Hope rides shotgun. A reflection for Easter Monday.

Hope and I were driving home from work. We had carpooled, her to the pizza place, me to the church. I picked her up, rolled the window down, and headed home.

It was the first warm Spring day we’d traveled together. I handed her the end of a cable. One end was plugged into the radio. The other was for her phone, full of music.

“What do you want to listen to,” she asked.

“The windows are down,” I said.

And soon Ben Rector was singing about summer. Very loud. Through scratchy speakers. We smiled.

It’s what we do when we ride together in warm. We listen to music loud. And sometimes we sing. And then we talk and then turn up the volume again.

I looked over at Hope. Through the window on her side of the car I saw a man with his hands near his face and a little girl bending over. And then we were past.

As I processed the photo in my mind, I realized that he was blowing bubbles and she was chasing them with the delight and intensity of a three-year old on the first warm Spring day that she and her dad were traveling together.

Hope kept singing. I was crying. Nearly twenty years on from that dad and daughter, as they were making a tradition, we were keeping our own. I started smiling soon again.

I know that it’s the day after Easter. And I should be telling us a story from the Resurrection.

But I am. Jesus came and lived and died and rose and ascended. Because of that, I can stop feeling so guilty about not measuring up and working hard to prove my value to God. I can glimpse a dad creating bubbles that delight his daughter and understand that God, at times, gives us perfect warm afternoons. And on one of those afternoons, I can roll the windows down and turn up the music and treasure every moment that Hope rides shotgun.

That Friday.

(Part of a post first published April 22, 2011)

There is a luxury in historical hindsight, an ability to see the lessons without going through the event. And it is that hindsight that named this morning Good. In real time, on the ground in Jerusalem, there was nothing good about spittle mixed with blood. There was nothing good about a suicidal man, remorse-ridden. There was nothing good about a group of people accepting guilt–and that momentary statement being used as the justification for generations of atrocities.

In the moment, the pain was excruciating. Had to be. Abandonment. Rejection. Nails. In the moment, there was little energy for discerning the lessons. Jesus was not working on a three point sermon, 10 lessons for a happy Good Friday,  quick fashion lessons from the suffering savior (“a seamless tunic should be in everyone’s closet.”) No trite summaries. No cute sayings for surviving in the middle of trials (“It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.”) Not even a neatly tied up blog post with some nice moral.

Just raw pain. And in the middle of it, forgiveness.

“God. How awful.”


Another look at Peter

“His robe was spotted with blood. A head wound of any kind is messy, and Peter had cut off a man’s ear. He probably had never used a sword before, “

That’s how I was going to start telling the story of Peter denying that he knew Jesus. I was pretty sure about the blood. I’ve watched enough CSI to know about spatter. But when I started thinking about the sword, I stopped. Was it a broadsword as we think of swords from the movies of the knights? Or was it a long knife, the kind that a fisherman might use early in the morning to prepare fish for market?

Why does it matter?

Because I’ve heard people suggest that Peter was using an unfamiliar weapon, that he was so inept that he hit the ear while aiming for the man’s head. Peter, the blundering rube. We get that picture because he came from an area that snooty people considered backward. He was described by religious snobs as untaught.

But maybe Peter was a successful small business owner. He had a couple of boats available. He was able to leave his nets and follow Jesus and still have his family provided for. When Jesus predicted denial, Peter was shocked. He trusted Jesus, in the same way that he knew he trusted himself. He worked hard to understand when Jesus was confusing. When challenged, he stepped up. When someone he cared about was in danger, he used a weapon he knew well and issued a warning – which Jesus didn’t endorse. Instead, Jesus healed the ear and scolded Peter.

Which brings us to where we started: Peter, by the fire outside the interrogation of Jesus, in a blood-spotted robe.


His robe was spotted with blood. A head wound of any kind is messy, and Peter had cut off a man’s ear. It was a precise cut, directed at the slave of the high priest. A non-life-threatening wound to a person of no account. It was a statement.

So was the response of Jesus. “Put away your sword. I will do what I need to do. I need to do what the Father wills.” And then Jesus healed the servant.

Ready to defend Jesus, Peter didn’t expect the resistance to come from his own side. He steps away. He moves to the back of the crowd. And as Jesus talks with the soldiers, and is arrested, and is led away, Peter follows. Behind the torches. Behind the rear guard.

At the large house of the high priest, Peter waits outside the gate. Like Samwise, unable to follow the captured Frodo in Lord of the Rings. Until another disciple with inside connections speaks to the bouncer and gets him into the party.

As he slips by, the doorkeeper says, “You aren’t with the arrested one, are you?” Calculating quickly with the sudden shrewness of a spontaneous spy, Peter says, “No”. Through the gate, he finds a crowd. He mingles, in the shadows cast by the front row of slaves and soldiers by the charcoal fire.

As he warms up, Peter relaxes. He leans forward. A couple soldiers, noticing the blood spatter, noticing something, say “You aren’t with him, are you?” Peter says, “No.”

The light flares. Peter sees a man who looks just like the servant he sliced. Perhaps it was the shape of the earlobe. Perhaps it is the intensity of the stare, something about the eyes. Peter only has time to sense a connection when the man says, “Didn’t I see you out there?” With vehemence of one terrified of revenge in the middle of a hostile crowd, Peter says, “no.”

Said this way, denial makes sense. It’s almost acceptable. Until it’s not.

And then, a rooster.  It happened every night. It was so familiar that some slept through it, in the way that you learn to ignore the train whistle and the fire siren and the silence of the countryside.

Peter may have heard the rooster a thousand times in the middle of the night. He fished at night. The sound of the rooster across the quiet water of Galilee reminded him of home, of shore, of the promise of shift-end.

On this night in Jerusalem, 60 miles and a culture away from the lake, the sound of the rooster was not comforting at all. Peter startled at the sound, and looked up. At that moment, Jesus turned and looked at Peter. Peter rushed away from the fire, through clusters of people, out of the courtyard, into the street. When he could take a breath, it was a sob.

peterThe rooster and the look from Jesus were a reminder of a conversation a few hours before. Jesus had said, “You will deny knowing me.” Peter argued, with all the confidence of a person who doesn’t believe the worst will happen. “I would die with you” is a true statement, and may be much easier than “I will risk shame for you.”

And Jesus had said, “On the other side of your testing and failing, when you have discovered your limited willpower and my unlimited willingness to obey my Father, you will be able to encourage others. You’ll be able to explain all this. Then.”

Even as Peter fled the courtyard, more fully ashamed than he could imagine, Jesus went ahead with the plan. He would die for Peter anyway.

Decades later Peter would write,

…for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Peter spoke from personal experience. He had found the proven genuineness.


Based on John 18:1-27. First published October 9-11, 2013. 


Finding Easter (stories)

(First published April 9, 2009)

I struggle with remembering where things are in the Bible. I struggle with remembering details of stories. I remember ideas and images in sweeping references.

I’m not alone.

Some days, it’s helpful to review, to go back to the familiar images and read the actual story again.

This is a good week for reviewing.

Today? Some images that have worked their way into popular culture.

1. Washing one’s hands of a matter

Pilate was a Roman governor of Israel. He could decide death penalty cases and would have acquitted Jesus. He deferred to the wishes of a crowd but symbolically absolved himself of responsibility.

Matthew 27: Single sentence Whole story

2. Thirty pieces of silver

Judas was one of the twelve disciples. He agreed to help the religious leaders find Jesus  when there were no crowds around. They paid him thirty coins.

Matthew 26: Getting paid Matthew 27: Returning the money

3. Crown of thorns

Put on Jesus’ head by the soldiers who were torturing him. It was a painfully sarcastic reference to being considered a King. This detail shows up in three of the four Gospels.

Matthew Mark John

4. Washing feet

At social events, servants provided water and towels for washing dirty feet. At the supper that turned out to be the last one, there was no servant. Jesus got the water and towel and washed the disciples’ feet. It was the last thing a leader would be expected to do.

John 13: The story

5. Bread and wine

Jesus and his followers were together for supper. Jesus took what was at hand, at the table. There was at this meal, of course, bread and wine. And so he used those elements to create a reminder. Intriguing: we celebrate communion in church but we eat bread all the time. So when could we remember?

Luke 22: the story

Holy Week PSA.

(First published April 14, 2011)

This is a public service reminder.

We are in what is known as Holy Week. During this week, in churches everywhere, there will be an unusual number of public services. There were be public services on Palm Sunday. There will be public services on Maundy Thursday. There will be public services on Good Friday morning, afternoon, and evening. There will be public (vigil) services on Saturday evening. There will be several services on Easter Sunday.

As a result of these services, many people will be feeling unholy during Holy Week.

Many of the people who aren’t going to any one or more of these services will be feeling some sense of peculiarity. They will be wondering whether this feeling is guilt for not fulfilling some cultural custom or some family expectation. They will wonder whether this sense is confirmation that it is, in fact, true that God isn’t going to be happy with them at all. But, truth be told, these people aren’t sure whether it’s appropriate to show up in church just on Easter.

Many of the people who are going to one or more of these services will be feeling some sense of peculiarity. They will be wondering if this feeling is guilt for only fulfilling some cultural custom or family expectation. They will be wondering whether Jesus is going to any of these services which are being held for him. They will feel guilty for not caring enough to concentrate when they are sitting in the services.

Maybe you are one of these people. I understand. Because I feel some sense of peculiarity during Holy Week.

I’ll try to help all of us this week. Here’s my first help. The first time around, there wasn’t a Holy Week celebration. There was Jesus. Celebrated. Rejected. Killed. Alive.


I’m listening all the time to this album by Rend Collective: The Art of Celebration. Here’s the video of the story behind the album. No affiliate. I just wanted to let you know.