Thursday, April 21, 2011


As I join multitudes of Christians around the world in Holy Week reflection and worship, I celebrate the unity of our one, holy, catholic and apostolic faith that expresses itself in many languages, liturgies and locations. From African churches without walls to grand cathedrals a millennium old, people are gathering to remember the great events that are the historical core of Christianity. Jesus of Nazareth prayed with great agony on Maundy Thursday and was crucified by Roman authorities on Good Friday. Suspended between two criminals, the religious and political powers were happy to be rid of his subversive words and works. Holy Saturday brought a Sabbath hush to a city embroiled in controversy.

But Christian faith does not rest on a good rabbi who is a martyr. Easter Sunday celebrates Jesus' physical resurrection, his triumph over death that infuses his suffering with the power to forgive, heal and reconcile humankind to God and one another. C.S. Lewis, in his classic work, Mere Christianity, stated the good news of Christ succinctly: "Jesus' death puts us right with God." N.T. Wright echoes this same theme when he asserts that the death and resurrection of Jesus assures us of God's promise to "put the world to rights."

On Easter, billions will proclaim, "He is Risen!" and then respond, "He is Risen, indeed!" Such a simple affirmation - yet it transforms life now and forever.

As I ponder the depths of being a follower of Jesus, I am drawn to the central verse of the Gospel of Mark. Chapter 10 verse 45 captures the heart of Jesus' disposition, discipline and desire: "For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many." For this essay, I will leave aside all the theories of the atonement that Christians passionately debate. Instead, I want to focus on the subversive nature of choosing a life of service instead of selfishness. Jesus the Messiah (Christ), the King, the Lord, demonstrates his authority and power through serving those who cannot return the favor and calling on his followers to imitate his example: "A new command I give to you: that you love one another as I have loved you. By this will all men know that you are my disciples..." (Gospel of John, chapter 13 verses 34 and 35)

St. Paul will affirm the same attitudes and choices in his encouragement to the Philippians: "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but is humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also the interests of others." Paul then urges his friends to consider the pathway of Jesus. It was not a pathway of enlightened hedonism or rugged individualism, but one of of integrity and intentionality that seeks the good of others.

Service is at the core of all good human activity. It is so much more than volunteering or trying to assuage our guilt with giving. Service is not self-abasement or self-salvation. Service is actually the road to real joy. In addition to volunteer activities and charitable and missionary efforts, consider the following rather surprising notions:

Business is service. When done ethically, the provider is offering goods and services needed by others and there is an exchange of resources. God's world is fashioned so that humankind can create wealth that will enable individuals, families and communities to prosper.

Fulfilling our personal destiny cannot be done in isolation - we all need others to realize our dreams! If we serve well, from providing water to parched villages to singing a magnificent aria to thousands, we are offering the world our best and making it a better place.

Political leadership is service. This is more than bringing home tax largess to a district. Political service requires great wisdom as leaders consider the needs of individuals and the nation. Politicians love to call themselves "public servants" and brazenly speak about their "sacrifices" in leaving the private economy. The reality is that ambition has overtaken humility, power and wealth have subverted careful stewardship and enslavement to special interests makes accountability to constituents a tertiary aim, behind personal power and cronyism. There are some notable exceptions and I am hopeful that local and national representatives will reaffirm their call to service.

Finally, in honor of Holy Week, all Christians need to realize that worshiping God is more than an event. Deeply fulfilling spiritual experiences are found in the liturgies of the people of God. But Christian worship includes everyday activities: how we work and play, save and spend, sacrificially give and take moments to rest. Worship is service. The Bible is replete with calls to bless, praise and worship the Lord. But the same texts call upon all believers to honor God with their lives and well as their lips, with service to those who cannot return the favor as well as sacraments in a sanctuary.

Family life is rich when service is the center. If each spouse is the champion and partner of the other's success, they will flourish. if parents will serve their children with real time and attention, they will become healthy adults.

Salvation comes through the grace of God, received by humble hearts who believe that Jesus' death and resurrection is God's gift for forgiveness and hope. The evidence of belief is behavior - not perfection, but purity of heart put into practice. We do not stand in "holier-than-thou" judgment of others, but make our compassion concrete by action for others, regardless of return.

Spirituality, politics, family life, community outreach and business are all rooted in an ethos of service. Imagine what would happen if millions of us woke up every morning and (after our coffee - let's be realistic!) offered this prayer, "Lord, help me add value to others today and honor you in serving others." Profits will grow, needs will be met, families will thrive and we will be fulfilled.

When we are secure in the good news of God's grace, we are liberated to serve. We are not earning our place in heaven, but bringing the future into the present. We are not giving to get because we have already received a gift that will keep on giving for eternity. Let's celebrate Easter by serving - in every way we can.