Holy Week is a wonderful week but also one that can be rather busy. Some churches have Passover (Seder) meals during the week to remind them of their Biblical/historical roots. Many have services of Holy Communion; some even practice "foot washing." In many communities there are Good Friday services, and most churches will have an Easter egg hunt for the children. Then, of course, there is the celebration of Easter Sunday, coupled with special music, choir cantatas, Easter lilies, and other special events. For most Christian churches this is rather hectic time.
In the Gospel narratives it is amazing that nearly 1/4 of the stories in the synoptic gospels and 1/3 of the stories in the Gospel of John describe events that take place in a one week period of time. It is very difficult, in such a brief period of time, to wrap one's heart and mind around all of the various themes that are presented. In light of this, I have found it helpful each year to take a "slice of Holy Week" and let my thoughts center on one main theme. This year my slice is the prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane,
The focus of my attention this year is on John 17:6-12. This is known as Jesus' prayer for his disciples; so I interpret this to be one of Jesus' prayers for me. In this prayer Jesus prays that his followers might experience 4 main things: protection, unity, joy, and sanctification. It is clear, as we read this text, that these are four things that Jesus desires for each of us.
Protection is needed because the world can be a dangerous place. Some of the dangers are physical, others are relational and/or spiritual. How easy it is, at times, to be tempted into an addiction, an unhealthy relationship, an unkind way of speaking, or a destructive way of thinking. Our hearts and minds, as well as our bodies, need protection from destructive forces.
Unity is required in every type of fellowship: marriage, church family, work place, community and school. All we have to do is look to our current political scene to see the destruction dis-unity can bring. It doesn't mean that we always think a like; that is not the goal nor is it even healthy. It does mean, however, that in the midst of differences of opinion we learn to work together to accomplish a greater good. Jesus said it well: "a house divided against itself can not stand."
Joy is more than happiness. Happiness tends to be an emotion that is based on positive circumstances.. Joy is more of a deep seated satisfaction that is evidenced in both good times and bad.
Sanctification, for Christians, is simply the ongoing journey of being transformed into Christ-likeness. The question for each of us is simply: "Am I more like Jesus today than I was yesterday?" If not, perhaps a change in attitude, values, or priorities should be considered.
So this is my "slice" of Holy Week for 2019. It may not be the place where you feel led to focus. But I do encourage you to find a passage or theme and allow your mind to "settle in" during this important week. For this is a holy week: a time when hearts can be touched and our lives can truly be changed.
Palm Sunday is one of the most celebrate days of the Christian year. In fact, we are told, it is one day when children actually look forward to going to church: The music is upbeat, the children usually get to participate in a "palm procession," and in many churches they receive a palm branch to take home. All in all, a pretty exciting day!
But there is more to Palm Sunday than celebration and excitement. One commentator puts it like this: "The triumphant entry was an act of defiance. By the time this took place there was a price on Jesus head. The chief priests and Pharisees ordered that anyone who found out where Jesus was should report it so that they might arrest him. The natural response would have been for Jesus to slip into Jerusalem and remain hidden. But he entered in a way that would bring the attention of the entire community on Him. It was an incredible act of courage.
How many times do we, when faced with difficult circumstances and tough decisions, slip into hiding and try to avoid the troubles that are before us? It is far easier to avoid a toxic person or situation than it is to bring issues to light or to force a confrontation. But there comes a point when we know, in our heart of hearts, that we must "ride into Jerusalem."
Jerusalem, for you, could be any number of things: Perhaps it is a heartfelt conversation you need to have with your spouse. Possibly the setting of actual boundaries coupled with enforced consequences is what is needed in your relationship with your children. Maybe it's time to begin exploring the possibility of a new job. It may be that you have struggled with a nagging habit or addiction for years and you now realize that you need to seek professional help. Whatever the need may be, courage to take action will certainly be required.
I hope that Palm Sunday will be a day of celebration for all. But I also pray that it will be a day when God will grant us the courage to "ride into Jerusalem" and confront the issues that need to be resolved. That, in essence, is what therapeutic assistance is for; to help us find a way to face and deal with those situations that bind us. If I can assist you in your "ride to Jerusalem" please call me to day: 918-914-HOPE (4673).
Many are familiar with the words of Revelation 22:13 where Christ says, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End." When he speaks of the "alpha and omega" he is referring to the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. It is sort of like saying, "I am the 'A' and the 'Z'." It is Christ's way of affirming that in terms of our life, He is the one who is with us at the beginning and He is the one who will be with us until the end. These are powerful and comforting words. But what do these words mean for us in terms our daily life? What do these words mean in terms of our response to Him? At least four things come to my mind...
There is a playground on the property of our church. It is a very nice one that was developed in memory of one of our children who lost her life in a tragic way. It was developed primarily for use by our church members, but it is open to all from our community. One of the playground's most frequent guests is a young girl who will come and, for hours, simply swing.
I'm usually not surprised to see her on the swing. When I come and go from my office, frequently we will wave to each other as I pass by. But one day the temperature was freezing. In fact the temperature gage said 22! Yet, there she was, swinging on the swing. What in the world could this mean?
It finally happened! The tree in my back yard, that I was planning to cut down, fell over. I didn't even know it had happened; my grandson came in from the backyard and shouted, "Pappy, your tree fell down!" He was right. It had toppled to the ground and when I examined it, amazingly, I could find no evidence of any roots. I don't know exactly what happened to them, but without roots the tree had no chance to remain standing. It is much like that in our spiritual life as well...
One of my many interests is that of photography and one of the key principles of photography is to "protect your highlights." Now what does that mean? A highlight is usually the "brightest area of a photograph in which you can see detail." It is what gives the photo contrast and it is the portion of the photo that captures our attention. Recently I listened to photographer/philosopher Sean Tucker describe this theme of "protect your highlights" but he applied the principle to more than just photography; he said this principle also needs to be applied to life.
It is very common this time of year for families, churches, shopping malls, (and even some businesses) to decorate in ways that lift up the Christmas season. The light displays throughout the Tulsa and surrounding area spectacular. Christmas trees and manger scenes can be easily found. (Pictured above is a display that was set up by the Passages Sunday School class of the 1st UMC of Sapulpa). But the value of these displays does not come from a simple casual glance; rather the value is found in a pause coupled with reflection...
Every year, at this time, the beloved Dr Seuss classic, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, can be found on one of our local or cable stations. It is a humorous story and one which provides a wonderful lesson for children young and old. But the fact is, there are real "grinches" who steal Christmas from many, each and every year. Some of theses grinches have been around since the birth of Christ.
I recently learned that our local Presbyterian Church (1st Presbyterian of Sapulpa) was offering a Blue Christmas service for families during Advent. Some may ask, "Why would they do that? Isn't Christmas a season for celebration and joy? Who would attend a "blue" Christmas service?" Well the fact is many will (or should) attend.
I attended a "wellness" event recently; it was sponsored by our Methodist Conference as a part of their strategy to encourage self-care among clergy. By attending certain events, having an annual physical, and spending some time with a "fitness coach" we are able to see a reduction in our monthly health insurance rate. But beyond the financial benefit is the hope that healthier clergy will be a more effective clergy! Overall I've found the experience to be helpful and I've heard that many organizations are now offering these types of programs. It made me wonder, however, why preventative programs aren't offered to address one's mental health?
Dr. Allen Schneider is a United Methodist pastor and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist presently serving the Sapulpa and greater Tulsa communities.