Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Sunday

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24Isaiah 65:17-251 Corinthians 15:19-26John 20:1-18

“Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord.’ ” 
John 20:18 
Mary Magdalene was alone, weeping. No one else but her had the courage to go. The One she followed, Jesus, had been brutally executed by the Romans. His body lay in a rocky tomb, and she went there. She went outside “while it was still dark.” The streets of Jerusalem must have been frightening as she made her way beyond the city gates to the tomb in an abandoned rock quarry.

And it got scarier. The tomb was empty; the linens that had wrapped his bloody body strewn on the ground. She dashed back to tell the other disciples—and they ran to the tomb to find it empty. We can only imagine how much worse they felt as they went back to their hiding places. Yet Mary Magdalene stayed and wept. And then she saw a man in the dim light—she thought him to be the gardener. He was standing on the rocky ground that until this moment held only reminders of pain and death.

Who better than a gardener? Then she got it: The gardener was Jesus. Soon the disciples, still in hiding, encountered him. The gardener came to them in closed rooms, and on a road to a town named Emmaus, and he came to a thousand other places just as he comes to me and to you. No linen wrappings, and no symbol we can possibly construct, can con-tain this Risen Christ filling us with light and sounds of grace and new life.

This Easter season watch and listen for the gardener. The Risen Christ speaks to each of us in a thousand ways, each day, in our work and play, in our dreams, in our gardens. And when we listen—truly listen—how will we act? How will our life change this Easter season, and how will we respond in every season of our life?

+ + +

For many years, I’ve carried in my prayerbook a postcard I found in an antique store. It has a quote from Anglican “divine” Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667):
What glorious light! 
How bright a sun after so sad a night 
Does now begin to dawn!
The Very Rev. James Richardson

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Holy Saturday

On this Sabbath day, there is only silence. Like the enamored Lady of the Song of Songs, we can only say, I sought him whom my soul loves; I sought him, but found him not; I called him, but he gave no answer (Song of Songs 3.1). No answer.

Silenced is that very Word, eternally begotten of God the Father, with God from the beginning, who is truly God. All things were created by and for and through this Word that then drew all our utterances out of the cacophonous void into the light of meaningful language. This is the very Word that spoke the story of Creation. But the story has ceased. And now we are left in the stillness and silence of this Sabbath Day – this Holy Saturday.

It is no happenstance of history that Holy Saturday is a Sabbath Day. In a world of loud and grinding words and stories working out schemes of domination and violence, the eternal Word, embodied in Jesus Christ, was Lord of the Sabbath – Shabbat Adonai – (Mark 2.28). He was the embodiment of the Sabbath, and his life proclaimed and enacted, in word and deed, the everlasting Jubilee Year – the Sabbath of the Sabbath years. For it is on the Sabbath when God provides our daily bread (Exodus 16.23-29) and all people – Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free – are made equal and one (Exodus 20.9-10). And in the Word made flesh our stories found their Sabbath rest (Matthew 11.28). In Jesus Christ we find our Sabbath rest.

But now he has been laid to rest. His work being done, his body has been returned to the fallow earth – to the depths of sheol, to the silence, to hell, to that place where the Word is heard no more. That place to which we are all bound when our bodies are laid down in the grave and our stories are silenced. This Word once burst in upon our deafness and gave us ears to hear, yet no word escapes the silence of that place.

I sought him whom my soul loves; I sought him, but found him not; I called him, but he gave no answer.

— The Rev. Nicholas Forti

Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday

Psalm 22Isaiah 52:13–53:12Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9John 18:1–19:42

Last night Jesus asked his disciples to sit with him and pray. As difficult as that was, the moments of Good Friday are even more difficult, but also offer blessings as well. Can we sit with Jesus on this day? This day is a day to remember, reflect, pray, and yes, even grieve. As we know, grieving is a part of the process of life. Even though much of life is growth and abundance and hope, we also know there are so many necessary losses in life. To allow ourselves to grieve is essential for living abundant lives.

When Jesus said in John 10:10 that “I have come, so that you may have life, and have it abundantly,” he did not promise that it would all be tiptoeing through the tulips. As we find ourselves here, in this holy time of Good Friday, we are offered the opportunity to bring our grief, disappointment, fear, and pain to the cross.

We are offered the opportunity to unload our burdens here, and we are offered the opportunity to grieve our losses and sadness. We are offered the opportunity to grieve for those whom we carry in our hearts and minds.

On this day, this Good Friday, Jesus has taken up our grieving, has carried our pain, and has transformed it. Jesus takes it ALL up with him. The cross is the bridge from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, and Jesus carries the burden of suffering and death. While it may seem impossible, it is not. What is impossible for humankind is possible for God. The story might have ended here, but God had another end in mind. A glorious end. But the road to that end passes through this place, and this time, this cross—even as unbelievable as that may seem to much of the world! “What others meant for evil, God turned into good.”

The Rev. Peter Carey

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Maundy Thursday

Psalm 116:1, 10-17Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-141 Corinthians 11:23-26John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Two nights separated by 1,500 years; two nights similarly marked by contingency and ambiguity. In Exodus, we hear that God will unleash his tenth plague upon the Egyptians, the death of all their firstborn whether human or animal, whether as high as the Pharaoh or as low as a prisoner, to cause such suffering and desolation that Pharaoh will free the Israelites from slavery. The Egyptians’ unprecedented cries of grief, horror, and anger will call for the immediate expulsion of the Israelites from Egypt into a new life of freedom.

The Israelites, however, did not know exactly what would happen or what they were to do. God, however, gives them a new commandment, telling them how to get ready for the great change that will come in a moment’s notice. They are to sacrifice a lamb and mark their doors with lamb’s blood so that the plague will pass over them; they must make preparation for a quick getaway (thus unleavened bread because the dough will not have time to rise).

Just as God makes that night a “night of vigil,” they too are to make it a “night of vigil.” They are to be acutely attuned to each and every sound and movement around them—to be on pins and needles, readying themselves mentally and physically to respond to whatever happens. Theirs is an active vigil held in uneasy anticipation of change that will bring uncertainty as well as freedom.

On the eve of Passover more than 1,500 years later, Jesus shares a meal with his disciples, and what had been certain to them—continuing to learn from him and be his companions —is suddenly thrown into question. Startlingly, Jesus washes their feet (the lowest of lowly acts), declares his impending betrayal, signals his imminent departure from them through death, and tells them this is for the good that God has in store for his people (John 13:33).

They did not know exactly what would happen or what they were to do. Nor, do we know the exact details for ourselves. However, like God did so long ago for the Israelites, God gives a new commandment on this night of vigil, telling the disciples and us how to ready ourselves for what is to come: “love one another” (13:34). As we approach our expulsion from bondage to sin into the freedom of reconciliation and rebirth through Christ’s death and resurrection—our Passover—we are to “love one another.” Our vigil is to be a vigil of engaged love. We are to be actively attentive, loving one another other in body and soul, as God leads us into the great salvation that he has begun to accomplish.

The Rev. Dr. Heather Warren

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Wednesday of Holy Week

Psalm 70Isaiah 50:4-9aHebrews 12:1-3John 13:21-32
Hebrews 12.1-2: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” 
I am afraid of closed spaces. Not elevators or cars or anything like that, mind you—I can make it through the day just fine—but still. As a child, I wouldn’t go through the box maze or those tube slides at the water park. If you make me watch a movie about spelunking, it’ll seem just a little bit harder to breathe.

I couldn’t avoid thinking about those narrow walls as I read our lesson from the Epistle to the Hebrews today. On the one hand, see how the letter’s author describes our sins: they’re like weights—heavy; burdensome; solid as rock. Worst of all, they cling to us so closely. The letter-writer is telling us that sin forms a wall around us, closing us in, closing us off from God. Even the smallest things in our lives, the things that should come most naturally to us, become wearying or even painful; things like loving God, or loving the children of God all around us.

And then, on the other hand, we find that we are surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses.” The image is similar to that of sin—the saints are all around us, encircling us everywhere we turn. We might expect that this cloud of witnesses could itself become suffocating—but on the contrary, they’re light as a feather. You could almost pass through them without even noticing, but they’re there all the same. And instead of closing off our air, they seem to vivify us, inspiring to run faster toward the holiness to which Christ calls us, pointing us to look not at them but at Christ Himself. In this time of Lent, let us give thanks for the saints all around us—those who have come before us, who surround us now and pray for us as we race through our days, and who have shown us what it means to live a holy life.

— Joe Lenow

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Tuesday of Holy Week

Psalm 71:1-14Isaiah 49:1-71 Corinthians 1:18-31John 12:20-36

Love your life, and you lose it. Hate your life, you’ll have it for eternity. And in his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote, “God chose the foolish things in the world to shame the wise.” Really?

How can we find instruction in these confounding statements? Are we commanded to be fools, and hate our lives? Probably not. Maybe we are being asked to stop clinging to old-fashioned notions of love and wisdom?

I think we are told that our struggles—with knowing and not knowing, love of life and fear of death, certitude and doubt, love for some and contempt for others—are good and important. I also believe Jesus was encouraging us to share our struggles; he knew that our salvation lies in service to and with one another. Jesus was very open about his own conflicts with those around him:

“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” (John 12:27-28)

When I read this verse I thought, “That’s so Jesus.” Jesus, the embodiment of all the pushing and pulling of what it is to be human, takes it to the divine.

I’m not feeling too good about this. Should I pray, “God, help me?” No, I’m here in this place at this time for a reason. “Thank you, God.”

God, you are with me through all my attempts to better understand your will. Let me always remember your generous gifts, and be thankful.

— John Frazee

Monday, March 25, 2013

Monday of Holy Week

When I first read the gospel lesson for today from John, I was struck by how, in just a few short verses, it depicts some of the many ways in which the religious life (or what passes for religion) can be distorted or betrayed. Here are examples.

·      Judas says the costly ointment used by Mary to anoint the feet of Jesus should have been sold and the money given to the poor, but his real interest is to siphon off some of the funds for himself.
·      Jesus’ answering statement that he will shortly die while you will always have the poor with you has sometimes been taken out of context as an excuse for not reaching out to those in need.
·      Crowds come to see Jesus but also to see Lazarus who has been raised from the dead—perhaps an early anticipation of the spirit of P.T. Barnum.
·      The chief priests want to kill Lazarus to end this spectacle, no doubt justified in their own minds to maintain their religious authority.

The Bible truly conveys both the Holy and the all too human. But how pure are our own religious motives? How tempted are we to think when reading a passage such as this, “At least I'm not that bad.”?  I ask these questions not to be gloomy or defeatist but to shine a light on our own flawed humanity. Bill Coffin, the late Chaplain of Yale and Senior Minister of Riverside Church, liked to ask, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord? You bet you were, hammer in hand.”

In this Holy Week perhaps our highest priority should be to gather at the foot of the Cross and consider, as if for the first time, what God has done and is doing out of love for us.

― John Zuck

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Palm Sunday: The beginning of Holy Week

My Love rode on
in majesty,
His purpose to
I watched in
wretched wonder,
my heart such
pain adjure.

He looked aside
into my eyes
the windows
 of my soul.
The Son of Man
in fear and doubt,
the Son of God,

Ride on, my Love,
in majesty,
as long the ages roll,
and sing the song
and dance the dance
of Gilead’s
fair toll.

August 5, 1995

— Mary Carolyn Lawson

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Fifth Saturday in Lent

Psalm 137Jeremiah 31:27-34Romans 11:25-36John 11:28-44

In these dark days of January, I have an intense desire to hibernate, to withdraw from the world, to wrap myself in a cocoon of sleep and oblivion. It is the time of year when I struggle to ward off the demons of depression, anxiety, loneliness, and general dark turns of mind. Contemplating John’s Gospel story about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, I imagine Lazarus, carefully laid in the dark and quiet cave, wrapped in his burial shroud, sleeping the sleep of the dead.

What if, in the time leading up to his death, Lazarus was in the winter of his soul, where he longed for deliverance from his despair and suffering, freedom from the worries that tormented him? If this were the case, maybe Lazarus was truly resting in peace in his tomb, death a welcome reprieve from a hard life.

What then must Lazarus have felt when suddenly awakened by Jesus, summoned to walk among the living? What raced through his mind in the moments between when he heard Jesus cry, “Lazarus, come out!” and when he emerged from his tomb? Did Lazarus, upon hearing Jesus, feel bewildered, confused, and terrified at the prospect of living again? Did he want to stay safely sleeping in his tomb, undisturbed and left alone?

While we will never know what Lazarus was thinking or feeling, we know that in those moments after Jesus has beckoned him, Lazarus takes an amazing leap of faith and chooses life over death. In response to Jesus’ call, he wakes up, stands up, and walks out of that cave towards the light, his loved ones and his Lord. There he stands in his disheveled bands of linen cloth, still bound by his vulnerability and fear, but alive, present and fully conscious of God’s presence.

I wonder what would happen if Jesus rang my doorbell in the dead of winter early on a Saturday morning when I am dead asleep in my warm bed after a long and exhausting week of work. Would I wake up, throw on some clothes and run downstairs to answer the door, or would I groan, turn over and put a pillow over my head?

I pray that like Lazarus, despite all my resistance, I would also take the leap of faith, open the door, and embrace the loving presence of God in my life and the world around me. During this Lenten season, I pray that we all may become conscious of what separates us from the love of God and that we may awaken to Jesus’ call to resurrection at all times and all places, even in the dead of winter.

— Gwynn Crichton

Friday, March 22, 2013

Fifth Friday in Lent

Psalm 22Jeremiah 29:1, 4-13Romans 11:13-24 John 11:1-27

I find all four of today’s scripture readings challenging. Some of it is familiar, but there is much I do not understand. I admit to a little frustration.

So I stop, take a breath, and turn to some ancient wisdom from the Tao Te Ching:
“Do you have the patience to wait till your mind settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving till the right action arises by itself?”
I take another breath.

Perhaps understanding is too ambitious. God knows God’s plans, as Jeremiah reminds the Israelites in exile. The Gentiles are included, Paul tells us, if they believe. Lazarus lies dead in the tomb four days before Jesus gets there, all part of God’s plan.

Can I believe with Martha that “everyone who lives and believes in Jesus will never die?” Do I trust in God?

— Deborah Healey

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Fifth Thursday in Lent

Psalm 131Jeremiah 26:1-16Romans 11:1-12John 10:19-42

The psalms are prayers that run the whole gamut of human experience. They are rich in literary devices and can convey powerful messages. Some are so even though they may be extremely simple in construction. I have chosen to write about psalm 131, a very sweet little psalm from today’s readings.

For me, one of the dearest mental images found in this psalm is that of a child with his mother. “Like a weaned child with its mother is my soul within me.” What a lovely image! What a sense of peace and tranquility it conveys. I think the word “weaned” is an especially appropriate word choice. If you have ever noticed how grabby and desperate and needy a hungry, nursing child can be, you know what I mean. But a weaned child has come to trust that his needs will be met. He is able to enjoy a more peaceful relationship because he feels safe and secure and loved. The psalmist states that his soul enjoys just such a relationship with God.

How did that happen? We may wonder. And the psalmist answers, “I have stilled and quieted my soul.” Really! He stilled his own soul? I wonder how he did that. And once again the psalmist answers, “I do not concern myself with great matters, or things too wonderful for me.”

But wait! Aren’t we living in a culture that is constantly concerning itself with great matters? Don’t we value, even revere, intelligence, hard work, ingenuity and creativity? Is that wrong? I think not. But, I do think we have overdone it a bit. In our highly competitive, goals- driven, over-worked, over-scheduled lifestyles, we have left very little time for feeding our souls. And it seems that it is up to us to change that.

So, during Lent, perhaps we could lighten up on ourselves a bit—unplug, shut down, free up some time to just sit in a chair and quiet our souls for some quality time with our Father.

— Jane Butler

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Fifth Wednesday in Lent

Psalm 119:145-176Jeremiah 25:30-38Romans 10:14-21John 10:1-18
“Sleep, Baby Sleep, thy shepherd tends the sheep . . .”
This lullaby is sung to soothe a crying infant or young child; it brings comfort at times of recollection. Its pastoral, peaceful quality can restore calm in the face of chaos, upheaval, or danger. Like a slow, deep meditative breath, it is restorative. Bringing us back to our own center, or to Jesus at the center, it reminds us of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, and where our thoughts can be—in faith, in trust, and in Jesus.

The Psalmist cries out longingly for a shepherd, for guidance, redirection, and perhaps forgiveness. “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant; for I do not forget thy commandments.”

The Good Shepherd, Jesus, “calleth his own sheep by name and leadeth them out.” He leads the sheep and “the sheep follow him: for they know his voice.” This voice is of a distinct shepherd, not any old shepherd, but specifically Jesus. The voice of Jesus, like the voice of God speaking to Jesus in the wilderness, stands alone. It is Jesus, who “came that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” And moreover that YOU might have life and YOU might have it more abundantly.

Young children ask me daily to guard their treasures, sticks, stones, a leaf, so that they might continue in play without any worry about the precious items that they have discovered and brought to my attention. I lovingly tend these items, appreciating the reverence for these natural items, and freeing the children from angst about them while they continue to play. Similarly Jesus asks us to give our cares to him so that he might tend them while watching over us.

The shepherd’s watchfulness offers reassurance, Christ is with us, ever-present, offering this to each of us. With God’s grace I pray that we will hear our name, and follow, not passively, but actively with the assurance and conviction that Jesus is guarding and guiding us forward so that we might all have life more abundantly in the deepest sense, with Jesus at the center.

— Kelley Lewis

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Fifth Tuesday in Lent

Psalm 121Jeremiah 25:8-17Romans 10:1-13John 9:18-41

Have you ever been sure of something—sure down to your bones? You feel so confident of this one idea or belief that you are ready to jump in with both feet. You’ve figured it out and it’s time to act.

It’s like a horse out of the gate! Watch out—here I go! I have this idea, this GREAT idea. Other people agree that it’s a good idea, so off to planning I go. I put everything in order. I determine what resources I have, what I’ll need, and I chart out my timeline. Just in case I create a Plan B, because this idea is great. It’s going to work!

Then BAM—the plan derails. Sound familiar? It may be in some small way or big, but regardless, my vision—my idea—is not working. But it’s gotta work. I planned for everything. And that doesn’t seem to matter. How can this be? I looked at all angles of this plan. Surely it will work, because the idea is a great one!

Sound familiar? Have you ever found yourself in this predicament? I have. I wonder if any of the Pharisees found themselves thinking the same thing. In John 9:18-41 we read of how Jesus heals a man blind from birth. When the Pharisees hear of this they question what had happened. At no point did they get the answers they wanted—the answers that would “make sense.” They were so attached to their belief—their idea—that they were the ones who were blind.

Dear Lord God, open our eyes today and let us trust in the paths we are walking. Help us to see you in the eyes of others and to embrace your love so that we can serve one another in your name. Amen.

— Katherine Dougherty

Monday, March 18, 2013

Fifth Monday in Lent

Psalm 31Jeremiah 24:1-10Romans 9:19-33John 9:1-17

I read these passages for the first time on my iPad while waiting for an appointment. I found that afterward I procrastinated even longer than usual because there was nothing that stood out to me as a jumping off point for my reflection. When I returned to the readings, on the due date, I used the Bible that was given to me on my confirmation. When I got to the Gospel lesson I noticed that I had flagged a verse within the passage: “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest within him.” It’s not common for me to mark passages and while it was not immediately evident to me why I did in this case, it caused me to think through it.

It’s been my experience that we are often looking for the answer to why: why is something the way it is? Why is someone the way they are? Whether it is in a mundane, everyday kind of way: “Why did the weather turn out this way and ruin my day?” (Insert any unexpected event that spoils plans), or in a more impactful, pervasive way: “Why does my child have autism?” (Insert any illness or affliction that a loved one has experienced). You almost need to identify a reason or a source to blame. It is as if relief can come from knowing it’s not your fault or that there was nothing you could do to prevent that particular thing from happening.

What this passage reminds us is not to ask “Why?” but rather to focus on God’s presence among us, especially when we feel dejected, rejected, and neglected. During Lent it is common to be more repentant and reflective. Let’s honor these forty days by using the time to also recalibrate, so that beyond Lent we can bring a renewed lens to whatever people or circumstances challenge us. Let us open our eyes and hearts to God made manifest in and around us.

— Erika Viccelio

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Fifth Sunday in Lent

Psalm 118Jeremiah 23:16-321 Corinthians 9:19-27Mark 8:31–9:1

Psalm 118 extols the Goodness of God by proclaiming, “His steadfastness endures forever.” The Psalmist invokes this phrase in praise of the God who has come to the aid of the righteous and allowed the people of God to triumph over enemies and adversity. The Psalmist recounts: “All nations surrounded me; In the name of the Lord, I cut them off. They surrounded me like bees; In the name of the Lord, I cut them off!”

In our modern world, we sometimes feel as though we are “surrounded” by a swarm of adversity that threatens us like the sting of “bees.” In our day-to-day life, we become overwhelmed with hardships, disappointments, and grief. We lose sight of the “goodness of God.” We lose hope. We begin to seriously question God’s personal love for us. We often lose sight of the “steadfastness of God’s love,” when we suffer the loss of a loved one. When grief sweeps over us as we bury a caring parent, a beloved spouse, an innocent child or a dear friend, the pain of the loss obscures our ability to feel God’s ever-present love. We harden our hearts, cursing God for our suffering. Which of us has not asked, “Why?” when confronted with hardship? How often have we despaired over the loss of a job; a child with a drug problem; or an illness that saps our vitality, tormenting our bodies with pain? How often have we lived through another long night, worrying about paying bills or wondering how we will survive the challenges and loneliness of aging?

During this season of Lent, we would do well to remember the proclamation of Psalm 118: “Out of my distress I called to the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me in a broad place. I was pushed hard, so that I was falling, but the Lord helped me.” Rather than curse our misfortune, let each of us proclaim: “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

— Kathleen Lovett

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Fourth Saturday in Lent

Psalm 102Jeremiah 23:9-15Romans 9:1-18 John 6:60-71

Psalm 102:1-2: “Hear my prayer, O Lord; let my cry come to you. Do not hide your face from me in the day of my distress. Incline your ear to me; answer me speedily in the day when I call.

Romans 9:14-15: “What then are we to say? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ ”

Gather up
In the arms of your pity
The sick, the depraved
The desperate, the tired
All the scum
Of our weary city
Gather up
In the arms of your pity
Gather up
In the arms of your love –
Those who expect
No love from above.

Langston Hughes

— Mildred W. Robinson

Friday, March 15, 2013

Fourth Friday in Lent

Psalm 107:1-32Jeremiah 23:1-8Romans 8:28-39John 6:52-59

Going Home

Since I graduated from college, a typical visit to my hometown consisted of a long weekend for Thanksgiving or Christmas. Then a few years ago, buoyed with the recent installation of central air conditioning in my childhood home, I spent two weeks with my parents in northern New Jersey during the height of summer.

Two weeks is quite a leap after years of quick three to four day visits. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, perhaps because it is never easy to let go of family baggage from the past, however residual. But you know what? It was lovely. The kids basked in their grandparents’ attention, while I took walks around the block under the tall trees which were scraggly-looking saplings when we first moved in. I read books rediscovered from childhood bookcases. I ate familiar food, prepared by familiar hands. I went on the ten-minute stroll to the park that seemed so far away when I was nine years old. And on this visit, I had the luxury of time, so that rather than the pressurized, almost manic interludes that signal a family holiday get-together, there was just an ordinary week.

During those summer days, I saw that my eldest child gets her sweetness from my mother, and that my middle one gets her compassion from my father, and that my youngest gets her generosity from both of them. Good things. Things I might not have attributed to my parents in the past for a host of complex reasons. But there they are. And I felt humbled, because I have a lot to learn. As fast as I ran away that’s how slowly I ambled back home. And for the first time there was recognition, and peace.
Fear less, hope more
Whine less, breathe more
Talk less, say more
Hate less, love more
And all good things are yours.
(Swedish proverb)
— Rowena Zimmerman

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Fourth Thursday in Lent

Psalm 69Jeremiah 22:13-23Romans 8:12-27John 6:41-51

“Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. . . . I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever. . . .”
John 6:47, 51 (NRSV)

One empathizes with the Jews here who ask how to perform the works of God. Jesus replies that they should believe in him. Will he give them a sign, like the manna that Moses gave their ancestors? Jesus: “it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.” They ask for that bread, and he says that he is the bread that came down from heaven, and “explains” that those who eat his flesh will have eternal life. “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” say the disciples. Difficult indeed!

Yet . . . John’s Gospel is still alive for us today. Christ seems to be elucidating what it is to believe by drawing a parallel between believing Christ and consuming Christ. The expression “feed on him in your hearts by faith” makes sense. Consume, absorb, digest, “dwell in him and he in us.” We are asked to internalize Christ’s message.

We still “look for . . . the life of the world to come” even while accepting the science of death and bodily decay. Our Catechism explains: “By everlasting life, we mean a new existence, in which we are united with all the people of God, in the joy of fully knowing and loving God and each other.” (BCP, p. 862). That actually sounds quite wonderful, and possible.

Fully knowing and loving God, and each other, in communion with all people, is having eternal life. Believing in Christ is a way to come to know and love God. Believing is to have that new existence. Believing just is the having of eternal life.

— Patsy Goolsby

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Fourth Wednesday in Lent

Psalm 101Jeremiah 18:1-11Romans 8:1-11John 6:27-40 

John 6: 27-40

At my church in Alexandria, a group of parishioners baked the Communion bread. When my turn came, I decided to try Sally Lunn. As was sometimes my bread-making fate, the yeast refused to rise and time was growing short. I took the loaves to my laundry room and set them atop the water heater.

Like the crowd that followed Jesus, I looked for a miracle to arise. Instead, I got a wild explosion of yeast and flour that coated every exposed pipe in that basement ceiling, along with the walls, clothes racks, and floors. Stalactites of dough hung like something on the set of a horror movie.

It took me a while to clean—and to recognize that the product of my hands was not the true bread of Heaven and that my culinary ego was beside the point. Christ tells his followers that they must not work for food that simply spoils but for food that endures to eternal life. Bread is bread until it is consecrated as God’s grace.

Don’t we all get caught up in the illusion that our own efforts propel us Heavenward? Jesus says that our work is simply “to believe in the one he has sent,” who would lose none of us but “raise (us) up at the last day.” Our over-wrought sense of responsibility often makes it hard to accept this gift of God’s manna.

God may not have made my Sally Lunn bread to rise properly, but instead He gave something better. I could accept rescue by the bakery and—on a much broader level—cease to seek miracles of my own making. If only we are able to receive it, God will indeed raise us all up with daily bread of the spirit, freely given.

— Stuart Dopp

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Fourth Tuesday in Lent

Psalm 97Jeremiah 17:19-27Romans 7:13-25John 6:16-27

Feast of Saint Gregory the Great: Bishop of Rome, 604 A.D.

Psalm 97

The altar candles light up the incense swirling in the freezing air of a 10th-century church. In a confident baritone, the priest intones, Flectamus genua. [Let us kneel]

The stone floor is cold, but the boy does not notice as his knees go down together and he kneels erect. Oremus [Let us pray]

On a single tone, the priest sings the Collect. The boy knows this prayer, thanks to the bi-lingual missal he got for Christmas two years ago. Levate [Arise]

He rocks back on his toes, rising to his feet smoothly in a single motion. It is a point of pride among the altar boys to do that without catching one’s heels in one’s cassock. From the screen hiding the cloister of the monastery next to the church, he hears a group of men singing in Gregorian chant, Dominus regnavit exultabit terra laetabuntur insulae multae . . .

He recognizes the Psalm tone and some of the words, “The Lord reigns! Let the earth rejoice! Let the many islands be glad!”

He tries to imagine a time before the monks were singing like this, and he cannot. He says a prayer of thanks to a man named Gregory, who gathered this music together. A movement behind him snaps him from his reverie. The deacon is moving to the lectern. As the choir sings the last line, the boy moves with the priest to the side for the Epistle . . .

Years later, he learns that Gregory had nothing to do with the chant form ascribed to him, but the music itself remains bigger than the legend.

Thanks be to God for music, which builds a bridge between our hearts and the Heart of the Divine.

— Jonathan Hine

Monday, March 11, 2013

Fourth Monday in Lent

Psalm 89:1-18Jeremiah 16:10-21Romans 7:1-12John 6:1-15

John 6:1-15: 

We all have heard the story of the loaves and the fishes many times. It is a story of faith.

What is Jesus telling us with the confident performance of a miracle that turns so little into so much?

What examples are being shown?

What can we do to follow this provision of plenty?

We all have small gifts.

Multiplied, they are many!

Is Jesus asking us to feed the hungry?

Yes, and so much more.

Sharing a small gift of bread, of fish, is sharing of oneself and shows us and others that we have more to give.

In this story, Jesus shows his disciples that a great company of people can be fed through sharing small gifts and through faith.

None of us ever thinks we have enough to give to satisfy others, to help others, to serve others, until we try.

Through one small gift at a time, we multiply our gifts until we surprise ourselves and serve others.

Through faith, we can give more.

At the end of a great feast for 5,000 souls, Jesus knew they would come and would try to take him by force and make him a king.

He prefers to live on as a solitary servant. He disappears to a mountain himself alone.

It is a great gift for 5,000 of us to seek always to be a servant and never a king.

For 5,000 small gifts can multiply and perform the miracle of creating sustenance and service and pieces of heaven in this world.

May the piece of heaven be passed among us?

— Bob Gibson

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Fourth Sunday in Lent

Psalm 66Jeremiah 14:1-9, 17-22Galatians 4:21–5:1Mark 8:11-21

In Mark’s lesson, after Jesus fed the four thousand, some Pharisees asked Jesus for a “sign from heaven,” and Jesus refused to perform a miracle on command. He then got into a boat with the disciples, who were complaining because they had no bread. Jesus warned them to “beware the leaven of the Pharisees,” and they didn’t understand. In the Bible, leaven is often a metaphor for sin. But the disciples were hungry, and they were thinking about real bread, not metaphorical sin. They thought they were being rebuked for not having brought bread.

“Jesus asked them: ‘Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? . . . When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?’ ‘Twelve,’ they replied. ‘And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?’ They answered, ‘Seven.’ He said to them: ‘Do you still not understand?’”

Actually, Jesus, no. I don’t understand, though Matthew’s additional context (Matthew 15:8-12) helps: “. . . Jesus asked, ‘You of little faith, why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not understand? . . . How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the leaven of the Pharisees. . . .’ Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees.”

Okay, now I get it. “I’m not talking about bread! Stop worrying about bread! I’m talking about the sin of the Pharisees.” Their sin is apparently that they demanded physical proof of Jesus’ divinity. We’re supposed to have faith without requiring physical proof.

But why did the Gospel writers put Jesus’ warning against requiring physical proof of his divinity after the feeding stories, which the Gospel writers surely regarded as physical proof of his divinity?

With Matthew’s help, I understand what Jesus was saying, but I don’t blame the disciples for not getting it.

— Lloyd Snook

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Third Saturday in Lent

Psalm 87Jeremiah 13:1-11Romans 6:12-23John 8:47-59

There is a very powerful but challenging message for us in the scriptures for today.

In Psalm 37 we see that God is wanting to hone the new life he gives us by grace—this is a particularly difficult concept for many of us who strive to be “good,” to share our many talents to “God’s Glory.” God wants not our virtues to be up front and center but His. He reminds us that every virtue we do possess belongs to Him. I have been thinking about this lately as I find myself running as fast as I can to “serve God.” Oh, that we might reflect the new life we have in Him not by deeds but by God’s grace and knowing Him.

In Romans we are asked to offer ourselves to God as instruments of righteousness with the benefit of holiness and eternal life—grace; to be prayerful and listening to God’s voice in guiding our actions—discernment. May that be our focus.

Finally in Jeremiah, Jeremiah is very specifically led by God to bury his “holy undergarments.” When he returns they are stained and wet and ruined. He is reminding us with this visual that we are nothing without Him. Like Jeremiah who was humbled, God will make us useless if that is what it takes to humble us. Making us humble is far more important to Him than being useful. Will we listen? Amen

— Susan Cluett

Friday, March 8, 2013

Third Friday in Lent

Psalm 88Jeremiah 11:1-8, 14-20Romans 6:1-11John 8:33-47

Sturm und Drang. Disquiet. Emotional turmoil. Across all four readings for today, there is no joy expressed. The ultimate lesson from John 8:33-47 is that “whoever is from God hears the word of God.” But the sorrow and suffering, grief and despair described by the author of Psalm 88—abandoned by friends, neighbors and assumedly by God—are very difficult for this Christian to assimilate.

The lamentations of Jeremiah aren’t much different. In modern vernacular, it’s “Follow my instructions or I’ll blow up your village. And I’ll burn down your olive trees—because I can.” Were threats and intimidation the only way to convey the message of God in ancient times? In a significant part of the world, that still seems to be the language and methodology with certain religious groups. Why are Christians different?

Is it because we follow the teachings of Jesus Christ? Is it because our document, the Bible, contains writings of people who actually saw Jesus—and can tell us what he said and did, acts we can model ourselves around? As we progress towards Good Friday and Easter, I wonder about the answer. . . . Why are Christians different? Or are we?

— Diane Wakat

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Third Thursday in Lent

Psalm 42Jeremiah 10:11-24Romans 5:12-21John 8:21-32

If you have no opposition to gleaning meaning from popular music (and, actually, even if you do), please search for the song “Something to Believe In” by Parachute (it’s on YouTube). Read the readings and then listen to the song. I’ll wait . . .

Lent can have a bad reputation. During this season, we confront the darkest corners of our soul’s subconscious and the most unsettling questions about our relationship with God, our feelings of abandonment by God, and of our own sin. Where was God when I needed Him? Why does She allow such suffering and wretchedness in the world? Will I be sent to Hell when I die? The psalmist certainly seems to be having the exact same inner agonizing over these.

The psalmist had the answer as do we, but chances are that we do not like it. Our rationality is wholly insufficient and we bear some responsibility for the situation. The idolaters in Jeremiah fled God when times got rough, trying to manufacture their own solutions. Small wonder Jeremiah said, “Everyone is stupid and without knowledge”—probably because they (like us, admit it) could not accept “that the way of human beings is not in their control; that mortals as they walk cannot direct their steps.” We sin constantly, bless our hearts, occasionally to the point that God needs to knock a bit of sense back into us. God is mother hen and good shepherd—and hens peck and shepherds chase, but they guide, protect, and nurture—never abandoning and always loving.

Listen to Jesus: it is our belief in him that reveals to us the truth that sets us free from our own sin. Listen to Paul: even with sin multiplying, the grace of God—eternally, unconditionally available, but requiring that you believe—matches and exceeds it. The answer is not an explanation, something reducible to our reason; it is an action—the simple act of believing, letting our feet float off the ground if you will. Give that song another listen—and don’t stop believing.

Adam Lees

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Third Wednesday in Lent

Psalm 119:97-120Jeremiah 8:18–9:6 Romans 5:1-11John 8:12-20

Jesus told the woman brought by the Pharisees to be tried for adultery, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.” He told the woman about to be stoned that He would not judge her, would not denounce her; He wrote her forgiveness—his pure love for her—upon the ground so that all could see it. In a room of people ready to condemn the woman accused of adultery for her errors, the Son of God refused to condemn her and declared that He Himself would illuminate her path out of sinfulness.

The Psalms tell us to “Deal with thy servant according unto thy mercy,” but how do we deal with those who live their lives around us? Whom do we privately proclaim worthy of stoning and public condemnation? The person with differing political views? The woman who takes the only remaining seat on the bus? The man who does not listen to you with all the attention you believe you deserve? Do you privately condemn the person in line in front of you, taking too long to decide on his order? When people disrupt your life and force you to confront your own anger, how can you witness them as brothers and sisters under the love of God—not as worthy of condemnation, but rather as those for whom you should unceasingly pray that your. “head were waters, and [your] eyes a fountain of tears”?

Live as a Christian in the model of Christ, and for those on whom you initially cast judgments in the form of anger, frustration, and willful ignorance, instead illuminate their paths out of darkness with the light of your love.

 — Natasha Mikles

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Third Tuesday in Lent

Psalm 78:1-39Jeremiah 7:21-34Romans 4:13-25John 7:37-52

From today’s readings, I was especially drawn to the first paragraph of the lesson from John:
“On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”
Initially these words sounded pretty familiar. Thirsty people invited to turn to God, to Jesus, for sustenance and satisfaction of their physical and spiritual thirst, for “living waters.” Similar imagery is found in the psalm for today, where it says, “He split the hard rocks in the wilderness, and gave them drink as from the great deep. He brought streams out of the cliff, and the waters gushed out like rivers.”

It took me awhile to notice a curious disconnect between what I was thinking I was reading, and the words on the page. Jesus invites the thirsty to come to Him and drink. But when He talks about the flowing rivers of living water He describes them as flowing “out of the believer’s heart.” When I actually noticed this, I was surprised. I would have thought the metaphor would have referred to these waters flowing from the heart of God, from Jesus’ heart. And of course that is their source. But what does it mean to say that the one who is thirsty, the believer “hoping against hope” as Abraham is described in the reading from Romans for today, comes, drinks, and then finds living waters flowing from his/her own heart?

The next verse of the paragraph from John says that Jesus was referring to the Spirit, which believers would receive after Jesus had been glorified. So, the Spirit, in the guise of living waters, flowing from God, from Jesus, to believers’ hearts, and then still flowing, gushing out like rivers to a thirsty world, pouring out to thirsty women and men and children everywhere, overflowing and uncontained. How beautiful. How unexpected.
“Come Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace.
Streams of mercy never ceasing. . . .”

 — Karen Mawyer

Monday, March 4, 2013

Third Monday of Lent

Psalm 77Jeremiah 7:1-15Romans 4:1-12John 7:14-36

“What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” was one of my grandmother’s favorite hymns, and one I learned in those sticky south Georgia summer days in Vacation Bible School (which was held in the basement of Pavo Baptist Church where we could find some brief relief from the heat!)

When I read these passages I remembered that hymn and wondered how friendless Jesus himself must have felt in the temple that day. Even though they would not listen to him then or later, he loved them, as he loves us today.

When I am sad or lonely or frustrated, as he must have been that day, I try to remember that dear, old hymn and am comforted in knowing that I have him as my friend always.

Anna Askounis

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Third Sunday of Lent

Psalm 93Jeremiah 6:9-151 Corinthians 6:12-20Mark 5:1-20
“But Jesus refused (to let him come with him), and said to him, ‘Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.’ ”
Have you ever wondered what kind of friends the Gerasene demoniac had? The text clearly says friends not just people. May we surmise that these were friends he would make?

In the Holy Land on a seminary study trip with Fr Mark Dyer in ‘99, I was pleased to find that Gerasa was on our itinerary. We’d visit sites and roleplay the texts associated with them, which I found an incredibly useful way of visualizing context.

Gerasa was, in those days, a Gentile place, unwelcoming for any rabbi. I found it arid, dusty, with ruins and stones, hard hills, and sand everywhere. I could locate no steep cliff with any sea below it, so maybe it wasn’t really the place, I thought. There were, after all, other sites in the Holy Land which laid claim to be “the One,” but were actually two. There was nothing for pigs, or anyone, to eat, unless from the acacia. In one thing it differed from all other places: centipedes abounded. Neither stone nor path did not crawl with them: quite horrid.

When one compares the RSV with the NRSV, there is little change. The swineherds fled and told, the people came, saw, were afraid, begged Jesus to depart, marveled, or were amazed. Did you notice that everyone begs, except Jesus? Even the demons begged.

Sandwiched between the calming of the storm and the beginning of the healing of Jairus’ daughter, quickly followed by the woman who had bled for twelve years, it wrenches my heart. God answers our begging, but often not when or how we expect.

Margaret Lee

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Second Saturday of Lent

Psalm 75Jeremiah 5:20-31Romans 3:19-31John 7:1-13

“It is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another.” (Psalm 75)

“Should you not fear me declares the Lord? Should you not tremble in my presence?” (Jeremiah 5)

“I am not going to the festival, because my time has not fully come.” (John 7)

All of us are used to dealing with expectations on a secular level. We set them for others. We work hard to meet others’ expectations of us (parents, teachers, bosses, colleagues and friends). And we routinely negotiate expectations (the ones we have of others and the ones others have of us). And then we judge our selves and we judge others. Perhaps it’s natural for us to try to do the same thing with God—to negotiate God’s expectations of us and to question God’s guidance, decisions and judgment.

But, if we have faith in God, are we not in a better position to accept God’s grace and redemption, and to live according to God’s law? Should we not fear God because of the power he has over each of us as well as all of creation? Should we not have the confidence that God will judge each of us according to His law and expectations? Does this submission to God’s will not free us from our own insecurities?

In John 7 we see the example Jesus set for us. Jesus’ brothers encouraged him to go to Judea so that he could “show himself to the world” and become a public figure. But Jesus knew that God had something different in mind. Jesus chose to follow God’s direction rather than the advice of his brothers.

— Nancy Grable

Friday, March 1, 2013

Second Friday of Lent

Psalm 69Jeremiah 5:1-9Romans 2:25–3:18John 5:30-47

In today’s Psalm, while the psalmist is despairing and vengeful, the plea to God is clear: “Rescue me from sinking in the mire … draw near to me, redeem me . . .”

The despair we sometimes feel – and blame on the world around us – may appear valid at times, for there is much wrong in the world. Yet when we despair, we dishonor the possibility of our making a positive difference to the outcome.

Jeremiah opens with an invocation to search the squares of Jerusalem “to see if you can find a man, one who does justice and seeks truth. . . “ This is the second part of our inquiry: What is it that prevents us from doing justice (not merely “loving justice”) AND seeking truth?

All too often, when we experience pain and loss –through death, divorce or loss of employment or through crises in the nation or the world– we despair at our ability to make a difference.

Today, the Lenten lessons seem to encourage us to reflect not only on the meaning of Jesus’ life but also on the substance of our own lives. Rather than indulging our despair and wrath in our personal lives or at the world around us, we can search for examples of people who respond to injury with loving, to injustice with doing justice, to lies and obfuscation with speaking truth –whether within our own families or the larger community.

Instead of blame, we can ask – in what small or large way – is there an opportunity to do justice and speak truth: reading to a child, writing a letter to the Editor, working at a soup kitchen, visiting an ill friend, testifying before our local government or the Virginia General Assembly?

— Kay Slaughter