A Palm Sunday Revolution (Lenten Lectio Reflection: Mark 11:1-11)

Gospel Book of the Syrian Jacobite Church – Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, ca. 1220.

When Jesus and his followers approached Jerusalem, they came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives. Jesus gave two disciples a task, saying to them, “Go into the village over there. As soon as you enter it, you will find tied up there a colt that no one has ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘Its master needs it, and he will send it back right away.’”

They went and found a colt tied to a gate outside on the street, and they untied it. Some people standing around said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them just what Jesus said, and they left them alone. They brought the colt to Jesus and threw their clothes upon it, and he sat on it. Many people spread out their clothes on the road while others spread branches cut from the fields. Those in front of him and those following were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessings on the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest!” Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. After he looked around at everything, because it was already late in the evening, he returned to Bethany with the Twelve.
Mark 1:1-11 (CEB)

First of all, let me apologize for a lack of blog posts lately. We’ve been in the process of selling our house which has occupied a lot of my time on top of the regular requirements of everyday family life. So, my writing and blogging time has decreased considerably. Since we have entered Holy Week, I figured it would be a good time to get back on the blogging wagon.

Yesterday was Palm Sunday, the day Christians remember Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. This is the first moment in Jesus’ journey towards his death on the cross. Entering Jerusalem carries with it a whole host of historical and theological significance for Jesus and his followers. To say that Jesus entering Jerusalem is significant is almost an understatement. In the Synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) we are not told that Jesus visits Jerusalem. It is quite possible that he did (most Jews probably would have) For Jesus to finally make the trek to Jerusalem and head to the Temple, many of his followers were probably feeling like all their dreams were coming true. In fact, their chant as Jesus heads towards the city reveals what’s in their minds. It seems to be a quote from Psalm 118.

Lord, please save us!
Lord, please let us succeed!
The one who enters in the Lord’s name is blessed;
we bless all of you from the Lord’s house.
The Lord is God!
He has shined a light on us!
So lead the festival offering with ropes
all the way to the horns of the altar.
Psalm 118:25-27 (CEB)

I emphasized the parts that are the quotations since there is some room for translation variance between Greek and Hebrew (and a whole host of other things, but that’s a different blog post altogether). For example, “Hosanna” is a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew words behind the phrase, “Lord, Please save us!” in Psalm 118. If you read all of Psalm 118, you get the feeling that this Psalm is recounting a pilgrimage or a procession towards the temple. Because of the nature of this Psalm, and the Psalms in general, this Psalm may have been used on a regular basis during worship at the Temple and anyone hearing it (or words from it) could very easily recall what’s going on. So, with the words of the Psalm in mind, it seems that Jesus and his followers are reenacting this Psalm. What might make this unique and possibly troublesome for those already in Jerusalem is that the priests and those working in the Temple probably were not involved or notified about this procession with Jesus.

Jesus and his followers are singing a procession song towards Jerusalem and the Temple without the help of the Temple authorities and possibly out of season.

What makes this procession extra troubling is adding the line, “Blessings on the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest!” So, not only are those following Jesus announcing their procession to the Temple, but they are also announcing the arrival of a new kingdom through an ancestor of David, which we assume they believe Jesus to be. All the while singing, “Hosanna!”, Lord please save us, Lord please let us succeed. I’m sure those sitting in the seats of governmental power in Jerusalem, both Roman and Jewish authorities, were not keen on these pronouncements.

You could probably summarize the song they are singing like this:

We’re headed to the Temple.

“Lord, please save us.”

There’s a new king coming.

“Lord, please let us succeed.”

If you would give me a moment of brutal honesty, our cute reenactments (like I witnessed on Sunday) with children walking peacefully down the aisles of our churches waving palm branches and singing cute songs do not capture the weight of this moment. We’ve effectively removed the teeth and de-clawed the words being shouted by the crowds.

The followers of Jesus are announcing a revolution against the Temple (Jewish) and government/military (Roman) authorities.

This procession is not cute. It is not necessarily suggestive of peaceful resistance and those watching from the walls of Jerusalem and the steps of the Temple knew precisely what was suggested by the words chanted. Throw in that all this is happening shortly before the Jewish Passover where themes of freedom, liberation and stepping away from oppressive rulers are featured front and center. The powers that be have reasons to be concerned. Now, I know some of you might say that Jesus had a different purpose and he had a different idea all along. This is probably true, but aside from the instructions to the disciples to get the donkey…Jesus remains suspiciously silent throughout the procession. Heck, in the very next chapter he causes a ruckus in the Temple and pronounces judgement on those buying and selling within the Temple walls. Hindsight is always 20/20 and we can look back with all sorts of insight and interpretations on the situation but what is really striking to me is what the situation must have looked like in its context.

Beginning with Palm Sunday, let’s strive to embrace the excitement, fear, pain and surprise of Holy Week as the followers of Jesus felt. Let’s chant our revolution songs and maybe allow ourselves to be surprised (for once) at what they mean and what actually happens.

Prayer for Palm Sunday

Photograph from Palm Sunday. Cvjetnica, Croatia. April 1, 2007.

Caught between joy and despair, we yearn for the fulfillment of God’s desire beyond the brokenness and neediness of this life. We offer thanksgiving for God’s presence with us and petitions for the transformation of the church and the world.

Life-giver, Pain-bearer, Love-maker, day by day you sustain the weary with your word and gently encourage us to place our trust in you. Awaken us to the suffering of those around us; save us from hiding in denials or taunts that deepen the hurt; give us grace to share one another’s burdens in humble service. Amen.

 

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

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)