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  • Kingsley East

The Servant Song

Will you let me be your servant

Let me be as Christ to you

Pray that I may have the grace

To let you be my servant too

(Image: "Washing of the Feet II" by John August Swanson, painting, 2000)

Last week, I led our youth group in a service of lament and prayer for the Covenant community, our schools, and gun violence. We prayed for an end to gun violence. We prayed for freedom from the anxiety and fear we carry walking into school or dropping our loved ones off at school. We prayed for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. We also sang.

We sang "It is Well with My Soul," a powerful hymn that I learned at Covenant Presbyterian Church. This hymn, born out of the author's tragic loss of three children, proclaims that "when sorrows like sea billows roll," we will continue to say, "it is well with my soul." This song of trust in God does not diminish our pain and suffering, but transforms the way we grieve, love, and come together as the church--Christ's body given for the world.

We also sang "The Servant Song," which is a classic in our youth group. One of our leaders opened this song by calling us to sing it as both a prayer and a commitment to one another. Our whole church community sang this song to one another during our Maundy Thursday service. I know it sounds strange to sing to one another, but "The Servant Song" is a song of communal commitment. It's a response to Jesus' call for us to "love one another, even as I have loved you" (John 13:34).

Note: "Maundy" comes from the Latin word "mandatum" meaning "command." Jesus gives his disciples this new commandment to love one another after instituting the Lord's Supper on Passover. And that's where we get "Maundy" Thursday from. (Shout out to Amy Everett, our Minister to Children and Families for teaching me this.)

We are pilgrims on a journey

Fellow travelers on the road

We are here to help each other

Walk the mile and bear the load

In times of grief, pain, and loss, we need community. To be clear, we always need community. We need to serve one another and walk together with grace. Jesus did ministry with a group of close friends and disciples. Jesus did not enter the Garden of Gethsemane alone. Jesus literally did not carry his cross alone; Simon of Cyrene bore it with him (Mark 15:21). Jesus faithfully cared for his mother Mary up until his death, when he implored John to care for her like she was his own mother (John 19:26-27).

There is a great temptation for us to see ourselves first as individuals. The truth is, though, God made us to be in relationships with God, others, and creation itself. We come into this world abundantly connected. We're born dependent on our families and care-takers, in need of food and water from the earth, and full of the mysterious knowledge that we are made for something (Someone!) beyond what we can see here on earth. Oftentimes, our independence and disconnection grows out of painful relationships that end in hurt and distrust. As we walk with Jesus into Easter, it's clear that Jesus endured this kind of hurt.

Jesus understands betrayal (Judas). Jesus was denied by his disciple and friend not once, but three times (Peter). During the darkest hour before his crucifixion, Jesus' disciples fell asleep when he asked them to watch and pray for him (Matt. 26:45). But still, Jesus died for these men. Jesus lived out his message that "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). He looked on his persecutors and said, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34). He knew the sin of the world, your sin and mine, and He took that upon Himself to save us (John 3:16).

I will hold the Christ-light for you

In the nighttime of your fear

I will hold my hand out to you

Speak the peace you long to hear

Jesus embodied a sacrificial love for the world greater than any love I've ever known and history has ever seen. Paul explains, "For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous person; though perhaps for the good person someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:6-8).

A love like this calls us into new life. Jesus calls us to a new commandment: love.

And this love isn't just for our family and friends, but for our enemies (See Luke 6:27-36). It's for the Judas's and Peter's in our lives. It's for the persecutors and the mockers. It's for the church denomination that fights with ours, for the political group that we think is crazy, for the neighbor who takes their dog out in our front yard every morning, for the classmate or colleague with a humor that stings. Christian love looks beyond the surface to see the humanity in every person, and then that love walks with them.

Following Christ means laying down our pride to pick up love and journey with the people we disagree with, don't understand, and don't like. And as we walk with them, our commitment to them in Christ-like love grows into true fellowship.

I will weep when you are weeping

When you laugh, I’ll laugh with you

I will share your joy and sorrow

Till we’ve seen this journey through

In the church, we are called to share each other's sorrows and joys. As we "pilgrim" with one another, we grow in compassion and understanding of people who were once strangers to us. If you're new to following East Bound Pilgrim, you may be wondering why I talk about "pilgriming" whenever I get the chance. Check out my About Page if you want to read more. In short, we are called to "bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2). Christ calls us to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt. 22:37-39). Jesus says, "On these two commandments depend the whole Law and Prophets" (Matt. 22:40). We fulfill this call to love by pilgriming with others through life's highs and lows.

As we continue to process grief from last week, walk with Jesus through the pain and crucifixion of Holy Week, and live in a world full of evil, sin, and division, we need each other. We won't always agree with one another, but we can still be Christ to one another. We can lay our hatred down. We can choose to see other people, no matter how different, as God's beloved children. We can recognize that much of our discord is sown out of fear. And we can take up Christ's light for the world.

When we sing to God in heaven

We will find such harmony

Born of all we’ve known together

Of Christ’s love and agony

Christ's light sings love into the world. Christ's love becomes a servant for others. As Christ-like servants, we endure all things within a community of hope. We are never alone. Not only is God with us, but God gives us a fellowship of believers. And we trust God is going to create a new heaven and a new earth (Rev. 21:1). Here, "He will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain" (Rev. 21:4). In this resurrected life, we will be one with God and united with one another. No more discord. No more pain. No more violence. No more death.

Until that day,

Will you let me be your servant

Let me be as Christ to you

Pray that I may have the grace

To let you be my servant too

Song Recommendation: "The Servant Song" by Jon Niven

There are many versions of this song, originally by Richard Gillard and Betty C. Pulkingham.

Book Recommendation: The Love that is God by Frederick Christian Bauerschmidt

I know a theology professor and a middle-schooler who love this book. For most of you who fall in between these two, I think you'll love it too. Here's a simple summary (the chapter titles) to get you excited: (1) God is love. (2) The love that is God is crucified love. (3) We are called to friendship with the risen Jesus. (4) We cannot love God if we do not love each other. (5) We live our love out from the community created by the Spirit.

Note: The first sermon I preached at DaySpring, "Travelers on a Journey," draws from this song. Check it out!

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