Fortieth Day of Lent, Holy Saturday, April 4, 2015

Waiting with Christ

O God, Creator of heaven and earth: Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life…(Collect for Holy Saturday)

We know how this story ends. Unlike the terrorized followers and loved ones of Jesus who returned home devastated by grief, we are free this day to rest. The work is done. The agony suffered. The Incarnate One has borne witness to God. We, too, may lay down the weight of having traveled with Him these last days. Because we know how the story ends.

We know that our Lord is not trapped in the silence of the tomb. He has entered into the greater glory for which he was born.

But that does not mean that we should not rest in the silence of this time of waiting. This day is holy and is given to us as a time of reflection on all that has happened. On this day we are given the gift of Sabbath. Do not waste it. If you are able, spend this time quietly, reverently and gratefully. Open your heart and your spirit to the glory that surrounds you.

Abide in this time; and as you await what you know will come tomorrow, may the grace, peace, and serenity of this day fill you with joy.

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Thirty-Ninth Day of Lent, Good Friday, April 3, 2015

Good Friday

The Family of God

Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed and given into the hands of sinners and to suffer death upon the cross…(Collect for Good Friday.)

Never forget that we are the family of God. We are all God’s children. But for Christians the connection is even stronger. Baptism makes all of us – saints and sinners – the brothers and sisters to Christ. It unites us eternally to the One who made, loves and keeps us. What we do (or don’t do) is a reflection on our family because our context is the family of God. For good or ill, we cannot be disinherited. As our baptismal rite reminds us, “you are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever.”

That means that there is no escape from the love of God. It also means that we cannot disinherit ourselves. The Body of Christ is our family.

So, as you meditate on the events and meaning of Good Friday, remember that it was done for you, by the eldest brother in the family of God. He withheld nothing, freely offering all that he was and all that he had for the love and welfare of his family. This is not a question of numbers; it is a matter of the nature of love. Jesus’ love for the family of God is limitless and unconquerable; and had you been his only sibling, he would have done it all for you.

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Thirty-Eighth Day of Lent ~ Thursday, April 2nd

Pledge of Eternal Life

Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life, and who now lives and reigns with you. (Collect for Maundy Thursday)

A pledge is a serious thing. Like an oath or a promise, pledges require staking our names, honor and reputation on their fulfillment. Thus pledges are best reserved for those things that we can actually hope to accomplish.

In his actions at the Last Supper, Jesus not only pledges eternal life, he reveals himself as the One who is able to fulfill the pledge. He has the authority. He has the means. He has the intention. And so he promises and then immediately fulfills the promise.

Because eternal life is not just an unending succession of moments, years or eons; nor is it reserved for some point in the future. Eternal life is also fullness of life and it begins for each of us in moment in which we recognize it.

As followers of Jesus we experience eternal life in the sacrament of Holy Communion. We trust his pledge that in sharing bread and wine in his name and in remembrance of his actions among us, we actually experience his presence and the grace of his love. The fellowship of the communion table is a foretaste of the marriage banquet of the lamb. Through it we live in his presence even now.

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Thirty-Seventh Day of Lent, Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Confident of Glory

Lord God, whose blessed Son our Savior gave his body to be whipped and his face to be spit upon: Give us grace to accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time, confident of the glory that shall be revealed. (Collect for Wednesday in Holy Week)

Confidence generally requires proof or a degree of trust based on past experience. For Christians, such confidence arises from person experience, the promise of Scripture and the witness of the community of faith. But something else is required. We also have to be good at waiting.

Unfortunately, most of us are not terribly good at delayed gratification – especially when the payoff lies a great distance in the future. If the outcome is desirable enough, we may be prepared to be patient, but our tendency to do a cost/benefit analysis means that we try to at least estimate how long the wait may be. It’s a process that doesn’t work very well with matters of eternity. This is an instance where we must simply trust, with no empirical evidence concerning the out of our investment.

Not only that, this prayer asks for the grace to be joyful about the suffering that may come to us in the long and difficult, even painful, meantime. Perhaps that is one of the reasons that so many folks prefer to skip Holy Week and go straight to Easter. Holy Week reminds us that getting from the here and now to the then and there of eternity involves serious work, self-denial, endurance, and humility.

But the Good News is that the longer we seek to be joyful about the wait, the more likely we are to be confident of the outcome. Besides, if Glory in the presence of God is not worth the wait, then what is?

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Thirty-Sixth Day of Lent, Tuesday, March 31, 2015

To Gladly Suffer Shame and Loss

O God, by the passion of your blessed Son you made an instrument of shameful death to be for us the means of life: Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ. (Collect for Tuesday in Holy Week)

Shame is perhaps the most painful and damaging of human experiences, because it is imposed upon us by others in an attempt to diminish or destroy our human dignity. As a feeling, shame is entirely different from guilt. Guilt is the awareness of our own culpability and may include fear of consequences or regret for our actions. Shame, on the other hand, involves being demeaned, humiliated or ostracized and is an assault on our dignity and personhood. For example, a child may feel guilty about taking a cookie without permission. But if her parents punish her by making her wear a pig mask in public, she is shamed.

The very nature of crucifixion involved nakedness, mutilation, and public scrutiny. It was far more than a method of execution. It was an attempt to utterly dehumanize the victim and to serve as an object lesson to observers. Particularly abhorrent to the Jews, this Roman form of execution was intended not only to kill, but to shame.

How then, do we make sense of the phrase “gladly suffer shame and loss” in this prayer? In this context gladness is not about emotion; it is about intention. To do something gladly is to do it willingly. But it does not necessarily imply feeling happiness or pleasure about the process.

Jesus knew what lay in store. In his humanity, he was terrified. He prayed to be spared (Lord, if it is your will, let this cup pass from me). He even warned his followers that such suffering might well await them. But he would not abandon his calling, and he endured to the end.

The same is true for us. We do not seek suffering and loss. But if it should come as a result of our proclamation of the Good News, may we gladly/willingly endure it for the sake of Christ.

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Thirty-Fifth Day of Lent, Monday, March 30th

Way of Life and Peace

Almighty God whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace…(Collect for Monday in Holy Week)

Walking in the way of the cross does not mean being crucified. It does not mean being scourged or mocked by the crowds. But it does mean being willing to stay on the walk with Jesus even if difficult, painful, or even catastrophic things happen as a result of your commitment.

Given that such perseverance and the almost certain possibility of suffering seem to be essential to discipleship; it’s a wonder that any of us would choose to pray this prayer. Yet here it is, reminding us as it does every year on the Monday in Holy Week that the paradoxical reward for genuine discipleship is the way of life and peace.

Not the sort of peace that implies the absence of stress or conflict, and certainly not a prosperous or comfortable life. This collect speaks of the kind of peace which comes from the awareness of the presence of God in our lives, even in the midst of pain, suffering or discord; and this kind of life is whole, complete and abundant because we are focusing on what really matters.

Suffering is inevitable in this life. But Holy Week reminds us that love is costly and that suffering lies along the road to glory.

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Thirty-Fourth Day of Lent, Saturday, March 28, 2015

Hail the King of the Jews

Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort. And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. And they began saluting him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him. (Mark 15:16-20)

In reading this passage, one has to wonder at the personal brutality of the soldiers ordered to conduct Jesus’ execution. This is not narrative license on the part of the Gospel writers. There is ample evidence that shaming, bullying and torture of prisoners were common practices. But these soldiers are also human beings, so we must wonder whether Roman soldiers were ordered or encouraged to maim and humiliate the condemned? Was their training and experience designed to bring out any latent traits of sadism? Or had they been so inured to suffering that they no longer thought of their victims (or themselves for that matter) as human?

One need not be an opponent of capital punishment to ask what purpose such cruelty serves. The soldiers seem more interested in annihilating Jesus’ personhood and destroying his spirit than in killing his body. His power of presence and integrity of self must have been overwhelmingly threatening to have provoked such a response.

But the problem is not limited to the soldier’s under Pilate’s command. It is a very telling commentary on our entire species that we learn so easily to disregard the dignity of the “other” consenting to or participating in the abuse of the weak, the guilty or the powerless. In his powerlessness Jesus embodies every human in any time or place who is subjected to such abuse. In our willingness to tacitly condone abuse, we embody the spirit of the brutal Roman soldier.

Among the many lessons of Holy Week is the reminder that each of us bears within us the seeds of hatred and violence – and that had we been there, we might have done the same.

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