Once again

File:Jozefow Chrystus H Macik.JPGYesterday was a festival day in our church, but as I put on my red chasuble for the service it felt like I should be dressing myself in black for mourning. I shared that sentiment with the congregation before the beginning of our service and, indicating I had divided the sermon into two parts, began with these remarks.

This morning we gather once again in the aftermath of troubling news. It would have been troubling enough if our only concern were the bombs sent through the mail to those who were perceived to be political enemies of the president, but now we are dealing with the violent attack upon a synagogue in Pittsburgh.

I want very much to write this off as an aberration, the demented actions of a troubled and misguided man, but the statistics are troubling. As you may have heard by now, FBI statistics show that hate crimes rose 5% in 2016 and 10% since 2014. The FBI identified 1,273 of these crimes as motivated by religious hatred, about 20 percent of the total. Half of these were against Jews.

The Anti-Defamation League reports that there were 1,986 reported anti-Semitic incidents in the United States in 2017, including acts of vandalism as well as physical violence. The number of these incidents increased by 35% from 2015 to 2016, and by 57% from 2016 to 2017.

We saw the young men marching with torches and chanting Nazi slogans in Charlottesville. You remember them: “Blood and soil!” and “Jews will not replace us!” The gunman yesterday reportedly said, “All Jews must die,” and had written online that “Jews are the children of Satan.”

Something is wrong in us. Fear, despair, hate, anger, prejudice, hardness of heart, seem to be loose among us.

Dylan Roof said he hoped to start a race war when he murdered the members of a Bible study at Emanuel Church in Charleston, North Carolina. In the journal he wrote in prison, that was read into the record at his trial, he wrote, “I would like to make it crystal clear, I do not regret what I did,” and “I am not sorry. I have not shed a tear for the innocent people I killed.”

Such events are nothing like the millions killed by official state policy under Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot; those marched to their deaths by the Turks or Andrew Jackson; or those slaughtered with machetes in Rwanda. But what is happening in our country is still deeply troubling. On the weekend when Matthew Shepard’s ashes were relocated to the National Cathedral we are reminded that hate has no bounds.

We want to think our country is better than this. But the history of ugliness and hate is deep and long. And such ugliness and hate are deep not just in our country but in the whole human experience. There is a reason the first story scripture tells us after humanity is given a good and perfect world only to turn from God and lose the garden is the story of one brother murdering the other. All those early stories in Genesis testify to the spread of violence through the creation. And the pivotal story for us as Christians tells of the torture and murder of the one who came to us as the embodiment of God’s love.

We want to deny the reality of sin, but we cannot. It is a deeply broken world. And the human heart is profoundly bent out of shape. We are capable of things that should be unimaginable.

When First John writes that “God is love,” those words are not a cheap sentimentality. They are the daring proposition that despite all we see around us, the power at the heart of all things is love and faithfulness and compassion and mercy and care for the other. God is love, and looks upon a world as sorrowful as ours and chooses to love.

We come together as a Christian community – indeed we exist as a Christian community – to proclaim that message, and to let that message work in our hearts that we might be people who live for the healing of the world rather than its division.

We dare to say with John and Jesus and the whole witness of scripture that there is a power and presence at the heart of all things that is faithfulness, compassion, mercy, and life. At the heart of all things is a God who is able to free the bound, heal the broken, and raise the dead. At the heart of all things is a God who takes upon himself the sorrows of the world and frees us to live his love.

This is why we begin our worship with confession and forgiveness. Our first act is to acknowledge our brokenness and the brokenness of the world, and hear God’s word of mercy and life. It is a moment and a message that is meant to bring us again from the world of hate, violence and revenge into the realm of God. It is a moment and a message that is meant to release us from our brokenness and gather us to the table of God. It is a moment and a message that gives us a taste of the resurrection and the world where the lion lies down with the lamb. It is a moment and a message that prepares us to hear God’s voice and receive God’s gifts. It is a moment and a message that frees us to sing God’s praise.

In our confession we bring before God the crucified bodies of the eleven killed yesterday and the twisted hearts of the shooter and bomber. We bring before God the refugees fleeing violence across our world and the twisted hearts of those who would deny their humanity. We bring before God our own sins and sorrows and hear the promise that Christ has freed us to come and live in God’s presence.

Amen

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jozefow_Chrystus_H_Macik.JPG By Hubert Mącik [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

Images of the Passion

Betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Judas greets Jesus with a kiss.

File:Brooklyn Museum - The Kiss of Judas (Le baiser de Judas) - James Tissot.jpg

Jesus before Pilate

File:Jesus Before Pilate, First Interview.jpg

The first nail

File:Brooklyn Museum - The First Nail (Le premier clou) - James Tissot.jpg

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

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AJesus_Before_Pilate%2C_First_Interview.jpg James Tissot [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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

Marching towards the new birth of the world

File:Aivazovsky - Descent of Noah from Ararat.jpg

Saturday

Matthew 16:21-28

21From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.

We call this a passion prediction – a prediction of his suffering and death. It doesn’t require any special divine foreknowledge. It’s reasonable to think that Jesus was astute enough to recognize that the things he was saying and doing would eventually bring him into conflict with the Judean authorities – and that the outcome of that would be his death. But Jesus adds “and on the third day be raised.”

For a long time I rather ignored this portion of the prediction. Scholarship rightly understands the Gospels as works of the church, the faith community of Jesus’ followers. Jesus didn’t write the Gospels; his followers did. But scholars tend to then make a distinction between what they think came from Jesus and what came from “the church”.

So Jesus could have foreseen his death, but who could imagine his resurrection? The first part may have belonged to Jesus, but the second part surely belongs to the early church. They are the ones who added that Jesus would be raised, because they had seen it.

It’s a reasonable thought, I guess, though it requires a certain audacity on the part of his followers to put words into the mouth of Jesus. Moderns think ancients are willing to do that (and in many cases they were), but that we wouldn’t (though we do). I am always in support of a little humility about what we are certain we “know”.

For a long time, then, I saw in this text the passion prediction and just kind of ignored the resurrection prediction. But the truth is the resurrection prediction is a key element of Jesus’ prophetic word. Indeed, the entire bulk of the Biblical prophets is to warn of pending judgment and destruction, but then to affirm grace and restoration. The Biblical story is a story of sin and redemption. The wicked world drowns at the time of Noah, but from destruction a new creation rises. Israel is condemned to wander in the wilderness but a new generation rises to enter in to the promised land. Jerusalem is destroyed, but the prophet declares that springs will flow in the desert and a highway lead the people home.

The whole Biblical story is about death and resurrection, judgment and grace, suffering and redemption. So why couldn’t Jesus have trusted that his death would lead to resurrection? His message is about the dawning of the age to come, the reign of God where lives are healed and blind eyes opened and tears wiped away. Resurrection is at the heart of this ministry. Jesus is herald of the new. The dead shall give up its prisoners. The gates guarding the realm of the dead shall not stand. Life is at hand.

So I understand the skepticism of the scholars. And it is important to resist the notion that Jesus was some kind of superman who had powers greater than the rest of us mere mortals. Jesus was fully human. This is the ancient and persistent confession of the church. But the Spirit is upon him. He trusts God fully. He knows the sacred writings intimately. He understands God is a God who delivers – even from the wrath of Jerusalem’s elite. Even from the grave.

And because God is a god who delivers – he sets his sights on Jerusalem. Courageously, faithfully, obediently, he marches towards the new birth of the world.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAivazovsky_-_Descent_of_Noah_from_Ararat.jpg Ivan Aivazovsky [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Palms and Passion

File:Assisi-frescoes-entry-into-jerusalem-pietro lorenzetti.jpg

Watching for the Morning of April 9, 2017

Palm Sunday / Sunday of the Passion

A noble dying, a shameful death. A royal claim upon the city, and a rejection of that claim. The cries of Hosanna are not sounds of praise, but pleas for aid and deliverance made to the passing king – but then the crowd will cry for blood. Sunday is both. Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday. The festive gathering and procession to church with palm fronts waving and the fabulous hymn “All Glory Laud and Honor,” and the gut-wrenching story of a mob in the night and fleeing disciples and Rome determined to show this royal claimant the true power and might of empire.

Our Lenten season is nearing its end. And though Easter is coming, the light that shines on Easter morning shines against the dark background of the human enterprise. We are a long way, yet, from living as children of God.

But the story is not only about human violence and power; it is also about the faithfulness of God and the fidelity of Jesus. He is willing to go to his death without breaking faith in the promise of God that the Spirit of God shall prevail. The reign of God shall dawn. The human heart shall be transformed. Grace and mercy shall govern all creation. Death shall give way to life.

So Sunday is joy and pensiveness and wonder. Sunday is celebration and mystery and thankfulness. Sunday begins with palms in our hands and then brings us to the table to receive the bread – the foretaste of the feast that will come.  It is a good and proper way to prepare us for the observance of the three days that carry us from Maundy Thursday into the first light of Easter.

(I apologize to those who follow this blog regularly that, during this season of Lent, it has been somewhat erratic. I have been focused primarily on the daily devotions for Lent we publish on the church website and at our Lent site.)

The Prayer for April 9, 2017

Almighty God, Holy and Wondrous;
trusting your promise, Jesus entered Jerusalem
knowing the path that lay before him.
Grant us a share of his Spirit
and the courage to follow his way of 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 April 9, 2017

Procession with Palms Reading: Matthew 21:1-11
“The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” – Matthew’s account of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem.

Processional Psalm: 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… The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” – 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.

Reading from the prophets: Isaiah 53:1-6
“He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole.” – Isaiah’s vision of the suffering servant who bears the sins of the people.

Passion Reading: Matthew 26:1 – 27:61
“Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” – The passion narrative according to Matthew.

Readings as appointed for Passion Sunday

First Reading: Isaiah 50:4-9a
“I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.” – One of the ‘servant songs’ from Isaiah describing a teacher who suffers, but trusts completely in God’s vindication.

Psalmody: Psalm 31:9-16
“I hear the whispering of many– terror all around!– as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life.” – A cry from one who faces the threat of a violent death, yet expresses his complete trust in God. It echoes with themes of the passion.

Second Reading: Philippians 2:5-11
“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave.”
– 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.

Gospel: Matthew 26:14 – 27:66 or Matthew 27:11-54

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAssisi-frescoes-entry-into-jerusalem-pietro_lorenzetti.jpg By Pietro lorenzetti [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Temptation

File:Eva tentando a Adam.JPG

Watching for the Morning of March 5, 2017

The First Sunday in Lent

Good and evil. Beauty and ugliness. Nobility and degradation. The words have a wide range of meaning in Hebrew. Harmony and disorder. We always envision the serpent entwined in that tree, enticing the first humans to reach out their hands and pluck for themselves rather than trust God’s vision for their life in that garden. All the trees in the garden were open to them. Even the tree of life. But life’s evils and sorrows God did not want us to have to endure. But we did. And God did, beneath the whips and spit of Roman soldiers and the excruciating pain of the nails into the wood that became for us another tree of life.

This wasn’t a test of their obedience; it was a test of their trust in God. Would they trust that this tree meant sorrow and death? Would they trust that God meant for them joy and life? But the serpent’s question sowed doubt. Instead living inside God’s promise they became observers and critics of that promise. “Did God say…?” And suddenly, their hearts are turned inward and their hands stretch outward to pluck that deadly fruit.

Who shall be our hope when we persistently break faith with God? Who shall be our hope when humanity becomes tower builders, empire builders, weapons makers, revenge seekers? Who shall be our hope when humanity becomes masters and slaves, thieves and victims, deceivers and deceived? Who shall be our hope?

And now stands Jesus in the wilderness, weak with hunger but mighty in prayer. And that insidious voice begins to speak. Those round rocks look just like bread. Why should you go hungry, Jesus? One little word and you can fill your belly.

It is not the story of one man; it is a story in which the fate of all humanity hangs in the balance. Is there hope for us? Is there one who will be the faithful son?

Sunday is the first of the Sundays in Lent, a time of spiritual renewal, of fasting and prayer and care of others. A season that begins with the story of the testing of Adam and Eve, and the testing of Jesus. Our first parents fail. We fail. But our elder brother remains true. So this season may be sober sometimes, the shadow of the cross is serious, but it is a season of joy.

“Our Father”

During Lent each year our parish focuses upon one portion of the catechism – this year, the Lord’s Prayer. Over these coming Sundays we will talk about the meaning of that remarkable prayer, beginning this Sunday with the significance of the beginning: “Our Father.” It is worth pondering that we are taught to speak to God as members of a single human family. Our Ash Wednesday sermon began this series talking about the uniqueness of Jesus’ way of prayer. It can be found here at on our blog site that also contains our brief Lenten devotions.

The Prayer for March 5, 2017

Almighty God, Holy and Faithful,
who guided Israel in the wilderness
and sustained Jesus in the days of his testing,
uphold us in our times of trial.
Strengthen us by your Word
and empower us with your Spirit
that, standing in Christ,
we may share in his perfect faithfulness;
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 5, 2017

First Reading: Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
“Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”’?” – With his question, the serpent disrupts the simple trust Adam and Eve had in God, and they seek to be “like God” knowing what is noble and what is not.

Psalmody: Psalm 32
“Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” – The poet celebrates the forgiveness of God, describing the corrosive power of unacknowledged sin and the liberating power of God’s mercy.

Second Reading: Romans 5:12-19
“Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.”
– Paul contrasts Adam and Christ. Through Adam sin entered the world and with sin death. In Christ, grace now governs and with grace, life.

Gospel: Matthew 4:1-11
“Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” – Having been honored by God’s declaration that he is God’s beloved son, the demonic spirits test that claim, trying to show Jesus unworthy of the acclaim. But Jesus shows himself the faithful son. Where Israel showed themselves faithless in the wilderness, Jesus remains faithful.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Eva_tentando_a_Adam.JPG By seraphyn, the olod Latinoamerican´s (de mi autoría.Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Shamed

Wednesday

File:Francisco de Zurbarán 006.jpg

Isaiah 53:4-12

9They made his grave with the wicked
and his tomb with the rich,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.

When we remember the parallelism of Hebrew poetry, where the first line is restated by the second line, we see the words ‘grave’ and ‘tomb’ in parallel and that makes sense. But then we see the words ‘wicked’ and ‘rich’ in parallel.

Christians move so quickly in the hearing of this text to Jesus laid in a rich man’s tomb that we seldom pause to recognize that the word ‘rich’ is regarded as a synonym for ‘wicked’.

From the perspective of the oppressed poor, burial among the rich and mighty is a scandal for a prophet. Political candidates work hard to wear plaid shirts and drink beer like one of the guys (or gals). This is odd when you consider that they are applying for the post of representing our country among the leaders of the world. We don’t want our president wearing plaid shirts to have a face to face with Putin or Merkel or Xi Jinping. We want him wearing his fiercest power suit.

But there is a suspicion about the rich and powerful that’s different than those who prosper from hard work and good fortune. People who get rich by clever schemes that leave homeowners underwater are not regarded as much more than thieves. So the president wears plaid shirts.

But this poor prophet is condemned to burial among the rich elite, as if all his words had fallen on deaf ears. The prophets call for justice. They stand with the poor, the victims, the faithful of the land trying to do right by God and their neighbor. They do no not hobnob with the men or women wearing hundred thousand dollar suits or watches or pearls or yachts. They might as well be sitting on the porch with the leader of the Crips.

And then, in our text, ‘violence’ and ‘deceit’ become parallel to ‘rich’ and ‘wicked’. The prophet lies in state among the ‘wicked’ even though he did no violence and told no lies!

Guilt by association. Shamed completely. “We accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted.” We regarded his fate as just. We thought God had given him his due. We did not see that he was wounded for our transgressions,” that God made “his life an offering for sin.”

Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” says the Baptist. Behold the lamb whose blood marks the doors of the Israelites to save them from death. Behold the lamb who dies at the hour the Passover lambs were sacrificed.

Behold. See. See truly. See deeply. Recognize the face of God beneath that crown of thorns. Recognize the hands of mercy pierced. Recognize the faithfulness of God who does not strike back, but bears our violence and sin.

Behold the one shamed; it is our shame.

9They made his grave with the wicked
and his tomb with the rich,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.

But the prophet does not stop there, for then God speaks: “The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous.” The disgraced one was faithful – and will make us faithful.

So we are summoned no only to see, but to follow. And the faithful one tries once again to help us understand: Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.

 

Painting: Agnus Dei, Francisco de Zurbarán [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

We will remember

Saturday

Psalm 22:25-31

File:Jesus at Sumela.jpg27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord;
and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.

There is a turn in this psalm, as in so many psalms of lament, when the poet moves from his despair and grief and bitter plea to exultation and joy. We are reading, Sunday, from that joy.

But those with history in the church or in scripture will recognize that this is Psalm 22. This is the psalm where the poet’s cry has spoken of being surrounded by enemies who taunt and torture him. Here we hear those fateful words “They have pierced my hands and feet” and “for my clothing they cast lots.” This is the psalm Jesus prays from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

When the followers of Jesus searched the scriptures to understand what had happened to the one they confessed as the Christ, words like this must have exploded off the page with new meaning, pointing far beyond the poet’s original sorrow to the world’s ultimate sorrow.

But the psalm does not end with the suffering and gloating enemies. God did not “despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.”

And in that turn from lament to praise those first believers found witness also to the resurrection. And more than the resurrection, to the ascension, to Christ “at the right hand of the Father.”

27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord;
and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.

It is not a cry of triumph, like all the fans of a team pointing their forefingers into the air after a victory to declare they are number one. It is rather a profound confession that in the story of the crucified and risen one we will remember. We will remember who we are. We will remember the God who made us. We will remember the love that vibrates in and through and around all creation. We will remember how we have turned away from the source of life. We will remember the horrors we have done. We will see in the pierced hands of Jesus the pierced hands of all our sisters and brothers who are crucified by violence and neglect. We will remember it all: our true identity, our terrible path, and the way home.

27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord;
and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.

We will remember and return and kneel before him who is the font of grace and life. We will worship: we will remember and sing praise, we will remember and give thanks, we will remember and adore.

And what awaits all creation is what we do on Sunday mornings when we gather to break the bread and sing the songs of joy.

 

Image: Christ Pantocrator.  Ceiling of one of the chambers of the Sumela monastery.  Photo: By Vladimer Shioshvili (Flickr: jesus) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

For the whole world

Friday

1 John 1:1-2:2

File:Meister Theoderich von Prag 013.jpg2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus is crucified at the hour the lambs are slaughtered for the Passover. In John’s memory – or in his theological reflection on the meaning of Jesus’ death – it is not the Passover meal when Jesus arises to wash his followers feet. It is the night before. And the day he is sacrificed, is the day the lambs are sacrificed. He dies as the lambs died, to redeem the nation from death.

Whether John’s account is memory or reflection, the power of the imagery is impossible to miss. Christ is our Passover lamb. In the imagery of the Book of Revelation, he is the lamb who was slain standing in the center of the throne.

“He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins,” writes the author of 1 John. And with those simple words we are reminded of Christ our Passover Lamb whose blood marks the door and saves us from death.

But the author of 1 John writes more: “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”

“For the sins of the whole world.” He is the atoning sacrifice not only for the shame we bring upon God for our pedestrian selfishness – the occasional greed, thoughtlessness, selfishness, betrayal that’s so much a part of ordinary human existence – but for the great shame of fratricide that has plagued us since Cain rose up against Abel: the slaughter of other children of God in the name of God, wealth, power, ideology and simple hate, envy, and vengeance. Unspeakable crimes from every beaten woman to every segregated fountain, from every raped child to every tortured prisoner, from every neglected elder to every stolen pension, from every death camp to mass grave. Unspeakable crimes against humanity. Unspeakable crimes against the children of God.

“He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”

Most of us are likely to excuse our own petty sins. We don’t imagine they need real atonement. And for those other sins we imagine there is no atonement, no way to make it right. But before us stands the cross, the nails, the scourge, the thorns, the grave. Before us stands the stone rolled away. Before us stands the risen one with wounds. And in our hands is the broken bread – the sign of his broken body. Broken for us. Broken for the world. The whole world.

Our hands should tremble as we hold it.

 

Image: Theodoric of Prague [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Among the crucified

A sermon/reflection on Good Friday

Isaiah 53

9They made his grave with the wicked
and his tomb with the rich,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.

The texts for Good Friday are Isaiah 52:13-53:12 (He was wounded for our transgressions) and John 18:1-19:42 (The passion according to John)

Each of us experiences this day in our own way. And each year this day has, for each of us, its own character. Some years the desolation of the cross speaks to a desolation in our lives. Some years it’s the mystery of redemption that overwhelms us. Some years we are struck by the strength, courage and nobility of Jesus and he becomes an example for us. Other times we are disturbed by the hatred of the crowds or the abuse of power by the leaders and see our own times in that light. Some years we see the majesty of God’s love and are filled with awe and wonder. Each of us experiences this day in our own way. And each year this day has, for each of us, its own character.

We used to vacation at the beach when I was young. For a few years, we were part owners of a condo over in Aptos. I don’t remember as a child being overwhelmed by the vastness of the ocean; I just saw the waves. And when we were there after a storm and the storm had rearranged the beach and changed the course of the river, I wasn’t thinking about the power of the sea, only the novelty of what had happened and the new possibilities it meant for our play.

In those days, I didn’t see beyond the waves. I didn’t see the mystery and wonder of the sea. When we walked out on the pier to the sunken ship I didn’t comprehend the power of the ocean to break a concrete ship.

In the same way, as a child, I didn’t understand this story about Jesus. I hadn’t had any experience with evil, with tragedy, with grief, with guilt, or with the kind of courage and strength of Jesus’ sacrifice. But with each passing year the story becomes more real.

The story also became more troubling.

When I was about 16, the daughter of dear family friends was killed in a plane crash out of LAX. I remember being sad, but I didn’t yet understand anything of the devastation her family was feeling. I saw racism and war on TV, but didn’t yet understand the suffering they inflict.

As we go from one Good Friday to the next, it is not only the story of Jesus that becomes more real, the connection between the suffering of Jesus and the suffering of the world becomes more real. The story of Jesus’ suffering is not simply about his suffering; it is about all human suffering.

God has entered into the world, and we have done to him what has been done – to some degree or other – to every human being. We are all, at some point and to some degree, shamed, taunted, tortured, mocked, wounded, and crucified. And we have all, at some point and to some degree, done the shaming, taunting, torturing, mocking and wounding.

In the grand scheme of things, what happened to Jesus is not unusual. We can think easily of extreme examples like the death camps or the killing fields. We can think of very mundane examples like school yard taunting. We have heard, recently, young men singing a racist chant on a bus. We have seen the photo of a noose left outside a minority student building. We have seen policemen shoot children and beat suspects and scream at a driver for honking.

What happened to Jesus happens to all of us. We have tasted abuse in our homes. We have witnessed it between a parent and child in a store. We have all comforted children who came home from school or a party crying. We listen to the hate in public speeches. We have seen the violence against women and against gays. We hear the graphic testimony against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and the brutal consequences of his actions. We are haunted by the thought of an airplane full of people listening to the pilot pounding on the cockpit door and screaming at his copilot, while the plane plummets towards the ground. And we know that sooner or later some news program will play the tape.

We have seen the bodies of university students lying in the street, singled out and killed by Al-Shabab because they were Christians. We have seen Christians in the Central African Republic killing Muslims.

It’s not that there isn’t kindness and mercy and generosity in the world. It’s just that what happened to Jesus is such a universal story.

And where is God in this universal story? The answer to this is very important. We tend to think God is above it, somehow, looking down. We tend to think God could stop it, somehow. Give a command, summon his angels, silence the cacophony of the world in one great roar.

But God has become one of us in Jesus. God has come to us in this Jesus. Not only that we might see the face of God, but that God might dwell with us and we with him in this world he created to be good and holy.

God has come to us. And we need to be sure we understand this: the God who comes isn’t sitting in the seats of power. God isn’t seated on the throne of Pontius Pilate. God isn’t seated among the council of Chief Priests and Elders. God isn’t a member of the board of Exxon-Mobil. God isn’t taking a role in the White house. God isn’t in the councils of Al-Shabab or ISIS. God is hiding under the bed while gunmen go door to door. God is walking with refugees towards the Turkish border. God has become a victim of violence. God makes himself present, and is found among the broken and beaten, neglected and abandoned. “As you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to me.”

God is present as the crucified. God is present among the wounded. But God is not here as a helpless victim. He is present as the Lord of all. He is present as the truth Pilate cannot see. He is present as the Holy Name before whom the soldiers fall to the ground. He is present here as the one who is lifted up for the healing of the world. He is present here as the one who is the resurrection and the life.

By his presence among the crucified, God speaks a word of judgment against all our violence. Exposing it. Naming it. Revealing that such violence is not on the side of God. God is among the crucified.

And by his presence among the crucified, God speaks a word of promise that our lives and our world are not bound by their suffering. Our lives are not bound by guilt. Our lives are not bound by shame. Our lives are not bound by sin and darkness and lies. Our lives are called into the divine like the branches to the vine. Our lives are called into the freedom that comes in Jesus’ word. Our lives are called into the life of the age to come by him who summons Lazarus from the grave.

Each of us experiences this day in our own way. And each year this day has, for each of us, its own character. But each year we are met here by the Lord who transcends time, the one in whom and for whom all things were created, the one who is not bound by the tomb, the one who stands among the crucified and calls us into his way, his truth and his life.

Amen

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.