Thursday, February 28, 2013

Second Thursday of Lent

Psalm 70Jeremiah 4:9-10, 19-28Romans 2:12-24John 5:19-29

In the fifth chapter of John, Jesus visits a man who has been crippled for thirty-eight years, and is waiting with a crowd of others by the side of a sacred pool called Bethesda. Whenever an angel touches the waters of the pool, it is said, the first person into the water is healed of lameness. But whenever there is an angelic visitation, the lame man can’t beat the crowds into the water because he is so badly crippled. So Jesus tells the man to “rise, take up thy bed, and walk,” and he is healed.

Local Jews get wind of this story and come after Jesus, for two reasons. First, because he has told the man to pick up his bed and walk and it is the Sabbath, when work is forbidden. And second because he has explained that he is the son of God, and therefore equal with God, which is a terrible sacrilege. The Jews become so enraged, in fact, that they begin contemplating killing him. Jesus enrages them even further when he attempts to explain himself. Whoever hears his words, he says, and believes in the Father who sent him, will have everlasting life.

This parable of the lame man has to do with two bodies of law—the law of man and the law of God. Strictly speaking, Jesus was in violation of man’s law by commanding a cripple to walk on the Sabbath. But he was simply obeying a far grander, far more merciful law—a law, in fact, of eternity—by healing a lame man and imparting to him the knowledge of eternal life. Two systems of law are in bitter conflict. The Bible story is also reflected in Les Miserables, Victor Hugo’s great story of justice and injustice. Jean Valjean spends nineteen years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread, and when he breaks parole, he is hounded relentlessly by the policeman Javert. Yes, Jean Valjean broke petty laws by stealing bread and breaking parole. But the manmade French legal system was not the only system of jurisprudence at work. The divine and immutable laws of human kindness, mercy and forgiveness were also at play, and—most important—they superseded the laws of man. In the end, Javert, despairing and empty, throws himself to his own death.

Believing in Jesus, and the higher law that he represents, is profoundly transformative, because as Jesus says (John 5:24), “he that heareth my word, and believeth in him that sent me . . . is passed from death unto life.”

Stefan Bechtel

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Second Wednesday of Lent

Psalm 72Jeremiah 3:6-18Romans 1:28–2:11 John 5:1-18

This reading is odd. A man waiting for 38 years? Waiting to step into the pool only to have others step in front of him. In all that time why did no one help him? Might not both of them have been healed? After he was healed by Jesus the man was stopped because he was carrying his mat on the Sabbath. Which of us has a mat—unless we practice yoga? And being stopped for carrying it?

Our world is so different from the time of Jesus. We all live our lives on a 24/7 basis. What, if any, concept of the Sabbath do we have? Don’t we go to yoga, mow the lawn, shop at Wal-Mart, watch the big game and much, much more on the Sabbath? Though we don’t observe the Jewish laws of Jesus’ day our Sabbath activities do take us away from God.

As we live 24/7 lives, so does God. His love, healing, forgiveness, grace and presence are gifts that are always available no matter what we’re doing, how busy we are, what day of the week. Jesus healed on the Sabbath then and heals on the Sabbath now.

Remember that and remember also to take a moment in all our life activity to be still and know that God is God. Even on the Sabbath.

Lawrence Elliott

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Second Tuesday of Lent

Psalm 61Jeremiah 2:1-13Romans 1:16-25John 4:43-54

Psalm 61 tells us of a King who seeks refuge and protection and in return promises to praise and glorify God. John tells us of the royal official who must have faith in Jesus to heal his dying son. Why does it take adversity or despair to strengthen our faith? Why do we seek proof of God’s existence and grace?

Jeremiah and Paul tell us of civilizations that abandoned their faith; their leaders did not look to God for guidance, and as punishment God allowed them to live their lives without his grace. God had blessed these people (as he has blessed us) in many ways. He has led some to safe and fertile lands, sent his son to die for our sins, and provided all with the Gospels.

How can we maintain our faith? My mother always told me “let your conscience be your guide,” and I always wondered, “Where does my conscience come from?” I realized it is the grace of God in me. This voice tells me what I know to be right. We must filter the distractions around us and listen from within. Faith in ourselves demonstrates our faith in God. Our actions will acknowledge and glorify God. Like the royal official we will not know the results; however our faith will be rewarded.

I am hopeful that I can have the courage to act from within. I am comforted knowing that we have a forgiving God who will guide me and reveal wonders in me and too me.

— Daryl Russell

Monday, February 25, 2013

Second Monday of Lent

Psalm 56Jeremiah 1:11-19Romans 1:1-15John 4:27-42

Psalm 56
Before the coming of Christ (and even today, without Christ) the Hebrews were oppressed and fearful. They had to believe in the teachings and pronouncements of their priests and rabbis and proclaim, “I put my trust in God.”

Jeremiah 1:11–19
In Jeremiah, again, God assures the Hebrews, “they (their enemies) will not prevail against you for I am with you.”

John 4: 27–42
Finally, however, with the coming of Christ to all mankind we can all truly rejoice in the fulfillment of God’s promises to the Hebrews. For Christ said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to complete his work.” Now the Word of God walks among us, experiences our sufferings and persecution and gives credibility to God’s promises to the Hebrews throughout the ages—promises of salvation to those who follow His commandments and live a life modeled after the teachings of Christ.

Lucy Byrd Pegau

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Second Sunday of Lent

Psalm 24Jeremiah 1:1-101 Corinthians 3:11-23Mark 3:31–4:9

As I reflect on today’s Psalm 24, I have just spent five hours watching the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyennes at the Paramount. The doomed Trojans tore down their gates in order to let in the Horse, the gift of the Greeks, into their city. The rest is (mythical) history.

In a complete turn-about, today’s Psalm 24 asks us to “Fling wide the gates, open the ancient doors, and the great king will come in. Who is this great king? He is the Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, victorious in battle.” The Hebrew scriptures ask us for a fearless trust in our God—a task which we, like Cassandra, may find inspires fear, not confidence.

Just as Cassandra was a prophetess of doom to the Trojans, our Old Testament reading is the opening sentences of the Prophet Jeremiah. Both Cassandra and Jeremiah have become eponymous for doomsayers. Jeremiah warned God’s people that catastrophe was about to befall them.

I think we cannot create a division between the words of our faith, and the reality of the world around us. There are plenty of Cassandras and Jeremiahs warning us about the plight of the poor, the warming of the planet, the state of our political system. What answers are we given to these fearsome warnings?

St. Paul to the Corinthians asks us to build our foundation with “. . . Jesus Christ as the one and only foundation, and no other foundation can be laid.” And finally in the Gospel of Mark, we have the familiar parable of the sower and the seeds. It would be easy and presumptive, and perhaps a little self righteous, to imagine that we are the good soil bearing thirty, sixty or a hundred fold. But both Cassandra and Jeremiah put some proper concern, awareness, and a little fear, that we need to have some concern for the future and that we need to act significantly in ways that will heal ourselves and our world.

David Slezak

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Saturday of the First Week of Lent

Psalm 55Deuteronomy 11:18-28Hebrews 5:1-10 John 4:1-26

Jesus promises living water to the woman at the well, a spring of water gushing up to eternal life. And she asks him, “Where do you get that living water?” — a question that many of us ask. What is the secret to receiving the gift of abundant life that Jesus promises? (John 4: verses 11, 15)

I think that this Hebrews reading offers one answer, though not an easy one. The text says Jesus learned “obedience” (that is, deep listening for God, or the power to receive abundant life) through what he suffered. (Heb. 5:8) I doubt this means we are to seek out suffering. Instead, I see it as invitation to receive the suffering life brings, trusting that Jesus is with us in the depths of our pain.

Suffering comes in many forms, in poor health, in loss of a loved one, in the sudden inability to support one’s family, in war and disaster. When it comes, our first instinct may be like the psalmist’s: to seek wings like a dove to fly away and be at rest, away from stress and pain, far from violence and strife! (Ps. 55:1-3)

But perhaps today we are invited to meditate on other possible responses to suffering. Might suffering be a source of new strength, when engaged with deep trust in God? Rather than running away or avoiding pain when it comes, a more fruitful response might be to move steadily forward through suffering, holding fast to God. If we practice trusting God in our heart and soul, binding that trust to ourselves and fixing it in our daily lives even during the good times, it may be that when bad times come, our habits of trust can help us receive even suffering as Christ’s living water. (Deut. 11: 18-28)

— Norvene Vest

Friday, February 22, 2013

Friday of the First Week of Lent

Psalm 40 Deuteronomy 10:12-22Hebrews 4:11-16John 3:22-36

More Than a Metaphor

Life’s unfolding traces helixes
filled with twists and turns
into three dimensions.
What seems at first like tracing circles
getting nowhere slowly,
brings depth and forward movement.

I choose
to walk imagined separation
between the “church”
and “world”
with one foot lovingly emplaced in each
and walking
in both doubt and faith,
and ambivalently strung out,
to abandon either.

Such interlacing, I’ve concluded,
begets objectiveness
about a fuller universe –
finding truth in each,
though sometimes feeling bridge-like,
and walked on from either side
long posed as mutually opposing.

— Doug Vest

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Thursday of the First Week of Lent

Psalm 50Deuteronomy 9:23–10:5Hebrews 4:1-10John 3:16-21

This Lent, I am challenging myself to be intentional in keeping the Sabbath, by honoring both the intent and the spirit of this most demanding fourth commandment and by defining what makes a day holy for me. Realizing that whatever I do on Sunday, it must be connected to the service of God, I began to see keeping the Sabbath as an opportunity, a blessing, a liberation, rather than as a day full of impossible restrictions.

I gave myself permission to define sacred in my own terms, which included the holy work of caring for family, our earth and one another, including myself. Walking through the woods, for example, is a way to both appreciate and honor God’s world. With our grandsons along, I can pray that I am planting seeds of stewardship in the next generation. Preparing food for my family on Saturday, and thus avoiding work on the Sabbath, I am given the gift of fully enjoying our grandsons when they come to visit. And inviting my neighbor, a recent widower, improves the behavior of everyone at the table. Doing good on the Sabbath becomes good for everyone. Beginning each Sabbath with celebration and prayer with the St. Paul’s community is a sacred way to start my week.

As we journey through Lent, let us see the fourth commandment not as one more rule to follow, but as God shining a light, nudging us towards a way of being that honors God, our beautiful earth and ourselves. Let us listen to what comes when we quiet the busyness and replace it with a holy Sabbath: a time of quiet, prayer and service.

“Remember the Sabbath Day, and keep it holy.”

— Margaret Haupt

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Wednesday of the First Week of Lent

Psalm 119:49-72Deuteronomy 9:13-21Hebrews 3:12-19John 2:23–3:15

Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew.’ ”

John 3:1-15

Recently, I have embarked, for the second time in three years, on a course of treatment for lymphedema in my legs. This condition is for me the result of sitting too much, of exercising too little, and of being the daughter of my mother, who struggled with the same condition from an early age. The treatment includes a technique called “manual lymph drainage” therapy, in which the therapist applies hands-on pressure to the limbs in a gentle and systematic way to ease the excess fluid in my limbs and torso back to my heart via my body’s lymph vessels, nodes, and organs. The lymph system is an essential cornerstone of the immune system. The lymphatic vessels convey the normal (and sometimes excessive) waste products in my tissues through specialized processes designed literally to refresh and renew that liquid component, water, that composes 98% of my body.

I am, again, on the threshold of experiencing in a deep, bodily, and very personal way just how non-negotiable aging is and what a miracle the human body is. I am committing once more to knowing my own flesh and blood (and body and lymph), all of it, as I help my body cleanse itself of the by-products of metabolism through my lymph system and as I am cleansed again of the consequences of living in the world in this human body. I am born again, daily, with the help of God, my physical therapist, and my own healing hands, into the world to do God’s work. May I ever partake of these miracles with humility and awe.

— Leslie Middleton

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Tuesday of the First Week of Lent

Psalm 45Deuteronomy 9:4-12Hebrews 3:1-11John 2:13-22

A funny thing has happened to me on the way to what I hope is a more mature faith—I have come to really appreciate Paul. The fact that he shepherded several groups of people into what would be a larger community, the Christian community, speaks volumes for his perseverance, courage, and faith. The readings for today cover a fair amount of emotional territory—unalloyed joy, disappointment and disgust, great anger. They set me imagining Paul dealing with the emotional extremes of many people, people setting off on a new journey toward a new reality. How hopeful and fearful they must have been, letting go of past certainties that no longer satisfied, struggling to shed their old baggage to show they’d been born again in Christ. And if they were anything like me, they would fail, day after day. What a monumental task Paul was called to tackle.

Paul took up this burden and struggled to provide for these pilgrims a spiritual and emotional home that is set on the foundation that is Christ. As I see it, if these new followers of Christ were paying any attention, then they too were (and are) helping to build that home as well. Some of Paul’s conclusions have stood the test of time, and some have not. But any good structure needs to be refurbished over time, with new building materials as they become available. The Church is going through such a refurbishment, and it has been sometimes a bitter struggle as the members try to decide if what they wish to change is a result of new revelation or is simply modern convenience. It’s not easy. But then, it shouldn’t be.

This is some of the hard stuff of the spiritual/religious life. There will always be something more to do, to consider, to question. It is daunting and messy and frustrating, for we will never finish. My faith, however, is leading me to find that if this job is worth doing, it’s worth doing continually.

— Michele Allen

Monday, February 18, 2013

Monday of the First Week in Lent

Psalm 41Deuteronomy 8:11-18Hebrews 2:11-18John 2:1-12

Water into wine? How does one turn H2O into C2H6O? In the chemical sense, it’s the addition of carbon and a multiplication of hydrogen molecules. I rather doubt Jesus the man was a scientist or even an alchemist—but as the Scriptures say, with God all things are possible.

It is not an easy miracle to explain to the scientific mind. Others, such as causing the blind to see, the mute to talk, the lame to walk or even casting out demons, have plausible explanations. Stress can cause temporary blindness and loss of speech, a blocked nerve can result in lameness, and as much as we love stories of possession, what the ancients referred to as demons were often a chemical or organic imbalance in the brain of the afflicted.

This story is only in John, not in the other gospels, so perhaps John is just being his usual mystical self. I think it may be an allegory about the Last Supper and the Eucharist.

Jesus, being God, knows what he is to do; he’s just not ready to go public with it. His mother, faithful in her belief in his powers, asks him to help out, since they probably have imbibed as much as all guests and neither wants to see the party end so soon. But instead of providing a jug or two, he calls for more than a hundred gallons of water to be brought to him. That’s abundance. And he makes it into better wine than what had been served. That’s what I call a cheerful giver. He even let the bridegroom take credit for providing the good wine.

Instead of turning water into blood as he did in Exodus 7:19, God turns the water into fine wine, much like the wine he shared with his disciples at his final meal, asking them to share it with others in memory of him. The blood sacrifice of the Old Testament is replaced with wine, the remembrance of the blood our Lord gave for us all.

— Lori Korleski Richardson

Sunday, February 17, 2013

First Sunday in Lent

Psalm 63Psalm 103Deuteronomy 8:1-101 Corinthians 1:17-31Mark 2:18-22

The word Lent means length, appropriate because in Lent the days are getting longer. Wikipedia says, “The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer, through prayer, penance, repentance, almsgiving and self-denial. Lent is a season of grief that necessarily ends with a great celebration of Easter.”

Grief and death are all around us. Lois and I enjoy life, but our friends become ill and die. Death is prominently in the news, taking a score of little school children in Newton, CT, and some 60,000 people of all ages in Syria.

Gun-related deaths in the US are 10 per year per 100,000 people, versus 195 for heart disease, 185 for cancer, and 160 for the war-related deaths in Syria. Some non-human species are threatened with extinction. Lions, elephants and pandas are among the most threatened mammals. Frogs are dying at catastrophic rates; so are corals.

How does this relate to Lent? What are we to think and do? The Lectionary for the first Sunday in Lent helps. Psalm 63 reminds us that we need God. Psalm 103 reminds us that God remembers we are dust. Mark’s gospel passage hints at Jesus’ death. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians emphasizes God’s concern for our life in Christ Jesus, not our life in the secular world.

We are not given to know God’s will. We are exhorted to praise God, to thank God, to work for the poor, and to tithe. I believe that God also wants us to be good stewards of our island home. I pray that we may find ways to stop making war on each other, and that we may stop making war on creations of God who can’t fight back. Preserving earth’s natural resources is a key part of faithful Christian life.

Dudley Rochester

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Saturday after Ash Wednesday

Psalm 30Deuteronomy 7:17-26Titus 3:1-15John 1:43-51

You turned my weeping into dancing that my heart may sing your praises. . . .remind the people to be ready to do what is good, to be peaceable and considerate, and always gentle toward one another.

In reflecting on the readings, for some reason I thought of the violence in our world and the need for a different response to conflict, to one another. A friend of mine works for the Red Cross in Kenya and recently sent me an email about their campaign to prevent post-election violence in the upcoming elections. In 2008 there was horrendous post-election violence. The hope is to prevent a repeat by getting all Kenyans to sign the pledge against violence: Chagua Amani

Our nation recently grieved over yet another school shooting. The outpouring of prayers and support from people everywhere was so great that the community in Newtown has asked people to stop sending gifts.

My husband and I recently experienced a sudden violent car accident. I noted that after the accident we were ever so tender and gentle with one another; grateful that there were no major injuries, no other cars involved, no granddaughter riding with us at the time. . . .

He saves us by the washing of rebirth, by the Holy Spirit. If we open ourselves to the work of the Holy Spirit, there can be alternatives to violence. We can become a people who are more compassionate toward one another and our weeping will turn to dancing, our hearts sing the Lord’s praises.

Open the door of the heart
Receive another’s pain
Dialogue the questions and answers
Find the shared hope and spirit within
Work together to build a new way
Sing praises and celebrate goodness

Anne Cressin

Friday, February 15, 2013

Friday after Ash Wednesday

Psalm 31Deuteronomy 7:12-16Titus 2:1-15John 1:35-42

Parts of Psalm 31 have been important to me during much of my life. The first five verses are very familiar because they appear in the service of Compline which I love and often say at the end of the day. I read Compline to my late husband during his long hospital stay or in visits to the emergency room. Verse 5: “Into your hands I commend my spirit, for you have redeemed me, O LORD, O God of truth” comes into my head in times of trouble, when I am conscious of trusting God and turning my life over to my Creator.

Another line from Psalm 31 has an even longer history in my life, and in my almost-subconscious: “My times are in your hand.” This line was first called to my attention by a dear friend when telling me about her mother back in New England who had been diagnosed with cancer. My friend reported that her mother was surprisingly calm and that she claimed this verse of Psalm 31 as her own for guidance. I was a young mother then, preoccupied with my family and my daily life, and I remember marveling at my friend’s mother’s calm assurance, and storing it away in my memory to puzzle over as a treasure. Many years have passed since I first became acquainted with this prayer. These years have brought me several health crises, of family members and my own, and I have come to cherish and adopt the affirmation “My times are in your hand.”

Another image from Psalm 31 catches my imagination in hard times. When I feel closed in with troubles, and see few options for relief, I remember

Blessed be the LORD! *
For he has shown me the wonders of his love in a besieged city.

Somehow thinking of myself in a “besieged city” gives me a new perspective and I remember once again “the wonders of God’s love.”

Jane Rotch

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Thursday after Ash Wednesday

Psalm 37:1-18Deuteronomy 7:6-11Titus 1:1-16John 1:29-34

The Holy Trinity has long baffled many of us, including many scholars. But it seems to me that it is all about relationships that teach us the nature of God in his infinite manifestations. God three-in-one: creator-father, son and holy spirit. We recognize God in the beauty of this earth, and in the magnificent complexity of all his creations. We know him as Abba, father, an all-loving and all-knowing one. Through the gift of his beloved son he grants us the gift of endless forgiveness and eternal life. We see his spirit manifest through the thousands of small miracles all around us and in the multiple acts of kindness and sacrifice by those who live in his spirit. He is father, he is son, he is spirit. In his love for the son he teaches us of his love for us. We experience him through the Holy Spirit. In Luke’s account of Jesus’ baptism, God says, “You are my son, the Beloved, in you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21)

The psalmist asks us to trust, take delight, commit and be still with God. What a simple prescription! How little it seems that God asks of us when his gifts are so great. We are his beloved after all and wouldn’t we want to offer him everything he desires. Yet how difficult we find it. When you think about it, isn’t this the same way we would like to be in our human relationships: to trust, take delight, commit and be still with them. Be still and listen. If this is how it can be in human relationships, how much more delightful, trusting and committed our relationship with God should be, he who calls us beloved through his son.

Today, St. Valentine’s day, we send cards and flowers to our loved ones. Even though this day has been greatly commercialized, it does serve as a reminder to be grateful for all those we love. Perhaps it can sharpen our awareness that love is what it is all about. God is love. We are all his creation and so the greatest gift we can give to another is to love one another as he loves us.

A blessed St. Valentine’s Day to you.

— Alice Meador

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ash Wednesday

Psalm 95Jonah 3:1–4:11Hebrews 12:1-14 Luke 18: 9-14

Teach Me to Pray

He called it “Graced Land,”
to which he never felt arrived,
unlike people do in essays
on how to pray.
The goal reportedly attained by others,
hadn’t worked for him.
the way that he and prayer misfired
when he tried staying focused,
eyes closed and such;
sometimes repeating mantras.
So he sought advice,
inquiring of me,
“How do you stay on track?
What has helped you learn to pray?”
Asking me, myself a neophyte!
But his earnest question
deserved an honest answer.
“When stopped at traffic lights,” I said.
Good use of time,
till signals switched to green.
Like sincere thoughts for healing
a passel of unseen patients
in the hospital cater-corner,
or the homeless guys
right there on the sidewalk
looking like the world is soon to end.
Or that he himself could level with the boss
when he got to work today.
Nearly unlimited need out there,
in the everyday;
every bit as timely
as ‘fast-breaking news’
he’d heard several times the hour before.

Doug Vest

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Welcome to St. Paul's Memorial Church Lenten reflections

Dear friends,

Welcome to this year's Lenten reflections from St. Paul's Memorial Church in Charlottesville. These reflections will be posted daily here on this page.

The meditations were written by the members and friends of our parish. They honor our mutual commitment to lifelong spiritual formation. The authors include parishioners of all ages, students at the University of Virginia, St. Paul’s clergy, and people of other denominations whose lives have been touched by, or connected with, St. Paul’s.

Inspired by the Scripture readings each day, every offering is original and reflects the thoughts, interpretations, and feelings of the author. A new meditation will appear at midnight each day in Lent. Links to the scriptural passages for the day will be on the posting.

We hope that these meditations will help guide your journey through the Holy Season of Lent. May our lives be enriched as we share our understandings in these offerings.

May you have a blessed and Holy Lent!


The Very Rev. James Richardson 
Rector, St. Paul's Memorial Church Charlottesville, Virginia