Today, if you hear his voice

Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Tag: Holy Week

Palm Sunday at Midnight in Washington DC

Washington DC is not solely responsible for the numbed-out, gotta-buy-my happiness-and-can’t, bickering-by-default, coercive domination we all suffer as 21st century human beings. Our despair about the way the world is going wasn’t born in the Capitol building, but it is a big bright target in the skyline of our thinking and feeling that is worth some of our spiritual energy. (Other targets include Wall Street, wherever the pornography mecca is, and the Executive Offices of Time-Warner)

praying at the capitol in Washington DC

Jerome Stafford, one of our pastors, leads in porayer

When Jesus went to Jerusalem back in 33 AD (or whenever) he was finally showing himself to the authorities after building a movement that he thought could survive what was about to happen next. On Palm Sunday he rode into Jerusalem to say to that powers, “Here I am!”

We went to one of our seats of powers and made a house of prayer there. Adapting one of our favorites from the Psalters, five us sang on the Capitol steps, “Many are those who pray, crying out at midnight in Your name./And You, Oh Lord, are a shield to all who suffer/Give us our daily bread/Rise up, Lord. Rise up! And deliver us from all that oppresses.”

For me, this tune has always been charged with the full circuit breaker of my conviction, yet somehow, now that it’s been channeled through this experience of praying on the Capitol steps at midnight, it is even more electrifying.

Jane and Scott Clinton were staying with friends near DC, so they were the first to join my cause. One friend who was supposed to come with me wasn’t able to, so I went to 1125 S. Broad Street as their 7pm meeting ended to find a replacement. Gift Koama lived up to his name and said, “I love adventures.” Then Jerome Stafford called me and said, “Don’t leave without me!” It was a bona fide road trip!

MLK Memorial Mountain of despair

The moon from the “mountain of despair” at the MLK memorial

We got to DC in time to make a quick pilgrimage to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, something I’ve wanted to do since they built it 6 years ago. It was like a warm up for my heart. The “mountain of despair” we exited through was very appropriate. Washington is the source of much despair, but we are a circle of hope!

We went to the steps and found Jane and Scott, then we prayed that the people who worked their would find ways toward peace and mutuality. We prayed for impossible things because that’s what hope and prayer are for. It was invigorating.

I bring you back my hope in these words we read from Colossians Remixed

“In the face of the empire
in the face of presumptuous claims to sovereignty
in the face of the imperial and idolatrous
forces of our lives
Christ is before all things
he is sovereign in life
not pimped dreams of global market
not the idolatrous forces of nationalism
not the insatiable desires of consumerist
culture”

Christ is before all things. Christ is all and is in all. He was in us as we prayed on the steps. He is in you as you read this post. He is in those who work at the Capitol. Yes even in that broken system. But He is sovereign over it. All things have been placed under his feet and he loves us and serves us from that place of power. The powers in Washington will never wield their authority like Christ, but we, as a circle of hope, will. We have power to grasp how wide and deep is the love of Christ, and death has been disempowered over us. So we face the seat of empire with Jesus unafraid and full of hope.

Come to 3800 Marlton Pike tonight at 7pm for the anointing at Bethany! Full details at circleofhope.net/holyweek

On Dying with Jesus

“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.”Philippians 3

It’s not exactly good advertising: COME DIE WITH JESUS!  That’s one reason people aren’t flocking into the Church these days.  We’re currently interested as a culture in mastering death; have you seen the trailer for Johnny Depp’s new movie?  It comes out April 17–just in time for Easter.  Who needs resurrection when you have Transcendence [link]?  My biggest fear about this movie is that it doesn’t seem too far fetched that we could some day map the electronic patterns of the brain, digitize it and have a consciousnesses that could live forever.  I pray that it is impossible, but I am not confident it is.

But this coming week at Circle of Hope and at many churches around the world is all about death, more specifically, Jesus’ death.  Let’s not reduce it to storytelling though.  Holy Week, the week we remember Jesus’ last days before his death, is not just about Jesus’ death, it’s about ours too.

At the beginning of Lent many of us marked ourselves with ashes under the evocation “Remember you are from dust and to dust you shall return.”  We’ve spent weeks remembering our frailty, recognizing our need, and longing for the Resurrection.  Lent is about finding the parts of us that need to die.  It’s a quarantine from business as usual designed to give us some perspective on ourselves and our condition.  We fast to create some artificial suffering that could help us “participate in his sufferings” as Paul writes in Philippians.  The fasting also reminds us of what we are doing.  It gives us small opportunities to turn to God in our need.

The practical “lynchpin” of Christian theology is that we are freed from caring if we die.  Eternity is an everyday necessity for those who follow Jesus.  Hopefully (and probably) we won’t all become martyrs but it is the fear of death, the most basic human fear, that leads to any number of theological and practical concessions.  When Paul says in Romans 8:31, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” he does not mean that God will eliminate all who come against us, he means that our ultimate safety is secure.  We are called to lean into this ultimate security in order to avoid making personal and familial security paramount.  This conviction is the only way we can obey Jesus’ teachings on enemy love and peace making, but it is also pretty important in following Jesus in his special concern for the poor and not worrying about tomorrow, clothes and food.

We are saved from fear by Jesus’ promise of abundant and eternal life.  Personally, I have further uncovered the truth  that my basic human fear of death is integrally linked with my understanding of my own limitations and frailty.  To trust Jesus unto death allows me to trust him unto moments where I need to die to myself and the myths I make for myself about my own capacity.  This is taking up my cross and dying daily.  This is dying with Jesus.