A Prayer for the People Aboard Germanwings Flight 9525 and their Families

Students place candles at the Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium high school in Haltern am See on Wednesday. Ina Fassbender/Reuters

After hearing about the plane crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 that took the lives of all aboard yesterday, my heart sank. When I heard this morning that it was a deliberate act of the co-pilot who knowingly flew the plane into a mountainside in the French alps my heart broke.

When confronted with such devastation there are a million questions and practically no answers.

I offer these prayers from the Anglican New Zealand Prayer Book for my brothers and sisters, those aboard the plane and the grieving families left behind, who have been affected by this incomprehensible tragedy.

God, the Father of mercies and giver of all comfort,
look down in pity and compassion
upon your sorrowing servants;
lighten the burdens
which weigh them down in soul and body;

shelter them from the forces of evil;
let the light of your presence shine upon them
and give them perfect peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Lord Jesus Christ,
by your holy apostle you have taught us
that our sorrow should not be without hope
for the dead that rest with you;
visit with your compassion
those who mourn the loss of their loved ones,
and wipe away all tears from their eyes;
for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Holy Spirit, be with us as we face the mystery of life and death.
Strengthen the bonds of these families as they bear their loss.

Amen.

Prayer for the Fifth Sunday of Lent

Christ in Apse – Basilica of Cosmas and Damien. Rome, Italy. 527 CE.

God of suffering and glory, in Jesus Christ you reveal the way of life through the path of obedience.
Inscribe your law in our hearts, that in life we may not stray from you, but may be your people. Amen.

Prayer is from the Revised Common Lectionary provided by the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.

Lent and the Feast of St. Patrick

I wrote this post about St. Patrick two years ago and reposted it again last year. Thanks to life keeping me busy, I figured it was in my best interests to keep the pattern going and repost it again this year. Enjoy!

St. PatrickYesterday was St. Patrick’s Day and I am sure there was a lot of green being worn and Irish delicacies being consumed in our communities. Although, through all this celebrating, eating and general merrymaking that occurs on St. Patrick’s Day it seems the man behind the feast has gotten lost. What started as a day in the Church’s calendar commemorating a great missionary and servant of the Church has slowly been transformed into something completely different. On the good side it is a celebration of Irish culture. However, on the bad side it has quickly become a celebration of excess and over consumption of unnaturally green food and beer. Since St. Patrick’s Day falls right in the middle of Lent, let’s take a minute to redeem the day even though it has passed. Let’s commemorate this saint and allow his example and words challenge us during the Lenten season.

The book Common Prayer offers this brief description of Patrick’s life:

Patrick of Ireland (389 – 461)

At the age of sixteen, Patrick was kidnapped from his home by Irish marauders and taken to Ireland, where he was sold as a slave to a chieftain and forced to herd livestock. After six years of slavery, Patrick escaped to his native Britain. Because he believed that his captivity and deliverance were ordained by God, Patrick devoted his life to ministry. While studying for the priesthood, he experienced recurring dreams in which he heard voices say, “O holy youth, come back to Erin and walk once more amongst us.” He convinced his superiors to let him return to Ireland in 432, not to seek revenge for injustice but to seek reconciliation and to spread his faith. Over the next thirty years, Patrick established churches and monastic communities across Ireland. When he was not engaged in the work of spreading the Christian faith, Patrick spent his time praying in his favorite places of solitude and retreat.

I cannot imagine what it would have been like for Patrick to be kidnapped and sold into slavery where he was forced to be a shepherd for six years. It is like his life was some bizarre combination of the biblical stories of Joseph and Jacob. What is even more unimaginable is that he escaped and was ultimately moved by God to return to Ireland to be a missionary and seek reconciliation. It is often tough for me to seek reconciliation with those who I have wronged or who have spoken ill of me. Attempting to seek reconciliation with those who captured and enslaved me seems way beyond the limits of my grace. But, today we remember Patrick who was driven by this desire for reconciliation with his fellow man and to spread the Gospel. There were also many legends that sprang up about Patrick that I do not have the time or space to go into here. While they may all be just myths and legends, they all point to the fact that he must have been a great man who affected a lot of people. There is no record of Patrick building anything, he fought in no battles, he did not lead a rebellion, none of his sermons or speeches remain and as far as we know he never healed anyone of sickness.

But, he sought to be reconciled to people.

If there’s a lesson in the life of St. Patrick that we can apply to Lent it is simply this. There is power in reconciliation and considering how we might repair our relationships with other people. Whether the relationship is broken because of our actions or because of the actions of others, we should seek reconciliation. Reconciliation seeks to restore community and can leave an eternal imprint on this world. The big theme in Lent is humble self-examination so we can see where we can make God more present in our lives. A central part in this self-examination should be making sure that others perceive Christ in our actions, and reconciliation is a key to that goal. That is why I was inspired to reflect on St. Patrick. A prayer attributed to him, often called St. Patrick’s Breastplate, has become very special to me.  Here are a few stanzas that are among my favorites:

I arise today, through
God’s strength to pilot me,
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptation of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
afar and near.

Christ be with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
-St. Patrick

The central theme of his prayer is not that Christ is “in” us driving everything we do, but that Christ is perceived by others in everything we do. There are many people who do things in the name of Christ but it is tough to perceive Christ through their actions and intentions. Here’s a tough question to put on your mirror or fridge during Lent.

Can Christ truly be in me if others cannot perceive his spirit through me?

Now it could be true that it is the other person whose perception is clouded and affected, but we ultimately have no control over that. What we do have control over is our own actions, our own words and our own heart.

What is there in your life that might be clouding others perception of Christ through your life? What people may you need to seek reconciliation with in order to remove the veil obscuring Christ working in you and through you?

Prayer for the Fourth Sunday of Lent

Christ our Light stained glass window, Holy Rosary Priory in Bushey, England.

God of the living, through baptism we pass from the shadow of death to the light of the resurrection.
Remain with us and give us hope that, rejoicing in the gift of the Spirit who gives life to our mortal flesh, we may be clothed with the garment of immortality, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Prayer is from the Revised Common Lectionary provided by the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.

Reflection on Psalm 107:17-22

Some of the redeemed were fools because of their sinful ways.
They suffered because of their wickedness.
They had absolutely no appetite for food; they had arrived at death’s gates.
So they cried out to the Lord in their distress, and God saved them from their desperate circumstances.
God gave the order and healed them; he rescued them from their pit.
Let them thank the Lord for his faithful love and his wondrous works for all people.
Let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices and declare what God has done in songs of joy!
Psalm 107:17-22 (CEB)

I love when I’m reading Scripture and I have to stop and go back to make sure what I thought I read is what was actually written. It’s always good when Scripture can surprise and unsettle you. We can get pretty stuck in our understanding and interpretation of what we “think” Scripture should say. Today’s Psalm was one of those moments for me. Specifically the opening line of today’s reading.

Some of the redeemed were fools because of their sinful ways.
They suffered because of their wickedness.
Psalm 107:17 (CEB)

Did the Bible just call people who were redeemed fools? Aren’t the redeemed the good guys? Let me check out the Hebrew behind that. Surely the translators could have chosen something nicer than the word “fools.” The Hebrew word behind “fools” is אֱוִיל which is pronounced like “evil”.

Things aren’t getting any better.

If you keep reading, you realize that the redeemed are fools because of their own actions. Some kind of wickedness led to suffering, lack of appetite and impending doom. They got what they deserved, they reaped what they sowed, or (as Paul wrote in Romans) “they were paid back with the penalty they deserved for their mistake in their own bodies” (Romans 1:27, CEB).

Then, as any of us might do, these fools, “cried out to the Lord in their distress.” But, rather than letting them rot in their own mistakes, God saves them.

No payment.

No guilt trip.

No quid pro quo.

No expectations.

No extra divine judgment or punishment.

God immediately sends the order to rescue them and they are redeemed. I have this image of a special forces, or A-Team like, squad of angels waiting and when God gives the go ahead, they drop in and rescue these “fools” from their troubles. While their troubles were self-inflicted and reasonable on account of their wickedness, this does not stop or hinder God from healing them when they cry out to him.

There is no fool beyond the scope of God’s redemption.

No matter what we do, how righteous or unrighteous we are, God’s redemption and salvation are available for all those who are willing to cry out to him. This can seem trite and simple, but it’s true. Statements like this are often stated for the benefit of the “fools” so that they know God’s offer is always open. However, the people who need to hear and realize this are the devout followers. Those who, often because of their devotion, add restrictions, list provisions and effectively try to narrow the scope of salvation.

Those who would say, “Yeah…but…” when the open offer of redemption is presented.

Instead, what this Psalm seems to be saying, is we need to let God do the saving. Let’s let God set the provisions and open the door as wide as it can go. Once people are in, let’s not set further weight and restrictions on their shoulders. Instead, we should, “Let them thank the Lord for his faithful love and his wondrous works for all people. Let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices and declare what God has done in songs of joy!”

Lent is the perfect time to check the foolishness in our own hearts. We could learn a lot from the thanksgiving and praises of those “fools” saved from deaths door and suffering on account of their own choices. Let’s take the time to listen and hear their stories.

Maybe the foolishness in some of our own devotion might get illuminated?

Maybe we’ll realize a need to cry out from the spiritual corner we’ve painted ourselves into?

Maybe we’ll see the desperation in our interpretations?

So every single one of you who judge others is without any excuse. You condemn yourself when you judge another person because the one who is judging is doing the same things…Or do you have contempt for the riches of God’s generosity, tolerance, and patience? Don’t you realize that God’s kindness is supposed to lead you to change your heart and life?
Romans 2:1 & 4 (CEB)

We’re Going Back to the Future (Lenten Lectio Reflection: John 2:13-25)

“When this baby hits 88 miles per hour… you’re gonna see some serious shit.” – Doc Brown
Back to the Future, 1985

It was nearly time for the Jewish Passover, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He found in the temple those who were selling cattle, sheep, and doves, as well as those involved in exchanging currency sitting there. He made a whip from ropes and chased them all out of the temple, including the cattle and the sheep. He scattered the coins and overturned the tables of those who exchanged currency. He said to the dove sellers, “Get these things out of here! Don’t make my Father’s house a place of business.” His disciples remembered that it is written, Passion for your house consumes me.

Then the Jewish leaders asked him, “By what authority are you doing these things? What miraculous sign will you show us?”

Jesus answered, “Destroy this temple and in three days I’ll raise it up.”

The Jewish leaders replied, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and you will raise it up in three days?” But the temple Jesus was talking about was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered what he had said, and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

While Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Passover Festival, many believed in his name because they saw the miraculous signs that he did. But Jesus didn’t trust himself to them because he knew all people. He didn’t need anyone to tell him about human nature, for he knew what human nature was.
John 2:13-25 (CEB)

The story of Jesus clearing the temple is a very popular one that is retold in all the gospels. Since it’s the one moment when we see Jesus with some righteous anger, he pops up off the page here as more than just the doe-eyed sage we see in many depictions. The element of this story as recounted in John that jumps out at me as I read it now is not so much about Jesus but about the disciples. There are two references to the disciples remembering something that intrigues me. The first memory spark comes with the scriptural reference made here that the other Gospels do not make. In the other Gospels, Jesus is typically quoting from the books of Jeremiah and probably Isaiah.

“He said to them, ‘It’s written, My house will be a house of prayer [Isaiah 56:7], but you have made it a hideout for crooks [Jeremiah 7:11].'”
Luke 19:46 (CEB)

In the Gospel of John, however, Jesus does not quote directly from Scripture (maybe allude to, but not quote). Instead the author puts a different spin on the story and has the disciples recall scripture by the actions of Jesus. It is the disciples who recall , “it is written, “Passion for your house consumes me.” A quick Google search will tell you that this comes from Psalm 69. By the disciples remembering this verse, the author of the Gospel of John seems tell us that we should as well. This is almost like a more subtle version of when your pastor might say, “Everyone turn in your Bibles too…”. So, let’s take a quick look at a section of Psalm 69.

I have become a stranger to my own brothers, an immigrant to my mother’s children.
Because passion for your house has consumed me, the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me!
I wept while I fasted—even for that I was insulted.
When I wore funeral clothes, people made fun of me.
Those who sit at the city gate muttered things about me; drunkards made up rude songs.
But me? My prayer reaches you, Lord, at just the right time.
God, in your great and faithful love, answer me with your certain salvation!
Psalm 69:8-13 (CEB)

Insults, feelings of exile, mocking and rude songs are all being unjustly launched at someone who has a passion for God’s house. This person weeps, fasts and wears funeral clothes. It seems like the author of the Gospel of John is connecting Jesus with this Psalm. Indeed, if you read the rest of the Psalm it is very Jesus-y. It even has the line, “They gave me poison for food. To quench my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink,” (v. 21) which seems to echo in Jesus crucifixion experience of receiving sour wine (see John 19:28-30). So these actions of Jesus at the temple cause the disciples, and us as well, to look back to their tradition, history and Scriptures to understand Jesus.

But, there is another moment of remembering. The author spoils the story a bit this early in the gospel and tells us that his disciples would later remember these words of Jesus at his resurrection.

Jesus answered, “Destroy this temple and in three days I’ll raise it up.”
John 2:19 (CEB)

Here we are in Chapter 2 and the author of the Gospel of John has given us the Cliff Notes to the story. Not only is Jesus going to die…but he’s going to be resurrected. All this will happen probably within a three-day time frame.

At the beginning of the Gospel, as Jesus cleanses the Temple, the author of John has not only recalled us back to the history of Psalm 69 but also pushes us forward towards the resurrection. At the beginning, the author invites us (as disciples) to remember by looking back to the Psalms and then casts our memory forward when we remember at the resurrection.

Past, present and future come crashing together in these verses.

My fellow blogger, Phil Majorans, who writes over at Abstract Cathedral, recently wrote this about prayer and Lent:

To enter the space which prayer inhabits is to enter “God time.” A space where intellect and understanding yield to the mystery of it all and the wonder that all could be well, and the thought that all will be well when time and space collapse…One is invited to participate in this space through prayer, a foretaste of the “timelessness” that is to come, a ‘timelessness” that is already present in the form and presence of the ascended Christ. In some sense, to pray, is to step outside of time and space. This is one of the reasons that prayer is such an important part of Lent. Reflecting on “God time” helps us step outside of “our time” and its violence, hopelessness, and lack of cosmic perspective.”
From the post, Putting Pain in Perspective: Reading T.S. Eliot During Lent

In our practices of Lent (fasting, prayer, service, worship, etc.) we attempt to step out of time and see past, present and future from God’s perspective. We unite ourselves with the ancient author of Psalm 69, we see Jesus’ prophetic ruckus in the Temple and we experience his resurrection at the same time. The past is just as important in the present, we exist and embrace the here and now, but we have a peek into the glorious future where Christ is victorious. Like our Jewish brothers and sisters see themselves in the Exodus story, the author of the Gospel of John invites us to see ourselves in the redemptive story that is about to unfold before us. We step out of a story and time defined by ourselves to enter a story and time defined by God. We are not to simply read and understand, but to step into and become part of the story.

Because when you do, like Doc Brown said (pardon the colorful language), “you’re gonna see some serious shit.”

Prayer for the Third Sunday of Lent

Sarcophagus with scene of Moses receiving the Ten Commandments from the hand of God, ca. 330.

Artist of souls, you sculpted a people for yourself out of the rocks of wilderness and fasting.
Help us as we take up your invitation to prayer and simplicity, that the discipline of these forty days may sharpen our hunger for the feast of your holy friendship, and whet our thirst for the living water you offer through Jesus Christ. Amen.

Prayer is from the Revised Common Lectionary provided by the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.