Reverence Exemplified

Further reflection on reverence from Pastor Andrew:

If you were in church Sunday, or listened to the podcast on the church’s website, you heard me preach about reverence. There aren’t a lot of reverent things or places in our world today. Baseball fans may feel a sense of reverence if they visit the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, OH. A veteran may feel reverent standing before the Vietnam Memorial or while visiting Arlington National Cemetery. Reverence is a feeling or attitude of profound respect, and few things in life provoke that feeling.

In John 12:1-10, we see Mary—sister of the ever-busy Martha and recently-dead Lazarus—at Jesus’ feet, wiping his feet with her hair and anointing them with an extremely expensive perfume. The gesture is strange, to say the least, but Mary’s actions flow from a deep reverence for Jesus as her Lord and her Savior. Nothing was too costly, too precious, or too dear to sacrifice for Jesus.

The perfume, pure nard, was worth about a year’s wages. Can you imagine giving someone a gift of $50k or more that isn’t family? These are Jesus’ friends, to be certain, and Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Perhaps the family felt indebted. Wouldn’t you? Had it been a simple matter of paying Jesus back for the miracle He had performed, giving the perfume would seem wiser; instead it is poured out on His feet. Jesus is being honored in life as a precursor to His death. Even though Mary could not have known that in a short time Jesus would be nailed to a cross, she understood that Jesus was worthy of honor and praise.

The only person to object in Luke’s account is Judas Iscariot whom hoped to get his hands on whatever might end up in the disciples’ collective purse. Surely the perfume could have been sold to benefit the poor (or sticky-fingered ne’er-do-wells), but nothing is nobler than honoring Christ.. His incarnation was for a limited time, and Mary chose correctly to focus on Him while He was still present in the flesh.

Most people don’t get honored in life; they are honored after they have died. Epitaphs and eulogies tell the tale of a past life, but Jesus was being honored pre-mortem. Her actions are a foreshadow of the week to come where Jesus will go from King to criminal, hanging between two thieves. This He does willingly in order to carry our sins—the sins of the world—and free of us of them. Mary was willing to put all pride and convention aside to worship and bestow reverence on her King, even offering up what was likely their prized possession. What are you willing to give up? We often forget what Jesus has done for us, even though we celebrate Easter every year, beginning with Lent and through Holy Week. All our focus is on the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, in whom we place our faith, hope, and love. Should we not revere Him?

I am the lost coin

Greek Drachma circa 450 BC

Greek Drachma circa 450 BC

This week, we are meditating on Luke 15 and the parables associated with the lost being found.  Earlier this week, I reflected on the sheep and I’ve thought long and hard about the prodigal son, but I’d breezed over the lost coin.  Today, my eye fell on verses 8-10 and saw them in a new way. I read about the woman who lost a day’s wages when a silver coin went missing in her house.  I read about the way she lit a candle in her otherwise dark and shadowy house and turned it upside down until the coin was found.  She was so overcome with joy at finding the coin that she called all her friends and neighbors together to rejoice and celebrate together.

As I read those words for perhaps the tenth or twentieth time in my life, they struck me as very personal today. I recognized myself in those words of Jesus; I WAS that lost coin at one point. My existence was in the shadows, despite my perception that told me I was in the light. I was hidden away from the light, desperately trying to remain in that state because I thought it was who I was and where I was meant to be. That was me, until Jesus shone his light on me. The beam of that light was at once shocking and joyous: all of my distorted thinking was exposed and I realized my need; I realized how desperately I wanted to allow the one from whom that light came to sweep me up and carry me away.

I think that the part of the parable that really struck me today as my life was the way the woman called her friends and neighbors together to celebrate finding her coin. It reminded me of my baptism.  When I decided I wanted to be baptized, my church family all came together and celebrated with me, rejoicing as with the woman who found her coin. My spiritual family rejoiced that this coin that had been lost was found! How marvelous! All these many years later, the day I was baptized remains one of my most cherished memories of my walk with Jesus. It was a day of celebration, as it should be.

Lenten Fasting: A Sacrifice of Love

The first time I experienced the Lenten season in church was my senior year in high school. I was attending an Episcopal church with a teacher who was also a friend and surrogate mother to me during a very difficult time at home. As I sat in my first “high church” service, I watched in wonder as the minister and various church officials and young people, all dressed in rather drab robes, carried in wooden crosses and candles while the entire congregation sang a solemn dirge in a minor key. Having no other reference point, I accepted this as normal.

For several weeks, I attended church with my mentor, enjoying the ritual and predictability of each service: at the beginning, we stood and sang melancholy hymns while the entourage carried in the decoration for the altar.  On Easter, however, everything I thought I knew to expect was turned upside down.

When the service was about to begin, there was a hushed excitement that I could almost feel. The room was brighter, and I realized for the first time that we had not had the fullness of the lights on in previous weeks. The real shock was when service began and the music started. The huge pipe organ in the loft which had emanated its sober notes in the previous weeks, now threatened to pierce my eardrums with its bright, glorious high notes and major key. The melody we sang was joyful and bouncey. The most dramatic change, however, was the visual feast of the minister and the procession of the crosses. They were beautifully robed in bright white and stunning purple. The wooden crosses were replaced with gleaming brass crosses. The candlesticks held high were also brass and glinted in the bright light of the sun through the stained glass windows. It was stunning. It was the most memorable church service because it was so markedly different from everything I had seen previously.

The splendor of the music and colors and light were magnified due to their absence during Lent. Looking back on that experience, I found a firm understanding of the reason we fast during Lent. When we give something up for the purpose of drawing attention to our Lord’s death and resurrection, it makes Easter an even more profound celebration. Of course, fasting meat, or one meal per day, or Facebook, the internet or TV, for that matter, do not make Jesus’ sacrifice any more or less significant. But what fasting does is provide us a way to put aside something that we consider important in our lives, for the glory of God. The purpose of fasting is to spend the time or money we would normally invest in that sacrificed thing (a meal, time on the internet, money spent on lattes at Starbucks) and invest it in God instead.

Andrew and I have fasted various things over the years. One year, we introduced a rolling fast to our youth group.  One week we all fasted sweets, the next week, we all fasted non-worship music, another week, we fasted TV, etc. That was fun for the teens, and it also made the fast something that we did together, with accountability and peer support, so it was good for that age group.

Last year, I fasted Facebook, which was a challenge since I use it multiple times each day.  This year, Andrew and I are fasting television.  Starting on Ash Wednesday (Feb 13), the TV in the Marshall house will be off until Easter. During that time, we will spend evenings together as we did the last time we fasted television, a number of years ago. It’s a major commitment for us, because we typically have the television on most of the evening.  The goal is not just to substitute other meaningless time-sucking activities for the TV; rather, the goal is to invest our time in things that bring glory to God. When we invest in our marriage, in family, in friends, in reading the Bible, theological books, listening to music, and in taking care of ourselves emotionally, we are bringing glory to God. It draws us nearer to him and allows us to hear his voice, recognize his leading, and be sensitive to his presence in a new way.

The sacrifice of fasting during Lent is meant to be done in love. It is designed to be a way to draw near to God – set apart for him in our otherwise busy lives in a new and fresh way for this season. Giving up something for Lent is like taking out all brass crosses and bright colors and replacing them with wood and drab clothes for 40 days. That way, when the Easter service comes, the joyful music, and the glorious, shining message of Christ’s resurrection, will be more vibrant and meaningful than otherwise possible.

For an interesting history on the practice of fasting during the 40 days leading up to Easter, visit this website.