Holy Thursday Devotion – Kelly Claudon
I wasn’t sure how to open the devotional today. I’m not accustomed to doing this on camera from my home, but I guess I’ll just say what I would say if we were all gathered for worship and I was welcoming to the service:
Welcome to Cumming First United Methodist Church’s Spiritual Connection Video Devotion!! This is a devotion series that we’ve been doing since the church campus closed due to the COVID-19 virus. If you haven’t seen one of these devotions yet, then we’re so glad you’re viewing now. And if you’ve been able to keep up with them over the last few weeks, we’re so happy you’re here too. You can view the previous devotions and postings by visiting our website or Facebook page, and you can find either of those pages by googling CFUMCGA. And if you’ve been able to keep up with them over the last few weeks, we’re glad you’re here too. As always, it’s a privilege that you’re spending your time with us, and it’s a privilege for me to get to be with you today.
I hope that you’re doing okay today. The only word that I’ve been able to use to describe this whole thing is bizarre. And, I don’t know about you, but some days I feel okay, and the next day I feel so out of sorts, truly. And, if I’m honest, sometimes that’s the way I move through the day. I’m great, and then I’m not. Even though my family and I seem to be well, so many are suffering, so many are challenged. They are affected because they are vulnerable in ways that we aren’t. Many are working so hard to combat the effect of the virus and just to help keep things going so that the rest of us can manage. I was in the grocery store early last week, picking up some items that we needed. I was fine, just moving through the store trying to get my things and move on when the manager of the store came over the intercom. He thanked his employees for working so hard, and at that moment, I went from being fine to almost bursting into tears.
I’ve also experienced what I am calling “work from home fatigue.” I don’t usually work from home, so maybe it’s a thing. It isn’t the actual working from home that is challenging me, but rather, the change from being in constant contact and communication with other people. I work at a university. There is always someone in my office or the halls going to the next class. We do have virtual meetings, so that helps, but now, the only people that come into my office are my children, my husband, and my dog. I do enjoy being alone, but I realized last week that it’s quite taxing for me not to have the interaction that I would typically have.
The whole thing is bizarre. But, honestly, that seems about right for this week. This is the week in the church that we observe Holy Week. This past Sunday was Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday is the day we celebrate Jesus making his way into Jerusalem in preparation for the Passover. Scripture tells us Jesus made his way into the city from the Mount of Olives, riding on a donkey. People were laying the cloaks on the ground, and that others were laying down palms cut from fields and waving them. They were shouting “Hosanna!”, a Hebrew expression meaning save, and exclaiming, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!, Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
Those phrases would be the equivalent of someone saying today, “You go, Jesus!”, “We love you, Jesus!” “We’re with you, Jesus, and we believe in you!”. That would have been a Sunday. We know that by the end of that week, that same crowd would have turned on Jesus, yelling, “Crucify him!” and by the Sabbath, he would be dead.
Palm Sunday represents for us now the day that Jesus made his way into Jerusalem. While today, Holy Thursday, reminds us of the day, the night, that he began making his way to the cross.
I always think about the disciples during this week. Their normal was Jesus, as the new religious leader, loved and followed by crowds and simultaneously despised and threatened by religious leaders. Then to see him arrested, vilified, and turned into someone who by association might get them killed too. Their world turned upside down in a matter of hours. Not so unlike what we as a world are experiencing now. Not so unlike experiences that we have certainly had before.
My father died four years ago. The anniversary of his death is April 7th, and it so happens that this year that memory, that event, coincides with Holy Week. My dad was, as far as anyone knew, a healthy 74 year-old man. He got the flu that year, but it seemed worse than it should, and it was determined that he had just a bit of pneumonia in his lungs. Concerning, but not overly so because, as I mentioned, he was considered to be in good health. Finally, however, he was admitted into the hospital because he had a cough that would not stop, and he was unable to get any rest. Concerning, but not overly so, because he was in good health. And then suddenly, we found ourselves hearing that his lungs had filled with pneumonia, and he was being moved to the critical care unit. And suddenly, just like for the disciples that Thursday night, life seemed to be coming off the rails. My family and I went from what was considered to be under control to out of control. Within a week, my father would be dead.
Over the course of those days, while he was in the intensive care unit, my siblings and I took turns spending the night with him at the hospital. Because his death came so quickly, there weren’t a lot of nights to spend. My night was a Monday night. The doctor, as he had done before, would be in around 6:00 a.m. the next morning. They weren’t sure why my dad’s lungs weren’t responding to the treatment, and they were trying to determine if a lung biopsy could be done. When the doctor came in, we would discuss it.
That Monday night, as I sat there watching my dad sleep, with the oxygen mask on his face, I felt the reality settle down into me that things were never going to be the same. Whether my father lived or died, there was no going back, and the future was nothing except uncertain. I tried to talk to God. I tried to be brave and tell God that I was trusting and putting my faith in him. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t bring myself to say, “let your will be done,” because that will might be too much for me to bear. And as I sat there, I could feel the heaviness of the Holy Spirit overcome me, and I knew that God was with me in that room. With me in my pain. With me in the breakneck speed that all of this was happening. With me in the uncertainty. I would like to tell you that I felt at peace, and maybe I did. But, what I felt was just not alone. My prayer that night was that God would glorify himself. I think God gave me those words, and those words took away the need to try and give the situation over to God. Just glorify yourself, God, and I know things will be okay.
I wonder if the disciples had any of those moments that night. Or over the next three days. I don’t know. But I draw such comfort from the fact that they experienced, just like we do and are now, this upturning of their world, of their lives, and were confronted with such uncertainty about the future. Perhaps more than we have ever been, we are connected to the disciples in that way this week.
I love to read in the gospel of John the story of that Thursday night so long ago, and I would encourage you to do that as well. It’s interesting to note that Jesus gathered with all of his disciples, including Judas, his betrayer, and washed their feet. By washing his feet, he served them all, the ones who loved him and the ones who would turn on him most intimately for that time. And after that, he began to pour into them, over and again, how loved they were by him and how they were to love others as he loved them. That they wouldn’t be alone when he was gone, but that the “advocate, the Holy Spirit” would be with them. For me, it is the most personal sermon or teaching that he ever gave. And, then, he ends with these words, words in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world”.
It doesn’t always feel that way, though, and I don’t think it did for the disciples either. It’s hard in trying circumstances, sometimes we feel at peace and then, without warning, that peace seems elusive. That’s called being human, and none of us are immune. I think that is one of the greatest lessons that the disciples give us, and especially on this particular day.
“Take heart,” Jesus says, “I have overcome the world.” And, I think he would be okay with me adding, even when you can’t see it, even when it doesn’t seem that way.
That night, alone with God in my father’s hospital room, I know God was serving me, just like Jesus served his disciples before he was arrested. In the chaos that was churning within me, I knew that God had come to meet me and to care for me. At that point, I could not have entrusted my father to God on my own. And just as he did that night in the upper room, and the night with me in the hospital, so he comes to us now. To care for us, to carry us. To comfort us. To glorify himself in and around us.
My father died very early on the morning of April 7th. We were thankful to have been there and watch the man who had cared for us leave this world. But the most fantastic thing happened later that same day; the afternoon of the day that my father died. His 4th great-grandchild made her way into the world, and she has been wide open ever since. Maybe just a little like her great-grandfather.
We are reminded in the book of Isaiah in the 43rd chapter, “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”
It may not always feel like a new thing. It may not always feel like a good thing. It may not always even be a thing that we want or understand. But no matter what is taking place, we can remember those words that Jesus spoke so long ago to his disciples and us today:
“I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world”.
I don’t know if you’re a Christian or even religious at all, but that peace is for all, it isn’t just for a select few. Thank you so much for spending this little bit of time with me today. It encourages the extroverted part of myself, to know that I am connecting with people today! But if you don’t take anything else away from this, I hope you’ll take this. God loves you whether you love God or not. And God is always with you, whether you acknowledge or not. And, in this or any other stressful time that you may be experiencing, I hope that you will remember that.
He has told us these things, so that in him we may have peace. In this world, we will have trouble. But take heart, Jesus has overcome the world. And, through him, we do as well.
I hope that you will continue to look for these devotions on our website, www.cfumcga.com, or our Facebook page – just search cfumcga. Or, just google CFUMCGA. We will be live streaming our Good Friday service at 7:00 p.m. tomorrow and our 9:51 Contemporary Service and 11:00 Traditional Service on Easter Sunday. We invite you to join us this Sunday and every Sunday.
I hope you have a peace-filled day! God bless you.