Resurrection of the Lord – April 12, 2020

Suggested Readings:
John 20:1-18
Matthew 28:1-10
Psalm 23

Sunday’s Coming

Friday was filled with brutality and violence. The promise of Bethlehem shattered by nails driven into soft flesh. The One John proclaimed to be the Lamb of God (John 1:29, 36) executed in the vilest manner possible. A stone sealed the entrance to the tomb. The women bereft, waiting for the Sabbath to pass in order to perform the proper burial rituals. Saturday, a quiet day of sadness, reflection, and fear. The pall of death hung in the air.

There is, however, good news. Sunday’s coming!

On the first day of the week, Sunday, God raised Jesus from the dead. Because God raised Jesus from the dead, we can face dark Fridays and quiet Saturdays. Because God raised Jesus from the dead, there is always the hope of Sunday. We may traverse the darkest valley, face an immovable mountain, but we do not face these trials alone. Sunday’s coming!

Christian worship takes place on Sunday precisely because it is the day of Resurrection. We celebrate new life each Sunday as we gather for corporate worship. The music, message, and prayers are all meant to remind us that Jesus is alive.

Regardless of what we experience in life, Sunday’s coming. Sunday is the day when the risen Lord called Mary by name. It is the day when God calls each of us by name and reminds us that even in our darkest hour we do not walk alone because Sunday’s coming.

The empty tomb does not prove the resurrection. The resurrection is proved because Sunday is always coming. New life is always possible because Jesus is raised from the tomb.

The place of the skull is viewed as an ugly black stain on the face of humankind. Crucifixion demonstrates the worst in humanity. Those we love suffer and die. We sit forlornly outside the tomb, lost and alone. Suddenly the darkness breaks and the gloom is lifted. The sun breaks through our despair as we hear the voice of the Risen Lord speaking our name into the pain that we felt was inexorable. Sunday is here! The Lord is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Hallelujah!

Prayer:

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me. Sunday is here! Christ is Risen! Thank you, Father God, for the inexpressible gift of the Son, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

Holy Saturday – April 11, 2020

Suggested Readings:
John 19:38-42
Matthew 27:57-66

Shabbat Shalom

It was storming the day my dad was buried. The rain pounding so ferociously that we couldn’t go to the gravesite. Rather, we held the committal service in a mausoleum, and he was interred later. I have never been to the actual grave. Some people find solace in visiting the graves of loved ones. Others enjoy looking at old tombstones and noting the dates and times of those long gone. There is often a sense of peace to be found wandering through a cemetery.

Matthew reports that Joseph of Arimathea, asked for the body of Jesus and Pilate allowed him to take it for burial.  John notes that Nicodemus brought a mixture of spices to anoint the body. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there also, sitting opposite the tomb. The afternoon stillness melded into the sunset and the two women hurried home to prepare for the Sabbath.

We know nothing of what occurred on Saturday. The disciples, still in shock and fear, were hidden away. The women planned for the Sabbath and the following day when they would visit Jesus’ tomb and properly anoint his body.

There is a stillness to Sabbath. It is intended to be a day of rest, ordained by God at the conclusion of creation, it is meant to be a day for regeneration and reflection. The customary greeting on the Sabbath is Shabbat Shalom. Shabbat is Hebrew for Sabbath, and Shalom means peace. It is a common greeting on Friday evening or throughout the day until evening on Sabbath (Saturday). In the exchange of this greeting one is wishing another peace on the Sabbath or wishing them the peace that the Sabbath itself brings.

On this Holy Saturday I wish you Shabbat Shalom. Shalom is a word that means wholeness of relationships; with God and with other people. It is important on Holy Saturday to stop and take the time to reflect on our relationship with God. Lent is the most sacred time of the church year. It is an inward journey that follows the steps of Jesus to Jerusalem, to Golgotha, and ultimately into the arms of the Father. Lent confronts us with the need to examine what that journey means in our lives. Our journey is intended to bring us to Shalom; that is, wholeness in our relationship with God. When we experience Shalom in our oneness with God, we will find it easier to be in healthy relationships with our families, friends, neighbors, and co-workers.

The challenge today is to be still. Easter egg hunts are fun, but not the essence of the day. The psalmist wrote, Be still, and know that I am God! (Psalm 46:10). God’s Word translation puts it this way, Let go of your concerns! Then you will know that I am God. On this Holy Saturday find space to listen for the voice of God. God has a message uniquely meant for you. Be quiet. God is trying to talk.

Prayer:

God, help me to quiet the constant demands of time; the incessant call to do, do, do, and go, go, go. The two Marys sat quietly outside the tomb, weeping and consoling one another, seeking peace. Grant me a quiet heart and focused mind. In the midst of life’s raucous noise let me hear your speaking voice. Amen.

 

 

 

Good Friday – April 10, 2020

Suggested Readings:
Isaiah 52:13-53:12
John 18:1-19:42

It is Finished!

On this dark and painful day we may justifiably ask, “What’s so good about Good Friday?” Jesus has been betrayed, denied, flogged, and crucified. It hardly describes what we would usually describe as a good day.

Good Friday is called Good Friday because, Christians believe, there is something very good about it: It is the anniversary, of Jesus suffering and dying for our sins. “That terrible Friday has been called Good Friday because it led to the Resurrection of Jesus and his victory over death and sin and the celebration of Easter, the very pinnacle of Christian celebrations,” according to the Huffington Post. The Oxford English Dictionary and other language experts support the theory that the name comes from an antiquated meaning of good.

The crucified Lord was the cornerstone of Paul’s preaching. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). If the crucifixion of Jesus is central to our preaching and teaching, then it follows that there is something inherently “good” in the gruesome events of that Friday afternoon.

One of words recorded as coming from the lips of the dying Jesus is, “It is finished.” In that dying proclamation Jesus assures us that God has accomplished what God intended in the life and death of Jesus. The Anointed One has done all that can be done for fallen humanity. The price for sin has been paid once and for all. The curtain of the temple has been torn (Matthew 27:51); symbolizing that the death of Jesus spans the gulf between sinful humanity and God. Jesus has completed his commission of making God’s love available for all of humankind (see John 3:16).

There is, of course, another act to this drama and that is the resurrection of Jesus. In the resurrection God placed an enduring affirmation of the events of Good Friday.

Jesus is condemned and executed as the lowest of criminals, but God has the final word and, in the resurrection, affirmed that the plan is complete. It is finished! It cannot be modified or improved upon.

Prayer:

Thank you, God, for showing me your heart in the life, death, and resurrection of your son, Jesus. Thank you for seeing in me someone worth loving and dying for. I am humbled by your sacrifice and challenged by your love. Amen.

 

Toward Jerusalem Lenten Reflections 2020

Lent is the period of forty days which comes before Easter in the Christian calendar.   Beginning on Ash Wednesday, Lent is a season of reflection and preparation before the celebrations of Easter. By observing the forty days of Lent, Christians replicate Jesus Christ’s sacrifice and withdrawal into the desert for forty days. Lent is marked by fasting, both from food and festivities. Lent recalls the events leading up to and including Jesus’ crucifixion by Rome. 

It is important to note that in counting the forty days of Lent Sundays are not included. Sunday is the Day of Resurrection, as such, it is a day of celebration, not fasting. Each Lord’s Day Christians gather to worship and celebrate the Risen Lord.

Every journey begins with a first step. That first step is the decision to make the journey a reality. Vacations, business trips, or a weekend away all begin with intention. 

Knowing that he would face suffering and death Jesus turned his face toward Jerusalem, (Luke 9:51), and with intention began the journey that would take him to the cross. The journey to Jerusalem is recounted in Luke 9:51-19:48. This section, sometimes referred to as “the travel narrative,” is concerned with the ongoing transformation of the disciples. Our Lenten journey is meant to be a journey of spiritual transformation. Lent is often diminished by the practice of “giving something up for Lent” although denying oneself chocolate for forty days hardly qualifies as a spiritual discipline.

As we move into this Lenten season, I want to suggest that rather than “give up” something for Lent, that we instead add something to our lives. I want to encourage each of us to add a specific time for spiritual reflection to our daily routine. In the following pages I will offer a few words of devotion and recommend some readings from scripture. As you read the scripture, I want to offer some practical steps toward a more intense reflection on the biblical text.

The first step on this journey toward spiritual transformation is the intention, to make the journey.  This is a serious commitment. Jesus turned his face toward Jerusalem, knowing full well what awaited him there. If you choose spiritual transformation, do so understanding that whole-hearted devotion is essential.

Before taking the first step recall the challenge of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs one his or her life, and it is grace because it gives one the only true life. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son, and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us”.

If you are willing to make a commitment to costly grace, then take the second step along the path of spiritual transformation. Set aside a specific time and place to commit yourself to reading, reflection, prayer, and perhaps journaling. Early morning works well for some, while bedtime may be best for you. The important point is to find a time and place where you are not likely to be disturbed. Eliminate, as much as possible, all distractions.

The third step is to be gentle with yourself. There is no rush on this journey. In fact, you will learn that this journey moves beyond the

40 days of Lent and takes you on a lifetime journey of becoming one with Christ. So, relax. Sit quietly in whatever chair or position is comfortable for you. Close your eyes and take a few deep cleansing breaths in through the nose and out the mouth. Relax.  If you are facing an anxious day or coming down from a particularly stressful situation you may do nothing more than relax in the presence of God. That’s all right. There is no right or wrong in this practice. One of our goals in this practice is to develop the discipline of being still in the presence of God.

The fourth step on this journey is to read and reflect on the biblical text. You may want to read the text more than once. Let the words speak to you. Listen for a word or phrase in the text that addresses you where you are in the present moment. There are several texts provided for each day along the journey. Don’t interpret. Listen to what God’s Spirit is saying to you through the text. Remember, there is no right or wrong answer in this discipline. This journey is about personal spiritual transformation. In this step you are listening for the voice of God in the written word.

As you close your time of reflection pray the scripture. This means to focus your prayer on the words of the text or the message that you have heard from God’s Spirit. Again, don’t worry about time and above all don’t worry about getting it “right.” The only thing “right” in these exercises is learning to listen for and discern the voice of God.

Finally, ask God how you can apply what you have read and heard to the activities of everyday life. We are meant to “be doers of the word” (James 1:22-23), not merely hearers.

At the end of 40 days you will have developed a holy habit of daily devotion and prayer that will translate into a deeper faith commitment and active engagement in the world. At the conclusion of the journey you will celebrate a renewed commitment to live the life of the Risen Lord in a fallen world.