Descent and Assent: Lent Devotions

This Lent Abingdon Press has published my book, Thank God It’s Thursday: Encountering Jesus at the Table.  The book is a sort of companion to my Thank God It’s Friday, which received a gratifying reception from the church.

Thank God It’s Thursday utilizes the last chapters of John’s Gospel to reflect upon the significance of our mealtimes with Jesus.  I hope that you will enjoy these meditations during this holiest time of the Christian year.  And I hope you will check out Thank God It’s Thursday.

Descent and Assent

At this table, on this night we are at a turning point from the incarnate Jesus’ ministry here among us.  He begins a cross over through his death to resurrection and future life with us in the community of love.  The one who descended to us from the realm of light and life (1:1, 9; 3:13) is preparing to ascend to the Father who sent him.  In him, heaven has done business with earth; now in him earth shall be exalted heavenward.  The Son of God, Eternal Logos, the One who was with God at the beginning, the One who is God, strips for work and kneels before us.Print

And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 

On another night, ancestor Jacob had seen, in a dream, a great ladder let down from heaven with angels ascending and descending (Genesis 28).  Tonight is the eve of “the hour” when there is once again heaven-to-earth traffic.  Something about the Father refuses to be confined to heaven, God in heaven alone.  God so loved the world that God gave God’s Son for the world (3:16). The Son descends in order to reclaim a world in the grip of night; soon the Son will ascend in order to bring the whole back to God of Light.

C. S. Lewis depicts Christ’s ascent and descent as image of all that Christ did and said:

In the Christian story God descends to re-ascend.  He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity….  But He goes down to come up again and bring the whole world with Him…  One may think of a diver, first reducing himself to nakedness, then glancing in mid-air, then gone with a splash, vanished, rushing down through green and warm water in black and cold water, down through increasing pressure into the death-like region of ooze and slime and old decay; then up again, back to color and light, his lungs almost bursting, till suddenly he breaks surface again, holding in his hand the dripping, precious thing that he went down to recover.[1]

This is the dramatic, paradoxical tension that John sustains throughout his gospel: the divine has become human.  Eternity has entered time.  And when God shows up as the Word Made Flesh, at table or anywhere else, be prepared to have your boundaries of the human and the divine, of eternity and time, shattered.

We couldn’t come to God, so God came to us, meeting us where we live, in the most mundane of locations – at the dinner table.  Because our attempts at righteousness always went bad, Christ climbs down to the unrighteous (2 Cor. 5:21), then ascends a bloody cross, demonstrating not only the depths of our evil but also plumbing the unfathomable depths of God’s love.  And because God elected to be God for us, God with us, God in Christ could not return to God the Father without bringing us along, offering back to the Father the whole, beloved, yet deeply forlorn and lost human race.

Will Willimon

Thank God It’s Thursday, available from Abingdon Press

[1] C. S. Lewis, Miracles (London: Collins, 1960 [1947]), 115-116.

One thought on “Descent and Assent: Lent Devotions

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