I am thirsty

Taste has a way of taking us back.  A bite of home cooked bread, or the first sip of our favorite drink has a way of awakening a pool of memories and thoughts.  Within my family, occasions like New Years are remembered by the taste of smoked salmon and cheese fondue.  I can tell you whose birthday party I’m at by what kind of birthday cake is being served.  I even remember when my sisters and I were kids, the first time I ever had skim milk was at my grandmother’s house splashed over a bowl of Frosted Flakes.  I knew what my cereal was supposed to taste like and it wasn’t whatever was swimming around in my bowl.  To this day, I cannot stand the taste (or lack thereof) of skim milk, but I always remember that moment whenever I see a carton.  Taste has a way of tying us into our memories in a unique and powerful way.  In light of Holy Week and especially Maundy Thursday and the last supper, it’s fascinating what role and position taste plays in the story.  Let’s talk about the two last things Jesus tasted before he died.

In the gospel of John, the last request and the last sensation that Jesus has other than pain is taste.  His last statement of need or want is contained in John 19:28, “I am thirsty.”  When we look at the words in light of the last taste and the last cup that Jesus took for himself before this moment, they take on a significant position in the passion story.  It was presumably around the table with his disciples the night before, during the meal where Jesus shared broken bread and a cup of shared wine that Jesus experienced his last taste before the cross.   The wine at the table, he was surrounded by those he loved and cherished.  The sour wine at the cross soaked into a sponge suspended on a stick of hyssop, he was surrounded by guards and those filled with hate.

These two last drinks of wine bookend what the gospel of John calls Jesus’ final hour.  On the front end, the scriptures beginning in John 13 say, “Before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father.”  On the back end in 19:28, on the cross, when he asks for his last drink, it says, “When Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said, ‘I am thirsty.’”  What lies between the wine at the table and the wine on the cross is the final lesson, the final commandment that Jesus left for his followers, and I believe left for us.  “Love one another.”  Love each other like I loved you.  This is how others will know that you are my disciples, by the way you love each other (John 13:31-35).

Jesus demonstrated most fully what this love looked like when during that final meal and around their last cup together, Jesus rose and took off his outer robe.  He tied a towel around his waist and began to wash his disciples’ feet.  After he finished, he put his robe back on, returned to the meal and told them, “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have set an example that you should also do as I have done to you (John 13:14-15).

With this last commandment and this last example of a love that is humble and deep, Jesus finalizes his preparation for the church.  Then, he gives it away.  He gives away the church to us.  He asks for us only to kneel, wrap a towel around our waist and serve each other out of the love that he has for us.  He asks us to love in such a way that when others who are searching and hurting say, “I am thirty”, rather than sour wine, they can find the source of living water and the cup that runs over with God’s grace.  It says they will know where to look by the way we love each other.

And so I wonder, as that sour wine, suspended on the stick of hyssop, as it wet his mouth, did the taste and wetness stir his memories as we know that taste does with ours?  Did scenes flash of his last drink with his friends?  Did the taste bring back through the pain and through the exhaustion a memory of the first moments of his ministry when he turned water into wine?  Wine to wine, a sense of completion through the agony.  One last, painful, futile, sour taste and human comfort before the end.  All was complete.  What he loved, the people, the church, are cared for and in another’s hands now.  Our hands. We continue the ministry and the life of God when we cannot see him and cannot find him with the help of the Holy Spirit and the help of each other.  We hold the kingdom in trust together, gathering around a table to remember and taste what God has done for us.  We break the bread of community and sacrifice and share the cup of salvation so that others may come and taste that the Lord is good.

feature picture from: http://request.org.uk/festivals/holy-week-and-easter/maundy-thursday-in-the-church/

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 obey everything that I’ve commanded you.  Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of the present age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)  I used to be scared of this verse.  At the very least, I was annoyed.  Whenever I head it preached, studied, published, or flashed up on the screen, I knew I had a weekend of looking forward to awkward door-knocking conversations or handfuls of tracts to hand out and leave in “strategic” locations.  I heard words like “saved”, “born again”, and “testimony” and I would feel a sense of dread spreading through my gut.  Evangelism was a buzzword for “get ready to be annoying and feel persecuted.”  If someone was receptive, awesome!  If someone slammed their door in your face or cursed you out, even better.  Jesus likes that too!  Oh, the memories…

The crowning jewel of my evangelistic upbringing was the $20 bill tract and the fake money tracts.

 20bucks2-1023x477dollar evangelism

dollarPrepare To Meet God Money Tract

It was this particular proclamation tool that poisoned any real sense that God was looking down and smiling upon any of this.  Half of the tract looks like a twenty-dollar bill.  The other half is a mocking revelation that you’re not actually lucky, but probably damned for all eternity.  Cagey for sure, but Christ?  Sure, it had a sinner’s prayer on the bottom, but who could read it once the recipient burned it or tore it apart in a frustrated rant that Christians can be real tools?

Evangelism had become synonymous with guilt, shame, fear, and awkwardness.  When one friend of mine didn’t go down to the altar one night, a youth worker asked him, “don’t you want to live forever with Jesus rather than going to hell?”  That’s like asking cake or death! An evangelistic approach that pushes others towards God using the lowest of human emotions denies a God who draws all things to himself through complete love and grace.

So what does healthy evangelism look like?  I imagine it looks most like Jesus.  The attraction of knocking of doors and handing out tracts is that it doesn’t require a relationship.  In fact, it doesn’t even involve a name or a story.  All stories are the same, and names are not important.  Jesus sat with people though, he heard their stories, met their needs, healed their hurts, called them by name, and demonstrated the complete love of God instantly in their lives.  There is an assurance that we matter and are individually significant.  God knows our name and speaks life into our stories. With Jesus, there wasn’t only a quick prayer attached to a vague promise of eternal love and acceptance in the future kingdom of God.  Rather, a deep and abiding love was fully realized in that very moment coupled with an answer to their heavy and honest prayers.

What’s so shocking about the Great Commission is that most Christians I know can quote it and recall it at will; however, the promise of Jesus’ presence is forgotten, edited for length, or dismissed.  He, himself, will be with us every day until the end of the age.  We seem to structure our evangelism programs on one of two models.  Either we’re doing evangelism because Jesus commanded us to make disciples when he left and we have to do it while he’s gone, or we don’t do anything and leave it completely up to God and we trust him to make disciples independently.  I don’t see a faithful Church in either model.  As with most things when it comes to the Gospel, to the Good News, it’s done purely when it’s done in relationship.  It’s done when we don’t have all the answers and we’re willing to take risks and allow the gospel to come alive in new and crazy ways for others and for us again.  The Church needs to look like it’s message.  It’s time to start our discipleship and evangelism with a risky commitment to share our lives with others and become a people of stories and names, not tracts and shame.