The face of God

(A reflection published with the pictures used in our sanctuary from Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday 2018)

The events of Jesus’ death and resurrection are seared into the memory of the first followers of Jesus – even as they are in the hearts of the whole Christian community. Jesus comes to Jerusalem in what appears to be a wave of public support, only to be crushed by the ruling elite in Jerusalem. He is betrayed by a member of his inner circle. His followers flee. His “rock,” Peter, publicly disavows that he knows him. He is shamed and degraded and impaled upon a cross, powerless before the might of Rome and the machinations of the temple authorities.

But here, says the Christian community, we see the face of God.

We keep ascribing power to God. And there is plenty of testimony in scripture to God’s mighty acts. But what remains unmistakable in the Biblical text are two much more important truths: the suffering of God and the work of God to do the unexpected and unimagined: to open closed doors, to make a path through the sea, to bring Israel home from Babylon, to open blind eyes and heal palsied limbs, to resurrect the dead. God makes a way when there is no way.

God suffers with and for God’s people. God suffers their faithlessness. God suffers the tragedies that befall them. No matter how justified are their self-inflicted wounds, God’s heart cries out and comes to their deliverance.

What happened to Jesus is the story of Israel: destroyed but brought back from the dead. It is also the promised story of the human race. God will not allow God’s creation to perish, but calls it back into fidelity and life. God will bring us to the New Jerusalem. God will set before all creation a table. God will restore the harmony of the world. Righteousness and peace shall kiss, the greeting of eternal friends. Swords shall be beaten into plowshares. The lion shall lie down with the lamb.

The resurrection is testimony to the truth of all Jesus said and did. It is testimony to God’s redemptive purpose in the world. And we who have heard the testimony of those who saw the empty tomb, who have heard the word of grace, who have experienced the healing power of God, who have tasted the Holy Spirit and the life of the age to come – we are those sent in wonder and joy to witness to this loving, suffering, redeeming God.

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Each day of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday, the pictures in the sanctuary showed the larger arc of the story of the passion through to Mary speaking with the angels at the empty tomb – though the collection varied each day with images relating to that specific day.  For the Easter Vigil and Easter morning, the pictures portrayed people from the passion story – each representing differing responses to Jesus.  All the pictures used over these days are shown below.  (The days here reflect the day of the action in the picture, rather than the selections used that day in worship.)

Palm Sunday

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

Jesus enters Jerusalem

Maundy Thursday

File:Brooklyn Museum - The Washing of the Feet (Le lavement des pieds) - James Tissot.jpg

Jesus washes the feet of the disciples

File:Brooklyn Museum - You Could Not Watch One Hour With Me (Vous n'avez pu veiller une heure avec moi) - James Tissot.jpg

The disciples fall asleep while Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane

File:Judas and with Him a Great Multitude.jpg

Judas leads the mob to seize Jesus

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

Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss

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

Annas and Caiphas, the High Priest

File:Brooklyn Museum - The Sorrow of Saint Peter (La douleur de Saint Pierre) - James Tissot.jpg

Peter fleeing in grief after denying Jesus (following the cockcrow)

Good Friday

File:Jesus Before Pilate, First Interview.jpg

Jesus before Pilate

File:Brooklyn Museum - Behold the Man (Ecce Homo) - James Tissot.jpg

“Behold the man!” Pilate shows the tortured Jesus to the crowd

File:Brooklyn Museum - Herod (Hérode) - James Tissot - overall.jpg

Jesus is sent to Herod

File:Barabbas (James Tissot).jpg

The crowd asks for Barabbas to be released rather than Jesus

File:Brooklyn Museum - Jesus Meets His Mother (Jésus rencontre sa mère) - James Tissot.jpg

Jesus bearing the cross

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

Jesus nailed to the cross

File:Brooklyn Museum - "I Thirst" The Vinegar Given to Jesus ("J'ai soif." Le vinaigre donné à Jésus) - James Tissot.jpg

“I thirst.” Jesus offered sour wine

File:Brooklyn Museum - The Death of Jesus (La mort de Jésus) - James Tissot.jpg

The women witness the crucifixion

File:Brooklyn Museum - The Confession of Saint Longinus (Confession de Saint Longin) - James Tissot.jpg

The Centurion’s confession, “Truly this was the son of God.”

File:Brooklyn Museum - The Holy Virgin Receives the Body of Jesus (La Sainte Vierge reçoit le corps de Jésus) - James Tissot.jpg

Taking the body of Jesus for burial

File:Brooklyn Museum - Joseph of Arimathaea (Joseph d'Arimathie) - James Tissot.jpg

Joseph of Arimathea gets permission from Pilate to bury Jesus

Easter Sunday

File:Brooklyn Museum - Mary Magdalene Questions the Angels in the Tomb (Madeleine dans le tombeau interroge les anges) - James Tissot.jpg

Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb, met by a vision of angels

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Images:

Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Lord_Wept_(Le_Seigneur_pleura)_-_James_Tissot.jpg

Jesus washes the feet of the disciples: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Washing_of_the_Feet_(Le_lavement_des_pieds)_-_James_Tissot.jpg

The disciples fall asleep while Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brooklyn_Museum_-_You_Could_Not_Watch_One_Hour_With_Me_(Vous_n%27avez_pu_veiller_une_heure_avec_moi)_-_James_Tissot.jpg

Judas leads the mob to seize Jesus: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Judas_and_with_Him_a_Great_Multitude.jpg

Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Kiss_of_Judas_(Le_baiser_de_Judas)_-_James_Tissot.jpg

Annas and Caiphas, the High Priest: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brooklyn_Museum_-_Annas_and_Caiaphas_(Anne_et_Ca%C3%AFphe)_-_James_Tissot.jpg

Peter fleeing in grief after betraying Jesus: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Sorrow_of_Saint_Peter_(La_douleur_de_Saint_Pierre)_-_James_Tissot.jpg

Jesus before Pilate: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jesus_Before_Pilate,_First_Interview.jpg“Behold the man!”

Pilate shows the tortured Jesus to the crowd: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brooklyn_Museum_-_Behold_the_Man_(Ecce_Homo)_-_James_Tissot.jpg

Jesus is sent to Herod: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brooklyn_Museum_-_Herod_(H%C3%A9rode)_-_James_Tissot_-_overall.jpg

Barabbas: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Barabbas_(James_Tissot).jpg

Jesus bearing the cross: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brooklyn_Museum_-_Jesus_Meets_His_Mother_(J%C3%A9sus_rencontre_sa_m%C3%A8re)_-_James_Tissot.jpg

Jesus nailed to the cross: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_First_Nail_(Le_premier_clou)_-_James_Tissot.jpg

“I thirst.” Jesus offered sour wine: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brooklyn_Museum_-_%22I_Thirst%22_The_Vinegar_Given_to_Jesus_(%22J%27ai_soif.%22_Le_vinaigre_donn%C3%A9_%C3%A0_J%C3%A9sus)_-_James_Tissot.jpg

The women witness the crucifixion: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Death_of_Jesus_(La_mort_de_J%C3%A9sus)_-_James_Tissot.jpg

The Centurion’s confession, “Truly this was the son of God”: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Confession_of_Saint_Longinus_(Confession_de_Saint_Longin)_-_James_Tissot.jpg

Taking the body of Jesus for burial: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Holy_Virgin_Receives_the_Body_of_Jesus_(La_Sainte_Vierge_re%C3%A7oit_le_corps_de_J%C3%A9sus)_-_James_Tissot.jpg

Taking the body of Jesus for burial: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Holy_Virgin_Receives_the_Body_of_Jesus_(La_Sainte_Vierge_re%C3%A7oit_le_corps_de_J%C3%A9sus)_-_James_Tissot.jpg

Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb, met by a vision of angels: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brooklyn_Museum_-_Mary_Magdalene_Questions_the_Angels_in_the_Tomb_(Madeleine_dans_le_tombeau_interroge_les_anges)_-_James_Tissot.jpg

Text: © David K. Bonde

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Like bread dipped in wine

File:Brooklyn Museum - Mary Magdalene Questions the Angels in the Tomb (Madeleine dans le tombeau interroge les anges) - James Tissot.jpgA single picture in the sanctuary will stay the same from Palm Sunday through to Easter morning: the picture of Mary Magdalene peeking into the tomb and seeing angels.

The paintings we are using beginning with Palm Sunday are by James Tissot, a 19th century French artist who, in the last decade and a half of his life, painted 365 works depicting the life of Christ, and then began a series on the Old Testament, exhibiting 80 works before his death. The collection was purchased by the Brooklyn Museum. It’s on my list for the next time I go visit my daughter.

The images will shift as we move from Palm Sunday, through Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and then to Easter. They accent different parts of the passion story, yet always preserving the larger narrative arc from the Garden of Gethsemane to the empty tomb. Only one painting is in all four sets, the resurrection, because this narrative is not ultimately about Judas’ betrayal or Pilate’s sentence, or Peter’s denial, or the jeering crowds at the cross. This story is about the resurrection. The death, yes, but the death that leads to life.

When we arrive at Easter, it would be tempting to have all the pictures represent the risen Christ, but this is a place where we run out of images. We don’t know how to paint the resurrection. We don’t know how to portray heavenly messengers. The betraying and dying are part of our human experience. What happened next is not.

To what shall we compare it? We are forced to use stylized images – angels with wings, for example, or haloes and shimmering light.

File:Grudziądz Polyptych 12.jpgThe resurrection can’t be painted like Peter fleeing the cockcrow. The empty tomb can be painted, but Jesus climbing out of a grave is a concept, an idea, not something we have ever seen.

We are up against the limits of human experience. And yet, we know something about death and life. For our Lent midweek services in Michigan one year we invited people to share something of their faith journey. One man came and told of the day he was on patrol in the jungles of Vietnam and heard the click of a landmine beneath his foot. He froze, then told all the rest of his platoon to move away to safety. This was his end. He faced it. But when he finally lifted his foot, the explosive didn’t go off. He was dead, but now he lives.

We can’t picture the resurrection of Jesus in our minds, but losing life and receiving it back again we do understand. We have been there, most of us, one time or another. Maybe more than once. Caught between the army of pharaoh and the Red Sea, when suddenly a path appears. Barren and too old for the promise to be fulfilled, but then there is a child. Carried into exile for fifty years, the city left behind in ruins, and then comes the royal decree opening the way to go home. Again and again in scripture and in life, the unexpected happens, hopelessness is turned to joy, prison doors are opened, ruptured lives are healed, broken ties restored.

We can’t paint it. But we know it. We know what it feels like. We know what it tastes like. It looks like an empty tomb. It tastes like bread dipped in wine.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brooklyn_Museum_-_Mary_Magdalene_Questions_the_Angels_in_the_Tomb_(Madeleine_dans_le_tombeau_interroge_les_anges)_-_James_Tissot.jpg James Tissot [No restrictions or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGrudzi%C4%85dz_Polyptych_12.jpg Master of the Třeboň Altarpiece [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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

 

Do we laugh?

File:Donkey and Villager 0744 (508121161).jpg

Friday

Zechariah 9:9-12

9Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!

I wonder if the people laughed at the voice of the prophet. I wonder if they looked around at the city built from rubble, subjected to a foreign power, and plagued with a poor economy, and laughed. No king is coming. No king will raise this backwater to the heights it once enjoyed. No king can arise in this feeble country to fight off the might of the Persian Empire.

We know from scripture that the prophets were not generally received with favor. King Ahab calls Elijah “you troubler of Israel” because he only has bad news to speak about his idolatrous and corrupt leader. Nor did he want to consult the prophet Micaiah ben Imlah when plotting war against Syria because “he never prophesies anything favorable about me.” King Jehoiakim burned the prophetic words of Jeremiah. Ahaz made a pious show of refusing Isaiah’s message.

The resistance of the ancient elites was certainly in part because the prophets of old stood in the way of the wealthy and powerful. They challenged the neglect of God’s law, the abandonment of the poor, the failure of justice and compassion, the loss of faithfulness. But was it any easier for Israel to hear a message of hope? When Isaiah announces Cyrus as the LORD’s anointed (the LORD’s ‘Messiah’) to throw down Babylon, when he proclaims a highway through the desert for a new exodus, did the people turn away from him as a starry-eyed dreamer? And do we, too, dismiss such words of peace? Do we smile benignly at the promise that swords shall be beaten into plowshares? That Jerusalem shall be a city of peace? Do we ensconce the words of Jesus in a pious frame rather than build our lives on the notion that the poor and peacemakers are the blessed and honorable ones in God’s sight?

The prophet promises a king, a king who will “cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the warhorse from Jerusalem,” who shall “command peace to the nations,” and whose “dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.” Yes, the prophet may well have meant, “from the Euphrates to land’s end” (i.e. the shore of the Mediterranean), but we recognize the big brush with which the prophet paints. He is not just talking about a new king for Israel. This is a new reigning power for all creation.

So do we smile benevolently like listening to a child’s dream? Or do we dare put our trust, hope and allegiance in this promise of a dawning reign? And do we see this dawning reign in the one who healed and forgave and taught us to treat all people as members of our kinship group then rode up to his fateful destiny in Jerusalem on the day we have come to call Palm Sunday?

“Lo, your king comes to you,” says the prophet, “triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

Do we laugh or bend the knee?

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ADonkey_and_Villager_0744_(508121161).jpg By James Emery from Douglasville, United States (Donkey and Villager_0744) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Seeing death and life

File:125ed-magdalena2bunge2bpies2bde2bjesus.jpg

Watching for the Morning of March 13, 2016

Year C

The Fifth Sunday in Lent

The passion draws near. Next Sunday is Palm/Passion Sunday and the following week are the three days of the Paschal Triduum: Maundy Thursday, the night of the Last Supper when Jesus washed feet and broke bread and, after, was grabbed by the mob in the night; Good Friday, the day of the crucifixion; and Saturday evening, the Great Vigil of Easter when by the celebration/renewal of baptism we journey with Christ from the realm of death into the realm of life.

This Sunday the Gospel reading anticipates all that is to come when Mary anoints Jesus with oil in a prophetic anticipation of his death. The others don’t see the death coming, so they complain about the “waste” of this expensive perfume. But Jesus sees.

They are in Bethany among the sick – near to the temple but out of sight by law. They are in Bethany where Lazarus was raised. They are at Bethany where Jesus ascends. They are in the place where our need for healing is manifest – and where Christ reigns.

So on this day we hear the prophet Isaiah declare that something greater than the exodus is coming. And the psalmist sings of the wheat sown into the soil with tears and rising into abundance with joy. And Paul writes of his Judean credentials, which he willingly casts aside for the sake of gaining Christ. Like an athlete training that he or she might ascend the dais for the laurel wreath, I press on,” writes Paul, “toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Enlightened

File:36e rencontres internationales de Taizé Strasbourg 31 décembre 2013 11.jpgThis week we are conclude our congregation’s Lenten series rooted in the Apostles’ Creed. Last Sunday centered on a phrase in Luther’s Small Catechism He gathers me into the Body of Christand that is the subject of our daily devotions. This Sunday we will continue in the third article of the creed with the theme: “He enlightens me by his word and Spirit.”

There are many elements of the creed – and especially of the third article of the creed – that could occupy our attention. The five we chose were: Created, Redeemed, Called, Gathered, Enlightened. And on this fifth Sunday in Lent our focus is on that word ‘Enlightened’. We see the world differently in the light of Christ. We see not only conflict but peace. We see not only revenge but forgiveness. We see not only greed but a shared table. We see not only death but life. The world isn’t changed, but we are changed. By the word and Holy Spirit eyes are opened to see. Light shines in the darkness. Light shines in our hearts.

The Prayer for March 13, 2016

In the mystery of your love, O God,
you breathe upon us your Spirit
and open our minds to understand your Word.
Grant us wisdom and understanding
that we may not walk in darkness but in the light of life;
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 13, 2016

First Reading: Isaiah 43:16-21
“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” – Through the prophet God announces a new exodus: God will bring the people through the wilderness back from their exile in Babylon.

Psalmody: Psalm 126
“When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy.”
– Using images of death and resurrection, the poet sings of God’s wondrous deliverance and prays for God to again “restore our fortunes.”

Second Reading: Philippians 3:4b-14
“I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” –
Paul warns the Philippians about those who would compel them to keep circumcision and the Judean traditions. Though his ‘credentials’ in that tradition are impeccable, he wants only “to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings.”

Gospel: John 12:1-8
“Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair.”
– The Jerusalem council has determined to put Jesus to death. Now, as Passover approaches, Jesus has come out of hiding to the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, where Mary anoints him for his burial.

Enlightened: Though Sunday takes us to the next section of the creed, our daily devotions during Lent are still reflecting on the theme for week 3 from the third article of the creed: Week 4: Gathered.” We invite you to join us at the Lent website or through our congregation website.

 

Image 1: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A125ed-magdalena2bunge2bpies2bde2bjesus.jpg  By 125ed-magdalena2bunge2bpies2bde2bjesus [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Image 2 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A36e_rencontres_internationales_de_Taiz%C3%A9_Strasbourg_31_d%C3%A9cembre_2013_11.jpg  By Photo Claude TRUONG-NGOC (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

A participation in Christ

The Evening of Palm Sunday / The Sunday of the Passion

1 Corinthians 10

File:87365 Palm Sunday.jpg

Palm Sunday tradition in Poland creating palm trees from crepe paper and dried flowers

16The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?rsv

I choked on the wine, today. At that crucial moment at the end of the service, when the sip of wine from the chalice is drained (evoking Jesus draining his cup of suffering) and turned on its side with the words: “Jesus said, ‘I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep,’” I choked. The wine hit my vocal chords, and though I suppressed the cough, I couldn’t clear my throat, so the words came out forced and feeble.

It was a powerful service. After the joyful opening, processing with palms from the picnic area where we’d gathered around coffee and hot cross buns to the doors of the church where the crucifer banged on the doors of the church with the words of the psalm “Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and testify to the Lord!” After the singing of “All Glory, Laud and Honor” as we entered the sanctuary. After the choristers sang their joyful anthem accompanied by flute and piano. And after the children’s message about the meaning of all this, we turned to the passion story from Matthew. We listened to that great narrative, weaving into it the elements of Sunday worship – an offering when we heard of the woman’s offering when she anointed Jesus with precious oil, the communion when we heard Jesus speak of the communion, the prayers when Jesus prayed in the garden. Hopefully in the weaving together of these elements we will remember that what we do Sunday after Sunday is a participation in this story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. This is what Jesus told us: “Do this to remember me.”

As we moved towards the end of the service, the words of the passion story took over and our words fell away, yet interspersed with wonderful music from the quartet that gave further voice to the story and allowed us time to digest all we heard. All this moving towards that final moment when I would proclaim: “The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” and we would hear the quartet echoing down from the loft “What Wondrous Love Is This?” before leaving in silence.

But I choked. I feared it would break the mood. But worship is not about mood. Worship is about participating in this story. We are those with whom Jesus walks. We are those who acclaim him our true king. We are those who share in his table. We are in the crowd as Jesus’ fate is decided. We are witnesses of his sacrifice. We are the women watching at the tomb – and we are there at first light when the tomb is opened and found empty.

This is worship. The word and the meal, the hymns and the prayers, the offering of ourselves – it is a participation in Christ, a participation in his dying and rising, a participation in his Spirit and Life, a participation in his mission and ministry.

In the power of this narrative of wondrous love, the breath of God is breathed upon us. And maybe the fact that I choked is okay. It is a story that should render us speechless for a time.

The city quakes

Saturday

Matthew 21

File:Christ entering Jerusalem icon.jpg

Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem. 14th Century icon from St. Catherine’s Monastery of Mount Sinai.

10When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” 11The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

The city was shaken. The word translated here as turmoil is used again by Matthew when Jesus dies, the temple curtain is rent and the earth shakes. He also uses it when the angel descends to open the tomb, the earth quakes, and the guards shake with fear. It shows up in Hebrews with reference to the shaking of heaven and earth (quoting Haggai 2:6), and in Revelation describing the falling stars as when the fruit drops when the tree is shaken by a gale. We hear the word also in Isaiah for the shaking of the foundations of the earth on the day of wrath and in Psalm 68 for the quaking of Sinai when God descended upon it. This translation ‘turmoil’ doesn’t seem quite the right word. The city quakes. This is not just the buzz of rumor and curiosity; this is fear that a new king has come.

The city is shaken. The pilgrim crowds coming in from the countryside are exultant. The demonstration with the donkey and the cries of the crowds reflect ancient rituals of the king riding up to Jerusalem. Jerusalem, the city of kings and priests, the city of wealth and power, is shaken just as it quaked in fear when the magi came and asked for the newborn king. Now the child they tried to murder is grown and arrives to claim his inheritance as the Son of David and Son of God.

The city is shaken. This city that slays the prophets. This city that resists God’s reign. This city that thrives on wealth and power, not justice and mercy. This is a city in partnership with Rome, not the city of God set on a hill, the righteous communion.

The city is shaken. “Who is this?” they ask with trepidation. “The prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee,” the pilgrims joyfully answer. God is coming to reclaim his city. God is coming to deliver the nation. God is coming to set right the world!

But the city doesn’t want change.

Jesus is trouble. He is always trouble. Trouble for the green zone but mercy for those outside the walls. Trouble for pharaohs but redemption for slaves. Trouble for ‘the seeing’ but light for the blind. Trouble for the victors but hope for the vanquished. Trouble for the “righteous” and grace for sinners. Trouble for the temple system but power for the community of believers.

The city is shaken. They have reason to shake. The world is being reborn.

“This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee”!

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”

A strange and different messiah

Wednesday

Matthew 21

2011 Palm Sunday Procession 29The 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!”

We are not very good at enacting the excitement of that first Palm Sunday. What is supposed to be a raucous crowd of pilgrims shouting acclamations full of messianic hopes as they throng the road to Jerusalem on the occasion of their great national celebration of deliverance becomes a relatively polite and orderly reading of assigned lines by people trying to walk and read their bulletins at the same time, while looking to get their usual pew.

It’s different for us, of course. We don’t come to this day with the same fervent hope for revolution. We do not have enemy soldiers watching the crowds. We do not have an enemy garrison at the corner of the church lot. We do not have a story of miraculous deliverance – we have a national story of brave men and clever citizen soldiers fighting from behind trees with truth and justice and providence on their side. Our Fourth of July is a time for beer and picnics and fireworks. It doesn’t have the expectancy of the big game. It isn’t fueled by present tyranny. We do not anticipate angelic armies with drawn swords to appear by our side.

Nor do we live in a time when this simple acclamation “Hosanna!” is provocation enough for the riot police to start smashing heads.

So I will forgive a little lack of enthusiasm in our Palm Sunday procession. What will happen next is not fueled by uncertainty and possibility. We know the story. The soldiers will crack heads. Or they would, if Jesus had not chosen to go quietly and give us time to flee. Jesus, however, will get cracked. Brutally. More brutally than we can imagine. Give humans a machete and a reason to hate and you will be horrified to discover the things of which we are capable.

The purpose of the Palm Sunday liturgy is not to get us geeked up as on that original day. It is to let us worship with our hands and feet and well as our heart and mind, to give us a chance to step outside the ordinary and to physically walk into this extraordinary story where messianic hope is radically rewritten. No longer is it about the power to crack heads (cracking the “bad guys’ heads”); suddenly it is about the refusal to crack heads, the refusal to answer violence with violence, the decision to love even those with batons and spears and a hammer and nails.

It is a strange and different messiah. A sacrificial lamb. A footwasher. A man of prayer. An embodiment of grace and truth. An innocent laying down his life that others may be freed from the self-righteousness and violence that lurks in the darkness of the human heart. An innocent through whom God will raise a new people, a new community, a new world to life.

Hosanna.  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

The appearance of defeat

Watching for the morning of April 13

Year A

Palm Sunday / Sunday of the Passion

2011 Easter Pix 005Sunday will immerse us in the passion of Jesus. We gather with the festive procession with palms, joyfully entering the church with acclamation and song – there to share in the story of the one who was broken for us.

In this Lenten season we have been reading in John’s Gospel. We have heard about the birth from above, the living water and the blind man seeing: life, water of life, light of life – and then life from death, the resurrection of Lazarus. Now, for this Sunday we switch back to Matthew and that powerful narrative of the welcoming crowds, the expectant hope, the betrayal, the crushing defeat. Or, at least, what looks like defeat.

But it is not defeat. Jesus knows the path he travels. Scripture bears witness to his work. It is in his hand to call upon twelve legions of angels, but he will not. He comes to fulfill the scriptures. He comes to embody them. He comes to be the faithful son – the theme with which we began this Lenten season when the devil assaulted Jesus in the wilderness but could not turn him from his fidelity to God. His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane is for this cup to pass him by, but his deeper prayer, his more fundamental request, is “not what I want but what you want.”

It is not that God wants Jesus to die, but this is the path upon which God and humanity have been set since Adam and Eve eyed the fruit in the Garden and thought they could be gods. It is the path that brings our rebellion from God to its terrible climax and changes forever the chemistry between God and ourselves. Humanity does its worst; God does his best; and in that interchange the door opens to a new world, a world reborn, a world brought back to its right place under the governance of God’s creating, life-giving spirit. The door to a new world opens, if we will choose it, if we will enter, if we will turn from fighting God to following him.

But whether or not we turn toward God, God has turned toward us. Decisively and eternally. At whatever price.

The Prayer for April 13, 2014

Almighty God, Hidden in Mystery and Majesty,
trusting your promise, Jesus entered Jerusalem
knowing the sacrifice he would offer.
Grant us a share of his Spirit
and the courage to follow his way of love.

The Texts for April 13, 2014

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.

Appointed Readings for Passion Sunday

First Reading: Isaiah 50:4-9a
“I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.” – Another of the ‘servant songs’ from Isaiah describing a teacher who suffers, but trusts completely in God’s vindication.

Psalmody: Psalm 31:9-16
“My life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away.” – A cry from one who suffers and who faces the threat of a violent death. It echoes with themes of the passion and contains the words Jesus used from the cross “Into your hands I commend my spirit.”

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, 7 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