Days 31-40

Day 40: "Home at last."

"The Son took on flesh and blood, now and forever, because it is God's eternal purpose for the sons and daughters of the earth—that's us!—to be welcomed in, to enter the dance, to be adopted into the family of God."

—From Ch. 40 ("In the Beginning"), Jesus Journey

In the beginning... Let us. In the beginning... with. Predestined to be... family.  

The truth that has hit me hardest in this journey with Jesus that Trent has led us on is that "family" was the point from the beginning. Not only has God always existed in community, but we've always been destined to be part of that community. Humanity was created in God's image and we were made to dance with our creator.

I've always had a pretty high view of family. Maybe it has something to do with strange customs like eating that fish jello we Swedes call lutefisk. Maybe it's childhood memories of sitting on the dock or around the campfire with aunts, uncles, and cousins. More likely, it comes from being blessed with relatives who love unconditionally and celebrate each other, despite our flaws and frustrations.

Now that I have my own family, I get an up close view of the joys and trials of dealing with people who are created in my own image (and, thankfully, my wife's image is strong in our little ones!).  When I reflect on what I really want for my kids it helps give me a glimpse of what my Father wants for me.

I want my children to enjoy full lives using their gifts, but I care way more about their hearts than any results they might produce.

I want them to make wise, healthy choices, but I fully expect them to make mistakes, and I'm eager to help them find forgiveness and wholeness.

My wife and I are our kids' biggest fans and above all we want them to know that they are loved and supported, no matter what. I think this is because we are created to reflect (though, dimly) our Father' heart...

I still remember the moment on a Sunday morning in Trent's living room when this reality washed over me like a cleansing wave—that our Father has always planned on adopting us into His family, since before the beginning.

The Apostle Paul says it like this: "He chose us in him before the world was made… He foreordained us for himself, to be adopted as sons and daughters through Jesus the king. That’s how he wanted it, and that’s what gave him delight…" [Ephesians 1:4-5]
The journey Jesus has taken into humanity is God's way of embracing us all, of calling his "sons and daughters"yes, that's us!home at last.

Today's guest post is by Matthew Neave (aka the "Matthew" of the "gentle beasts" in the acknowledgements): Matthew lives in East Boston with his wife, Pam, and their three kiddos. He spends his working days as an engineer trying to get things to straighten up and fly right. He loves exploring the world with his family, whether by bike, hike, car, or train. Lately, they've had the joy of seeing a brand new family developing at the East Boston Community Soup Kitchen.

Photo credits: "mountain trek" & "running"—Chelsea Hudson / "family"—Stephanie Pekrul

Day 39: "Ascension Day."

"The bodily ascension of the resurrected Jesus and what it means for you, for me, and for the whole of humanity is one of of the most underappreciated and least understood truths of the gospel. It's a peculiar, unprecedented scene to be sure, seemingly almost too strange to be true.  But there it is, like a first-century take on a twenty-first-century science-fiction film, the resurrected Jesus being transported into another realm, 'lifted up' into another dimension, 'carried into heaven' (Acts 1:9; Luke 24:51)."

—From Ch. 39 ("Ascension"), Jesus Journey

As Trent points out, Jesus’ ascension is a key move in the whole Gospel story. In the next chapter of his book, Trent goes so far as to name Jesus’ ascension as the third of the three crucial elements of the story. “There are three great truths," he writes, "on which just about everything else in Christianity rests: The Trinity, the incarnation, and the ascension.” [pg. 239]

I’m heartily in agreement with Trent on most everything, and this is just another! When we come to Ascension Day—which, by the way, is today, May 25, 2017—we come to what is perhaps the most neglected day of the entirety of the church’s calendar, at least relative to its importance.

There was a time when Ascension celebrations were as great or, some say, even greater than those of Easter. Still in several European countries it is a public holiday, some with their own particular celebrations and customs that have been developed along the way: in Sweden, for instance, one custom is to go out into the forest very early in the morning on this day to hear the birds at sunrise, especially hoping to hear the cuckoo call. There is picnicking and singing, playing music and dancing. In the church one of the customs that developed was to bless the fields and the crops on this day: the King is on his throne, the spring planting is happening, so we ask the King’s blessing on the fruit of the earth and of our labours.

Ascension Day is the fortieth day of Eastertide (thirty-ninth day after Easter Sunday). God seems to like forty as a symbolic number, particularly as a symbolic number of redemption leading to new creation: during the flood it rained for forty days and forty nights; the people of Israel ate manna and wondered about in the wilderness for forty years; Moses met with the Lord in the cloud on the mountain for forty days during the time he received the Ten Commandments; Caleb and Joshua led the spies that went into the promised land on a mission that lasted forty days. Jesus, of course, brought all of this to its culmination when he fasted and prayed and prepared in the wilderness for forty days and then stood down the Satan in their tête-à-tête, mano-a-mano.

Jesus’ ascension is all about new creation. The rightful King—the one who owns everything because it was made “through him and for him” (Col. 1:16), and the one who demonstrated that he can handle dominion and reign without it going to his head, so to say, and causing problems (as he came “not to be served but to serve” and “to lay down his life as a ransom for many” in Mark 10:45)—is now on the throne. This is, admittedly, a bit of a mind-bender, as Trent navigates so well for us in this chapter on the ascension. I love how he brought Stephen’s vision from Acts 7:55-56 into this because indeed ascension is a place the veil thins, and the reality of Jesus’ kingship puts things into perspective.

Trent also takes us to the vision in Daniel 7:13-14. Ascension takes us there, and to the visions of the Revelation of St John as well. In these Old and New Testament visions our dichotomy of the physical and the spiritual break down: the world’s powers and empires and authorities rage and posture and conspire and collude; super-sized multi-national corporations attempt to define what we need, what we want, what is real, indeed in ways even what we are and what narratives lend meaning; celebrities and the unimaginably-wealthy are paraded before our attention constantly, as if their lives rise above the constraints all mere mortals face. In the meantime we all know that the weak and the world’s poor take the brunt…

So where does Jesus’ ascension come near to us now, in the meantime?

  • I take delight in that I—even I!—can come to the throne and be known, received, heard.
  • I take hope in that the “man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering” (Isaiah 53:3) has been so thoroughly vindicated!  In my role as an Anglican priest, I sit with the suffering, the unemployed, the homeless, the immigrant with unsure future and status, the jilted, the sick, the dying, the grieving… but ascension reminds me that those circumstances need not be the last word.
  • I take courage in that Jesus’ ascension means we can know, in spite of all, that the Good does in fact win in the end, and that, in fact, the Good, just-and-holy, joyful One has indeed won already and is awake, aware, at watch, willing. Without this hope I find that being a father would be unbearably terrifying, and being a spiritual father (my work as a priest) would be reduced to make-believe.
  • Yes, it is true that Jesus, though enthroned, is (yet) waiting and this waiting asks faith of me. He is waiting for the appointed right time to come and consummate his well-deserved, hard-won reign, and to bring every knee to bow and every tongue to confess his majesty. But also in this time of waiting I can take on humility and the acknowledgement of my limits, and take heart that the story spreads and the name of the King is honoured ever more widely.
  • Finally, I simply sit and ponder and wonder and take joy. The Gospel story, so enigmatic, so uncompromisingly realistic in reaching to our ugly desperate depths, so demanding and measuring of me, of us—and then, so full of surprise and of joy!

In the church I lead we celebrate Jesus’ ascension outdoors: it just seems right.

We celebrate with a picnic in a seaside park on Boston’s North Shore, and then a simple liturgy and prayer—prayer specifically that the King will be recognised as such, honoured, and given the glory he deserves: that his story will capture the very depths of our imaginations and the imaginations of our neighbours and, indeed, of all the world.

Today's guest post is by Tim Clayton: Fr. Tim considers it an honour that he makes an appearance in Jesus Journey, on p. 92. He is husband, father, priest, and author. He lives with his wife Cheryl and their children in a 300-year-old home on Boston’s North Shore, where he serves as rector of Christ the Redeemer Anglican Church.  His first book, Exploring Advent with Luke (Ave Maria Press), is a spiritual journey through Advent to the Cradle.

Along with sea kayaking and cross-country skiing, two of Tim's other passions are travel to other cultures, and the outdoors. He taught English in Budapest, Hungary, for a spell just after the Berlin Wall came down and Central Europe opened up. He has led mission or spiritual pilgrimage trips in more than a dozen countries on five continents. His favourite places on the planet (so far!) are Lindisfarne (Holy Island) & Durham Cathedral in north-east England, the Masai Mara in Kenya, and wherever he can be together with his wife, Cheryl.

For Tim, the best of life is his family. He and Cheryl have three wonderful children: two are now young women, and a teen-aged son. They share their old house with a gentle-giant Bernese Mountain Dog, and they await the great day of the resurrection in hopes of reuniting with their abundantly fat-and-fluffy Ragdoll cat.

Photo credits: "benches"—Luke Pekrul / "fields" & "faded exterior" & "skylight chair"—Chelsea Hudson

Day 38: "A very different kind of ruler."

"If you don't play by the world's rules," a wise friend once told me, "then you don't have to play by the world's rules." If you don't bow to the world's system (the world's way of doing things), then you are not bound to the world's system (the world's way of getting things).

—From Ch. 38 ("New Rules for a New World"), Jesus Journey

In 2013, when I was visiting the Sheppard’s home in Boston, Trent mentioned to me that he was planning to write a new book about Jesus. I was very excited and curious to find out how Trent as an American living in the 21st century world was going to portray, describe, and explain the deep beauty and disturbing scandal of Jesus Christ, unexceptional and extraordinary at the same time, a man like no other in the whole of human history.

So the day the book was published in the UK, because I was in such a hurry to read it, I bought a Kindle version instead of having to wait a few days for the hard copy to arrive by post. One of the first things I did was look at the content page, and the first chapter I wanted to check out was "New Rules for a New World." Initially, I was not completely sure what attracted me to reading this chapter first, but now I can understand why...

It was because there was something more going on in the back of my mind. It was because for the past two decades of my life I have been grappling deeply with the question: Who is Jesus Christ in relation to the world of power politics, international relations, and the global struggle for justice for all?

Too often, in my years of (limited but global) experience with Christianity, I’d found that Jesus is magnified as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords for the inner world of the human soul (meaning: 'I invited Jesus into my heart.' Great!), and in the private world of our social clubs we call ‘churches’. But what about the public world of politics, economics, and law? Is Jesus simply good news for the inner world and private world of man but irrelevant in the public and international sphere of human existence? (And, by the way, ‘King of Kings’ and ‘Lord of Lords’ were political titles used to describe Babylonian and Roman emperors in the ancient world.)

Is the risen King Jesus really the absolute reference point for everything that goes on in the world of sovereign states and the modern international system of war-making and diplomacy? Did the resurrection of Jesus fundamentally change the core logic and inner-workings of the world of global politics?

If such a change did occur on that first Easter Sunday, and if the resurrection radically altered the direction and end-goal (telos) of world history, then how should we as disciples of King Jesus in the 21st century live with regards to what happens in the power centres of our world—Washington DC, New York, London, Moscow, Beijing, and other places?

Is it possible and credible to argue that the past two thousand years of world history cannot be understood or explained without reference to the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead? More specifically, can we as Christians discuss anything that goes on in our world (e.g. currency trades in global financial markets, bilateral business treaty agreements, advancements in weapons technology, etc.) without reference to King Jesus?

These are the questions I am constantly grappling with—and I become so frustrated when I encounter a 'Jesus-show' that is actually an escape from or a foil for not dealing with the public issues affecting our world.

And so reading Trent’s book with these questions in mind took me on my own Jesus Journey. Let me share with you a few thoughts about what I’ve been learning along the way... 

First, Jesus is a very different kind of ruler, and his rules are nothing like anything we may have encountered and experienced in the world. He is the ruler seated on the highest throne of authority in the universe, and yet he abides in the hearts of his subjects through the Holy Spirit in the most intimate way—including in the hearts of the least and last, the outsiders and nobodies. Therefore, there can be no elitism in the Jesus scheme of things.

And so in one sense, what goes on in the human heart really does matter for Jesus: The heart of the matter for Jesus is really the matters of the human heart. Our hearts, yours and mine, are desperately wicked and only Jesus has the power to cleanse and transform the heart. Simon Peter experienced this transformation when he ate breakfast with Jesus on the beach.

New rules for a new world begins with the human heart.

Second, Jesus is the true King of Kings and Lord of Lords of world history, the rightful ruler over all of reality, from the material and sub-human level to the outer realms of the cosmos. But there is a strange paradox here. Despite the fact that Jesus is the unchallenged triumphant ruler of the world, he has given human beings a certain degree of autonomy from his rule.

This means that human beings have real freedom to do good and righteous things, and to do terrible and wicked things. For Jesus, giving people the freedom to do what they desire and protecting that freedom is more important than imposing his will on us.

And yet at the same time Jesus hasn’t simply abandoned this world to the choices and actions of wicked people. His back is not turned to us. Incredibly, he still takes ultimate responsibility for what happens in our world. And we can trust his judgements (instead of doing the judging ourselves), knowing his judgements will prevail in the end. 

Jesus is a strange kind of ruler. He is making the world new not by imposing his divine will on us or abusing his heavenly power for his own ends (as so many earthly rulers have done), but through transforming the human heart, one person at a time, even if this will take another two thousand years. Who are we to decide otherwise or question the mind of Christ?

Ultimately, there is no other way that leads to life for all except the Jesus way. According to Jesus, "new rules for a new world" means there are no shortcuts for the fulfilment of the new heavens and the new earth.

Today's guest post is by Philip Powell: Philip (aka Indian Sage, Brown Englishman) is from Chennai in India and has lived in England since 1998. He has travelled to over 30 countries speaking on global justice and human rights issues, and has engaged in advocacy work at the United Nations and Westminster Parliament. In Cambridge, he is a member of and leads the Lyn’s House Community, a place of welcome for disabled and differently-abled people inspired by the work of L'Arche International and the vision of Jean Vanier. He also leads a reading group in Cambridge studying the writings of Lesslie Newbigin. As part of his work with the Jubilee Centre, he leads an online course Biblical Foundations for Public Leadership and the Social Reformers Summer School in Cambridge ( Philip has a Masters degree in International Relations, and is a passionate cricket supporter (the sport, not the insect).

Photo credits: Chelsea Hudson

Day 37: "The way He says your name."

“Mary,” the gardener speaks. And the whole earth becomes quiet, completely still, because Mary recognizes that voice. She recognizes the way Jesus says her name.

—From Ch. 37 (“The Gardener”), Jesus Journey

There is a practice in Ignatian spirituality that is helping me to encounter the Jesus of the gospels afresh. In days of old, it was used to bring the scriptures alive to the illiterate, but in these last few months it has brought the wonder of the God-man Jesus alive in my heart again.

If you would like to try, here's how it works:

  • First, read a gospel story over and over until it becomes familiar to you (in the past, people would have had it read aloud to them).
  • Second, close your eyes and imagine the scene in your mind.
  • Third, begin to ask yourself questions, and engage with Jesus in the scene (e.g. What do you see? How do you feel? Do you have a role in the scene? What does Jesus look like? What’s the tone of His voice?).

Trent describes the interaction between Jesus and Mary Magdalene in John 20:15-16 as “tender.” As we say in England, “hats off to you”, my friend—I cannot think of a better word!

You see, in these last few months of reading the gospels ‘Ignatian style’, I have lost count of the number of times that I heard Jesus say my name. The tone of His voice has varied according to the moment, always so personal, fitting, and timely—always so unmistakably Jesus. In moments that are deeply humbling and empowering all at once, I, like Mary, am learning to recognise the way He says my name.

I love that this tender moment between Mary and Jesus in “the third garden in the story of God” (as Trent puts it) is with the resurrected Jesus. It tells me that hearing wonderful, beautiful Jesus say your name isn’t an experience reserved only for the disciples who walked with Jesus on earth in the first century; no, the utterance of her name that Mary recognised that day came from resurrected lips!  And that changes everything for you and me!

Take a moment today, quiet your heart, and hear the way He says your name.

Today’s guest post is by Danutia Banwell: Danutia and her husband Chris often pinch themselves at the privilege of living in the beautiful county of Cornwall in the south west of England. This stunning Celtic land is well worth a visit (just bear in mind that Cornish folk will beg to differ about it being part of England!). Danutia and Chris help to lead a church family in their hometown of Falmouth (, whose dream it is to see their community transformed by the life and love of Jesus.

Photo credits: "fig tree"—Bill Pekrul / "sunset" & "blossoms"—Chelsea Hudson

Day 36: "Will there be restrooms in heaven?"

"Look at my hands and feet; it really is me, myself. Touch me and see! Ghosts don’t have flesh and bones like you can see I have."

With these words, he showed them his hands and feet.

While they were still in disbelief and amazement from sheer joy, he said to them, "Have you got something to eat?" They gave him a piece of baked fish, which he took and ate in front of them.

Luke 24:39-43

Do you remember the movie, Casper: The Friendly Ghost? There’s a scene where Casper’s uncles—The Ghostly Trio—are eating. The shot moves from these three un-dead slobs at the dinner table, shoveling food into their mouths, to Casper, quietly sweeping up the chewed up pieces of food that have fallen straight from the ghosts’ teeth to the floor.

You would think those ghosts were a bit like Jesus—they had died, after all—but really they were not like Jesus at all. They had no biology.

Last Thursday I graduated with my nursing degree. Working in the medical world means accompanying people in the rawest, most elemental moments of life. I have had privileged access to birth, death, and nearly everything in between that makes us what we are.

There are basic bodily functions that we all experience: lungs breathing, a heart pumping, a stomach digesting—these are what every human has in common. Jesus shared in all these basic facets of biology with us. They should have died with him.

The Ghostly Trio had no lungs, no hearts, no digestive tract. We can only wonder whether the disciples were expecting a similarly messy floor as they handed Jesus the piece of fish to eat. What questions were in their minds that day?

I would probably take it one step further and ask: If Jesus eats food in his resurrection body—and clearly he does according to Luke 24:42-43—is that food still digested in the same way? And if so, what happens to it?! In other words, will there be restrooms in heaven???

But leaving aside that highly significant question, this encounter between the now and the not-yet, the biologically ordinary disciples and the seemingly super-biological resurrected Jesus, reminds me of a passage in the book of Romans, where Paul declares that,

“the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves… groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.” [Romans 8:23]

Jesus is the first. His broken body has now been redeemed, transformed. According to the scriptures, his existing biology still functions, but he also looks somehow different and can trans-locate and even walk into locked rooms. He is the first—we are waiting.

I am presently thirty-eight weeks pregnant. I am waiting (and occasionally groaning) for the new life to be revealed. I am limited in what I can do, my back hurts, and my body is carrying a huge burden. But it all has purpose—there is new life coming! And just like Jesus’ new body still carries the battle scars of the victory He won over death, “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” [Romans 8:18]

Today's guest post is by Maria Shahid Rowe: Maria lives in Charleston, SC, with her husband David, her son Samson, and her very pregnant belly. She is a doula and a nurse, likes to kiteboard whenever she can, and cares deeply about good food, Korean dramas, and Dimitar Berbatov.

Photo credits: Chelsea Hudson