Good Friday- At the Foot of the Cross

Good Friday is a difficult day to understand and a difficult day to experience. This is where our journey has taken us, to the day that Jesus will lose his life for the thing he was most passionate about: The Kingdom of God

We often hear the story of the crucifixion as a composite of the four Gospels. Our challenge is to hear it as Mark tells it.

It was nine o”clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.”And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!” In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let  the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.

When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o”clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”

There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.

Mark 15:26-39

The story of Jesus’ death is hard for us to really grasp because we know how it ends. We know that on the third day that Jesus will rise again, that on Sunday we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. We marvel at the good news that life always triumphs over death.

But for those at the foot of the cross on Friday of The Last Week, they do not know this yet. For them, the story ends. Jesus dies and the way of life, the new life for all people that Jesus is so passionate about, has  been taken away.

There is a  large crowd, but notice in this crowd the disciples are nowhere to be found. They have all fled, most likely out of fear. Just the night before, Peter did as Jesus predicted, denying knowing him three times.

Mark tells us that there are three women who are present at the foot of the cross:

Mary Magdalene- thought to be the most important of Jesus’ female followers

Mary- we are told the mother of James the younger and of Joses

Salome- a common female name in the first century

It is clear that Jesus and the earliest Christians gave women a status that they could not achieve anywhere else in society

As they watch the man they followed crucified, being put to death in the worst way possible, what is going through their minds, their hearts? We are told that darkness comes over the earth. Darkness is symbolic with suffering. Not only is Jesus suffering, but those who are at the foot of the cross, notably the three women, are suffering. Heartbroken. It seems as though death as the final word. It seems as no new light will break forth, which is the worst kind of darkness that any of us can experience.

Today, we acknowledge the darkness. We are reminded of the brokenness of the world.

Even In the midst of death, God’s will is always life. God’s will is always for more and more light to break through. There is always more to the story when God is involved.

 

Thursday- A Difficult but Important Meal

I can’t help but wonder if the Passover meal that Jesus shares with his disciples seems odd to them. In Mark’s Gospel, it is the twelve disciples who seem to be the last to understand what is going on around them. Jesus has been trying to teach them about his upcoming death, but they don’t seem to get it. They are simply relaxing and enjoying a fulfilling meal when Jesus starts to give a speech, telling them that one of them will betray him and that this is his body and sharing a cup that is supposedly a new covenant. I don’r know about you, but after a big meal my attention span is pretty short.

When it was evening, he came with the twelve. And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, “Surely, not I?” He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl[with me.  For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.”

While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. 

Mark 14:17-23

Jesus is teaching a lesson about spiritual fullness and what keeps us from being the person God has created us to be. Each of us is held captive by some view of self, neighbor, or the world that cuts us off from the grace of God.

Each of the disciples, like each one of us, are held captive to something that kept them from true discipleship. Jesus knows they will not be at the foot of the cross the next day. They are held captive by their own fears, their own doubts, their own concern for self.

But Jesus invites them to be set free, to be a part of this meal, of this moment. Even Judas is invited, because all are welcome.

Today’s work is to be open to Jesus’ generous invitation to share in the bread and the cup. Partake so that you may be set free.

 

 

Wednesday-Unconditional Grace

We come to Wednesday of Jesus’ Last Week. Tuesday had been a long day, filled with a lot of teaching and a lot of tension. Wednesday begins with Jesus and his disciples at a house in Bethany, the home of Simon the Leper. Bethany was not far from Jerusalem, about two miles or so. We don’t know if Jesus is staying there or simply sharing a meal, but he is there with his disciples and with some other people who have gathered in this home. The focus of the story becomes a woman who is not named.

It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him; for they said, “Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people.”

While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, “Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”

Mark 14:1-9

The storm clouds are gathering over Jesus. The authorities have managed to convince on of his own followers to hand him over on a trumped-up charge. He is eating in the home of Simon, a leper. By the way, eating at the house of a leper probably would not have cast Jesus in the best light, be he is there. Where else would he be?

An unnamed woman brings an expensive jar of ointment of nard and she breaks it open. Nard had a very pungent smell, somewhere between mint and ginseng. Imagine this scent filling the room as she proceeds to anoint Jesus’ head with the ointment.

A group at the table begins talking, probably loudly asking why in the world is she wasting this ointment. It’s worth about 300 denari, which would be the equivalent of almost a year’s income for the typical laborer. It’s worth a lot of money. Some at the table perceive her to be wasting it. But that is the last thing that she is doing.

Typically, you wouldn’t use this type of nard but she does. Jesus defends her for using it. She gets it, she understands where this week is heading. He says, “let her alone she is anointing my body before its burial. Whereas the disciples don’t understand this unnamed woman does understand. She understands that Jesus will lose his life for his cause, for God’s cause. She acts out of the fullness of her own heart. She was willing to give up everything she had to honor this man. This is why so many refer to this woman as the first Christian. She believes who Jesus is before anyone will discover any empty tomb.

This unnamed woman understands the nature of God, understands what Jesus’ life has been about even when those who have followed him closely do not. She knows that God’s grace is priceless and it is not meant to be stored up. It is meant to be freely poured out, freely shared because it is so abundant. There is enough to go around, there is no need to limit it, no need to place to conditions upon it.  Those at the table think that the woman has wasted what is valuable This moment is valuable for the value comes not from what it in the jar, but what happens in this moment between the woman and Jesus is a moment of extravagant and unconditional grace.

There is enough. Where God’s grace is concerned there is always enough.  As we travel with Jesus on the road to the cross, we are reminded that what is really important is to see the mystery of grace reveled to It is revealed to us every way,  in moments large and small. that it is abundant and unconditional. Thanks be to God.

Tuesday-Jesus’ Final Exam

 

We come to Tuesday of Jesus’ Final Week. Much of Tuesday will be spent teaching in the courtyard of the temple. Mark’s Narrative of Tuesday covers almost 3 chapters, a total of 115 verses. It is by far the longest of the days in scripture. Almost two-thirds of the time is spent in conflict between Jesus and temple authorities, with the authorities questioning his authority and his knowledge of Jewish Law, on things like resurrection, marriage, and taxes. In many ways, Tuesday is Jesus’ Final Exam before both those who follow him and those who fear him. As things become really heated, a scribe steps up and asks Jesus a question. Here is where we pick up our scripture for today

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ —this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.

Mark 12:28-34

The truth is that we the most important commandment. Many non-religious people can tell you the most important commandment. We struggle to live this commandment. Let’s be honest, it’s a tough commandment to live up to. Knowing it and living it are two entirely different things. Jesus could not have given a more difficult answer to live up to

I love this interaction between Jesus and the scribe. The scribe is different, he is taken by Jesus and really wants to know what Jesus thinks. I suspect if he has paid close attention that he knows what the answer will be. In some ways, the answer to love God and love our neighbor is so familiar to us that it has become cliché. Jesus is answering this question in the most challenging, yet life-giving way possible.

“You are not far from the kingdom of God” is Jesus’ response to the scribes’ answer. That is his to answer to me and you during this Holy Week, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of the God.” Our challenge is to draw ever closer to living into God’s way each day.

Monday- Turning the Tables

As we begin the second day of Jesus’s Last Week, he has entered into Jerusalem and drawn a big crowd for his parade which proclaims that the kingdom of God, God’s way of life is here. He concluded that day by going into the Temple in Jerusalem and looking around. The temple was the holiest place, it was the place that people believed God on earth. It was the center of both religious and community life.

 

On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see whether perhaps he would find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it. Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written,

‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’?
But you have made it a den of robbers.”

And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching. And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.

Mark 11:12-19

What lengths would you go to get people to pay attention? Jesus desired to gain the attention of temple authorities and religious people. So he shuts the temple down. He drives out the buyers and the sellers, overturns the tables of the money changers, overturns the seats of the dove sellers and does not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. All of these are regular daily activities in the temple. If he wanted to get people’s attention, shutting the temple down is a pretty good way to do it.

The temple was intended to be” a place of prayer for all nations.”  Instead, only the few were allowed to come in and do business in the temple. Religious leaders of the day had turned it into a place of commerce for the select few. It hardly resembled what God intended for it to be.A place of justice had been turned into an unjust place. Jesus moves his demonstration and the arrival of the kingdom of God  from the streets of Jerusalem to the temple.

The assumed reality is  the Roman imperial power and the corrupt religious officials have created a power that cannot be broken. The truth is something much greater. The kingdom of God is here. Jesus has spent his first two days in Jerusalem making this truth evident.

Palm Sunday- A Tale of Two Parades

One of my favorite series to preach has been The Last Week, inspired by Borg and Crossan’s marvelous book by the same title. It takes a look at the last week of Jesus’ life according to the Gospel of Mark. For Holy Week this year, I’m sharing a series of devotions based on the same. Selfishly, this will allow me to embrace this journey in a reflective manner. Thanks as always for reading I hope you find them meaningful as well. 

The last week on earth for Jesus begins with the day we now know and celebrate as Palm Sunday. It may be curious to you as to why exactly this is a celebration. It ultimately leads to Jesus’ death on the cross.  This day really calls us to reflect. There is not one, but two parades. Everyone loves a parade. These are two very different parades representing two competing ways of life. Here is what Mark has to say:

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethpage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.”They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

“Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.  

People have begun to descend on Jerusalem for the festival of Passover. There is typically one grand entry into Jerusalem, however this year something is different. There are two parades.

One parade comes from the West, the procession of the Roman Empire led by the Governor Pontius Pilate. Pilate is not coming because he is an overly religious man, rather he comes as a show of power, of force. He comes to be seen and to keep an eye on things. In Roman Empire theology, the emperor is not only the ruler of the empire, but is considered to be the Son of God. There are Roman cavalry and soldiers with him. This is a military parade, meant to strike fear into the people. No doubt Pilate was expected a big crowd for his entry because he represents the empire.

From the East comes another parade, that of Jesus and the disciples. They are coming from the city of Jericho. A bit of a geography lesson here. Jericho was only about 12 miles away from Jerusalem and there was a well traveled road between the two. But consider this. Jericho was one of the lowest cities on the earth at about 800 feet below sea level. Jerusalem is about 3000 feet above sea level. You faced an upward route through a hot, dry, and dusty desert and when you finally get to the top of the Mount of Olives you have a beautiful view of Jerusalem down below in a valley. Think of the excitement you would feel as a follower of Jesus standing there. It is Passover, but it is also kingdom time, a time when God’s saving presence would be revealed in a new way. God’s way was coming to bring about lasting change. It would have been from this point that Jesus would wait to make his entrance.

In the First Testament, there is a prophet Zechariah who wrote of two different kingdoms. A kingdom of violence and a kingdom of peace. He predicted that a king, a king of peace would come to Jerusalem riding on a colt in humility, proclaiming God’s kingdom. This is how Jesus makes his entrance.

Imagine being the crowd that day, laying your cloak down on the road, waving a palm branch, shouting Hosanna, blessed is the coming kingdom of David.

Imagine Pilate coming in from the other end of town, expecting a royal welcome, expecting a crowd and getting not much of one. I am sure someone told him something was going on at the other end of town

Hosanna is a Hebrew word that means exuberant praise to God, the kingdom we have been waiting for is coming

Two very different parades. Two competing ways of life.

Now it’s up to you to decide. Which parade are you in?

Listening to our Youth

1.2 million followers read Emma Gonzalez’s tweet about Betsy DeVos’ visit to her school; “Good thing I was already sleeping in tomorrow.”

269,000 followers read Sarah Chadwick’s tweet about the same visit; “Literally no one asked for this.”

The New York Times made this observation about these two tweets; “And with a few tweets the students had overtaken another adult official’s narrative.”

Parkland

My first thought upon reading this observation is “it’s about time.” I’ve spent most of my life in the church in some capacity, so I’ve been dealing with dynamic of adult/youth interaction from several different perspectives.

I was duly elected to our church’s board as a high school junior. I was eager to serve. I thought it was great that the church wanted a representative from the youth group to be on the board, to have a voice in the room. I came to the conclusion that they didn’t want my voice heard as much as they wanted to feel good about saying they had a youth representative on the board.

Much of my focus upon entering the ministry was ministry with youth. I was blessed to serve a congregation who took the voice of youth seriously. I was witness to youth going to border communities in Mexico to build homes with generous support from adults. People listened as the youth shared the truth that our neighbors to the south are children of God and not all that different from us.

That’s one story. There are others that aren’t quite as nice. I’ve led enough events which proudly lifted up 1 Timothy 4:12, “let no one look down upon you because of your youth” while then sending them back to church and civic communities who made a habit of discounting the voice of youth because they were young. Churches designate one Sunday a year where the youth could lead worship, because heaven forbid they participate in the other fifty-one Sundays. I once had a church leader tell me, “the only thing you don’t do well as a Senior Minister is that you listen to the youth too much.” Two things stood out- first, if that was the only thing she thought I didn’t do well, then she wasn’t paying close attention. Second, I took her well-meaning statement as one of the great compliments that I could receive. I was doing something right.

For too long, the church has not been faithful in listening to the voice of our youth. Youth have a way of showing us what God would have us do and moving us to action. The country is seeing that in the passion and the actions of the Stoneman Douglas students, who are inspiring us to gather and to have needed conversations around gun and school violence. In the space where adults have failed, our teens are moving us forward. Thanks be to God! It’s long past time for our youth to have voice in shaping our narrative and our life together.