Last Supper - Jen Norton 2
Lent, Passion, Scripture, Service, Suffering
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A Holy Thursday without…

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Did you know that the last party or social gathering that you attended would, in fact be the last one for the foreseeable future?

When reading the Gospel accounts of the Last Supper, it’s pretty evident that the Apostles had no idea it would be their last. Yet what happened while they shared the Passover meal with Jesus would be remembered and celebrated as the first: the Institution of the Eucharist.

Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you.” (Lk 22:19-20)

The Last Supper is the focus of the Church’s celebration on Holy Thursday. Yet for almost all of us, this will be a Holy Thursday without the Eucharist.

For anyone planning to watch the liturgy at home, since it’s a Holy Thursday without the presence of the people, it’ll also be a Holy Thursday without the Rite of the Washing of Feet.

I always found it interesting that while the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke provide the details about the Last Supper, the Gospel of John does not. Instead, John cuts to the meaning of the Last Supper: humble service.

So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. (Jn 13:14-15)

In the time of Covid-19, while we celebrate a Holy Thursday without so many things, let’s really turn our attention to humble service.

As a society, we’ve been doing a better job of recognizing and appreciating the humble service of so many of whom we’ve never even realized were essential employees! From health care, to supermarkets, to truckers and delivery persons, to police and first responders, to teachers…

How can you express gratitude for the humble service of others?

Amid so much grief and suffering that we cannot control, there are countless acts of humble service happening all around us, from making and donating reusable masks, to checking on and caring for neighbors, to finding ways to celebrate kids’ accomplishments and birthdays, to the sharing of musical talents, to the distribution of meals…

Where have you seen examples of humble service to others?

So on a Holy Thursday without so, so many things, perhaps you can find a way to be in communion with Christ through acts of humble service… (even if that service is a matter of reframing your interactions with those you are trapped at home with) …remember that Christ is present in these acts of service and sacrificial love.

Christ has given you an example; how will you humbly serve others?


Banner Artwork “Last Supper” ©Jen Norton. https://www.JenNortonArtStudio.com . Used with permission.  

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Agony in the Garden
Lent, Passion, Scripture, Suffering
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In the Garden with Jesus

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The only thing worse than the actual struggle of going through a difficult time is feeling completely isolated in the struggle. Unless, of course, you like to also compare your struggling with others (who certainly have it worse than you) and minimize your own pain because it always helps to pile guilt onto the sense of isolation to reduce that suffering.

This is what is happening in Covid-19.

It honestly doesn’t matter how bad you do or don’t have it. We are all suffering right now. We are all grieving for normalcy.

So let’s just stop right there. Nowhere in Scripture does the God of Life and Redeemer of the World minimize or compare suffering. Instead, Scripture presents us with invitations and affirmations, especially in the Passion and Death of Christ.

Focus, for a moment, on the image of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Jesus knew what was happening, and he knew it was about to get a lot worse before it got better.

Let the very fact that “knowledge” caused Jesus grief affirm you; this is hard.

Jesus prays and asks his closest friends to pray, telling them: “I am deeply grieved,” and “The sorrow in my heart is so great that it almost crushes me” (Mt 26:38 NRSV and GNT).

Jesus models speaking truth to your closest friends… 

…gives permission to speak the truth of your heart to God… 

Jesus prays, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me…” (Lk 22:42).

…petitions God for the deepest longings of the heart…

…asks clearly and directly…

Jesus concludes,  “…yet, not my will but yours be done” (Lk 22:42).

…invites trust in God…

…models surrendering to God.

In our agony, in our suffering, in our frustrations, in our confusion, God sees us. God is with us. Angels are ministering to us. And God will redeem this.

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Artwork ©Jen Norton. https://www.JenNortonArtStudio.com . Used with permission.
Lent, Life, Liturgy, Passion
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Palm Sunday’s Highs and Lows

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While listening to our Pastor proclaim the Gospel as we watched our Parish’s Palm Sunday Mass on YouTube, my 12-year-old asked, “But wait–why are we reading about the crucifixion and death now. Isn’t that what happens on Good Friday?”

Lego design by my 12 year old son, Max.

Yes. Yes, it is. Palm Sunday begins with Jesus’ Triumphant Entrance into Jerusalem as the crowds sing “Hosanna in the Highest” and wave their palm branches. And then we are plunged into the solemness of Holy Week.

That tension from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows is stark… it’s uncomfortable… and it’s exactly the point.

In light of the pandemic, take a moment to reflect on your experience of this stark contrast in your own life. Think back to February or early March… recall the events, activities, travels, and celebrations that you had on your calendar.

  • What were you looking forward to with joyful anticipation?

Think of the disciples watching the One they know to be the Messiah and Son of God entering the Holy City of Jerusalem surrounded by glory and praise… and within days, he is arrested and crucified.

Before stepping more deeply in to the Passion, realize that having joyful anticipation abruptly cut down—that very sense of disappointment—is a crucial part of our Palm Sunday liturgy. We are all feeling it; we have all felt it, including Jesus and his disciples.

Allow this jarring experience and sense of profound disappointment to be an entry point into the Passion as we begin Holy Week.

Let Jesus meet you where you are.


Banner Artwork ©Jen Norton. https://www.JenNortonArtStudio.com . Used with permission.  LEGO design and photograph by the same 12 year old son who asked the opening question https://www.instagram.com/todayinlegocity/.

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Jesus Calms the Sea Eugène_Delacroix_-_Christ_Endormi_pendant_la_Tempête
Faith, Grace, Hope, Lent, Passion, Prayer, Scripture, Spirituality, Suffering, Transformation, Virtue
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Having Hope in a Time of Crisis

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Having hope in a time of crisis is not easy. Hope is rooted in truth, and the truth is, things are not easy right now.

Let’s be clear: having hope is not foolish optimism detached from the reality at hand. Rather, it has to do with trusting in the promises of God… which is hard… which is why it’s called a virtue (and not a given).

Hope—trusting in the promises of God—is intertwined in trusting in God’s goodness. On Friday, Pope Francis spoke about this very dynamic in his meditation on the calming of the storm from Mark 4:35-41 (full text and video here). Caught in a violent storm, the disciples, who are experienced, life-long fishermen, fear for their lives while Jesus is lays sleeping.

They woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!” The wind ceased and there was great calm. Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”(Mark 4:38-40)

Pope Francis honed in on the spiritual struggle so many of us have in the midst of a storm like Coronavirus and quarantine: “Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm.” Like the disciples, our faith in God is evident in the way we call out to God. However, in the midst of a storm so violent that people fear for their lives, sometimes we question God’s goodness. We cannot understand it and question if God cares about us. Fear threatens our trust in God’s goodness.

https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2020-03/urbi-et-orbi-pope-coronavirus-prayer-blessing.html

Trusting in God’s goodness opens our hearts to hope. In a time of crisis and fear, we need to remind ourselves and each other that there is abundant evidence of God’s goodness at work.

How many people every day are exercising patience and offering hope, taking care to sow not panic but a shared responsibility. How many fathers, mothers, grandparents and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday gestures, how to face up to and navigate a crisis by adjusting their routines, lifting their gaze and fostering prayer. How many are praying, offering and interceding for the good of all. Prayer and quiet service: these are our victorious weapons.” (Pope Francis, Urbi et orbi blessing, March 27, 2020)

In the language of faith, this is the Paschal Mystery – God works with us, in us, and through us as vessels of grace to one another. Even in the midst of chaos and crisis, we can see goodness.

In the language of Mr. Roger’s Mom, “Look for the helpers.”

Mr Rogers Notice the Helpers

Name and claim the goodness and joy that you observe. Know that God is the source of all goodness. Believe that the Holy Spirit empowers us to be vessels of grace,

Recall the insight from the Raising of Lazarus: we have faith not in a God who rescues us; we have faith in a God who Redeems. We have faith in a God who is the source of all goodness; who respects our freedom enough to let things unfold… even difficult, painful, stressful things. Because our God Redeems.

God doesn’t do evil to achieve good (or to teach lessons). God doesn’t intend, rejoice in, or plan for suffering. God redeems it.

And we have faith in a God who Redeems.

Cultivating Hope

Trusting in a God who Redeems is at the root of the virtue of hope, and like all virtues, we can strengthen and grow in hope with practice.

Here one practice that we have been doing in our family to cultivate hope:

The Rose: Every night, when we gather for family dinner, we pray The Rose, which is a family-friendly, loose adaptation of St. Ignatius Loyola’s Examen. I have always appreciated the way the Rose allows us to hear about aspects of each other’s day that we otherwise wouldn’t.

The Rose Handout(Note: if you cannot see the image above, and/or if you would like a printable copy of The Rose, click here.)

  • Rose: Naming the bits of laughter and joy, the successes (no matter how small), the connections… Naming goodness and grace is essential to the spiritual practice of gratitude. Do it every night while eating dinner. Share your gratitude for goodness with one another.
  • Bud: For my boys, anticipation of joyful experiences is just as (if not more) exciting than the experience itself. Naming our buds lifts our spirits. However. In the time of Covid-19, when all the things we usually look forward to have been cancelled, it’s becoming more and more difficult to identify things to look forward to. Which is why it’s becoming more and more crucial to our spiritual well-bring. Yes, most of our “buds” have looking forward to upcoming Zoom calls with friends… and getting to the other side of the Coronavirus! This is going to take some effort, but it’s also key to cultivating hope!
  • Thorn: As I wrote in How Are You, it’s also important to be real about the struggles in your day. Articulating your thorn is prayer when that lament is directed to God, trusting in His goodness. Need some guidance there? Check out the Psalms.
  • Root: As a family, we join together in specifically praying for people by name… and praying for an end to this pandemic.

What are you doing to cultivate hope today?

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Philip Kromer / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)
Faith, Grace, Lent, Life, Passion, Scripture, Spirituality, Suffering
2

How Are You?

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Ironically, for as difficult as it is in this time of social distancing, isolation, and quarantine, at least we’re all in it together.

Be reassured: No one knows how to do this. No one knows what they’re doing. We’re all figuring it out together.

In my last two posts, I talked about needing to Reevaluate Lent and my decision to Be Real and Have Hope (with key insights from the story of the Raising of Lazarus). So here’s me being real: I’ve been going through a difficult time and things have been hard.

Here’s Me Being Real

About 9 months ago, I wrote about my son suffering 2nd degree burns. Five weeks later, I wrote one follow-up post. But nothing else because… it was just too much. It was just too hard.

While in the Pediatric ICU, the doctors said 2nd degree burns heal within 2-3 weeks. So, 2-3 weeks is what we mentally geared ourselves up for.

It was actually 3 months of daily wound care and intense restrictions. The most severe 2nd degree burns (“deep partial-thickness”) take longer to heal and leave thick, raised scars, which need another 18 months of care, including wearing compression garments for 23 hours a day. It was a lot. It took a toll on everyone, in every way.

Believe me: I’m not complaining. All you need to do is walk into any floor of Shriner’s Pediatric Burn Hospital to have every possible complaint in your life be put into perspective.

However, this was—and still is—our reality. And quite honestly, it was hard… really, really hard.

How Are You?

When we see people out and about, most of us greet each other with, “Hi! How are you?” Generally, Americans subconsciously intend this to be a surface-level, friendly greeting. Generally, in the aisles of the supermarket, we are not inquiring about the status of a person’s mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being. It’s not to say that we don’t actually care about each other. It’s just… usually, if we’re genuinely interested and aware that the standard answers of “good,” “fine,” or “alright,” aren’t actually the expected answer, we’ll lean-in and give permission to be truthful with something akin to, “No, really; how are you?”

For a long time, my honest answer wasn’t, “Good!” It wasn’t even, “Fine,” (which my mother considers to be a four-letter word). For a long time, I was struggling. And my personal integrity was taking a hit by answering with anything less than the truth – because things were just so hard. Eventually, I settled on a non-answer, “Hey! Good to see you!” or with a swivel, “Busy! How about you?”

The lenten promise to Be Real was born out of this struggle. For the sake of my sanity and integrity (aka—mental and spiritual health), I eventually decided I would be real with anyone I knew would want to know… whether they were prepared for it or not. I had a lot of conversations that started with me stumbling over expressing the truth: “Good! No. Actually, I’m not good. Things are hard.”

Speaking Truth

When I started “being real” and speaking the truth, I started to open the door to unexpected love and grace.

No. Wait. Actually, a caveat: Not everyone is entitled to know the truth. And frankly, not everyone can handle the truth.

you-cant-handle-the-truth

No joke. Some people are really bad at this.

But more often than not, I found support, love, and compassion. Sometimes I’d lay out my truth with a voice-quivering, “Things are hard.” Then I’d purse my lips and shake my head—tears might fall—and I’d whisper, “Can’t talk about it. Pray. How are you?”

Speaking truth opened the door to community; I wasn’t so alone.

Yes. This is hard.

We are all struggling with this “new normal” (which is hard), for an undetermined amount of time (which is—speaking from experience here—really, really hard).

It’s been a relief to hear more and more people being real and acknowledging that this is hard.

Acknowledging that this is hard doesn’t mean you’re complaining. Nor does it mean you’re lacking in faith or trust in God.

Take a look at the exchange between Jesus and Peter in Matthew 16, right after the big question “Who do you say that I am?” (v.15) and Peter’s profound confession of faith. This is when Jesus begins to get real with the disciples, predicting the his suffering and death (v.21).

When Jesus speaks these difficult truths, he’s not complaining. He’s not lacking in faith or trust in God.

In fact, it’s Peter who lacks faith and trust in the one whom he just confessed to be the Messiah! Peter refuses to hear the difficult truth and rebukes Jesus: “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you” (Mt 16:22).

Jesus has no tolerance for telling himself (and others) a lie that will make everybody feel better. Because although the pain and suffering of the Passion and Death will be hard, that is not the end of the story. (More on that another day.)

We’re all in this together

There is tremendous grace in hearing others being real and speaking truth. We’re reminded that we’re not alone. We’re reminded that we’re not doing it wrong. And in the broken Body of Christ, we’re reminded that our Savior is with us in our suffering, present to us through one another.

  • Is there someone you can call (old-school phone or Zoom) and be real about the things you’re finding most difficult right now?
  • Really. How are you?
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