Shame, but Glory

File:Brooklyn Museum - The First Nail (Le premier clou) - James Tissot.jpgGood Friday
March 30, 2018

We have come to the middle of our three day observance of the cross and resurrection. Last night we heard the story of the Last Supper when Jesus stripped himself of his outer clothing, wrapped a towel around his waist, and bent to wash the feet of his followers.

They were gathered at Passover, when Israel remembers how God saved them in the night that death swept through Egypt and touched every home. The royal throne in Egypt had not only oppressed the people of Israel who had come to their land as refugees, but grew fearful of them and commanded the death of Israel’s male children. The midwives refused the order to kill the infants at birth, reporting that the Israelite women were like animals and gave birth before they could arrive. So the command was given that all male infants be thrown into the Nile – food for the crocodiles.

It was Egypt’s war against the children of Israel – a people that God called “my son” – and their refusal to let them go, that led ultimately to the death of their own sons. There is a price to pay for hardness of heart. But by the blood of a lamb, God protected the Israelites. And in that night of Egypt’s sorrow, they were able to flee.

The week-long festival of Passover celebrates that moment when imperial power was overthrown and God’s people gained their freedom. It is why the Roman imperial forces were so nervous during the celebration of Passover in Jerusalem. Vast crowds came to the city to celebrate this moment of national liberation and Rome feared the spark of rebellion.

When Jesus arrives in the city, and people are crying out “hosanna” as if he were a king, the powers that be sent a mob to grab him in the night and hand him over to the authorities as a rebel threat to the leadership of the nation and the might of Rome.

The punishment for rebels was crucifixion. It was a terrible way to die, but a thoroughly effective way to quash any challenge to the ruling powers. The victim was stripped not only of his clothes but any shred of dignity. It is why we end the service last night with the stripping of the altar.

Jesus is abused, tortured, mocked, scourged with a whip that has sharp bits of metal inserted into the ends of the thongs. He is driven through the streets for people to look on with horror or abuse, and impaled along the public roadway so that all can see the consequences of resisting those in power.

It is compelling to ponder how this Galilean healer and teacher should so incite the fear and hostility of Judah’s leaders that they would hand him over to the Roman authorities to be crucified. Why is Jesus such a threat to the way of the world? And why do we not see him as a threat in our time?

It is interesting to consider that, in his time, Martin Luther King, Jr. was regarded as such a dangerous man, and so widely disliked and hated. But now he is a safe and tame national hero.

We have done something of the same thing to Jesus. We have made him safe and tame. Jesus has become the defender of polite society rather than a challenge to it. What he said about the care of the poor and vulnerable, what he said about those outcasts on the margins of society, what he said about the treatment of those society sees as “sinners”, what he said about the dangers of wealth and greed, what he said about our concern for honor from society rather than honor from God – all that seems safely packaged up and stored on the shelf. But Good Friday reminds us that Jesus was not so safe and domesticated. He wasn’t interested in us being religious; he called for us to do justice and mercy. And it got him killed.

Think how easily protesters of injustice are attacked as troublemakers, whether it’s the Black Lives Matter movement or high school kids protesting the proliferation of military weapons in civil society. The police beat the protestors at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago as brutally as they beat the striking coal miners in West Virginia in another era. The powerful family of Caiaphas wasn’t going to hold back against a Galilean peasant who said that debts needed to be forgiven.

The church has helped to domesticate Jesus by making the story of Good Friday a story of personal sin and redemption. We have taken this complicated and powerful story and turned it into a rather simple religious formula: we are sinners, God is righteous, God’s righteousness demands that we be punished, Jesus takes the punishment that we deserve, if we accept his forgiveness we get to go to heaven.

I understand this idea. I understand the truth of it. There is, indeed, truth here. Jesus does take upon himself the judgment that belongs on us. There is redemption and forgiveness in these outstretched arms. But it is much more complicated than such a simple formula.

There is a profound difference between thinking about the suffering of Jesus as part of an abstract equation, and truly seeing the horror of what was done to him. And it doesn’t matter that Jesus was innocent. It’s not like it was a shame about Jesus but those other two guys deserved what they got. No one should be crucified. Something has gone deeply wrong in the human heart that we are capable of such cruelty.

Something has gone deeply wrong in the human heart that we can fail to see the humanity of others. Something has gone deeply wrong when we can write off people in categories like immigrants, criminals, Nazis or Jews. Something is deeply wrong when American citizens get rounded up and put in interment camps because they are of Japanese descent. Something is deeply wrong in the human heart when “homosexuals” and “communists” and “Jews” are rounded up for the gas chamber. Something is deeply wrong when people are classified as “enemies” and “terrorists” allowing them to be tortured or bombed. The crucifixion of Jesus is a mirror of the human heart. And what we see there should make us ashamed.

This is where we can talk about redemption. It’s not that there are some black marks in my record I need Jesus to erase; there is something broken in me. And it is in that moment when I see that something is broken in me – then I am ready to truly hear Jesus say “Father, forgive them.” Then I can understand what redemption truly means.

God has seen the worst face of humanity, and still shows love to us. He has suffered our shame. He has carried our burden. Christ on the cross has shown us the dark secrets of the human heart and the bright love of God.

Jesus has offered us his Spirit. He has given us his word. He has shown us the path. He has promised to take us on this journey of being born anew, born from above, born of the Spirit.

He has promised us life and salvation – that is to say, he has promised us healing and wholeness. He has promised to come and reign in our hearts and in our world – and he is offering to come and reign in us now.

The cross is shame, but glory. It is a terrible reflection of the human soul, but a wondrous reflection of God’s love. It is our new beginning. It is new beginning for the world.

Amen

+   +   +

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

From darkness into light

Watching for Easter

Year B

Maundy Thursday / Good Friday / The Vigil of Easter / Easter Sunday

HeQi_036-medium

He is Risen, He Qi

We gather to begin our observance of the three days on Thursday evening. There is a prelude that night and a confession and forgiveness – but the dismissal to “Go in peace,” and the postlude doesn’t happen until the end of the liturgy on Saturday evening. This is one great celebration in several acts over the three days.

Thursday we begin with a confession that connects to the ancient practice of the church when, on this night, those who had been under the public discipline of the church were reconciled. It is a good word with which to begin: we walk through these days as those who have been cleansed. “Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be white as snow.” We are gathered as a forgiven and reconciled people – a forgiving and reconciling people.

And so in the Thursday liturgy the forgiven/reconciled, forgiving/reconciling people hear Jesus speak the new commandment to love one another. We hear the splashing water and wrestle with that image of the living Christ at our feet as the paradigm of our life with one another. We encounter the Christ whose body is broken like bread, whose blood is poured out like wine. And we see the altar stripped as Christ was stripped of all honor and led away in the night.

Friday in that last hour of Jesus’ life we hear the prophet Isaiah speak of the one who was wounded for our transgression and John describe the one who was lifted up in the hour the Passover lambs were slain.  We listen and we adore and we pray for a world in need of his voice.

Saturday evening we gather to follow the light of the world through the darkness, we hear the great stories of salvation – and water again, this time the washing of baptism with all its echoes of passing through the Red Sea out from slavery into freedom. And then the Cry goes out: “Christ is Risen!” and the table of Maundy Thursday becomes the banquet of heaven, the foretaste of the feast to come.

In the full light of Easter morning we sing the great hymns that belong to a people who have come through the waters from darkness into light, from the realm of death into the realm of life.

In Detroit, one year, when the girls were young, I stopped at a party store for milk on my way home after the evening service on Good Friday. The man in front of me bought a bottle of cognac, received his change, and started to walk away when turned back to ask for two glasses. He was given two small plastic disposable cups, presumably to sit in a car in the lot and drink with his girl.

I was struck by the contrast that night between the faith community gathered in prayer on this holiest of days, and the guys hanging and drinking outside the store knowing only this was a Friday night. One group praying for the life of the world and the other thinking it was found in a bottle.

Most of the world will not care what we do these three days. But the one they do not see is the world’s true light and life.

The prayers and texts for this week

Maundy Thursday:

In the night of his betrayal, O God,
Jesus bent to wash feet
revealing your will and your way.
Watch over us,
renewing our lives
that, in union with Christ,
we may prove faithful to you and to all.

First Reading: Exodus 12:1-14 (The Passover)
Psalmody: Psalm 116:12-19 (I will lift up the cup of salvation)
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (In the night in which he was betrayed…)
Gospel: John 13:1-17, 31b-35 (A give you a new commandment)

Good Friday

In the desolation of the Cross, O God,
you watched over Jesus,
and he kept faith with you.
Watch over us,
renewing our lives and our world
that, by the mercy of Christ,
we may prove faithful to you and to all.

First Reading: Isaiah 52:13-53:12 (He was bounded for our transgressions)
Passion Reading: John 18:1-19:42 (The passion according to John)

Good Friday Evening Prayer – Tenebrae

Eternal Father,
in the shadows of the night we hear the echo of your voice.
Beyond the hammer and the nails,
beyond the jeering and the cries,
beyond the anger and the hardness of heart,
we hear the voice “Father, forgive them.”
Help us hear the prayer, trust its promise, and know its healing.

First Reading: Isaiah 53:4-6 (He was wounded for our transgressions)
Second Reading: 1 Peter 2:21b-25 (He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross)
Seven Last Words:
Luke 23:33-34: (Father forgive them)
Luke 23:39-43: (Today you will be with me in paradise)
John 19:23-27: (Woman behold your son)
Matthew 27:45-46: (My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?)
John 19:28-29: (I Thirst)
John 19:30: (It is finished)
Luke 23:46: (Father, into you hands I commend my Spirit)

Holy Saturday / Easter Vigil

In the night of his Passover, O God, you watched over Jesus
and he kept faith with you.
Watch over us,
renewing our lives and our world
that, by your Spirit,
we may be born anew
in lives faithful to you and to all.

First Reading: Genesis 1.1-2.2 (The Story of Creation)
Second Reading: Selections from Genesis 6-9 (The Flood) [whole text, Genesis 6:5-9:15]
Third Reading: Genesis 22.1-14 (The Binding of Isaac)
Fourth Reading: Exodus 14.5-14:30 (The Exodus)
Fifth Reading: Ezekiel 37.1-14 (The Valley of Dry Bones)
Sixth Reading: Selections from Exodus 11 and 12 (The Passover)
Seventh Reading: Daniel 3.1-29 (The Fiery Furnace)
Epistle: Romans 6:3-5 (We have been buried with him in baptism)
Gospel: Mark 16:1-8 (The women run away from the empty tomb in fear and trembling)

Easter Sunday Morning

In the empty tomb, O God,
you bear witness to Jesus
that his word and his deeds are true,
and encounter all people with the promise of life.
Watch over us,
renewing our lives and our world
that, all heaven and earth
may be united in faithfulness and joy.

First Reading: Isaiah 25:6-9 (Isaiah’s vision of all people gathered at one table)
Psalmody: Psalm 118:1-2, 14-16, 22-24 (The stone that the builders rejected)
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 (Paul’s list of the witnesses to the resurrection)
Gospel: John 20:1-18 (The race to the tomb, and the risen Jesus meets Mary )

 

 

Image: He, Qi. He is Risen, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=46117 [retrieved April 1, 2015]. Original source: heqigallery.com.

Time to plow

Watching for Ash Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Monday

File:A Stiff Pull.jpgWednesday we begin our Lenten journey, our spiritual pilgrimage to the three days in which the great mystery of God’s healing and reconciling work in Christ are celebrated. The “holy city” to which we travel are those events in which Christ kneels to wash our feet, breaks with us the bread of life, is arrested and stripped of all honor and glory, is debased and broken upon the cross, and laid in a tomb. The work of God to heal and reconcile and save our sorry world is brutally rejected. No single act could reveal the collective rebellion of humanity from the way of God than this. Among us, when the emissary of a king is so treated, it is cause for war. But God chooses not to take revenge. He raises Jesus from the dead, bearing witness to us that Jesus is the perfectly faithful one whose words and deeds are true.

We have to prepare ourselves to experience again that story. It’s not that we are cleansing ourselves by some outward ritual to participate in a sacred rite – we are tilling the ground, breaking up the soil of our hearts, so that we will be ready to hear and receive all the power and grace of this message – so that it can take root in good soil and bear abundant fruit in us.

We need time to get ready. We need to plow the ground. We need to pull the stumps and clear the weeds.

Ash Wednesday is the first step of this spiritual journey. It points the direction we must travel. Repentance is not about guilt; it is the recognition that we need to turn back to the path, renew the journey, remember the stunning grace of God and live it anew.

The Prayer for Ash Wednesday

By your prophets, O God, you call us to repentance and faith
leading us on a journey into wholeness and life.
Watch over us, renewing our lives and our world
that, abiding in your grace, we may prove faithful to you and to all

The Texts for Ash Wednesday, 2015

First Reading: Isaiah 58:1-12 (We are using the alternate this year)
“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?” – After the return from exile in Babylon, life was hard and Jerusalem and its temple continued to lie in ruins. The people complained that God did not respond to their prayers. The prophet challenges the meaning of such prayers when the people fail to embody the life of justice and mercy to which God called them.

Psalmody: Psalm 103:8-14
“He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our wickedness.” – In our parish, we use the appointed Psalm 51 (the famous cry of repentance by David after he has been confronted by the prophet Nathan over the murder of Uriah and the taking of Bathsheba ) in the confession at the beginning of our liturgy. When we come to the time for the psalm we hear the poet speak of the tender love and faithfulness of God who has “removed our sins from us” “as far as the east is from the west.”

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:1 (Appointed: 5:20b-6:10)
“We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
– Paul calls his troubled congregation to live within the reconciling work of God in Christ.

Gospel Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.” – Jesus declares at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount that, in order to enter into God’s dawning reign, our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. Now, having spoken about the meaning of the commandments (in contrast to the way they are taught by the scribes) Jesus turns to the acts of piety for which the Pharisees were known. Our prayer, fasting and charity must be done not for public acclaim but to please God.

Assigned First Reading: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
“Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people.” – Facing a terrible plague of locusts, the prophet calls for the people to turn to God, marking themselves with dust and ashes, rending their hearts that God may see their desperate plight and come to their aid.

 

Photo: Peter Henry Emerson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Rejoice

Saturday

Matthew 28

File:Notre-Dame de Paris, relief of holy women.jpg

Relief of holy women in Notre-Dame de Paris

9Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.

The word ‘greetings’ could just as easily be translated ‘Hello’ or ‘Hi’. I get a charge out of the idea of Jesus meeting these terrified, confused women, running from an encounter with angels and Roman soldiers, possessed of a message that the unthinkable has happened, with a “Yo!” or “Hey!” The Greek word is the customary greeting of the time.

But the word has a literal meaning: ‘rejoice’. We have forgotten that ‘goodbye’ comes from “God be with ye.” It no longer echoes with a sense of blessing. And perhaps this word here translated “greetings” is nothing more than that. But can it be that in the mouth of Jesus, in this first morning of the new world, it means no more than “Hello”?! Does it not require that we hear him say to us “Rejoice”? What other word will work on this day when the breach between heaven and earth is overcome, declaring once and for all that we were made for life and not death? What other word will work in this moment when every word and deed of Jesus, rejected by the world, has been vindicated by God? Can it mean anything less than “rejoice”?

Why should we who also live in the light of the resurrection settle for a mere “Hi” when we greet each other? It is tradition throughout the Easter season for the faithful to greet each other with the words “Christ is Risen.” “He is Risen indeed!” We rarely hear that now outside the formal context of the worship service, but it should be our greeting. Or, at the very least, “Rejoice!”

Imagine this message spreading like wildfire beginning that first Sunday morning as people went forth into their daily lives after the Sabbath. For fear of the authorities it was probably more of an excited whisper than a shout – but imagine the energy and excitement as the news spreads: “Christ is Risen!” And if the one greeted has already heard, then the response won’t be a mere “Yeah, I heard” for this is world shaking news. It can only be “He is risen!”

The word, the only word, is “Rejoice!” And we should live each day in the warmth of that joy.

Towards the broken

Friday

Isaiah 53 (A Good Friday text)

3He was despised and rejected by others.

Psalm 22 (The appointed psalm for Good Friday)

File:Russian - Crucifixion - Walters 37309.jpg24He did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted.

“He was despised.” We have a natural abhorrence of disease and disfigurement. Abhorrence may seem too strong a word, but I would defend it. We all know people who can’t stand the sight of blood. We have a natural aversion to distortions of the human appearance. We pull away from those whose suffering seems unremitting. A crying child will invoke our sympathy, but a child who cannot be consoled will eventually make us want to turn away. We cannot bear it.

There is something strangely compelling about human tragedy that turns us into voyeurs watching on television, glancing at an accident as we drive by, or watching from a distance. But only from a distance. Too close, too real, or unremitting suffering overwhelms us.

Maybe it’s the feeling of helplessness. Maybe it’s the fear. I visited a widow in the hospital many years ago, her head held immovable by a steel ring and screws into her skull. She had fallen on the basement stairs and broken her neck. She lived now on a ventilator and a feeding tube. There was no future for her. There was no recovery. This was no fever that would pass, no wound whose pain could be lifted by a parent’s kiss. I came and sat with her. There was nothing to do but bear her burden with her for a moment. But I was haunted by the experience. There are some things you’d rather not see. She died when her ventilator failed and no one heard the alarm. Such a death haunts me, too. Unable to summon help. Unable to cry out. Unable to move. Dying alone. Haunting.

So we have this natural response to turn away from the afflicted. But Jesus does not turn away.

24He did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted;

It’s not only the afflicted from whom we turn away. We turn away from the grieving, too; we want them to “get over it” and be “normal” again. We turn away from the addict, from the beggar, from those who differ too far from us. We stigmatize all kinds of people – which is an interesting word considering that the word “stigmata” refers to those who bear in their hands and feet the wounds of Christ.

3He was despised and rejected by others.

Maybe it was because he walked with the lowly that “he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted.” Or maybe it was simply because God is not like we are. God turns toward the suffering, not away. God turns toward the broken not away. God turns toward the crucified not away. God turns towards us with a compassion that does not grow weary, and a mercy that has no end.

Jesus Liberation Front

Thursday

blog.elements.Palm Sunday1 Corinthians 11 (A Maundy Thursday text)

23For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

“I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you.” It is so easy to think of the Holy Communion as a religious ritual. However meaningful we may or may not find it, however deeply spiritual, however healing or renewing, our eyes tend to see ‘church’ rather than Jesus. This is something people do. This is something religious organizations do inside a religious building presided over by religious professionals dressed in religious robes.

No. “I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you.”

Two thousand years of tradition may stand in between Jesus and ourselves. These robes were once the ancient equivalent of blue jeans. Perhaps upscale blue jeans – but still, common everyday dress. The colored stole around the pastor’s neck is affected by the ornamental styles of the ancient and modern world – but it may have started with the towel the deacon put around his neck after washing feet. It is understandable that everyday items used for sacred purposes become objects of special care and beauty. When I have guests for dinner, I use my best wine glasses, not the cheap everyday ones. I use my nicest serving dish. I get out cloth napkins instead of handing out paper towels. So this banquet of Holy Communion now involves items of beauty and distinction. But we all know that we can use hamburger buns and a cafeteria water glass of two-buck chuck if we need to and Christ will still be present. Because this isn’t a religious ritual; “I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you.”

Of course Paul received it from Jesus and handed it on to Timothy who handed it on to Polycarp who handed it on to generation after generation – but it all goes back to Jesus and that last night with his followers.

It connects us through time with Jesus.  It connects us now with Jesus.

There was a time when gathering to break this bread was like gathering in the Soviet empire to read Solzhenitsyn. It was a radical and revolutionary act. In whispers we say the words that speak of the end of every Rome and the dawning of God’s reign. In whispers we are members of the Jesus Liberation Front, knowing that the supreme act of violence could not stop this Jesus. That we are members of his household. That he is present among us. That he breathes upon us his spirit, his love, his courage, his strength, his grace. That he will one day be manifest to all and all heaven and earth will be governed in harmony with his spirit, in union with his perfect grace and love.

Rich and poor, noble and serf, slave and free, Judean and Gentile, “Parthians, Medes and Elamites,” Arab and Israeli and American and Hindi, black and white, this amazing gathering of all people recognizing themselves sisters and brothers in one household of God, declaring by their very existence – and by this act of breaking bread together – that Christ has died, is risen and will come again.

Words of power. Words of hope. Words of transformation. Words of rebellion and resistance to the world as it is. Words of love. Words that connect us with the source and goal of life. “I received from the Lord what I am here handing over to you.”

The new year

Wednesday

Exodus 12 (A Maundy Thursday text)

File:PikiWiki Israel 14865 Jewish holidays.jpg2This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you.

God commanded Israel to make the month of Passover the first month of the year. At the full moon came the sacrifice of the lambs and the meal when the ancient story was told: they had been slaves in Egypt and God had set them free. I don’t know when Canaanite culture around them – or Egyptian culture, for that matter – had celebrated the new year other than that it was associated with the natural world and the cycle of the seasons (Baal was the God of the storm and the new year came with the return of the rains). But God has placed his people out of step with the society around them.

The New Year is for us, too, the time of new beginnings, the time of starting over, the time of leaving the past behind and embracing a future that we all hope will be better. There is no small measure of irony in the fact that our culture seems to celebrate such a day of new beginnings with behaviors that are rarely ennobling. I suspect that getting drunk and hoping to get lucky are indicative of our fear of time rather than our trust in the future, our fear of our mortality and the fleetingness of our days.

For Israel, their feet still wet from the waters of the Red Sea, God declares that Passover will be the beginning of their year. It is an act of Lordship: God is giving his people a new calendar than the one given by their slave masters. This day of new beginnings is not linked to the return of the sun or the fertility of the fields but to God’s act in time when he led them through the sea out from bondage. This day leads all the rest. This day defines all the days to come.

We have not made Easter the beginning of the ecclesiastical year, but these are still the days that define all the rest. Every Sunday is a festival of the resurrection; every morning the dawning of the new creation. We live now in the realm of light and life. We live now in the realm of grace and truth. We are defined by an empty grave. We are freed from shame and the fear of death. . “The grass withers and the flower fades but the word of our God stands forever.” “(Isaiah 40:7-8) “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3-4)

We still get up and go to work. We still worry about the future and our children. We “marry and are given in marriage.” We still struggle with our inner thoughts and desires, our aches and angsts. But we are sons and daughters of the Most High, emissaries of heaven, agents of blessing, the heart and hands of Christ. We are inheritors of the kingdom – and participants even now. We are children of the resurrection.

All our days are defined by these days, all our hours by these hours – by the new commandment, by the redeeming sacrifice, by the empty tomb, by the commission to go and tell.

From death into life

Watching for Easter Morning

Year A

Maundy Thursday / Good Friday / The Vigil of Easter / Easter Sunday

File:StrasbourgCath BasCoteS 13b.jpg

The risen Jesus appears to his disciples, Strasbourg, Cathédrale Notre-Dame

We watch, this week, for that early morning on the first day of the week when the women go to the tomb. But before that sunrise, comes the drama of the Paschal Triduum, our three day observance of the cross and resurrection. So we look towards Easter, but before us is also the sight of water splashed upon feet, the sight of bread broken, the sight of an altar stripped bare. Before us also is that barren sanctuary, the prophet’s voice about a suffering servant, the words of the passion from John, and the prayers of the people that the work of Christ may bear its fruit in all the world. Before us is the large wooden cross that echoes with the sound of nails and the last words of Jesus and the sight of creeping darkness. And then the image of a new fire and a new candle and a great procession through the darkness into the light of Easter.

The week is full of profound images, actions and texts that combine for our Passover, a deliverance from Egypt and an entering of the promised land, a deliverance from death and an entry into life, the crossing of a boundary between old and new, a new birth into Christ. As written in 1 Peter: “Once you were no people but now you are God’s people.”

The waters of baptism are our Red Sea. Behind us lies the broken world of slaveries great and small. Before us lies the new creation and the true freedom of the children of God. And each year, in the paschal Triduum, we walk that journey so that Easter morning is not just eggs and bunnies and the possibilities of new beginnings, it is the first morning of the new creation and all existence shimmers with the radiance of light and life. It is not Jesus who emerges from the realm of the dead on Easter morning; we do.

The prayers and texts for this week

Maundy Thursday:

Gracious God,
by the witness of your Son Jesus
who bent to wash the feet of his disciples,
you point us yet again toward the path of life:
Grant that we may live as your servants
bound not by the bonds of slavery
but by the bonds of an incomprehensible love.

First Reading: Exodus 12:1-14 (The Passover)
Psalmody: Psalm 116:12-19 (I will lift up the cup of salvation)
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (In the night in which he was betrayed…)
Gospel: John 13:1-17, 31b-35 (A give you a new commandment)

Good Friday

Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy and Immortal,
Source of all goodness and life, our Eternal Father:
all earth falls silent before the crucifixion of your Son.
We can say nothing; you alone may speak –
and you choose to speak forgiveness and love.
Make us ever mindful of your mercy,
and shape our lives by your Spirit
that we may walk in your love.

First Reading: Isaiah 52:13-53:12 (He was bounded for our transgressions)
Passion Reading: John 18:1-19:42 (The passion according to John)

Good Friday Evening Prayer – Tenebrae

Eternal Father,
in the shadows of the night we hear the echo of your voice.
Beyond the hammer and the nails,
beyond the jeering and the cries,
beyond the anger and the hardness of heart,
we hear the voice “Father, forgive them.”
Help us hear the prayer, trust its promise, and know its healing.

First Reading: Isaiah 53:4-6 (He was wounded for our transgressions)
Second Reading: 1 Peter 2:21b-25 (He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross)
Seven Last Words:
Luke 23:33-34: (Father forgive them)
Luke 23:39-43: (Today you will be with me in paradise)
John 19:23-27: (Woman behold your son)
Matthew 27:45-46: (My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?)
John 19:28-29: (I Thirst)
John 19:30: (It is finished)
Luke 23:46: (Father, into you hands I commend my Spirit)

Holy Saturday / Easter Vigil

Almighty God, creator and redeemer of the world,
before whom the grave lies shattered and gates of hell torn down,
help us to hear and trust the message that Christ is risen,
and to live our lives in you for the sake of the world.

First Reading: Genesis 1.1-2.2 (The Story of Creation)
Second Reading: Selections from Genesis 6-9 (The Flood) [whole text, Genesis 6:5-9:15]
Third Reading: Genesis 22.1-14 (The Binding of Isaac)
Fourth Reading: Exodus 14.5-14:30 (The Exodus)
Fifth Reading: Ezekiel 37.1-14 (The Valley of Dry Bones)
Sixth Reading: Selections from Exodus 11 and 12 (The Passover)
Seventh Reading: Daniel 3.1-29 (The Fiery Furnace)
Epistle: Romans 6:3-5 (We have been buried with him in baptism)
Gospel: Matthew 28:1-10 (The angel opens the tomb)

Easter Sunday Morning

Almighty God, creator and redeemer of all,
who through the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus
broke down the gates of hell to set all its prisoners free,
delivering us from the dominion of death
and bringing us into the reign of your Spirit and life:
set us free from all that binds us,
that we may serve you with joy
and live your grace towards all.

First Reading: Acts 10:34-43 (Peter’s message to Cornelius about Jesus)
Psalmody: Psalm 118:1, 14-15, 17, 22-24 (The stone that the builders rejected)
Second Reading: Colossians 3:1-4 (If raised with Christ, seek the things above)
Gospel: Matthew 28:1-10 (The angel rolls back the stone)