Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Where were you when the World Trade Center towers fell? Where were you when the Space Shuttle exploded? Where were you when JFK was shot? Where were you when you heard that Pearl Harbor had been attacked?
These are the questions that are so easy to answer for most of those who lived through them. Yet, these are not just questions about location. For those who lived through these events, the memories are so printed on our minds that we may remember sights, sounds and even smells of the locations we were in. But even more, we may feel again the emotions we felt on those days, and even find ourselves moved to tears!
For most college students, these events are not memories, but history lessons. They may understand that these were important and tragic events. But there is no emotional imprint that rises within them when they think of these things.
Now, the Covid19 Pandemic becomes a new imprint for us all. “Where were you during the Stay at Home Order?”, people will ask, and we will taste again these emotions when we answer.
Not one of us was there when they crucified Jesus. Yet, sometimes when I sing this hymn, I am moved to tears. Somehow an emotional imprint rises to the surface, which is not based on my personal recollection. How is this?
I have seen news coverage of events commemorating D-Day, or V-E Day, or the freeing of prisoners from death camps, and often I have seen people crying who were clearly not old enough to remember. I imagine that many of those people are family members of eye witnesses, some who survived, and some who did not. The emotional imprint is often one left by a loved one.
Jesus crucifixion was not just an historical event for those who lived it. The eyewitnesses could remember the blood, and the sounds of hammer and nail, and the cries of Jesus breathing his last breath, and with the memories, also the emotions!
We also may find ourselves moved to tears by the story and the songs. We also carry the emotional imprint passed on to us by loved ones—parents and grandparents, Sunday school teachers, pastors, or friends who have communicated to us not only the facts, but the feelings. And perhaps we also bear the imprint of another loved one—the one who loved us so much that he faced the hammer, the nails, the blood and the cries, for us—one who we may find ourselves loving, though we have never met him face to face.
No, of course I was not there when they crucified my Lord. Yet… we know that we were there—in the disciples who deserted him, perhaps even the one who betrayed him; in the crowd who shouted, “Crucify”, in the women who watched from a distance and wept, in the soldiers who gambled for his clothing, in the ones who mocked his suffering, and even in the ones who hammered the nails. We may even remember the smell of blood, the sound of hammer and nail, and feel the emotions. Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" Jesus answered, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand." Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" Jesus said to him, "One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you." For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, "Not all of you are clean." After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. John 13:1-17
We’ve been spending a lot of time lately talking about washing! In Biblical times, washing of the feet was a common practice for people who wore sandals, and walked on dirt roads that were shared with animals. It was a matter of hygiene and good manners, especially if you were going to a dinner party. Only, washing feet was considered the job of the lowest slave. You can imagine that it could be quite an unpleasant task!
It is important to know that the foot washing in this Bible reading takes place at the Last Supper. This is Jesus’ very last time to speak to the disciples before his arrest, trial and execution. This is something of a Last Will and Testament for Jesus, his last opportunity to pass on the most important things to the disciples. So he demonstrates, by taking the task of the lowest servant, what he expects of those who follow him. Jesus calls us to lay aside our pride and our comfort to serve other people.
I have been impressed, and even amazed, by the serving that we see going on around us in the midst of this health crisis. People are putting aside their pride, comfort, and even their personal safety concerns in order to serve other people.
After Jesus finishes washing his disciples feet, he says, “This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Not only does this foreshadow Jesus’ own self giving death, but it tells us what kind of love we are called to show each other. Jesus does not call us to foolishly risk our lives, but to lovingly give our lives for the sake of others. How can you reflect Jesus love today?
The nations are in an uproar… Be still.
Psalm 46 New Revised Standard Version
1 God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; 3 though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Selah
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High. 5 God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns. 6 The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts. 7 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah
8 Come, behold the works of the Lord;
see what desolations he has brought on the earth. 9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire. 10 “Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.” 11 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah
“The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter”-this sounds almost like it were written with the COVID19 crisis in mind. Never in my lifetime can I remember a single event that has affected the entire world the way that this virus has. Everything is uncertain. It feels like the ground is moving under our feet.
Psalm 46 may not have been written in response to the Coronavirus, but it remind us of two important things. First, this is not the first time that the nations have been in an uproar. Major, world-shaking events happened in Bible times, and have continued to happen since then. Approximately 100 years ago, my wife’s grandmother lost both of her parents to the Spanish Flu—a pandemic, which killed 17 million to 50 million people world wide. In World War II, approximately 75 million people died, and more recently, while the terrorist attacks for 9/11 killed far fewer people, they also had huge ripple effects, which have fundamentally changed the way people in the U.S. and around the world live our lives, not to mention triggering further violence and war which has continued to this day. World-shaking events are nothing new.
More importantly, Psalm 46 reminds us that, while God may not choose to miraculously intervene to bring suffering to a halt, God does promise to be with us in our suffering—in our times of fear and uncertainty. Just as Jesus came to be “Emmanuel—God with us,” to enter into our suffering and even to suffer a painful death for us, Psalm 46 reminds us that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” “God is in the midst of the city… God will help it when the morning comes.” “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.”
God’s presence is not always easy to see, but what we see is often determined by where we are looking, and what we are looking for. Online searches relating to Coronavirus are dominating the trending topics lists, and 90% of news broadcasts are addressing the virus as well. It is good to stay informed, but I would suggest that we should also spend some time searching for God.
“Be still, and know that I am God!” Psalm 46 tells us. Try this exercise for 5 minutes: Sit comfortably in a quiet place. Close your eyes, and focus for a few minutes on your breath, not trying to change your breathing, but just paying attention to its motion. Then, let these words from Psalm 46 be your meditation and your mantra. As you breathe, slowly repeat the phrase, “Be still, and know that I am God!” As the phrase feels more familiar, progressively shorten it—“Be still, and know…”, then “Be still…”, finally, “Be…”
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