Holy Week – Easter Sunday: Just all sorts of scriptures passages telling of and celebrating the Risen Lord, and what comes afterwards

There is a long list of passages that are to be used for the Easter vigil. But if I were to use all of them, or even the portion that is recommended – a minimum of three for the Old Testaments and Epistle, Psalm, and Gospel readings – I doubt there would be time for you beloved reader to read through it all. And then there are the passages that are for the Easter Service, and even more for Easter Evening. Being the high point of the church year, it has many scripture passages appropriated for it. So instead, let me lightly and briefly list a few.

But Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the LORD will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.” (Exodus 14:13 – 14)

The passage from Exodus the lectionary highly recommends. It comes from where the Hebrews newly released from Egypt stand by the Red Sea as the Egyptians are racing towards them. Their deliverance comes from the Lord, and only through the Lord. Without their Lord God they would be helpless.

Another Old Testament passage cited is from Genesis, the creation story, where the Lord created the heavens and the earth, and kept creating, up to and including the creation of humanity. Passages from the stories of Noah and Abraham are also cited, as well has some beloved passages from Isaiah. Passages also from Ezekiel, Baruch (from the Apocrypha), Zephaniah, and Proverbs to recount the prophets and wisdom. And passages from the Psalms, singing and praises and celebrating the Lord. And there is also a passage from the Epistles, Romans to name the book.

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:3-11)

And finally, a passage from the New Testament, Matthew, telling a slightly different story of Mary Magdalene and the other Mary seeing an angel of the Lord who told them of Jesus’ resurrection, and then seeing the Risen Lord who tells them to tell his disciples to go to Galilee. The passage from Matthew is also cited for possible use during the later Easter service. You can see there is a great deal of fervor, excitement during the Easter vigil time.

It has been many, many years since I have kept Easter vigil – the early morning hours of Easter Sunday. As a youth, when I had much more energy etc than I do now, our youth group made a practice of gathering together early Easter Sunday morning, many times outdoors, to have an Easter Sunday service. I remember one year I was up late the night before baby sitting, and got up early the next morning for the Sunrise Service. How I did that, went to regular church and did not crash-and-burn, I attribute only to the vigor of youth. But youth gives way, and fortunately in its stead comes (hopefully) wisdom, maturity, and deeper understanding. In a way, the first-coming-to-faith that evolves into the coming to deeper/wider/broader faith that is so intense it feels “all new”.

The disciples and followers of Jesus must have felt that same way when Good Friday turned into Easter Sunday – that is, the faith they had in Jesus their teacher giving way to Jesus their risen Lord.

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.” (John 20:1 – 10)

As much as I have fondness and affection for Simon Peter, and for the other disciples in their turn, sometimes it takes a woman to get to the core and center of things.

But Mary [Magdalene] stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.” (Verses 11 – 18)

As I said, about a page back, it has been a long time since I kept a true Easter vigil. A long time since the first-coming-to-faith time. Youth has given way to seasoned experience. And I know that quite often the first brush with faith gives way to a more sustaining experience. It was that way with Simon Peter. Throughout the time Peter was with Jesus, he had many insights but it was only after the coming of the Holy Spirit that Peter came into his own. And even then, Peter came to a deeper and broader understanding of Jesus Christ’s message of good news.

Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ–he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:34-43)

The apostle Paul, who came to faith through his own encounter with the risen Lord, speaks also to making plans and living out an authentic Christian life.

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:1-4)

If you were wondering, the under girding thrust of my thoughts are this. Jesus’ resurrection set into motion a whole new way of seeing and understanding how to live. When we first realize that, it is like coming to new faith. We feel it, but do not know or understand the deeper implications. New faith gives way, over time, to deeper faith. Because we are realizing things for the first time, it feels like first time faith. Not faith that we are recommitting to, nor coming back from going astray. But coming to new bends, twists, and turns in our faith life. Each year during Lent we journey the same ground, but many times come out at a different place, a different understanding. Now that we are on the other side, let us journey forth into new dimensions of faith. Selah!

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Holy Week – Saturday: The Gospel, Epistle, and Psalm Passage – Being at the In-Between Times

After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.” (John 19:38-42)

This is where things were when Good Friday came to an end. By late Friday afternoon preparations were being made for Sabbath. And expediency took priority over planning. And grieving was folded into worship of Yahweh. Let us also set aside this scene and look back at some things I had deferred, namely Peter.

It is in John chapter 13, verses 36 to 38 that Jesus foretells Peter’s betrayal of him. The lectionary does not pick up this passage during Holy Week, for whatever reason. Each of the Gospels is pretty consistent in the account.

Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered, “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterward.” Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.”

Interestingly, the gospel of John does not chronicle Peter’s reaction to the cock crowing; the other gospel speak of his anguish. There are several streams, it seems to me, to consider in the disciples’ reactions to Jesus arrest, trial, and crucifixion. First I want to say that the gospel of John focuses on Jesus’ Divinity and does not have much narrative on what the disciples did. So we must look to the other gospels. We know from the gospel of Matthew that Judas killed himself when Jesus was sentenced to death. He felt remorse for what he had done and tried to return the money. But his guilt would not allow him peace, so he took his own life. If it were the previous lectionary year, I would say this is a failed attempt at confession,penance, and forgiveness. Would have Jesus forgiven Judas? Is there a sin so great that Jesus our Lord God would not forgive it? I hesitate to say, but I think Judas’ answer to that question would be yes. Let us not, beloved reader, make the same assumption.

And we know that Peter felt guilt and remorse when he denied three times in a short period of time that he was part of the followers of Jesus. However his guilt did not drive him to injure himself. In fact, it inspired to deepen his faith, and strengthen his believe. We know this because of what we read later in the New Testament.

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same intention (for whoever has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin), so as to live for the rest of your earthly life no longer by human desires but by the will of God. You have already spent enough time in doing what the Gentiles like to do, living in licentiousness, passions, drunkenness, revels, carousing, and lawless idolatry. They are surprised that you no longer join them in the same excesses of dissipation, and so they blaspheme.
But they will have to give an accounting to him who stands ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that, though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the spirit as God does. The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers. Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:1-8)

There is not just a little bit of questioning as to whether it was Simon Peter who wrote I & II Peter. In any case, Peter seems to have taken up a position of leadership in the early Christian church that bespeaks to a maturing and deepening of faith. I like to think that the travail he went through at Jesus’ death forced him to dig deeper into his own soul and spirit. But I suspect we are getting a little bit ahead of ourselves. Let us look instead at the psalm passage that was written for times of stress and difficulty.

In you, O LORD, I seek refuge; do not let me ever be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me.
Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily. Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me.
You are indeed my rock and my fortress; for your name’s sake lead me and guide me, take me out of the net that is hidden for me, for you are my refuge.
My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.
Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love.” (Psalm 31:1-4, 15-16)

Words, prayers, petitions, and intercessions fervently and sincerely made will give good results. Let us remember that at this in-between time. Selah!

 

 

Holy Week – Good Friday: The Gospel and Psalm Passage – Trying to find the Good

The story of the Passion of Jesus is shortened by the lectionary readings. We had left off where Jesus had just spoken to his disciples after Judas left to complete the task he was compiled to do – because of his own misunderstanding of Jesus’ purpose, because of Satan who had sway over him, or because another reason that is not yet uncovered/understood. It is interesting that the gospel of John does not contain the institution of the bread and the wine. That is the reason I included the I Corinthians passage; plus it seemed to continue the theme/direction of my writing. But I digress. After John 13, but before Jesus and disciples when to the garden, Jesus has some final teachings for his disciples. As I read through them, a phrase caught my eye. One of the disciples said that Jesus is now talking plainly instead of in parables, and that presumably the disciples more clearly understood then things they needed. Or at least most of the things – we will pick that up later on.

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. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” They answered, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus replied, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they stepped back and fell to the ground. Again he asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So if you are looking for me, let these men go.” This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken, “I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me.” (John 18:1 – 9)

Two things I want to highlight, but briefly because the scripture passages before us today are lengthy – I suspect however I will break in multiple times to point things out. First, that when Jesus identifies himself, those who came to arrest him were so taken aback that they fell to the ground. I like to believer that Jesus’ power and presence was so absolute that it was stunning. Biblical commentators have also noted the way the writer of the gospel of John have described this interaction. The other portion I want to point out is that Jesus was safeguarding his disciples – his 11 disciples, or so the biblical commentators hint at. Does this mean that Judas was not “given”? This idea might come up again.

Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus. Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (Verses 10 – 11)

Ah Peter! Impetus quick to act Peter. It is a rough road ahead for one of my favorite disciples.

So the soldiers, their officer, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him. First they took him to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was better to have one person die for the people. Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in. The woman said to Peter, “You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” (Verses 12 -17)

The lectionary passages thus far have not included Jesus forewarning Peter he would deny him. But we did not need to read that to know Jesus warned him. But I am inclined to wait to discuss Peter’s back pedaling assertion.

Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing around it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself. Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. Jesus answered, “I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.” When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” Jesus answered, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?” Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.” (Verses 18 – 24)

It may interest you to know, beloved readers, it was very unusual for anyone to be brought to the temple officials in secret, during the night hours. But there was an urgency to deal with this matter, this Jesus. And the temple officials needed and desperately wanted to get this dealt with.

Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, “You are not also one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.” (Verses 25 – 27)

Again, I am deferring on Peter.

Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” They answered, “If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.” The Jews replied, “We are not permitted to put anyone to death.” (This was to fulfill what Jesus had said when he indicated the kind of death he was to die.)” (Verses 28 – 32)

The situation is indeed dire, as we knew it would be. Pressed with not being able to mete out the punishment that the temple officials wanted, and probably felt that Jesus deserved, they had to rely on what could achieved by appealing to the government that was in control over them. How galling it must have been, to not mete out judgment on their own.

Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” (Verses 33 – 38a)

Aside from the threat of death, it sounds like a philosophical discussion. And it sounds like Pilate is more inclined to see it that way.

After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no case against him. But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” They shouted in reply, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a bandit.” (Verses 38b – 40)

There comes a point in the Passion story where the events seem to take on a life of their own. What I mean by that is regardless of what anyone does or tries to do, Jesus will be put to death. There is an inevitability that was set in motion at Jesus’ birth, and culminates now in Christ’s death – Judas’ betrayal completely aside. Or maybe more likely, Judas’ betrayal part of the inevitability. Who than can be said to be culpable? Judas? The temple officials? Pilate?

Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and striking him on the face. Pilate went out again and said to them, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.” The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.” (Chapter 19, verses 1 – 7)

I find it interesting that the “Jews”, meaning not the common Jew on the street but the temple officials and those who were in support of them, never considered that perhaps Jesus was actually the Son of God, the Messiah. That Jesus’ claim was not blasphemy, which is the charge the “Jews” now leveled at him. It becomes clearer that the Jewish officials have an agenda that they insist on pursuing.

Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. Pilate therefore said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.” (Verses 8 – 12)

And back and forth it goes as to what Jesus is charged with – religious or political? The two have a bad tendency to be blurred, then as now.

When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, “Here is your King!” They cried out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but the emperor.” Then he handed him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” (Verses 13 – 22)

If you remember back, beloved reader, in chapter 18 verse 38b, Pilate asked “What is truth?” Pilate did order written what the truth was, is, and ever shall be – not just for the Jews but for all of humanity.

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.” This was to fulfill what the scripture says, “They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.” And that is what the soldiers did. Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (Verses 23 – 30)

So ends Jesus’ ministry, and his human life. I have to sit and reflect on all the endings and finishes that I have known. All the culminations and denouements that have come about. For all intensive purposes, this is the time to turn and walk away.

Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. [I want to briefly explain that in crucifixxions breaking the legs greatly hastens death.] Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, “None of his bones shall be broken.” And again another passage of scripture says, “They will look on the one whom they have pierced.” (Verses 31 – 37)

The psalm passage for Good Friday suggests the emotions that Jesus might have had; not that it is a reporting of what Jesus said. But that the psalmist wrote these words many generations before, and some of the gospels place the opening lines in Jesus’ mouth. As the psalmist continues to speak, it is easy to discern what can be applied to Jesus – indeed, some “fulfillment of prophecy” is contained here. And what is not applicable to Jesus. In its entirety however, it is a good way to close out today, Good Friday. For it is true, out of lamentations and sorrow does come good.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.

Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people.
All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
“Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver— let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”

Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God.
Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.

Many bulls encircle me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me; they open wide their mouths at me,
like a ravening and roaring lion.

I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.
For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me.
My hands and feet have shriveled; I can count all my bones.
They stare and gloat over me; they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.

But you, O Lord, do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid! Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog!
Save me from the mouth of the lion! From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.
I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.

From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord.
May your hearts live forever!

All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him. For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations. To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him.
Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.” (Psalm 22)

May you, beloved reader, find the good in this Good Friday. Selah!

Holy Week – Maundy Thursday: The Old Testament, Gospel, and Epistle Passages – The Last Supper, and the beginning of a new way of living

The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it.” (Exodus 12: 1- 4 )

I was planning on having the entire section from Exodus stand with out comment – but I wanted to draw your attention to the provision about small households. I suspect this is one of the reasons that Jesus wanted all the disciples gathered together; singly they would not be a large enough household. But all together the Passover meal would be like close neighbors joining together. And in the years to come, who would be closer neighbors than fellow believers?

The middle verses, verses 5 to 10 are left out of the strict lectionary passages. They are instructions for Jews prior to the Last Supper and Passover that Jesus had with his disciples. Not that the disciples and early Christians would have ignored these important traditions; but for us, later believers the instructions do not apply as much.

“This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the LORD. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. The blood [which verses 5 – 10 refer to] shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.” (Verses 11 – 14)

The Last Supper (which is understood as the last Passover meal that he shared with them) that Jesus had with his disciples was eaten hurriedly or with staff in hand and sandals on feet. At least not has it has been painted and imaged throughout history. And the fact that there was reaching out and dipping of bread argues against it. But there was girding of loins as Jesus prepared himself for this last supper, and Judas prepared himself for where his thoughts went to.

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him.” (John 13: 1- 2a)

From what we read yesterday, it was only after Judas was accused by Jesus and accepting the dipped bread that Satan’s sway took hold. But the writer of the gospel of John makes note of it here, earlier in the supper. That is significant for what happens next.

And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” (Verses 2b – 12)

Jesus washed Judas’ feet. Knowing full well what Judas was going to do, he washed his feet humbling himself as a servant to the man who was planning his arrest. Some may say Judas did not know it would lead to Jesus’ arrest. Some say Judas was trying to motivate or incite Jesus to act when it seemed as if Jesus was not fulfilling the role of Messiah as some Jews understood it. But Judas knew full well how much the Temple rulers and authorities, the scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees, hated Jesus. What did Judas think they were going to do? But, Jesus washed his feet.

“After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord–and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” (Verses 13 – 17)

Remember, it was not until a little later that Judas left. Do you think, beloved reader, this had any impact on Judas? And before you answer, consider and remember my questions from yesterday as to how isolated Judas’ betrayal of Jesus was, and how I set that along side other straying from the authentic Christian path.

I want to spend a little more time on this, and then we will move on. The reason I want to emphasis this is because in Year A of the lectionary we are focusing on coming to new faith – either that it is a new believer or someone coming to deeper or broader faith. If it is a new believer, then the sins that were there are absolved and redeemed in Christ’s death. That is one of the large messages of Easter. Coming to deeper or broader faith means that one’s understanding has grown, and things done in the past are seen in a new light. The other lectionary years are: Year B – renewal of faith; and Year C – confession, penance, & forgiveness. What I am talking about here is a greater understanding of faith in Christ and our Lord God. A realization of what it means to live an authentic Christian life; what must be set aside and what must be picked up and lived out. It means, for Judas, realizing what he has done.

I am not talking about all of you. I know the people I have chosen. But what the Scriptures say must happen: ‘The man who shared my food has turned against me.’ I am telling you this now before it happens. Then when it happens, you will believe that I Am. I assure you, whoever accepts the person I send also accepts me. And whoever accepts me also accepts the one who sent me.” (Verses 18 – 20)

After Jesus said these things, the above verses, it troubled him. And he told his disciples that one of them would betray him. That is the interlude we looked at yesterday. We continue from that point on today – with a little bit of overlap.

When he [meaning Judas] had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. [What follows is Jesus’ words to the disciple who would form the nucleus of the early Christian church.] Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Verses 31b – 35)

And Jesus’ disciples were known. As the years past, other people became disciples of Jesus Christ. And those years past. The term disciples changed and evolved into being followers, which we are beloved reader. As we are able and as we understand, we pass along the Messiah Jesus Christ’s teachings. Some things we pass along clumsily, awkward and mutated through our own perspectives and understandings. Other things we pass along with the same clarity that they were taught by Christ.

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. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

Holy Week – Wednesday: The Gospel and Epistle Passages – Hope is Nigh

We approach this gospel passage sort of backwards. Tomorrow we read the first part of chapter 13 in the gospel of John. Today, we are focusing on the portion of the passion where Jesus singles out Judas.

After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. One of his disciples–the one whom Jesus loved–was reclining next to him; Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” (John 13:21 – 25)

Who is it? Who do we point the finger at? Who is guilty of turning against God and the Messiah Jesus Christ? Who has acted contrary to authentic Christian living?

You see, once you start asking the broader questions, Judas’ guilt starts to look like other sinful behavior. I am not sure if that is a good thing . . . . . or not. Many tend to have a “superior attitude” towards Judas’ sin. They think, I would never betray the Master like that. But that is a journey onto a slippery slope.

“Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” (Verses 26 – 27)

Now the writer of the gospel of John gives Judas an exit plan. It was not truly Judas the follower of Jesus who betrayed him, but Judas who allowed Satan to influence his choices. But again, I caution you gentle reader, do not think you are immune to the influence of evil and really bad choices. The influence of evil was with Adam and Eve in the garden, and they did not ignore it. Why should we suppose that hundreds of generations down humanity is resistant to that influence. And in the same way, we now are not any more resistant. I am not talking about at in individual level, but humanity as a whole. Yes, sin is wide spread throughout humanity but each of us has a thresh-hold where we do and do not go astray.

“Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the festival”; or, that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.” (Verses 28 – 30)

No one but the Divine knows completely what is in our hearts. What our intent is, and what our thresh-hold of sin resistance is. I do not know yours, beloved reader, and you do not know mine. In the same way, you do not know what I need to be forgiven for, and I don’t know what you need to be forgiven for. The truth and hope that we carry with us is that Jesus and our Lord God has forgiven us. Beloved reader, even Judas is forgiven.

“When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.” (Verses 31 – 32)

It is Wednesday of Holy Week. The week is half gone, depending on when you read this. We turn our attention now to the latter part of the week, and the events that are to come. In the first Holy Week, the hope of forgiveness is not quite there yet; hoped for, but not quite realized. By the time Paul writes, however, our hope has come. Let us endure through the next few days then, knowing that the greatest event that humanity might know about is just a few days away.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)

 

Holy Week – Tuesday: The Epistle, Psalm, and Gospel Passages – Entering into the passion of Holy Week

Tuesday. The writer of the gospel of John places Jesus statements in response to the Greeks wanting to meet him soon after his going to the house of Lazarus, Mary and Martha. In-between the two is placed Jesus entering into Jerusalem.

“Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.” (John 12: 20 – 22)

I have to wonder a little why the message was passed along in such a manner, as if access to Jesus was limited and/or screened. Because of the murmur of threats against Jesus? Because it was Greeks as opposed to Jesus? Or maybe it is the writer of the gospel of John who felt there needed to be an explanation of the process, or a making a process of it.

“Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.” (Verses 23 – 26)

And who is Jesus answering? His disciples? The Greeks? The questions or request to be seen by the Greeks? What is sounds like to me is angst whose purpose is to portray or dramatize the circumstances and coming events. It sounds somewhat like the writer of John who liked things cloaked in mystery and spiritualism.

“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say–‘ Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” (Verses 27 – 28)

Here we have the pay off, the drama, the majesty of the time which is confirmed by the voice of the Divine.

“The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (Verses 29 – 32)

You must understand, beloved reader, that for some Jesus’ death and resurrection was an event that (to them) commanded awe and sacredness. To dwell simply on the facts and simply chronological events was to miss out on the yearning and straining, the spirituality and mysticism that was there, or possibly there.

“He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.” After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.” (Verses 33 – 36)

Do not forget either that this lectionary year concerns coming to new faith and new believers. There is a depth and breadth to the passion story that must be taken in. There may be at times and in some gospels an emphasis on that which seems a little over done. But it is worth it to be able to take in full spiritual miraculous impact. And we are only at Tuesday!

Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away! The LORD called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me. He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away. And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” But I said, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my cause is with the LORD, and my reward with my God.”
And now the LORD says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honored in the sight of the LORD, and my God has become my strength- he says, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
Thus says the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers, “Kings shall see and stand up, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, because of the LORD, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.” (Isaiah 49:1-7)

If you would set aside the fact that most likely the writer of the book of Isaiah did NOT specifically have Jesus in mind, but apply this passage from Isaiah directly to Jesus’ death and resurrection, you can get an idea of why/where the writer of the gospel of John wished to convey spirituality and mysticism to the days leading to Jesus’ trial and crucifixion.

And if we enter into that frame of mind where the Messiah and our Lord God does have a mysticism and awe that brings us to our knees, we can enter into spiritual worship of the Divine and say with the psalmist . . . .

“In you, O LORD, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame.
In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me and save me.
Be to me a rock of refuge, a strong fortress, to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.
Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel.
For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O LORD, from my youth.
Upon you I have leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you.
I have been like a portent to many, but you are my strong refuge.
My mouth is filled with your praise, and with your glory all day long.
Do not cast me off in the time of old age; do not forsake me when my strength is spent.
For my enemies speak concerning me, and those who watch for my life consult together.
They say, “Pursue and seize that person whom God has forsaken, for there is no one to deliver.”
O God, do not be far from me; O my God, make haste to help me!
Let my accusers be put to shame and consumed; let those who seek to hurt me be covered with scorn and disgrace.
But I will hope continually, and will praise you yet more and more.” ( Psalm 71:1-14)

And, it’s only Tuesday!

Holy Week – Monday : The Epistle, Psalm, and Gospel Passages – Tensions are mounting and rationales are revealed

But when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation), he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God! For this reason he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, because a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions under the first covenant.” (Hebrews 9:11-15)

Monday of Holy Week. While the disciples may not have seen it or understand it, Jesus’ ministry was coming to a close. The time was drawing when one aspect of Jesus’ purpose for coming to humanity would be fulfilled. I say one aspect because Jesus was not sent for one purpose but many purposes and reasons – enough to satisfy all of humanity for all time. The Lord God, however, had only one umbrella reason for sending the Divine Son.

Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your judgments are like the great deep; you save humans and animals alike, O LORD.
How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.
O continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your salvation to the upright of heart!
Do not let the foot of the arrogant tread on me, or the hand of the wicked drive me away.” (Psalm 36:5-11)

Love of humanity, and love for humanity was a trait the Messiah Jesus and the Lord God shared. And according to the gospel of John, there was something among several things that Jesus wished to do.

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.” (John 12:1- 2)

Let me say, beloved reader, that the gospels place events in Jesus’ life in different order. The priorities that Jesus had remained unchanged in their differing accounts, but the sequence of events get shuffled around. Therefore . . .

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.” (Verse 3)

An outpouring of love for the teacher who brought her brother back to life? A portent of what was to come? Whatever the reason, it was an extravagant offering.

“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.) (Verses 4 – 6)

The writer of the gospel of John did not have much respect for Judas. And Judas properly did not have much respect for some of the disciples. And probably not much respect for Mary either. Biblical commentators and theologians have varying ideas of Judas’ motivation – so more sympathetic and generous than others. We also might have varying ideas about Judas. But let me reminder you, beloved reader, Jesus loved Judas as much as any of the other disciples and the people who followed Jesus.

“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.” (Verses 7 – 8)

I would like to be able to pause here and think about Jesus’ statement concerning the poor and Jesus’ presence on earth. And maybe at some point we can. But I am conscious of the fact that we have a ways to go, and much ground to cover. And those who have plotted and planned against Jesus are advancing their plans.

“When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.” (Verses 9 – 11)

Monday. It is not just Jesus who is in danger, but those who believe in him also. It is shaping up to be a tense week.