Tag Archives: Maundy Thursday

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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Sermon: Jesus saved a seat

This was my Maundy Thursday sermon this year.  It was largely inspired by an insight I received while watching Adam Hamilton’s 24 Hours That Changed the World DVD study.  In it, he asserts that Jesus and Judas must have been sitting next to each other at the last supper.  As the story is told, it was Judas that was seated at a position of honor, even as he was the one that was to betray Jesus.  Knowing Judas’s heart, what did Jesus do? He broke bread with him.  This was an incredible act of grace, and forms the heart of this sermon.

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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 4

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 14:32-51

Jesus and his disciples came to a place called Gethsemane. Jesus said to them, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James, and John along with him. He began to feel despair and was anxious. He said to them, “I’m very sad. It’s as if I’m dying. Stay here and keep alert.” Then he went a short distance farther and fell to the ground. He prayed that, if possible, he might be spared the time of suffering. He said, “ Abba, Father, for you all things are possible. Take this cup of suffering away from me. However—not what I want but what you want.”

He came and found them sleeping. He said to Peter, “ Simon, are you asleep? Couldn’t you stay alert for one hour? stay alert and pray so that you won’t give in to temptation. The spirit is eager, but the flesh is weak.”

Again, he left them and prayed, repeating the same words.  And, again, when he came back, he found them sleeping, for they couldn’t keep their eyes open, and they didn’t know how to respond to him. He came a third time and said to them, “ Will you sleep and rest all night? That’s enough! The time has come for the Human One to be betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up! Let’s go! Look, here comes my betrayer.”

Suddenly, while Jesus was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, came with a mob carrying swords and clubs. They had been sent by the chief priests, legal experts, and elders. His betrayer had given them a sign: “Arrest the man I kiss, and take him away under guard.”

As soon as he got there, Judas said to Jesus, “Rabbi!” Then he kissed him. Then they came and grabbed Jesus and arrested him. One of the bystanders drew a sword and struck the high priest’s slave and cut off his ear.  Jesus responded, “Have you come with swords and clubs to arrest me, like an outlaw? Day after day, I was with you, teaching in the temple, but you didn’t arrest me. But let the scriptures be fulfilled.” And all his disciples left him and ran away.  One young man, a disciple, was wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They grabbed him, but he left the linen cloth behind and ran away naked. (Common English Bible)

REFLECTION

I’ve written before on this blog that Gethsemane is the most important part of the gospel story to me.  It is the linchpin of the gospels.  It is the moment that starts the passion.  If you enter the story for the first time, then the ending is still up in the air until Gethsemane.  While in the garden, Jesus still has options.  He could run.  He could go into hiding.  He could gather arms. He could resist the mob coming to get him.  The men that he was with might not have been able to stay awake, but they probably would have been willing to fight.  The options for Jesus are open while he prays in the garden, but he also knows clearly which path is the way of God.

He wishes there to be another way.  He wants to avoid the pain, humiliation, and torture that comes with the cross.  He was a man.  He was a man that could suffer.   He knows that his mission lies not in running away.  His mission lies not in fighting.  His mission is that of standing up and facing what the crowd would throw at him.  It is in the garden that he stands up for what he had lived for.  He stands up, and chooses the will of God.  The rest of the story is decided when Jesus stands in the garden and faces his betrayer.

It is not an easy story to hear, but it is one we must face if we are to truly understand the extent of humanity’s ability to do evil.  It is one we must face if we are to see the extent God is willing to go for love.  It is one we must face if we are to catch a glimpse of just how amazing grace really is.

PRAYER

Holy and Gracious God, it is easy to become weary.  We seem to live in a constant state of tiredness.  The world presses in on us.  Fears and doubts wear us out.  It would be so welcome to lie down and sleep.  You remind us though, to stay awake.  Strengthen us to stand up when it is needed.  Help us to stand up for justice.  Help us to stand up for grace.  And when we fall asleep, wake us up, and help us rise again.  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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Maundy Thursday Liturgy

Maundy Thursday

Liturgist:     Jesus spent his life teaching us the meaning of love.  Through word and deed Jesus showed us how to love God and to love one another.  He fed the hungry.  He healed the sick.  He invited the women and the children and the tax collectors and the sinners to come to his table.  He broke bread with the least and the lost and shared the cup of redemption with them all.  He crossed boundaries of race, nationality, ethnicity, gender, and class.  He challenged religious authority, and he scoffed at pomposity and self-absorbed grandeur.  He called out the hypocrites.  He admonished the scribes and the Pharisees for their hardened hearts.  He brought a simple message: Love God, love yourself, and love one another.

All:       We gather in the name of Jesus and remember the way that he showed us.  We gather to remember not just his death, but his life.

UM Hymnal #174 – His Name is Wonderful

Liturgist:     The way of Jesus goes through the cross, but we are not there yet.  It is close.  We can see its shadow.  We can feel the cold, dark, night. We know that the enemies of God are conspiring.  They have had enough of him.  He threatens their comfort.  He threatens their way of life.  He threatens their power.  They will come for him.  First though, we will gather.  We gather with Jesus and his closest friends.  We gather with those that called him teacher, Rabbi, friend.  We gather for the Passover meal, to remember that God saved the people from slavery.  God saved once.  God saves forevermore.

All:       God saved the Israelites at Passover, and revealed that it is God who reigns, not the Pharaoh.  Our God saved once.  God saves forevermore.

UM Hymnal #448 – Go Down, Moses

Liturgist:     Even as they were sharing this sacred meal together, the disciples were not of one heart.  Jesus knew that he was asking much from these men, and he knew that they would fail him.  Judas had already agreed to betray Jesus to the religious authorities.  Was he angry at some slight?  Was he disappointed that Jesus would not raise an army against the Romans? Was he upset with the value of the oil that the woman “wasted” when she anointed Jesus?  We will never know Judas’ heart, but Jesus knew that he would be betrayed.  And did Jesus do with the man that would betray him?  He broke bread with him. All of the disciples were deeply saddened, and they asked:

All:     I would never betray you, Lord.  It’s not me, is it?

Leader One:      On the night in which Jesus was betrayed by his friend, he took the bread, gave thanks to God, broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said: “This is my body, which is broken for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.”

Leader Two:    When the supper was over he took the cup, gave thanks to God, gave it to his disciples and said, “Drink from this all of you, this is my blood of the new covenant which is poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.  Do this, as often as you drink of it, in remembrance of me.”

Leader One:      And so, in remembrance of these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving as a holy and living sacrifice, in union with Christ’s offering for us, as we proclaim the mystery of faith.

All:       Christ has died. Christ is risen.  Christ will come again.

Leader One:    Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and the cup.  Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ, that we may be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by Christ’s blood.  By your Holy Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world, and we feast at his heavenly banquet.  Through your Son Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit in your Holy Church, all honor and glory is yours, almighty Father now and forever.

Communion in silence

Liturgist:     When the holy meal had been shared, the disciples began to argue over which one would be the greatest.  Even here, at the end of their time together, they did not seem to understand what Jesus had been teaching them all along.  He reminded them that to be great in the Kingdom of God meant to serve.  After Jesus’ talk of betrayal, the disciples’ argument, and Jesus’ rebuke of them, the disciples seemed to be growing anxious. Peter proclaimed:

All:       “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”

Liturgist:     And Jesus replied, “I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day until you have denied three times that you know me.”

The Faith We Sing, Hymn #2112 – Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley

Liturgist:     Afterwards, Jesus led his disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane.  He asked them to pray for him, for he wanted to be alone.  There, Jesus prayed.  He asked his friends to keep watch, but they kept falling asleep.  He prayed for another way out.  He prayed in anguish.  He prayed as a man who could feel pain, who would be hurt by betrayal, who would be scarred by the scourge, and would bleed when nails were driven into his arms and legs.  He prayed as a man who knew that if he followed God’s will, he would be charged, convicted, mocked, humiliated, abandoned, and nailed to a cross.  Knowing all of this full well he prayed, “Not my will, but yours.”  Then he stood up for all that he had lived for.  When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come to into the time of trial”

All:       Judas said to Jesus, “Rabbi” and kissed him.  Then they came and grabbed Jesus and arrested him.

UM Hymnal #290 – Go to Dark Gethsemane (verses 1-3 only)

Liturgist:     There was a brief skirmish at the arrest, but his disciples quickly scattered.  Peter, who had only hours before promised to go with Jesus to prison, even death, followed from a distance.  During the trial, Peter remained hidden in the shadows.  First a servant girl saw him and said, “This man was also with him.”

All:       “Woman, I do not know him.”

Liturgist:     A little later someone else, on seeing him said, “You also are one of them.”

All:       “Man, I am not.”

Liturgist:     Then about an hour later still another kept insisting, “Surely this man was with him; for he is a Galilean.”

All:       “I do not know what you are talking about.  I do not know Jesus.”

Liturgist:     At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed.  The Lord turned and looked at Peter.  Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said to him, and he wept bitterly.

UM Hymnal #288 – Were You There

Stripping of the table (All of the items that adorn the Lord’s table, and all of the liturgical banners are removed in silence)

There will be no sending forth or postlude.  People are asked to leave in reflective silence, and return for Good Friday service and Easter Sunday service.

Good Friday Stations of the Gospel through Luke

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