Formation of Community: Assembly

November 14, 2019

On the day of Pentecost, three thousand people were baptized into a new community. They embraced the good news of Jesus the Messiah whom God had raised from the dead and exalted to the throne of David. In its early days, thousands were added to this community, including priests and Pharisees.

The restoration of Israel had begun. People joined Jesus in the water, and they, in effect, crossed the sea with ancient Israel through their baptism.  Moreover, just as ancient Israel travelled to Mount Sinai and there encountered God’s presence who came to dwell in Israel’s tabernacle, so those who entered the water with Jesus encountered God’s presence through the Holy Spirit who was poured out upon them.

Just as Israel was baptized in the sea and under the cloud, so renewed Israel is baptized in water. And, just as Israel encountered God at Mt. Sinai when they assembled before God’s presence, so renewed Israel assembled in the presence of God as well. The same Israel that assembled at Mount Sinai, now, in the first chapters of the book of Acts, assembled on Mount Zion. Israel referred to their first encounter with God as a gathered people at Mount Sinai as the “day of assembly” (Deuteronomy 9:10). Now, on the day of Pentecost, renewed Israel gathered as the people of new creation. They assembled on the day of the Holy Spirit.

The second chapter of Acts tells us that renewed Israel gathered daily both at the temple and in homes. These early believers met at the temple every day. There they listened to the apostle’s teaching and prayed their prayers. Peter and John, for example, continued the daily habit of prayer in the temple every day at three o’clock in the afternoon (Acts 3:1). And they, along with other apostles, taught the people daily in the temple (Acts 5:32).

This newly baptized people also met daily in their homes in order to break bread. They shared meals together, and they received this food with generous and grateful hearts filled with joy as they praised God for what God had done in Jesus.

We can imagine a daily assembly of thousands in the temple as they worshipped together, prayed together, and listened to the apostle’s teaching, and we can imagine in the evening small groups of people meeting in homes to break bread, that is, to generously share food with each other and praise God together.

Assembly is an important marker of the people of God. It was important for Israel who assembled weekly, monthly, and quarterly for festive gatherings where they ate the sacrifices that were offered on the altar.  They gathered for worship in the temple courts and at sacrificial meals. Renewed Israel continued the practices of ancient Israel.

Having passed through the water, they received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit who came to dwell among the people of God. In response, renewed Israel gathered daily in the temple and in their homes to give thanks for their salvation, encourage one another, and dwell in God’s presence.

This is the reason renewed Israel, as it appears in the book of Acts, is called the church or the ecclesia. This people is called church because they are an assembly—a gathered people—in the presence of God and among whom God dwells. This is the meaning of the word church; it is an assembly. 

The people of God assemble. They are church. They are God’s gathered ones.

Invitation into Community: Baptism

November 11, 2019

Filled with the Spirit, Peter, on the day of Pentecost, proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God.

Jesus was a prophet attested by God through many signs, but the ruling powers crucified him. Though humanity killed Jesus through the hands of the unjust, God raised Jesus from the dead. Peter himself, along with others, testified to the reality of this resurrection. Raised, Jesus was exalted to the right hand of God as Lord and Messiah, and it was from this exalted position that Jesus poured out the Spirit upon these witnesses. The good news is that the Messiah reigns!

But this was disturbing news to some who were convicted of their participation in the rejection of God’s anointed. What were they to do? How might they find forgiveness and become participants in the reign of the Messiah?

The brief answer, according to Acts 2, is something like this:  trust in Jesus, repent of your sins, pass through the waters with Jesus, and share in the communal journey through the wilderness into the new heaven and new earth. In this way, God forgives sins and gifts the people with the Spirit. On the day of Pentecost, three thousand people were added to the community of the one hundred and twenty through baptism, and that community devoted themselves to life together, including listening to the apostle’s teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer.

Faced with the horror that they had killed the Messiah and recognizing the fulfillment of Joel 2, some were “cut to the heart” and wanted to know what to do. Peter’s response in Acts 2:38-39 sounded familiar but new: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off.”

Peter’s invitation reminds us of the baptism of John, which was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. But Peter’s invitation also promises what belonged to the baptism of Jesus himself. When Jesus shared the waters of baptism with Israel, he was immersed in solidarity with his people. Coming up out of the water, however, he was anointed with the Holy Spirit, and this is what Peter promises Israel. Just as the Messiah joined Israel in the water, so now when Israel is baptized in the name of Jesus, they, too, will be anointed with the Holy Spirit. Moreover, whoever is baptized in the name of Jesus is included in the promise, which is for them, their children, and to those who are far off. This is the Abrahamic promise that envisions the inclusion of the Gentiles through the blessing of the nations.

Trust in Jesus, repentance of sin, and baptism into Jesus the Messiah ushers all, Jew and Gentile, into the kingdom of God. We are baptized into the community of the Messiah, the body of  Christ. And, as a people who belong to the Messiah, we are also heirs of the promise made to Abraham. We are heirs of the new heaven and new earth.

Baptism, by which we enter into the community of Jesus, is a means of forgiveness, a marker of inclusion, and a sign of the future. And, it is also a commitment to the mission of God as a disciple of Jesus. We are now members of a Jesus community, committed to both the ethics of Jesus and to the mission of Jesus.

The Pouring Out of the Spirit

November 10, 2019

One hundred and twenty disciples, men and women, were gathered in a room waiting for the promised Holy Spirit who would empower them to bear witness to the ends of the earth to the reign of God’s Messiah. Finally, their waiting came to end. God poured out the Spirit upon them, and they were each filled with the Spirit. It was Pentecost, the 50th day after the Passover. It was the first day of the week.

The significance of this moment is difficult to overestimate. Whatever we say about it is less than what it fully means. It is a surprising work of God that explodes all expectations, anticipations, and limitations. On the day of Pentecost, Peter announced that this descent of the Spirit from the heavens was what the prophet Joel had foretold centuries earlier.

Joel said (2:28), “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh, your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit.”

What Joel envisioned was the veritable shaking of the cosmos to its core; it is as if the universe had reversed its course. The light of the sun has been darkened, and the light of the moon became blood red. Heaven and earth were on fire!

What ignited the cosmos? At Pentecost, God poured out the Holy Spirit upon Israel! And with this God shatters the limitations of the old creation, with all its brokenness and divisions, and pours into it the dynamics of the new creation that flow from the reign of Messiah at the right hand of God. The world has changed!

Throughout its history with God, Israel knew the empowering presence of the Spirit. In the wilderness, God took “some of the spirit that was on [Moses] and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied” (Numbers 11:25). At that time, Moses prayed that God would put the Spirit upon all the Lord’s people.

Now that day had come. We call it Pentecost. God poured out the Spirit upon all Israel, but not only Israel. Now “all flesh” will receive the Spirit of God which is the inclusion of Gentiles, the inclusion of all races, among God’s people. Moreover, not only elders in Israel but the youth of Jews and Gentiles would see visions. Even more, it would not only be the recently liberated elders of Israel but enslaved Jews and Gentiles would also prophesy. And further, it would not only be men who would prophesy and dream dreams but women would also be empowered by God to see visions and prophesy.

We might think about it this way. Before Pentecost, typically though not exclusively, free Jewish males led the people of God. But Pentecost changed this. The pouring of the Spirit in Acts 2, in fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy, enlarged the community of gifted leadership from free Jewish men to enslaved Gentile women.

The gifts that the ascended Messiah gave to the Lord’s people were not restricted to Jews, but included all races; they were not restricted to free peoples but included slaves; and they were not restricted to men but included women.

Pentecost shifted the dynamics. Those once excluded were now included, and those once unchosen were now chosen. All races, slaves, and women were now empowered and gifted for participation in the mission of God.

The Renewal of Israel

November 4, 2019

Only seven weeks ago the future looked bleak. The one whom they thought was the Messiah was dead. The disciples of Jesus hid in fear, and their spirits were broken. They had lost all hope.

But that changed when God raised Jesus from the dead, and Jesus appeared to his disciples on different occasions over a period of forty days. When he appeared, he ate with them, studied the Hebrew Scriptures with them, and taught them about the good news of the kingdom of God.

At the end of these forty days, Jesus told them to remain in Jerusalem and wait for the promise of the Father, which was the Holy Spirit. The disciples, who had listened to Jesus teach about the kingdom of God over those past forty days, recognized that the coming of the Spirit is also the coming of the kingdom of God. They knew God had promised to restore the kingdom to Israel, and the promise of the Spirit meant that God was about to inaugurate it.

Jesus did not say their expectation was wrong or misguided, but that they should not concern themselves about the timing of the kingdom’s coming. Jesus told them to wait, and God would send the Spirit in God’s own good time.

Then Jesus left. He ascended to the right hand of the Father. While we tend to think of this in spatial terms, the primary point is royal. Jesus, Israel’s Messiah, was escorted into the presence of the Ancient of Days by the angelic hosts and was given authority, glory, and a kingdom (Daniel 7:13-14). Jesus was enthroned at the right hand of God, and now ruled over a kingdom that would never end. He will reign until all the principalities and powers upon the earth are defeated, and the last enemy he will defeat is death itself.

But the disciples must wait. We must all wait for the final defeat of death. But these disciples, one hundred and twenty of them (including Mary, the mother of Jesus and other women), waited in Jerusalem for the restoration of the kingdom to Israel through the gift of the Holy Spirit. They waited for the promised descent of the Spirit from the one who ascended to the throne.

They waited, and God waited until Pentecost. God restored the kingdom to Israel during the feast of Pentecost. This harvest festival celebrated God’s gracious provision. Pentecost began seven weeks earlier but was celebrated in a climactic way on the 50th day of the festival, which is the eighth first day of the week since Passover. In Acts 2, Pentecost happened on the last day of the Festival, the first day of the week.

On Pentecost, God, through the enthroned Messiah, poured out the Spirit upon these disciples. They reaped the harvest of the resurrection and enthronement of the Messiah. Though Roman power, with the consent of Jewish authorities and a mob at Passover, killed the Messiah, God had raised him from the dead and seated him at God’s own right hand. In this way, God restored the kingdom to Israel through the reign of Jesus whom God declared both “Messiah and Lord.” God restored the Davidic dynasty, a son of David now ruled in Israel once again. And the harvest of this new reign of God was the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, and this is where the story of a new creation community begins.

New Creation

October 31, 2019

Creation is good, but new creation is better. The present creation, though it retains its inherent goodness, is presently frustrated because it is bound over to corruption. It awaits something better; it awaits a glorious liberation. The present bondage will pass away even as the creation itself is gloriously transfigured when the new heaven and new earth appear.

As the present form of the world is even now passing away, the new creation is already present. The children of God experience the first fruits of the new creation through the presence of the Spirit who transforms them from glory to glory. By this, the children of God are new creatures renewed in the image of their Creator. Yet the children of God, along with the creation itself, groan for full adoption through the redemption of their bodies. This new humanity, already present by the Spirit through sanctification, will fully appear in the resurrection.

New humanity is grounded in the new human, Jesus the Messiah. The glorified Lord is new creation. He reversed the brokenness under which creation groans as the kingdom entered into the world through his ministry in the power of the Spirit. He transformed death as the firstborn from the dead by the will of the Father. His Adamic body was transformed into a new body animated by the Spirit of God through which the ascended Messiah reigns in the heavenlies. At the right hand of the Father, ever interceding for the people of God, he has poured out the Spirit upon the church in order to transform them into new community, a new creation. Jesus, as the glorified new human, will return to redeem humanity and inaugurate the new heaven and new earth so that the glory of the God may fill the creation.

This new humanity embodied in Jesus is the ground of new creation. That new life is our life. Jesus’ new creation kingdom ministry is our ministry. The second Adam’s life-giving body is our future body. Just as the old Adamic life passed away in the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus, so our lives—inwardly renewed and outwardly redeemed—participate in the new life revealed in the new humanity of the ascended Lord. Just as our old Adamic life is transformed into a new and glorious freedom, so the creation itself will share in the joy of the children of God.

This story—the movement from the old age to the new age—is pregnant with meaning for church, ministry, and life. As new creatures, we live by the ethic of the new creation. As people translated into the kingdom of God, we live as if the kingdom of God has already come and, in some sense, it already has! Anticipating the renewal of creation, we pursue environmental care. We embrace the vision, ethic, and mission of the new creation embodied in the incarnation, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus the Messiah.

For these reasons, and more, in Galatians 6:16, Paul identified not only the cross but new creation as the rule or canon by which Christians walk. The richness, depth, and visionary importance of this theme defines Christianity. It points us to the future when God will fully realize the goal for which God created us.

The Messiah Enthroned as Lord

October 28, 2019

Jesus, resurrected from the dead and exalted to the right hand of the Father, is the fountainhead of new humanity. He is new humanity and thus the ground of new creation.

Jesus was not resuscitated from the dead, but transformed from an Adamic, dying humanity to a glorious, resurrected humanity.  Born within the Adamic world and thus bound over to death, he was raised from the dead to live in a new creation. His resurrection is the beginning of the triumphant renewal of creation. His resurrection body is new creation.

The body of Jesus, just as our bodies, is deeply entangled with the creation. Our bodies are from the dust of the earth. We, as flesh and bones, are part of the creation. We are the material imagers of God within the material creation. But within the present age–this present evil age, as Paul calls–our bodies are degenerating, declining, and dying.

The resurrection of Jesus, however, is the reversal of this decay. It is a new creation through the transformation of that broken, dying body into a glorious body. It is not the creation of something new, however. Rather, it is the renewal of something old. Through the resurrection, the Father by the power of the Spirit made the body of Jesus new. It is regenerated, renewed, and living–never to die again.

The resurrection of Jesus has injected a regenerating virus into the cosmos. The newness and glory of the resurrected body of Jesus is the beginning of the newness and glory of the new creation which will remake, renew, and regenerate the cosmos itself. Jesus is “firstborn from the dead” not only in the sense that he is the first, but he is “firstborn” because he has the preeminence as the one who sustains, grounds, and empowers the new creation itself.

Just as resurrection is new creation, so also the exaltation of Jesus to the right hand of the Father is the reign of Christ over the old creation until all things become new again. Jesus will reign until the last enemy–which is death–is destroyed, and the death Jesus will destroy is that power of death that reigns not only over humanity but over the creation itself.

The exaltation of Jesus is the assured word of God that death will be defeated, the creation will be redeemed, and humanity will be restored to its co-regency with God in the cosmos. Humanity will sit on the throne with Jesus to reign over the new creation, and as humanity, along with Jesus, we will share in the materiality of that new creation with resurrected bodies.

Eden–with all the symbolism attached to that name–will be restored, but more than that. Eden will be glorified as new creation just as the body of Jesus was glorified.

The resurrection and exaltation of Jesus are the “already” of our “not yet” future and the future of the creation. God has accomplished redemption in Jesus. The act of God in Jesus, this act of resurrection within history, is the assurance of the future. And the Spirit of God bears witness to this assurance as the gift of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, the presence of the future.

The Messiah Commissions His Disciples

October 24, 2019

Between his resurrection and his ascension to the right hand of God, Jesus spent forty days with his disciples teaching them about the kingdom of God and his messianic role. He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, to understand everything that was written about the Messiah in the Torah, the Prophets, and the Psalms.

In essence, Jesus gave them a message to share. They were to proclaim the name of Jesus to all the nations. This involved announcing the good news of the kingdom of God, the death and resurrection of Jesus, the forgiveness of sins, and the end of Israel’s exile, as well as the inclusion of the nations in the kingdom of God. The disciples, however, would not do this alone but in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus prepared them for their anointing in the Spirit when God would pour out the Spirit upon them. They were told to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father, which was their baptism in the Spirit. Just as Jesus was anointed with power in the Spirit at his baptism, the restoration of the kingdom to Israel would begin when God anointed these disciples with power in the Spirit. This anointing would empower them to become witnesses to the work of God in Jesus and testify to the reality of the kingdom of God, beginning in Jerusalem and extending to the ends of the known world.

God, according to Isaiah 49:6, commissioned Israel to be a light to nations and to extend the salvation of God to the ends of the earth. This is also the mission of Israel’s Messiah, and, as disciples of Jesus, it is also the mission of the church (Acts 13:47). As God pours out the Spirit upon the disciples, God empowers them to continue the mission of Israel, which is to bring salvation to the ends of the earth.

The Gospel of Matthew records this commission in its last few verses. Though the ministry of Jesus was primarily to the lost house of Israel, when Jesus gathered his disciples for some final words, he commissioned them to “make disciples of all nations.” Jesus tells his disciples to take his message to all nations and to disciple the nations just as he had discipled them. The mission of Jesus is not stationary or passive. Rather, it moves throughout the world and proactively invites others into the community of Jesus.

From the beginning, God intended to fill the earth with God’s glory as human beings, the imagers of God, flourished. God chose Israel to renew that glory not only in their own land but to the ends of the earth. God sent the Messiah to give abundant life, and the Messiah sent his disciples among the nations to proclaim that life.

Just as Israel was baptized in the sea and under the cloud in their Exodus from Egyptian slavery, and just as the Messiah was anointed with the Spirit at his baptism, so Jesus commissions the disciples to baptize those who seek to follow Jesus and teach them how to live as disciples of Jesus.  When they are baptized, they are included in the community or the fellowship of the Father, Son, and Spirit. They become part of the kingdom of God; they become part of Israel’s story.

As part of Israel’s story, they are called to embody and practice the ethics of the kingdom of God. Included in the communion of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, they are called to imitate God and invite others into that community by making disciples of all nations.

Resurrection Sunday: At the Table with Jesus

October 21, 2019

On Resurrection Day, nearly 2000 years ago, two disciples, according to Luke 24, were transformed by their experience of the risen Messiah at a table in Emmaus.

While walking to Emmaus, they heard the story of a Messiah who must first suffer and then enter glory. The stranger who walked with them expounded Scripture, and their hearts burned within them as they saw the story of God in new ways. As the Scriptures were opened, so were their hearts.

At a table in the city of Emmaus, the stranger took the bread, blessed God, broke it, and gave it to the two disciples. In that moment, the risen Messiah was “made known” to these disciples “in the breaking of the bread.”

What happened in the “breaking of the bread?” What continues to happen “in the breaking of the bread?” At the table, the living Messiah is “made known” within the community of disciples. When disciples of Jesus are gathered around the table, Jesus is present, and—more than present—Jesus is revealed.

Jesus said as much earlier in Luke: “This is my body” and “This cup…is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:19-20).

Of course, the problem is the meaning of “is”? It depends on what the meaning of “is” is, right?

Paul expands the “is” in 1 Corinthians 10:16: is not the breaking of bread a sharing in the body of Christ and “is not the cup a sharing in the blood of Christ? When we eat the bread and drink the cup, we participate or share in the blessing of and commune with the one who gave himself for us. We share in the benefits of God’s work in Christ; we experience the reality the body and blood of Jesus procures for us. We experience peace with God, and at the table we are not only assured of God’s grace but God also gives grace there.

Luke also provides his own explanation in Luke 24:35. At the table, the living Jesus is “revealed” or “made known.” The relationship between the sign (bread and wine) and the thing signified (body and blood) is not merely symbolic or representative, but neither is its nature or substance changed.

The bread and wine become a means by which the living Christ is revealed. It is an “epiphany,” which reveals and visibly communicates the reality of the living Christ in the community. The table becomes more than a cognitive remembrance where we learn something about Christ. The table becomes a means by which we experience the living Christ and participate in the reality of the new creation, inaugurated by the resurrection of Jesus.

At the table, Jesus reveals the future, we remember the future, and we experience the future. The table is an “ephipany”—we see the future! Death will not win; Christ has already won!

Every resurrection day, disciples all over the world gather around a table, and there the living Christ is “made known.” We not only learn about Christ, we experience Christ. We not only learn about the new creation inaugurated by the resurrection of Jesus, we taste it!

Blessed be the name of the Lord, who did not leave us in the dust of death but has given us new life through Jesus, who is our life.

Resurrection: The Vindication of Jesus

October 17, 2019

The early preaching of the apostles in the Book of Acts has a rather consistent refrain. The Roman and Jewish authorities, the powers that ruled the world in Palestine, crucified Jesus, but God raised him from the dead. They condemned him, but God vindicated him. They rejected him, but God chose him as the chief cornerstone of God’s new temple. In Jesus, God sided with the innocent, the oppressed, and the persecuted. God justified Jesus in the flesh through his resurrection.

According to the apostle Paul, Jesus was delivered over to death for our offenses and was raised for “our justification” (Romans 4:25) so that we might be saved by “his life” (Romans 5:10). But first it was the justification of Jesus himself. When God raised Jesus from the dead the judgment of death (curse) was reversed and the just, innocent one was vindicated. This is the “mystery of godliness” (1 Timothy 3:16). Death did not win. The resurrection of Jesus destroys death, and his resurrection became our resurrection. When Jesus was raised from the dead, it was a pledge of our own resurrection. We were, in effect, raised with Jesus.

This is a significant event in the life of Jesus and in our lives because his resurrection is our resurrection.

First, our resurrection with Jesus is the presence of God’s transforming Spirit. The life we now live is not our own–it is the resurrected life of Jesus (Romans 6:11; Galatians 2:20). We live in the power of the life-giving Spirit who has given us “new life” in Christ. The presence of the Spirit is God’s gift by which God transforms us into the image of Christ. Thus, the present experience of the transforming power of the Spirit bears fruit in us and is a foretaste of our full redemption by the power of the Spirit in the future resurrection (Romans 8:11-12).

Second, our resurrection with Jesus also transforms our experience of death. 
Since God has defeated death, we no longer fear its hostile grip. Consequently, our experience of death is transformed from hopelessness, fear, and despair into hope, expectation, and anticipation. Though we no longer fear death we hate it as it defaces God’s good creation.

Third, our resurrection with Jesus in our “spiritual” bodies enables full communion with God in the new heaven and new earth.
 Since God has raised Christ with a “spiritual body,” we yearn for our spiritual bodies when we will experience the fullness of God’s Spirit in the new heaven and new earth. Indeed, the indwelling Spirit is our promise that we will be raised, and the power of the Spirit that now works in us to transform us into divine glory will transform our broken bodies into the glorious body of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:11; Philippians 3:21). Our present mortal, weak, and broken bodies will be transformed into immortal, powerful, and glorious bodies. We will have bodies energized and empowered by the full transforming presence of the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 15:42-44).

The resurrection is God’s pledge to perfect the world in new creation. God acted decisively to reverse the effects of Good Friday. The resurrection is God’s pledge to birth a new heaven and a new earth and liberate the cosmos from its bondage. The resurrection is new creation.

The Messiah Abandoned

October 14, 2019

Dying on that Friday afternoon, Jesus shouted to God, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). This expressed profound emotion. It gave witness to the depth of his human experience. It was an honest exclamation and an authentic question. But it did not so much accuse as it laments, and this arises from the intimacy Jesus shared with the Father.

Some hear the cry as a kind of relational abandonment where the Father “turns his back” on Jesus because Jesus had become sin in that moment. Others hear the cry as an expression of some sort of tear within the Triune God where God experiences alienation within God’s own life such that the communion between the Father and Son is, in some real sense, broken.

Certainly, the Father mourns the death of the Son, and through the experience of the Son the Father also suffers with the Son because of their transparent, shared intimacy. Also, the Spirit, who has rested upon the Son since his baptism, groans with the Father and the Son in this moment. The pathos of suffering is not alien to God. Through the Son, God suffers, and God suffers as Father, Son, and Spirit. The cross is the mourning of God; it is a divine as well human lament.

But the unity of the Trinity is not ripped apart in this moment. Their communion does not waver. The Son trusts the Father, and, quoting Psalm 31:6, the Son entrusts himself to the Father (Luke 23:46). The Father does not abandon Jesus in death, and neither does the Son lose faith in the Father. The Triune communion remains fully intact.

Rather than relational abandonment, the cross is the moment where the Son is embraced by the Father’s love and the Spirit continues to rest upon him. This is wonderfully depicted by Mashacho’s Masaccio’s fresco (1425-1426) in the Santa Maria Novella church in Florence, Italy.

The fresco is high on the wall. As we lift our eyes we first see Jesus hanging on the cross, then we see the Spirit, as a dove, hovering like a mother bird over the Son, and then finally the Father, facing the cross, extending loving arms toward the Son. We see the Trinity gathered—one on the cross, one resting on the head of crucified one, and one towering in the background.

The Father stands behind the cross with his arms stretched out as if embracing the Son as he hangs on the cross. Far from turning his back on the Son, the Father loves the Son, encircles the Son, and assures the Son of the Father’s love.

The Spirit, as a dove, rests upon the Son. Just as the dove descended on the Son at his baptism and anointed him with power, and just as the Spirit led the Son into the wilderness and throughout his ministry, so now in death the Spirit is still with the Son.

The Trinity is united at the cross; there is no break in the triune communion.

At the same time, the Father abandoned the Son to death, but the Father did not abandon him on the cross. The Father abandoned the Son to death, but the Father did not abandon him in death. The Father abandoned the Son, just like the Father does us, to the grave, but the Father did not abandon the Son in the grave. By the power of the Spirit, who rests upon the Son, the Father raised the Son from the dead, just as the Father by the power of the Spirit will raise us from the dead in the likeness of the Son.

The cross teaches us that God may abandon us to death, but God will not abandon us in the grave. This is our hope, and it is our comfort.