One of the best ways to observe Lent is by joining Jesus for supper in the Upper Room and listening to his sermon in John 13 - 17, as though spoken just to you. This is a passage you can read aloud in about fifteen minutes, but it's worth a lifetime of study. It's the record of what Jesus said over a private supper with his disciples just hours before he was seized and crucified.
The first thing to notice is how John slowed his narrative to accommodate for this meal. The first twelve chapters of the Fourth Gospel cover a span of three Passovers, or three years, but the next five chapters encompass just the duration of the Last Supper. It was the Lord's most poignant night and John took in every word and recorded many details.
The next thing to notice is the visual power of the setting. Imagine yourself in a sealed upstairs room in antiquity--in Jerusalem at Passover--windows closed, tension high, lanterns burning, table spread. Both the supper and the sermon were served in an atmosphere of impending doom. It was last evening of the natural life of Jesus of Nazareth. He knew it, and he spoke soberly but serenely.
The third thing, then, is simply to listen to what he said. He knew that his audience was wider than the eleven men before him. He spoke with you and me in mind. With just a little contemplation, we can take our seats and soak up every sentence as if we were there. Here are some excerpts:
Children, I will be with you only a little longer.... A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another...
Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father's house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?
I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and to be with you forever--the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.
Because I live you will live also.
Peace I leave with you...
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
Thus far in 2014, I've spent every Sunday morning teaching the Upper Room Discourse to my congregation, The Donelson Fellowship, in Nashville. We've gone through it verse by verse, and I confess I've been the primary beneficiary. As I've prepared these messages, I've rediscovered the authenticity that pervades this passage. Take the words of John 14:27, for example: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."
That verse is the Lord's Last Will and Testament. He had no land to leave us, no house or furniture, not even a pillow or pad. The foxes had holes and the birds had nests, he once said, but the Son of Man had nowhere to lay his head. Nor did he have money; Judas Iscariot had stolen his last shekel. He could not even bequeath His clothing. By prophetic decree his garments were to be divided among His executioners.
But one thing he could leave us--His peace.
How tragic when we fail to claim our inheritance! The strength and serenity He displayed on the last night of his natural life can sustain us during the difficult hours we face. How sad to live in anxiety and frantic worry when Jesus Christ, in the last hours of His life, bestowed the legacy of His own peace. Nothing could be more beneficial to our hearts and minds than to memorize John 14:27--to memorize it word for word; to learn it well and ponder it often. The best plan for meditation isn't to empty our minds but to fill them with the thoughts of Scripture.
I memorized portions of John 14 in the public school system of my native Tennessee Mountains. A full education should include familiarity with the world's most published book. Now, years later, I'm doing all I can to make sure the youngsters in my home and church know John 14 too. Next month, many of my middle school, high school, and university students are specifically planning to offer Easter copies of the Gospel of John to their friends at school, as they have every right to do. It's simply a way of passing along the message of peace afforded by the Prince of Peace.
But why wait until Easter to discover the legacy of Christ? Between now and Good Friday, find a quiet place and read John 13 - 17, the Upper Room Discourse of Jesus. When you open the pages of this passage, it's exactly like John pushing open the door of the original Upper Room and taking his seat at the table. By carefully and visually reading this sermon we can experience the pathos and peace of Jesus and regain the wisdom of his perspective on life. As it grips your heart, you too will want others to know why Lent is contemplative, why Good Friday is redemptive, and why Easter is coming.