Saturday, April 11, 2020: Holy Saturday
Texts: Job 14:1-14; Lamentations 3:1-9, 19-24; Psalm 31:1-4, 15-16; Matthew 27:57-66
Scripture Thoughts (Matt. 27:62-66; Ps. 31:15-16) 62 The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. 63 “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ 64 So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.” 65 “Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” 66 So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.
My future is in your hands. Rescue me from those who hunt me down relentlessly. 16 Let your favor shine on your servant. In your unfailing love, rescue me.
Reflection: Holy Saturday. It’s that barren land between despair and hope. Giving in to despair takes every ounce of purpose and fulfillment out of the picture; putting everything into hope runs the risk of being disappointed beyond recovery. Job felt it. Jeremiah felt it in his Lamentations. The Psalmist knew all about it. Did Jesus, too? Was his last gasp on the cross indeed just that, a valiant attempt to change the world and find vindication from God the Father by way of a last-second rescue by angelic hosts, swooping in to save the day? What about the disciples who looked on from a distance. Or not? Did they despair, or give up?
Holy Saturday is about the depths of seeming loss. It’s that next day when one wakes up, wondering if the horror of the previous day really happened, all the while trying to convince oneself against mounting evidence that it was just a bad dream. As the day wears on, the sorting out, the making sense, the coming to grips processes are in gear. Not that they are completed, for that takes a longer time, as many people in the aftermath of many tragedies have experienced. Some never do recover.
For the followers of Jesus when he was here on earth, but also for us who follow him later in history, the question of was he really who and what we believed him to be is raised by the unexpected and unwanted turns of fortune. We thought he’d be with us always; now he isn’t. Now it is really dark, and all is uncertain. Whether it is for two days, two months, two years, or two decades, the seeming absence of God from our lives and the prospect that He will not be back is daunting. We are right to cry out, to hold on to only the slimmest of threads of hope that remain. Will the unthinkable miracle of his renewed presence with us actually come to pass? Is it even reasonable to hope that it will? The idea of Jesus walking and talking with us just might be in the past. Must it stay there? Was I just fooled in the first place to have believed?
That is Holy Saturday, desperately longing for Sunday to come.
Prayer. Lord, there are times when we aren’t even sure it’s worth crying out to You. In those times we do so more in desperate hope than in confident expectation. As we feel the weight of the heartaches and tragedies in this world, turn our attention to the saints of the past, whose witness in the Scriptures call us to hold fast. Let us reach for Your unfailing love in midst of our failed expectations. Amen.
Friday, April 10, 2020: Good Friday
Texts: Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 10:16-25; John 18:1-19:42
Scripture Thought (Isa. 53:7-9) He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. 9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.
Reflection: There is a great hesitation to write anything about the Scripture passages for today. What could anyone possibly add to what the Holy Spirit inspired through the biblical authors? The passages speak timelessly of an event in time that changed all time. They are long; but read them nonetheless if you can. As you do, remember that the Psalm was written around the tenth century before Christ came into the world; Isaiah was written in the sixth century before Christ. The gospel was written late in the first century AD, and the Epistle to the Hebrews at likely about the same time, perhaps a little earlier. The coherence of the single story is remarkable, to say the least.
Reading the 22nd Psalm is like reading a synopsis of the crucifixion itself. When Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me,” was it simply a cry of pain? Undoubtedly, it could be understood as that. But the idea that the Father had in truth turned His back on the Son is not actually supported by Scripture. What was happening, then, if not that? Quoting the first line of a psalm was a way of asking the hearer familiar with the psalms to consider the entirety of that psalm. The Jewish leaders witnessing the crucifixion were familiar with the psalms. When Jesus called that psalm to their attention it was a witness against them, perhaps his last attempt to have them reconsider his true identity. Consider in particular verse 8: “He trusts in the Lord,” they say, “let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.” This after some of them had uttered those very words. Pieced side, thirst, lots cast for his clothes--they couldn’t miss it!
The writer to the Hebrews tells us, after the events, what it all means--and what we should remember most about it--far from the death of Jesus being the last word, it is the precursor to making everything new. And it’s what we need to remember about our faith. We might have difficulties; but we may have confidence that God knows how to bring hope out of even the most hopeless circumstances. He alone has the last word, and it is hope.
Prayer. Jesus, Savior of the world, we have few words to say when we survey the wondrous cross on which you died. Wondrous not in the beauty of the hour, but in what it brought to us to make us whole again. Thanks, honor, praise--all belong to you. Humble submission to your desire and commission to follow in your steps among the lost and hurting in this world is what we offer. Amen.
Thursday, April 9, 2020: Maundy Thursday
Texts: Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14; Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Scripture Thought (1 Cor. 11:23-26): 23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Reflection: There’s something beautiful and timeless about the Jewish Passover celebration. As families are gathered around the table, a child will ask the same question each year: “Father, why is this night unlike any other night?” As Christians, we have our traditions; we have little that is as simple as this--a generation rising and hearing from the elders what it is that marks their identity, rooted in the saving actions of the God who called them to be His people.
While the Holy Communion, or the Lord’s Supper, for Christians takes up more than the Passover theme, it surely includes it. The very setting of that first Supper is the Passover celebration, which Jesus really wanted to celebrate with his closest friends. When he did, he took up the role of the elder, then transformed the answer to the perennial question. He truly made the evening one which all Christians continue to look at, ask about, and wonder over. He truly made this night one unlike any other, not only for the Hebrew people celebrating their release from captivity, but for all mankind on the night before his death. He was about to bring release from the bondage of sin through his death and resurrection.
Most Christians celebrate The Lord’s Supper more frequently than once a year. Many observe it at every service of worship. Whether frequently or infrequently (Jesus gave the words to Paul, including “whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup”), we have here the identifying mark of the faith in this sacrament. As noted a couple of days ago, the center of the faith, sometimes referred to as the Mystery of the Faith, is the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. This simple act of sharing bread and cup declares that faith. Christ died, Christ arose, Christ shall come again. It is not only a backward look; it is a present and future celebration as well, for in some mysterious way, the Holy Spirit “feeds” us with Christ’s presence, and his command to walk in his way, to observe the new commandment--to love one another. It is from that simple yet always challenging commandment that we get the term Maundy Thursday. “Maundy” (from the Latin word mandus) refers to the giving of the law. It’s one that never needs to be updated or contextualized because it will always be relevant, wherever humankind may dwell. Today, in a viral-conscious world, and tomorrow with whatever challenges it will hold, let us truly remember him by observing the commandment.
Prayer. Lord, even though we cannot gather together, we long to receive your presence with your people. We long to know you in bread and cup, in life and in death, in worship and in service. Teach us your ways, and forgive the sins we have committed by following our own instead. By the forgiving mercies and by the empowering Spirit, we shall be your people, defined by your love poured out. Amen.
Wednesday, April 8, 2020
Texts: Wednesday of Holy Week Isaiah 50:4-9a; Hebrews 12:1-3; John 13:21-32
Scripture Thought (Heb. 12:1-3): Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Reflection: For the joy set before him. Yesterday we spoke of following one’s path, one’s calling and responsibility no matter the cost. And that’s central to the Christian story, as we revisit it and try to incorporate the attitude of doing what God calls us to do with His purpose in mind. But there’s another side to it as well. For God’s way is not to simply use people and let them suffer without rewarding them richly. God is not some heavenly dictator or syndicate boss who sees people only for their usefulness in accomplishing His purpose. Here, too, Jesus is our example.
For the joy set before him. It wasn’t mere happiness, a good feeling to get caught up in, with heightened physical senses and lots of laughter for a moment or two. It was more than thinking of being with his travel buddies again on the other side of the grave, when all the pain and anguish would be over. The joy set before Jesus is captured in the 17th chapter of John’s gospel. There Christ was looking ahead to a return to the fellowship with The Father and the Holy Spirit that he had known before the incarnation. And as he indicated in that prayer to the Father, his desire was to bring the followers he had come to know so well into that kind of fellowship. Not them only, of course, but those who would believe because of their witness to the good news. What would hurt tremendously in the short term would be set aside, swallowed up in the joy that was to come, bringing redeemed people into the fellowship of the kingdom he was inaugurating.
It’s no wonder that the writer to the Hebrews encouraged his readers to look ahead. They, if they would hold tight and follow this example, would know the truest joy if they followed him in life. What keeps people from investing in this joy? Simply put, substitutes. We’re easily distracted by any number of things that promise to make us feel good. Why should we wait for joy that is unseen, and therefore uncertain in our minds, when there is a good feeling to be had now? As a result we easily end up entertaining ourselves to death, but without finding joy that lasts. Investing in the way of the cross is the only surefire way of reaching the best of delight,
Prayer. Jesus, be our guide to the joy we all inwardly crave. Let us not settle for substitutes that strangle our souls. Forgive us for seeking happiness at the expense of faithfulness to the path you are laying out before us, calling us to “walk in this way.” Amen.
Tuesday, April 7
Tuesday of Holy Week. Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 71:1-14; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; John 12:20-36
Scripture Thought (John 12:27-29): 27 “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him. (Psalm 71:3-4): Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go; give the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress. 4 Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of those who are evil and cruel.
Reflection: Sometimes knowing what’s coming isn’t a good thing, or at least not a comfortable thing. There will be greater distress than you have ever known, and you search desperately for another way to get from here to there; but every alternative route will take you somewhere else, somewhere you do not want to be, somewhere that will leave you wanting. At that point, some affirmation would surely be a welcome gift, if not a critical need.
People can be conflicted in such situations. Was Jesus conflicted? His human nature must have been. Some of the same anguish we see in the Garden of Gethsemane scene in the other gospels is captured here in John 12. “Troubled;” wanting to be saved from what’s just ahead. It’s the response of many a godly figure through the Bible, given expression by the psalmist: “give the command to save me . . .Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked.” But Jesus thinks it through and concludes that this is where the Father needs him to be, and he’ll follow through and count on that Father’s faithfulness. He counts on it, not to remove him from the path, but to be with him and save him through the events about to unfold. Not around them, but through them.
There have been times at which people have had the choice between running from their duties and possibly saving their lives, or doing what they have been given to do, knowing the outcome might be serious harm or even death. We give the term cowardice to the first choice; we might use bravery or valor or heroic to the second. It’s not easy; it never is. The more demanding the situation, the higher the stakes, and more unique the circumstances, the more admirable is the one who goes through with the plan. If we get the point, that is. No stakes were higher, no pain greater than that of Jesus. Yet it seems that many people still don’t understand the point, and therefore conclude the whole thing is rather foolish. (see the 1 Corinthians text for today). Yet history has proven the power of this wisdom of God, to disarm raw power as the driving force of the world and replace it with sacrificial love as the model. Only when the church has lost its grip on Jesus through his passion is it tempted to use force to advance against the gates of hell. It has happened too often in too many ways. Let’s look again at our example. Surrender to God's path for each of us is power--resurrection power.
Prayer. Lord, an old hymn tells us the way of the cross leads home. And so does Jesus. Forgive us for using any other way as we seek to advance the work you came to begin and into which you have called us. Give your people courage for the roads we must travel in giving ourselves to declaring good news. Grant the faith that is the victory. Amen.
Monday, April 6, 2020
Texts: Monday of Holy Week Isaiah 42:1-9; Psalm 36:5-11; Hebrews 9:11-15; John 12:1-11
Scripture Thought (Isa. 42:1-4): “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations. 2 He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. 3 A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; 4 he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”
Reflection: As we enter into the last week of Lent, our thoughts will turn more directly to Jesus and that last week of his pre-resurrection ministry. It is this week that not only climaxes his story, but changes the world’s story. While that sounds like an audacious statement--one man changing the story for billions of people across time and around the globe--it really is what Christians have always believed. The center of the common Christian creeds affirms as much:
“ . . . suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried . . .” (Apostles’ Creed)
“ . . . who for us and for our salvation came down from heaven . . .and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried ” (Nicene Creed)
This week is about those events. We must return to them repeatedly because they must become part of our stories as well. That is, we should not ever define ourselves outside of an awareness that we are among those for whom Christ suffered and died that we might be saved.
The entire Bible is involved in declaring the meaning of Christ’s appearance and ministry. The prophet Isaiah is filled with references to the Lord, long before he came among us. We need to hear what he had to say; we need to be reminded not only that he was going to come, but also of what his mission would be. Hence the text for today from that prophecy. Mary anointed Jesus prior to his suffering and death, affirming that this Jesus, this friend of hers, was indeed the one. The Hebrews text is part of an extended passage which lays out in detail the connection of Jesus to the entire system of sacrifice given in the Jewish Scriptures. And all of it is taken up to give enhanced meaning to the expressions of praise first voiced in the psalms, such as today’s portion of the thirty-sixth psalm: “How priceless is Your unfailing love, O God!”
With a world so consumed with the news of the day, it is easy for us to be drawn aside from the one story that truly changes everything. Perhaps it is more urgent this year than in most seasons of Lent that we hear, digest, meditate upon the passion of our Lord. For then we might be better prepared as we walk among bruised reeds and smoldering wicks as we come upon them--people damaged and broken, maybe like candles about to go out. Rather than damaging them further, let us walk in ways that heal and restore.
Prayer. Jesus, as we begin the week we’ve learned to call “Holy” because of your holy love poured out, draw us closer to yourself. Teach us how your story, especially the giving of yourself, can change us and lead us to walk in a manner worthy of you. Let us be especially aware of the ones bowed down with many cares, under many weights and sorrows. Fill us with your Spirit to provide what you desire to give them of your grace. Amen.