Holy Saturday | Rev. Daniel Beilman

Romans 8:1-11

Here, in Romans 8, we find the third person of the Trinity taking center stage in the story of redemption:

The Spirit raised Jesus from the dead. (v. 11)

The Spirit raises us, too, and dwells in us. (v. 11)

The Spirit has set us free from the law of sin and death. (v. 2)

The Spirit brings life and peace. (v. 6)

The Spirit is both the standard and the power by which we live lives pleasing to God. (vv. 4-5, 8)

Had you ever considered before the role that the Holy Spirit had in Christ’s resurrection? It shouldn’t surprise us, as we find him as a primary actor all throughout Scripture:

The Spirit was present and instrumental in the Creation of all things. (Gen. 1:1-2)

By the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus became incarnate from the Virgin Mary.  (Mt. 1:18)

He is the deposit guaranteeing our future resurrection. (2 Cor. 5:5)

Do you see the Spirit as a primary actor in Scripture? Is He a primary actor in your life? Do you sense his supernatural gifting, empowering you to obey God and serve His church, filling you with love and joy and peace?

On this day, in whatever darkness you find yourself in, as you await the celebration of Christ’s resurrection, ask the Holy Spirit to bring you life and peace. 

On this day, simply and earnestly pray, “Come, Holy Spirit.”

Good Friday

Golgotha; Romare Bearden, 1945, watercolor, ink, and graphite on paper; The Met, New York.

Golgotha; Romare Bearden, 1945, watercolor, ink, and graphite on paper; The Met, New York.

As we enter into Good Friday, we invite you to reflect on the gift of Christ’s sacrifice, and our own personal need for the cross.

Jesus Dies on the Cross by Malcolm Guite

The dark nails pierce him and the sky turns black
We watch him as he labours to draw breath
He takes our breath away to give it back,
Return it to it’s birth through his slow death.
We hear him struggle breathing through the pain
Who once breathed out his spirit on the deep,
Who formed us when he mixed the dust with rain
And drew us into consciousness from sleep.
His spirit and his life he breathes in all
Mantles his world in his one atmosphere
And now he comes to breathe beneath the pall
Of our pollutions, draw our injured air
To cleanse it and renew. His final breath
Breathes us, and bears us through the gates of death.

Join us tonight for Advent’s Good Friday service, where we commemorate the suffering, death and burial of Christ Jesus. 7:00 p.m. at Canaan Baptist Church (1600 Newton Street NW.)

Maundy Thursday | Deborah Tepley

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John 17:1-11

Today is Maundy Thursday, when we commemorate the Last Supper. It is the first of three days of solemn reflection as we walk with Jesus through the events leading up to his crucifixion. The word “maundy” is the name for the Christian rite of foot washing. But it actually comes from the Latin word for “commandment,” found in Jesus’ explanation to his disciples after he washed their feet: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34).

Foot washing was an ancient rite of hospitality – a host would offer water to a guest so that they could wash their own feet, or perhaps the host would have a servant do this ignoble task. Jesus breaks custom by washing his disciples’ feet himself, turning the assumed hierarchy upside down.

In this passage of John we meet Jesus on Maundy Thursday, directly on the heels of washing his disciples’ feet. This is the beginning of Jesus’ “high priestly prayer,” also known as the “farewell prayer,” the longest recorded prayer said by Jesus in the gospels. It demonstrates another way that Jesus is the King of an upside-down kingdom. The Son of God stoops to wash their feet like a common servant, and then he lifts his head to heaven to intercede on their behalf.

As he intercedes, Jesus talks a lot about glory. He is speaking in both past and future tense when he prays about his glory and glorifying the Father. We know that the cross is paradoxically the ultimate symbol of Jesus' glory – the dirty, excruciatingly painful, humiliating cross. Jesus’ washing of his disciples’ feet is precisely that kind of glory. He asks that he be glorified in his disciples – in the humble ways we love and show hospitality to one another. When we wash one another's feet (literally or figuratively) we are somehow manifesting the name of the Father and bringing glory to him.

Maundy Thursday is not anyone’s favorite service. Touching someone’s feet is uncomfortable, eliciting awkward laughter as we flush at the silliness of such an archaic and intimate gesture. I know I echo many Adventers who might be tempted to just skip this service altogether (after all, it takes place on Capitol Hill! It’s a school night! There’s no parking!). But this ancient Christian rite allows us to enter into the great drama of Holy Week in a deeply tangible and incarnational way. We have the chance to imitate Christ’s generosity and humility by participating in his last act of love before he went to the cross, washing each other’s wintered feet.

So, come tonight. Experience the full drama of Holy Week this year, and taste the edges of Christ's glorious humility.

Advent will be co-hosting a Maundy Thursday service tonight with Church of the Resurrection at 7:00 p.m. at Capitol Hill Seventh-Day Adventist (914 Massachusetts Ave NE, Washington, D.C. 20002.)

Deborah Tepley is Advent’s Executive Director. She is a huge fan of HASfit workouts, YNAB budgeting software, and Luke’s fresh bread. She lives in Petworth with her husband, Luke Jackson; TJ, Bethany and Mary Hayley Fleming; and two cats.

Hearing God | Liz Downey

Fishermen at Sea, Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1796; Tate Museum, London.

Fishermen at Sea, Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1796; Tate Museum, London.

John 12:27-36

“Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” (John 12:28-29)

I love the sense of confusion and wonder in the onlookers here, as it’s probably what I would be feeling in the same situation. A crowd is standing near Jesus as an audible voice responds to His prayer to the Father, but some witnesses think it’s thunder, while some pick up on the supernatural implications but assume it’s an angel speaking. No one gets it quite right.

These reactions make me think of how God’s voice appears in the world today, and in my life. Do I even know how to hear Him over the clamor of my busyness and distractions, or am I functionally deaf to his voice? In lieu of an audible sound from heaven saying, “move here,” “marry this person,” or “don’t do that,” how do we discern what God is saying to us?

Jesus responds to the crowd’s murmurings about the source of the sound by telling them, “this voice has come for your sake, not mine (v.30).” Jesus didn’t need the audible voice of the Father – he’s in intimate communion with Him every day. Yet the voice serves to highlight God’s plan for their, and our, redemption – the ruler of the world will be cast out, but then lifted up to draw all people to him. Jesus urges them, “Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light (v.35-36).”

 As we prepare to enter into the darkness of Good Friday in just a few days, we can take comfort in the fact that we can walk in the light, that through the presence of the Holy Spirit, and through God’s word, we have “a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105) to help us listen to the voice from heaven. Unlike the onlookers in Jesus’ day, we know that the Son of Man was lifted up, and lifted up in glory. As D.A. Carson says about those witnesses, “eventually they would remember what Jesus had told them the voice had uttered, and it would be for them a divine confirmation that the shameful cross, and all that flowed from it, was not a defeat but a victory, not final destruction but ultimate glorification.”

Liz Downey is Advent's Operations and Communications Coordinator. She's an avid horseback rider, huge fan of public libraries, and loves traveling to new places near and far. She lives in Brookland.

Real Life | Victor Sheldon

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote:  "When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die".  Living is hard work---so too is dying.  My own father is now in what appears to be a long, drawn out process of dying.  He does not want to die.  I don't want him to die.  But death is one of the very few certainties of this life.  No matter how hard we may hold on, resist, or even deny the inevitable, still death awaits us all.  And yet, for the follower of Jesus, death is not the end.  "O death where is thy sting, O grave where is thy victory?"

Jesus is the grain of wheat that falls into the ground and dies.  His sacrificial death makes possible life eternal.  Real life, God's very life.  Jesus invites me to come to Him, and to die -- to lay down, to hand over, to surrender my life.  Only in this way, can more of the life of Christ be manifest in, and through me.  This mystery is great.  "Christ in you, the hope of glory".  Jesus Christ lives in me, and He wants to live His life through me.  For this to become a spiritual reality, more of Victor must die (dying to self).  It is what the French mystic and theologian Archbishop Francois Fenelon describes as "Letting Go".  Paradoxically, if I hold on to my life ("I want what I want, when I want it"), then I end up losing, and missing out on all that God has in store for me.  C.S. Lewis once remarked that we are like children who are offered a wonderful vacation by the sea, and yet we are content to play in pools of mud.  The way up is down, and to take the way down is actually up in the Kingdom of God.  I must personally embrace the pain and suffering of the cross and death, if I ever hope to experience the joy of resurrection.  It is only in this way that I will ever truly "see" Jesus, serve Him, and be with Him.  And yet, it is hard, terribly hard.  Living is hard work----so too is dying.  

I am reminded here of one of my favorite collects (prayers) from the Prayer Book:  "Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."

Victor Sheldon is currently part of the great Advent diaspora...a Navy Chaplain stationed in New Orleans, Louisiana, until, God willing, he returns to Washington in the spring of 2020.

Beholding Our Shepherd-King | Jeff Simpson

John 12:9-19

Humility is not something that comes easily to me. Pride, however, seems to take a thousand different forms in my life. I look down on people who think or vote differently than me. I feel superior to other drivers on the beltway who are clearly not from around here. I experience an inordinate amount of pleasure when I get a trivia question correct or when someone tells me, “You’re right.” If I’m honest, I probably spent too much time writing this devotional because I want others to perceive me as insightful.

If you are like me, you may have experienced the frustrating irony of trying to be more humble. The harder I try, the less humble I become. The moment that I sense myself being humble, I start to feel good about myself. I think, “Great! I’m being humble.” But of course, what has really happened is that I have started to become self-righteous about being humble. Ironically, trying to be humble always results in pride.

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis writes that the only way to be humble is to admire something “immeasurably superior than yourself.” When we see a beautiful work of art or a brilliant sunset, we often forget about ourselves because we are so enamored with it. Humility works the same way. Humility is not thinking less of ourselves, but forgetting about ourselves because we are captivated by something more glorious.

The scene here in John 12 provides a great opportunity to do just this.

As Jesus arrives into Jerusalem for Passover, a large crowd greets him, just like people in the ancient world would do for a king returning home after winning a battle. They meet him with palm branches, a symbol of victory over one’s enemies. They shout his praise, declaring him to be the king of Israel, the son of David who has come to rescue God’s people.

But Jesus’ mode of transportation is surprising for a king. Instead of riding in on a great battle horse, he comes on a young donkey. He chooses a vehicle of ordinary weakness rather than one of extraordinary strength. Yet this fulfills Zechariah’s prophecy, “Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9).

A king who is humble? Salvation on a donkey?

Yes, for this is precisely the glory of Jesus. He is both the Conquering King and the Good Shepherd. He is the Cosmic Creator and the Suffering Servant. He is the Lion and the Lamb. He is our Judge and our Mediator. He is all-powerful, yet he became weak. He is perfectly righteous, yet he became sin. He is highly exalted, yet he humbled himself. He is infinitely rich, yet he became poor. He is untouchably holy, yet he is intimately near.

This is the path to humility – not in trying harder to be humble, but in beholding the glory of Jesus, our humble Shepherd-King.  

Jeff lives in College Park and does campus ministry at the University of Maryland. Some of his favorite things in DC are kayaking around the Key Bridge, the Kennedy Center’s Millenium Stage, and driving on the GW Parkway.

Out of the Mouth of Infants | Jane Olson

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Matthew 21: 12-17

Kids say the darnedest things.  I remember well when, a few years ago, Lars and I took my daughter to visit my grandmother at her retirement community. Claire, who was four at the time, looked at my then ninety-eight-year-old grandmother and sweetly asked, “Are you going to die soon?”

Lars and I nearly died of embarrassment ourselves.

The blunt honesty of young children can cut through adult pretensions like a laser. Consider this passage from Matthew, where the honest, unselfconscious testimony of children exposes the Pharisees as spiritual frauds.  It’s a topsy-turvy story in which the children are the true priests and the priests are spiritually immature.

The first of this story’s series of inversions occurs when Jesus overturns the tables of the money changers.

Temple worship had been corrupted by commerce.  The temple authorities allowed money changers and animal sellers to set up shop in Court of the Gentiles—the only place in the temple complex where Gentiles were allowed to go.  In effect, that decision robbed the Gentiles of a sacred space to pray.   It reveals that Temple worship had turned inward on itself.  The Jews were supposed to be a light to the Gentiles, but instead had their religion had become a sort of self-serving legalism that propped up the authority of the Pharisees.

Jesus clears the temple in a moment of righteous anger and restores it to its proper purpose: a place of worship for all people.

The second moment of inversion comes when the children respond to Jesus’s actions by declaring an inconvenient truth. “Hosanna to the Son of David!”

The Pharisees wish to shut the children up.  “Can you hear what they are saying?” they ask with incredulity.

I love Jesus’s confrontational response: “Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise’?”  Zing!

Leading the people in worship is the main job of a priest. But since the priests have failed to do this, children have taken their place. The children don’t care about the precarious geopolitical situation of the Jewish people in occupied Jerusalem. They are blissfully unaware of the power struggles between the Pharisees and the Sadducees over who will exert religious control over the Jews. The children call it as they see it: “Hosanna to the Son of David.”

The Bible makes it clear that Christ will be praised—the question is, by whom?

There have been many times where the evangelical boldness of my children has put me to shame.  (Like the time Claire told her kindergarten classmate that he worshiped false gods. Yikes!)

Sometimes, I wonder if my desire to present a nuanced, culturally sensitive, intellectually sophisticated version of the Gospel just gives me excuses to water it down. Or to chicken out.

Today, the children give us this challenge: Do you believe that Jesus Christ is Lord? To whom, in unselfconscious joy, will you declare it?

Jane Olson is the director of children's ministries at Advent. Though her list of hobbies makes her sound a little too much like Martha Stewart for her own comfort, Jane genuinely enjoys flower arranging, baking, cooking, and wine tasting. She lives in Brookland with her husband Lars, and children Claire and Teddy.

Unbound | Ellen Vest

John 11:28-44

It was the early autumn of 2012. As dusk faded to darkness on the farm, rain fell in misty sheets, dropping a veil across the landscape. It dripped off the eaves of the garage where I stood with my mother. Arms crossed against the chill of the October evening, we looked together across the short, still-green lawn that rolled away toward one of the old tobacco barns. Inside the house, my father’s breathing was shallow. His awareness was fleeting. His eyes were blind. His bones were hollowed out. “If they found a cure today, Mom. . . I wouldn’t rush him off for treatment.” “No,” she replied. In quietude, we agreed; he had come too far. We wouldn’t wish for him to suffer to this point again. “I can’t help but think of Lazarus,” I said. “He had to die twice.” In hushed tones, we talked about the horror of it. Dying once was more than enough—for all involved. Up until that moment, I had always thought of the miracle of the resurrection of Lazarus purely as a marvelous gift to the dead man and his loved ones. Staring out into the darkness of that new night, I suddenly felt quite mixed about the whole affair. 

On 3 December of this past year, I sat in a dermatology clinic, waiting to see a specialist. My cracking, bleeding skin, which seemed to turn to fire each night, was robbing me of sleep, waking me through heavy sedatives, and making unreasonable demands on my family. Rob waited in the office with me, both of us silently desperate to stop this. My phone rang. I have a policy never to answer my phone in a doctor’s office or to excuse myself from a person to do so, but something in me told me to at least see who it was. It was my mother. When I answered, her speech slurred across the line like a finger drawn through wet ink. “Ellen. I think I’ve had a stroke.”  

Thus, Lent seemed to begin in tandem with Advent. While children shine a spotlight on your sin and your insufficiencies, aging parents amp that up to a whole new level. Eldercare during and after a life-changing medical event comes with demands similar to those of a new baby: sleepless nights, long hours, an abundance of stress, and the need to work like a farmhand as you wonder what the heck you are doing while having somebody's life in your hands to a large extent. Except this is not the hope of new life, which generally progresses from dependence to self-sufficiency. This is the heartache of death knocking at the door, and the expected progression is just the reverse. While the needs of most babies are relatively simple, adult dependents come with adult demands: banking, taxes, bills, townhouses which need to be packed up and emptied, cars that need to be sold. . . ! Suddenly you must manage all of this and do a thousand other things for them besides. Given that the only “end in sight” is difficult to contemplate, one would like to be able to say that all of their feelings and attitudes are unfailingly charitable and loving. I cannot say that. All of this has presented a wide variety of opportunities to become aware of my sin. The cycle goes something like this: succeed, fail, regret, repent, repeat. All this long winter, I have seen how starkly physical brokenness can illuminate spiritual brokenness. 

I am not exempt. With spring coming, my own skin is an increasing torment. At night, I take more sedatives and pack ice around my body in hope of sleep.

But God preserves. He heals and balms. He gives into nothing. He forgives. He comforts. He provides material help in the material world. He grows us up. He illuminates His Gospel of hope. 

Jesus loved Lazarus, and in that love, he called him to give to His people an incredibly sacrificial gift. So badly did we need to “see the glory of God” that Jesus had the tomb of his beloved friend unsealed. Leaning into the stench of death, he called to him, stirring his decaying remains, waking his dormant elements to answer to their King, beckoning him to come out of the grave—to be resurrected. It was beautiful! But Lazarus would have to die again. In this, the illustration that his life became would cost him dearly. So many of the gifts that illuminate the hope of Christ are sacrificial ones.  

As for me, these days, I find myself undone by the Eucharist. As I reach out my painful, cracking hands to take the Bread, I see the Lord of hosts consenting, once again, to enter into a broken and often-bleeding body. He comes to we who live in the shadow of death. Amen. Through this Sacrament of the Altar, we participate now in the Glory we too will one day fully inhabit. What Lazarus reflected, Christ lives in the full flower of. He has reached into death and called us out; when once we die, He himself will “unbind [us] and let [us] go”.

Ellen Vest is the only gal in a house full of guys: Rob, Corin, and Larson the guinea pig.

So That You May Believe | Shannon Wooldridge

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John 11:1-27

“Lord, he whom you love is ill.”

Notice the brevity and confidence in the message Martha and Mary sent to Jesus. They name Lazarus not as someone who loves Jesus, but as one loved by Jesus. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us (1 John 4:10). They didn’t even ask Jesus to come; they let him know his loved one was suffering, and they waited.

I imagine Martha and Mary laboring over their suffering brother for days and nights, occasionally taking moments to look for Jesus. Will he come this hour? Will he be here in the morning? God, I’ve asked for your help, when will you come?

As soon as Jesus received their message he said: “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” He who saw the end from the beginning knew his Father’s plan for Lazarus. If only he had sent a text message to Martha and Mary about the plan, too.

You are likely familiar with this story and know that Jesus did not rush to heal the friend he loved, but stayed two days longer where he was. Twice we see references to what would have happened if Jesus had been there. We have Martha’s honest, grief-stricken statement: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” You can read much into Martha’s words here: anger, reproach, faith, and even hope. I see the rabbit-hole of the “what-if” – the temptation to linger on how things could have been different in my suffering.

Jesus himself mentions what would have happened, and it confirms Martha’s claim: “Jesus told [the disciples] plainly, ‘Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe.’” This is from Jesus’s mouth: if he had been there, Lazarus would not have died.   

This made me wonder if maybe Jesus, knowing Lazarus’s resurrection would bring glory to God and greater belief, would have been moved to heal Lazarus if he had been physically present. Maybe he would have abandoned the plan and intervened. Fully God and fully man, Jesus loved this family dearly, but he also knew the greater design for God’s glory. He did not rebuke Martha for her statement, and we read later that he mourned, deeply troubled and weeping (John 11:33-35), all the while knowing he would raise Lazarus.

Why am I belaboring this point? Because Jesus is not callously allowing suffering for his own glory – he doesn’t stay away for his sake, but for ours, so we may believe. He knew that even though Lazarus’s death and resurrection would lead to greater belief, that didn’t take away the anguish of what Martha, Mary, and Lazarus went through. It didn’t even take away Jesus’s pain and sorrow. Just because God may use your past in beautiful ways doesn’t make it any less painful.

Are you crying out for God’s presence this Lent? Do you send messages to heaven that read “Lord, the one whom you love is in need?” Know that even if He delays a while, it is not done coldly, but in love. He suffers, mourns, and weeps with you, even while planning things for your future that are greater than you can ask or imagine.

Shannon lives in Kensington, Maryland, with her husband Matt and their three naughty cats: Beatrice, Romulus, and Remus. She has an affinity for yellow homes, fantasy novels, and baking cakes.

Meeting Our Expectations | Joe Knight

King Solomon Dedicates the Temple; J. James Tissot.

King Solomon Dedicates the Temple; J. James Tissot.

John 10:19-42

Many years ago I was required to attend an interview skills and training course for new managers for work. The course instructor advised us that, despite our collective training efforts, “Only 17% of candidates you ultimately hire will turn out to be who you think they are.” Aside from legitimate questions of how one ascertains such weirdly specific knowledge (or test its validity), reading today’s passage reminded me that we all carry latent expectations for people around us, whether it’s someone you are interviewing for a job, a family member, strangers on the Metro, or someone claiming to be the Messiah.

“Tell us plainly, Jesus.”

There is some debate, but scholars generally agree that this passage is a continuation of the conversations starting earlier in John, with Jesus spending time in Jerusalem during and between the Festival of the Tabernacles (Sukkot) and the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah). For Jews, it was a poignant time in a holy place, and perhaps not the ideal circumstance to encounter someone as subversive to the religious establishment and intriguing as Jesus of Nazareth.

The continuing conversation here plays out accordingly in a direct, blunt, and high-stakes manner. Jesus nonchalantly dishes out spiritual wisdom like it is going out of style before deftly escaping the crowd’s grasp during an ensuing attempt at arrest. The back and forth is intense, but before it soured, the dialogue began with a seemingly innocuous and simple request to Jesus: “Tell us plainly if you are the Messiah?”

Reading the dialogue of a passage like this, it is easy to retroactively credit oneself some understanding of what was yet to come. Yet despite our knowledge of the Gospel, we still approach God with the posture of someone coming to collect on a debt, or to air a grievance. I would be surprised if God met even 17% of people’s expectations in our time.

Fortunately, the reason He does not meet them is because He is much wiser, more powerful and more loving than our mistrusting expectations. As we see in this passage, His responses to the concerns-cum-accusations which are brought before Him are that He is actively working to bring life, to save and to protect His sheep per the Father’s commandments.

Lord, as we draw near the end of the Lenten season, help us to rid ourselves of the assumptions and expectations we place on you which limit our understanding of who you say you are, and who you say we are. Help us to encourage one another with reminders of the works you have already done when we are discouraged and vulnerable. Keep us safe from being seduced by the idols of our day, and help us receive the ministry and comfort of your voice and care.

Finally, Father, as we endeavor to follow you more closely in our faith walks, protect us from those who seek to destroy; help us to trust as Jesus did that the way to abundant life is following your Word and keeping your commandments. 

Joe grew up in Pennsylvania and has lived in the Washington Metro Area for the past 12 years, most of it in a group house in Brookland. He works at a Think Tank downtown, and in his free time enjoys playing Ultimate Frisbee, reading science fiction, and making friends with the city’s worst paid employees (neighborhood feral cats).