Himself–all forsook Jesus, turning their back on him. We’ve said several times now that true disciples of Jesus are not those that never forsake Jesus, but they are those that after forsaking him, turn back. And so, to help us see how we do this, let’s look at the first person in this story to turn back.
At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)… With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died,[c] he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” –Mark 15:33-34, 37-39
What was it, in those moments right after the final and ultimate forsaking of Jesus occurred, that caused this Centurion to be the first of Creation to turn back towards Jesus?
It was seeing and beholding the forsaken and crucified Christ.
And the same holds true for us today. It is by seeing Jesus that forsaking disciples return, and it is by this same process that currently-faithful disciples prepare themselves for their own seasons of forsaking. To both the faithful and forsaking, the call is the same: behold Jesus.
And so let’s look back at the story to see how Jesus met his disciples in such a way that prepared them for their forsaking and called them back from it. My hope is that these things, when embraced by ourselves as well, will strengthen us for the “Thursdays” to come and call us back from the “Thursdays” we’re in.
Communion: One of the clearest ways that Jesus strengthens his disciples and prepares them for the events that will happen mere hours later is by meeting them in the Last Supper, where he initiates the sacrament of Communion. It is still here that we meet Christ most tangibly and clearly. As I’ve written before, Communion is not merely symbolic; there are very real spiritual things happening there. We should savor those moments that we are able to commune with our Christ at his table.
Community: We see that after the disciples forsook Jesus and all looked like it was lost, for some reason they still stuck together. They were sustained and somehow found strength and encouragement by remaining with one another, even as none of them seemed to have any true sense of what was going on.
Consistency: We see Peter, the disciple that most famously and directly forsook Jesus, continue to follow Jesus throughout the night as Jesus went through his various trials. Why? When Peter had another chance to leave Jesus, earlier in his ministry, Peter’s response was “Where else would we go?”
Peter had woven the rhythm of his life so much into this experience of Jesus that even when all collapsed around him, he still lingered–even if it was at a distance. He kept doing all he knew to do; all he had strength to do. He continued to do what he could to stay near to Jesus even when that put him a situation of greater forsaking than the other disciples. And in this we see a very helpful principle for our lives:
Where your feet go, your soul goes with them: If you want to examine the place of your soul, see where your feet are going. Further, if you want your soul to go in a certain direction, put your feet in that direction! Even if Peter didn’t “feel” confident in Jesus, he wanted his soul to be near him still, and so he put his feet in the direction of Christ. And it sustained him on Thursday.
Embodied Worship/Liturgy: as noted in an earlier post, when the disciples were merely two verses away from falling away from Jesus, he gave them communion and sang a hymn with them. This was another way Jesus was strengthening his disciples. Even when their hearts were about to fail them, he was getting their bodies and tongues and vocal chords accustomed to what it felt like to taste him and sing with him–no matter where their hearts were in it.
In The Count of Monte Cristo, when Edmond Dantes is in jail and at his most extreme moment of doubt–his “Thursday”, if you will–the thing that sustains him are his remembrances of the Catholic prayers that he spent years memorizing and doing over and over and over again–often times without thought:
Dantes had exhausted all human resources, and he turned to God. All the pious ideas that had been so long forgotten, returned; he recollected the prayers his mother had taught him, and discovered a new meaning in every word; for in prosperity prayers seem but a mere medley of words, until misfortune comes and the unhappy sufferer first understands the meaning of the sublime language in which he invokes the pity of heaven!
Jesus’ Words & Prayers: On Tuesday, Jesus invites his disciples to hear his teaching and on Thursday night, immediately preceding Peter’s forsaking, Jesus invites him to listen in on his deepest and darkest prayers. This reminds us that the primary point of Scripture is not to teach, but to reveal. The first thought we bring to a Biblical passage is not meant to be how can I apply this to my life? Rather, it’s who is the God revealed in this passage? This is what sustains and prepares us for Thursday.
The teachings and prayers in the Bible are not first and foremost meant to tell us what to do, but to show us Jesus; because, remember, what sustains us is seeing Him. This is why a forsaker’s best biblical friend are the Psalms; they are Christ’s prayers and thoughts left for us to see who he is and how he meets us on Thursday.
Forsaking Jesus in the first place: though this may seem counter-intuitive, it’s actually quite simple. The more we see our need, the more we see our Christ. Often times, the place that Jesus meets us most clearly is in our forsaking of him. There are some people (as I mentioned in my last post) that, in a way, haven’t sinned enough to see the true depth of their need for Christ. Most Christians I talk to that have the deepest, most meaningful and dynamic relationships with Christ are those that have had a season of going further down that path of sin’s allurements than they ever could have imagined themselves doing. And then they came back.
Taking the pressure off: yes, those that are Christians want to honor God. They want to be holy. They want to “please” him. And these are good desires. But Christ has accomplished on our behalf that which is necessary to make us honorable, holy, and pleasing before him. Our responsibility now is to know him and respond to that accordingly.
When we look at the bad theology of those crying Hosanna on Palm Sunday, the betrayal of Jesus on Wednesday, Peter’s denial of Christ on Thursday, and the crucifixion of the Son of God on Friday, we see that ours is a God not afraid to use sin and forsaking in each of our stories as forsaking and returning disciples. Our sins, our doubts, our forsaking hearts do not disqualify us from knowing Christ.
And if this is true, then we can relax. When we look at Holy Week, those forsaking Jesus, and how he responds to them, we see that we can live, doubt, sin, and wrestle more freely and without the pressure and burden of performance on our shoulders. And when we feel this freedom, we allow more room for Christ to meet us in our forsaking and, letting us behold Him, call us back to Himself.
Can you think of any other ways that Christ reveals himself to forsaking disciples?
[This was getting far too long, so I will put up my brief conclusion and benediction tomorrow]