He went round the whole of Galilee teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom and curing all kinds of diseases and sickness among the people. His fame spread throughout Syria, and those who were suffering from diseases and painful complaints of one kind or another, the possessed, epileptics, the paralysed, were brought to him, and he cured them. Large crowds followed him, coming from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the Transjordania.
Then he began to speak…’ You are the salt of the earth. But as salt has become tasteless, what can make it salty again? It is good for nothing, and can only be thrown down to be trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill-top cannot be hidden. No one puts a lamp under a tub; they put it on a lamp stand where it shines for everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine in the sight of men, so that, seeing your good works, they may give praise to your Father in heaven.
Matthew 5: 13-16
During my sophomore year of high school I read one of Charles Dickens most memorable novels, A Tale of Two Cities. As most all of us probably know, it was about London and Paris during the time of the French Revolution. It was a time of great social upheaval and terror that was filled with a plague of executions in Paris. As I recalled A Tale of Two Cities, it had dawned on me that, perhaps, we are living in a time that could be called ‘A Tale of Two Pandemics.’ The first pandemic is, of course, the obvious one – Covid-19. This pandemic is beginning to wind down with our governor announcing, yesterday, that phase 1 of reopening the state will begin this coming Monday, May 4. Other states around the country are also beginning, cautiously, to reopen their states and respective economies. By early to mid-summer most of our nation should be back to some semblance of normalcy.
But it is the second pandemic that is more frightening, and one that is going to require great courage to overcome. It is the pandemic of a looming, over-controlling surveillance state that should really terrify us. This second pandemic seeks to shut down any alternative voices that would challenge our new reality: life under an over-weaning government with absolute political power and rigidly enforced social correctness. This potential pandemic has many allies in silicon valley, the obsequious media, and other centers of money and power that literally kowtow to the manipulative puppet strings of China.
This frightening power is already at work among us as contrary medical opinions are shut-down. Reports and studies like those from Stanford University’s Medical School are systematically ignored and not reported. Free speech, and the give and take of open dialogue, has been often banned from the public square and on the internet by those who wish to control it and us.
I don’t think it is a stretch to say that our Bill of Rights, forged by people of faith and guaranteed by our Constitution, are under assault from many quarters and, especially, by those who don’t want to ‘let this crisis go to waste.’ It is an attempt to re-order our society according to their image and ideals, and to reduce most of us to servility under their power and control. Dissenters will be, and have been, punished or banned. The suggestion has come from some quarters that this ‘lock-down’ has been a dress rehearsal for darker things to come. Maybe this is the case and maybe it isn’t. But I know this, we have quite easily succumbed to this new reality and the alarm bells, at least in my head, are sounding.
Many of these same people often ridicule and denigrate people of faith and of most every religion. I vividly remember what Cardinal George of Chicago wrote, only a few years ago, and when he knew he was dying of cancer. Seeing the storm clouds gathering on the horizon in the centers of national power, he wrote, “I will die in my bed, my successor will in die in prison, and his successor will die, executed in the public square’ because of our witness to the faith. His vision has not come to pass, at least, not yet.
You see, it is people who are formed in the Judeo-Christian tradition that stand in their way. The observant Christian, like the observant Jew, is an obstacle to be removed because we offer the world an alternative vision that is honest, humble and true. It is a vision that is authentically counter-cultural. We are not motivated by the pursuit of riches, power, or control. We do not see ourselves as the ‘entitled’ or the ‘elite’, who pretend to know better than everyone else. We see ourselves as servants of God in a broken world that is often filled with hurt and need.
Yes, we are motivated by riches but they are the riches of God. These riches of God are simple: His love, His mercy, His forgiveness and grace. All these riches we gladly receive only to give them away to be shared with others. This is our winsome alternative reality because we see, in the eternal creator and redeeming God, the source of all that is truly good, benevolent, and sustaining in this life, and unto the next.
This is, also, precisely why observant Christians and Jews were targeted (and often still are) for elimination in the Soviet Union, in Nazi Germany, and, today, in Communist China. We do not worship the state; neither its power nor control. Moreover, we do not worship money as our God. These three defining truths distinguish us from those who worship the false god’s of power, control over others, and all consuming wealth. They gather, and live out their lives, in the bubble of elite zip codes, located in such places as Hollywood, New York, Washington D.C. and Silicon Valley. Here they collude, plot, and plan, in the globalized corridors of power, their ascendancy and mankind’s servility. But their god’s cannot save them.
The first pandemic, Covid-19, can only take our lives in this world. But the second pandemic, if we succumb, will take us to hell. Today, as we place ourselves in God’s hands, through prayer, let us pray, first, for those who have been afflicted by illness and ask for God’s healing power to be poured out on our world. But, then, let us pray, secondly, to be prepared and vigilant that we may not succumb to a world that can be often manipulated and tempted to live in a plague of duplicitous darkness. A vaccine may be found to halt the first plague, but the only disinfectant for the second is God’s light and truth; and to this we must be God’s witnesses.
O Lord Jesus Christ, who when on earth was ever about your Father’s business: Grant we that we may not grow weary in well-doing. Give us grace to do all in your name. Be our beginning and the end of all; the pattern whom we follow, the redeemer in whom we trust, the master whom we serve, the friend to whom we look for sympathy. May we never shrink from our duty from fear of any man. Make us faithful unto death; bring us at last into your eternal presence, where with the Father and the Holy Spirit you live and reign forever and ever.
Then the king commanded, and Daniel was brought and cast into the den of lions. The king said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, deliver you!”And a stone was brought and laid upon the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet and with the signet of his lords, that nothing might be changed concerning Daniel. Then the king went to his palace, and spent the night fasting; no diversions were brought to him, and sleep fled from him.
Then at day break, the king arose and went in haste to the den of lions. When he came near to the den where Daniel was, he cried out in a tone of anguish and said to Daniel, “O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?” Then Daniel said to the king, “O king, live forever! My God sent his angels and shut the lion’s mouths, and they have not hurt me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no wrong.” Then the king was exceedingly glad, and commanded that Daniel be taken up out of the den, and no kind of hurt was found upon him, because he had trusted in his God.
Most all of us first heard this story of Daniel in the Lions’ Den when we were little children either in Sunday-School or at Vacation Bible School. We sat there, usually in some kind of circle, in wonder and awe as our teacher read it to us. Now, as we read it again, even decades later, it hasn’t lost any of its magic. It is still an awesome story that speaks to us about the power of God when we are present to Him in faith.
Just a quick recap: People who were envious of Daniel and sought his destruction, brought false charges against him to King Darius. Due to the seriousness of the charges, Darius was compelled to sentence him to death in the lions’ den. Darius had hoped, however, that the charges weren’t true. Daniel’s survival confirmed his hope and Daniel’s false accusers were condemned to the fate they intended for him. And Daniel, along with Darius, gave praise and thanks to the God of Israel.
Since nearly the beginning of March we have all been locked down and, for me, at least, it has begun to feel as though we have been condemned to the Lions’ Den. I come into the office daily but I can’t see people in need. I am not allowed to extend care to anyone in hospitals or care facilities as they are in ‘lock down.’ ‘Social distancing’ keeps me far away from virtually everyone and, most difficult of all, our weekly Sunday gathering around word and sacrament are cancelled until further notice. It is a very un-pastoral situation.
But this story of Daniel in the lions’ den began with his enemies making false accusations against him. These accusations put King Darius in an awkward political position that forced him to do something he did not want to do, namely, he threw Daniel into the lions’ den. In a sense the lions were to be the judge of Daniel’s guilt or innocence.
We face, today, a somewhat similar situation. Envious people around our nation are making numerous false claims and are leveling false charges, not because they are trying to be helpful but, rather, because they are seeking control and power. They attempt to gain this power and control by playing fast and loose with the truth.
First of all, the ‘ex spurts’ haven’t been so expert, have they? The models and projections they made, and under which we all suffer, haven’t been particularly prescient or accurate.
When these models were made, you can only get out what you put in. As they say, garbage in and garbage out. In this case, the ‘garbage in’ has done enormous damage to the fabric of our nation. Millions of people are out of work and our medical institutions are financially floundering because they were misled. Yesterday, it was reported that famed Mayo Clinic, in its various facilities, is furloughing thousands of workers and is $3 billion dollars in the red because the projections were wrong! Is anyone asking the genius ‘ex spurts’ how many people (often with serious health conditions) were denied services and died because of it? How many people have had their long term health compromised because hospitals all over the country were completely re-tooled to serve an ‘overwhelming load’ of Covid-19 patients that never materialized. Even in New York, the hardest hit of all the states, the projections were wildly off. Remember the huge medical ship that was sent to New York to help with ‘the overwhelming need?’ It serviced, at best, very few people. And then, rapidly sailed back to the west coast from whence it came.
Secondly, many in the media are false accusers. For instance, news outlets have ‘dissed’ our Governor, Ron DeSantis, in claiming, by comparison, that he’s no Mario Cuomo. I am glad he isn’t Mario. The statistics tell it all; “Of the 55,425 Covid-19 deaths in America, New York (with over 22,000 deaths) is responsible for 40 percent of that total count. At the same time, Florida (with nearly 1,100 deaths) is responsible for just under 2%. And more to the point, Florida has 2 million more year-round residents than New York. Perhaps Florida’s success is because our restrictions are less heavy handed and Governor DeSantis moved very early and very quickly to help long term care facilities. Meanwhile, the media vaunted, Governor Cuomo was forcing the elderly into long term care facilities with little no long term plan, restrictions, or oversight. DeSantis’ actions “led Florida to a 93 % better per capita long term care facility death rate than New York. But according to the media, Cuomo is brilliant and to be lauded, and DeSantis has supposedly failed us. I don’t think any of this could be political, do you? His accusers are bearing ‘false witness.’
If the media is so intent on politicizing the Covid-19 virus, here is a political question they aren’t asking; Since eight, out of the top ten states with the most Covid-19 cases are governed by Democrats, are these eight elected governors to be ‘called out’ for incompetence, or for being tone deaf, or being late to the game? Of course not, they are trying to do as best they can. It is an unusual time, and no one was prepared. The media, however, is always prepared and primed for the ugliness and sensationalism of ‘fright night.’
It really is time for our dishonest, fanning the flames, news outlets to cease and desist. They’re political hackery and biases are showing, and it isn’t pretty, it isn’t truthful, and, instead of being helpful, it has done enormous damage, once again, to the fabric and people of our nation. The media see themselves as watchdogs but in reality they have become ravenous wolves ‘in sheep’s clothing.’
So here we are, confined in the den. But we all know, this, too, shall pass and, when it does, we will breathe the fresh air of freedom again. Hopefully, we will have learnt from this experience some valuable lessons that can guide us in the future. Most importantly, we can learn, from Daniel, to place our trust and faith in God who always hears the cries and prayers of his people. The Lord will save and delivers us. Thanks be to God!
O Lord Jesus Christ, you who for the health and salvation of us all came into this world here below, and was made man; you who did teach and preach the way of salvation, and restored to health many and countless folk who came to you with all manner of sickness; you who gave this same power and commandment to your chosen apostles, so they went forth to preach the kingdom of heaven, anoint the sick with oil, and make them whole again; be pleased now to restore and heal us, your children, confirm and strengthen us your failing members, and pour your Holy Spirit into our hearts, that we may serve you with a sound body according to your holy commandment, and afterwards with the whole Christian family come to your eternal kingdom, who lives and reigns with God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.
After: Olavus Petri
The Church of Sweden
There is not a good man left, no, not one;
There is not one who understands,
not one who looks for God.
All have turned aside, tainted all alike;
there is not one good man left, not a single one.
Their throats are yawning graves;
their tongues are full of deceit.
Vipers’ venom is on their lips,
bitter curses fill their mouths.
Their feet are swift when blood is shed,
wherever they go there is havoc and ruin.
They know nothing of the way of peace,
there is no fear of God before their eyes.
+ + +
In Romans Chapter 3:10-18, Paul quotes a portion of Psalm 14. However, you may not know it in our current Book of Psalms the way he wrote because he quoted it from the Septuagint which was the ancient Jewish Bible, translated to Greek, used in the time of Jesus. When the Christian scriptures were written, the Septuagint was the version used by its writers, and because of this, the Hebrew scriptures quoted in our New Testament never match up with the Old Testament as we now know it. The Septuagint version of Psalm 14 is far more powerful, damning and indicting the Psalm 14 we know in our Psalms because it is a later Hebrew version.
Regardless of which version of Psalm 14 you follow it should give us pause, and cause, to reflect on the pandemic plight afflicting our world at the moment. Honestly we are suffering in the midst of two epidemics. The first one that has all frightened is Covid-19. But the second, and more lethal epidemic, is the inflammatory yellow journalism of our truth challenged media. Their distortions and antics have been the equivalent of shouting fire in a crowded auditorium. And here we thought William Randolph Hearst was long dead. That he may be, but his malevolent spirit lives on at CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, and most big name newspapers from coast to coast. There should be warning labels attached to most newspapers and warnings posted on screen before most news broadcasts proclaiming the media a health hazard just as we do with cigarettes.
Some news outlets are exceptions, for instance, Canada’s great newspaper the National Post published yesterday this thoughtful and instructive opinion piece written by Father Raymond J. De Souza, a Catholic Priest. His written thoughts on ‘China’s Chernobyl Moment’, is a must read for all.
“Is the coronavirus pandemic China’s ‘Chernobyl moment’ A cruel and callous cover-up that will mean the beginning of the end for the Communist Party of China (CPC), as Chernobyl did for the Soviet Union in 1986?
Perhaps, though China’s communist regime is much stronger today than its Soviet counterpart was in 1986, partly because of the widespread international support it receives.
What the world can offer the long-suffering citizens of China is an ‘evil empire’ moment, a clarifying moral stand against a regime that commits gravely wicked abuses against its own people, including: forcing them into concentration camps, forced labour and organ harvesting; trampling on the fundamental freedoms listed in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms as the norm, not the exception; having a destabilizing influence in international trade, threatening the security of its neighbours; and being responsible for the spread of this global pandemic.
The Chernobyl moment was suggested in an open letter written ‘to Chinese citizens and friends of China at home and abroad’ earlier this month.
Signed by a list of credible voices that speak up for international human rights, the letter asserts that the ‘current global crisis has been caused by the regime so many of you have been tolerating or supporting for decades.’
The roots of the pandemic are in cover-up by authorities in Whuhan, Hubei province,’ the open letter argues, ‘under the influence of the CCP and the World Health Organization which first downplayed the pandemic.’
The Soviet Chernobyl moment came three years after U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s ‘evil empire’ speech, which was, at the time, ridiculed by the international diplomatic establishment. Yet when the liberation of Europe from the Soviet empire followed six years later, and the Soviet Union ceased to exist two years after that, the courageous dissidents behind the Iron Curtain revealed that the forthright condemnation of the Soviet Union as an ‘evil empire’ was a critical turning point.
A few months ago, the likelihood of the Chinese experiencing an evil empire moment was less than nil. Recall how things stood in late 2019.
After more than a year of ramped-up religious persecution, including prohibition on children attending religious services, the replacement of crosses in Christian houses of worship with state symbols, the demolition of churches and the imprisonment of clergy, not a single word of protest was issued by the Vatican.
After months of protests to protect democratic freedoms in Hong Kong, support on the world stage was minimal. And not just governments were afraid to upset the CCP. For example, when the CCP propaganda machine voiced outrage after the Houston Rockets’ general manager’s tweeted support for the protesters during a basketball tour of China, the National Basketball Association went into full craven apology mode.
China’s Communist regime got the message. Hong Kong’s ‘father of democracy,’ Martin Lee, was arrested just days ago. If the world cannot bring itself to murmur against an evil empire when it covered up a global pandemic, then the CCP knows there will be no price to pay for throwing Hong Kong’s most respected citizens in jail.
This past week marked 500 days of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor being imprisoned in China without formal charges. David Mulroney, our former ambassador to China, bluntly calls it a ‘hostage-taking.’ Nevertheless, last year, former prime minister Jean Chetien and his chief associates argued that Canada should pay China’s ransom by releasing Meng Wanzhou, the Huawei executive arrested in Vancouver in December 2018 on an extradition request from the United States.
Are things beginning to change due to the coronavirus? The diplomatic and corporate establishment, which has argued for fifty years that the best way to change China is to appease it, has gone quiet these last weeks as Canada’s frail elderly die because CCP lies. Two of our former ambassadors in Beijing have called China out over its coronavirus lies – and, more importantly, the status quo mandarins at the foreign ministry have not chastised them for doing so.”
One of Canada’s great newspapers has the courage to speak truth to power. I wonder when that will happen with our media in the lower 48 states of the United States. I wonder when the rich and powerful elites in our own land, like Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, the Google moguls, and the Biden/Pelosi/Schummer triumvirate will find the courage and moral backbone to do the same. Oops, I forgot, they’ve gotten quite wealthy over their silence on the real issues at hand. Real servitude, under a distant malevolent power, may not be so far away or unimaginable, as we once had thought. ‘For,’ seemingly, ‘there is no fear of God before their eyes.’ But, of course, there is a god before their eyes; the scriptures call it mammon.
O God, who has taught us something of your truth: Teach us more we pray you. When our minds are confused, direct them; when they are obstinate, win them; when they are filled with thoughts of self, fill them with thought of you; and at all times, give us a humble and teachable spirit; for Jesus sake. Amen.
O most blessed Saviour, who art the Way, the Truth, and the Life: Bring back to the fold of your Church all those who are in error, and subdue the pride of man to the obedience of your holy laws; and grant that your truth may be so publically maintained, constantly taught, humbly believed, and zealously practiced by all men in their various stations, that they may dwell together in faith and charity, to the glory of your Holy Name, now and forever.
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is a child of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
This is he who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ not with water only but with water and the blood. And the Spirit is the witness, because the Spirit is truth. There are three witnesses, the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree. If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God that he has born witness to his Son. He who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. He who does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne to his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; He who has not the Son of God has not life.
I John 5:1-12
If I were a young preacher again, I would preach the Christian gospel of eternal life in God, but I would preach it more realistically. The Bible really has nothing to say about eternal life. That sounds like a shocking statement, but it’s literally true: There is not a single clear and concrete word in the Bible about life after death. It affirms that life with God is life with that which does not die. But any specification about life after death is steadily avoided by biblical writers.
Paul made an effort to address this question, but it is a bum effort: “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body which is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or some other grain, and each kind of seed to its own body. For not all flesh is alike, but here is one kind for men, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish (1 Corinthians 15:36-39). He tries by natural analogy to something. Interestingly, he never tried again.
In Romans, the most mature of Paul’s epistles, he says, ‘If we live, we live in the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s (Romans 14:8). Period! That is the fundamental and absolute word of scripture. But that word is immensely satisfying to old people. I never try to give any blueprints of eternity or heaven or eternal life, since by definition it is utterly impossible.
I think instead of trying to answer all the questions about death, we ought to follow the example of Paul and the New Testament and say, ‘Eye has not seen nor ear heard’; ‘By faith we are saved.’
By faith we are saved.
Aging: A Summing Up and Letting Go. Joseph Stittler (1904-1987)
Over his many years of teaching as a distinguished Professor of Theology, Joseph Stittler was also an ordained Lutheran pastor. He taught at the University of Chicago and at the Lutheran School of Theology Chicago. There is only one thing that I would add to his reflection on eternal life and it is this, from Paul’s Letter to the Romans, Chapter 8:18-23. He writes these remarkable words:
I think what we suffer in this life can never be compared to the glory, as yet unrevealed, which is waiting for us. The whole creation is eagerly waiting for God to reveal his sons. It was not for any fault on the part of creation that it was made unable to attain its purpose, it was made so by God, but creation still retains the hope of being freed, like us, from its slavery to decadence, to enjoy the same freedom and glory of the children of God. From the beginning till now the entire creation, as we know, has been groaning in one great act of giving birth; and not only creation, but all of us who possess the first-fruits of the Spirit, we too groan inwardly as we wait for our bodies to be set free.
Life in the Son of God is an enormously vast concept that embraces all of fallen creation. Think about this for a moment: This life in the Son is not the narrowness of the “Just me and Jesus” sentiment that is so often expressed in popular evangelical Christianity. No, indeed not, it is an expansive, comprehensive love that embraces not only God’s children of faith but also all of fallen creation. Creation fell because of man’s rebellion against God. It is through those of faith that creation will see it own new life in God as well. Creation, and all the creatures it has contained and ever will contain, will find life in the redeeming, loving life of Jesus Christ, and it waits to see it revealed in us!
A Lutheran pastor in Germany, who had lost his beloved dog to death many years ago, once wrote that if his companion dog wouldn’t be in heaven to greet him when he died he wasn’t so sure that he wanted to go. On a certain level I share that feeling but I am assured, as N.T. Wright proclaims in his scholarly works on the Apostle Paul, that God will set all things to right in the life to come in Jesus Christ.
That sentimental 19th Century Hymn “I Come to the Garden Alone” actually has it all wrong. I am never in the garden alone, even if I think I am alone. I am never in the garden alone because all of God’s creation is there with me. And that line, “And he walks with me, and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own.” Oy gevault! Comforting as this hymn may be to some, it’s not ‘just me and Jesus’: It never has been and it never will be. Jesus came to redeem and save e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g in creation, everything in God’s wide world. By faith we are saved! And as God reveals his sons, creations sees its salvation near at hand.
Forgive us, Lord, that as we grow to maturity, our faith is blighted with doubts, withered with worry, tainted with sophistication. We pray that you will make us like children again in faith – not childish, but child-like in the simplicity of faith that is willing to trust You even though we cannot see what tomorrow will bring.
We ask you to give to each of us that childlike faith, that simplicity of mind which is willing to lay aside all egotism and conceit, which recognizes vanity for what it is – an empty show, which knows that we are incapable of thinking the thought of God, which is willing to be humble again. Then may we feel once more as do our children who whisper their love to you, who trace with chubby little fingers the pictures of Jesus in a picture book – those pictures that portray you, Lord Jesus, with a hurt lamb in Your arms or a child on your knee. Help us, even now, to feel again like that, that we may be as loving, as trusting, as innocent, as grateful, as affectionate.
And as we are willing to kneel again as children, then shall we discover for ourselves the glory You have revealed, and find the wonder of it gripping our hearts and preparing them for your peace. So shall we, along with our children, enter into the Kingdom of God, and know it, and feel it, and rejoice in it. In your name who dared to come to earth as a little child, we pray. Amen.
Peter Marshall (1902-1949)
Today’s Holy Gospel from Luke 24 transports us to the ‘Breaking of Bread’ with Cleopas and, most likely, his wife Mary as they finally arrive in Emmaus in the mysterious company of the Risen Christ. Clearly, this passage is pointing the Christian, in every time and condition, to seek out His divine real presence in his gracious Passover gift of Holy Communion. When this unusual time of ‘staying in place’ and ‘social distancing’ is past, may we once again rejoice as being remembered in Him and as we see Him beneath the outward forms of bread and wine: As he dwells in us and we in Him, in ‘The Bread of Heaven’ and ‘The Cup of Salvation’ His body, his blood, shed for us.
Mark Reiff +
If any person is devout and loves God,
let him come to this radiant triumphant feast.
If any person is a wise follower,
let him enter into the joy of his Lord, rejoicing.
If any have fasted long, let him now receive refreshment.
If any have labored from the first hour,
let him today receive his just reward.
If any came at the third hour, let him keep the feast with thankfulness.
If any arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings
for he shall not be deprived.
If any delayed to the ninth hour, let him draw near fearing nothing.
If any waited even until the eleventh hour,
let him not be alarmed by his tardiness.
For the Lord will accept the last even as the first.
Therefore, all of you, enter into the joy of your Lord.
Rich and poor together hold high festival.
Diligent and heedless, honor this day.
Both you who have fasted, and you who did not fast, rejoice together today.
The table is full; all of you, feast sumptuously.
The calf is fatted; let no one go away hungry.
Enjoy the feast of faith; receive the riches of God’s mercy.
Let no one bewail his poverty,
for the fullness of the kingdom is revealed.
Let no one weep for his iniquities,
for forgiveness shines forth from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free.
He who was held prisoner by death has annihilated it.
By descending into death, he made death captive.
He angered it when it tasted of his flesh.
Isaiah saw this, and he cried;
Death was angered when it encountered you in the lower regions.
It was angered, for it was defeated.
It was angered, for it was mocked.
It was angered, for it was abolished.
It was angered, for it was overthrown.
It was angered for it was bound in chains.
It received a body and it met God face to face.
It took earth and encountered heaven.
It took that which is seen and fell upon the unseen
O death, where is your sting?
O grave, where is your victory?
Christ is risen and you are overthrown.
Christ is risen and the devils have fallen.
Christ is risen and the angels rejoice.
Christ is risen and life reigns.
Christ is risen and not one dead remains in the grave.
For Christ being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep, and to him be glory and honor, even to eternity.
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?”And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry where you do not wish to go.(This was to show by what death he would glorify God.) And after this he said to him, “Follow me.”
Peter turned and saw following them the disciple whom Jesus loved, who had lain close to his breast at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is that who is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!” The saying spread abroad among the brethren that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you/”
This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true. But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them written, I suppose the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.
Chapter 21 of John’s Gospel confronts us with a paradox as it appears to be a second ending and, perhaps, a somewhat later addition to the original 20 chapters of this Gospel. Nonetheless, we know John’s Gospel in no other way then this, with 21 chapters. Nonetheless, Chapter 21 does seem strange and out of place. However, this chapter does seem to have a logic of its own, especially when we see it as a story of completing reconciliation. In this second ending, not only is Peter reconciled to Jesus but also effected reconciliation between the ‘Community of the Beloved Disciple’ and the other Christian communities of faith formed around the three synoptic Gospels.
Peter had, as we all know, denied Jesus three times, ‘before the cock crowed’, at his trial early Good Friday morning. This chapter heals that betrayal with three questions that reveal Peter’s affirming love for Savior.
In a somewhat different way, this 21st Chapter brings about a second healing in the love of Jesus. John’s ‘Community of the Beloved Disciple’ was an outlier and paints a rather different picture of Jesus then that of the synoptic Gospel communities. As we know from its magnificent prologue, it had a distinctively high view of Jesus from before the beginning of time. However, the John community lacked discipline, order and structure. It also relied heavily on the, sometimes, disruptive winds of the Spirit. And it was falling apart in quarreling.
But what John’s community lacked, the Synoptic Gospels excelled at…order, organization, and discipline. The synoptic communities, as reflected in their writings, found strength in the 12 Apostles, the chosen of Jesus, who were commissioned to carry on His witness and ministry in the world. John’s Gospel mentions the 12 only once and it doesn’t even seem to be a particularly significant reference. But these two strands of early Christian witness needed to be melded together in the love of Christ that they might strengthen and complement one another. This final Chapter 21 made this goal possible and made them one in that love.
“This is love in the making,” Oswald Chambers wrote. “The love of God is un-made, it is God’s nature. When we receive the Holy Spirit He unites us with God so that His love is manifested in us. When the soul is united to God by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, that is not the end; the end is that we may be one with the Father as Jesus was. What kind of oneness had Jesus Christ with the Father? Such a oneness that the Father sent Him down here to be spent for us, and He says – ‘As the Father has sent Me, even so I send you.’
Peter realizes now with the revelation of the Lord’s hurting question that he does love Him; then comes the point – “Spend it out.” Don’t testify how much you love Me, don’t profess about the marvelous revelation you have had, but – ‘Feed My Sheep.’ And Jesus had some extraordinarily funny sheep, some bedraggled, dirty sheep, some awkward, butting sheep, some sheep that have gone astray! It is impossible to weary God’s love, and it is impossible to weary that love in me if it springs from the one centre. The love of God pays no attention to the distinctions made by natural individuality. If I love my Lord I have no business being guided by natural temperament; I have to feed his Sheep. There is no relief and no release from this commission. Beware of counterfeiting the love of God by working along the line of natural human sympathy, because all will end in blaspheming the love of God.”
Just as the divergent and, sometimes, quarreling Christians factions of the 1st Century were melded into one through this understanding of God’s reconciling and commanding love poured out on Peter, they, too, were now one in mission and witness. With Peter as their example, they would live out their lives tending and feeding His sheep. They, too, would be spent in pouring out.
At this moment, and in this most unusual time, we are being called out, to be poured out! We are the chosen, called to follow in the path of Peter, and all the saints. We are called to put aside our own quarrelling and discontents to become the reconciling and commanding love spent and poured out, in the name of Jesus, to tend and feed his ‘bedraggled flock’ in the here and now of today.
May Almighty God, who has blessed us with His calling, grant us the love, and strength and courage to follow, as Peter did, in this most Holy Way of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Lord, we beseech you to help and defend us.
Deliver the oppressed, pity the poor,
uplift those who have fallen,
be the portion of those in need,
return to your care those
who have gone astray,
feed the hungry, strengthen the weak,
and break the chains of the prisoners.
May all people come to know
that you only are God,
that Jesus Christ is your child,
and that we are your people
and the sheep of your pasture.
St. Clement of Rome
Mark Reiff +
“At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such has never been since there was a nation till that time; but at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament; and those turn many to righteousness, like the star for ever and ever. But you, Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, until the time of the end.
Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase…”
But go your way until the end; and you shall rest,
and shall stand in your allotted place at the end of the days.
Daniel 12:1-4, 13
We may not be aware of it, but we are always sitting at the edge of the end, at the edge of Apocalypse. That is what makes this particular time of the Covid-19 virus so poignant. Virtually every Bible Study group I have ever led was anxious and eager to move on to the book of Revelation, primarily because they wanted to know about and be prepared for… THE END! To the contrary, few, if any, of those eager study Revelation lived as though the end was near.
Truth be told, I enjoy teaching the Book of Revelation. This is probably the case because so few people really understand that the Book of Revelation which, like John’s Gospel, is, at its core, allegorical and not literal. Most people seem to see Revelation as some kind of road map to the future. However, it is not so much about the future as it is about the past. And, yes, in many ways, it is about the predictable behavior of humanity when in the mess and muddle of things catastrophic.
Revelation was written at a time when much of the Roman Empire was being struck by plague and famine while, at the same time, the Persian Empire waged constant war against its eastern borders. In the midst of all of this turmoil, the unthinkable happened; Judea rebelled against Rome and after six long years of war the rebellion was utterly crushed under the might of the Roman Legions. Jerusalem and its Temple were totally destroyed. Not one rock stood upon another in a once thriving city. Some accounts tell us that a plow could be pulled right through the heart of the city and never encounter a building stone. Other accounts record that a million people were killed in the siege of Jerusalem. If starvation didn’t kill the city’s residents and refugees during the years of siege, the Roman sword put them to death when the walls were breached. What remained of the Jewish population in Judea was deported to other places throughout the Empire in the Great Diaspora. Yes, for many it was the end of the world. In such a time as this, the prophetic words of Daniel came to mind and came to pass as a devastating reality.
As I write this, the Covid-19 virus is ravaging much of our world. You can’t read a newspaper, an online news site, or turn on your radio or television and not know about the spread of this sometimes lethal disease. Even if the disease isn’t as deadly as once thought, it has certainly killed off the economies of nations all over the world.
While we in the western world are distracted by widespread fear and unemployment, parts of Africa and the Middle East are rapidly sliding into famine as wide spread pestilence is destroying farmland crops. In other far off places, like Nigeria, Pakistan, and even parts of India, Christians face deadly assault on a daily basis and even genocide. Meanwhile, Joe Biden’s good friend and benefactor, China, gets in on the ‘ugliness act’ by sending Uyghur Muslims to “re-education camps” where pregnant women are forced to have abortions and others are killed in order to harvest body parts and vital organs that they may be sold and transplanted into people the Communist State favors. Equally ominous is the saber rattling of both China and Iran (the heir of the Persian State) in far off places to flex their military muscles and assert both dominance and control in areas they covet. All of this darkened turmoil might cause one to ask; “Is this the end times?”
Maybe yes, maybe no, but, in truth, no one knows. This is certainly a deeply disturbing time for people all over the world. It is also a time that gives us pause to reflect on some of the darker prophecies in the scriptures and to rethink our own future. Again, in truth, we always live in dangerous times and the future is never guaranteed. The only guaranty we really have in life is, as the saying goes, ‘death and taxes’.
But what about the possibility of a guaranty that transcends this life? The world may not know about such a thing but, as Christians, you and I do. That guaranty is the Word and promise of God revealed to us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the Saviour’s departing gift to us – the gracious power and enduring presence of the Holy Spirit. This promise is unequivocal and tells us we can never be separated from the love of God. Let me repeat that because it is absolutely breathtaking in its breadth, depth and scope; its embrace is as wide as the universe…we can never be separated from the love of God!
Is there a need for me to write or say anything more? Well, yes, but simply this - a little story from the Reformation era. When Martin Luther was in discussions with the Swiss reformer John Zwingli, attempting to reconcile their two Reformation movements, they came to a stumbling block regarding Holy Communion. While Luther absolutely affirmed the ‘real presence’ of Jesus’ Body and Blood, beneath the form of bread and wine, Zwingli denied it and stated that this presence is only spiritual. Finally, and exasperated, Luther took a pen and wrote some words on a table cloth which he then held up for Zwingli and others in the room, to see and read. On the cloth he wrote the words of Jesus: ‘This is my body. This is my blood.” And he added, “God does not lie!”
God does not lie! His word is truth! His word and truth endure with us forever!
This is our guaranty.
Now, no more need be said.
Give us Lord the spirit of courage.
Let no shadow oppress our spirit,
lest our gloom should darken the light by which
others have to live.
Remove from our inmost souls all fear and distrust,
and fill us daily more completely with your love and power,
through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Lord Jesus, my Saviour, Let me now come to thee:
My heart is cold; O Lord, warm it with your selfless love.
My heart is sinful: cleanse it by your precious blood.
My heart is weak; strengthen it by your joyous Spirit.
My heart is empty; fill it with your divine presence.
Lord Jesus, my heart is yours;
possess it always and only for yourself.
Mark Reiff +
We apologize for missing Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Pastor's computer decided to to do an update which hid all of his files and programs. He may have had a virus, although a scan did not reveal any. After 3 days of running restores and resets, I finally got everything back to normal, except for some reason it removed his Microsoft Office Suite! I called the guy who we bought the computer from and who has been helping us in times of trouble and he came out and reloaded Microsoft Suite back onto Pastor's computer and made sure everything was running smoothly. He charged us $75 for this service. So at last Pastor is back on track with his daily prayers. This would have been day 34 of the 43 days of prayer, but since he missed 3 days, he is calling this 40 days of prayer and today will be day 31 where he left off.
Thank you for your understanding. Selena
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking spices which they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling white apparel; and they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary, the mother of James and the other women with them who told this to the apostles; but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.
It is really quite amazing how all of the post-resurrection accounts and appearances have two things in common: 1. they all agree on one fact – Jesus rose from the dead and, 2.) they all disagree on the details of the facts of these post resurrection appearances. While this second thing, about the post-resurrection accounts, may seem, to some, as undermining the very notion of Jesus’ resurrection it actually supports it as true. This may seem counter-intuitive but it isn’t. Jesus’ resurrection and post-resurrection appearances are unsettling and stunning events. In some ways, we could compare the resurrection to other unsettling and stunning events as in, for instance, a vehicular crash at a busy highway intersection: while many people may have seen the accident, all those who saw it also saw it from different perspectives, different angles and remember it differently.
When the police arrive on the scene and ask questions of the witnesses of the event, most all of the witnesses agree only on the central fact that there was an accident but the details of what they saw changes from person to person. This lack of complete agreement by the witnesses is due to the fact that they were all in different places at the time of the incident and that, in their shock, they remember only what was seen from their own particular perspective.
Over the years, many a critic of Christianity, and of the very idea of Jesus’ Resurrection, has said that this event never happened because ‘your so-called witnesses don’t agree on the details. And that this disagreement proves it was all made up. It is all a fiction of the imagination.’
However, the mere fact that the witnesses don’t agree underscores its truth! Psychologically, a shocking and stunning event like Jesus’ resurrection would be so unsettling that the witnesses would all have seen it and they would have seen and interpreted it differently. These differing stories and differing accounts all point to a singular, unexpected, and an unsettling truth...that Jesus arose from the dead. The differing accounts don’t support a denial of this truth; rather, they underscore the shocking reality of its truth.
Another undeniable fact of the Resurrection of Jesus is the mere existence of the Church itself and those who planted it. All the apostles, with the exception of John, were martyred for their witness to the resurrection and the faith it spawned. People do not willingly surrender their lives for an untruth. The scriptures are clear; Jesus said to his followers, “take up your cross and follow me” and they did! They and countless scores of martyrs, down though the centuries have surrendered their lives to give witness to this fact and this faith. Both this fact and this faith not only conquered the brutality of the Roman Empire but it also changed the course of the entire world.
The Father of Eastern Orthodox Christianity had this to say about the power of the cross and resurrection:
Have you seen the wonderful victory? Have you seen the splendid deeds of the Cross? Shall I tell you something still more marvelous? Learn in what way the victory was gained, and you will be even more astonished. For by the very means by which the devil had conquered him; and taking up the weapons with which he had fought, he defeated him. Listen how it was done.
A virgin, a tree and a death were the symbols of our defeat. The virgin was Eve: she had not yet known man; the tree was the tree of knowledge of good and evil; the death was Adam’s penalty. But behold again a Virgin and a tree and a death, those symbols of defeat, became the symbols of his victory. For in place of Eve there is Mary; in place of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the tree of the cross;
in place of the death of Adam, the death of Christ.
Do you see him defeated by the very things through which he had conquered? At the foot of the tree the devil overcame Adam; at the foot of the tree Christ vanquished the devil. And that first tree sent men to Hades; the second tree calls back even those who had already gone down there. Again, the former tree concealed man already despoiled and stripped; the second tree shows a naked victor on high for all to see. And that earlier death condemned those who were born after it; this second tree gives life again to those who were born before it. Who can tell the Lord’s mighty deeds? By death we were made immortal: these are the glorious deeds of the Cross.
Have you understood the victory? Have you grasped how it was wrought? Learn now, how this victory was gained without any sweat or toil of yours. No weapons of ours were stained with blood; our feet did not stand in the front lines of battle, we suffered no wounds; witnessed no tumults; and yet we obtained the victory. The battle was the Lord’s, the crown is ours. Since then victory is our song, let us imitate the soldiers, and with joyful voices sing the songs of victory.
Let us praise the Lord and say.
Death is swallowed up in victory.
O Death, where is thy victory?
O Death, where is thy sting?
The cross did all these things for us; the Cross is a war memorial erected against the demons, a sword against sin, the sword with which Christ slew the serpent. The cross is the Father’s will, the glory of the only-begotten Son, the Spirit’s exultation, the beauty of the angels, the guardian of the church. Paul glories in the Cross, it is the rampart of the saints; it is the light of the whole world.
Grant, O God, that we who have been marked with the sign of the cross in our baptism, may never be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, but may manfully fight under his banner against sin, the world, and the devil, and continue Christ’s faithful soldiers and servants unto our lives’ end.
Mark Reiff +
There was no bread in the whole land, for the famine had grown so severe that the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan were weakened with hunger. Joseph accumulated all the money there was to be found in the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan, in return for the grain which men were buying and he brought the money to Pharaoh’s palace.
When all the money in the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan had run out, the Egyptians all came to Joseph: ‘Give us bread’ they said. ‘Have we to perish before your eyes? For our money has come to an end.’ Joseph answered, ‘hand over your livestock; I am willing to give you bread in exchange for your livestock, if your money has come to an end.’ So they brought their livestock to Joseph, and Joseph gave them bread in exchange for horses and livestock.
When the year was over, they came to him the next year, and said to him, ‘We cannot hide it from my lord: the truth is our money has run out and the livestock is in my lord’s possession. There is nothing left for my lord except our bodies and our land. Have we to perish before your eyes, we and our land? Buy us and our land in exchange for bread; we with our land will be Pharaoh’s serfs. But give us something to sow that we may keep our lives and not die and the land may not become desolate.’
Thus Joseph acquired all the land in Egypt for Pharaoh, since one by one the Egyptians sold their estates, so hard pressed were they by the famine, and the whole country passes into Pharaoh’s possession. As for the people he reduced them to serfdom from one end of Egypt to the other.
This story from Genesis has been on my mind lately and for good reason. It is a cautionary tale about big government, politicians and the bureaucrats they employ. In the Joseph cycle of Genesis (chapters 37-50) this eldest son of Israel is usually portrayed in a favorable light. However, this particular episode should be unsettling to us because, in this instance, acting on behalf of Pharaoh, he truly is a villain.
Egypt was known throughout the ancient Mediterranean world as a corrupt and weakened state. This widely held dim view of Egypt was due to what Biblical scholars term ‘the Agrarian Policy’ of Joseph. ‘Never let a good crisis go to waste’ is not only the opinion held by many of our nation’s politicians but it is also possible that Joseph was one of the first politicians to put it into official practice.
For seven years of plenty, Joseph heavily taxed the people of Egypt, their land and crops, or so the story goes. But when the nation was struck by seven years of severe famine, what he had taxed and taken he sold back to the starving people! Joseph was the architect of a grand scheme that had reduced the entire population of Egypt to slavery.
This truly is a cautionary tale! Look at the world around us. Do you see what has happened, and continues to happen, not only to us and our country, but also to most every nation around us? We have been frightened to death by the current health crisis and have been turned into mush by the ‘round-the-clock’ supine media that cheerleads for a particular point of view, certain policies, and, most definitely, certain politicians whose world view they share. ‘Never let a good crisis go to waste.’
As our nation mortgages its future, in order to payout massive ‘cash give-aways’ today, are we being enthralled as the tax-slaves of its bleak future? Billions of dollars given away to feed and salve us simply do not appear out of thin air. Someone will have to pay it all back and I wonder (tongue in cheek), who that could be. A nation that can take away your freedoms (as has been happening in this crisis) can strip you of everything you have and make you its slave.
But there is a second back-up option: this massive government give away could also cause run-away inflation. This will mean that the money in your pocket will eventually become worthless. This will especially oppress the retired, and others, on fixed incomes and those who are already poor. But it will benefit the benefactor, the government, by rendering government debt and bonds just as worthless. Will we become the new Post- WWI Germany, or Argentina, or Greece where even a wheelbarrow full of money could not buy a loaf of bread? This, too, could reduce most all of us to serfdom.
I have written this before and, now, I write it again. Even though the Apostle Paul wrote that we are to ‘pay taxes to those to whom taxes are owed’ the government is not my savior. It never can be, and it never will be. For the limited time that I have on this earth I must give witness to the only One who can and will save me, and this is Jesus Christ, our only Lord and Saviour.
The scriptures both old and new, both Hebrew and Christian, speak to us of the Divine Being, YHWH-God, who walks with us, who regularly talks to us not only through the voice of His Spirit, but also in ages past through Moses and the prophets, and, most wondrously, at the very center and heart of time, through His Son, Jesus the Christ. It is His voice in which I place my trust. It is His voice which fills me with hope. It is His voice that enlightens me with grace. And, even though the world around me is listening to many a contrary voice, it is the voice of God that I must listen to – here and now!
May we all, in this critical time, for ourselves, for others, and for our nation be attentive and listen to the voice of God. “Be still” and to know the great “I Am.”
O Lord, our God,
in whose hands is the issue of all things,
and requires from your stewards not success but faithfulness:
Give us such faith in you and in your sure purposes,
that we measure not our lives by what we have done or failed to do,
but by our obedience to your holy will;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
O Lord God, perfect in us that which is lacking of your gift;
of faith, to increase it, of hope, to establish it, of love, to kindle it;
And make us to fear but one thing only,
fearing others more than you,
Our Father, our Saviour, our Lord,
forever and ever.
Mark Reiff +
“I am the vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
These words were spoken by Jesus to his disciples on the Thursday evening before his crucifixion. It is a part of what is called ‘The Farewell Discourse.’ In this discourse, Jesus is preparing his disciples for their life and witness in the world when he will no longer be physically present to guide them. He uses a powerful analogy to help them understand who (and who’s) they are and what they are to be about in their own witness to their Master, Jesus the Christ.
“I am the vine, you are the branches,” he told them, and they would have immediately made a connection to the long-standing Hebrew tradition that spoke of Israel as ‘the Vine’. Israel was the vine, or the tree, of God in the world for the sake of the world. But now, Jesus makes it clear that he, together with his followers, is the true vine of God for the world. They are now grafted into the Tree of Life at the heart of God’s garden.
All of this takes us back to the imagery and language of the Garden of Eden (God’s original plan) described in the first book of the Pentateuch, Genesis, where things went terribly wrong. Eating the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge brought about the fall not only of mankind but also of the world and every living thing. And death reigned among us.
God’s heart was grieved beyond our human understanding. To set things right, He set in motion a new plan, detailed in the Hebrew Scriptures, to bring about the redemption of all things through a chosen people, a chosen nation. The rebellion in the garden against God would be overcome through a new tree, the chosen people, the sons and daughters of Israel. They were to be the new tree of life giving obedient witness to all the earth, and its various people, of God’s mercy and compassion for all things and all nations. But this new tree, this Israel, despite receiving the commandments of God, failed in its calling to serve God. The prophets were sent to confront and challenge them but to no avail.
At this juncture, a third plan came into being: God, himself, would come to earth to set things right and reveal his compassion and mercy to all mankind and his creation. Yes, God would do this to save and redeem all things and us. New Testament scholar, N.T. Wright always describes this as ‘setting things to rights.’
This third plan, as we should know, was revealed through his incarnate Son, Jesus the Christ. At the very heart of the garden, a new tree was planted. On that tree Jesus died. From that tree he called out and marked, through his baptism, a new community of faith as his branches. That tree was planted at Calvary. On that tree, we confess that Jesus the Christ, God Incarnate, ‘was crucified, died and was buried’.
But he triumphed! He rose again from the dead! He defeated the fatal curse with newness of life! And so this tree, planted two thousand years ago, continues to grow and flourish throughout the world. New branches are sprouting and springing up everywhere, because of this Good News, this Gospel, proclaimed to the ends of the earth.
Like every tree and every vine, we, his disciples and his branches, need pruning and care in order to produce the desired fruit that nourishes. For this reason Jesus speaks to us this day, as he spoke so long ago to his disciples, for the need to be pruned that we might produce that which is desirable in the sight of God, the master of the Vineyard. We need to be pruned that we might produce the fruit fit for the King. Perhaps, now, for Christian communities all over the world, and surrounded by tribulation, this is that time of the pruning that we might be more fruitful in the coming Spring-time of our world.
There in God’s garden stands the tree of wisdom,
whose leaves hold forth the healing of the nations:
Tree of all knowledge, Tree of all compassion, Tree of all beauty.
Its name is Jesus, name that says, “Our Savior!”
There on its branches see the scars of suff’ring
see there the tendrils of our human selfhood feed on its lifeblood.
Thorns not its own are tangled in its foliage;
Our greed has starved it, our despite has choked it,
Yet, look! It lives! Its grief has not destroyed it nor fire consumed it.
See how its branches reach to us in welcome;
Hear what the Voice says, “Come to me, ye weary!
Give me your sickness, give me all your sorrow, I will give blessing.”
This is my ending, this my resurrection;
into your hands, Lord, I commit my spirit.
This have I searched for; now I can possess it. This ground is holy.
All heav’n is singing, “Thanks to Christ whose passion
offers in mercy healing, strength, and pardon.
Peoples and nations take it, take it freely!’ Amen! My Master!
Kiraly Imre von Pecselyi
O Christ, the true vine and the source of all life, ever giving yourself that the world may live; and who has taught us that those who would follow you must be ready to lose their lives for your sake;
Grant us to receive within our souls the power of your eternal sacrifice, that in sharing your cup we may share your glory, and at the last be made perfect in your love.
Mark Reiff +
“I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world will see me no more, but you will see me; because I live in you, you will live also. In that day you will know that because I live, you will live also. In that day you will know that I am in my Father and you in me, and I in you. He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered him, “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me does not keep my words; and the word which you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.
“These things I have spoken to you, while I am still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name; he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have told you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I go away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I go to the Father; for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it takes place so that when it does take place, you may believe. I will no longer talk with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me; but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go hence.”
Johannus Tauler, who died in 1361, was a Dominican scholar and renowned preacher. It is well known that Tauler had a powerful impact on both the life and thinking of Martin Luther. Luther greatly admired him and avidly read his sermons. These sermons and reflections gave formation to much of Luther’s spiritual life and, at the same time, gave guidance to many of his actions during the Lutheran Reformation. His wisdom speaks to us today from over the centuries especially in this reflection on John 14.
“Many people would gladly be God’s witnesses when everything goes according to their wishes. They like to be holy, as long as their devotions are not too much of a burden; they would be happy enough to experience great fervor and profess their faith openly, if only there were no distress, no grief, no drudgery involved. Once, however, they know the terrors and temptations of spiritual darkness, as soon as they no longer experience the emotional comfort of God’s closeness, and feel forsaken within and without, they turn back and they are no witnesses at all. All men desire peace and they look for it in all kinds of ways and places. Oh, if only they could free themselves of this illusion, and learn to look for it in tribulation. Only there is born abiding peace that will endure; if you look for it elsewhere, you will fail miserably. You ought to seek joy in sadness, detachment in the midst of disaster, and comfort in bitterness; this is the way to become a true witness to God. Before his death, our Lord promised peace to His disciples; before and after the resurrection He did so. And yet they never obtained an outward peace. Nonetheless, they found peace in sorrow, and joy in tribulation. They were God’s witnesses.
I have known people so drenched with sweet consolation they were felt in every fiber of their being. And yet, when darkness came upon them, they were left disconsolate, without and within. They did not know which way to turn; they fell behind and it all came to nothing. When we are tossed about by terrible storms which make havoc of our interior balance; when exterior temptations of the world and the flesh and the devil assail us; if then only we could break through and weather such storms, we would arrive at that peace which no one can take from us. Anyone that fails to follow that path will be left behind and never attain this goal. The others, however, will be the true witnesses of Christ.”
Tauler’s wisdom spoke not only to Martin Luther but it also peaks powerfully to us this day as we grapple with our current affliction and tribulation. And, at this moment, I am reminded of another bit of wisdom from this gifted Dominican preacher; he once said, “Because in the school of the Spirit man learns wisdom through humility, knowledge by forgetting, how to speak by silence, how to live by dying.” This is, indeed, a time for the school of the Spirit so that we may gain wisdom through humility; that we may gain knowledge by forgetting, that we may learn how to speak by being silent; that we learn how to live because “to dust we shall return.”
O Lord Jesus Christ,
who when you were upon earth in the Days of Your flesh
did love to talk with common folk just like us who now speak to You,
and visit them in their homes, come now to us, we pray You.
We hear you gladly and we have room for You
in our homes and hearts.
You need not now to wander homeless.
There is a warm and waiting room in our hearts for You.
Be pleased to enter Lord.
Whatever you find uncongenial to Your presence cast out from us –
all uncharitableness, and pride and selfishness and sin.
Take full possession for Yourself alone and fill the place of Your abode
with Your own holiness and joy and love.
“Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you. I will come again and take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way that I am going. Thomas said to him, “Lord we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; hence forth you know him and have seen him.” John 14:1-7
This passage from John’s Gospel opens with six very important and powerful words – “Let not you hearts be troubled.” This has been, and continues to be, a very troubled time for most all of us. Yet, in the middle and muddle of this trouble we need to hear and share these words of certainty that our Lord spoke to his first disciples and that he now speaks to us. Spoken on the night before his own death he sought to prepare them for what was to come.
In much the same way we should also apply these words to our own lives. There truly is no trial, nor tribulation, that can ever sever from our consolation in Jesus Christ. Even as we come to the end of our journey on earth when we meet death, we are not parted from Jesus Christ. Quite the contrary, we are united with him. “Let not your heart be troubled.”
No doubt this is why John 14:1-7 is so often read as the Gospel at Christian services for the Burial of the Dead. It speaks to us in our mourning of the great promise of God to all who believe and trust in the Lord: If we die with Him, we will rise with Him!
There is something much more frightening then the COVID-19 disease or any ailment or any disease. What we should fear most is an eternal death, and eternal separation and partition from God. This is the same God “who desires not the death of a sinner but that he should turn to Him and be saved.” An eternal death, the second death, is truly terrifying. The thought of the second death should give every human being pause to reflect, repent, and redirect.
This passage from John also contains the line, “in my Father’s house there are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you.” In all honesty, I do not like the modern translations of this part of the passage. Yes, I know the King James Version of the scriptures is passé for many, but the beauty and eloquence of its language cannot be denied. With regard to this particular line, it hits a home run as far as translations go. Somehow the notion that in my Father’s house there are many rooms doesn’t particularly warm the cockles of my heart. It doesn’t cut it for me. My goodness, the Motel 6 down the road has many rooms but I am not particularly certain I’d want to stay there for all eternity and, perhaps, not even for a night. No! The 17th Century KJV strikes the absolutely right note; “In my Father’s house there are many mansions!” There could be no more magnificent a dwelling in all the Universe then dwelling in the presence of the Holy One, YHWH God Himself. This dwelling is so much more than a mere ‘room’ for the night it is an eternity in the light and love, grace and mercy of God and of his Son Jesus Christ.
At this point, we would do well to recall the vision of the prophet Isaiah when the heavens opened before him and he saw YHWH-God in all of His Divine splendor. Isaiah fell to his knees in humility, awe, and wonder, as he heard the Seraphim sing these words of praise to God.
‘Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of Sabbaoth, Heaven and Earth are full of your Glory!’
This vision forever changed the life of Isaiah. Our liturgy incorporates his vision and his words into the Sanctus which we sing every Sunday immediately before the Eucharistic Prayer. This ancient prayer contains the Holy Words of Jesus at his last Passover with the disciples. Just as Isaiah’s life was changed forever, so too, our lives are changed forever as we behold the “real presence” of Jesus among us. When we consecrate the gifts of bread and wine, to be for us the Body and Blood of Jesus, these words of Isaiah prepare us to enter into a Holy place and a sacred space. Our bodies and our souls now behold the stunning and breathtaking beauty of God as revealed to us in his only begotten Son.
The word Sabbaoth is basically an untranslatable Hebrew word that loosely means ranks upon ranks upon ranks of angelic beings…hundreds of thousands upon hundreds of thousands…even millions…of angelic beings surrounding the throne of God and ready to fight on behalf of the Holy One, YHWH.
Our modern translation of the word Sabbaoth as “God of power and might” simply does not convey the right message with regard to the Holy Mystery of this Blessed Sacrament. We know, from our own human lives, that power and might fade away and do not endure. Our European Lutheran counterparts don’t even bother to try to translate Sabbaoth to make it understandable. They allow the mystery to remain. And they have chosen the wiser path because the human soul yearns for and demands mystery. When we sing the words of the Sanctus we should call to mind the word Sabbaoth, and its awesome mystery, for these English words fail us.
Yes, indeed, “Let not your hearts be troubled.” because the Holy Mystery of YHWH-God is always with us, to embrace in his love and lift us up in every time of need.
O Heavenly Father, who has called us by your grace to be a colony of heaven here on earth; Deepen within us, we beseech you, a sense of our citizenship with the saints in glory; and grant that through all the days of our pilgrimage in this world we may humbly walk with you in the way of holiness, and faithfully care for the needs of others, till we come to your everlasting kingdom; through the mercy of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
O Lord, who in the day of your flesh hallowed bread and wine to be a perpetual memorial of your passion, and a never-failing means of fellowship with you; Make us to so thirst after your righteousness that through these holy mysteries we may be filled with all the fullness of your divine life, and be made partakers of your heavenly treasure; for your dear name’s sake.
Father, by the Easter Mystery you touch our lives with the healing power of your love. You have given us the freedom of the sons of God. May we who now celebrate your gift find joy in it for ever in heaven. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.
That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about a seven mile journey from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were walking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What is this conversation which you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he would be the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since this happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body; and they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb, and found just as the women had said; but him they did not see.” And he said to them, “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets had spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things to enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.
As they drew near to the village to which they were going. He appeared to be going further, but they constrained him saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed it, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven gathered together and those who were with them, who said, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Over the years I have been truly blessed to have been able to make seven pilgrimages to the Holy Lands of Israel, Jordan and Egypt. On every one of these blessed journeys our last day is given over to a final seven mile journey to Emmaus. Once there, we gather together either in the great medieval church, erected by the crusaders, or at one of the outdoor circular spaces that features an altar at its center. We gather that we might share and celebrate a final Holy Communion, a Eucharist, among one another before we fondly say to each other, and to these most sacred lands, goodbye (God be with you) and thank you for the treasure we now carry within us.
It is an emotional moment. For most all of us, it is the end of an awe inspiring holy journey that has also been the journey of a life time. During this pilgrimage we have grown closer not only to our Lord Jesus Christ but also to one another and we have made new friends. Our shared experiences, our shared meals, and our walking together in the footsteps of Jesus have bound us together in a powerful way. It will link us together for the rest of our earthly lives. So yes, we gather together for one last Eucharist fully aware and knowing that we are one body in Jesus Christ. And, yes, it is a deeply emotional moment. As we share the peace of Christ with one another on this final day, many an eye sheds a tear for new friends made, some of whom we might never see again, and for the newly discovered depth of friendship that we all have in Jesus Christ.
Cleopas and his companion (more than likely his wife) had shed tears too because their dear friend and teacher, Jesus, had died a horrific death on a Roman cross only the day before. Although they had heard rumors about his supposed resurrection from the dead, they more than likely were filled with doubt. After all, Mary the wife of Cleopas had witnessed his death with Mary of Magdala and as they stood only a few feet away from the beloved disciple and Mary, the mother of Jesus.
I can imagine some of their conversation as they walked their sad and lonely journey home. Mary might have said, in response to her husband’s hope in some of the rumors they had heard, “But I tell you, I saw him die! It was horrible! I can’t imagine what it was like for his mother. And you, most all of you men,” she said to her husband, in a scolding tone, “abandoned him and sat cowering in the upper room afraid to even move a muscle!”
While in the midst of this sad and, maybe, bickering conversation, a stranger came along to join them in their walk and, of course, we know the rest of the story. The scales fell from their eyes as he joined them for supper. And as “he broke the bread,” Suddenly they realized that they were sitting in the presence of Jesus! But just as suddenly, he disappears.
In awe and wonder they said to one another. “Did not our hearts warm within us as he spoke to us!” They had seen the risen Christ, their dear friend Jesus, in the breaking of the bread. This stranger was the risen Lord! In this Holy Communion, in this Passover, with them, he proclaimed his resurrection to them. Undoubtedly, Mary and Cleopas must have been overwhelmed with joy and thanksgiving on that day. This, in fact, is the very definition of the Greek word for Holy Communion, which is Eucharist. Eucharist means and is – Thanksgiving!” Indeed, it is the greatest thanksgiving of all.
In our own time and in our own journey home, this too is how we come to know the resurrected Jesus. In our gratitude, in our Thanksgiving, he comes that we might know him as he meets us in the Holy Communion, this Eucharist. It is in this ancient action, at the heart of our worship, where He breaks bread with us, so we might know, first hand, this Holy One of God. This resurrected Jesus lives among us.
May the scales fall from our eyes as we receive “The body of Christ; the cup of salvation.” And “The blood of Christ; the bread of heaven.”
Gracious Lord, we remember that you accompanied your two disciples as they journeyed to Emmaus. We bid you walk with us, O Lord, on our journey through this world. Guide us, uphold us, strengthen us; make our hearts burn within us; and evermore manifest yourself to our souls in gracious and heavenly power. For your own name’s sake we ask it.
O Lord, who made yourself manifest in the breaking of bread to your disciples at Emmaus: Grant us ever through the same blessed sacrament of your presence to know you, and to love you more and more with all our hearts. Abide with us, O Lord, that we may ever abide in you; for your tender mercy’s sake.
For all of us, this is an Easter like no other. It will be indelibly etched in our minds until our dying day. We will remember it every year for the rest of our lives as the Easter, when, in a very symbolic sense, there was no Easter, there was no celebration. Perhaps we will remember it as the Easter when we were brought to our knees; not so much in adoration of the resurrected Jesus but as a divine humbling of all earthly people and powers. Did we need reminding of scriptural injunction from Paul:
“He who thinketh he stand,
take heed lest he fall!”
I Corinthians 10:12
Think about it for a moment; here, in the wealthiest, most dominant and powerful nation on earth – and perhaps, (at least so far), – in all of human history, we have been knocked down to our knees and are at a virtual standstill. And we aren’t at all alone in this stricken mess. Most all of the world is at this standstill with us. And the putative cause of it all is something we cannot even see with the naked eye. Now, how humbling is that?
Yes, today we should be saying in Churches all over the World:
P: Alleluia! Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
C: He is risen indeed. Alleluia! Alleluia!
But we are not shouting it! We are not saying it! We are not singing it! At least it is not being done in our churches at worship because our buildings are empty. We might, however, be saying these words, in our sequestered homes, to one another and to family, or even to friends from a safe and social distance. It all feels so odd, so peculiar, so sad, and unfulfilling.
Despite all of this unfamiliar strangeness, the Resurrection of Jesus, the Easter story, remains etched within us and upon us through our Baptism in to Christ Jesus and our shared Christian faith. We long, no we yearn, to say those words of praise and Alleluia, and their absence pains us at this moment. There is a longing deep within us, to be with our Christian family of faith in the joy and beauty of the Resurrection Day. We want to celebrate but our circumstance simply will not allow it.
‘Absence’, as the saying goes, ‘makes the heart grow fonder’. When that time comes, we will rejoice, give thanks and praise to God.
However, until then, in this God given time, we have the opportunity to humbly call to mind, and remember, those who have faithfully gone before in human history during times when their Easter joy was also muted and dimmed before their eyes.
April 1 was Easter Day in 1945. But Easter for many, on that early spring day, might have been incredibly bleak. In a few days World War II in Europe would be over, but many of the faithful were living amidst the ruins and rubble not only of their lives but also of their villages, towns, cities and nations and, even if they desired to attend Easter worship, their church might not have survived the destructive bombardment of those last few brutal weeks. They felt alone and bereft. But they knew, as we should, that Jesus Christ was with them.
Until the year 312 A.D., many a Christian risked life and limb to celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection not just on Easter but on any day of the year. But in their persecution they knew, as we should, that Jesus Christ stood with them.
And, we should reflect on this: Every day, Christians in China, in Africa and in most any Middle Eastern land face deadly persecution on a daily basis. They, too, feel alone and bereft. Our pain is minimal compared to theirs. But they know, and give witness to, what we should know and give witness to, that Jesus Christ stands with us!
We, in this nation, have been spared most all of this kind of oppression. But now, and for a span of time, we have been brought to our knees and have been humbled. Humility is not a strong suit for Americans. We are a proud people. Much of our pride is understandable. Our republican form of government has set us free to be an innovative and resourceful people. God has blessed us! Or, at least he had, because of the deep abiding faith of the many that came to this shore to make this new land a new home and a place of freedom – especially freedom of religion. This particular freedom is codified in our Constitutional Bill of Rights. This freedom is writ large by the mere fact that it is Article number one in this same Bill of Rights.
However, we know this freedom, like all freedoms, can be abused and misused. It has set loose others, not tethered to any kind of religious faith or moral code, to self-centeredness, narcissism, and, just plain old fashioned selfishness. Darkness is always a temptation and it is always with us…niggling at the edges. Though we tout freedom of religion, for many it has become freedom from religion and, even, an attempt to marginalize those who are religious by pushing us out of the Public Square.
Our founding fathers knew that this nation could not, and would not, stand for long without a religious foundation and they said so. Religious freedom for most all of them was the observance and practice of the Easter faith in the Resurrected Jesus Christ who triumphed over the grave. This unique event in human history set us all free to abide in the abundant grace and mercy of a loving God.
But time passes. New leaders arise. The old wisdom and the divine wisdom is no longer suitable for them nor is it of any benefit to them…or so they think. In a stunning combination of arrogance and ignorance, they assert that they know better than us… and all those who have gone before. Many, who are deceived by them, applaud them. But now has come the great comeuppance where the new wisdom isn’t quite so wise. And the new ways look a lot like the old ways of things done in secretive darkness, filled with self-serving greed, evil and corruption.
I, for one, cannot applaud the new ways.
No, I am saving my applause, my gratitude, my praise, for the true source of all wisdom, light, and honest freedom; I am saving my applause and gratitude for my only real and authentic Savior; (as earthly powers and princes can never save me!) I am saving it for Jesus Christ the Son of God, the Risen Lord of Easter and the Lord of my life.
Christ is risen from the dead!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
May our prayers rise like incense for this nation and its people, for our well being and our safety, and may there be a new awakening and a return to the faith of our fathers; for there is no other way, no other truth, no other life.
A Day of Silence, Reflection and Prayer
“Man who is born of a woman
is few of days and full of trouble.
2 He comes out like a flower and withers;
he flees like a shadow and continues not.
3 And do you open your eyes on such a one
and bring me into judgment with you?
4 Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?
There is not one.
5 Since his days are determined,
and the number of his months is with you,
and you have appointed his limits that he cannot pass,
6 look away from him and leave him alone,
that he may enjoy, like a hired hand, his day.
7 “For there is hope for a tree,
if it be cut down, that it will sprout again,
and that its shoots will not cease.
8 Though its root grow old in the earth,
and its stump die in the soil,
9 yet at the scent of water it will bud
and put out branches like a young plant.
10 But a man dies and is laid low;
man breathes his last, and where is he?
11 As waters fail from a lake
and a river wastes away and dries up,
12 so a man lies down and rises not again;
till the heavens are no more he will not awake
or be roused out of his sleep.
13 Oh that you would hide me in Sheol,
that you would conceal me until your wrath be past,
that you would appoint me a set time, and remember me!
14 If a man dies, shall he live again?
All the days of my service I would wait,
till my renewal should come.
Psalm 31:1-4; 15-16
31 In you, O Lord, do I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame;
in your righteousness deliver me!
2 Incline your ear to me;
rescue me speedily!
Be a rock of refuge for me,
a strong fortress to save me!
3 For you are my rock and my fortress;
and for your name's sake you lead me and guide me;
4 you take me out of the net they have hidden for me,
for you are my refuge.
15 My times are in your hand;
rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors!
16 Make your face shine on your servant;
save me in your steadfast love!
1st Peter 4:1-8
Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. 3 For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. 4 With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; 5 but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.
7 The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. 8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.
57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. 58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. 59 And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud 60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.
62 The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate 63 and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ 64 Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” 65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” 66 So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.
O God, creator of heaven and earth:
as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath,
so we may await him in newness of life,
who now lives and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. Amen.
Grant, O Lord, we beseech you,
that as your dear Son Jesus Christ,
after he had suffered in the flesh for our sins,
did preach to the spirits in prison,
so also your Church may ever be ready
in body and spirit to do your will;
that by preaching your gospel all who shall be obedient to the faith
may be gathered into your glorious kingdom;
through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
My God, my God,
why have you forsaken me
and are so far from my cry,
and from the words of my distress?
O my God, I cry in the daytime,
but you do not answer;
by night as well, but I find no rest.
Yet you are the Holy One,
enthroned upon the praises of Israel.
Our forefathers put their trust in you
they trusted you,
and you delivered them.
They cried out to you
and were delivered;
they trusted in you
and were not put to shame.
But as for me,
I am a worm and not a man,
Scorned by all
and despised by the people.
All who see me laugh me to scorn;
they curl their lips,
and wag their heads, saying,
“He trusted in the Lord;
let him deliver him,
if he delights in him.”
These are opening verses of Psalm 22 which is the appointed Psalm for the Liturgy of Good Friday. When Jesus cried out from the cross, at his execution, these words, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,’ any observant Jew within hearing would have immediately recalled the entirety of Psalm 22. Observant Jews would have been able to do this because their education in the Jewish faith required the memorization of the entire Pentateuch and all 150 Psalms.
Vividly, this psalm outlines the horror of Jesus’ death. “I am poured out like water”, “my bones are out of joint’, ‘my heart…is melting away’, ‘my mouth is dried out like a potsherd’, ‘they pierce my hands and feet’, ‘they divide my garments among them, they cast lots for my clothing’, these are the lamentations of a suffering and dying Jesus.
But stunningly, the Psalm ends with a remarkable serenity; ‘My soul shall live for him; my descendants shall serve him; they shall be known as the Lord’s forever. They shall come and make known to a people yet unborn the saving deeds he has done.’
Our Good Friday Liturgy focuses our attention on three things: 1. the four appointed scriptural readings, with a special emphasis on The Passion According to John, 2.) The Prayers, 3.) Adoration of the Cross.
The first appointed reading from Hosea is especially poignant, given this year’s circumstances. In the midst of a widespread pandemic with gatherings limited to no more than 10 people, and enforced social distancing a fact of our everyday life; Hosea speaks to the truth our situation when he writes;
Come let us return to YHWH.
He has torn us to pieces, but he will heal us;
he has struck us down,
but he will bandage our wounds
after a day or two he will bring us back to life,
on the third day he will raise us
and we shall live in his presence.
Let us set ourselves to know YHWH
That he will come is as certain as dawn
his judgment will rise like the light,
he will come to us as showers come,
like spring rains watering the earth.
What am I to do with you, Ephraim?
What am I to do with you, Judah?
This love of yours is like a morning cloud,
like the dew that quickly disappears.
This is why I have torn them to pieces by the prophets,
Why I slaughtered them with the words from my mouth,
since what I want is love, not sacrifice;
knowledge of God, not holocausts.
Perhaps this year’s Holy Week and, especially this day, Good Friday could be the spurring moment for some serious and much needed introspection about our lives, our families, our communities, our culture, our nation, and, yes, the nature and depth of our own Christian faith. Is God tearing us apart? Has God struck us down? Is our love of God (and our neighbor) like a morning cloud and dew that quickly disappears?
Only you can answer that question. I cannot answer it for you and no one else can. Nonetheless, we should not waste this present and precious gifts of time apart on things trivial that often command our empty lives. Rather, we could choose to re-orient ourselves to the things that are everlasting and, indeed, eternal. Whether we are aware of it or not, we are always on that precipice which will eventually separate us from the here and now and the there and then: we are always face to face with death and eternity.
Several years ago a German Lutheran pastor wrote an apocalyptic book with the disturbing title, When a Nation Forgets God. He wrote about his country, which had turned its back on God, after the disaster of the First World War. Their secular abandonment of God, he wrote, had set them up for an even worse terror: Adolph Hitler, the Holocaust, The Second World War, and a nation in utter ruins.
Do we honestly think, surrounded by the pride of our secular wealth, as our churches empty, and our people forget God, that we are immune to destruction? “Pride goes before the fall,” the scriptures warn. (Prov. 16:18) But are we listening?
Good Friday is a day of gathering darkness. Evil is seen as triumphant over the chosen one of God. His disciples and followers are demoralized and in despair.
Our Good Friday this year, in some ways, mirrors the first Good Friday…we are scattered, we are in fear, we are in darkness, and many among us despair. Honestly, I cannot remember a more sincere and authentic Good Friday then this one. Observe it wisely, and live in the presence of God.
Lord Jesus Christ, who for the redemption of mankind did ascend the cross, that you might enlighten the world that lay in darkness; gather us this day with all your faithful to the same holy cross; that, gazing in penitence at your great sacrifice for us, we may be loosed from all our sins, and entering into the mystery of the passion, be crucified to the vain pomp and power of this world; and finding our glory in the cross alone, we may attain at last your everlasting glory, where you, the Lamb that once was slain, reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
one God forever.
The day of Unleavened Bread came round, the day on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed, and he sent Peter and John saying, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover’. ‘where do you want us to prepare it?’ they asked. ‘Listen,’ he said, as you go into the city you will meet a man carrying a water jar. Follow him into the house he enters and tell the owner of the house, “The master has this to say to you: Where is the dining room in which I can eat the Passover with my disciples?” The man will show you a large room furnished with couches. Make preparations there.’ They set off and found everything as he had told them and prepared the Passover.
When the hour came he took his seat at the table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, ‘I have longed to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; because, I tell you, I shall not eat it again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.
Then taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, ‘Take this and share it among you, because from now on, I tell you, I shall not drink wine until the kingdom of God comes.’ Then he took some bread, and when he had given thanks, broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body which will be given for you; do this as a memorial of me’
He did the same with the cup after supper, and said,
This cup is the new covenant in my blood
which is poured out for you.”
Matthew, Mark and Luke, the three synoptic gospels, are in agreement on the general outline of events that took place on this night, before the day of his crucifixion, when Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples. John’s Gospel, however, does not share this basic synoptic outline. Rather, the fourth Gospel paints a different picture of this holy night. On this night, John tells us, Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment and a new mandate. “A new commandment I give unto you,” he tells them, “love one another as I have loved you, you also must love one another. By this love you have for one another, everyone will know that you are my disciples.”
In this new commandment, this mandate, the tradition of Jesus has blessed us with the name for this Holy Day, Maundy Thursday. Maundy is derived from the Latin word ‘mandatum’ which means to mandate or to command. We are, therefore, on this Holy Day, given two very precious gifts by our Lord, Jesus Christ.
The first gift is the Eucharist. Eucharist is a Greek which word means ‘Thanksgiving.’ In this ‘Thanksgiving’ we remember not only his gifts of bread and wine, which has become for us his body and his blood, but we also remember and encounter his very real and physical presence among us. We are re-membered, through this sacrament, to our Lord Jesus Christ and to one another. We become one with Him as He becomes one with us, in and through his body, in order to become his body, the Church, for the world. This is precisely why this night is so important to Christians all over the world because in it, and through it, we are gifted with this Holy, Eternal and Transcendent Mystery from God. We are given this Blessed Sacrament, this Holy Communion, this Eucharist to re-member Him and celebrate Him until He comes again. It is the central act of authentic Christian worship.
The second gift is equally important. On this night we are also gifted, as His disciples incorporated into His Body, with a new calling and vocation. This second gift is His New Commandment. This new mandate transcends all of the laws and commandments that preceded Him. Jesus spoke directly and simply to his disciples and said, ‘love one another as I have loved you.’ These simple words were a commandment to agape which is a self-less love for one another. Yes, this is a new commandment unlike any other that preceded it. It was not just about a rigid obedience to the letter of the law as it had been handed down to Moses on Mt. Sinai. It was about something new and radically different. The Pharisees, after all, were outstanding at following the letter of the law but love for others was often far from their hearts.
In vivid contrast to Pharisaic legalism, Jesus calls us, as he called his first disciples, to a new kind of obedience - to the spirit of the law. It is this new spirit of the law that is at the heart of the law. Since it is about the heart, it is about the very core of God’s being which, as revealed in Jesus Christ, is divine love, mercy and grace not only for His people but also for all that He has made.
As disciples of God’s incarnate Son, Jesus Christ, we are daily marked not only with his sacrificial cross but we are also marked out as His holy people. Our calling is to give witness through our lives, by word and deed, to His divine, redeeming grace through a ministry of mercy and love toward all whom we meet. Jesus exemplified this agape, this love, when he washed the feet of his disciples on this Holy Night. When He did this He became their servant. Through this action of washing He called them, just as He calls us, to follow His example and to become servants to one another.
“Greater Love,” he told them, “has no one then that he lay down his life for another.” 2000 years later He tells us, on this Maundy Thursday, the same thing; ‘love one another as I have loved you.”
May God grant us both courage and strength to follow our Saviour’s example and also to nourish us for His service with the Bread of Heaven and the Cup of Salvation.
Almighty and everlasting God,
behold we approach the sacrament of the passion of
your only begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ.
As sick, we come to the physician of life;
as unclean, to the fountain of mercy;
as blind to the light of eternal splendor;
as needy, to the Lord of heaven and earth.
We pray you of your divine mercy to heal our sickness,
to wash our foulness,
to lighten our darkness,
and to enrich our poverty;
that receiving the Body and Blood of your dear Son,
we may be incorporated into his mystical body
and ever be reckoned as his members,
who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns one God, world without end.
Strengthen, O Lord, the hands which have stretched out
to receive your holy things,
that they may daily bring forth fruit to your glory.
Grant that the ears which have heard your songs may be closed
to the voice of clamour and dispute;
that the eyes which have seen your great love may also behold your blessed hope;
that the tongues have uttered your praise may speak the truth;
that the feet which have trodden your courts
may walk in the region of light;
that the souls and bodies which have fed upon your living Body
may be restored to newness of life.
From the Liturgy of the Church of Malabar
Then the Pharisees went away to work out between them how to trap Jesus in what he said. And they sent their disciples to him, together with the Herodians, to say, ‘Master, we know that you are an honest man and teach the way of God in an honest way, and that you are not afraid of anyone, because a man’s rank means nothing to you. Tell us your opinion, then. Is it permissible to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’But Jesus was aware of their malice and replied, ‘You hypocrites! Why do you set this trap for me? Let me see the money you pay the tax with.’ They handed him a denarius, and he said, “Whose head is on this? Who’s name?’ ‘Caesar’s’ they replied. He then said to them, “Very well, give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar – and to God what belongs to God.’ This reply took them by surprise, and they left him alone and went away.”
This, perhaps, is one of the best known stories that underscores the subtly subversive wisdom of Jesus. It occurs on the fourth day of our eight day Holy Week. Confronted by disciples of the Pharisees, who sought to trip him up, their goal was to have him arrested. Once arrested, and in their hands, he would be tried and convicted for crimes against the Empire. Upon his conviction he could be easily removed from the scene and put to death. Jesus, however, was fully aware of their attempt to entrap him. Not only did he elude this trap but also ensnared them in a trap of their own making. At the same time, he also uttered one of the most famous statements of all time: “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s.”
Not only had Jesus sent them away amazed and dumfounded by his response but he had also exposed their own hypocrisy, collusion, and sin. To begin with, a faithful Jew in Jesus’ time should never have had in his possession a Roman coin. Why? Because it bore a graven image! Whose face is on it? Whose name? The image is that of Caesar! The name is that of Caesar!
The first commandment, handed down by YHWH-God through Moses, absolutely forbid graven images. Jewish coins were never emblazoned with a graven image of a human form, or a deity, or even, an animal. Roman coins, however, were. This rule was (and is) obeyed scrupulously. In the modern State of Israel there are no coins that bear any image of man, beast, or idol. To have something like this in your possession would be idolatry. Jesus had trapped these emissaries in their own hypocrisy and sin.
Secondly, Jesus made an even more important point about image bearing when he said ‘and render unto God that which is God’s.’ Christians and Jews both clearly understand from the Genesis creation account that every human being is made in the image of God.
Yes, we bear God’s image! This factual religious statement challenges the believer in their allegiances. To whom or to what are we to be faithful? Is there an order of priorities? Who has primary call upon us? Is it our earthly rulers (elected or not) or our Creating Redeeming God?
This question has plagued the faithful, both Christian and Jew, from the earliest of times and over the centuries. It was this question that gnawed at the heart and soul of Dietrich Bonhoeffer during the tumultuous years of World War II. Although he lived and taught theology in New York City, at war’s outbreak in September 1939, he rejected the advice of his Union Seminary colleagues, and returned to Germany to bear witness to Jesus Christ amidst the horrors of both war and holocaust. He clearly saw that his ultimate allegiance was neither to earthly leaders nor to earthly powers but, rather, to the Holy and to the Divine. He bore witness not to Caesar but to God. He challenged the earthly rulers and gave praise to the King of Heaven. For this he was executed (hanged by piano wire until dead) in the closing days of the European conflict in early April 1945.
Bonhoeffer is but one of many Christian witnesses down through the centuries and millennia who have struggled with this pointed Holy Week question: Who has primary claim on my life, Caesar or God? Whose Image do I bear?
In these trying times we, too, may be struggling with this question. Indeed, Christians all over the world struggle with this question. In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic Communist China is, once again, bulldozing Christian churches, harvesting lungs and other body parts from living Uyghur Muslims to be transplanted into their favored ones, and, according to some horrifying reports, cremating elderly Corona virus victims even though they are still alive. While all of this is happening, we have politicians in our country who, although they profess to be Christian, are not only beneficiaries of Chinese largesse but also have become apologists for this thugish state and its crimes against humanity. As Christians we have an obligation to our Creator God and to his creation to confront even our own in their complicity, hypocrisy, and wickedness. After all, whose image do we bear? And who has first call on our allegiance and faithfulness?
Eternal God, who rules the world from everlasting to everlasting: Speak to our hearts when men faint for fear, and the love of many grows cold, and there is distress of nations upon the earth. Keep us resolute and steadfast in the things that cannot be shaken; and make us lift up our eyes and behold, beyond the things that are seen and temporal, the things that are unseen and eternal, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
O Lord our God, in whose hands is the issue of all things, and who requires from your servants not success but faithfulness: Give us such faith in you and in your purposes, that we measure not our lives by what we have done or failed to do, but your obedience to your holy will,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Next morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered to the roots. Peter remembered, “Look, Rabbi,” he said to Jesus “the fig tree you cursed has withered away.” Jesus answered, ‘Have faith in God. I tell you solemnly, if anyone says to this mountain, “Get up and throw yourself into the sea”, with no hesitation in his heart but believing that it will happen, it will be done for him. I tell you therefore; everything you ask for and pray for, believe that you already have it, and it will be yours. And when you stand in prayer, forgive whatever you have against anybody, so that your father in heaven may forgive your failings too.”
They came to Jerusalem again, and as Jesus was walking in the Temple, the chief priest, the scribes and the elders came to him, and they said to him, “What authority have you for acting like this? Or who gave you authority to do these things?” Jesus said to them, ‘I will ask you a question, only one; answer me and I will tell you my authority for acting like this. John’s baptism: did it come from heaven, or from man? Answer me that.’ And they argued it out this way among themselves: ‘If we say from heaven, he will say, “Then why did you refuse to believe him?” but if we dare to say from man?’ – they had the people to fear, for everyone held that John was a real prophet. So their reply to Jesus was, ‘We do not know.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Nor will I tell you my authority for acting like this.” Mark 11:20-33
Once again, on this the third day of our eight day Holy Week, we find Jesus returning to Jerusalem and to the Temple. The fig tree, cursed by him the previous day, had withered and died. Of course, the tree stands, as it always has, as a metaphor for Israel. The withered tree is emblematic of what will come to pass in the next few years, namely, that the Jewish state will meet the same fate as the tree: Judea, like the tree, has born no fruit and it will die. This harsh judgment came to pass in 70 A.D. when the Roman Empire, with its armies, destroyed Judea and leveled the city of Jerusalem. In the great Diaspora that followed, the Jewish people were scattered all over the known world.
What the ancient prophets had foretold, and what Jesus also saw, was the coming wrath of God poured out upon a people who had failed to fulfill their holy calling. The Hebrew Scriptures and the prophets had made their vocation clear: Israel was “to be a blessing to all peoples and to the nations.” They had failed in their mission. They had failed to be witnesses of God’s mercy and grace. Instead, they had selfishly kept God’s gifts for themselves. And so, God’s judgment came upon them and their nation was destroyed.
As we approach the cross and resurrection of Jesus we need to ask ourselves the same questions that the prophets and Jesus asked of Israel and Judea. Have we, who name ourselves after Christ in our Baptism as Christians, been faithful to our calling to be witness to the mercy and grace of God? Have we forgiven others as we ourselves have been forgiven? Have we loved God with all our heart, mind, body, and soul? And, have we loved our neighbor’s as ourselves? In this time of national peril can we answer these questions affirmatively?
But there is a second aspect to this day that is found in the second half of the reading from Mark: It is the question of authority – “By what authority do you do this?” This is no ordinary question. Rather, it is a question of supreme and ultimate importance. In Judaism no one had authority except the law giver himself, and, that was/is YHWH God Himself speaking to and through Moses. This God given authority was, in a real sense, made incarnate through Moses on Mt. Sinai. Even as Christians, we still live with and under this God given authority.
The chief priests, the scribes and the Pharisees, none of them had authority. They were only witnesses to God’s authority as it had been revealed in and through Moses. Jesus’ claims, therefore, were shocking even blasphemous to the religious leaders of his time. Nonetheless, Jesus claimed this authority and for this very reason he had to be killed. But his authority will be confirmed in a mere five days by his resurrection from the dead. His disciples and others who had followed Jesus and had called him Rabbi will be stunned by the events of that day. It will shake them to the very core of their being. They will be humbled at his resurrection appearances. They will kneel before him and say, “My Lord and my God!”
Again, as we approach the cross and the resurrection of Jesus, we need to ask ourselves a second question which is related to the first question above, and it is this: Who or what is the authority that governs your life? Enlivens your life with purpose? And gives meaning to you and your life?
There are so many competing authorities in our world that constantly swirl around us and make demands upon us. Certainly our government is a most demanding authority. But can it save us from the ultimate reality of death? No! It can’t. The current pandemic gives bleak testimony to the success of governmental authority but so, too, does any disease, or war, or catastrophic event which, from time to time, afflicts every nation and its people.
Your career, job, or vocation may be another demanding authority. Schooling and higher education is also an authority that makes demands. Indeed, there are always the demands of husband, wife, and family and they, too, can be authoritative. The culture around us, and its mean-spirited step child, ‘political correctness’, are both very demanding and un-yielding authorities that influence many a weak mind and warp our senses. All of these lesser demands may give purpose or meaning to us in the short run, but, ultimately, they will disappoint as they cannot bring us from beyond the grave and back to life again.
There is only one authority that transcends all claimants to authority and which gives both ultimate purpose and deepest of meaning to our lives. That singular authority is God himself, as revealed to us, in His incarnate Son, Jesus the Christ. It is this Jesus, who overturned death through his own death and resurrection, who gives to us this hope-filled promise of God…We shall be saved! We shall be redeemed! And we shall live again!
Graciously hear us, O heavenly Father, for those who guard the health of the nation, that they may preserve us from sickness and disease; for those who guide the thought of the nation, that they may inspire us with worthy and noble ideals; for those who mold the character of the nation, that they may fashion us into a people strong in faith, justice and righteousness, to the glory of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
O God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, give us grace, we beseech you, to walk worthy of you, so as to be pleasing in your sight; that being fruitful in our witness and every good work, and in increasing in our knowledge of you, we may be made worthy in Him and at last to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light, through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.
Next day as they were leaving Bethany, he felt hungry. Seeing a fig tree in leaf some distance away, he went to see if he could find any fruit on it, but when he came up to it he found nothing but leaves; for it was not the season for figs. And he addressed the tree. “May no one ever eat fruit from you again” he said. And his disciples heard him say this.
So they reached Jerusalem and he went into the temple and began driving out those who were selling and buying there; he upset the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those who were selling pigeons. Nor would he allow anyone to carry anything through the Temple. And he taught them and said, “Does not scripture say: My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples? But you have turned it into a robber’s den.” This came to the ears of the chief priests and the scribes, and they tried to find some way of doing away with him; they were afraid of him because the people were carried away with his teaching.
According to the Gospel of Mark, these two events occurred on the day after Palm Sunday. It was the day after Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey surrounded by crowds and children shouting ‘Hosanna to the Son of David.’ Yes, Jesus came to Jerusalem. But now, on this day, he comes to the very heart of Jerusalem as he comes to the Temple. Once inside the Temple, Jesus performs an act that scandalizes and deeply offends the priestly caste and those in authority. He overturns the tables of commerce that were set up inside the House of the Lord. This Hebrew word used for table can also be translated as ‘bank’. So what upset Jesus, in this dramatic episode, was the commercial and the financial apparatus, and all the profiteering that was the underpinning reality of the corruption in the Temple of Jesus’ time.
The simple truth was this: the temple had become an elaborate ‘ponzi scheme’ that enriched the already rich and powerful of Jerusalem. At the same time, however, it impoverished the people who came there to make sacrifices to God and offer their prayers to the Holy One of Israel.
Those who traveled to the Temple to make a sacrifice were forbidden from bringing their own animal for sacrifice. Rather, they had to purchase an approved animal from an approved vendor and the purchase had to be made with the approved temple shekel and not with an ordinary street shekel.
This, of course, meant two very expensive things:
1. The street shekel had to be exchanged for an authorized Temple shekel. This necessary Temple shekel was sold by the bankers at a very inflated exchange rate and produced a substantial profit for the seller.
2.) Sacrificial animals could only be gotten from approved vendors of livestock and had to be purchased with the Temple currency. Moreover, these purchased animals had to be blemish free, washed, and clean. And so they too were sold at an inflated rate and at substantial profit.
All those associated with this tawdry business inside the Temple were on the path to riches. Some reports indicate that it might have cost an entire year’s wages for a particularly serious or extravagant sacrifice.
Is it any wonder, then, that Jesus was deeply offended by the daily carryings on inside the hallowed halls of the Temple? In this, his uncharacteristically violent deed, he challenged the rich, the powerful, and the authorities of his time.
It is also no wonder, then, that these same rich and powerful elite conspired to do away with him. As the old adage goes, “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” and the Temple, along with its leadership was corrupt through and through.
After my most recent pilgrimage to the Holy Lands, I would add two additional points to that adage which I learned from our Jordanian Christian guide. He said to me, “The ordinary people of the Middle East simply want to be left alone and to live their lives in peace. But the violence and wars that plague us come from those who seek money, power, and control over us.” What this wise guide said is true for all of us. It is not just a truth for and about the turmoil in the Arab world. It is the ongoing truth of our own time and of every time.
In this second day (of the formal eight days) of Holy Week, perhaps we could reflect on the words and deeds of Jesus and learn for ourselves how to overturn the tables on those who seek only our money for themselves, who seek power over us, and are willing to do most anything to extend their control over our every words and deeds.
Yes, in so many ways the words, the deeds, and life of Jesus are liberating but they are also deeply subversive to those who would use the current crisis of Covid-19 (or any crisis) to serve their own ends. As one politician infamously said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste!” Like Jesus, we need to see the corruption that is around us, and within us, and set right our own temples, even the temples of money, power, and control, that they may not serve mere mammon, but that they may serve God, his people, and his creation.
Almighty and everlasting God, comfort of the sad and strength to those who suffer:
Let the prayers of your children who are in any trouble
rise to you.
To everyone in distress grant mercy, grant relief,
grant refreshment; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
O God, in your love you have given us gifts which our forebearers neither knew nor dreamed of. Mercifully grant that we may not be so occupied with material
things that we forget the things which are spiritual and thus,
even though we have gained the whole world, lose our souls;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
From the Pastor:
Perhaps you did not know this, but the rubrics of the Church for Palm Sunday actually state that the Pastor should not preach a sermon on Palm Sunday. This sermon-less Sunday is observed in most churches because the Passion Reading (This year the Passion According to Matthew) is very lengthy and states all that needs to be said. The rubrics also call for a period of silent reflection to follow the Passion reading. Although, I have never followed this rubric, as your pastor, and for this year only, I encourage you to read the entire passion story (included with the bulletin sent to you) and then reflect upon it, for this 18th day of Prayer. Reflect on the words of this Gospel in silence and, perhaps, share with one another how this account gives meaning and purpose to you in your life and at this particular time.
Ride on, ride on in majesty!
Hear all the tribes hosanna cry;
O Saviour meek, your road pursue
With palms and scattered garments strewed.
Ride on, ride on in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die.
O Christ, your triumphs now begin
O’er captive death and conquered sin.
Ride on, ride on in majesty!
The winged squadrons of the sky
Look down with sad and wond’ring eyes
To see the approaching sacrifice
Ride on, ride on in majesty!
Your last fiercest strife is nigh.
The Father on his sapphire throne
awaits his own anointed Son.
Ride on, ride on in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die,
Bow your meek head to mortal pain,
Then take, O Christ, your pow’r and reign.
Henry Hart Milman
Come, let us return to the Lord;
for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us;
He has struck down, and will bind us up.
After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will raise us up,
that we may live before him.
Here we are, on the Saturday before Palm Sunday, with Holy Week now staring us in the face: We will have no palms to wave, no procession within our church to welcome the Messiah, no corporate reading of the Passion according to St. Matthew, and no Holy Communion on this important Sunday. Yet, in the midst of our current turmoil and isolation, the Prophet Hosea speaks these dynamic words that could take us in a better direction. He calls us to go beyond our fears and frustrations to see things differently. He urges us to walk with him on a different path, a holy path, a healing path, a spiritual path, by stating, “Come let us return to the Lord, for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.”
As people of faith, we need to hear these words and then place our trust in the mercy and grace of our healing God. I know that, on an intellectual level, we know truth of these words but this is a time to know these words viscerally; that is to say, deep within every fiber of our being. God is with us! We are not alone. None of us are alone. Our baptism and our faith keep whispering this into our ears but the clamor of the 24 hour news cycle is making us deaf and numb to the very words we desperately need to hear.
With tomorrow, Palm Sunday, Jesus enters into Jerusalem and thereby enters into the whole point and purpose of his life and his death. This Saviour, this Redeemer, this Jesus comes to us for the sake of the world, for all of creation, and for you; to revive us, to raise us up, so that we may live before him. At this time, in particular, God, through his incarnation, is standing with us!
Walter Brueggemann, wrote these timely and remarkable words; “the crucifixion of Jesus is not to be understood in good liberal fashion as the sacrifice of a noble man, nor should we too quickly assign a cultic, priestly theory of atonement to the event. Rather, we might see in the crucifixion of Jesus the ultimate act of prophetic criticism in which Jesus announces the end of the world of death (the same announcement of that of Jeremiah) and take that death into his own person.
Therefore we say that the ultimate criticism is that God embraces the death that all people must die. The criticism consists not in standing over against but in standing with; the ultimate criticism is not one of triumphant indignation but one of passion and compassion that completely and irresistibly undermine the world of competence and competition. The contrast is stark and total: this passionate man set in the midst of numbed Jerusalem. And only the passion can finally penetrate the numbness.”
Numbed by the times we live in, Hosea underscores this deep and abiding truth; God, through Jesus Christ, is always here with us and for us in every time of need and, yes, even at the hour of our death, to redeem and heal us.
Abide with me, fast falls the eventide,
The darkness deepens Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless oh, abide with me.
I need thy presence every passing hour;
What but thy grace can foil the tempter’s power
Who liked thyself my guide and keep can be?
Through cloud and sunshine oh, abide with me.
Swift to the close ebb’s out life’s little day
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay all around I see;
O thou who changest not, abide with me.
I fear no foe, with thee at hand to bless
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave thy victory?
I triumph still, if thou abide with me!
Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes,
Shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies
Heav’ns’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
Now once he was in a certain place praying, and when he had finished one of his disciples said, ‘Lord teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples’, He said them, ‘Say this when you pray; Luke 11:1-2
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come
thy will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil. Matthew 7:9-12
I must be morphing into a politician because I stated, at the outset of this devotional series, that this would be 15 Days of Prayer; but I was wrong. Unlike a politician, I did not intentionally lie. By this time, I honestly did believe that our ‘stay in place’ order would have been over. It isn’t. But, then, I suspect, most politicians would say much the same sort of thing. Whether or not it would be a sincere statement by a politician would be open for serious speculation. Perhaps, we should all have seen this coming; but we didn’t, and, now we have another 28 days added to our state-wide lock down to endure. For the safety and well-being of others we will endure it.
Some in our community have suggested that we might gather together outside in our parking area for some kind of Sunday worship. It has also been suggested that we might be able to offer a drive through communion. While these suggestions are laudable and speak to a deep spiritual hunger within all of us, it still might be the wrong thing to do. In speaking with the two health care professionals in our congregation, it has been impressed on me that any gathering of this sort, and at this time, could endanger the lives of others. We, as fellowship of faithful Christians, cannot take on that risk.
But what can we do?
The answer is twofold: First of all, at this time, we are called to “remain in place” and to travel only for the necessities of life. This is being done to “flatten the curve” of this disease and save lives. It needs to be taken seriously. But, secondly, there is something that we can do and it has extraordinary power. We can choose to exercise and flex our spiritual muscles. Like a true disciple, we can enter into the discipline of faith by walking with our God in prayer and by reading of his mighty deeds in the scriptures. As I have reminded you in the past, undergird your life with prayer, and model your prayer life on that of the first disciples. They prayed three times a day: morning, noon and night. This was the intention and gift of Jesus when his disciples asked Him “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
Like every Jewish rabbi in his time, Jesus gave his disciples a unique prayer that marked them out as his very own. It is a prayer of identity. And this identifying rabbinic prayer would be prayed, along with other prayers, and according to Jewish tradition, three times a day: morning, noon and night. When Jesus gifted his disciples with the “Our Father” He marked them out, and marked us, as his own forever.
My strongest desire for you at this time, and for the rest of your earthly journey, is to pray following the ancient example of discipleship. Pray this “Disciple’s Prayer”, along with your other prayers; first thing in the morning; at noon; and at the end of your day. Let these words of Jesus wash over you and course through every fiber of your being. Do not just mouth the petitions of the prayer but listen to them, meditate upon them, reflect on them, and let them roll over and over in your mind. When you do this, it will forever transform and shape your life in ways you may never have imagined! You will become what you hear. You will become a disciple.
This prayer not only unites us to God, the Father, and to Jesus, His ‘only begotten Son’, but it also unites, through the power of the Spirit, to everyone throughout the world, and throughout time and eternity, who pray it, have prayed it, or, in future, will pray it. The prayer is timeless and eternal. Meditate and reflect on the petitions, and then incorporate them into your very life.
This willful act of prayer will mold you, shape you, and give new form to you and to your life. Your words and your deeds, empowered by prayer, will guide you on the path to become what you desire to be…an authentic disciple of our master himself, Jesus the Christ, our Lord and Saviour.
We could do nothing better with this gift of time apart, (especially now, in our world of confusion, uncertainty, and fear) then to employ this great gift of prayer for ourselves and in the service of others.
Lord, teach us how to pray aright,
With reverence and fear.
Though dust and ashes in your sight,
We may, we must, draw near.
We perish if we cease from prayer;
Oh, grant us power to pray.
And when to meet you we prepare,
Lord meet us on our way.
Give deep humility;
the sense of Godly sorrow give;
and strong desire, with confidence,
To hear your voice and live.
Faith is the only sacrifice
That can for sin atone;
to cast our hopes, to fix our eyes
On Christ, on Christ alone.
Give these, And then your will be done;
Thus strengthened with all might,
We, through your Spirit and your Son,
Shall pray, and pray aright.
James Montgomery 1771-1854
I, the prisoner in the Lord, implore you therefore to lead a life worthy of your vocation. Bear with one another charitably, in complete selflessness, gentleness and patience. Do all you can to preserve the unity of the Spirit by the peace that binds you together. There is one Body, one Spirit, just as you were all called into one and the same hope when you were called. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God who is Father of all, over all, through all and within all.
Just when we thought the current health crisis ‘Stay at Home Order’ would be over, the Governor extended it for another 28 days. Now we are all to stay in place until the end of April. In a very real sense we are imprisoned and, in that regard, share something with the Apostle Paul who wrote the Letter to the Ephesians from prison. Paul’s letters were written to encourage, lift up and strengthen those in whom he had planted the seed of faith, to those who had placed their hope in Jesus Christ as Saviour of the world.
Paul’s advice is stellar. As he wrote to the Ephesians, so too his words speak to us today. This particular line is of special importance, “Bear with one another charitably, in complete selflessness, gentleness and patience.”
Working backwards (because the first shall be last and the last shall be first):
1. Patience: I do not know about you but I do know this about myself – I confess that my patience is wearing thin. I find myself losing patience more often than usual. I suspect this may be the case with all of us. We might call it cabin fever or, if we lived in Hawaii, ‘island fever’. But living in isolation and with the fever of the moment, I find myself unusually impatient with myself, with those around me, with the gadgetry of home and office (when things don’t work as I would like them to work), and even with all the animals of my household. However, as a follower of Jesus Christ, Paul exhorts me (as he exhorts all of us) to ‘patience.” Patience is a vital part of our Christian vocation. Indeed, it is a virtue. At this time of unusual stress, with its unusual demands, we need to learn, work on, and practice patience not only with others but also with ourselves.
2. Gentleness: During this unusually stressful time, gentleness will go a long way in bringing calm and healing to others and even to ourselves. We may not be engaging with others as we did only a few days ago but when do (as when we go to the local market for provisions), we need to practice gentleness. Ask the clerks and other employees (who are daily exposed to a wide variety of people and their illnesses or rudeness) how they are doing. Wish them good health and strength to carry on in their work as they serve the needs of others. Courtesy is always good manners, but now is a time to go beyond mere courtesy and on to gentleness. These are stressful times and our gentleness towards others will enable them, in turn, to be gentle with others.Make this gentleness a transcendent action of your faith that will bring healing and health to others.
3. Complete Selflessness: The shelves in so many stores are empty. Why? I guess we could call it the need for self-preservation but, unfortunately, the answer is more likely darker than that. Could it be that our instinct for self-preservation is in all honesty selfishness? As Admiral Dewy said, at the Battle of Manila Bay during the Spanish-American War in 1898, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.” In our grasping for ourselves are we not really saying, “ Damn all the others, full speed ahead I am gonna get all I can get! I’m gonna get mine.” This all too human behavior is beyond being thoughtless and stupid. It is greed. From a Christian perspective it is against the will of God and immoral. The ancient church called it a “mortal sin”. To this day the Catholic Church still labels it as the same thing - “a deadly sin.” As Christians we are bidden to transcend our innate greed and selfishness in order to share with others: it is called “selflessness”.
4. Charity: is derived from the Latin word ‘caritas’ and means of or from the heart…hence the English word cardiac. Charity, then, is an act of the heart and an act grounded in love. As we reflect on caritas/charity a passage from I Samuel immediately springs to mind:
“God does not see as man sees, for Man looketh upon outward appearances but God looketh upon the heart.” I Samuel 16:7
In this same chapter 17 of I Samuel, David, the least of his brothers, is anointed, by Samuel, as the next King of Israel. Why is David anointed king? He is anointed king because God has looked into his heart and his heart had won God’s divine favor. When all of this Covid-19 fervor is over and God surveys the wreckage around us, what will He see in us? Will he see our “caritas” our selfless acts of love?
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus often spoke of love but, in the difficulties of this time these, two passages stand:
"Love one another as I have loved you.”
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your soul. This is the first and the great commandment and the second is like unto it;
love your neighbor as yourself.”
Yes, as we look at another 28 days of “stay in place” Paul has prescribed for us a special curative and a special antidote and the prescription is this:
“Bear with one another in charity, in complete selflessness, gentleness and patience.”
Give us, O Lord, a steadfast heart, which no unworthy thought can drag downwards; an unconquered heart, which no tribulation can wear out; and upright heart, which no unworthy purpose may tempt aside. Bestow upon us also, O Lord our God, understanding to know thee, diligence to seek thee, wisdom to find thee, and a faithfulness that may finally embrace thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Better is one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in
the house of my God
then dwell in the tents of the wicked.
For the Lord is a sun and shield;
the Lord bestows favor and honor;
no good thing does he withhold
from those whose walk is blameless.
O Lord Almighty,
blessed is the man who trusts in you.
Psalm 84: 10-12
Beginning tomorrow night on Thursday, April 2, our state Governor, Ron de Santis, has ordered all of us in Florida to stay in place, in our homes, and to leave them for no reason other than essential needs. No one really knows how long this will last. But it will be the cause of stress for some of us and, indeed, a strain for most all of us.
Last night I spoke with a relative of mine who lives in the Oakland Hills of the San Francisco Bay area. She is a widowed and a retired nurse. I asked her how she was holding up under the stay at home orders in California. She said she was doing just fine. She was obeying the orders and staying in place except for planned trips to the grocery store. She was, however, keeping busy by taking care of many neglected duties around her home. And that was why she called me because she had found, in cleaning things and going through old files, something she knew would be of great importance to me and she wanted to mail it to me.
In her isolation she had found something important. Think about that for a moment…she had used this time to go over things, in a sense, to ‘clean house’, and put things in order and she had found something of importance. Perhaps, like Patty Gardner, we can use this time to go over things, try to bring some order back into our disheveled lives, and maybe, just maybe we will discover something of importance. What that important thing may be, I don’t know, and neither do you. But if we can see beyond the stress and the strain of this time away maybe, just maybe, we might discover something of true and lasting value. This discovery might be something of material importance and of great worth. It might be something that was thought to be lost but now is found. It might be a discovery about our self and our own interior reservoir of gifts and strengths. Or could it be a discovery about the deeper needs of our own spiritual life and our relationship to the eternal creator God through faith in Jesus Christ. Whatever it might be, we can choose now to make it a time of great internal creativity or even personal re-creation.
I do not know what discoveries you might find in this time away from all the clutter and noise of the world that usually surrounds us. But I do know this – if we can see this time as a gift from God it might be one of the most important times of your life. Perhaps it may be just to ‘clean house’, so to speak. But if that ‘house’ is your own life, this time away will not have been wasted.
In the silence and beauty of this time away we can choose to deepen and enrich our own knowledge of ourselves and what is of ultimate and enduring importance to us and to the lives of all whom we love. Most importantly of all, we can deepen and enrich our own journey through this life, and onto the next, as we learn to walk more closely with God and place our trust in Him who created, redeemed us and called us to be His own.
O Lord God of time and eternity, who has made us creatures of time, that, when time is over, we may attain your blessed eternity: With time, your gift, give us wisdom to redeem the time, lest our day of grace be lost, for our Lord’s sake. Amen.
When the hour came he took his place at table,
and the apostles with him. And he said to them,
“I have longed to eat this Passover with you before I suffer;
because, I tell you,
I shall not eat it again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”
Then, taking a cup, he gave thanks and said,
“Take this and share it among you,
because from now on, I tell you,
I shall not drink wine until the kingdom of God comes."
Then he took some bread and when he had given thanks,
broke it and gave it to them saying,
“This is my body which will be given for you;
do this in remembrance of me.” He did the same
with the cup after supper, and said,
“this cup is the new covenant in my blood
which will be poured out for you.” Luke 22:14-20
During this time of isolation and separation I, for one, don’t really feel that much depravation. I am not hungry for food; my pantry and freezer are filled. I am not hungry for stimulation as I have books to read, and a wide variety of old BBC videos to watch. If I want news it is all around me on the internet; it keeps me abreast of everything. I do not lack for something to do as I come into the church daily to write these devotionals, to read the e-mails, the regular mail, to hear voice mails and then to respond to them as best I can under the current situation. And then, I have my household of dogs and cats that demand my daily attention for food, water, walks outside and strokes of love.
But there is one thing I truly hunger for and it is this - our Sunday morning worship. Centered on word and sacrament, the Holy Eucharist, is the great and enduring tradition and gift of the Universal Church to all who believe and place their hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. I deeply miss it! My soul yearns for it!
Moreover, our weekly assembly, as I have said many times, is the holy re-membering of our church family as the Body of Christ. Though we have different gifts and a wide variety of talents, as individual members, when we gather at the altar, we are re-membered as one body to love and serve the Lord. It is this communal aspect of Holy Communion that makes it so life sustaining and vital to our corporate life in Christ.
Thomas aKempis (1380-1471) expresses my own hunger, and perhaps yours as well, with the following words written nearly 600 years ago in his magnificent work The Imitation of Christ.
“My soul desires to receive Your Body, my heart desires to be made one with You. Come to me, Lord, and it is sufficient, for without you there is no comfort. Without You, I cannot be; without your visitation, I cannot live. Therefore it behooves me often to go to you and for my health to receive You, lest, if I were deprived of this heavenly meat, I should perhaps fail in the way. So You Yourself said, most merciful Jesus, as you were preaching to the people and healing them of their sickness: I will not let them return to their houses fasting, lest they fall by the way. Do with me, therefore in like manner, You who have left Yourself in this glorious Sacrament for the comfort of all the faithful people,
You are, in truth, the true nourishment of the soul, and he who worthily receives You will be partaker and heir of eternal glory. It is necessary for me, who often offends, who soon grows dull and slow, to renew myself by frequent prayers and confessions, and to purify myself and kindle myself to alertness and fervor of spirit, lest perhaps by long absence from the Blessed Sacrament I fall away from such a holy purpose. The mind of man and woman is, from youth, proud and prone to evil, and unless this heavenly medicine gives help, they may soon fall from worse to worse, Therefore, Holy Communion draws a man away from evil and strengthens him in goodness.”
We too hunger, during this time of ‘distancing’, for one another. We hunger for our own church family, and for the Body of Christ. We hunger for the real presence of Christ who comes to us beneath the forms of bread and wine. We hunger for the Bread of Life and for the Cup of Salvation. And, as Luther taught us in his table prayer, so we now cry out, from the depths of our souls, ‘Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest and let these gifts to us be blest.’
Strengthen, O Lord, the hands which have been
stretched out to receive your holy things,
that they may daily bring forth fruit to your glory.
Grant that the ears which have heard your songs
may be closed to the voice of clamour and dispute;
that the eyes which have seen your great love
may also behold your blessed hope;
that the tongues which have uttered your praise may speak the truth;
that the feet which have trodden your courts
may walk in the region of light;
that the souls and bodies which have fed upon your living Body
may be restored to newness of life.
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opened and the spirit descended upon him like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.”
The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days; tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to him. Mark I: 12-13
Just when we thought we were coming to the end of this current trial we were baptized with a dose of reality: Last night the President announced that the current state of affairs, with most everyone social distancing or self-isolating and many businesses closed, will continue as the norm until at least April 30. Yes, we were hoping that the bans would be lifted and that we could return to normal and at least celebrate Easter Sunday. But that hope now seems out of the question. So what are we to do now?
The simple answer, found in its most simple form, is in the Gospel according to Mark: “The Spirit drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness for 40 days.” We have at least 25 more days to go in the wilderness of societal shock brought on us by the covid-19 epidemic.
Many of us may see this as a curse. It will most certainly bring on financial difficulties for many of us as we struggle to pay our bills, while businesses shutter, and payrolls are cut. There is no doubt about it, these are difficult times! Most of us have never experienced anything like it.
However, difficult as it may seem, it is also possible that we could see another side to all of this; a side we might call the salutary side. Could it be that this extended time of abstaining from our everyday rituals, work and ways might actually bring some healing and renewal into our lives and culture? In the usual course of things we are absorbed by so many things that divert our attention away from family and friends and community and from the basics of life.
Even before the advent of this disease many of us were already the walking wounded and we didn’t even know, see it, or understand it. We were focused on the periphery, on the many things we felt we had to do for work, for money, for play, and for pleasure. Yet much of this took us away from some of the most important things in our lives that are really found nearer to home and the source of it all – GOD.
Maybe this is a wake-up call, or the 6 AM alarm that rouses you for work, only now you are being called to a new reality and perhaps a new work. What were you created for? What are your sincerest goals? What is the authentic purpose of your life? Where are you going?
For those who choose to see beyond the immediate and to what lies ahead, to the future and, yes, even to eternity, this could be a most productive time. Indeed it could be a salutary time, a time in the wilderness, a time that will give us the strength, vision, and wisdom for all that is ahead. Praise God.
Give me grace, good Lord, to set the world at naught; To set my mind fast upon thee and not hand upon the blast of men’s mouths;
To be content to be solitary; not too long for worldly company; by little and little utterly to cast off the world, and rid my mind of all the business there of;
Not long to hear the worldly things, But that the hearing of worldly fantasies may be to me displeasant. Gladly to be thinking of God, Piteous to call for his help; To lean on to the comfort of God, Busily to labour to love him;
To walk the narrow way that leadeth to life, to bear the cross with Christ; to have the last thing in remembrance, To have ever before my eyes my death that is ever at hand; to pray for pardon before the Judge to come, to have continually in mind the passion that Christ suffered for me; For his benefits unceasingly to give him thanks; to buy the time again that I before have lost; These thoughts are more to be desired of every man than all the treasure of all the princes and kings, Christian and heathen, were it gathered and laid together all upon one heap.
Thomas Moore (1478-1535)
Pax Christi, Mark Reiff+
“If only you had been here, my brother would not have died!
These words of anguish and abandonment were spoken, in anger and disappointment, by
Martha to Jesus as he approached the town of Bethany, only a ‘Sabbath day’s journey from
Jerusalem.’ Her brother was dead and she, and her sister Mary, were devastated and bereft.
Indeed, Mary, when she was told that Jesus was near, confronted Jesus with the same hostile
question, that her older sister had already asked. “If only you had been here, my brother
would not have died!”
“If only”, “If only”, “If only” how many times have all of us used these exact same words
over the course of our lives? “If only I hadn’t walked to work that day.” “If only I had taken
a different route.” “If only I hadn’t let Jimmy go to school today.” “If only I had gone to the
doctor sooner.” “If only I hadn’t said those angry words before she left the house.” There are
so many ‘if onlys’ that cast long shadows over our lives...and these words often come back
to haunt us during the times of trial that, from time to time, confront us.
How many of us, during this current time of turmoil, disease and disruption, are wrestling,
like Martha and Mary, with this question right now. If you come down with the current plague
that is assaulting our world will that question loom large over your own life?
If only I had stayed home? If only I had used hand-sanitizer? If only I had covered my
cough? If only I hadn’t stood closer?
And, yet, before Jesus set out on his journey to Bethany, John’s Gospel informs us, he told
his disciples that Lazarus was dead! Jesus was already aware and knew the fate of his dear
friend. Jesus allowed it to happen and then he said something stunning; “for your sake I am
glad I was not there, now you will believe. But let us go.”
When Jesus and his disciples finally arrive, amidst the deep grief, anger and anguish, at the
home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, he immediately goes to the tomb of his friend and works
the sixth of seven signs that are contained in the original text of John’s Gospel.
Jesus is warned that Lazarus is now three days dead. He will already be rotting and the stench
of death will be awful. I personally know the putrid horror of this stench from a time, 20
years ago, when I went with a staff member of the San Francisco coroner’s office into the
home of a woman who had been dead for several weeks. The smell of decay and death is
beyond description. It is literally breath taking. It took several washings to get the smell out
of my clothes. Although, I took a shower upon returning home, the smell lingered in my hair
for at least two to three days. I will never forget that smell and hope I will never smell
that smell again. But in the arid heat of Jerusalem the stench would be exacerbated and
Nonetheless, Jesus, upon going to the tomb, ordered the stone rolled away and then spoke
these miraculous words, “Lazarus, come out!” And Lazarus did! He rose from his tomb!
To say that the crowd that accompanied Jesus to the tomb was stunned and amazed
would be a vast understatement. No one had ever seen anything comparable...someone
who was dead has now been brought back to life! The crowd must have been stunned not
only with joy but also shock; nothing like this had ever happened! It was beyond belief!
This sixth sign was also the pivot point for the life of Jesus’ as well. Many of those who
witnessed this event went back to Jerusalem and told the authorities what had happened.
The stunning news sealed Jesus’ fate. At this point Caiaphas, the high priest, declared “it
is better for one man to die for the people, than for the whole nation to be destroyed.”
And Jesus would be sentenced to death. He would be crucified.
What no one understood was this: The death and resurrection of Lazarus prefigured the
death and resurrection of his own savior - Jesus. And, yet, there is a significant difference
between the two deaths and the two resurrections. When Lazarus came out of the tomb
he was wrapped in his burial garments. But when Jesus died and rose from the dead, his
burial garments were left behind and were found by others. Lazarus would need his
shroud again because, like every mortal, he would die again. But Jesus was, and is, no
mere mortal. His resurrection is for all time and eternity and he would never need for his
burial cloths again.
The seventh, and final, sign, from the original text of John’s Gospel, tell us all we need to
know. Because now we know the end of the story: The body of Christ is alive and risen!
Do you understand what this means? As a baptized Christian you are incorporated into
the Body of Christ. Yes, we affirm that Jesus lives, but along with that affirmation we
need to understand that we are, this day and always, the corporate Body of Christ on this
good earth! And, that just as he was resurrected and lives, we too, as his body, will be
resurrected and live again! What a magnificent promise! What a glorious hope! What
Now, along with our fore-bearer Martha, we can say the great confession of faith, “Yes,
Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this
There is no greater prayer, no greater affirmation, no greater words than these at
every time and turn of our lives; in times of joy and in times of sorrow, in times of
turmoil and in times of peace, in times of sickness and in times of health, in the
morning when we rise for the day and in the evening when we surrender to rest, at
the time of birth and at the time of death... “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the
Christ, the Son of God.” Amen.
‘Take care not to be deceived,” he said, “because many will come using my name and say, “I am he,” and, “The time is near at hand,” Refuse to join them. And when you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened, for this is something that must happen but the end is not soon.” Then he said to them, “Nation will fight against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes and plagues and famines here and there; there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven.” Luke 21: 5-7
At the moment, many in our world are engulfed with fear. We fear the future. We fear the Covid-19 virus. We fear for ourselves, our families, our friends. We fear in of the economic downturn. But in the face of all these fears what does Jesus tell his disciples? “Stay awake,” he tells us, “praying for the strength to survive all that is going to happen and to stand with confidence before the Son of Man.” Luke 21:36
While all that is happening all around us may be new to us, it most certainly is not to our world. The western world, and in particular the United States, may have forgotten the past terror of war and famine and disease that have plagued the earth from the beginning. It has been here from the beginning. It is all part of the falleness of our world. We had, in many ways, become accustom to a world where disease and global turmoil were things of the past. We had forgotten that the vast majority of people who lived past the age of 30 lived and live in the 20th and 21st centuries. Most of the world’s population over the centuries died before they reached the age of 30 from disease, famine and war. We have been uniquely blessed in history. Has all of this really changed with the dawn of this current disease? Have we forgotten what our shared faith in Christ Jesus assures us?
If we have, then, perhaps we could listen to the words of those who have gone before us into these same places of despair. These words of wisdom, grounded in faith, and written by St. Augustine, the father of western Christianity, should give us both courage and hope.
“Here,…amidst the dangers and the trials we and others must sing Alleluia, ‘for God is faithful and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength,’ as St. Paul says. So then we must also sing here Alleluia. Man is still a sinner, but God is faithful. Scripture does not say, ‘He will not let you be tempted,” but, “He will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.’…How happy will be our shouts of Alleluia there, how carefree, how secure from an adversary, where there is no enemy, where no friend perishes. There praise is offered to God, and here, too, but here it is by men who are anxious, there by men who are free from care, here by men who must die, there by men who will live forever. Here praise is offered in hope, there by men who enjoy the reality, here by men who are pilgrims on the way, there by men who have reached their own country.
So, brethren, now let us sing Alleluia, not in the joy of heavenly rest, but to sweeten our toil. Sing as travelers sing along the road: but keep on walking. Solace your toil by singing – do not yield to idleness. Sing but keep on walking. What do I mean by “walking”? I mean, press on from good to better. The apostle says there are some who go from bad to worse. But if you press on, you keep on walking. Go forward then in virtue, in true faith and right conduct. Sing up – and keep on walking.
Let not the problems of this day overwhelm me, Lord. Give me to know your grace that is equal to all I may face now and reliable for eternity. Grant me perspective in perplexity, patience in trial, and strength in adversity. Through the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
And when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, brought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week they went to the tomb when the sun had risen. And they were saying to one another, “who will roll the stone away from the door of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw the stone was rolled back; it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, sitting in a white robe; and they were amazed. And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here; see the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. Mark 16:1-8
E. Stanley Jones, who was a mid 20th Methodist missionary to India, once wrote of his experience when he visited Istanbul, Turkey.
“I stood in the Mosque of Saint Sophia, that amazing bit of architecture once a Christian church and now a Mohammedan mosque. All the Christian symbols had been wiped out, and Arabic lettering had been put in. As I stood there, I looked up over the altar place at the dome, and my heart stood still. I grabbed the arm of a friend. I said, “Look! He’s coming back!” I could see that the daubs of the centuries were wearing off, and there was the figure of the ascending Christ, coming back again through the daubs of the centuries. “O,” I said, “you can’t wipe him out. He’s coming back.” This man overthrew empires, and everything that doesn’t fit into his kingdom is doomed. Every tyranny that has come has broken itself upon the silent power of this strange, silent man. My God! What a man!
He’s Lord of death. A Christian preacher was preaching in the bazaars of India, and a Mohammedan said, “Padre Sahib, we have proof in our religion that you haven’t got in yours. We can go to Mecca and find the tomb of Mohammed, but when you go to Palestine you can’t be sure that you’ve got the tomb of Jesus.” “Yes,” said the Christian preacher, “you’re right. We have no tomb in Christianity because we have no corpse,”…
In India they repeat mantras. A priest will whisper a mantra into the ear of his disciple. The disciple doesn’t know what it means, but he repeats it. It’s his life charm….I’d like to whisper into your ear three words. Take it. It’s a life mantra. When in trouble, repeat it. When facing a dilemma, repeat it. When facing sin, repeat it. When facing disaster, repeat it. When facing temptations, repeat it: “Jesus is Lord.” Take those three words and go into tomorrow, and into the future. And there is no future. It’s all present. Jesus is Lord.”
Come ye faithful, raise the strain
Of triumphant gladness!
God has brought his Israel
Into joy from sadness:
Loosened from Pharaoh’s bitter yoke
Jacob’s sons and daughters,
Led them with unmoistened foot
Through the Red Sea waters.
‘Tis the spring of souls today:
Christ has burst his prison;
And from three days’ sleep in death
As a sun has risen.
All the winter of our sins,
long and dark, is flying
From his light, to whom we give
Laud and praise undying.
Now the queen of seasons bright
With the day of splendor,
With the royal feast of feast,
Comes its joy to render:
Come to glad Jerusalem,
Who with true affection
Welcomes in unwearied strains,
St. John of Damascus (676-760)
Pax Christi, Mark Reiff+
O Lord, bent over as I am I can only look downwards; straighten me up so that I can look upwards. Having mounted above my head, my iniquities cover me over; and as a heavy burden they weigh me down. Deliver me from them, unburden me, so that the abyss of iniquities does not engulf me. Permit me, at least from afar or from the deep, to look up towards your light. Teach me to seek you and reveal yourself to me as I seek; for unless you instruct me I cannot seek you, and unless you reveal yourself I cannot find you. Let me seek you in desiring; let me desire you in seeking you. Let me find you in loving you; let me love you in finding you.
O Lord, I acknowledge and give thanks that you created me in your image so that I may remember, contemplate, and love you. But this image has been so effaced by the abrasion of transgression, so hidden by the dark bellows of sin, that unless you renew and refashion it, it cannot do what it was created to do. Lord, I do not attempt to comprehend your sublimity, because my intellect is not at all equal to the task. But I yearn to understand some measure of your truth, which my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand in order to believe but I believe in order to understand. For I believe even this: that I shall not understand unless I believe.
Amen. St. Anselm (1033-1109)
From nearly a thousand years ago, one of the greatest minds of the medieval period clearly speaks the truth to us in our current time of uncertainty. What he tells us is an imperative for authentic Christian life: that imperative is faith. Faith is the rudder for Life in Christ. Without faith we will succumb to all the whims and fancies, delusions and darkness of the world that surrounds us. In times like these, where fears and uncertainty abound, faith will help us to see through all the dense cultural smog and gloomy clouds that hold our world captive. Yes, Jesus already told us that as we have the scriptures and through them we know the Saviour and the loving mercy of God.
Yet through the great wisdom and intellect of this towering 11th Century Christian figure we come to understand two important principals:
1. Faith is the pre-condition for the right use of reason (credo ut intellegam). As creatures created in the wisdom and love of God we can have no right understanding of the world he created, of ourselves, or of the Divine unless we have faith, a belief in Him, the creator.
This is the first of two great failings in our current western world: many around us have no faith! The belief systems of many are ground in nothing other than themselves; my own understanding, my own life, my own pleasures, my own needs, my own desires. All of this is grounded in nothing other than in the dark night of my own selfishness. Is it any wonder then that, in the current turmoil of the world around us, so many have fallen into the option of self centeredness and full on selfishness? In the intellectual narrowness of despair, without a faith, there really is no other viable option. But it is a cold and deadly option that lacks intelligence and wisdom. It is self-destructive.
2. God – yes God! God is that than which nothing greater can be conceived (id quo nihl majus cogitari posit). God is very the heart of wisdom and reason.
Sadly, in the western world many people have drifted away from not only a faith in God but also no longer even accept His existence. In the postmodern view we all have sort of “evolved” from the floating flotsam and jetsam contained in the world around us. With such a notion we have all become our own gods but gods that are selfish and mortal. Many in the current culture fail to ask this important question “from where did the flotsam and jetsam come?
Years ago, when the Genome Project brought its findings to President Clinton and they had concluded that the design of the universe and even of the smallest of the atoms was so intricate that it could not simply have “just evolved” but that it had an intelligence behind it, the President exclaimed in news conferences that “we have seen the face of God!”
President Clinton was spot on and it is called ‘intelligent design’. Something stands behind, beneath, and all around us in this creation and that something is God. Our Judeo-Christian tradition has affirmed this loving, merciful, saving God as not only as beginning but also as ending…creator and redeemer…of all things. Thomas Aquinas said it best, “all things come from God and all things return to God.” Without that affirmation we have no wisdom, no real intellect and certainly no understanding. Yes, it is a faith statement but without it there is no hope and there is no future.
Faith is the beginning and underpinning of all intelligence and wisdom. And faith is our hope, our life, and our only true destiny in the ultimate reality…God.
Deliver us, O God, from following the fashions of the day in our thinking. Save us from the worship of power over nature or over mankind. Save us from the worship of science, and grant that, giving you thanks for the skill of science, we may be preserved from the abuse of its discoveries. Help us never to confuse any creature with the Creator, or man with God. May we acknowledge man’s reason as your gift, and, being freed from all false hopes and misplaced trust, finds our hope and salvation, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Pax Christi, Mark Reiff +
O God of earth and altar,
Bow down and hear our cry,
Our earthly rulers falter,
Our people drift and die;
The walls of gold entomb us,
The swords of scorn divide,
Take not thy thunder from us,
But take away our pride
From all that terror teaches,
From lies of tongue and pen,
From all the evil speeches
That comfort cruel me,
From sale and profanation
Of honor and the sword,
From sleep and from damnation,
Deliver us Lord.
Tie in a living tether
The prince and priest and thrall,
Bind all our lives together,
Smite us and save us all;
In ire and exultation
Aflame with faith and free,
Lift up a living nation,
A single sword to thee.
G. K. Chesterton 1906
Written in the first decade of the 20th Century, this poem by G. K. Chesterton was set to music and is contained in many church hymnals including our own Lutheran books for worship. Chesterton, who died in 1936, was a poet, an essayist, and a social critic. The clarity of his words (Chesterton was a devout Christian) speak powerfully to us in the midst of our current worldwide distress. Emphatically, he points to the only true source of our salvation – the redeeming God, our creator. In doing this he lists the various problems we face. Fickle, self-serving, and power grabbing politicians top the list! With the antics in Washington among our elected legislators this past week none of this is hard to imagine. Wrangling, power playing, seizing a crisis to advance political agendas has exposed many of our earthly rulers for who they truly are and it has been shameful. Many have been self-serving or are serving special interests rather than serving the people. Some have been lining their pockets with insider information (the walls of gold entomb us). But Chesterton put his finger on this sort of behavior more than 100 years ago. And in all of this our people drift and die.
“The swords of scorn divide us,” has been an ongoing project in our nation for the last four years with no real end in sight. And again, Chesterton nails it, “Take not thy thunder from us, but take away our pride.” The haughty and the proud who inhabit the precincts of power have never really accepted the everyday, hard working men or women that make up this nation, the regular person, or their vote.
“From all that terror teaches, From all the lies of tongue and pen; From all the easy speeches that comfort cruel men.” Ouch! Although Chesterton died 84 years ago he saw clearly (from his own experience) the future in which we live – it is probably not only the past, but the present and most likely even the future – because we as humans live in a fallen world where our pride cannot acknowledge stumbling, or failure or error…what we used to call sin. So as a result of this pride we must now learn to live with God’s thunder.
“From sale and profanation of honor and the sword, From sleep and from damnation deliver us good Lord.” Let’s face it, most of us are regular everyday people who go to work, save to purchase a home, raise our children, and are taken up in the daily round of things that need to be done . While we have all been busy with these things we have also been at sleep while some, in powerful places, have been selling and profaning “honor and the sword.” Again, Chesterton puts his finger directly on this very problem with some in our nation’s leadership while most of us assumed, in our slumber, that things were just “A-OK.” They weren’t! Perhaps, this time of plague and turmoil can also have an “upside” as we employ it as a time of reassessment, repentance, awareness, change, and renewal.
Finally, Chesterton brings this litany of sin, corruption, and scandal to a close with a call to a much needed change in course for the nation of his time and, indeed, for our own time as well. “Tie in a living tether, The prince, the priest, the thrall.” Yes, we are all in this boat together, we are called to put the bickering and self-serving aside. We are bound together and together we are smitten. In the parlance of the pioneer west; we are being called to circle the wagons to help and defend one another. We believe and affirm that we are a free people; however, if we have no moral compass, which our Judeo-Christian faith provides and sustains, we will stumble and fall. But for people who are aflame with faith we are assured that we will be lifted up as a “living nation, a single sword to thee.”
O God, who has graciously preserved our nation through the years and has led us in wondrous ways: Grant that we may be worthy of this high calling. Purge out from among us that dishonor you. Give us true religion; crown our faith with righteousness and justice; and lift us up as a holy people; to your praise and honor; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Pax Christi. Mark Reiff+
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures
and leads me beside still waters.
He revives my soul
and guides me along right pathways
for his name’s sake.
Though I walk through the valley
of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff they comfort me;
you have anointed my head with oil,
and my cup is running over.
Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
+ + +
From the ancient hymnal of the Hebrew faith, Psalm 23 powerfully speaks to us in this difficult time of global pandemic and uncertainty. It reveals to us the mercy of a loving God who shepherds us on our way through the turmoil that surrounds us to lead to a place of refreshment and safety – the still waters. Like a shepherd, with his staff, he will fend off the dangers surrounding us. But the Lord is more than a shepherd, He is also our host inviting us to a holy feast in his presence, “my cup is running over.” But in his wings he also brings healing to us “you have anointed my head with oil.” At the same time it points us, his flock, toward his divine home and a place of eternal safety where we will dwell with him - “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” The 23rd Psalm is the path of hope that showers us with words of comfort in a time of uncertainty and fear.
Christians all of this world and our fellow travelers the Jewish community have trusted these words and been comforted by them for nearly three thousand years. Is it any wonder that this the most beloved and widely known of all 150 psalms; It’s comforting words and spirit of Divine hospitality console us in the most trying of times.
Psalm 23 is also the perfect follow-up to the Psalm that precedes it. Psalm 22 is filled with images of distress, terror and death. For this very reason it is the Psalm of the Church’s Good Friday Liturgy. The opening verse makes known the dark and brutal scene; “My God, My God why have you forsaken me? And are so far from the words of my distress.” When Jesus spoke those words from the cross any educated and observant Jew standing by would have instantly brought to mind the entire Psalm. In the words of the Psalm the whole passion and death is spelled out before the crowd around him. It is the story of the incarnate God, Jesus the Christ, humiliated and executed for the sins of the world and it’s redeeming, saving power given-freely to all who turn to him.
Despite the dark tone of the three –quarters of the Psalm it suddenly swerves into the light and makes a stunning conclusion with these words:
Praise the Lord, you that fear him;
stand in awe of him, O offspring of Israel;
all you of Jacob’s line give glory.
For he does not despise nor abhor
the poor in their poverty;
neither does he hide his face from them,
but when they cry to him he hears them.
My praise is of him in the great assembly;
I will perform my vows in the presence
of those who worship him:
The poor shall eat and be satisfied,
and those who seek the Lord shall find him.
May your heart live forever!”
All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the LORD.
and all the families of nations shall
bow down before him.
For kingship belongs to the LORD,
He rules over the nations,
To him alone all who sleep in the earth
bow down in worship;
all who go down to dust bow before him.
My soul shall live for him;
my descendants shall serve him;
they shall be known as the LORD’S forever.
They shall come and make known
to a people yet unborn
the saving deeds he has done.
Father, when your Son was handed over to torture and felt abandoned by you, He cried out from the cross. Then death was destroyed, and life was restored. By his death and resurrection save the poor, lift up the downtrodden, break the chains of the oppressed, that the Church, your body, may sing your praises; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Our nation, our states, our communities, and even our churches are shut down! We are all being asked to stay at home and settle in for the duration. In many ways we are paralyzed. Panic and fear have overtaken many of us in this unprecedented time of the Corona virus and its dangerous spread. This dread is most palpable in the most populous states and most every large city, and even here in Dade City. However, in the midst of all of this we should never forget that, as a people of faith and as Christians, that God is always close at hand and with us. His love and mercy are always near to us no matter what the future may hold.
The Lutheran Breviary, For All the Saints, proscribes for one of the earlier days in Lent the following reading from The Gospel according to Mark.
And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer any room for them, not even about the door; and he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and when they had made an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic lay.
And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic,
“My son, your sins are forgiven.”
Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak thus.” It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question thus in your hearts? Which is easier to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Rise, take up your pallet and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins”- he said to the paralytic – “I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home.” And he rose, and immediately took his pallet and went out before them all; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying,
“We never saw anything like this!” Mark 2:1-12
We have never seen anything like this!? That truly is our current situation as most of us are paralyzed in place. We don’t know what to do? We don’t know where to go? Where do we find help?
Mark’s Gospel points us to where we will find that help, where we need to go, and what we need to do. Explicitly, we are told that we will find our help in Jesus Christ who not only tells us to get up and walk but also tells us that our sins are forgiven. That may seem off, really crazy, to you but the two (healing and forgiveness) are inextricably linked. What is easier to do; to heal or forgive? Neither one is really that easy. Yet most of us would more than likely say it is easier to forgive sins than to find healing. It is easier to forgive because the words so easily and (in many instances) so easily dripped meaninglessly from our lips.
I feel most of us are mistaken…forgiving is the hardest part and when we forgive then the healing can begin. However, most of us aren’t equipped to do either one. And yet in our current situation we are called to do both. Our world, our culture, and our communities, in the midst of this paralysis, are also wracked with sin. It is the normal state of the human condition. We are a fallen people living in a fallen world.
But here is the hope and the truth we all so desperately need: When we turn to Christ in faith and ask for forgiveness, we receive it. And when we turn to Christ in faith we are healed and returned to an un-encumbered life; either in the fallen world of our current existence or in the life of the world to come.
Yes, it is entirely possible that death may be just around the corner for some of us (we pray that this might not be so) and yet we go forward in faith trusting ourselves to the promises of God in Christ Jesus. Despite knowing of this possibility, we do not let fear consume us because we know the end of the story. Jesus is triumphant! He defeated death and despair. He rose from the dead! And so shall we! Easter is just around the corner. But then it always has been.
We are all in God’s hands. We know of his promises. We know of his grace. We know of his mercy. And so we live in hope and trust and peace.
Almighty and merciful Father, who altogether knows us, we confess that we have erred, and failed. We have come up short, and transgressed; we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed. We have forsaken the fountain of living waters, and hewn for ourselves cisterns that hold no water. We are ashamed of these things, and repent of our wrong doing. We ask of you, O Lord, to grant us your forgiveness, and to assure us of it, as only you alone can; enable us in days to come to amend our lives according to your law. By your omnipresent Spirit, incline our wills for ever to that which is right. In your wisdom make us wise; grant us that with our whole heart we may serve you in the days to come,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Pax Christi, Mark Reiff+
Good Morning from Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church: As you already know these are difficult times for people all over the world, here in our own nation, in our own state, our own community and in your home and family. The Wuhan Corona Virus (Covid-19) has impacted all of us in one way or another. It has changed things dramatically and many of us are fearful. But the future ahead of us, with the challenge of this disease and the economic havoc it is causing, is also opening up some unexpected vistas and opportunities to focus on the most important aspects of our individual lives, your families, and our communities.
First of all, you are receiving this message from your pastor because you are a baptized child of God and a person of faith who lives not in isolation but within a community of faith: the family of Christ Jesus. Due to this one simple fact you are grounded in Jesus Christ and grafted into the Tree of Life. As a part of the body of Christ you do not live in fear but in hope! You know the end of each and every story for the people of faith and it is not death but resurrected life. Jesus warned his disciples about various trials and tribulations that would afflict them, and you, in this life but He called them, as he calls you, to be steadfast in your faith because no matter what happens He will not desert you. In many ways the simple song of little children tells you all you need to know:
“Jesus loves me this I know
for the bible tells me so,
Little ones to Him belong,
I am weak but He is strong!
Yes, Jesus loves me, Yes, Jesus loves me,
Yes, Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so!
Richard John Neuhaus, in his book As I Lay Dying, wrote about his struggle with cancer that eventually took his life. He confessed that he always prayed each night that simple little prayer that most all of you were taught:
“Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray thee Lord my soul to keep,
If I should die before I wake,
I pray thee Lord my soul to take.”
Neuhaus was one of the most respected and gifted Christian Theologians of the modern era in our nation and, yet, a child like faith in Jesus Christ that was at the core of his very being.
In this time of trial and tribulation for all of us we need to remember the inner child that is in all of you and see our hope and salvation in God the Father who loves you. “For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him might not perish but have everlasting life! For God sent His Son into the world not to condemn the world but that through Him the world might be saved.” As we pray this day for ourselves let us also pray for one another.
A Prayer for the Day
Almighty and most merciful Father, who has taught us not to think of ourselves only, but also for the needs of others; we remember before you all who are burdened or oppressed, those who are afflicted by poverty, or worn down by disease or illness, the weary and the heavy-laden, those who are in darkness or despair, or who are suffering for righteousness’ sake. Help them all to rest in you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Pax Christi, Mark Reiff+