Holy Week + Divine Love
It’s holy week, a sacred time in Christian tradition leading up to the last supper and Christ’s death and resurrection. We commemorate this event by remembering. Nearly 40 days ago, people gathered around the globe to receive marks on foreheads, physical ashen reminders of our fragility – from dust to dust.
This is the paradox of the embodied Christ: God incarnate, fully human and fully man. I think we focus a bit too much on Jesus’s divinity, his sinlessness and perfection. But perfection wasn’t even a characteristic or attribute in ancient Hebrew culture (something I learned from The BEMA Podcast). The Hebrews didn’t view creation or the garden as perfect, but good. And I think this would have been the posture towards the incarnate Christ. He was a good man, good in all the ways that made him stand out as uniquely unhuman. And yet, in his humanity he felt the weight of human emotions: joy, hunger, lament, grief, anxiety, fear, anger. The paradox of the personhood of Jesus is empathy embodied.
Jesus & Women
Last year, I found myself undone by a reintroduction to the Gospels. I began to pay attention to Jesus’s interaction with women in particular. I realized everything I’d believed about women was formed through a modern, western lens with far more merit given to Paul’s alleged “household codes” than Jesus’s actual ministry and relationships. I grew up hearing (and simultaneously believing) that women could not preach. The lack of women in the pulpit seemed to spill over into the majority of church roles. I never saw a female elder or deacon or tithe-collector or worship leader. For years, I never heard a woman read scripture in church or lead the congregation in prayer. I never even saw a woman pass a clipboard.
To speak of “women’s roles,” to highlight inconsistencies makes many complementarians uncomfortable. Some will see the paragraph above and think words like “progressive” or “feminist.” They will dismiss genuine criticism as an attack on “God’s design.” But I wonder: is it God’s design or man’s design?
Because the first bearers of good news, the first preachers of the resurrection were women.
Here we are 2,000 years removed from Jesus of Nazareth and we’ve returned to the ways of tradition and doctrine and legalism instead of Love (as Marty Solomon says: the way of empire instead of the way of shalom). I think often about Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. I think about how so many pastors and evangelical men avoid conversations with women “lest someone get the wrong idea.” They implement the Billy Graham rule to keep the sexes separated and distanced. They keep women from speaking, teaching, preaching. We are half the body, but kept apart from it. We are full of wisdom, compassion, and knowledge but treated *more often* as sexual threats instead of truth-tellers and image-bearers.
Jesus was fully human with fully human male anatomy, but he wasn’t worried about the perceptions of a “town harlot” bathing his feet in tears and perfume. Nor was he concerned about his public conversation with a multi-married woman at the well. He wasn’t too self important to speak with women, to touch women, to be touched by women. He listened and engaged with women in a highly patriarchal culture. And in his resurrection, he appeared first to a woman.
I think about that conversation in a garden, sunshine and olive trees and the smell of the sea wafting in the early morning breeze. I think about Mary’s lament, the grief of dead hope.
And Jesus’s tender gaze (alone with a woman): “Mary,” he says. Just her name. An acknowledgement of her personhood, her sorrow. In that moment, a veil lifts and she sees the risen Christ, a Christ still in male form in a male dominated culture. He doesn’t say: “bring the men so I can tell them what to do.” He sends her out, an equipped preacher with a message she would deliver to men.
It is Good Friday. A day of death and crushing uncertainty. It’s a day we tend to associate more with “sinful” hearts than evil actions. In Sunday school, we made beaded bracelets with different colors signifying things I no longer remember. We oversimplified some things and overcomplicated others.
But one thing I can’t stop thinking about this particular week is the compassion of a God man who embodied neighborly love in a way so vacant in far too many modern, western Christian traditions. I think it’s the reason Jesus’s interaction with women matters so much. These days there are pastors flocking to Twitter and condemning women who preach and disrupt a certain status quo. There are Christian men who view women more as jezebels than disciples, who cannot respect the wisdom of women and see it, instead, as a threat.
The religious elite also saw Jesus as a threat. Laws and rigidity upheld tradition, kept people in their “rightful places” – the sick with the sick, the poor in the streets, the women silenced…they tried to entrap Jesus with the question about the greatest commandment, most likely considering the long, long lists of “shall nots.”
But Jesus wasn’t concerned with religious rigamarole. Instead he cited love.
The resurrection is a story of Divine Love. It’s a paradox because in our humanity, we struggle to believe in our worthiness and belovedness. It’s easier to cast stones than enter into the fray, to reject and condemn than welcome sinners to the table. It’s easier to think about the next life and divorce ourselves from the here and now, to segment ourselves off from those who are different, foreign, unfamiliar.
On the night before his death, Jesus broke bread, sipped wine, and passed the simple supper around a table of misfits. His body broken, his blood spilled for you, and you, and you, and you…for the women you dismiss, for the prodigal son you condemn, for the gay neighbor you judge, for the Democrat you loathe, for the poor single mom on food stamps, for the sick friend, for the elderly widow, for the disbeliever, for the deconstructer, for the apathetic, for the desert wander, for those who easily believe, and those wracked (like Thomas) by overwhelming doubt, for all…none are exempt, none are condemned, all are beloved.
The last supper, the morning at the tomb, the hands in sides, the commission to tell others of the divine encounter…are revelations of love so profound, so all-encompassing we’ve done our damndest to complicate love with dogma. We humans created divides, erected barricades, barred the table.
But Jesus said “take and eat” to Peter who denied and Judas who betrayed and the men who ran and hid and lost faith…Jesus offered the comfort of fresh bread, the refreshing taste of wine. He looked into the eyes of the gathered disciples and understood their emotions, their raw humanity.
“The gospel is absurd and the life of Jesus is meaningless unless we believe that He lived, died, and rose again with but one purpose in mind: to make brand-new creation. Not to make people with better morals but to create a community of prophets and professional lovers, men and women who would surrender to the mystery of the fire of the Spirit that burns within, who would live in ever greater fidelity to the omnipresent Word of God, who would enter into the center of it all, the very heart and mystery of Christ, into the center of the flame that consumes, purifies, and sets everything aglow with peace, joy, boldness, and extravagant, furious love. This, my friend, is what it really means to be a Christian.” — Brennan Manning
Loving & Savoring
Pre-order: The Lord is My Courage by K.J. Ramsey – K.J. writes in a way that brings me to tears every single time. She’s a uniquely gifted wordsmith, a bastion of hope to many, especially those who have experienced spiritual abuse and chronic illness. I spent several writing sessions at Starbucks seated across from K.J. as she worked on this book and it’s been a privilege to hear bits and pieces of it here and there. The book releases June 21, but (if you can) consider pre-ordering now to support K.J.’s important work. She is a gift to us.
Book: The Midnight Library by Matt Haig – I love when fiction tugs at my tender soul. An imaginary world can knock me off a ledge of discouragement into the wonder of possibility–the magic of literature. I read this book at a time I needed the reminder that though what ifs can plague us, we are not obsolete; we contain within our beings infinite worth and value. Not because of what we’ve accomplished or experienced, but simply because we are.
Recipe: The Clever Carrot’s sourdough hot cross buns – this will be my third year making these delectable, fluffy treats. This recipe has yet to disappoint me and serves as *the best* Easter morning recipe.
A little Easter humor