Prayer for Easter Sunday

O God, who for our redemption gave your only-begotten Son to the death of the cross, and by his glorious resurrection delivered us from the power of our enemy: grand us so to die daily to sin, that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his resurrection; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and fore ever. Amen.

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New Testament Reading for Holy Saturday

The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception would be worse than the first.”

Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.
Matthew 27:62-66 (NRSV)

'Old City-Stations of the Cross-208' photo (c) 2011, Steve Paul - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/I cannot imagine what today must have been like for the disciples of Jesus come Saturday after the crucifixion. Watching the humiliation and injustice of Jesus’ trial along with his excruciating death on the cross was enough to cause many of them to flee and try to return to their normal lives. I am sure there were some who held out hope that SOMETHING would happen. Something had to happen, right? This was Jesus, the wonder working, sickness healing rabbi. Jesus had only days ago brought Lazarus back from the dead, surely he could do that for himself?

But, Saturday came and nothing happened.

The Jewish leaders had sealed the tomb, and placed guards to make sure the disciples could not tamper with the body. This must have been disheartening as well. Death for Jewish people was a long communal process. Family would sit with the body in the tomb and friends would come and mourn silently with them for weeks. With the tomb sealed and guards placed, Jesus family and friends could not even mourn his death properly. Death had not separated their beloved Jesus from them, but now the Jewish guards and a large stone made him completely inaccessible.

The guards standing in front of the tomb also must have represented the victory of the Jewish leaders over Jesus’ challenge of a new community and new teachings. Any hopes the followers of Jesus had about a change to the status quo, about being freed from oppressive religious and government leaders was lying motionless, sealed away from their sight. Would any of them be able to continue where Jesus had left off? Could anyone pick up that yoke? Would any of them be able or willing to follow this terrible path Jesus had walked? It was pretty clear now.

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
Mark 8:34 (NRSV)

This statement was not so easily dismissed anymore. It was very clear that Jesus ACTUALLY meant what he said. Following Jesus and enacting the Kingdom of God he was talking about actually led him to die on a cross. This is what happens even when we pray, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” This statement of Jesus was not symbolic. This was not a nice parable or a twist of phrase Jesus used to challenge the Pharisees.

This statement was prophetic.

On Friday it became real.

On Saturday it became a challenge.

As any disciple knows, you follow your rabbi so close that you can know what he might do at any moment. You follow and learn to do what your rabbi does because you want to be just like your rabbi. As of Saturday, that means more than healing and feeding people. That must have looked easy compared to the last few days. Now, being a disciple of Jesus meant walking a path that led to death. If they killed Jesus, they will kill his disciples too if they continue his teaching, ministry and work.

This “Kingdom of God” Jesus preached about looks nothing like the disciples must have expected. On Saturday, there is no victory. There is no glory. God’s promised Kingdom and Messiah are seemingly rotting away in a tomb. Rome is still in charge, the Jewish leaders are standing triumphant. It looks like nothing has changed…

Saturday causes that challenge to loom large over our heads as Jesus lays in the tomb, sealed off from us. What do our expectations of God’s kingdom look like? What do we do when Jesus does not fit what we thought he was? Has everything really changed like Jesus said, or is it the same as it was? What happens when the voice of God falls silent, as if it’s been sealed off from us? What do we do when the powers of the world seem to stand triumphant over the lifeless body of our Messiah? Can we still carry the cross of Christ and follow him? Can we still declare, “Here is my King”?

It’s tempting to say, do not lose hope because Easter is tomorrow and everything changes. But, I do not want to skip ahead too fast. The silence of Holy Saturday forces us to examine our faith like nothing else. How we respond on Holy Saturday is when we discover how Jesus has impacted our lives.

Do we throw up our hands at the sealed and guarded tomb, proclaim the powers of the world victorious and live our lives as if Jesus words meant nothing?

Or, can we stand up, pick up the cross of Jesus, and keep going? Do we realize that everything has changed because we have been witnesses to the life Jesus? Even though it is now glaringly obvious where that life leads?

New Testament Reading for Good Friday

Pilate came out of the palace again and said to the Jewish leaders, “Look! I’m bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no grounds for a charge against him.” When Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here’s the man.”

When the chief priests and their deputies saw him, they shouted out, “Crucify, crucify!”

Pilate told them, “You take him and crucify him. I don’t find any grounds for a charge against him.”

The Jewish leaders replied, “We have a Law, and according to this Law he ought to die because he made himself out to be God’s Son.”

When Pilate heard this word, he was even more afraid. He went back into the residence and spoke to Jesus, “Where are you from?” Jesus didn’t answer. So Pilate said, “You won’t speak to me? Don’t you know that I have authority to release you and also to crucify you?”

Jesus replied, “You would have no authority over me if it had not been given to you from above. That’s why the one who handed me over to you has the greater sin.” From that moment on, Pilate wanted to release Jesus.

However, the Jewish leaders cried out, saying, “If you release this man, you aren’t a friend of the emperor! Anyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes the emperor!” When Pilate heard these words, he led Jesus out and seated him on the judge’s bench at the place called Stone Pavement (in Aramaic, Gabbatha). It was about noon on the Preparation Day for the Passover. Pilate said to the Jewish leaders, “Here’s your king.”

The Jewish leaders cried out, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”

Pilate responded, “What? Do you want me to crucify your king?”

“We have no king except the emperor,” the chief priests answered. Then Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified.
John 19:4-16 (CEB)

'GM3_9685.JPG' photo (c) 2013, George Martell - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/Pilate is not often known for his inspirational words. I can honestly say I do not believe I have ever heard anyone say that Pilate inspired them to think about their faith in a new way. Usually, we give Pilate the cold shoulder as the ineffectual and indecisive judge at Jesus’ trial. Pilate seems to want to let Jesus go, but he also does not want to start a riot or stoke the flames of the one he sees developing before him. So, instead of doing the right thing, he does the easy thing and sends Jesus to be crucified. Washing his hands of the matter he goes back to his business. But, as I read over this passage again this year I was struck by a simple statement of Pilate.

“Here’s your king.”

Now, it is not simply the words that started to rattle around in my head, but images. By this point, Jesus has been awake for at least a day straight and during that time has been beaten, flogged, stripped and the crown of thorns placed on his head. Needless to say, Jesus is not looking at his best. He is looking ragged, bloody, tired and bruised. I am not sure what was going through Pilate’s head when he made the statement. I typically imagine a bit of derision in his voice as he shouts…

“Here’s your king.”

Look, you crazy Judeans with your bizarre holidays and misplaced hopes of an “anointed one”.

“Here’s your king.”

A beaten, bloody, useless mess. If you want a king other than Rome, here is what you get.

“Here’s your king.”

The crowd before Pilate, not too pleased with his pronouncement and worked up like a mindless, rabid dog repeats their demand to, “Crucify him!”. Which, after Pilate prods them even more they respond with the very surprising phrase of, “We have no king except the emperor.” Now, if you are familiar with Jewish culture at all, that statement is about as blasphemous as what they are accusing Jesus of. God is supposed to be Israel’s king and here they pronounce the Emperor, Caesar Augustus, as their only true king. There is a little piece inside of me that cannot blame them though. Choosing Jesus as king over Caesar Augustus would have been a no brainer for many people. Do I go with the bloodied and defeated rabbi, or the decorated Roman leader who has given the known world relative peace and security?

“Here’s your king.”

Today, as I sit here and think about this passage. The images of that scene haunt me. I am forced to ask myself the questions.

Who do I choose as my king today?

What or who have I crucified for the sake of my chosen king?

When Pilate says, “Here’s your king.” Am I able to accept the beaten, bruised, crucified, servant Messiah? Or, am I busy trying to create and defend my own kingdom here on earth? Do I desire a king in my own image? Honestly, I probably choose Caesar more often that I would like to admit. Instead, what I should be saying is…

“Here’s my king.”

That bloodied, beaten, torn, trembling shadow of a man

“Here’s my king.”

We’re not at Easter yet folks, Jesus has not been glorified. Do not jump to the end of the story yet. Jesus is standing before the crowd, weakened, shamed and dying. Am I able to accept that this Jesus standing before the crowd as the full example of what true, godly kingship looks like? Can I accept a king who looks like that? Can I serve a humiliated king?

“Here’s my king.”

Can I be a citizen of that kingdom? Instead of looking for a king in my image, can I bow down before the true king who created us in his image? Can we worship and serve the source of true life, even as he stands, and will eventually hang, before us giving up his own life? As blood and water pour from his limp, lifeless side, am I able to look up and say…

“Here’s my king.”

Old Testament Reading for Maundy Thursday

While the Israelites were still in the land of Egypt, the Lord gave the following instructions to Moses and Aaron: “From now on, this month will be the first month of the year for you. Announce to the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each family must choose a lamb or a young goat for a sacrifice, one animal for each household. If a family is too small to eat a whole animal, let them share with another family in the neighborhood. Divide the animal according to the size of each family and how much they can eat. The animal you select must be a one-year-old male, either a sheep or a goat, with no defects.

Take special care of this chosen animal until the evening of the fourteenth day of this first month. Then the whole assembly of the community of Israel must slaughter their lamb or young goat at twilight. They are to take some of the blood and smear it on the sides and top of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the animal. That same night they must roast the meat over a fire and eat it along with bitter salad greens and bread made without yeast. Do not eat any of the meat raw or boiled in water. The whole animal—including the head, legs, and internal organs—must be roasted over a fire. Do not leave any of it until the next morning. Burn whatever is not eaten before morning.

These are your instructions for eating this meal: Be fully dressed, wear your sandals, and carry your walking stick in your hand. Eat the meal with urgency, for this is the Lord’s Passover. On that night I will pass through the land of Egypt and strike down every firstborn son and firstborn male animal in the land of Egypt. I will execute judgment against all the gods of Egypt, for I am the Lord! But the blood on your doorposts will serve as a sign, marking the houses where you are staying. When I see the blood, I will pass over you. This plague of death will not touch you when I strike the land of Egypt.

This is a day to remember. Each year, from generation to generation, you must celebrate it as a special festival to the Lord. This is a law for all time.”
Exodus 12:1-14 (NLT)

'Jewish servicemen and women celebrate Passover' photo (c) 2013, Center for Jewish History, NYC - license: http://www.flickr.com/commons/usage/Maundy Thursday is the day we begin to commemorate Jesus’ final days on earth. As we move from Thursday through Easter Sunday the focus of our reflection is fixed on every action of Christ. This is what Lent has been preparing us for; we as a church have arrived at the pinnacle of our year.

The focus of Maundy Thursday is on Jesus’ last meal with his disciples. While the Gospels differ on the exact day and time, they all agree that it occurred during the time of the Passover. Most people would agree that the Last Supper was probably the traditional Passover meal (or Seder) that commemorated the Israelites freedom from Egypt. So, when we in the Church participate in Communion, there is a strong connection to the Passover meal and ceremony. While the traditional Passover meal has changed over the years, the basic Passover meal consisted of the roasted lamb from the sacrifice, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs. This is the meal the Israelites ate while the Lord “passed through” Egypt killing all the first born sons and “passed over” all the houses that had blood from the sacrificed lamb painted on their doorposts. As God said to the Israelites, “When I see the blood, I will pass over you. This plague of death will not touch you when I strike the land of Egypt.”

What is interesting to me here is the symbol of the lamb’s blood on the doorposts. This is what causes the Lord to “pass over” certain houses. It is not specifically because those inside were Israelites. Although, the Israelites were given the command so they were more likely to have the blood painted on their doors. Technically anyone who caught wind of the command could have painted the lamb’s blood over their doors. Also, the Israelites could have chosen to save others by instructing them what to do or inviting them into their houses protected by the lamb’s blood. Simply being an Israelite did not save anyone that night. Simply being an Egyptian did not condemn anyone to death that night. It was only through the protective covering of the lamb’s blood that anyone was spared the horror of having their first born son dying. Any Egyptian could have been spared if they had lambs blood painted on their doorpost.

Maundy Thursday most likely gets its name from the Latin word “mandatum” which is the Latin word for “command”. This comes from Jesus’ “new command” to the disciples at the Last Supper recorded in the Gospel of John.

“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

John 13:34-35 (NLT)

Love is to be the new driving force behind the community that Jesus is inaugurating with his disciples. Love is what gathers them around the table. Love is what brings them into God’s house, under the protection of Christ’s blood on the doorposts. Not nationality, not a political party or movement, not a creed, hairstyle, tattoo or skirt length.

Love.

A love that drives Jesus to act as a servant and wash his disciples’ feet. A love symbolized in the words, “This is my body, broken for you…this is my blood which is poured out as a sacrifice for you.” A love that threatens the authorities and drives them to arrest Jesus. A love that causes Jesus to say to those crucifying him, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”

A love that drives God to send His first-born son as the sacrificial lamb at Passover, “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

It is Christ’s blood that now covers the door-posts of the Church, saving all those that seek its protection. Doubters, tax-collectors, sinners, betrayers, boasters, believers, men, women, slave, free, Jew, Greek, Samaritan, Egyptian, Israelite, American, Russian, Arab, black, white, young, old, abuser, abused, broken and bankrupt. As the lambs blood protected anyone, regardless of nationality or creed, at the first Passover so too does Christ’s blood save those under its protection today. Christ’s new mandate to “love one another” should cause those who are knowingly protected by the blood to live in such a way that others would seek to enter Christ’s house. It is a love that should also drive us to seek to invite others to be covered by Christ’s sacrifice. It is also a love that should not discount the covering over our neighbors’ house because they do not look like us, eat the same food or did not paint their doorposts in a similar fashion.

Let us remember Christ’s new mandate this Maundy Thursday to “Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.” May that love bring more people under Christ’s sacrificial protection and more people to the communal Passover table, the meal of Thanksgiving.

Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God.
1 Peter 3:18 (NLT)

So also Christ died once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people.
Hebrews 9:28 (NLT)

Prayer for Palm Sunday

Almighty and everliving God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: mercifully grand that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

New Testament Reading for the Fifth Week in Lent

Six days before the Passover celebration began, Jesus arrived in Bethany, the home of Lazarus—the man he had raised from the dead. A dinner was prepared in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, and Lazarus was among those who ate with him. Then Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet with it, wiping his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance.

But Judas Iscariot, the disciple who would soon betray him, said, “That perfume was worth a year’s wages. It should have been sold and the money given to the poor.” Not that he cared for the poor—he was a thief, and since he was in charge of the disciples’ money, he often stole some for himself.

Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”
John 12:1-8 (NLT)

'070/365 - 'Egyptian Perfume Bottle #5'' photo (c) 2013, Bobby McKay - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/I like it when things make sense. I like that 2+2=4 and that a hot stove burns. I do not like when that stove burns me, but I do like that I can generally count on the stove being hot. If I was honest with myself, sometimes I am like Judas in this story. Judas sees Mary enter the room with a jar of *very* expensive perfumed oil and I am sure he has already done the calculations in his head. It must have been obvious that it was an expensive jar. Probably, similar to today if somebody walked in a room with a Tiffany Blue colored box. Practically everyone would instantly know that what is inside is unique and valuable. Judas, being the financially observant character that he is, knows the value of this jar. I also wonder if he preemptively started calculating what could be purchased with the perfume since Mary was obviously going to be offering it to Jesus. Giving the proceeds to the poor is obviously an option, maybe buying bread and wine for the upcoming Passover meal, or maybe (as John seems to suggest) Judas wanted to line his own pockets with the money. Whatever his plans, Judas saw the offering of this perfume as merely transactional. Giving something to get something else, a one for one transaction. A rational and normal assumption.

But, Mary goes and does the unthinkable in Judas’ mind.

She breaks the jar open, pours the valuable perfume on Jesus’ feet and on the ground. She spreads the perfume around Jesus feet with her hair causing the aroma to fill and permeate the house. From what we can tell, she uses all of it. The ancient world did not have convenient ways to store and reseal things. More than likely, once Mary broke whatever seal this jar had…there was no way of closing it. Everyone can smell it, the act is obvious and unmistakable. Anyone who walked in the room at that moment would know exactly what happened. I am sure there were more people in that room thinking what Judas ultimately said.

What a waste.

Mary did not know what she had.

Mary should have…

Mary could have…

This does not make sense.

Jesus words affirming Mary’s act were probably equally perplexing to everyone at this party. He says, “She did this in preparation for my burial.” I do not know about you, but mentioning death, especially your own, is not the best way to diffuse an already awkward situation. If people around the table were already confused by Mary’s actions, they were probably downright baffled by Jesus’ explanation. Judas was obviously not pleased. Then, barely one chapter later, Judas skips out of the Last Supper and goes out into the night to betray Jesus.

Here’s the thing though. The acts of the faithful rarely make sense. Sure, giving money to the poor and feeding the hungry are generally acts everyone can support. But, anointing Jesus with an expensive jar of perfume in expectation and honor of his death and burial? That blows people’s minds. Worshiping a crucified person, rejected by everyone around him does not make sense. Proclaiming that someone resurrected from the dead does not make sense. Being martyred by guiding your killers sword to your neck does not make sense. Living atop a pillar for 37 years does not make sense. Joining the poor in Rome to beg near the doors of churches does not make sense.

But in the eyes of the world, the Church is one of the biggest nonsensical things that ever existed. The acts of the Church and her faithful confound and challenge the world at every turn. Calling into question everything the world holds dear. Giving up something for Lent does not make sense to many people outside the church. But, that is the power of Lent. For the faithful to be able to stand up and proclaim that this world has no power over them. The desires, temptations, powers and values of the world are not important in light of the crucifixion and sacrifice of Christ. Lent challenges us to take what the world tells us is valuable, break it and offer it at the feet of Jesus. This seemingly nonsensical act announces to the world, as the perfume spread in the house, that the true focus in our life is Jesus. A beaten, crucified, bloodied and buried Messiah that looks defeated to the world but triumphant to the Church.

But thank God! He has made us his captives and continues to lead us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. Now he uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume. Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing. To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume.
2 Corinthians 2:14-16

Old Testament Reading for the Fifth Week in Lent

Don’t remember the prior things; don’t ponder ancient history. Look! I’m doing a new thing; now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it? I’m making a way in the desert, paths in the wilderness. The beasts of the field, the jackals and ostriches, will honor me, because I have put water in the desert and streams in the wilderness to give water to my people, my chosen ones, this people whom I formed for myself, who will recount my praise.
Isaiah 43: 18-21 (CEB)

'No Stright Trails Here' photo (c) 2013, Scrubhiker (USCdyer) - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/As we move closer and closer to Holy Week (Palm Sunday is next Sunday!) the time is coming to shift our perspective in Lent. The time for preparation and introspection is ending. The time is quickly coming when we will need to look up from our work, heed the words of the prophet and watch for the Messiah. Examining our lives, preparing our hearts, fasting and meditation are all preparing us for the moment when God will move, the Messiah will arrive and will pass by.

Will you recognize the signs, will you be looking up from your work?

It is easy to get busy with our work, to keep our hands to the grindstone thinking that we must soldier on in order for God to act. When our work is good it is tempting to keep at it because we know that God wants us to serve and work for him. The fasting and self-examination are all good things to do during Lent, but the time comes when the preparation must end or you may miss the actual event. Eventually you must step back and actually look upon your work and appreciate what and who it has all been for. One of my favorite film scenes is from Fiddler on the Roof. It’s the scene just before the Sabbath where the family is rushing around, talking, preparing, washing, setting the table and hurriedly getting ready. Everyone is rushing up to the final minute when the candles are lit and Golde and Tevye begin to chant the Sabbath blessing. At that point, all the preparation has ended, the Sabbath has started and it is time to recognize the holy moment that all the preparation was leading too. Everyone stops talking, everyone stops fretting. Everyone begins listening. Everyone begins watching.

Preparing for the Sabbath was important, but the Sabbath was going to happen whether they were prepared for it or not. The time came to stop preparing and start participating.

God speaks through the prophet Isaiah and simply says, “Look! I’m doing a new thing…don’t you recognize it?” The self-examination and fasting of Lent were all preparation for the arrival of God. By making space in our lives, by eliminating the roadblocks in our relationship with God we have essentially helped make paths in the desert and wilderness of our lives. We have opened up our lives for God to move in us and through us. Now, where the space has been made, the time has almost come for God to move and to fill us up. Streams in the desert create opportunities for new life to spring up. New paths help us to find new places and make new connections. The time is coming when God will act, the dry and empty desert will be replaced with fertile land and living water. God will direct us on new, righteous paths that open up new ways to approach him. Stop thinking on the old ways…it is all ancient history.

It is about time for us to drop our plows, put down our shovels, take our hands from our work and look up. It is time to realize that the work we have been doing has not been for us or about us. Our work has been for God in preparation for the revelation of the Messiah.