What shall we say, O God?

Images of the Passion, 2

The entrance to Jerusalem (Palm Sunday)

File:Brooklyn Museum - The Lord Wept (Le Seigneur pleura) - James Tissot.jpg

Anna and Caiaphas

File:Brooklyn Museum - Annas and Caiaphas (Anne et Caïphe) - James Tissot.jpg

Barabbas

File:Brooklyn Museum - Barabbas - James Tissot.jpg

What shall we say, O God, at the smiling face of Barabbas?
What shall we say about all those who game the system?
Those who say you do not see?
Those who go free at the expense of the innocent?

What shall we say about the injustices of our time?
the weak who are preyed upon,
the families that are separated,
the children who fear,
the debtors imprisoned?

What shall we say about the deceivers in power,
the manipulators and liars
who know how to crucify their enemies?

What shall we say about the one who comes to Jerusalem
knowing the truth of the human heart?
What shall we say about the shepherd who offers himself as the lamb,
the royal son who wears a crown of thorns?

What shall we say?

We have nothing to say,
only our prayers to offer,
our broken pride,
and our dependence on your priceless mercy.

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https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABrooklyn_Museum_-_The_Lord_Wept_(Le_Seigneur_pleura)_-_James_Tissot.jpg James Tissot [No restrictions or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABrooklyn_Museum_-_Annas_and_Caiaphas_(Anne_et_Ca%C3%AFphe)_-_James_Tissot.jpg James Tissot [No restrictions or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABrooklyn_Museum_-_Barabbas_-_James_Tissot.jpg James Tissot [No restrictions or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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A threat to the order of the world

File:Paruzzaro, San Marcello 035.JPG

Watching for the Morning of March 25, 2018

Year B

Palm Sunday / The Sunday of the Passion

Sunday is both festive and sobering. It begins with that great procession into the church waving palm branches, the crucifer bearing the cross and pounding on the sanctuary door crying out “Open to me the gates of righteousness,” and the usher flinging wide the doors and declaring “This is the gate of the Lord; The righteous shall enter through them.” The pastor exclaims, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone” and the congregation responds “This is the Lord’s doing, it is marvelous in our eyes.”

The organ swells, the hymn begins, “All glory, laud, and honor to you, redeemer, king.” The crowd enters, evoking the great drama of Jesus entering Jerusalem and the coronation rituals of Israel’s ancient kings. The choir will sing something loud and boisterous. And, as the music fades away and we settle into our seats, we will hear that this Jesus will be crowned with thorns.

We have come to Jerusalem. Our Lenten fast is nearly over. What lies ahead of us in the week that follows are the sacred days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the Great Vigil of Easter, and Easter morn.

We have heard so many tragic stories lately, it is hard for this story of Jesus to move us anew: Young people with their phones videoing their flight from a gunman. Images of endless rubble in Syria. War upon war in the region. Random bombs exploding in the streets of Austin. More school shootings. Young people marching and hateful speech attacking them. Presidential lies. Congressional lies. Assassinations. Corruptions. Corporate malfeasance. Porn stars on the nightly news. It will almost be a relief to hear a story as relatively simple as the story of Jesus’ passion.

But it is not a small story; it is the whole human story in one terrible story: perfect goodness hated, tortured and driven from the world.

Except he is not driven from the world. The grave is empty.

The story we tell of Jesus’ final hours is not meant to make us sad. It is not told to evoke sympathy. It is told to reveal the callous brutality of power. It is a mirror on the human race, a mirror on the human soul. Something is wrong in us. Yet even more importantly, the story is told to reveal the heart of God. God does not answer violence with violence. God does not answer hate with hate. All our cruelty and sorrows God willingly bears. The only judgment here is what we must face about ourselves.

Abut us and about God, but most importantly this story tells us about this Jesus. Though the world judged him a fraud, God vindicated him. He is condemned as a sinner. He is crucified as a threat to the order of the world. But God voids the sentence. The tomb is empty. The words of Jesus stand true. His deeds abide.

We will tell the story Sunday, but it is too much for one day. So we will tell it more slowly beginning next Thursday until we are prepared to walk into the light.

This Sunday we turn to the passion narrative that will occupy us on the three days from Maundy Thursday to the Vigil of Easter. Daily verses and reflections continue to be posted at Holy Seasons.

The Prayer for March 25, 2018

Almighty God,
Jesus, your anointed,
walked the holy path to Jerusalem and the cross,
faithful in all his steps,
that your new creation might be born in us.
Wrap us ever in your eternal mercy
and guide us in all our ways that we may be faithful to you and to all.

The Texts for March 25, 2018

Processional Gospel Mark 11:1-11
“’Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it.’” – Jesus arranges to enter Jerusalem as the kings of old, and a great crowd responds with cries of acclamation.

Processional Psalmody: Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
“Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord.” – A song of salvation from an ancient festival in Israel as the community enters through the gates into the temple, rejoicing in God’s deliverance.

Gospel Mark 14:1-16:8
“It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him.” – The climax and center of Mark’s Gospel is the sequence of events in Jerusalem when Jesus is arrested and crucified.

Reading: Philippians 2:5-11
“He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.”
– An early Christian hymn reciting the humiliation and exaltation of Jesus. It is used by Paul to remind the community of the mind of Christ and to call them to abide in his Spirit.

The appointed reading for Sunday include also Isaiah 50:4-9a (“I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard.”) and Psalm 31:9-16 (“They plot to take my life. But I trust in you, O Lord.”). The appointed Mark text is from 14:1-15:47 or an abbreviated portion, Mark 15:1-39, (40-47).

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AParuzzaro%2C_San_Marcello_035.JPG Saint Marcello church in Paruzzaro [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

We are their children

Sunday Evening

Palm Sunday / Sunday of the Passion

Mark 14:1-16:8

File:A Woman Praying over the Dead Body of Christ LACMA AC1998.240.2.jpg14:39 Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”

It’s pretty clear from the Greek that the Gospel of Mark was composed as an oral Gospel. When you listen to someone tell the story of something that has happened to them, it has a much different rhythm than a written document. To put it simply, the stories we tell tend toward extensive run-on sentences joined by the words ‘and’ and ‘but’: “we went here and we did this and we did that and then this happened and then somebody said this and then we all agreed to that….”

You can see this in the Greek of Mark’s Gospel. Translators take out all those ands and buts and turn it into a written document, but it is a living voice, the story of a community, the story that is our story. When Mark names Simon of Cyrene you can see the congregation nod, because they know him or his family. When Mark names Mary the mother of young James and Joses, you can hear the murmurs of appreciation for these men and their mother.

When Mark tells us of Peter challenged by a servant girl and trying to deflect her attention by going into the outer court, and you hear the challenge growing as others begin to question it, you know there are people present in the listening congregation who have stood in that courtyard – or their parents have stood there. And they know about Peter’s understandable but unthinkable betrayal, and they are filled with appreciation for the grace of Jesus who knew this would happen and who received Peter back. And they know what Peter has meant to them all.

When Mark tells his story, there are people in the congregation who have faced that ultimate test and failed. And others with friends and family who did not fail, but were crucified by the Romans or became the victims of violence from their neighbors and friends. No one holds it against Peter. It is our story. And it magnifies Jesus.

He died with eyes open. He died with courage and strength and dignity. He is not beaten into silence before the High Priest or before Pilate; he is possessed of that inner stillness that knows when to speak and when words are of no use.

He died with honor, so that even the Roman centurion had to admit he seemed like a son of the gods – or, as they all now know – the Son of God, the beloved, the anointed one.

He died with courage and endurance in the face of great suffering, refusing the drugged wine. He died with a confession of faith on his lips – the psalm the begins “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” that confesses “You are the Holy One, enthroned, the Praise of Israel” and prays “deliver me from the lion’s mouth” and declares “Let the ends of the earth pay heed and turn to the LORD.” It is not a cry of abandonment, but a prayer of faith and trust.

He died with courage and dignity and only the leaders of Judah shamed themselves, snatching him in the dark though he taught openly in the temple, plotting to act by deceit and trickery rather than nobly in the open, sending thugs in the night rather than acting openly in the day, abusing an innocent man.

He showed himself honorable in a dishonorable world. He showed himself true in a deceiving world. He showed himself compassionate in a brutal world. He alone merited the royal purple, though they put it on him only to taunt and torture. He alone wears a true crown, though they gave him a crown of thorns.

He was not a fool. He was not surprised by what happened. He knew what was coming. He knew that one in the inner circle would betray him. He knew that all his inner circle would abandon him. He knew that his body would be broken like the bread and he would not drink wine again until that day when God’s kingdom dawns in its fullness. He knew Peter’s denial.

He was not a fool. He knew what was to come, but he trusted God would use this to reclaim and redeem his rebellious world. He sought God’s will not his own safety.

All this is in the story Mark tells. A living story for a living community. A community who knows that the empty tomb inspired terror at first. But Jesus went before them. The risen Christ met them. God voided the sentence imposed by the Jerusalem council and by Rome. God voided the judgment that Jesus was a liar. There was no mortification in the tomb, no decaying of the sinful flesh. God raised Jesus, declaring him righteous – raising him as the firstborn of the dead, the first of the resurrection when all humanity is judged and the world made new.

And that little band of refugees and survivors that listens to Mark tell his story, that little band that gathers around a shared table, that little band gathered in allegiance to Jesus and to one another, that little band is an anticipation of what is to come when all creation bows before the holy and righteous one.

And we are their children, gathered around the same table, telling the same story, and kneeling before the same Lord, trusting God’s declaration that he is the one who reigns and shall reign over a world where the debt of our sins is wiped away and we inhabit once more the garden world God made.

 

Image: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AA_Woman_Praying_over_the_Dead_Body_of_Christ_LACMA_AC1998.240.2.jpg

Kenosis

Friday

Philippians 2:5-11

File:Kirche San Michele de Murato, Korsika - Der Sündenfall (die Schlange reicht Eva die Frucht vom Baum der Erkenntnis).jpg

San Michele de Murato, Corse – Fall of man

6Though he was in the form of God, [he] did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.

The Greek word for Christ’s emptying of himself is ‘kenosis’. In seminary we wore the cloak of learning with theological jargon that identified us as members of an elite class. Every educational discipline does the same thing. We use technical terms and language to define ourselves as members of a special class of the knowledgeable.

It isn’t just academics that love this illusion of being special. Those who work with their hands mock those ‘eggheads’ who can’t fix a thing. We mock the ‘fruits and nuts’ of California as they the ‘rubes’ of the heartland. So-called liberals mock so-called conservatives – and vice-versa – as if they were utterly ignorant of the most basic truths. Abortion, sexuality, guns, pick a topic, any topic, and we lift ourselves over the ‘others’.

In a world of constant king-of-the-hill, of a perpetual squabble over the pecking order, Jesus is among us as one who emptied himself.

And then we use him to lift ourselves over others – because we know how to use the word kenosis, or because we are true believers of one kind or another.

Christ emptied himself. He who is Lord of all becomes the slave/servant of God. He who is master of all accepts a master. He who is bound by none becomes bound to all. The one who is the incarnation of the eternal word of God bends to wash feet. I am among you as one who serves.”

We all want to escape the servant class. We want to be our own boss. We hunger for freedom from, not servant to. We promise that Christ will make you free, without carefully pondering the sentence that freedom comes from abiding in Jesus’ teaching, from letting Jesus’ teaching and spirit be your guide and – shall we say – master.

He emptied himself. And we struggle mightily to turn that submission into some kind of self-assertion, some kind of courageous individuation, some bold and exalted lead by example. But it is what it is, submission to the will of another.

Our forebears chose themselves when they clutched at the fruit of the one forbidden tree – the tree that was sure to grant us knowledge not only of life’s beauty and joys (which they already knew) but its sorrows and horrors, the fruit that promised we could be like God who knows every woe. Is there a child killed God does not see? Is there a woman abused, a man tortured, a body desiccated by hunger or disease that God does not know?   A hellish cruelty God does not taste? Ah, but we will be like God? We will be our own gods!

Jesus doesn’t reach out to pluck that fruit. He doesn’t grab and grasp. (I don’t know why the translators use ‘exploit’ for a word used of robbery and rape, the seizing of a prize.) Jesus doesn’t seek to be as God. He chooses to be a slave/servant of God. He chooses to be what our first parents were created to be.

Jesus declared that the reign of God was dawning. And everywhere he went he embodied that reign: forgiving sins, healing, freeing, restoring, uniting, reconciling. It was a journey of submission to the will of another, not the assertion of his own will. Every fiber of our being wants to go the other way. We are children of the first Adam not children of the new Adam. Still he stands before us as the completely faithful one, the one we crucified but God raised, the one who bears perfect witness that the true and imperishable life is found in relationship to the eternal one rather than submission to our passing passions and desires.

We are children of the first Adam. But God has invited us to be a child of the new Adam, to be united with his son, to die with him and rise to newness of life. God invites us to bend the knee now before the one to whom all creation shall ultimately bow. God invites us to enter now into the glory that awaits.

It is an invitation we do not deserve. But he is among us as one who serves.

 

Photo: By Dnalor 01 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“I stand at the door and knock”

Watching for the Morning of March 29, 2015

Year B

Palm Sunday / The Sunday of the Passion

File:Northwestern College Chapel Door.jpgSunday, the young person carrying the cross representing Christ in our midst, will leads us in procession from our picnic area up to the sanctuary, She will stop at the closed doors of the church, knock loudly and cry out with the words of the psalm: Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord.”

It is a symbolic gesture that reminds us of Jesus coming to Jerusalem to claim the allegiance of the city. Jesus’ arrival on a donkey amidst shouts of acclamation was a claim to kingship, following the ancient pattern of Judah’s kings coming up from the Jordan and knocking at the door of the temple.

With those three loud knocks the usher will throw open the doors so that the cross and the crowd may enter. He will answer the crucifer’s request with the words that are also from our psalm:

“This is the gate of the Lord;
the righteous shall enter through them.”

I will call out to the crowd:

“The stone which the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone!”

And the people will answer:

“This is the Lord’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes!”

In that simple yet profound action lies the most important question for any congregation’s life: Is Christ welcome in our midst? Is our door open to him? Do we recognize him as the Lord of our sanctuary? Do we rejoice in his presence?

The answer to that question is never truly clear. Every parish, of course, claims to belong to Christ. But what we claim does not always match what we are.  Jerusalem was the city of God. The leaders of the city and temple believed that all they did was for the glory of God. But the story that follows is one of rejection and murder. The Christ is slain, not welcomed.

Palm Sunday – the Sunday of the Passion – is great fun. The gathering before worship with coffee and hot cross buns, the children escorting the cross and the energy of the procession with palms, the singing of “All Glory, Laud and Honor” as we crowd into the sanctuary – it’s delightful. But it all contains a serious question. And that question is not only whether the congregation receives Christ with joy, but whether each of us welcomes him as our true and eternal king. For the kingship of Jesus is not like the British monarch – good theater, parades, and a benevolent smile on a variety of good works – Christ has come to reign. Christ has come to do the actual governing: to be the prime minister, the house of Lords and the house of commons, to set policy and practice.

Christ knocks at the door to claim our allegiance. Christ has come to govern our hearts and our lives. Christ has come to make us sons and daughters of God.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock

For our daily Lent devotion from Los Altos Lutheran church, and for sermons and other information on Lent see our Lent site.

Our theme this Lent is Renewal, and for the final week in Lent: Renewing the World with Faith, Hope and Love

 

The Prayer for March 29, 2015

As Jesus came to Jerusalem, O God,
the crowds were overcome with hope and joy.
Watch over us,
renewing our lives and our world
that we may receive him as our true Lord and King
and prove faithful to him and to all
in lives of Faith. Hope and Love;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever

The Texts for March 29, 2015

Processional Gospel Mark 11:1-11
“’Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it.’” – Jesus arranges to enter Jerusalem as the kings of old, and a great crowd responds with cries of acclamation.

Processional Psalmody: Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
“Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord.” – A song of salvation from an ancient festival in Israel as the community enters through the gates into the temple, rejoicing in God’s deliverance.

Gospel Mark 14:1-16:8
“It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him.” – The climax and center of Mark’s Gospel is the sequence of events in Jerusalem when Jesus is arrested and crucified.

Reading: Philippians 2:5-11
“He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.”
– An early Christian hymn reciting the humiliation and exaltation of Jesus. It is used by Paul to remind the community of the mind of Christ and to call them to abide in his Spirit.

 

Photo By Micah Taylor (originally posted to Flickr as Knock) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons