Walking with Jesus through Holy Week

You may have forgotten with everything else going on in the world, but Easter is this Sunday!

For many, Easter is a time for celebrating spring and an excuse to gather with family, but for the Christian church, it’s a date marked by events upon which the entire faith hinges; namely, Jesus’ death, crucifixion, and resurrection from the dead.

The 40-day period of Lent leads up to Holy Week, which began on Palm Sunday with the remembrance of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem astride a donkey.

On Maundy Thursday, Jesus ate the Passover feast with his disciples, now known as the Last Supper. The word “maundy” is a derivation of the Latin “mandatus,” meaning “command.”

That day, Jesus said to his disciples that he was giving them a new commandment: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” ~ John 13:34-35.

Soon after the Passover meal, Jesus was betrayed to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of the Jewish province of Judea, and arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. Though Pilate could find no legal reason to convict Jesus, he caved to the pressure of the Pharisees, whose teachings of the Bible Jesus undermined by declaring himself to be the son of God. Jesus was sentenced to death by crucifixion, reserved for those who rebelled against the Roman empire.

On Good Friday, Jesus hung on a cross for 6 hours, enduring a torturous death. He was buried inside a tomb, which was guarded by Roman centurions. But on Easter Sunday, the stone from the tomb door had been rolled away, and Jesus was nowhere to be found. He appeared first to Mary Magdalene and a few female disciples, before appearing to Peter and the other disciples.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,” Jesus said, “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you, even unto the end of the age.” ~ Matt. 28:19-20

This year, Easter could not have come at a more necessary time: the nearing height of a global pandemic. With the suffering, fear, anxiety and depression collectively prevalent in the current time, what hope can we glean from Holy Week?

In a word: salvation! It is the essence of the faith which provides eternal peace and joy, in spite of the most daunting fears.

As Paul writes in chapter 8 of his letter to the Roman church, the death of Jesus allows us to hope.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” ~ Romans 8:35-39

So what, then, are many Christians afraid of? We’re afraid of the end of a comfortable way of life we’ve always known. We are frustrated we can’t gather with the ones we love in the same carefree manner we have always enjoyed. We are concerned our finances will disappear, and with them, our plans for the future. We are fearful for the lives of those we love. We are afraid of uncertainty. But here’s the kicker: we never had more than a marginal level of control to begin with.

I’ve been quoting an old Jewish proverb a lot lately: “Man plans, God laughs.” Try as we might to fit our worlds into orderly little spheres, the God of the universe has a plan beyond comprehension. During good times, it’s easy to delude ourselves into believing we’re following God or some right path, when we’re just chasing after our own notions. He is right here with us every step of this journey, asking not only to be let into our lives, but to be placed at the center. Only when we cede our idea of control to the One who has ultimate power can we feel experience peace. It’s not a one-time thing, either; it’s day-by-day, moment-by-moment sacrifice.

Peace during this Holy Week looks like shifting our focus to God.

Let’s use this time to our best advantage and seek out God. It’s ok if you don’t feel like praising the Lord right now. It’s ok if you are depressed, angry, anxious, frustrated, afraid. Sometimes, when people ask how I am dealing with a certain situation, I’ll tell them I’m currently arguing with God about it. He can take it.

All He asks is that we seek Him in good times and bad. Whether you approach the throne of mercy with a broken heart or one full of gratitude, God hears you. He can handle both our praise and our pain. The Christ who rose from the dead and guaranteed our eternal salvation took away the suffering of the world once. We have the knowledge and hope that He will do it again.

Peace be with us all, as we walk down the road with Him to the cross this Easter.

Continue reading “Walking with Jesus through Holy Week”

Finding Purpose in the Pandemic

Published March 31, 2020 for the Williamson Herald.

I remember exactly when the panic first hit me.

It was Thursday, March 5, the day the first Tennessee case of COVID-19 was announced to be right here in Franklin. That was the day I began washing my hands with scalding water for at least 20 seconds and disinfecting everything I touched.

The world turned upside down quickly from there. Sports leagues canceled and pushed back their seasons, concerts and festivals were scrapped en masse, and churches began meeting via online livestreams.

While many people quickly began avoiding public outings, it took others several weeks to comprehend the severity of the pandemic, in which the United States currently leads the world with the most reported and confirmed cases. Of concern is the virus’ long incubation period, which means some may be infected but not show symptoms for two to 10 days after infection, allowing them to have contact with many before experiencing symptoms.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and member of the White House coronavirus task force, has been a voice of caution and realism throughout the outbreak and spread in the U.S.

He warns some areas may see as bad a spread as New York, where, as of March 31, just under half of the United States’ 160,000 cases are located and over 1,300 have died.

In Tennessee, numbers of cases continue to grow at a double-digit rate each day.

Infectious disease experts say the disease is far from contained, and we’ll likely be battling the virus over the next year, with other rounds of physical distancing measures necessary before a vaccine can be developed, tested appropriately and widely distributed.

It is a grim reality that seemed to happen overnight. Still, there are reasons for optimism.

Within this community, I’ve seen a generosity of spirit in the past month unlike before. Food drives and pantries are popping up to feed children who relied on free and reduced lunches from schools. Friends post daily on social media the local restaurants they’re supporting through takeout and delivery. Photographers are using their talents and time to go door to door in neighborhoods and shoot creative photos of families desperate for a distraction from bad news. People right here in Williamson County are busy sewing masks for the medical community and donating blood.

When I go outside, I see people smiling and waving from a distance with a sense of kinship that feels deeper and more serious than the Southern kindness I’ve experienced since moving here.

Many of us are searching for purpose through these difficult days. A shaky understanding of who we are and what we are doing has been brought to light by the implosion of the world we once knew.

As an adult, I have my own method for getting through difficult situations; besides prayer, I try to simplify seemingly impossible situations by viewing them as an opportunity to build character.

When I’ve been hurt by others, frustrated by situations and disappointed in my own failures, I take a deep breath and think about how I can use a circumstance to change and grow.

We cannot control the actions of others, but we can control how we conduct ourselves. We cannot control what the world throws at us, but we can control our reaction and our emotions. Here are a couple of ways you can seek purpose during this time.

Follow the news, but don’t let it overwhelm you
I know both people who have been following the latest news obsessively and those who have buried their heads in the sand. This is a time in history where journalism proves to be of national worth. It’s important to stay abreast of the latest details in order to make informed decisions, but that doesn’t mean you have to have the TV running all day. Set times to check the news, like in the morning and afternoon.

Get outside at least once each day
Unless you are sick, try to get outside once each day for an hour. If you live in a particularly crowded area, try doing some morning and midday stretches on the porch. It’s important to remind ourselves the seasons still change; the blossoming buds and chattering birds show us the natural world still retains order in the midst of chaos.

Protect your mental health
We all know to protect our physical health, but are you taking care of your emotions? It may be tempting to reach out to anyone you can for comfort, but remember who your true friends are and lean on each other. Spending time with friends through video calls or at a safe distance can provide extra support right now.

Keep a record
Even if you don’t keep a diary, there is utility in recording events as they happen. I’ve been writing down all the good things I’ve enjoyed each day, as well as my deepest fears. Through writing, I release some of that anxiety. Taking photos and videos is another great way to record current events.

Spend time meditating
Whether it’s daily prayer or meditation, spend some time each day quieting your soul and just listening. Over the past couple weeks, I’ve reverted into an old routine. Each morning, I read a devotion before I get on my knees, bow my head and pray.

As we walk through this season together, let us remember that our individual actions affect the whole, now more than ever. Let’s use this uncertain time to focus on what we can control: our ability to treat each other with greater kindness, respect and appreciation for the value of life.

When we come out on the other end of this pandemic, life will likely never be the same. It is up to each of us to see that it changes for the better.


A sense of discomfort streams in,
Filtered through the headlights from hundreds of cars.
The only brightness in the power-stricken streets.

In darkness, I drive on asphalt showered by flashlight,
Illuminating tree branches, trunks, debris stacked neatly at the curb.
Beyond the hewn forests sit houses,
Their state, concealed by night.

In the streets, people wander,
Some alone, most together
United by displacement.
They laugh in parking lots,
Smile for their lives.

Because if you can chuckle at disaster,
you find the strength to carry on.
For if you don’t laugh, you may weep.
Cry for the world taken from you,
Never again to return.
If you weep now, you may never stop.

Head held high, you laugh, a lilting that pierces the starless sky.
Laughing without fear of the future.
A courage for what is to come.

*Written March 5, three days after the Nashville tornadoes, and the day of the first diagnosed case of COVID-19 in Tennessee.

“Hallelujah” and Thoughts on Being Good

There is a song our worship team has been leading the church in singing for a few months now that has resonated deeply with me.

“I raise a hallelujah, with everything inside of me
I raise a hallelujah, I will watch the darkness flee.”

There’s also a line that says,

“Sing a little louder in the presence of my enemies.”

I used to see the Christian use of the word “enemy” as overplayed and unnecessarily dramatized. Sure, there are some people I don’t care for in my life, but I don’t consider them enemies.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned to recognize and understand the true enemies: fear, from which grows shame, despair, anxiety and resentment. These are all weapons the Devil uses to separate us from Christ.

Praising God in the midst of suffering through these feelings is a thought with power.

Another song recently re-entered my life, from the first time I heard it in college.

“Hallelujah” was written by a Leonard Cohen, a Jew who admired Jesus, and was poignantly performed by Jeff Buckley on his only studio-length album “Grace” in 1994.


The song speaks of desire, of sin and sorrow, and of love. Most memorable are the lines:

“Love is not a victory march

It’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah.”

A broken exaltation to the Lord.

Both the lyrics and the melody haunted me throughout a December filled with heartbreak.

While researching the song, I came across a Unitarian sermon, which explores the link between the song and the meaning of the word.

Today, the word is often used jokingly, with delight but without understanding.

“Hallelujah” is two parts, “hallelu,” to praise, and “jah,” or Yahweh, God. As the author of the article points out, it is the imperative, commanding form of the verb.

“Hallelujah is the commandment to praise, not the invitation or the suggestion,” Merritt writes. “It is the sacred obligation—the requirement to praise—it doesn’t matter whether you understand your circumstances to be holy, or wholly broken—every one of us is called to sing hallelujah, and it can be a loud and happy song in a major key, or it can be a quiet, persistent melody in a minor key.”

I was struck by the importance of praise as a commandment, regardless of circumstance or situation.

Hallelujah is a choice I have had to make many times over the past few months. Praising the Lord isn’t just cranking up Hillsong in your car, though that has certainly been helpful for me at times.

To praise the Lord, one must obey the Lord. Obedience is praise.

The apostle John wrote,

“We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.” ~ 1 John 2:3-6

We know we ought to obey, but we always want to know why. Why should I praise the Lord? What purpose does my praise fulfill?

Inclining our faces toward God exposes us to His sheer brilliance and the power of all things good, just and pure. When we turn away from ourselves and into God, we choose to focus on His perfection.

Having a God-centered mindset does not fix our problems, but it places the trials of our temporal lives into perspective. That heavenly perspective in itself is a powerful cure.

Still, obedience is a wall we keep running into.

When I was a senior in high school, I came upon my first real ethical dilemma as a Christian. I struggled to do what my conscience knew to be right, and I failed.

I was consumed with guilt, and the struggle to lead a good and moral Christian life felt overwhelming. I didn’t want to fall into the trap of justifying my actions and thus continuing to repeat my failures. But I felt, as a Christian, that my life was doomed to failure in many small ways.

At the time, my math teacher, the gentlest and most loving human, shared some advice:

“Do the next right thing you know how to do.”

As someone who is often overcome by defeat, to the point of giving up, this has proven to be enormously practical advice.

Try as I might, in this life I will never stop failing to be a good Christian. I often grow tired of trying to do what is right.

But I know that I will never give up, because I have the encouragement of a power beyond anything in this world. Though I do not fully comprehend it, I believe in the power of the cross.

Each time I fall, I will pick myself up and continue on, comforted by the promises of a good Father who hears my cry of hallelujah, no matter how broken. He is the only one who can take what is shattered and make it beautiful and whole.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. ~ Galatians 6:9



Winter is Here

From the trail through the malevolent forest

The sound of roaring water leads me forward.

So loud, not unlike the thoughts churning through my mind.

I have developed a bad habit of letting them run wild

With the excuse of creativity.

Thoughts of darkness,

Moving so fast they pull me under

I am drowning in them.

The trees are quiet, the sky, grey, void of birdsong.

Winter is here.

I force myself onward

I know what lies ahead.

Nearing the source, pause to drink it in:

Flowing waters ripple gently, then

swiftly, as the current picks up.

I clamber down onto the rocks, perching myself at water’s edge.

And think.

Finally, the sound of the water rushing over the falls drowns out the sound of my own fears.

Anxieties cease; I feel peace

If only for a moment.