When the late, great theologian Thomas Oden was working on proposals for his dissertation, he struggled to define a new concept to propose. As he shared his struggle with one of his advisers, his adviser responded with something like, “How can you propose something new when you don’t yet understand your own tradition?” That sparked a revolution in Oden’s mind and heart that drove him to study the ancient faith and history of Christianity. The result was a rich renewal of understanding not only for Oden, but for the entire Christian faith.
We began this year with a series of sermons utilizing some video from “The Chosen” series. I knew there were some reservations about doing so. But over the weeks, our Bethany family came together in a deep appreciation for the “fresh set of eyes” through which we saw the Gospel. There was depth and development of the Biblical figures which few other media efforts have achieved. We began to feel that we knew these people. We liked them. We even loved them. Someone shared with me just how much they were enjoying the series and how much closer they felt to Jesus because of it. Then they added, “That is going to make it really hard when we get to the part about the crucifixion.” I responded, “Exactly.”
Both Lent and Advent remember old, old stories. The early church defined the seasons of the church year to help us remember the Gospel. Both God and our ancestors understood how easily we forget. But that repetition can also become overly familiar for some of us. We’ve heard it all before. We stop listening to the Gospel and settle for rote repetition. We long for the deeper understanding we have not experienced. We want the story to be, as the old hymn says, “more wonderfully sweet” each time we hear it.
There is no “The Chosen” video for this part of the Gospel – yet. So how do we receive this old, old story in a new and powerful way? I have searched through the years for ways to bring new life to the Gospel, only to be frustrated. Then, I finally heard the answer I was seeking, “Go deeper.” I needed to sink into the story. I needed to study it more. I needed to pray over it more. I needed to stop passively hearing it. I needed to start actively pursuing it. I had to slow down, especially in Holy Week, and intentionally focus on Jesus and His love. As I rearranged my life for the week, Holy Spirit began to speak new love into my life. That was both wonderful and “really hard when we got to the part about the crucifixion.” But it was also really amazing when we got to the part about the Resurrection.
Holy Week is upon us. It is time to go deep. Invite the Holy Spirit to walk with you alongside Jesus through the events of the week. Stop passively listening. Start actively pursuing. Open your heart to a new infusion of God’s love. It will make the crucifixion really hard. It will make the Resurrection really amazing. You may not see this part of the Gospel with a “fresh set of eyes.” But you can receive it with a fresh heart. It is an old, old story. But it is the eternally new and life-giving story of Jesus and His love.