Tag Archives: Holy Week

On unconditional love

Since Holy Week, I’ve been thinking about unconditional love.  

Do you have someone in your life who loves you unconditionally, for whom you could do no wrong, or even if you did, every wrong would be and is forgivable?  Do you have someone who knows all your faults and flaws and seems to love you the more for them?  Do you know someone whose love for you is constant, not based on what you do or what you achieve, but comes from a seemingly endless and otherworldly source?

If so, how do you respond to such love?

As I continued to ponder unconditional love, it occurred to me that there seems to be but one human response to it, which is fear.  When you discover that someone loves you unconditionally, you also discover that such love cannot be earned, achieved, or repaid, and it’s a scary feeling to find  yourself forever indebted to another.  That fear can turn toward denial and betrayal as we try to run as far away from such love as we can, in order that we can establish our own independence and find a life free from obligation or humility.

It’s what happened to Judas, Pilate, even to Peter.

Spring on the Princeton University campus.
Spring on the Princeton University campus.

But if we recognize our own humanity, our own futility, and instead of running, revel in the awe and wonder that such love exists, and turn to acceptance as opposed to denial, the only response to such love is praise.

We are not like the women at the tomb that morning who did not know that he had arisen and yet, faithfully returned.  We are children of the promise, filled with the knowledge that his command to love one another at that fateful last supper would be fulfilled by his ultimate act of unconditional love on the cross.  

We love because He first loved us.  May we spend our lives pondering not only that love, but how to serve Him with a life full of praise.

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Wow.

It’s just a few days prior to his death, and he knows it’s coming along with betrayal by those closest to him, mockery, and agony.  And yet he ties a towel around his waist, fills a basin with water, and stoops close to the ground and the filth and the earth to wash the disciples’ feet.

If that doesn’t fill you with awe, I don’t know what will.

In her latest book, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, Anne Lamott writes, “Even though I remember my pastor saying that God always makes a way out of no way, periodically something awful happens, and I think that God has met Her match–a child dies or a young father is paralyzed.  Nothing can possibly make things okay again.  People and grace surround the critically injured person or the family.  Time passes.  It’s beyond bad.  It’s actually a nightmare.  But people don’t bolt, and at some point the first shoot of grass breaks through the sidewalk.”

Lamott could easily have been writing a prayer of the help or thanks genre, but she’s actually describing the wow.  The wow is not that bad things don’t happen, because they do.  The wow is that “people don’t bolt” during the “beyond bad.”

My Chinese teacher translating for Chen Guangcheng at Princeton University yesterday afternoon.
My Chinese teacher translating for Chen Guangcheng at Princeton University yesterday afternoon.

Last night my husband and I went to hear blind human rights activist, Chen Guangcheng, speak on the Princeton University campus.  He told his story of working for justice in China, his famous escape to the U.S. embassy, the lesser told tale of his family’s continued persecution, and the gory details of his nephew’s beating and imprisonment following his asylum in the United States.  While the reality of human rights abuses in China is rife with suffering, fear, and pain, Mr. Chen’s family, other activists in China, and many around the world haven’t given up.

Wow.

Over the last few days the internet has been flooded by photos of Pope Francis washing and kissing the feet of inmates at a juvenile detention facility.  The new pope’s far from perfect, and his actions might not change the world, but the images move us because they speak of what it means to regard the humanity of one another in situations that are “beyond bad.”

Pope Francis kissing inmates' feet.
Pope Francis kissing inmates’ feet.

Wow.

When you really think about it Holy Week, so artfully named, was “beyond bad.”  There was really nothing good about good Friday, and there is nothing more nightmarish than the death of God.

But even in death God hasn’t met Her match.  Sometimes we forget, though, that it came to that–that death was gory for Jesus, that it was pain, and the earth plunged into darkness–that simply put, we can’t have the resurrection, the wow, the shoots of grass, without the “beyond bad,” the nightmare of the crucifixion that delivers us from sin and death.

And with all that was yet to come, he went willingly to his death.  Yet, before doing so he took their feet in his holy hands and scrubbed them like a servant.  That’s what our savior did with some of his last moments on this earth.

Sunrise in New Jersey.
Sunrise in New Jersey.

Wow.