Liturgy of the Palms: Psalms and Gospel Passages – The Lord Comes!

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!
Let Israel say, “His steadfast love endures forever.” (Psalms 118:1-2)

Today we look at the scripture passages, the Psalms passage and the New Testament passage, that are the Liturgy of the Palms. The palms are the branches that were used to cover the street when Jesus rode into Jerusalem. And this psalms passage has become associated with that event.

Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it.” (Verses 19-20)

As I consider this passage, I am reminded that of the focus and theme of this year, confession, penance, and forgiveness. And that three step process is the way to righteousness.

I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.” (Verse 21)

It is during the season of Lent that this progression of confession/penance/forgiveness has significance, although I suspect that I will find ways and means to bring it to our attention later in the year. And that it is through Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf that brings the righteous we want and need. Of course, there are those of authentic belief who may see other aspects of Jesus that have more significance for them. That is the beauty of Jesus’ ministry, that it contains something for everyone, if they would but look for it.

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” (Verse 22-23)

Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem was a time of celebration; the spirit of the moment caught hold, and Jesus was sought after and revered.

“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Verse 24)

But Jesus and his ministry was more than celebration and accolades. And in the days that followed, a more somber note was injected into Jesus Christ’s ministry.

“Save us, we beseech you, O Lord! O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!” (Verses 25)

That is, however, pondering for another day – not today.

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
We bless you from the house of the Lord.
The Lord is God, and he has given us light.
Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar.” (Verses 26-27)

Today we welcome Jesus Christ to his rightful place in our world, and in our lives.

You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God, I will extol you.
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” (Verses 28-29)

After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.”
(Luke 19:28-34)

“The Lord needs it.” Ever since I first read this passage, and was old enough to understand it, I marveled that those simple words were enough for Jesus being given leave to take this colt. As I considered these words again, it occurred to me that in the same simple but compelling way we need the Lord.

Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,
Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” ( Verses 36-40)

Let us, beloved reader, not be silent either. Let us shout out our praises to the Lord, and confess our need of our Lord. Let us this day celebrate the coming of our Lord to us. Selah!

Liturgy of the Palms/Passion: The Epistles Passage – Copying and Confessing Jesus

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, being born in human likeness.” (Philippians 2:5 – 7a)

Yesterday’s scripture passage from Isaiah set up a longing in me that I thought I might talk about. But whatever (or Whomever) inspires me took me a different direction. But today, reading about Jesus humbling himself to become a human in outward form (my personal theology snuck through there) I am reminded that I wanted “to have the tongue of a teacher . . . to sustain the weary with a word.” Maybe that desire did come across – I don’t know.

While I would like to claim that for myself, I also heed the writer of Philippians admonition to be humble. It is interesting to think about humanity trying to “out humble” Christ. Just like we cannot be the perfection that is Jesus Christ, we cannot take on the complete humbleness of Christ. But, this line of thought could get us in deeper philosophical and theological waters than I want to be. So let us move on to the next section of the scripture passage.

“And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.” (Verses 7b – 8)

That is why we cannot “out humble” Christ; all that is the Godself – omnipotent, omnipresent, omni-everything – set that aside and accepted death that some might see as a failure in a deity. But those some would be mistaken.

Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,” (Verses 9 – 10)

Here too are deep spiritual waters; confusing though, if the believe that God and Jesus Christ are one and the same. How can God exalt Jesus who is the God-self? I wish I could explain it sufficiently to beloved reader. But I am still trying to explain it to myself, and I am befuddled. There are others who have a differing understanding then mine, and perhaps their explanation would encompass what I seem to see as a paradox.

“and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Verse 11)

But the nice thing is that I do not have to completely understand it; I can just accept that it is what it is. And believe that the logic and rationale is not mine to know yet. So maybe my “tongue” is not the teacher I would hope it could be. And I cannot sustain all the weary and all that makes humanity weary with my words. And I cannot match the humility of Christ.

But what I can do, and what you can do too beloved reader, is continue striving to be of the same mind as Christ; that is, emulate Christ as much as is humanly possible. Set aside our doubts and simply believe. And “confess” that Jesus Christ is Lord being glory to God! Selah!

Liturgy of the Palms/Passion: The Old Testament Passage – Wrapping up the season of Lent

We come, beloved reader, to the last Sunday before Easter. This Sunday is called Liturgy of the Palms or Liturgy of the Passion – depending on whether your focus is the ride into Jerusalem or the Last Supper. The passages concerning the Last Supper this week are from Luke. During Holy Week the Gospel passages will be from John.

Let me say this, beloved reader. During Easter the Revised Common Lectionary kind of “goes crazy” using scripture passages. Each day of Holy Week, next week, has it complete set of four passage (one from the Old Testament, New Testament, Gospel, and Epistles). But this is one of the culmination points of the church year, and rather than picking and choosing the lectionary uses scripture with wild abandon. But . . . we are not there yet. We are here, at the beginning of the end.

The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.” (Isaiah 50:4a)

With Easter coming early this year, it feels like to me that the weeks of Lent have gone quickly. Maybe for you it has been long weeks; and maybe that fatigue has more to do with the events in your life than will the scripture passages of Lent. I do not know if reading these passages and reading what I have to see about them has helped or sustained you. I know taking up this spiritual practice has sustained me. Because, while the weeks of Lent have gone quickly, the days have been filled with their difficulties.

Morning by morning he wakens— wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught.” (Verse 4b)

I do my writing in the evening, so the reference to morning does not exactly apply to me. But at the end of a long day it is good to sit down with God’s word and listen to what it has to say to me.

The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. 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.” (Verses 5 – 6)

And each morning I was able to face my day, fortified with what God gave to me the night before.

The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame;” (Verse 7)

This is not the first time, nor the second, nor even the third time I have read these verses. Years upon years of reading the same verse; they do not change but the circumstances under which I read them did. And each trouble and tribulation that confronted me was faced down with the power of God’s words as spoken through the writer of Isaiah, and other writers of the bible.

“he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me.” (Verse 8)

Who are your adversaries beloved reader? Who or what confronts you, or has confronted you during these weeks of Lent? Have you availed yourself of the power of God? This Lent season our theme was confession, penance, and forgiveness. I tried to remind us of that often; but when you are confronted with troubles and woes, the type of confession we usually think of does not seem accurate and appropriate. But there is another type of confession; telling God what we are feeling, how we are feeling, what we are afraid and what is causing fear in those near and dear to us. That is confession too. We may not need forgiveness, but we need restoration.

“It is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty?” (Verse 9)

It is early yet in the final week before Holy Week. Plenty of time to confess to God everything and anything that is laying heavily in our hearts. And if my words teach and sustain, let them do this so you might come to our Lord God, and find the peace and rest that your soul and spirit desires. Selah!

Fifth Sunday of Lent 2016: The Gospel Passage – One of the Mary’s story [What we need is restoration]

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” (John 12:1-8)

Here again is the story of Mary. I have thought about, read, written, and performed this account of Mary many times. It is very dear to me. And very familiar. So familiar that I determined to track down where and how I have used it over the years. And in this searching, I came across something I thought I had lost year ago. Not a feeling, memory or experience – but something I wrote and performed many years ago. It was a dramatic presentation about Mary and how she was restored and redeemed by Jesus because of her anointing him.

I wrote it and performed it as a part of a chapel service during Lent or Easter – I cannot remember which. It was, in its essence, religious or spiritual performance art. My dialogue reflected what was most probably the circumstances and position that women had during the time that Jesus had his earthly ministry. The set design was three chairs; each chair represented an aspect of Mary’s life story. And next to the chairs was a representation of the cross. During the service there was some singing and a time of prayer, and a worship leader who guided the congregation through the service. My part was a presenting of the the scripture passage.

I still marvel that I had the courage and confidence to do something like that. I am not sure I could do it now. I think if I were to write it, or re-write it today, I might not have been so bold in what I said, and how I presented Mary’s life and the other women who lived at that time. I tool some definite license and liberties. However, I did present it to the group who was planning the services. It warmed my spirit to think that I was the woman who conceived of, wrote and performed this drama. And it warms my spirit again that you, beloved reader, might join the character of Mary in coming to and accepting the restoration that Jesus Christ offers. Selah!

DRAMATIC MEDITATION:What we need is restoration

First chair:
I am a Jewish woman of Galilee, living in the time of Herod the Great, or the not so great. My name is Mary. There are many women named Mary. I am the one who is a sister to Martha and Lazarus. Being a woman in Galilee is not easy; of course, it is not easy anywhere. We must keep our heads covered at all times. If we are seen in public we must be properly attired, and in society we must be chaperoned. In a court of law we are not to be believed. A woman’s word is given no credibility because we are thought not to have any intellect. In the synagogue we are not to speak. There are some who would say a woman does not have an eternal soul. Other than being wives and mothers, we have little value. Even then we can be easily replaced by a simple statement, “Out, out with you; you no longer please me!” So it was set down by Moses, that great patriarch! That we can be so easily forced from our home! I am glad my brother has never forced a marriage on me, as would be his right; also according to the Torah. Clearly, the Torah is not for us, but we are ruled by it, and by it our homes are ruled. In the home our duties are confined to the kitchen and the raising of small children . . . . . . Hmmm, that’s funny thinking about me raising children, being the sister of Lazarus. I am not unfamiliar with raising; you see, my brother was raised from the dead by Jesus.

Second chair:
Jesus was a frequent visitor in our house. There are many stories of Jesus visiting in our home. One story concerns my sister Martha and myself. Martha was well suited to life in Galilee, finding satisfaction in working in the home. That time when Jesus spoke to Martha, defending my right to listen to him became a widely told story. But there is another story, a story that sends tremors through my being. There are several different accounts of that evening. Some say it was in our own home; others say it was in Simon’s home, where my character was presented as somewhat less than respectable, and I was suspected of dishonorable actions. But every woman is suspect, especially when you have the nerve to appear in public with your head uncovered. And when you touch the body of a man who is not a relative. And when you have, and then squander, valuables. Perhaps I became known as a fallen woman because of what I did then; or perhaps I have always been seen as an unredeemed and fallen woman, simply because I am a woman.

However the story is told, and whoever tells it, I was denounced, humiliated, and then cast aside. My only intent was to honor the man who brought my brother back from the dead. I had known before, sitting at his feet, that he was a man of greatness. But after the miracle that restored my brother’s life, I knew Jesus had power over life and death. I was sure he was the Messiah! But not the kind they expected. And I knew from bitter experience how those who go against society are treated. I knew, even though he was a man, he would be denounced, humiliated, and then cast aside. But did they understand? Did any of them understand what was happening that night? No, they thought only of themselves, who they were and what they could do. Jesus is for those who are helpless, outcast.

Did I know what would happen to me when I anointed him this way? Yes! I knew. Touching him in such an intimate way, kissing his feet. It was shocking I am sure. And washing his feet. It spoke of servitude, washing his feet; but better to be his servant than to be ill-used by another. And using such expensive perfumed ointment. I had saved it for many years, against the time I might be forced from my home. It was to support me in desperate times. But at that moment, I was never more desperate! He said I anointed him for his burial! My heart was breaking for him, and for myself. But Jesus saw that and understood.

Third chair:
Just as he understood when I sat at his feet, listening to his teachings. I had chosen that day to set aside what had been my life and look for something better and greater. Jesus said I had chosen the better part of life.. He spoke for me against all of established society. He lifted me up and honored me. He said I would be remembered for this service, not as a woman who has fallen, not as a woman who is disgraced, but as a woman who has done a great service for her Lord. He told me I was forgiven. In that moment when he looked at me with compassion and mercy, I was redeemed and restored. Nay, I was transformed. Who would have thought a woman could see the true role of Jesus. Who would have thought a woman would be allowed to so honor him. I am no longer just a mere woman; I am a woman of God, cherished and honored as his beloved.

Perhaps I see in your faces a longing to be so cherished, and so loved by God. Perhaps you have suffered hurts and insults; perhaps you have hurt and wronged others. Let me tell you what I learned from my Lord. All who come to him are welcomed, forgiven and honored.
{move to where the cross is}
Come, join me at this symbol of declaration, confession and transformation. Come to the cross and know who your Redeemer is.

Fifth Sunday of Lent 2016: The Old Testament Passage – Waiting in exhaustion

Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings forth chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:” (Isaiah 43:16-17)

I know the writer of Isaiah is referring the Egyptians – “chariot and horse, army and warrior” – who came out after the Hebrews when they left Egypt; but that is how I am feeling right now – “they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick.” It sort of makes me feel for the Egyptians; I like better the “way in the sea” and the “path in the mighty waters.” I want to feel better and escape the health problems I am having. Maybe you too, beloved reader, would like to get away from some things that are plaguing you. And I suspect that the writer of Isaiah might have some things to say that will help us.

“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Verses 18 to 19a)

If I had “Preacher and Seeker” here I am sure they would have something to say about this; something that would make us pause and think. But tonight it is just me, and I am exhausted and extinguished. I do not perceive the new thing.

“I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
The wild beasts will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise.” (19b to 21)

But just because I cannot perceive what the Lord is doing does not mean I do not praise the Lord. I have discovered in the recent past that the Lord is moving and shaping my world in ways I could not have imagined, and in outcomes that I had not conceived of. So I will wait until my “vision clears” and I can perceive the Lord’s new thing. Until then, I will live by hope and faith.

In the days that come before Easter, that is one of the “tasks” of Lent; to consider how helpless and hopeless we would be with the Lord God. So perhaps “extinguished” and “quenched like a wick” is not such a bad thing to be, during Lent. When the hope of the Lord is still to come, in ways we had never thought, conceived, or perceived.

May you waiting through Lent, beloved reader, be a time of anticipation to see what the Lord will do in your life. Selah!

Fifth Sunday of Lent 2016: The Psalms Passage – Getting back what we yearn for and need

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.” (Psalm 126:1)

I have commented on this passage several times, and have always held it to be that the “fortunes” were physical and material; not materialistic but having a place to live, food to eat, clothes to wear etc. The intent was when those who were in captivity were released and allowed to go home.

But I am thinking lately of something different, and this first verse crystallized it for me – health. When the Lord restored us . . . me to health. Not that it has happened, but if it ever would happen it would be like a glorious dream come true.

“Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.” (Verses 2 – 3)

One of the most difficult things is that when I am having health problems, it is hard for me to breath, and it get even more breathless when I laugh. So to be able to laugh without problems, and to have a full strong voice to shout with joy, that would be a dream come true too!

Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses in the Negeb.
May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.” (Verses 4 – 6)

I am going to tell you something, beloved reader; something that I have not told many people. When I started to get ill and realized how serious it could be, I promised myself a good long cry when this illness I have landed me in the hospital. Instead, But the development of this illness has been slow and gradual, and I have not had one long cry but frequent intervals of crying. So these verses resonant with me very much. I feel like I have been sowing tears for a long time.

I really did not mean to get this maudlin. And I try not to talk much here about my health. But these verses hit me at a low time. So here I am, laying before you my grief.

It is good though, to lay things before the Lord. It is one way of confessing what is going on in our lives. Confession need not be about the sin we have done, but the places and situations that we find ourselves in. And the penance is not making amends, but asking the Lord that we might persevere in the face of what we are . . . facing. And it is not forgiveness we seek, but restitution and restoration of those things, the valuable essential one, that are absent or that have been taken from us.

May the Lord God hear your pleas for restitution and restoration, beloved reader. Selah!

Fifth Sunday of Lent 2016: The Epistle Passage – What do you yearn for?

. . . even though I, too, have reason for confidence in the flesh.” (Philippians 3:4b)

This portion of verse puzzled me; maybe it puzzled you too, beloved reader. But then I read verse 5 and it became clear.

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” (Verses 4c to 6)

Paul, who had been Saul, was a “Jew’s Jew.” Born into the correct family, had the correct training, was zealous for the Lord and obeyed all the commandments as understood by the Jews – yes, he was one of the “golden boys” of his time.

Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.” (Verses 7 to 9)

What do you regard as “loss” beloved reader? What do you value that pales in comparison to Christ and the good news that he brought? One of the many tasks of Lent is to take stock of ourselves, and to see what we have worked towards. What have obtained and what have we accomplished that is of true and lasting value.

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Verses 10 to 11)

We value and hold on to so many things in this life; in fact it seems that our entire lives are spent in acquiring those things that make US feel good. But those “feel goods” can be so fleeting. I am not saying I am less culpable of this than anyone else. I stop, or am stopped if truth be told, and consider the hurry and scurry that I and everyone else is involved in. We focus so much on the here and now that we don’t realize – this world is not all there is. And what lies ahead is so much more precious and worthy than what we have now.

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Verses 12 – 14)

I will be one of the first ones to admit that Paul can be very melodramatic; I can be too. But this important stuff. And we need to pay attention to it. It is good that the season of Lent and such scripture passages help us to heed these things and focus on them. May you, beloved reader, work and strive towards those things that are important. Selah!