When I was in college and before I called Jesus “Lord,” I attended a Thursday night worship gathering on campus with my best friend and roommate. When I entered the darkened auditorium and found a seat, I felt something different about the space. Even though as a freshman I’d attended student orientation in that same place weeks earlier, something weighed heavily in the air. Then the praise band began to play. Hands lifted to the heavens, voices sang out, eyes closed, people swayed to the songs. I kept my arms close, wrapped in a tight hug around my waist, and wept. I couldn’t stop weeping, actually, and I didn’t know why.
When the music stopped, a young woman came on stage. She was dressed in loose pink cloth, I think, dressed as if she just stepped out of the Middle East, and she began to tell her story, only it wasn’t her story, it was another woman’s story, the story of a woman who lived centuries ago. She had no husband, in fact she had had many lovers, and a reputation in town that made her the subject of ridicule. She went to the well at noon to avoid the crowds of men in the market, to hide from the accusing eyes of other women. The woman on the stage told how she met him, the stranger at the well, and how the stranger promised her Living Water, how the man at the well knew her life story and told her everything she had ever done, how he must be the Messiah. The Messiah, the one who saves, had come! Finally! She wept and laughed and danced in her salvation.
And I wept and wept and wept.
A Life Transformed by Story
After the worship service that night so long ago, I went back to my dorm and kept on crying. I huddled on the couch in the lobby of our floor and prayed, I asked Jesus to be the Lord of my life, I begged him to help me, I pleaded to be rescued from the endless burdens of perfectionism and anxiety and mistakes I’d made. I wanted to be made new.
I wanted to be that known. I wanted to be that loved. I didn’t know what to call the weight in the auditorium, but later I found the word: glory.
“When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. The priests could not enter the temple of the Lord because the glory of the Lord filled it. When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the Lord above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave thanks to the Lord, saying, ‘He is good; his love endures forever’” (2 Chronicles 7:1-3 NIV).
The woman’s reenactment of John 4, when Jesus talks to the Samaritan woman, moved me in ways that reading the story alone never had before and opened my heart to receive the Holy Spirit.
This is how the Word of God becomes living and breathing again, it gets breathed out through other believers who carry the Holy Spirit in them. It is made new and enfleshed, incarnate again in our own bodies and in our own stories.
Encounters with Jesus by J.R. Hudberg
This is what J.R. Hudberg does in Encounters with Jesus: Forty Reflections on Knowing and Loving the Savior. Each reflection invites the reader to experience an interaction with Jesus in the gospels through the character’s eyes. What would they have felt? What would they have seen and smelled? How is their encounter with Jesus similar to our encounters today?
Hudberg’s reflections bring the gospel stories to life by employing “holy imagination” so that we can see and experience the scene each character finds themselves in. Before Joseph and Mary realize that Jesus is missing from their group, Hudberg writes, “The day grew late, and the large group stopped for the evening. As the initial chaos of camp settled into pockets of fires and tents, the smell of roasting food began to waft through the air.”
These rich details invite us around the campfire with the traveling couple as the reality of their missing son dawns on them, and their panic carries them out of the camp and back to Jerusalem in search of Jesus.
Hudberg invites us into the very human thoughts and emotions of biblical characters as they interact with Jesus, helping readers to experience the collision of humanity with divinity in each of the gospel stories. Each reflection includes a passage of Scripture followed by the story reimagined by Hudberg so that the reader can “explore the thoughts and emotions people may have grappled with as they witnessed the surprising work of Jesus.” The reflection ends with a series of questions to consider and a scripted prayer to respond to the reading.
When the paralytic man’s friends began making a hole in the roof, “Everyone, including Jesus, tried to ignore it, but then the first bits of debris fell and rattled across the floor. Jesus moved as pieces landed in his hair.”
I can almost see the dried palm leaves and clay crumbling down onto the Savior’s head. And when Jesus tells the paralytic to pick up his mat and walk, I can feel the blood rushing back into my legs. I can feel the impulse to jump up and dance. I can remember the weight of glory pressing in on me in that darkened auditorium, and I can feel the lifting of those burdens as God’s Spirit rushed in and released me, setting me free.
That’s what Hudberg invites us into in each of these forty reflections, the opportunity to “find ourselves in these stories in a new way and, like the characters in them, walk away changed by an encounter with Jesus.”
J.R. Hudberg is a new writer for Root & Vine News! He serves as the Discovery Series Executive Editor at Our Daily Bread Ministries. You can follow him on LinkedIn or Twitter. You can find Encounters with Jesus on Amazon, Christianbook.com, or buy from your local independent bookseller.