Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Wednesday in Holy Week.

"Lord God, whose blessed Son our Savior gave his body to be whipped and his face to be spit upon: Give us grace to accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time, confident of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."

Psalm 70Isaiah 50:4-9aHebrews 12:1-3, and John 13:21-32

The betrayal of Jesus by Judas is a familiar story to us, and the Judas character is one that's been portrayed in many ways many times. Imagine, though, what it must have been like to be in that room with the disciples when Jesus declared to them, "One of you will betray me." The fear and anguish that they must have all felt would have been overbearing. Certainly there was the thought, "It won't be me; but what if it is me?"

Peter asks, "Who will it be?" Jesus says, "The one to whom I give this bread." And then he passes the bread to Judas, and he sends Judas away. We're told that the disciples didn't know why Judas was sent out, but certainly Peter was about to figure out what was happening. For those who didn't know what was happening and who were trying to make sense of all of the animosity being directed toward their leader, this couldn't be how they expected to have their Passover celebration go.

These disciples were being set up for what must have been a most disappointing festival. What was supposed to be a great celebration is quickly unraveling, and one of their own is about to betray Jesus. In the coming days their leader will be arrested, convicted, and executed. They have no way of knowing what to expect, and we cringe for them and what they must have been experiencing.

The coming days are supposed to unsettle us, too. Sometimes, though, we're so familiar with the story that we forget to allow this to happen. If we can open ourselves up, we might be able to hear these stories in a new way, a way that can reach inside of us and awaken us to God's glory. From the betrayal to the crucifixion to the resurrection, God is there. In the absolute uncertainty experienced by the disciples those last few days, God was there. These next days remind us of God's presence in all of those times that we think God is nowhere near. May we come together and remember God's presence in our own lives as we remember Jesus's last days here amongst us.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tuesday in Holy Week.

"O God, by the passion of your blessed Son you made an instrument of shameful death to be for us the means of life: Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."

Psalm 71:1-12Isaiah 49:1-61 Corinthians 1:18-31, and Mark 11:15-19

We tend to think of Jesus as a relatively peaceful guy. It's hard not to think of him this way since we only know him by his stories, and most stories involve him healing someone or teaching some kind of a parable. Even the portrayals of his confrontations with the leaders seem low key. The image of a peaceful and loving Jesus is an easy one to perpetuate since there's not much else out there in scripture.

Then, though, we get the account of Jesus's visit to the temple after his entry into Jerusalem. If there's a single account of Jesus absolutely losing it somewhere in the Bible, this story has got to be it. There's not really any way to imagine his overturning the tables as a peaceful act or one that was meant to encourage peacefulness and stability. Instead his actions were meant to upset the status quo and to make the temple, once again, a place for worship and holiness instead of a place where money changers might charge an extra fee or the price of a dove gets raised is the salesperson realizes that someone really needs that dove for an upcoming sacrifice.

When Jesus overturned the tables in the temple he was making a statement about what was happening in his world; he saw a need for a change and sought to make that change happen. He recognized the injustice and the unfairness of his world, and he acted on it, even to his own peril. The turning over of the tables in the temple was enough of a slap in the face to upset the leadership, and they continued to seek out ways to kill him.

There are lots of folks who have given their life for causes that were just. I don't know if any of us will ever be called to such a life. Even if we're not called to give our life, hopefully we will have the courage to stand up for what is right and just when we're called to, even if it is upsetting to the status quo.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Monday in Holy Week.

"Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit one God, for ever and ever. Amen."

Psalm 36:5-10Isaiah 42:1-9Hebrews 11:39-12:3, and John 12:1-11

Even though our gospel for today is out of the chronological order of John's gospel, it's an integral part of our understanding of Jesus's ministry, the meaning of his death and resurrection, and our response to these things. As the gospel goes this story comes even before Jesus's entry into Jerusalem, but the symbolism of his being anointed for burial cannot be overlooked this week.

Within this passage I'm always intrigued by the line from Jesus in response to Judas when he says, "You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me." This strikes me for a couple of reasons. One of the reasons is the editorializing the evangelist takes on to remind us that Judas was a thief who didn't care about the poor. Another reason, though, is that it brings to light the tension we sometimes feel between worship and mission. More specifically, it makes us think about what it means to worship God and what it means to serve God's people.

There are people who have struggled mightily with this issue, and there are churches who struggle with it, also. I think the questions become, "Can we fully worship God if we're not doing the work of the Church?" or "What if we do good things, but we are not worshipping God?"  This can stir up some great conversation about what it means to be a Christian. Is it just about worship? Is it just about living how Jesus calls us to live? What kind of balance must we strike in order to have a more whole life?

I don't know the answer, but it's one we should keep at the forefront of our thoughts as we continue through this week on our journey to the Cross and afterward.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Saturday in the Fifth Week of Lent.

"O Lord, in your goodness you bestow abundant graces on your elect: Look with favor, we entreat you, upon those who in these Lenten days are being prepared for Holy Baptism, and grant them the help of your protection; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."

Psalm 85:1-7Ezekiel 37:21-28, and John 11:45-53

Ah, another collect about baptism here in the final days of Lent. This one is a little less specific than the one we had on Tuesday. It addresses, though, what it is in the nature of God that makes baptism possible, and that is God's "abundant grace."

When I think about the rite of baptism, I can't help but think about the role of the people who are not being baptized, those of us who have already been baptized. We put a great deal of emphasis on the person or persons being baptized, and that's important. However, those of us who are witnessing the baptism also perform an important act on those days alongside the promise to support the newly baptized in their life in Christ.

In those moments before the baptism we renew our own baptismal vows, recognizing that somewhere along the way we've stumbled, too, and we've not exactly held up the end of our covenant with God. God's grace abounds, though, and we're able to renew our promises to God. This can be a humbling moment for us because it puts us into the position of receiving a second or third chance that we feel like we might not deserve. What's wonderful about God's abundant grace, though, is that we don't deserve it, yet if we're willing to open ourselves up to it even after we've gone astray, it is there to be poured upon us.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Friday in the Fifth Week of Lent.

"O Lord, you relieve our necessity out of the abundance of your great riches: Grant that we may accept with joy the salvation you bestow, and manifest it to all the world by the quality of our lives: through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."

Psalm 18:1-7Jeremiah 20:7-13, and John 10:31-42

The scenes depicted in John's gospel, and all the gospels really, of Jesus in the midst of crowds, especially hostile crowds, are always intriguing to me. The lesson for today makes me think of someone who is quick and sneaky when it states, "they tried to arrest him again, but he escaped from their hands." How did one man escape from the hands of many who wanted to arrest him? If we're too believe the account here, we're talking about a single person who resisted arrest from at least a few folks, and certainly he didn't just twist his arm to avoid them. I imagine the event that inspired this passage was much more energetic and intense than a simple reading can get across.

In this reading we have Jesus in front of a crowd that is prepared to stone him for blasphemy, and I can't imagine that being a low-key moment. Jesus asks if he'll be stoned for doing good deeds; he's told they will stone him for proclaiming to be God's Son. Of course this worried them; their world was being changed immediately before them by someone who was using their own texts to challenge them.

Even today, though, it can be easy to be hostile toward the teachings of Jesus. It's easy to pick and choose what parts we want to follow and how we want to follow them. Turning the other cheek, for example, is one that I'm willing to ignore; unfortunately, I can't.

Hopefully we can always find a way to be open to all of Jesus's teachings. If so, we just might realize that it will help to change the world around us.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Thursday in the Fifth Week of Lent.

"O God, you have called us to be your children, and have promised that those who suffer whith Christ will be heirs with him of your glory: Arm us with such trust in him that we may ask no rest from his demands and have no fears in his service; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."

Psalm 105:4-11Genesis 17:1-8, and John 8:51-59

Of all the readings that we've had this season, these are some of the few that seem to revolve a clear and central theme. That theme, of course, is the ancestry from Abraham. Our Genesis reading tells of God's covenant with Abraham; the psalm implores the children of Abraham to seek out God always; and in the gospel reading we hear Jesus say, "Before Abraham was, I am."

Each of these can be reminders to us of the common heritage we share with our Jewish sisters and brothers. Today when I was at a nursing home communion I had a chance to speak with a resident there who is Jewish. We talked about her upcoming seder meal for Passover, and we talked about the Holy Week celebration of the Christian church. She told me about baking matzoh bread and hiding a piece for the children to find. In that conversation I remembered some of the seder meals I had participated in during high school, college, and seminary, and I remembered the powerful link that I felt participating in such a rich tradition that means so much to our own faith.

This weekend we'll celebrate Jesus's arrival in Jerusalem for the Passover feast, and I'm thinking about all of my Jewish friends who are preparing for their own Passover celebration that will being on April 19th. In my mind it's pretty cool that we get to celebrate our great feasts at the same time

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Wednesday in the Fifth Week of Lent.

"Almighty God our heavenly Father, renew in us the gifts of your mercy; increase our faith, strengthen our hope, enlighten our understanding, widen our charity, and make us ready to serve you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."

The story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego is one I remember from my days singing in the children's choir at my grandfather's church. I don't remember the song (if there even was one) that helped me learn it, or if I just remember the story because of the names of the young men in the story. It's a story, though, of their great faith in the midst of persecution and God's deliverance of them.

Canticle 13, which is one that we sing at St. Paul's each time we have morning prayer, is a song of praise that is attributed to them. The story goes that it was this hymn that they sang to God as the fires of the furnace burned around them. This is from an apocryphal book, and it's a great one to have included in our liturgy.

None of us can really know what being in the presence of God will be like. This canticle, though, gives us an image of God that really can't be shaken, and I am filled with great hope every time we sing it.