Tag Archives: Good Friday

Stations of the Gospel. Good Friday reflections through Luke.

Begin

Setup: This is the first station. It should be found just inside the door. The rest of the stations can lead through hallways toward the sanctuary of the church. Signs clearly marking the numbers of the stations, and arrows to assist people will be helpful.

Find a copy of Bach’s Magnicat in D Major. It is readily available on youtube. Set it up to play loud enough to be able to hear for several stations.

Instructions:

Playing in this room right now is Bach’s Magnificat in D Major. This triumphal and haunting music was inspired by Mary’s song as found in Luke. The word magnificat is Latin for magnify, which is the traditional first line of the song, “My soul magnifies the Lord.”

The piece is about 30 minutes, and will be playing on continual loop.  You may sit and listen for as long as you would like.

Luke 1:39-55

Mary got up and hurried to a city in the Judean highlands. She entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. With a loud voice she blurted out, “God has blessed you above all women, and he has blessed the child you carry. Why do I have this honor, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. Happy is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill the promises he made to her.”

Mary said

With all my heart I glorify the Lord!

In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.

He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant.

Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored because the mighty one has done great things for me.
Holy is his name. He shows mercy to everyone, from one generation to the next, who honors him as God.

He has shown strength with his arm.

He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations.

He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed.

He has come to the aid of his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, just as he promised to our ancestors, to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.”

Rest One: Baptism

Setup: Place a bowl of water on a small table. Consider saying a prayer over the water, perhaps from the baptism liturgy, or just a simple word of thanks for the water of life and blessing for all who pass through during this exercise.

Instructions:

You are invited to dip your fingers in the water before you, and place a drop on your own forehead. Feel the water, and remember your baptism.

Luke 3:3,  10-11, 21-22

John went throughout the region of the Jordan River, calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins.

The crowds asked him, “What then should we do?”

He answered, “Whoever has two shirts must share with the one who has none, and whoever has food must do the same.”

When everyone was being baptized, Jesus also was baptized. While he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit came down on him in bodily form like a dove. And there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”

Reflection

This journey begins where Jesus’ journey began—at the water. The water of baptism is a sign of rebirth. To be baptized is to die to your old self, and to rise out of the water as a new creation.

In the United Methodist Church we baptize infants, not because they are sinful and need to be cleansed, but because they are members of the Body of Christ, and are worthy of being marked as such. At baptism, the Holy Spirit makes a special claim on a person. This is aclaim that cannot be revoked. There is never a need to be re-baptized. The first one counts. No matter what.

From here we will proceed through Jesus’ life, ministry, teaching, betrayal, and death. We will reflect on these things, and may encounter trouble along the way. Know that through it all, your seal as a Child of God is complete. You are God’s beloved.

Rest Two: Life and Ministry

Setup: Print this picture, which are available under Wikimedia Commons bread and fish

Instructions

Look on the back page of this booklet. This is a picture of one of the earliest forms of Christian art. The fish, not the cross, was the first symbol of Christianity.

Luke 9:10-17

 When the apostles returned, they described for Jesus what they had done. Taking them with him, Jesus withdrew privately to a city called Bethsaida. When the crowds figured it out, they followed him. He welcomed them, spoke to them about God’s kingdom, and healed those who were sick.

When the day was almost over, the Twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away so that they can go to the nearby villages and countryside and find lodging and food, because we are in a deserted place.”

He replied, “You give them something to eat.”

But they said, “We have no more than five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all these people.”(They said this because about five thousand men were present.)

Jesus said to his disciples, “Seat them in groups of about fifty.” They did so, and everyone was seated. He took the five loaves and the two fish, looked up to heaven, blessed them, and broke them and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. Everyone ate until they were full, and the disciples filled twelve baskets with the leftovers.

Reflection

You cannot separate the life of Jesus  from the bread and the fish. One of the only stories that all four gospels tell, it is clear that feeding the hungry was a vital part of what Jesus did. The people came looking for life, and he gave it to them in the form of loaves and fish.

This was so important that the earliest symbols of Christianity was the fish—a reminder of how Jesus responded to those in need. The need today is no less demanding. There remains thousands of people in our midst who are hungry. They hunger for bread, comfort, forgiveness, and fellowship. Pause for a moment and ask Jesus what we can do, but know that his answer may be, “You give them something to eat.”

Rest Three: Prediction

Luke 9:18-23

Setup: A chalkboard or pad with newsprint and markers. This should be placed right outside the door of the sanctuary. This is the last rest station before entry into the sanctuary. Last year, we left the board up for Easter Sunday.

Once when Jesus was praying by himself, the disciples joined him, and he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”

They answered, “John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others that one of the ancient prophets has come back to life.”

He asked them, “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?”

Peter answered, “The Christ sent from God.”

Jesus gave them strict orders not to tell this to anyone. He said, “The Human One must suffer many things and be rejected—by the elders, chief priests, and the legal experts—and be killed and be raised on the third day.”

Jesus said to everyone, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me.

Reflection

Notice this story comes immediately after the feeding. People have noticed that there is something incredible about Jesus. He is clearly a man worth following, but he wanted to make sure they understood the cost. Following Jesus is not just about overflowing baskets and great wonders.

Jesus understood that what he was teaching and doing would get him into trouble with the authorities. He understood that they could not let him live, and he understood that his mission could not be thwarted by their acts of violence. It was not an easy thing for the disciples to hear, and it is clear that while Jesus lived, they never fully understood.

Instructions:

Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” On the chalkboard in front of you, answer this question. Who is Jesus?

Rest Four – Sunday: Entry

Setup: On a table near the back of the sanctuary, leave a couple of palm branches from Palm Sunday’s service and place a couple of rocks.

Luke 19:35-42a

They brought [the donkey] to Jesus, threw their clothes on the colt, and lifted Jesus onto it. As Jesus rode along, they spread their clothes on the road.

As Jesus approached the road leading down from the Mount of Olives, the whole throng of his disciples began rejoicing. They praised God with a loud voice because of all the mighty things they had seen. They said,

“Blessings on the king who comes in the name of the Lord.
Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heavens.”

Some of the Pharisees from the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, scold your disciples! Tell them to stop!”

He answered, “I tell you, if they were silent, the stones would shout.”

As Jesus came to the city and observed it, he wept over it. He said, “If only you knew on his of all days the things that lead to peace.”

Reflection

This story is usually described as “Palm Sunday.” It is on this day that Jesus entered Jerusalem. Jesus taught the people what peace looks like. It looks like aligning your heart and your actions. It looks like letting go of materialism. It looks like letting go of bitterness. Peace is not an easy journey. The Pharisees wanted to keep quiet in the name of what they called peace, but “true peace is not the absence of tension. It is the presence of justice.” In one moment Jesus is a part of a wave of celebration. In the next, he weeps, for he knows the cost of true peace, and he knows the people will not tread that path.

Instructions:

On the table is the palm branch and the stone. Even while we yearn for peace, are we willing to cry out? What story of justice, mercy, kindness, or sacrifice is within you? Can you hold it in? Will even this stone cry out if you don’t?

Rest Five – Monday: Confrontation

Setup: On another table, place a bowl or offering plate with a few coins in it. This station asks people to leave some money behind. Someone should check it periodically so as to remove the temptation of someone taking money from the unattended dish.

Luke 20:20-26

The legal experts and chief priests were watching Jesus closely and sent spies who pretended to be sincere. They wanted to trap him in his words so they could hand him over to the jurisdiction and authority of the governor. They asked him, “Teacher, we know that you are correct in what you say and teach. You don’t show favoritism but teach God’s way as it really is. Does the Law allow people to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

Since Jesus recognized their deception, he said to them, “Show me a coin. Whose image and inscription does it have on it?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

He said to them, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” They couldn’t trap him in his words in front of the people. Astonished by his answer, they were speechless.

Reflection

In the Gospel of Luke especially, Jesus is deeply concerned with our relationship with money. It was after Jesus disrupted the commerce of the Temple that the leaders decided that they had to kill Jesus. Here, he affirms all of their fears.

In front of you are a handful of coins. Those who wanted to be rid of Jesus tried to use money to trap him. It didn’t work. How many of us who follow Jesus however, are trapped by our money? Some social critics have said, “We print ‘In God We Trust,’ upon the god in which we trust.” How much truth is in this statement?

Instructions:

If you so desire, you may leave some money here (the plate will be checked periodically so as large amounts of cash will not be left unattended). Whatever is left here will be given to the church’s Samaritan Fund, which helps local people in emergency need.

Rest Six – Thursday: Supper

Setup: Place chairs around the Lord’s table, leave a broken loaf of bread and a cup (or several small cups) of grape juice. In our setting, the Table was stripped on Thursday night, so this quite easily accomplished.

Instructions:

Take a piece of bread off of the loaf. Please, don’t be shy. Take a good piece. Take off a piece that you actually have to chew. Eat it slowly. Taste it. Drink the cup of grape juice. Allow the sweet tang to fill your mouth. Breathe deeply as you chew and as your drink. Read this story as you eat your piece of bread. Really—take a big piece, even a second piece if you want. It’s okay. Remember, it only took two loaves to feed 5000.

Linger here with the bread. Linger here with the story. Hear Jesus’ words and know that YOU ARE THE BODY OF CHRIST. Read them again and know that YOU ARE FORGIVEN.

Luke 22:14-23

When the time came, Jesus took his place at the table, and the apostles joined him. He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.   I tell you, I won’t eat it until it is fulfilled in God’s kingdom.” After taking a cup and giving thanks, he said, “Take this and share it among yourselves. I tell you that from now on I won’t drink from the fruit of the vine until God’s kingdom has come.” After taking the bread and giving thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”In the same way, he took the cup after the meal and said, “This cup is the new covenant by my blood, which is poured out for you.

“But look! My betrayer is with me; his hand is on this table. The Human One goes just as it has been determined. But how terrible it is for that person who betrays him.” They began to argue among themselves about which of them it could possibly be who would do this.

Post Script

As you were eating, did you notice who else was invited? Jesus knew that he would be betrayed by Judas, and what did he do? He broke bread with him. Sometimes the hardest part of the Gospel is realizing who else is invited to this table.

Rest Seven – Thursday: Denial

Instructions:

Simply read this story of Jesus’ trial. Do not read it all silently. Read Peter’s words, the ones in bold, out loud.

Luke 22:54-71

After they arrested Jesus, they led him away and brought him to the high priest’s house. Peter followed from a distance. When they lit a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them.

Then a servant woman saw him sitting in the firelight. She stared at him and said, “This man was with him too.”

But Peter denied it, saying, “Woman, I don’t know him!”

A little while later, someone else saw him and said, “You are one of them too.”

But Peter said, “Man, I’m not!”

An hour or so later, someone else insisted, “This man must have been with him, because he is a Galilean too.”

Peter responded, “Man, I don’t know what you are talking about!” At that very moment, while he was still speaking, a rooster crowed. 61 The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter, and Peter remembered the Lord’s words: “Before a rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” And Peter went out and cried uncontrollably.

The men who were holding Jesus in custody taunted him while they beat him. They blindfolded him and asked him repeatedly, “Prophesy! Who hit you?” Insulting him, they said many other horrible things against him.

As morning came, the elders of the people, both chief priests and legal experts, came together, and Jesus was brought before their council.

They said, “If you are the Christ, tell us!”

He answered, “If I tell you, you won’t believe. And if I ask you a question, you won’t answer. But from now on, the Human One will be seated on the right side of the power of God.”

They all said, “Are you God’s Son, then?”

He replied, “You say that I am.”

Then they said, “Why do we need further testimony? We’ve heard it from his own lips.”

Rest Eight – Friday: On the Cross

Setup: Lay down a bowl full of nails. I bought the largest ones I could get from the hardware store. They are really better described as spikes.

Luke 23:32-43

They also led two other criminals to be executed with Jesus. When they arrived at the place called The Skull, they crucified him, along with the criminals, one on his right and the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” They drew lots as a way of dividing up his clothing.

The people were standing around watching, but the leaders sneered at him, saying, “He saved others. Let him save himself if he really is the Christ sent from God, the chosen one.”

The soldiers also mocked him. They came up to him, offering him sour wine and saying, “If you really are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” Above his head was a notice of the formal charge against him. It read “This is the king of the Jews.”

One of the criminals hanging next to Jesus insulted him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”

Responding, the other criminal spoke harshly to him, “Don’t you fear God, seeing that you’ve also been sentenced to die? We are rightly condemned, for we are receiving the appropriate sentence for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus replied, “I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.”

Reflection

There was not just one cross on Calvary. There were three. Jesus was hung next to two nameless men.  We only catch a glimpse of them at this, the worst possible moment. One joins the crowd and insults and mocks the man next to him. The other seeks peace, even in the midst of agony.

One cross gave us a savior. Three crosses gave us a church. Following Jesus does not take away the pain of the world. Our life journey will always be a struggle. We can choose to respond with anger and bitterness, or we can seek grace and healing. Always, Jesus will meet us with forgiveness and love.

Instruction

If you’ve ever chosen bitterness and anger, pick up a nail. Say a prayer of confession. Lay your burdens down at the Cross.

Rest Nine – Friday: Death

Instruction

Hold the nail in your hand as you read. Press it into your hand or wrist. Not hard enough to hurt you, but hard enough to feel it as you read.

Jesus came so that we may have life. He came to tear down walls and divisions which we are quick to build. He came to feed and heal. He came with forgiveness and grace. His power was not war or coercion. It was love. He died not because God needed him dead, but because we could not let him live. The World could not understand his power, so the Romans nailed him to a cross because they thought that would be his end.  They believed that the humiliation, shame, and death that came with the cross would erase Jesus of Nazareth forever.

Luke 23:44-49

 It was now about noon, and darkness covered the whole earth until about three o’clock, while the sun stopped shining. Then the curtain in the sanctuary tore down the middle. Crying out in a loud voice, Jesus said, “Father, into your hands I entrust my life.” After he said this, he breathed for the last time.

When the centurion saw what happened, he praised God, saying, “It’s really true: this man was righteous.” All the crowds who had come together to see this event returned to their homes beating their chests after seeing what had happened. And everyone who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance observing these things.

Instruction

As you leave, stop by the baptismal font. Touch the waters again. Baptism is death and rebirth. There is no resurrection without death. Go forth knowing that through it all, your seal as a Child of God is complete. You are God’s beloved. On that hour on that day, the world embraced the dark. Today is Friday, but Sunday is coming…

The Stations of the Gospel through Mark

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Stations of the Gospel – Reflections for Good Friday

The idea that I am presenting here is a series of ten reflections. In my setting, I will be printing several small books with these ten reflections on it. The booklets will be placed right inside the entry of our church. At each station there will be a number, and each number will have a corresponding page. Some of the stations have objects to place there. All could be easily modified to not include the object in case you are doing some last-minute planning. All of the Scripture passages come from the Common English Bible.


BEGIN – BAPTISM

Object: A small table with a bowl of water.

Instructions:

You are invited to dip your fingers in the water before you, and place a drop on your own forehead. Feel the water, and remember your baptism.

Mark 1:4, 9-11

John was in the wilderness calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins.

About that time, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. While he was coming up out of the water, Jesus saw heaven splitting open and the Spirit, like a dove, coming down on him. And there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”

Reflection

This journey begins where Jesus’ journey began—at the water. The water of baptism is a sign of rebirth. To be baptized is to die to your old self, and to rise out of the water as a new creation.

In the United Methodist Church we baptize infants, not because they are sinful and need to be cleansed, but because they are members of the Body of Christ, and are worthy of being marked as such. At baptism, the Holy Spirit makes a special claim on a person. This is claim that cannot be revoked. There is never a need to be re-baptized. The first one counts. No matter what.

From here we will proceed through Jesus’ life, ministry, teaching, betrayal, and death. We will reflect on these things, and may encounter trouble along the way. Know that through it all, your seal as a Child of God is complete. You are God’s beloved.


REST ONE – LIFE AND MINISTRY

bread and fishMark 6:35-44

 Late in the day, his disciples came to him and said, “This is an isolated place, and it’s already late in the day. Send them away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy something to eat for themselves.”

He replied, “You give them something to eat.”

But they said to him, “Should we go off and buy bread worth almost eight months’ pay and give it to them to eat?”

He said to them, “How much bread do you have? Take a look.” After checking, they said, “Five loaves of bread and two fish.”

He directed the disciples to seat all the people in groups as though they were having a banquet on the green grass. They sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties.  He took the five loaves and the two fish, looked up to heaven, blessed them, broke the loaves into pieces, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people. He also divided the two fish among them all.  Everyone ate until they were full. They filled twelve baskets with the leftover pieces of bread and fish.  About five thousand had eaten.

Reflection

You cannot separate the life of Jesus from the bread and the fish. One of the only stories that all four gospels tell, it is clear that feeding the hungry was a vital part of what Jesus did. The people came looking for life, and he gave it to them in the form of loaves and fish.

This was so important that the earliest symbols of Christianity was the fish—a reminder of how Jesus responded to those in need. The need today is no less demanding. There remains thousands of people in our midst who are hungry. They hunger for bread, comfort, forgiveness, and fellowship. Pause for a moment and ask Jesus what we can do, but know that his answer may be, “You give them something to eat.”


REST TWO – PREDICTION

Object: A blackboard, dry-erase board, or large pad of newsprint

Mark 8:27-33

Jesus and his disciples went into the villages near Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” They told him, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others one of the prophets.” He asked them, “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ.” Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Then Jesus began to teach his disciples: “The Human One must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and the legal experts, and be killed, and then, after three days, rise from the dead.” He said this plainly. But Peter took hold of Jesus and, scolding him, began to correct him. Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, then sternly corrected Peter: “Get behind me, Satan. You are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts.”

Reflection

In the matter of a few moments Peter goes from insightful disciple to vile tempter. In one breath he is able to make the bold claim that Jesus is the messiah, the anointed one of God. In the very next he demonstrates how little he understands about what the messiah must do.

Jesus understood that what he was teaching and doing would get him into trouble with the authorities. He understood that they could not let him live, and he understood that his mission could not be thwarted by their acts of violence. Peter could not accept this. He never did—on this side of the Cross.

Instructions:

Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” On the chalkboard in front of you, answer this question. Who is Jesus?


REST THREE – SUNDAY: ENTRY

Object: Palm leaves, possibly saved from Palm Sunday.

Mark 11:7-11

 They brought the [donkey] colt to Jesus and threw their clothes upon it, and he sat on it. Many people spread out their clothes on the road while others spread branches cut from the fields.

Those in front of him and those following were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessings on the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest!” Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple.

After he looked around at everything, because it was already late in the evening, he returned to Bethany with the Twelve.

Reflection

This story is usually described as “Palm Sunday.” It is on this day that Jesus entered Jerusalem. He entered as the city was getting ready to celebrate the Passover, a festival that remembered when the people escaped the power of Egypt, and God threw the Pharaoh into the sea.

Now occupied by the forces of the Roman Emperor, this was a dangerous time. Tempers were high. Rebellious fervor was rampant. In this climate, as the Roman governor entered the city astride a war horse, Jesus entered the city on a donkey. As Pilate entered surrounded by Roman soldiers, Jesus entered while people shouted “Hosanna!” Hosanna means “Save us.”

Instructions:

The Gospel of John tells us that the people cut down palm branches and waved them. Take one, and wave it back and forth. Feel the weight of the leaf in the air. Feel the resistance. Imagine more branches like this one. Imagine the scene. Given the climate of the city, can you imagine the tension? Can you feel the weight of the moment as Jesus made his alternative entrance into the city?


REST FOUR –  MONDAY: TEMPLE

datesObject: A bowl of figs or dates

Instructions:

Take one of these fruit, and eat it as you read this story.

Mark 1:4, 9-11

From far away, he noticed a fig tree in leaf, so he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing except leaves, since it wasn’t the season for figs. So he said to it, “No one will ever again eat your fruit!” His disciples heard this.

They came into Jerusalem. After entering the temple, he threw out those who were selling and buying there. He pushed over the tables used for currency exchange and the chairs of those who sold doves. He didn’t allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He taught them, “Hasn’t it been written, My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations? But you’ve turned it into a hideout for crooks.” The chief priests and legal experts heard this and tried to find a way to destroy him. They regarded him as dangerous because the whole crowd was enthralled at his teaching.

When it was evening, Jesus and his disciples went outside the city. Early in the morning, as Jesus and his disciples were walking along, they saw the fig tree withered from the root up.

Reflection

On the surface, the odd exchange with the fig tree seems random and out of place. Placed here, before and after Jesus goes into the Temple, its meaning becomes more clear: Worship without justice is like a fig tree with no figs.

All things are to bear fruit. The fruit of the Temple is not idle worship, it is the realization of justice. The Temple is a place of sanctuary. When the worship leads to justice, then it is the house of God. When the worship perpetuates injustice, it is just a hideout for crooks.

Jesus came on Sunday to mock the power of Rome. He came on Monday to disrupt the religious capitulation with that power. The withered fig tree was a sign of the impending doom of the Temple.


REST FIVE – TUESDAY: TESTED

Mark 12:28-34

One of the legal experts heard their dispute and saw how well Jesus answered them. He came over and asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus replied, “The most important one is Israel, listen! Our God is the one Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength.

The second is this, You will love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.”

The legal expert said to him, “Well said, Teacher. You have truthfully said that God is one and there is no other besides him. And to love God with all of the heart, a full understanding, and all of one’s strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself is much more important than all kinds of entirely burned offerings and sacrifices.”

When Jesus saw that he had answered with wisdom, he said to him, “You aren’t far from God’s kingdom.” After that, no one dared to ask him any more questions.

Reflection

“You are not far from God’s kingdom.”

When do you feel close to God’s kingdom?

This passage is the last of a series of contentious questions. The legal experts and religious authorities have had enough of him. He is stirring things up too much. He made trouble at the Temple, and they are afraid. They question his authority. They try to trap him with tough questions. Tuesday is full of these kinds of exchanges, but this one is different.

The adversary seems to become an ally, and the rest of the leaders quit while they’re ahead.

“You are not far from God’s kingdom.”

Are you far or near to the Kingdom? Do you understand this commandment? Understanding it draws you near. Live out the commandment, and the Kingdom is at hand.


REST SIX – THURSDAY: BREAD AND CUP

Object: A large loaf of bread and cups of grape juice

Instructions:

Take a piece of bread off of the loaf. Please, don’t be shy. Take a good piece. Take off a piece that you actually have to chew. Eat it slowly. Taste it. Drink the cup of grape juice. Allow the sweet tang to fill your mouth. Breathe deeply as you chew and as your drink. Read this story as you eat your piece of bread. Really—take a big piece, even a second piece if you want. It’s okay. Remember, it only took two loaves to feed 5000.

Linger here with the bread. Linger here with the story. Hear Jesus’ words and know that YOU ARE THE BODY OF CHRIST. Read them again and know that YOU ARE FORGIVEN. This is not just some symbol. This is the very real presence of God in the bread and cup. Allow that fact to fill you as you read.

Mark 14:22-26

That evening, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. During the meal, Jesus said, “I assure you that one of you will betray me—someone eating with me.” Deeply saddened, they asked him, one by one, “It’s not me, is it?” Jesus answered, “It’s one of the Twelve, one who is dipping bread with me into this bowl.

The Human One goes to his death just as it is written about him. But how terrible it is for that person who betrays the Human One! It would have been better for him if he had never been born.” While they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.”

He took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. I assure you that I won’t drink wine again until that day when I drink it in a new way in God’s kingdom.” After singing songs of praise, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Post Script

As you were eating, did you notice who else was invited? Jesus knew that he would be betrayed by Judas, and what did he do? He broke bread with him. Sometimes the hardest part of the Gospel is realizing who else is invited to this table.


REST SEVEN – THURSDAY: DENIAL

Instructions:

Simply read this story of Jesus’ trial. Do not read it all silently. Read Peter’s words, the ones in bold, out loud.

Mark 6:35-44

They took Jesus to the high priest; and all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes were assembled. Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the guards, warming himself at the fire. Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none. For many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree.

Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying, “We heard him say, “I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’ ” But even on this point their testimony did not agree. Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?” But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, ”

Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus said, “I am; and “you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,’ and “coming with the clouds of heaven.’ ” Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?” All of them condemned him as deserving death. Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” The guards also took him over and beat him.

While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest came by. When she saw Peter warming himself, she stared at him and said, “You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.”

But he denied it, saying, “I do not know or understand what you are talking about.” And he went out into the forecourt. Then the cock crowed. And the servant-girl, on seeing him, began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.”

But again he denied it. Then after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean.”

But he began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know this man you are talking about.” At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, “Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.


REST EIGHT – FRIDAY: TRIAL

Object: Bowl of nails

Mark 15:6-15

During the festival, Pilate released one prisoner to them, whomever they requested. A man named Barabbas was locked up with the rebels who had committed murder during an uprising. The crowd pushed forward and asked Pilate to release someone, as he regularly did.

Pilate answered them, “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” He knew that the chief priests had handed him over because of jealousy. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas to them instead.

Pilate replied, “Then what do you want me to do with the one you call king of the Jews?” They shouted back, “Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Why? What wrong has he done?” They shouted even louder, “Crucify him!” Pilate wanted to satisfy the crowd, so he released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus whipped, then handed him over to be crucified.

Reflection

The crowd had a choice. This crowd, which had kept Jesus protected through much of the week, could now free him. Fear of the crowd’s reaction had kept the chief priests from arresting Jesus earlier in the week. The chief priests understood something about crowds though, they could be swayed.

So the choice was offered. Barabbas was a known insurrectionist. He had been “locked up with rebels.” The people were still looking for the messiah, the one who would deliver them. They could choose between the one willing to kill, or the one willing to die. They could choose between the rebel arrested for insurrection, or the teacher arrested for jealousy.

The choice goes down in history, but it is one we continue to face. What is our path for deliverance? Is it revenge or is it grace? Who do we want to crucify today?

Instruction

If you’ve ever chosen the path of Barabbas, pick up a nail.


REST NINE – FRIDAY: DEATH

Object: Baptismal font in the sanctuary

Instruction

Hold the nail in your hand as you read. Press it into your hand; into your wrist. Not hard enough to hurt you, but hard enough to feel it as you read.

Mark 15:25-41

It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. The notice of the formal charge against him was written, “The king of the Jews.” They crucified two outlaws with him, one on his right and one on his left. People walking by insulted him, shaking their heads and saying, “Ha! So you were going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, were you? Save yourself and come down from that cross!” In the same way, the chief priests were making fun of him among themselves, together with the legal experts.

“He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself. Let the Christ, the king of Israel, come down from the cross. Then we’ll see and believe.” Even those who had been crucified with Jesus insulted him. From noon until three in the afternoon the whole earth was dark.

At three, Jesus cried out with a loud shout, “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani,” which means, “My God, my God, why have you left me?” After hearing him, some standing there said, “Look! He’s calling Elijah!” Someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, and put it on a pole. He offered it to Jesus to drink, saying, “Let’s see if Elijah will come to take him down.” But Jesus let out a loud cry and died.

The curtain of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. When the centurion, who stood facing Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “This man was certainly God’s Son.” Some women were watching from a distance, including Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James (the younger one) and Joses, and Salome. When Jesus was in Galilee, these women had followed and supported him, along with many other women who had come to Jerusalem with him.

Instruction

As you leave, stop by the baptismal font. Touch the waters again. Baptism is death and rebirth. There is no resurrection without death. Go forth knowing that through it all, your seal as a Child of God is complete. You are God’s beloved.


A Maundy Thursday Liturgy

Good Friday Stations of the Gospel through Luke

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Pastor Robb is going to sing?

Pastor Robb McCoy will be umm, starring? in Godspell on April 18, 2014.

Pastor Robb McCoy will be umm, starring? in Godspell on April 18, 2014.

(With a tip of the hat to this great article from The Onion – vulgarity warning)

The cast of Riverside and the Center For Living Arts expressed their shock when Director Dino Hayz announced the solo list for their April 18 production of Godspell.

“Pastor Robb is singing?” one cast member, who wished to remain anonymous, questioned.  “I mean, he’s a nice guy and all, and knows his Bible.  But singing?”

Reports indicate that while he has a fairly loud preaching voice, and feels comfortable being in front of people, he’s not exactly a song-and-dance kind of guy.  With no shortage of talented veterans to choose from, Dino Hayz inexplicably asked McCoy to sing one of the biggest songs of the show, “We Beseech Thee.”

“It’s the last fun number of the show,” said anonymous.  “Everyone will want to crucify him, not Jesus.”

McCoy showed some potential in the other three shows he’s been in.  The first was a 50’s Follies show he did in eighth grade at his own church.  Most believe that he only joined that cast because he “might get to hold hands with Christina.”  One witness says that they did, in fact, hold hands, but broke up only a few months after the show.  The causes are still unknown, as the note that ended the relationship has been lost.

His two shows as an adult were last year’s presentation of Godspell, where his vocal limitations were apparent in his two-line solo.  His last production was a play called A Bright Room Called Day. 

“He didn’t even memorize his lines,” said one reviewer of the drama about the rise of Nazism in 1930’s Germany.  Ironically, in both Godspell and Bright Room¸ the ordained United Methodist pastor played Satan.

“He’s a damn good Satan, but I’ve never seen a show where Satan has to sing and dance.  We’ll just have to sing back-up extra loud for this one.”

The show is Friday, April 18 at 7:00 p.m. at Riverside United Methodist Church.  There will be a bake sale before the show and at intermission.  There will also be someone taking bets as to whether or not McCoy will “ever show his face in the church again after this debacle.”

2013 Godspell reflection, part 1

2013 Godspell reflection, part 2

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Thursday-Friday devotional, part 8

The next few posts are going to be a running devotional, reading through the Gospel of Mark, with short commentary and prayer.  I will post several of these over the next few days, leading up to the Easter.
SCRIPTURE

People walking by insulted him, shaking their heads and saying, “ Ha! So you were going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, were you? Save yourself and come down from that cross!”

In the same way, the chief priests were making fun of him among themselves, together with the legal experts. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself. Let the Christ, the king of Israel, come down from the cross. Then we’ll see and believe.” Even those who had been crucified with Jesus insulted him. From noon until three in the afternoon the whole earth was dark. At three, Jesus cried out with a loud shout, “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani,” which means, “My God, my God, why have you left me?”

After hearing him, some standing there said, “Look! He’s calling Elijah!” Someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, and put it on a pole. He offered it to Jesus to drink, saying, “Let’s see if Elijah will come to take him down.” But Jesus let out a loud cry and died.

The curtain of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. When the centurion, who stood facing Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “This man was certainly God’s Son.”

REFLECTION

“My God, My God, why have you left me?” I’ve wondered the same thing.  “Why?” is a common question that is posed to God.  All too often the answer is left unanswered.  Some may find it disconcerting to think of Jesus asking this question while on the cross.  How can God abandon Jesus?  If they are one in the same, how is this possible?

Tomes have been written on the subject by people more learned and articulate than me.    So we discover another “Why” question in the midst of the ultimate “Why?”  There are a lot of explanations to Jesus’ cry.  Whole sects and heresies have risen and fallen based on different answers to this question.  In seminary, this is the part of the class that started throwing out words like “Neo-Platanism, Gnostics, and Arianism.”  This was the part of the class that my eyes got glossy, and I longed for the next coffee break.

I value my seminary education, and cherish every moment I spent immersed in the transformative learning that I experienced in seminary, yet I admit I am no Biblical scholar.  I would fail miserably as a seminary professor.

I speak only as a man of faith when I say that Jesus’ cry on the cross haunts me and comforts me.  It is both a great source of humility and a source of strength.  For one, I know the Psalm which Jesus is quoting.  When he cries out “Why have you left me?” he is quoting Psalm 22.  It is as if he is shouting out the title of a song, which starts with loss, isolation, and abandonment, but ends with assurance, comfort, and victory.

It is entirely possible that in Jesus’ last cry the whole of the Psalm is captured.  And thus, the whole of Jesus’ mission.  It is a call forward, not just of despair, but of promise that out of despair God will raise us up.  Psalm 22 is a promise to all generations, to the future people of God that God will be present.  Given the fact that crucifixion is meant to wipe out one’s future legacy, this is a bold statement.  To claim Psalm 22 is to claim the promise of God even in the midst of apparent loss.

I also feel though, that I have to be careful to not read too much into Jesus’ cry.  It is, on surface, a cry of lamentation.  I have to ask myself, is it okay to leave it that way?  Is it okay to leave Jesus on the cross alone and forsaken?  Is it okay to leave Jesus a man that is facing his own mortality as any other man would?  Is it okay to have a Savior that was that vulnerable?  Is it okay to let Jesus be abandoned?

When I have fallen on my knees in shame, when I have pounded the ground in despair, when I have let myself be vulnerable, only to be taken advantage of and wounded, when I have screamed at the top of my lungs in agony, is it okay?  There is a part of me that finds it reassuring to know that Jesus is not high up on a cross, dying with quiet dignity, above the fray.  I am comforted in knowing that when I am at my lowest, Jesus is there too.  When I feel beaten, battered, and bruised, I pray to a God who knows what I feel.  I pray to a God that has died with me.  When I scream at God in despair, I know that I do so in good company.  I am not going to be offered easy answers.  I am simply going to have a Savior that wraps his arms around me and whispers, “I am with you.”  And I will know that he speaks from experience.

PRAYER

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? It is a question I have asked before, and if I am honest, it is one I will surely ask again.  Even in my asking I know that it will never really be true.  Even in my struggle I know that you are always present, and for that I am forever grateful.  Amen.

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Thursday-Friday Devotional, part 7

The next few posts are going to be a running devotional, reading through the Gospel of Mark, with short commentary and prayer.  I will post several of these over the next few days, leading up to Easter.
SCRIPTURE

Mark 15:16-28.  The soldiers led Jesus away into the courtyard of the palace known as the governor’s headquarters, and they called together the whole company of soldiers. They dressed him up in a purple robe and twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on him. They saluted him, “Hey! King of the Jews!”

Again and again, they struck his head with a stick. They spit on him and knelt before him to honor him. When they finished mocking him, they stripped him of the purple robe and put his own clothes back on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.  Simon, a man from Cyrene, Alexander and Rufus’ father, was coming in from the countryside. They forced him to carry his cross.

They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha, which means Skull Place. They tried to give him wine mixed with myrrh, but he didn’t take it. They crucified him. They divided up his clothes, drawing lots for them to determine who would take what. It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. The notice of the formal charge against him was written, “The king of the Jews.” They crucified two outlaws with him, one on his right and one on his left

REFLECTION

Crucifixion was more than a death penalty.  It was total annihilation.  The purpose of crucifixion was to remove a person from existence.  By stripping a man naked, flogging him until he was covered with blood, hanging him on public display along a popular path, the Roman authorities knew that the one crucified would be wiped from consciousness.  Those crucified were made permanently unclean.  

No one could touch them from the moment they were hung, and yet no one could turn away.  Adam Hamilton, in his gripping Bible study 24 Hours that Changed the World, explains that one being crucified was not hanging high, isolated from those passing by.  The elevation of the cross, he claims, was actually only about 9 feet.  Jesus’ head would have been lower than a basketball hoop.  His majority of his naked, beaten, bloody, body would have been at eye level.

The humiliation of this death was complete.  It was meant to rob a person not only of his present life, but of his past and of his future.  There would be no legacy for those crucified.  The pain was such that memory would be purged.  The words and deeds of the crucified could not be remembered.  The loved ones and relatives of the crucified one would never claim him.  Crucifixion was a physical, emotional, and spiritual death.

This is what Jesus faced.  The Gospel of Mark does not soften the blow.  There are no redemptive words of forgiveness, as we have in Luke.  There is no tender moment of compassion, nor determined strength of a man carrying his own cross, as we have in John.  There is only a man too weak to carry on.  There is a only a man that is hung with outlaws, spat on and mocked.  There is no dignity in this death.  There is nothing good on this Friday.

On some level, this needs to be the message of Good Friday.  Allow that irony in that name sink in.  Allow the questions.  Allow the sadness.  Allow the reality of injustice hit you with all of its force.  The world is broken, and there is no greater evidence to that fact than the cross on Golgotha where a man was led to die.  God was made flesh, and we crucified him.  That is all we need to know about the human condition.

PRAYER

My soul cries out to thee, O Lord.  Out of the depths do I cry.  The injustice of this world is crippling.  It is paralyzing.  When I ponder for a moment the injustice and cruelty that people are capable, it causes me to tremble.  Tremble.  Tremble.  I seek no quick fixes or easy answers.  I seek only comfort and a promise that this is not the end of the story. Amen.

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Thursday-Friday Devotional, part 6

The next few posts are going to be a running devotional, reading through the Gospel of Mark, with short commentary and prayer.  I will post several of these over the next few days, leading up to the Easter.
SCRIPTURE

Mark 15:1-15  At daybreak, the chief priests—with the elders, legal experts, and the whole Sanhedrin—formed a plan. They bound Jesus, led him away, and turned him over to Pilate. Pilate questioned him, “ Are you the king of the Jews?”

Jesus replied, “That’s what you say.” The chief priests were accusing him of many things. Pilate asked him again, “Aren’t you going to answer? What about all these accusations? ” But Jesus gave no more answers, so that Pilate marveled.

During the festival, Pilate released one prisoner to them, whomever they requested. A man named Barabbas was locked up with the rebels who had committed murder during an uprising. The crowd pushed forward and asked Pilate to release someone, as he regularly did. Pilate answered them, “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?”  He knew that the chief priests had handed him over because of jealousy. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas to them instead. Pilate replied, “Then what do you want me to do with the one you call king of the Jews?”

They shouted back, “Crucify him!”

Pilate said to them, “Why? What wrong has he done?”

They shouted even louder, “Crucify him!”

Pilate wanted to satisfy the crowd, so he released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus whipped, then handed him over to be crucified.

REFLECTION

I’ve heard all my life that Jesus was sent to die for our sins.  It is such an important part of the American Christian ethos that it is usually said uncritically.  “Jesus died on the cross for me.”  For some, this just rolls off the tongue without much thought, and when people do think about it, they think only of their own sin.  It becomes a very privatized way of thinking of Jesus.  And while I am not opposed to thinking that Jesus died on the cross for me, I can’t think it uncritically.  Something about this passage doesn’t sit right.

If I am to believe that Jesus came to die on the cross for me, than why I am so upset when I read about this exchange?  If Jesus’ mission was to die on the cross, then isn’t it a good thing that the people chose to save Barabbas?   Then why does reading this fill me with regret?  Why do I get frustrated with the suddenly neutered Pilate who just wants to appease the crowd?  There are a lot of ways to understand what happened when Jesus died on the cross.  One of them is to believe that Jesus came to die on the cross for me.  But this just doesn’t sit well as the only explanation.  If it was, then this scene wouldn’t be heart-wrenching.

Here’s another way to understand what happened here.  Jesus came to announce “God’s good news; saying; ‘Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!'” (Mark 1:15) He announced it to fishermen, interrupting their lives even in the midst of a catch.  He was so compelling that the set aside full nets to follow.  He proclaimed it to the demon-possessed, to the lepers, the sinners and the tax-collectors.  He gathered followers along the Judean countryside by forgiving sins, feeding the hungry, and clothing the naked.  He reached out to women and children.  He healed on the Sabbath. He calmed the storms, fed the multitudes, and redefined what it meant to be holy.  He looked beyond the letter of the law and revealed to the people the heart of God.  For all of this, and for upsetting the powers that be, he was condemned.

He was given a mockery of a trial, and taken to the Roman authority to be dealt with.  He was condemned to death, not because God needed him to die, but because we could not allow him to live.  In our brokenness, humanity clung to old ways of knowing about power.  They clung to a system that subjugated a people.  They clung to an institution that robbed the widows’ of their houses.  They clung to the power of the sword and the Pax Romana, as enforced by the Legionnaire’s spear.  How tightly do we still cling?

When given a choice between Jesus or Barabbas they chose.  They chose the man that had committed murder during an insurrection.  They chose the sword.  They chose the power of the world.  They chose the one that would try to overthrow Caesar by the only method that they understood.  And in that choice lays the ultimate tragedy of our existence. When humanity had the choice between the Kingdom of God and the power of the world, they chose the world.  When given the chance to save the man that taught them to “love their enemy,” they chose the man that murdered his enemy.

They made the choice then, and it is the choice we continue to make.  Every time we choose to hold onto bitterness and anger. Every time we refuse to reconcile. Every time we turn a blind eye to injustice and suffering.  Every time we condemn another to make ourselves feel safe. Every time we choose the way of the world, we choose Barabbas.  And we may as well be shouting “Crucify him!”

PRAYER

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.  Hear our cries for redemption.  As you go closer to the cross, we see our own complicity.  I want to be blind no longer.  Open my eyes that I may see not only the cross, but the path that led you to that cross.  Open my eyes not only to the cross, but to the hope that lies beyond it.  Keep that hope alive in me on this journey.  Amen.

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Thursday-Friday Devotional, part 5

The next few posts are going to be a running devotional, reading through the Gospel of Mark, with short commentary and prayer.  I will post several of these over the next few days, leading up to the Easter.
SCRIPTURE

Mark 14:53-72

 They led Jesus away to the high priest, and all the chief priests, elders, and legal experts gathered. Peter followed him from a distance, right into the high priest’s courtyard. He was sitting with the guards, warming himself by the fire. The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for testimony against Jesus in order to put him to death, but they couldn’t find any. Many brought false testimony against him, but they contradicted each other. Some stood to offer false witness against him, saying, “We heard him saying, ‘I will destroy this temple, constructed by humans, and within three days I will build another, one not made by humans.’” But their testimonies didn’t agree even on this point.

Then the high priest stood up in the middle of the gathering and examined Jesus. “Aren’t you going to respond to the testimony these people have brought against you?” But Jesus was silent and didn’t answer. Again, the high priest asked, “ Are you the Christ, the Son of the blessed one?”

Jesus said, “I am. And you will see the Human One sitting on the right side of the Almighty and coming on the heavenly clouds.” Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we need any more witnesses? You’ve heard his insult against God. What do you think?”

They all condemned him. “He deserves to die!” Some began to spit on him. Some covered his face and hit him, saying, “ Prophesy! ” Then the guards took him and beat him.

Meanwhile, Peter was below in the courtyard. A woman, one of the high priest’s servants, approached and saw Peter warming himself by the fire. She stared at him and said, “You were also with the Nazarene, Jesus.”

But he denied it, saying, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t understand what you’re saying.” And he went outside into the outer courtyard. A rooster crowed. The female servant saw him and began a second time to say to those standing around, “This man is one of them.” But he denied it again.

A short time later, those standing around again said to Peter, “You must be one of them, because you are also a Galilean.” But he cursed and swore, “I don’t know this man you’re talking about.” At that very moment, a rooster crowed a second time. Peter remembered what Jesus told him, “Before a rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down, sobbing. (Common English Bible)

REFLECTION
A widow's mite is now on sale for $29.95.  Seriously, I'm not making that up.

A widow’s mite is now on sale for $29.95. Seriously, I’m not making that up.

Why did the chief priests and scribes want Jesus dead?  The Gospel of Mark makes it clear.  Follow the money.  The chief priests and scribes operated as a part of the institution of the Temple that kept them in power.  It was an institution that kept them comfortable, but it was a precarious situation.  The chief priests had to keep the people coming, buying doves, changing money, and making sacrifices.  At the same time, they had to keep Rome appeased, lest they get removed.  The major charge against Jesus in his trial is that he threatened the Temple.  He threatened their power, status, and comfort.  For this, he had to be removed.

In the Gospel of Mark Jesus goes to the Temple shortly after arriving in Jerusalem, and leaves without incident (11:11).  The next day, Jesus sees a fig tree and curses it for not having any fruit.  The next scene is Jesus again going into the Temple.  This time he drives out those who were “selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves.”  Intentionally waiting until there would be a crowd, Jesus disrupts business at the temple.  Mark explains that it is after this scene that the chief priests and scribes decide they have to kill him.  He is costing them money.  The next day, the fig tree that Jesus had cursed is withered.  The fig tree and the Temple are the same.  Jesus sets himself against the Temple authority.  He disrupts the institution that has been built up around the temple.  Later, he denounces the Scribes for “having the best seats in the synagogues,” as they “devour widows’ houses.”

It is immediately after this denunciation that he sees the widow making an offering in the Temple.  This was an illustration of how the scribes “devoured widows’ houses.”  When he foretells the destruction of the Temple, it is in reaction to a system that kept some in poverty so that others may be comfortable.  When they left the Temple, the disciples marveled at its grandeur.  All he saw was a pile of stones, ready to be reduced to rubble. He knew that it only stood on the whim of the Romans.  It was God’s power that he was concerned with, not adroitly straddling a fine line between comfort and destruction.  The Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed was not one of huge buildings and massive armies.  This was the only kind of kingdom that the people understood, but he was seeking a different kind of Kingdom.

For this. the chief priests and scribes feared Jesus.  They feared him because he was stirring things up.  They feared him because he was a threat to their wealth and comfort.  They feared him because they saw through their pomp and grandeur.  He saw through their hypocrisy. He saw through their empty ritual, their heartless sacrifice, and their religious trappings.  He saw through them, and that was frightening.

It can be an uneasy feeling when someone looks through the shell and sees the soul.  That kind of vulnerability can unleash emotions.  It can unleash something unpredictable, and downright frightening.  In the chief priests, it unleashed an inhuman rage directed at an innocent man.

I wonder sometimes, what kind of response would it unleash in me?

PRAYER

Fear is a powerful emotion, O God.  Help me to understand my fear, and name it.  Help me to be honest with myself and with you.  Comfort me in my struggle, and forgive me in my own hypocrisy.  Lead me to a better place, and a higher calling.  Take me to the kingdom that cares not for comfort or trappings.  Help me rest in thee.  Amen.

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Thursday-Friday Devotional, part 3

SCRIPTURE

Mark 14:23-31 “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body.’ He took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. I assure you that I won’t drink wine again until that day when I drink it in a new way in God’s kingdom.’ After singing songs of praise, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Jesus said to them, ‘You will all falter in your faithfulness to me. It is written, I will hit the shepherd  and the sheep will go off in all directions. But after I’m raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.’

Peter said to him, ‘Even if everyone else stumbles, I won’t.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘I assure you that on this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.’  But Peter insisted, ‘If I must die alongside you, I won’t deny you.’ And they all said the same thing.”

REFLECTION

Communion is our family meal.  It is the time for Christians to come to Christ’s table and share in the saving work of God.  There are a lot of ways to do it.  Some try to make sure certain words are said, or certain bread is used.  Sometimes there are arguments over how often it should be done.  There are most serious disagreements about who should be allowed to come.  Should children?  Should the unbaptized?  Should the non-members?  Should those that vote for pro-choice candidates?

When I read the story of Jesus’ last supper, I see no boundaries.  I see no filters.  I see no rules.  I see simply a man gathered with his friends.  I see sinners.  I see a betrayer.  I see a denier.  I see a tax collector.  I see fishermen.  I see rich men.  I see men that know only that they want to follow Jesus, though even they might not be sure why.  I see love, fellowship, wonder, fear, and community.  It is an imperfect community, made perfect through love.

I love Communion. I love having that piece of bread placed in my hands.  I love sweet taste of the bread mixing with grape juice.  I love to let it sit in my mouth so I can savor it.  I breath deeply, eyes shut, so I can tune every sense into this one thing that I am doing.  I do not know what exactly I’m doing when I eat from Jesus’ bread and drink from Jesus’ cup.  It is a mysterious ritual that still astounds me.

Is it symbolic? No – that word seems too flimsy.  This is more than symbol that I hold in my mouth.  It is more than symbol that fills me with hope and power, humility and awe.

Is it changed atomically? No – My scientific mind knows that it remains bread and grape juice.  I am not participating in some magical cannibalistic ritual.

Is it really Christ’s body and really Christ’s blood?  I’m not sure how to answer that, but I’m okay with living in the mystery that something about Communion is real.  Something about it connects me to Jesus himself.  That table stretches across time and space, and there is room for the saints of the ages.  There is room for the sinners that come together.  There is room for the betrayers and the deniers.  There is room for the tax collector and the Pharisee.  There is room for the young and the old. There is room for the rich and the poor.  There is room.

It is our family meal.  It is a time to share in God’s saving work in the world, and that work is real.

PRAYER

Jesus, you have called us together to your table.  In the act of breaking bread, you invite us to be your companion.  In the sharing of the cup you offer forgiveness.  I am humbled by your invitation, and strengthened by your grace.  Fill me with your love, and empower me with the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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Thursday-Friday Devotional, part 2

SCRIPTURE

Mark 14:12-22 “On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb was sacrificed, the disciples said to Jesus, ‘Where do you want us to prepare for you to eat the Passover meal?’  He sent two of his disciples and said to them, ‘Go into the city.  A man carrying a water jar will meet you.  Follow him.  Wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, “The teacher asks, ‘Where is my guest room where I can eat the Passover meal with my disciples?'” He will show you a large room upstairs already furnished.  Prepare for us there.’  The disciples left, came into the city, found everything just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover meal.

That evening, Jesus arrived with the Twelve.  During the meal, Jesus said, ‘I assure you that one of you will betray me – someone eating with me.’

Deeply saddened, they asked him, one by one, ‘It’s not me, is it?’

Jesus answered.  It is one of the Twelve, one who is dipping bread with me into this bowl.  The Human One goes to his death just as it is written about him.  But how terrible it is for that person who betrays the Human One! It would have been better for him if he had never been born.'”

REFLECTION

There is much debate over whether or not Jesus’ last meal was a Passover meal as we envision it.  While the historical likelihood that what Jesus and his disciples did had any resemblance to a modern Passover Seder is low, it is clear that Mark’s gospel wanted to show the last supper was connected to the Passover.   My understanding of the Passover meal is that it is a re-presentation of God’s saving work as found in Exodus.

A modern Passover Seder is full of symbolism, reading, prayer, and meaning.  All of it has the purpose of pointing to the fact that God saved the Hebrews from slavery.  God stood by the promises made to Abraham.  God stood with a people that were oppressed.  God stood against the greatest power the world had ever known – and triumphed.  This is the message of Passover, and this is the message of Jesus’ last meal as well.   This is the parallel that Mark is trying to convey.

During the meal Jesus announces that one will betray him.  He announces that the betrayer is there, and that he is one with whom he will dip bread.  This tells us two things.  Jesus knew Judas would betray him.  Jesus ate with him anyway.  And not only did he eat with him anyway, but he sat next to him.  Otherwise, how could they have dipped the bread together?

Mark does not tell us when Judas leaves, but we know that they started the meal together.  Jesus knew what Judas was thinking, and still he broke bread with him.  Still he offered him friendship.  Still, they dipped the bread together.  I can only imagine the heartache that Jesus must have been feeling.  Some read Jesus’ words toward Judas as words of reproach, vengeance and anger.  That’s not how I read them.

Instead, I hear Jesus words as sorrowful.  I hear them wishing that his betrayer would change his mind, but knowing that he won’t.  I hear Jesus giving Judas one last warning – “you’re going to regret it,” not as a threat, but as a heartfelt plea.  I see Jesus heartbroken that the time they spent together hadn’t been enough.  The words, the healing, the signs and wonders – none of it had been enough.  Still Judas didn’t understand.  Truthfully, none of them did.

Sometimes I wonder if I do.  Sometimes I wonder if I realize just how much Jesus loves me.  How many times has Jesus seen me and wished he could change my heart.  How many times has he seen me on the precipice of betrayal and screamed, “Don’t do it!” Only to be ignored.

Still, he invites me to this table.

Still, he calls me to his side.

Still, he breaks bread and shares it with me.

Me. Still.

Still.

PRAYER

Jesus, friend and teacher, you prepare a place for me still.  You invite me to your table still.  Still, I fail.  Still, I fall.  Still, I cry to you.  Please don’t stop calling.  Amen.

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Thursday-Friday Devotional, part 1

The next few posts are going to be a running devotional, reading through the Gospel of Mark, with short commentary and prayer.  I will post several of these over the next few days, leading up to Easter.
"They promised to give him money"

“They promised to give him money”

SCRIPTURE

Mark 14:10-11 “Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money.  So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him” (New Revised Standard Version)

REFLECTION

What motivated Judas to betray Jesus?  In Matthew, it seems as if Judas is looking for some kind of gain in order to betray Jesus.  In Mark, the reward money seems like an afterthought.  In both Luke’s and John’s gospel, the blame is placed on Satan, who enters Judas.  The passage we find in Mark comes immediately after a story of a nameless woman that anoints Jesus was very expensive ointment.  During this exchange, “some were there who said to one another in anger, ‘Why was the ointment wasted in this way?’… and they scolded her.”  John’s gospel names Judas as the one that was angry, “not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief” (John 12:6).

So what do we make of Judas?  Was he possessed by the devil, not acting of his own accord?  Was he under some sort of demonic control?  Was he simply scheming for a way to make a little money?  Was he, as some posit, disappointed that Jesus was not gathering an army?  We don’t know what motivated Judas, but when I read “Satan entered him,” I understand this to mean that Judas was tormented.  I may not understand how or why Judas betrayed his friend, but it seems clear that Temptation overwhelmed him.

And I understand that.  I understand what it means to fall.  I understand what it means to fail someone I love.  I understand what it means to come up short when tested.  I may never know the heart of Judas. I don’t need to. I know my own.

PRAYER

Holy and gracious God, I have betrayed you.  I have forgotten your commands.  I have ignored your pleas.  I have turned away from the path that Jesus has shown us, and chosen my own path.  Forgive me.  Strengthen me in my weariness.  Though I do not deserve it, I seek the power of your love, forgiveness, and grace. Amen.

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