PRAYER . . . During Holy Week – Praying Forward to Holy Saturday

The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them. The Lord watches over all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy. My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord. Let every creature praise his holy name for ever and ever.” (Reference: Psalms 145:18-21 )

I am doing something a little unprecedented beloved. I am not posting anything for Saturday. I am doing this because this is a day of waiting. I more to say about this a little later.

If you took note, I posted this around 3 pm on Good Friday. That is because the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke all say that around 3 pm the curtain in the temple was torn in half. And it seems to me, beloved, that symbolized God and humanity drawing nearer. God from the holy of holies reached out to a sinning and suffering world.

The lectionary has scripture passages for this day, Holy Saturday. If you follow the lectionary as a guide for scripture study or you own worship and faith disciplines, you may already know what they are. If using the lectionary is something new to you, or something you would be interested in learning more about, I would encourage to find out for you own reasons what the passages are. The most significant passages, I think, are the two that relate Joseph of Arimathea’s asking for and receiving Jesus’ body for burial. This was done late in the day, and done hurriedly because the Sabbath was approaching, and nothing could be done that day.

On that Sabbath day 2000 year ago those who knew Jesus did not know what they were waiting for; but we do know. And so we wait; or more precisely, I wait. I invite you to wait with me in silence, and perhaps meditate. I will “see” you on the other side, when our hope will be rise anew. Selah!

PRAYER . . . During Holy Week – Good Friday

“[Azariah] went out to meet Asa and said to him, “Listen to me, Asa and all Judah and Benjamin. The Lord is with you when you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.” 2 Chronicles 15:2 )

So many thoughts are jumbled around in my mind as I read this passage and place it in the context of Good Friday.

First – Prayer is so essential to the Christian life. Jesus took time away often during his ministry to pray. And as he faced the toughest and final chapter in his ministry, he prayed all night in the garden of Gethsemane. Several, if not all, the gospels talk about him praying so fiercely that he sweat blood. It must be a Divine thing. Or an embellishment by the gospel writers.

Second – I think of Christ crying out on the cross “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?!” But that too must be a Divine or gospel writer thing because Christ never forsake God, so why would God forsake Christ? And Christ commended his spirit (His Spirit) into God’s hands. We should do likewise.

Third – God was with Christ throughout the traveling from judicial court to judicial court. That was what most of Christ’s day contained. While it might seem that God left Christ to whatever might happen to him, God was with Jesus every step. I am sure that Jesus Christ prayed to God as he journeyed from accuser to accuser, and the steps to the hill where he was crucified. It could only have been the prayers in the garden that readied him for that day.

Fourth and final – While we might not be Divine and will probably not experience what Christ did, we can be as close to God in prayer that Jesus Christ was. Do not be surprised by this beloved. This is part of the example of Jesus being flesh as we are flesh. He communed the God as we can, through prayer, thoughts, song meditation etc – all things that we can do too!

May you beloved keep all of these things in mind this day. Selah!

As I said beloved, today is Good Friday. In the lectionary we read:

“See, my servant shall prosper; he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high.” from Isaiah 52: 13 to 53:12

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?” from Psalm 22

“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” from Hebrews 10:16-25

“Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” from Hebrews 4:14-16 and Hebrews 5:7-9

And finally:

“After Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered.” from John 18:1 to 19:42

These passages bring to mind many of the elements of Good Friday. The prophecies of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Jesus’ agony on the cross. What Jesus’ sacrifice gives to us and means for us. And the example that it sets for us. And finally, Jesus willingness to allow himself to be put to death, for reasons that span from that time to today, and forward into the future. Each year we remember Jesus’ life and example. Each year we look towards Lent as a time to examine our own lives – where we have gone astray and where we have followed our Lord with dedication and love. And each year we celebrate we remember Christ’s death, and hope for life beyond our own deaths. May you beloved think on these things this day. Selah!

KEEPING WATCH . . . During Holy Week – Thursday

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.” (Reference: 1 Peter 5: 10-11 )

I do not have an excerpt from a historic Anabaptist believer to tell you about beloved because this verse does not (at least I cannot find it under the heading of “Keeping Watch”) appear in Reading the Anabaptist Bible. Five years I commented on these two verses and found myself drawn to the concept of it being only “a little while” that one has to suffer. This “little while“ is set in comparison to eternity. Albert Barnes states this as a possibility but also adds another concept when he says, “After you have suffered as long as he shall appoint. The Greek is, “having suffered a little,” and may refer either to time or degree. In both respects the declaration concerning afflictions is true. They are short, compared with eternity; they are light, compared with the exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” But really, at least according to the historic Anabaptist perspective, it does not matter if the suffering is great or long because God will restore you and in fact maybe improve you – stronger, firmer and more steadfast. May the Lord keep watch over you, and may all of your suffering beloved be over quickly and painlessly. Selah!

Today is Thursday of Holy Week – Maundy Thursday. The word “Maundy” comes Latin and is a derivation from the first word in the phrase “Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos” (“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you”) “ from John 13:34. The larger passage, John 13: 1-17, 31b-35 which is one of the lectionary passages for this day, is where Jesus washes his disciple feet. When I was growing up Maundy Thursday was not part of the religious days celebrated during the Christian year. Good Friday was remembered (and we will look at that day tomorrow). The events of Good Friday (Christ’s trial and crucifixion) were mixed into the Lord’s Supper. As a child it always seemed so strange to me that the Lord’s crucifixion came so soon after the Lord’s Supper. But by giving Maundy Thursday it’s time, Christ’s traveling from court to court makes more sense.

The other lectionary passages for this day are Exodus 12:1-4, 5-10, 11-14 which are the passages about Passover. It was the Passover celebration that Jesus and his followers were having that has become our Lord’s Supper. The Psalms passage chapter 116 verses 1-2 and 12-19 is another praise passage to the Lord. And 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 is one of my most favorite passages. I may not remember the exact words, but the spirit and intent of the words are burned into my soul. “For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” Selah!

KEEPING WATCH . . . During Holy Week – Wednesday

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” (Reference: 1 Peter 5:8-9)

Menno Simons warned in his writings “The devil and his accomplices, such as the world and the flesh, being very envious, have declared war and have become . . . deadly enemies. The regenerate in turn have now become enemies of sin and the devil and have taken the field against all their enemies with the Author and finisher of their faith, under the banner of the crimson cross, armed with the armor of God, surrounded with angels of the Lord, and always watching with great solicitude lest they be overcome by their enemies who never slumber, but go about like roaring lions, seeking whom they may devour, hurt, and harm.” I am sure to the historic Anabaptists it seemed like everyone around them was their enemy, seeking to discredit their beliefs, undermine their faith, and dissuade them to lead the life they were called to.

But we, beloved, who live in this day and age do not have to fear the “roaring lion” . . . . do we? “The devil and his accomplices” have not changed that much in 450 years. The tenets of Christianity have not changed that much in 450 years – nor in 2000 years! We are still called to love our brother and sister, be compassionate to one another showing mercy and forgiveness. God remains the same. The Holy Spirit is still with us and guiding us. No, other than some minor issues – that same make major obstacles of faith – Christianity remains as it was. So there is no reason to believe that the evil in the world is any less intent on taking us and leading us away from God.

Five years ago, beloved, I closed my remarks saying, “May our Lord God keep the enemy at bay and uphold you until the light of Christ banishes forever the dark of gloom and misfortune. Selah!” That is not changed either!

Today is Wednesday of Holy Week. We are one step closer to Jesus being taken to the cross. In the scripture passages of the lectionary today we read about Jesus confronting Judas about his betrayal of Jesus Christ – John 13:21-32. In Isaiah 50:4-9a we read about the blessing of being given “the tongue of a teacher” and standing firm against our enemies. The passage from Psalm 70 asks for deliverance from the enemy. And the passage from Hebrews 12:1-3 is the encouragement from Paul to run the good race looking to Jesus as our example. May you beloved watch for the enemy and call on Jesus to deliver you from all things! Selah!

KEEPING WATCH . . . During Holy Week – Tuesday

Now, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.” (Reference: 1 Thessalonians 5: 1-5)

The historic Anabaptist believer, Abraham Picolet, shares the concern common to the historic Anabaptists of those times that believers would be found negligent in their faith. He wrote, “Make great haste to fear the Lord; for we live today, but do not know whether we shall live tomorrow. Be therefore watchful to fear the Lord; take courage; lift up the hands that hang down, and the feeble knees; and take diligent heed, for we know not when the Lord will come. Heb. 12:12; Matt. 24:42. The day of the Lord draws nigh; it comes as a thief in the night, when it is not expected. 1 Thess. 5:2. Look therefore not to men, for there are few that fear the Lord. Think how many there were when the whole world perished, and yet there were but eight who feared the Lord. Also, how many were saved when Sodom and Gomorrah perished. O think how few entered into the promised land, only Joshua and Caleb; the rest all perished because of their wickedness (even as it still goes with many on account of their wickedness), and because they would not believe God’s words, but resisted, vexed and persecuted the righteous; and if these will also not repent, they shall all likewise perish, for all those are for an example to us. Luke 13:3.” And if you consider the examples that he gives – Noah and his family, Lot and his family, and Joshua and Caleb out of all of those who were lead out of Egypt – it has been challenging to many to live a good Christian life. The writer of Thessalonians is of the perspective that his listens are good Christians and followers of God. But the historic Anabaptist believer Picolet seems to express a more pessimistic perspective. This could be based on how comparatively few “true” believers that the historic Anabaptists knew.

May you beloved be a true and faithful follower of God so that you will not be surprised by the return of Christ! Selah!

It is the second day of Holy Week – Tuesday. The theme for this day is being attentive and aware of many things – from the passage in Isaiah 49:1-7 where the writer of Isaiah recognizes his identity in God to the passage from Psalms 71:1-14 that celebrates God’s rescue of us; and the passage from I Corinthians 1:18-31 that recognizes that what may be foolishness to the world but wisdom to the believer; and the culmination in John 12:20-36 where Jesus is identified for the benefit of those with Jesus. May you beloved continue to be aware this week of Jesus’ mission in the world and the Lord’s mission in your life. Selah!

KEEPING WATCH . . . During Holy Week – Monday

Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time?” (Reference: Matthew 24:42-45 )

One of the side benefits of having a cell phone is always being able to know what the correct time is. Whether it be a power outage, daylight saving time change, or any other interruption of dependent time keeping apparatus – a cell phone can let you know what time it is. In this day and age NO ONE lets their cell phone get drained down to “no power” because we are all too dependent on that lifeline to other media and communication. In fact one of the newest innovations of technology is a data link between your cell phone and a watch worn on the rest! So we should always know what time it is!

Except . . . even the greatest of technological innovations is not going to tell us when the Son of Man will be returning. If it could, we could and would all synchronize our various time pieces to that date so we should be ready. The alternative, the writer of Matthew suggests, is to be ready constantly. That is, live our lives in readiness so that at Christ’s return we would be judge worthy.

Five years ago, when I wrote on this passage, I used it to focus on the passing of someone I knew from seminary. He was a remarkable person. His life was a reflection of these verses, for was a “faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their [spiritual] food at the proper time.” As I said five years ago, the Son of Man may have come unexpectedly for modern Anabaptist/Mennonite believer, but the Divine did not catch him unawares. May the same be said of all of us. Selah beloved!

This is also the Monday of Holy Week. In the lectionary cycle this is the day the story of Mary is told, where she anointed Jesus with costly perfume. Not only was Mary criticized by the disciple for this, but her brother Lazarus was condemned to death by the high priests because his being raised from the dead by Jesus was causing many Jews to desert the high priests and follow Jesus. May you believed spend this week watching and being ready for Christ’s return. Selah!

HOPE . . . . A Preacher and Seeker Call and Response

Preacher: Who fears the Lord?

Seeker: I fear the Lord, and am afraid for I am a sinner!

Preacher: Do not be afraid, gentle soul, for you are blessed!

Preacher: Who loves the Lord?

Seeker: I love the Lord, for God’s mercy is well established from days gone by!

Preacher: You are wise, gentle soul, for your hope is well placed in the Lord.

Preacher: Who desires to look upon the Lord?

Seeker: I do, but I an fearful to see the Lord’s divine countenance!

Preacher: Do not fear, for the eyes of the Lord are upon you with caring and compassion.

Seeker: The Lord is my protection and strong stay!

Preacher: The sun is strong at noon, and would scorch your soul!

Seeker: The Lord protects me and preserves me from stumbling.

Preacher: There are many things in this world that you will stumble over! Beware!

Seeker: The Lord will steady my footsteps and keep me from falling.

Preacher: The Lord will raise up your soul at the end of all days.

Seeker: The Lord will bring light to my eyes so that I will see and understand.

Preacher: The Lord will give you health, life, and blessing!

Seeker: Blessed be the name of the Lord.

This Sunday is Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday, the day that Jesus rode into Jerusalem. It is an important point on Jesus Christ’s journey to the cross. It seemed good to me, and the Spirit helped, to write a call and response with today’s scripture passage. My hope is that it will help you focus on this season of preparation for Easter. This year’s lectionary passages come from Matthew 21: 1-11; Psalms 118:1-2,19-29; Isaiah 50:4-9z; Psalms 31: 9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; and Matthew 26: 14 to 27:66. The coming week is called Holy Week and culminates in Good Friday. While some churches follow the format of Lent, other churches do not. However most churches include Palm/Passion Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter. If you have any questions about the season of Lent, please let me know. And may Jesus be the unfailing source of hope that you need. Selah!