Today I enjoyed what was probably the best church service that I have ever had the excessively good fortune to attend, and I have attended many very good ones. Of course, there were other very good services conducted nearby and elsewhere but I simply did not attend them. No matter. I have been a committed Christian for over thirty years now and have been blessed by truly wonderful services at a number of churches. This is not about any sort of competition, and there is no material prize. I am only saying that I was blessed by today’s service at House of Providence in ways that I have never been blessed before.
What particularly was so special about today’s service? Particularly, there was nothing special about it. The music/worship was wonderful, but then it usually is. The sermon went straight to the point and spoke to where I am right now, but then then it usually does. The people, the prayer, the Prayers of the People; all of it was as good as usual. But for me, today, all of these strands were blended together into a whole that salved my wounds and nourished my soul in ways that don’t happen just every day.
I was greatly moved by the focus on Jesus’ last moments of life. While hanging on a Roman cross, His life draining out of Him, Jesus looked down at John and Mary, His mother. In paraphrase Jesus said “Mom, John is your son now,” and then He said “John, take care of Mom for me.” Now that’s not what ancient gods usually said and did. The Sumerian goddess Ishtar sends a bull from heaven to trash the Earth because the heroic Gilgamesh, king of Ur, doesn’t want to go to bed with her. The king seems to prefer the company of Enkidu, a wild man also created by the gods to harass Gilgamesh but with whom he becomes best buddies. It’s weird, but I ain’t judging.
In Greek mythology/theology Zeus and his cohorts are busy having sex with mortals and pouting when things don’t go exactly their way, causing shipwrecks and losses in battle and turning sex partners into cows to avoid the ire of jealous god or goddess spouses. Other theologies were less comical. Aztec priests, when dedicating a pyramid at the imperial capital of Tenochtitlan, conducted between 10,000 and 80,000 human sacrifices in only four days. Work out the math on that one. And I will not disturb you with the details of Aztec human sacrifice, but it wasn’t pretty.
Jesus’ thoughts at this moment were not on bulls, or sex, or sex with bulls, or bloody sacrifice, apart from His own that is. He was thinking about His mother. Jesus knew that John was the only disciple who would live a long life and die a natural death. He could have entrusted his mom to Peter, Mark, Matthew or, worst case scenario, to Stephen. He didn’t. “Mom, stay close to John (he’s going to be around for a while). John, treat her like your own mother.” Other religious views show superhuman gods with very human failings, which are amplified as only a god could amplify them. Jesus on the cross shows the victorious God who defeats hell and death but also shows human tenderness and love for his mother, even over his own immediate problem. That is a God that I can put my faith in.
Jesus also said that He was thirsty and that it is finished. No doubt He was thirsty! Blood had poured from his shredded back and He would have had no fluids since the night before. But His thirst is nothing like our own. Jesus was given sour wine to drink, but we need the water which flows from Him, and He gives it. It is awful that Jesus had to hang thirstily from that cross so that My dry soul could be spiritually rehydrated, but I give Him thanks that He did it for me, and for everyone else who will drink.
And finally He said “It is finished”. What is finished” Death and hell appear to be all around us still. ISIS tortures, rapes and kills in Syria and Iraq with impunity. Disease rampages through Africa and poverty dogs much of the world. If Jesus came here to make things right it certainly doesn’t look on the face of it like it’s working. What exactly did Jesus finish?
In a word, eternal, spiritual death. Sin and hell are no longer in the driver’s seat. As bad as it looks, it’s getting better. Heaven and Earth are being reconciled and there’s nothing that the devil and all of his forces can do about it. God’s kingdom on Earth is inevitable; it is coming and will be established, and sin will be cast outside the walls of the Kingdom of God to grind it’s teeth like the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son, certain of his self earned righteousness and unwilling to allow Gods grace to heal him of his self inflicted wound.
Yeah, it was a service that I needed today. I will go to bed tonight still thinking about it, and hopefully it will remain with me as I pick up my busy workaday life tomorrow and get into the mix once again.