Published on February 27, 2023 by Doug Webster  
joel wyncott Violin

The beauty of the gospel narrative can be likened to a well-made instrument. In the hands of a skilled violinist, a lightweight, fragile piece of finely crafted spruce and maple can fill a concert hall with music. What the violin is to music, the Bible is to meaning. In the hands of a novice, the same violin only squeaks and grates, like fingernails on a chalkboard. No one just picks up a violin and plays beautiful music. It takes years of study and practice. The biblical text and the musical instrument require sensitivity and skill to draw out their true dynamic. I'm not suggesting that we need to be "Bible experts," but we have to "play" John 13 as John meant it to be played. Its depth is drawn from the truth revealed and not from ourselves.  

Like a violin, the verses of John 13 may appear to be simple and lightweight, but when played with skill, the narrative resonates with truths so profound and moving that we are filled with awe. The biblical text in the hands of a sensitive and skilled interpreter reveals the dynamic meaning that the Spirit-led author intended. Faithful readers and good preachers draw out the meaning of the text the way a great violinist plays music.  We want the full range of meaning to be played out not only in hearing but in our living. The words and actions of Jesus in the upper room are essential for spiritual formation and ethical impact. Less than twenty-four hours before the crucifixion, Jesus gave his disciples a full description of the truth of the atonement and the way of discipleship. This forty-day series of meditations on John 13 may serve as a devotional guide during Lent. There are forty-seven days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. Every seventh day the church celebrates Easter Sunday. There is a joyous intermission from the upper room intensity.

To be attentive to the upper room experience we need a deep reading of the text—a lectio divina (divine reading). Online surfing and scanning are changing the way we think, and it affects our meditation on the Word. Our habit of processing data at a rapid clip tends to whisk us past the truth that is meant to fill our minds and hearts and stop us in our tracks. John's narrative art plays to our praying imagination and invites us to become like one of the original disciples. That is to say, the message intended for them is intended for today's disciples. The same Holy Spirit who reminded the disciples of everything Jesus said continues to remind us (John 14:26).  We join the Twelve in the upper room. The text is the Spirit's gift to the church. John's vocabulary is simple, his language straightforward, but the impact of the upper room is incalculable.

Prayerful meditation on John 13 will not produce spiritual pop-tarts with a thin layer of fruity goodness. Comedian Brian Regan has a hilarious take on people who microwave their pop-tarts for three seconds because they don't have time in the morning to toast them. Regan warns, "If you are waking and hauling in three seconds, you're booking yourself too tight." If you prayerfully read through John 13, you will discover the beauty of the gospel, the necessity of the cross and the power of living life in Christ. 

Doug Webster is professor of pastoral theology and Christian preaching at Beeson Divinity School.