The table I set for Easter looks different than the table I set at any other time of the year. My table sometimes has flowers; it sometimes has candles. At Christmastime it has an Advent wreath, and at Thanksgiving it boasts a ceramic turkey. But Easter is the only time it has a cross.
I must confess I did not set this particular table. It was beautifully done by a beloved family friend and mentor at my in-laws’ table in Brenham, Texas.
But her table, and my table at home, got me thinking: shouldn’t our tables, no matter the season, no matter the meal, always be set with the cross at the center?
As we serve our plates, shouldn’t we also be serving up grace to those who sit in our chairs? As we unfold our napkins, shouldn’t we also be unfolding mercy and tucking in compassion, particularly to those in our seats who are suffering?
As we pick up our forks, shouldn’t we also be picking up patience, ready to have it at our lips in responses to those around us? As we fill our stomachs with food, shouldn’t we fill our hearts with love – love that does not seek its own but leaves the confines of our own schedules, our own emotions, our own weariness, our own inconveniences and seeks to shoulder the burdens and minister to the wounds and weariness of those around us?
Perhaps it just means listening as opposed to talking. Or talking instead of sulking. Perhaps it means putting yourself in the other person’s shoes instead of judging. Or giving grace instead of nitpicking.
But if we are Easter People, then at the center of every table, Easter weekend or not, should be the Cross.
Joanne Thompson in her excellent book Tablelife says it best: “Jesus isn’t at risk of catching the disease of sin because He eats with sinners; sinners are at risk of being drawn to grace by eating with Jesus.”
Are those at your table drawn to grace because the cross is at the center of your table, your meal, your heart, and your lips? And have you invited those who do not Jesus to regularly sit at your table? Those who need the risk of exposure to a grace-filled God?
Hear me loud and clear: when it comes to sinners at the table, I am chief. I have been known to tell my children to stop touching me at the table when they desperately needed a touch. I have selfishly told my children to be quiet and keep their stories to myself so I could have a moment’s peace. I have kept the placemats at my table tight, only five, when others have desperately needed to be let in.
Setting a cross-centered table is one of the most difficult parts of my day. And just because I did it well yesterday doesn’t give me the day off today. It is a daily death, a day in and day out, year in and year out, act of surrender.
But today. Today. Today I choose to take up my cross, and follow Jesus, and make Him the center. Of my table. My conversations. My meals. My servings. My heart. Why? Because the people around me, starting with the four whose lives I have been entrusted to serve, need grace from me that points them to Grace from Jesus. And it all begins with having an Easter table with the cross at the center and a heart that is willing to serve. On Easter Sunday or Monday morning or Wednesday night.
As Easter People, join me this year in daring to have an Easter Table.
“Soon afterwards Jesus went to a city called Nain; and His disciples were going along with Him, accompanied by a large crowd. Now as He approached the gate of the city, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and a sizeable crowd from the city was with her. When the Lord saw her, He felt compassion for her, and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’ And He came up and touched the coffin; and the bearers came to a halt. And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak. And Jesus gave him back to his mother.” Luke 7:11-15
I know a momma who lost her only son a couple years back. And I thought a lot about that momma this Easter weekend. And after the glorious wreck of the Resurrection, I wondered why. Why couldn’t Jesus have stretched out His Resurrection Hands and touched with Resurrection Life this woman’s son like He did the son of the widow of Nain? Why doesn’t He touch all cold, lifeless sons with Resurrection power so that mommas don’t have to grieve anymore?
And I don’t have any easy answers.
But perhaps it is because we are Easter people. And perhaps it has to do with our limps. Because while we are people of the Resurrection, we are also people of the Crucifixion. The hard call to all those who are serious about following Christ is to take up your cross to follow Him (Luke 9:23-24). And the last time I checked, the Resurrected One is also the Crucified One. The One we follow who has Life in His veins also has nail prints in His Hands.
Perhaps He lets us bear our cross, bear the death of only sons, bear the pain of sickness and illness, bear the frustration of repeated sin – one step forward and two awful steps back – because, let’s face it. If we only walked in full resurrection power in the here and now and never with a crucified limp, we would ever really find our need for a Crucified God?
Perhaps our limps are there to drag us to our Savior. Over and over and over again.
Perhaps they are there to remind us that Resurrection is coming. But first we must follow the Crucified One to the grave in the great hope and belief that whatever dies in surrender to the Son comes back with Life evermore (John 12:24-25).
I don’t know this son-less momma well. Don’t know her well enough to take her in my arms and just hug her long and walk alongside of her, reminding her that Resurrection is surely coming and her son will stand in her arms again one day. But it’s what I want to do every time I see her.
But I do know the Son well. And I know that every time I have hit a wall and all I see are dead ends and dead relationships and my own dead heart, He is faithful to breathe Life. Because we are Easter People, and He is our Easter God. Who meets us in our limps, heals all of our diseases, and promises to raise us up with Him in glory…just like the widow’s son.
So limp along this week…and dare to live like Easter People who serve a Crucified, Glorified Easter God.
This week marks the halfway point in our journey through Lent. How is your journey going? Have you caved in on sweets yet? Surrendered to an urge to abandon your convictions that now seem like they were made so long ago (as in three weeks ago)?
I certainly have. I have been sorely tempted more than once to stuff one of my mom’s homemade cupcakes in my mouth in one fell swoop without feeling any remorse whatsoever about the decision.
What was the big deal about Lent anyway? And why in the world did I promise to forgo all of these delicious sweets?!
If you are in need of some Lenten Light to refresh and remind you of why you decided to take this journey in the first place, take heart from these words from one of my favorite authors and sojourner, Leanne Payne (it is a long quote, but well worth the read):
“Our journey in time is for the special ordering of our lives and passions. The church wisely has set aside a special time-within-time, the Lenten Season, for us to stop and look at our lives in view of eternity and to check our spiritual temperatures for any worldly virus our souls may have caught. It is not accidental that this period precedes Easter and prepares us for the Feasts of Christ’s resurrection and ascension that follow:
The grace of abstinence has shone forth,
banishing the darkness of demons.
The power of the Fast disciplines our minds.
Lent brings the cure to our crippling worldliness.
As Fr. Thomas Hopko writes, Lent stands as the great reminder that: ‘We are in exile. We are alienated and estranged from our true country.’
To forget God is the cause of all sins. To be unmindful of Zion is the source of all sorrows. To settle down in this fallen world, which is not God’s good creation but rather the Babylon which the wicked have made, is death to the soul.
Christians await the ‘holy city, new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband,’ which is the true homeland of all human beings (Revelation 21:2)….They already live in it to the measure that they have discovered their authentic humanity made in God’s image and likeness in Christ.’
There is a dangerous forgetfulness on our part that this world is not our true and final home. This has been greatly exacerbated by the fact that our educational systems, drawing their theories from materialist philosophy, have claimed heaven to be off-limits and have taught us to look within ourselves and to this earth for the ultimate good. As C.S. Lewis points out, this progressive subjectivization has resulted in an ‘evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us for nearly a hundred years….Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice; almost all our modern philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth.’
I think this explains why we have such difficulty in understanding and celebrating Lent in beneficial ways. We are no longer sure deep down that we are exiles, that this is not the promised home. Therefore, we’ve accommodated ourselves to Babylon and then are overwhelmed at the sickness, fear, hatred, and violence we see here. It is a strange fact that we Christians continue to be unduly shocked and even overcome by the sight and the extent of the evil we discover in the world – as if we didn’t know it to be a fallen one.
Lent is to remind us that it is all too easy to settle in here, to warn us that perhaps a ‘crippling worldliness’ has indeed overtaken us.
‘See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving, heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.’ Hebrews 3:12-13
This is what the Lenten Scripture readings and teachings are meant to correct in us. They would teach us how we can live in the midst of Babylon and not be destroyed by it, even as Christ prayed: ‘My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.’ John 17:15-16
The journey through life then, if made successfully, requires that we order our inner and outer lives. We do this through prayer, and keeping an effective listening prayer journal; those are the best means I can recommend. For those who have difficulty ordering all that an effective vocation has brought into their orbit, or for those who have grown dangerously passive, slothful spiritually and mentally, you may want to read – on your knees – Richard J. Foster’s books Celebration of Discipline and Freedom of Simplicty, or Godon MacDonald’s book Ordering Your Private World. It is essential that we order our lives and our ‘loves’ this side of glory – in time.
We are often said to be creatures of time, and that we are. But time too is a creature. It is created. It will not always be. This is, for me at least, an overwhelming concept to grapple with and keep before my eyes; it is one I cannot really ‘think’ of or fully grasp. But the truth of the matter is, God is outside of time, and not subject to it. Somedy we too will no longer be subject to time. Meanwhile in our pilgrimage, it is important to see time as gift, as treasure not to be squandered.”
Leanne Payne, “Restoring the Christian Hope of Heaven and Grace,” Restoring the Christian Soul
Leanne’s quote is a lot to process; but I walk away with two main things:
#1. Lent helps to “bring the cure to our crippling worldliness.” It is the antidote to the worldly virus that has infected our souls and helps us to remember this world is not our home. It also ushers in reminders of the Hope of Heaven, our true home.
#2. Lent helps us to order our gift of time rightly. We forget that time is a gift from God, a created thing that will not last forever. Part of our job as Christians is to order our time, to subject it to the rule and reign of Christ and use it to usher in the rule of His Kingdom, first in our own private lives and then in the differing spheres where He has placed us.
So this week and in the remaining weeks to come, if you are tempted to cram that cupcake down your throat…stop. Remember that in remembering Lent, you are doing a good thing. You are forcing your heart and mind to forgo the “sweetness” of the world for the sanctity of Heaven. And you are rightly ordering your time. You are pausing for a season each year to force your heart to yield to the Lordship of Christ, to remember the cross, remember His suffering, and remember your journey towards your true Home.
So don’t give up or give in halfway through. Keep on fasting. Keep on forgoing. For within the fast lies the freedom to turn our hearts towards a Great God and greater things.
Lent began yesterday. 40 days of fasting. 40 days of trial. 40 days of leanness for the body in exchange for fatness of soul.
What did you decide to do for Lent? Yes, you. The one sitting behind the computer screen. Because we don’t know how many more days we have on this earth to prepare for the great and coming day of the Lord; but we know we have this day. This Lent. This season of 40.
Which brings me to the 300. My small group has been studying the story of Gideon in the book of Judges. Gideon blew his trumpet to gather soldiers to fight against Israel’s enemy, the Midianites. And 32,000 men responded and said they would take up their weapons and fight.
But God told Gideon, “The people who are with you are too many for Me to give Midian into their hands, lest Israel become boastful, saying, ‘My own power has delivered me'” (Judges 7:2).
So God whittled the mighty army down from 32,000…to 300. Yes, you read that correctly. 300. 300 soldiers to deliver Israel from approximately 130,000 Midianites. By every human estimate, those are terrible odds. And Gideon’s battle plan (see Judges 7:16-18) was a terrible plan. Unless you consider the fact that in God’s economy, less is more. Less is powerful. Less is lean. Because our less glorifies, beautifies, and magnifies God’s magnificent more.
Is there an area of life where you are lean right now? Perhaps it’s in your bank account. Or your health. Or your emotional energy or strength. I have a word for you, friend. Less is more. Especially when it comes to Lent.
The question I have for you is, “Are you ready?” Are you ready to be one of the 300? Growing up, it was Gideon who always impressed me. I instinctively thought God must have chosen him because of how mighty or devout or humble he was. Not so. When the Angel of God found him, he was hiding in the bottom of a winepress threshing wheat. He was way more of a wimp than a victor. A coward than a warrior. Which is precisely why God chose him. There is no way any of us could feasibly give Gideon the credit for winning such a mighty victory. The credit could only go to God.
But before this Spring, I had never before noticed or given any thought to the 300. But God chose them from among the 32,000 for two reasons:
#1. The Lord told Gideon, “Now therefore come, proclaim in the hearing of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is afraid and trembling, let him return and depart from Mount Gilead.’ So 22,000 people returned, but 10,000 remained” (Judges 7:3).
Think about this for a moment: Out of 32,000 men, 22,000 admitted they were afraid…and turned back. If you want to do great things for God, if you want to be ready for battle and alert for war in and out of season, take two little words to heart: Fear Not. Fear paralyzes us from being used by God. Fear of the future, fear of death, fear of suffering, fear of our loved ones suffering, fear of pain, fear of the past, fear of loss of control, and the list goes on and on.
How do you get rid of fear and become ready for battle? Psalm 119:165 tells us, “Great peace have those who love Your law; nothing can make them stumble.” A deep-seated love of the Lord and a love of His Word roots and grounds us in peace, in reality, in eternity. A deep trust and faith in His Word removes all stumbling blocks and pitfalls along the way and obliterates all fears that makes us stumble. First and foremost, the 300 were men who did not fear the enemy around them because of the greatness of the One who had called them.
But the 10,000 were still too many. Israel could still take credit for the victory. So God thinned out the crowd once again:
#2: “So Gideon brought the people down to the water. And the Lord said to Gideon, ‘You shall separate everyone who laps the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, as well as everyone who kneels to drink.’ Now the number of those who lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, was 300 men; but all the rest of the people kneeled to drink water. And the Lord said to Gideon, ‘I will deliver you with the 300…'” (Judges 7:5-7)
What was different about the 300? Catch this: they were alert. Just one valley away was an army of 130,000 Midianites ready to eat the Israelites for lunch. But 9,700 apparently weren’t aware of the nearness of their enemy. Or they didn’t care. Their desire to slake their thirst outweighed their sensitivity to the enemy.
But not the 300. They scooped water with the hands, brining it up to their mouth to drink so their eyes never had to leave the horizon. Their senses were on high alert; their physical needs were in submission to the bigger picture and the greater story going on around them.
What about you? Yes, you again. Sitting there behind your screen. If your physical senses were put up in a fight against your spiritual senses, which one would win? If your physical needs and desires were forced to submit to the bigger story going on in the heavenly realm around you, would they? Would your desire to eat physical food dominate over the desire to feed your spirit with the Word of God? Would your spiritual ears stay submissive to hearing the Voice of God even if other voices were chiming in? Voices that come from often times seemingly “good” sources? Would your spiritual eyes be able to see past the angry person in front of you and into their aching heart within?
This is what Lent is for, my friends. It is to hone us into the 300. Because I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be one of the 22,000 that walk away from the battle out of fear, nor do I want to be one of the remaining 9,700 that succumbs to slaking my physical thirst before remaining alert to the unseen story around me.
Go lean on sweets the next 40 days. Go slim on screen time, television time, entertainment, sports, or shopping. And go long on God. Go long on learning how to listen with your spirit, how to see with the eyes of your heart, how to taste and see that the Lord is good, how to smell the fragrance of the forgiveness of Christ instead of the stench of self, and how to use your hands to build up the Kingdom of God instead of destructively tearing down to the glory of self.
Go ahead and go lean. Be one of the 300. And take your place in a story where less is more, victory is certain, and all the glory goes to God.