Day 35: "Apostle to the apostles."

"If a group of men in the first century wanted to make up a believable story about someone rising from the dead, they would not have chosen women as primary witnesses. But in every gospel account of the resurrection (all of those accounts written by first-century men), women are the first and cornerstone witnesses of the event."

—From Ch. 35 ("Sunday Rising"), Jesus Journey

One of the many things that struck me while writing Jesus Journey is the extraordinary way in which Jesus interacted with women.

Whether it's the woman at the well in John 4:4-30, the female disciple known as Mary of Bethany in Luke 10:38-42, the unidentified woman Jesus honors with the unprecedented title "daughter of Abraham" in Luke 13:15-16, the unusual fact that Jesus' ministry was uniquely dependent upon the financial support of women according to Luke 8:3, or the fascinating historical anomaly that all four gospel accounts record women as the first witnesses of Jesus' resurrection... the way in which Jesus related to women is groundbreaking in its first-century setting.

In fact, because of the critical role that Mary Magdalene in particular plays in the resurrection accounts—she was the first person to see Jesus alive again, and the first to share that good news with others—Mary has traditionally been known as the "apostle to the apostles."

I absolutely love how John 20:17-18 describes the historic and deeply moving moment when Jesus commissions Mary Magdalene as the very first preacher of the good news:

Go tell my brothers what you have seen...

There have been so many women who have helped me see Jesus more clearly. One of the most recent is my wife's remarkable grandmother, Lorry Lutz.

"Grandma Lorry" is now eighty-nine years old, but I wholeheartedly agree with the memorable words of my son Blaze (one of her nineteen great-grandchildren!), when he recently told her, "Wow, Grandma, you don't look eighty-nine at all!"

But it's not just that Grandma Lorry looks like she is overflowing with life at almost ninety years of age—she actually is.

Right now, for example, she's spending two months in Kenya, East Africa, helping some of her old friends write a book about the university they started there many years ago. (You can read all about it on her blog:

And just in case you're wondering why these friends would ask Grandma Lorry to help them with this significant writing project—it's because Grandma is the author of twelve books!

Her most recent, Daughters of Deliverance, is a gripping historical novel that explores the life of Katharine Bushnell (1855-1946), a medical doctor and anti-trafficking activist who exposed the trafficking of women in Wisconsin labor camps in the late 1800's. To my shame, I had never even heard of Katharine Bushnell until I read Grandma Lorry's highly inspiring account of her life...

There is a beautiful and unbroken line of heroic, Jesus-centered women that extends from Mary Magdalene on Easter Morning (the "apostle to the apostles"), to Katharine Bushnell in those Wisconsin labor camps, to so many amazing women around the world who give their lives for the sake of others, for their children, and for those in need each and every day.

When Grandma and I were recently corresponding about the astonishing historical fact that women were the first witnesses of Jesus' resurrection, this is what she relayed to me:

"I was well into my fifties when the awesome meaning of His first appearance to a woman struck me. In one small but very significant act, Jesus lifted the value of women from the inferiority and inequality of what they were experiencing, to that of a full person. 

"And Jesus didn’t stop there! He instructed her to 'go tell my brothers what you’ve seen.' From that day I squared my shoulders and accepted the value and position God has given me as a woman. And if necessary I also 'go and tell the brethren.'"

Yes, yes, and amen!

So thank you, Grandma Lorry, for extending the extraordinary legacy of Mary Magdalene, and Katharine Bushnell, and so many other remarkable women like yourself—to all of us.

You are an example to us all, women and men alike.

Today's post is by Trent Sheppard / Photo credits: Chelsea Hudson

Day 34: "Answers to prayers unprayed."

“. . . Seeing my children celebrate the resurrection with such abandon, I think I caught a glimpse of at least some of the delight, a little of the joy, the awe, the wonder that filled Jesus’ earliest friends and followers when they saw him alive again.” 

—From Ch. 34 ("Good Morning!"), Jesus Journey

As my grandfather liked to say, my last name, Pasquariello, can be translated “little Easter."  The Sheppard children, on the morning they learned of Christ’s resurrection, were “little Easters” too: children of Easter. And in being children of Easter, they are children of Christianity, children of Jesus—which is a very good thing to be. 

Jesus said, “unless you return to square one and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the kingdom” (Matt 18:2-5, MSG). But how do we become like children—when we are adults with the layers of experience, and opinion, and judgment we have grown over the years?

Before any human knew of the resurrection, Mary, Mary, and Salome prepared and set out in the dark, arriving at “the tomb, just at sunrise.”  Both literally and figuratively, the women experienced the darkness before the dawn—and they experienced it without any expectation—without even an ability to imagine they would find anything other than a stone they wouldn’t know how to move.

There have been times when I couldn’t even imagine what to pray, times when I didn’t know I needed to pray, times when my visibility was far too limited to imagine what Jesus could have in store. I didn’t know I needed to pray when I set out to travel around Europe in college and I couldn’t imagine I couldn’t make it on my $10/day planned budget—but thankfully God answered the prayer I never prayed—and my father quietly gave me some extra money that made the trip possible. My visibility was far too limited when my birth mother struggled with mental illness and I was in foster care and kinship care; I could never have imagined that I would be in a loving, wonderful adoptive family; that there would be much better treatment for her illness; and that we would continue to have a strong relationship. I couldn’t even imagine to pray for all of those things to happen—and I doubt many in my families could either—yet God answered our unprayed prayers. 

When the women in the resurrection accounts set out before dawn, I think they also couldn’t imagine to pray for something better, something different. Perhaps all they could offer were the words Jesus had taught them in the Lord’s prayer: “thy will be done.” In those moments when we cannot understand, when we cannot imagine a way out, when we don’t even know what to pray for, what more can we pray? In our hours of darkness, what more can we do than pray into the darkness and let it be?

When we pray “thy will be done,” when we really “let it be,”—even, and perhaps particularly, when our vision is so limited that our prayer is only a resigned lack of action, and not even a conscious prayer—God’s response to the prayer can be far more wonderful than we could ever imagine.

“Then when they looked up, they saw that (the stone) had been rolled away.” (Mark 16:4)

In those moments, when God rolls away the stone, when Jesus stands before us resurrected and says “Good morning,” how can we help but return to our innocence—to a state without expectation or prejudice?  How can we feel anything but awe?

And in such moments, God might answer another prayer that just maybe we also didn’t think to pray—he can make us all "children of Easter" once again. 

Today's guest post is by J. Justin Pasquariello (aka "J. Justin" in the acknowledgements): Justin is often in awe of his wife Vanessa Fazio-Pasquariello and their joyful son who just celebrated his second birthday (and at whose birth, they were blessed to have Bronwyn Sheppard as their birth doula). They are all members of Sacred Heart Catholic Parish in East Boston, and are also part of the Ekklesia house church. Justin and Vanessa are passionate "Eastie" residents—and Justin was thrilled to recently become the Executive Director of the East Boston Social Centers: a 99-year old settlement house organization serving people from age 2 months through old age across the diversity of his local community. Justin founded and serves on the board of Silver Lining Mentoring, and is seeking to prove the world can be a more joyful place—beginning in Eastie.

Photo credits: "dancing girl"—Chelsea Hudson / "garden path" & "sunrise"—Maria Khoroshilova 

A graduation weekend sale from the publisher of  Jesus Journey — $1.99 for the ebook May 20-22!

A graduation weekend sale from the publisher of Jesus Journey$1.99 for the ebook May 20-22!

Day 33: "Silent Saturday."

"The women who had followed Jesus, the ones who had come with him from Galilee, saw the tomb and how the body was laid. Then they went back to prepare spices and ointments.  On the sabbath they rested, as the commandment specified."

Luke 23:55-56

There is an ancient homily that can be read on Silent Saturday. “Something strange is happening,” the haunting words begin,

There is a great silence on the earth today,
a great silence and stillness.
The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep...

Please don’t misunderstand the word asleep here. By no means is this suggesting that Jesus was not really dead inside that dark, empty tomb where Joseph of Arimethea and the others laid him.

When the Roman soldiers crucified Jesus, they knew what they were doing— these were professional executioners after all. According to the gospel of John, the soldiers even plunged a spear into his side to be absolutely sure he was dead, “and blood and water came out” (19:34).

Make no mistake, John is saying that Jesus was dead. The life within him, that mysterious spark or breath of existence we call spirit or soul, was gone.

But the question is this: Where exactly did Jesus’ life go?
The scriptures, I’m afraid, do not clearly provide an answer.

On the one hand, you have Jesus saying to the bandit on the cross beside him, “I’m telling you the truth, you’ll be with me in paradise this very day” (Luke 23:43, italics added). On the other hand, you have Peter’s earliest letter claiming that, “In the spirit, too, [Jesus] went and made proclamation to the spirits in prison...” (1 Peter 3:19, italics added).

And then there’s that curious passage in the book of Acts which speaks of the Messiah “not being left in Hades,” which is a reference to something King David said in Psalm 16:10 (Acts 2:31, italics added). Finally, add to all that the early Christian conviction, as vividly expressed in the Apostles’ Creed, that, somehow, Jesus “descended into hell."

Paradise, prison, Hades, hell...

The only thing clear is that after Jesus breathes his last, entrusting his spirit to the Father, there are deep and cosmic mysteries at work in the heart of eternity itself—mysteries, mind you, that I doubt we will ever fully understand.

And that is where poetry and art, the mysterious stuff of which that ancient homily is made, are so helpful in attempting to articulate what was taking place on Silent Saturday when the body of Jesus was lying breathless in a tomb.

“God has died in the flesh,” the homily continues, “and hell trembles with fear,”

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep.
Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve...

It’s an astounding image to consider, rooted in New Testament thought: for here, at long last, is the Son of Adam and Eve who is not bound, enslaved, or “mastered” by the “power of death” (Acts 2:24; Heb. 2:14), and he has journeyed to the very depths of death to set his parents free.

While we cannot be certain of all that took place on Silent Saturday (and we must hold our opinions lightly), I think we can be certain of the truth that while Jesus’ friends and followers were resting, he was making all things new.

Even though they did not know it, could not feel it, and dared not believe it, the power of death was being undone. Think about it: in the hour of their deepest discouragement, when the horrific events of Cross Friday had left them in a puddle of tears on Silent Saturday, it was then, smack dab in the middle of their searing pain, that God was already at work.

“Where can I go from your spirit?” the psalmist asks. “Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven [i.e., paradise], you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol [i.e., Hades], you are there...”

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,

and the light around me become night,”

even the darkness is not dark to you;

the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.

Psalm 139:7–12

You see, that’s the thing about Jesus: whether it’s paradise, prison, Hades, or hell, there’s just nowhere, above or below, that he won’t go to bring his lost brothers and sisters home.

And more than anything else, that’s what Silent Saturday is all about.

PONDER: What do you think was taking place on Silent Saturday?

—An excerpt from Chapter 33 / "Silent Saturday" / Jesus Journey

Photo credits: "profile" & "fire" & "horizon"—Chelsea Hudson / "reflection"—Maria Khoroshilova

Day 32: "Unyielding Trust."

Then Jesus shouted at the top of his voice, “Here's my spirit, Father! You can take care of it now!” And with that he died.

Luke 23:46

I am taken aback by the way Jesus surrendered himself to the Father, even in his deepest sorrow. I used to assume that Jesus just knew exactly how the Father would unfold everything, making his connection to the Father "easier" somehow, or at the very least, quite different from ours. But the more I go on this Jesus Journey, and the more I see his humanity, the more I am convinced that this was not necessarily the case.  

Just as I am often left to trust in God’s faithfulness—even when there seems to be no end to the storm in sight—so too Jesus was left to do likewise.

While reflecting on chapter thirty-two of Jesus Journey, I thought back to one of the greatest storms I have had to weather in my own life. It began the last half of my senior year in high school when I began having severe upper back pain. I was uncertain as to how it started, but most likely it came from playing ice hockey or weight lifting. The pain eventually came to a point where it would be present throughout the whole day and affect everything I did.  

Doctors had no answers, and physical therapy was having no effect. I began to experience a significant shift in my quality of life, which was so disheartening to a teenager. Most discouraging of all, I was left in one-hundred percent uncertainty of how long the pain would last and whether or not it might get worse.

A particular challenge during this time was not just the pain itself, but rather how lonely it made me feel. I really didn’t know anyone I could relate to or confide in with a similar life-sucking situation. To make matters worse, few even knew I was in constant pain because I worked hard to mask it well. As a result, I was left feeling very alone in walking through it all.

A turning point in my own journey with pain happened when I was venting some of this hopelessness to the Lord one day in prayer. As I vented my feelings that day, I sensed a gentle response come into my mind: “I understand what you are going through, Daniel.”  It was such a simple statement, but the truth of it impacted me deeply.

In a similar way that Psalm 22 (the Psalm Jesus referenced on the cross when he said, "My God, my God why did you abandon me?") pivots from the feeling of abandonment to the truth of God’s never forsaking love, the Lord turned what I was feeling that day to the reality of what was really true.

My pain was not taken away in that moment, but I can’t even begin to explain the comfort that overflowed in me from those words: "I understand what you are going through, Daniel." I believe the comfort came from two realizations that day...

First, that there was actually someone who could see exactly what I was going through. Somehow I knew that Jesus would be able to empathize with anything I expressed or shared. And I knew that he would do so from a place of one-hundred percent "getting it."

Second, it meant that I could actually relate with Jesus because of what he walked through in his own life on earth. The simple knowingness that I could confide in Someone who knew my pain, walked through pain himself, and ultimately conquered pain, allowed me to find such hope and peace in the midst of so much uncertainty.

The depth of relationship this built between Jesus and me was like none I had ever experienced. Because He taught me that although I might not be able to see how I would be lead through my pain, I had someone I could bring it to—like he did—with an unyielding trust of a child, saying: “Here I am, Father!  You can take care of me now.”             

Today's guest post is by Dan Shannon: Dan and his wife Meehan work with Youth With A Mission in Kona, HI. Dan began teaching in YWAM fifteen years ago, which led him to share in nearly forty countries throughout his early twenties. After seeing the Body of Christ in so many different shapes, sizes, and cultures, Dan fell more and more in love with the church worldwide. In 2009, Dan and Meehan moved to Cape Town, South Africa to learn from church planting pioneer Floyd McClung. During this time they learned and practiced how to create communities centered around following Jesus with people who had never done so before. After four years in South Africa, Dan and Meehan moved to Denver, CO, to give birth to their two children. There they continued to create Jesus-centered communities among college students, which has now led them back to their "spiritual roots" in Kona, HI, with YWAM, where they help others learn how to do the same.

Photo credits: Chelsea Hudson

Day 31: "Fully Present."

"Jesus will not risk—no, he must not risk!—the clarity of his mind, the strength of his will, and the control of his emotions in this most significant and final trial of his life and calling as Messiah.  For King Jesus, there can be no escape."

—From Ch. 31 ("No Escape"), Jesus Journey

What struck me about this chapter was that Jesus, even in the midst of incredible pain mentally and physically, chose not to let anything ease or bring momentary relief to him. He wanted to remain fully present.

“The desire to escape life’s circumstances, particularly its challenges, is a deeply human experience, a predicament that each one of us can identify with and relate to in one way or another.” (pg. 192, Jesus Journey)

We all have something that we go to in order to escape reality. Some of these ‘drugs’ are stereotypical, some are not: busyness, achievement, alcohol, technology… the list goes on. None of these are bad in and of themselves, but they can become the means through which we escape being present.

It is probably harder to be present in our current age than any other point in history. We have everything at our fingertips—access to more information than we could possibly process.

Is it possible that Jesus’ ability to be fully present, even at his most painful and vulnerable moment, was made possible through a life of being present in the every-day moments?

“In the hour of his greatest suffering, the beauty of Jesus’ life is resplendent. A lifetime of prayer, of walking close with Abba, of making the hard choices, of ‘beating’ his way forward against the tempting pull of broken humanity; all of the fruit of what it means to be filled with the Spirit—to be ‘Christlike’—in the purest and truest sense of the phrase; all of that and more is now seen in Jesus.” (pg. 193, Jesus Journey)

It’s in the little, daily choices of being present, of turning our hearts to God, others, and creation, moment by moment, that cultivates a life that will stand strong in the face of challenges. Always choosing our preferred method of escape to ease our various realities will leave us unable to cope without them when hard times come.

Who do we want to be? One of my favourite contemplative thinkers and writers is Richard Rohr, who makes a distinction between the ‘True Self’ and the ‘False Self’. Jesus spent 33 years cultivating this life of connectedness with his Father, and in doing so discovering his ‘True Self’ and daily choosing to live out of the depths of that identity. Jesus continually resisted the ‘False Self’—resisting the bigger temptations in the desert and the garden and the smaller ones in the each and every day. In his final hours, Jesus decided—at great cost—to remain true, to be fully present.

Trent portrays such a beautiful image of Jesus’ strength in his desire to be present in his final hours before the crucifixion, but it doesn’t end with his refusal of something to numb the pain. Instead, we get a window into the fruit of a life lived in that pursuit. Love cannot help but flow from him even in his greatest moment of pain. As Jesus is hanging on the cross, four stories of his deep compassion unfold: the women mourning for him, the soldiers driving nails into his flesh, the criminals hanging next to him, and, finally, making sure his mother would be cared for.   

As Rohr explains, living from your True Self, is marked by a life of love, of compassion. It’s not just about our own personal development or spirituality. It is a life that is marked by being oriented to the ‘other’. Our pursuit of God, our pursuit of being present to the life He’s given us will lead to an outward focus. It is the natural overflow.

“The True Self does not teach us compassion as much as it is compassion already," explains Rohr in Silent Compassion. "And from this more spacious and grounded place, one naturally connects, empathizes, forgives, and loves just about everything. We were made in love, for love, and unto love.”

Nowhere better than in this moment of the crucifixion do we see a life completely present and overflowing in love.

Today's guest post is by Katie Sampson: Katie lives in London, England with her rockstar-turned-nerd husband, Mark, and their three little adventurers. She spends her days homeschooling them, while they teach her how to love deeply, be present, and keep a sense of wonder. Katie keeps her hands very dirty as the head gardener in a local urban farming cooperative. She and her family are part of a missional community in London which they have been part of for eight years.

Photo credits: "bricks" & "wires"—Stephanie Pekrul / "panels" & "wood, stone, ivy"—Chelsea Hudson