Holy Week Services

This past week was the celebration of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. This is one of those holidays that both Protestants and Romans Catholics celebrate together. I always look forward to this week and enjoy the opportunity to try some new things throughout the week. Last year we did our first ever Maundy Thursday service and continued that tradition this year. This year’s service was focused on the communal nature of our faith. I set up 12 tables in our sanctuary and had people gather sit around those tables. The service itself was divided up as following:

Greeting

What is Maundy Thursday? (John 15:12-17, Luke 22)

SING: Jesus Paid It All

Celebrate

The Passover (Exodus 12)

SING: In Christ Alone

Remember

SING: Mercy

The Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

At each table was: Matzah, bitter herbs, hoaroset, and grape juice.

This was the longest time of the service, and each table had instructions to guide them through the various elements, as well as Scripture readings and explanations of what each element stood for.

Go

Love One Another (John 14:15-31, 1 John 4:7-21)

SING: Give Us Clean Hands

Each of the 4 parts also had a responsive reading and all 3 of the pastors on staff shared speaking responsibilities. Our time together was helpful in thinking through how the Passover applies to today, as well as being able to slow down and reflect more deeply about the Lord’s Supper.

On Friday night I divided the night into 5 parts and focused on the individualistic part of our faith. We are called into a community, but we are still still individually members of that community. Since February, we had been going through a series titled “Christ in the Psalms” so I carried that idea into our Good Friday service. It was divided into 5 sections with a Gospel passage being read aloud, followed by a Psalm displayed on the screen for people to pray through, and a station for people to participate in. As people were walking in there was a half sheet of paper with instructions, a nail and a pen to grab and take in to the service. It was divided as follows:

Remember

Luke 22:14-23

Psalm  105:1-11

Think back to when the cross and the Gospel message first began making sense to you. Write out that story in the space below, if there is not enough room, use the back of your paper.

SING: The Wonderful Cross

Betrayal

John 18:1-32

Psalm 55

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On each side of the front of the sanctuary is a cross painted on a canvas, when you’ve had enough time to reflect, walk down the middle aisles to paint the canvas red. There are wipes for your fingers once you’re done. Please walk back to your seat on the farthest outside aisles.

Suffered

John 19:1-16a

Psalm 73

In the front middle of the sanctuary is a bucket for you to drop the nails you picked up when you entered. Whenever you have had enough time to reflect, please walk down the middle aisles and then return to your seat on the outside aisles.

SING: Were You There

Crucified

John 19:16b-30

Psalm 22

At the bottom of this paper is a space for you to write out why Jesus had to die for YOU. Write out as few or as many sins in that space as God lays on your heart.

It Is Finished

John 19:38-42

SING: Once Again

Psalm 25

On your way out the door, tear off the paper below where you wrote your sins and place them at the foot of the cross at the back of the sanctuary.

If you would like to “borrow” any of these ideas for your services, please do! They were enjoyable to plan and hopefully encouraging to the congregation.

What Is the Gospel?

What is the gospel? We’ve all heard the many different examples listed and been told that it is literally “Good New” to the world. The Good News that Jesus has come to take our place and pay the penalty for our sins, but what does that mean? (It’s even been asked in a book.) I think it’s even become the “hot topic” within Christianity today with more books and conferences than any of us can or should partake in. But that pat answer doesn’t seem to do it justice, and while I never want to minimize the importance of the gospel, I think many of us take it for granted.

  • It it exclusively about “Good News”?
  • Is there multiple ways to express the gospel?
  • Is the gospel just another name for the Bible?
  • Do we have a “hole” in our gospel?
  • Can it be summed up in 6 words?
  • Have we missed the heart of the gospel?
  • Have we made it all about morality and sexuality separated from grace?
  • Is it all of these things? None? Some?

Obviously I can’t deal with all the issues raised about in regard to the gospel, but I think as I’ve read what people have said and are saying about the gospel, we’re missing a huge piece of it. The piece that we’re remembering this week in the church calendar. The biggest piece missing from our discussion about the gospel is the cross. Apart from the cross, the gospel isn’t good news at all. In fact, if the cross is taken completely out of the discussion, the Bible just makes me want to curl up and die.

So many times I’ve heard the gospel message summed up as either a salvation message or a call to “fix” the world by bringing God’s kingdom to earth. And while Jesus did inaugurate a new kingdom, it hasn’t yet reached it’s conclusion. We live in a time period where Christ has ALREADY begun his work in redeeming the world but it has NOT YET reached its final point. There are a number of things that won’t be resolved until Christ comes again to “judge the living and the dead.” We need to learn to be content living within this unresolved tension until Christ returns. No, the gospel can’t be summed up in a list of moral codes or absolutes, but it can be summed up in the cross. The fact that God loved and loves us despite our sin. The fact that God sent His one and only son into the world and “tabernacled” or “made his dwelling” among us. The fact that God has now reconciled us to Him by taking our sins, past, present and future, upon Himself. The fact that He continues to relentlessly pursue us and woo us to Himself.

It doesn’t take me very long to daily be reminded of my sinful state. I’m continually attempting to find ways to build myself up, even if it means tearing others down. What hope could a sinful man like me have? Through the cross, infinite hope.

In his expose of the gospel message, Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 lays out the message of the gospel – but then shows us the hope we can have because the cross isn’t the final word – the resurrection is. In today’s culture it’s become commonplace to question the validity of Jesus. Was He really who He said He was? Did he really rise from the dead? Paul takes this to its logical conclusion when he says, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” Questioning the message of the gospel is in vain because we have it clearly laid out for us in Scripture. No, it can’t be put in a list because it’s how we should live.

BUT

Jesus did leave his disciples, and us, with this command:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.

I have yet to hear a sermon or read a blog that deals with this part of the great commission. Jesus told his disciples to observe all that He commanded. And Jesus laid out some pretty specific things. Honor your parents, love your neighbors, give to the poor and needy, and be perfect. How much of that list have you broken?

In one of my classes in college we attempted to condense the gospel to 140 characters to find out if we could tweet the gospel. I came to the conclusion that it can’t be done. In order to truly explain the message of the gospel I need to tell you about my life. Yes, the message of the gospel is that Christ has already done the work for us, but the implications for that have changed my entire life. Does your life paint a picture of the gospel, no matter how blurry or broken it is, or does it paint a picture of you? How has the gospel shaped your life today and where would you be without Christ’s work on the cross?

“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

Philippians 1:27

Lenten Reflections

Lent is something I’ve often heard of as I was growing up, but never really took a look at what it was or where it came from. Generally I just heard friends in high school who would give up things during Lent season, but didn’t have any idea that it was anything beyond that. Thanks to a recent post on the Gospel Coalition website, I learned a little more about what it is.

Lent (from the Latin for “fortieth”) begins on Ash Wednesday, 40 days before Easter. In a devotional guide to Lent, Kendal Haug and Will Walker say “Lent, therefore, is about living out of our union with, and identity in, Christ. Lent is first and foremost about the gospel making its way deeper into our lives.” What a great thing to celebrate and practice! Letting the Good News of the Gospel make its way deeper into our lives!

You can access this devotional guide through the Gospel Coalition blog or clicking here. I plan to go through these devotionals myself as I prepare for the celebration of the best news on earth: Jesus Christ dies for my sins, was buried, and on the third day he rose again, and now sits at the right hand of God, interceding on our behalf!