Monthly Archives: March 2015

Easter Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter Sunday (Year B)

Scripture Readings*: Isaiah 25:6-9, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, John 20:1-18, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

Isaiah 25:6-9

The vision of a banquet on Mount Zion, to which all people will be invited and at which death will be swallowed up for ever (vv. 6–9), is framed between a prayer of thanksgiving for God’s power over the “cities of ruthless nations” (vv. 1–5), and a prophecy about the fate of one such nation (vv. 10–12). Mount Zion stands at the center, scene of unrestrained rejoicing, symbol of life and salvation, surrounded by silent, dusty ruins where once the proud cities of the nations had stood.

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Paul wants his readers to be absolutely assured of the Lord Jesus’ Resurrection and its profound and eternal consequences for all who believe in him (cf. John 11:25–26). He knew that at Corinth there were doubts about the resurrection. He affirms that the resurrection of Jesus is essential for the gospel message.

The consistent testimony of the church has been – and is – that Jesus died for our sins, rose again, and appeared to numerous witnesses.

John 20:1-18IVANOV_YAV_HRISTA_MARI1

This was the first of five appearances of Jesus on resurrection day: to Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9–11; John 20:11–18); to the other women (Matt. 28:9–10); to Simon Peter (Luke 24:33–35; 1 Cor. 15:5); to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Mark 16:12–13; Luke 24:13–32); and to the eleven apostles (Mark 16:14; Luke 24:36–43; John 20:19–25).

The words “Don’t cling to me” (20:17) indicate that Mary needed to realize that Jesus’ presence was not permanent. He explained that he had not yet ascended to the Father. That ascent was on the surface a sad departure of Jesus from those who loved him. On a deeper level, Jesus’ ascent to the Father opened up the new presence of Jesus and the Father with the believer through the Holy Spirit.

What You See Is What You Get

It’s worth noting how many times today’s readings reference Christ appearing to His disciples. His resurrection had already taken place. Death had already been defeated. Salvation was already at hand. In other words, the joy and power of Easter was ready and waiting for the followers of Christ. But until He appeared – until He revealed Himself – none knew of it.

Easter is more than a date on the calendar. Easter comes when we see Jesus.

Has grief blinded you? Has life caused you to lose sight of His presence? Look again. Listen as He calls your name. See Jesus. Experience Easter.

Prayer for Easter Sunday – Almighty God who gives me life through the resurrection of Your Son, Jesus Christ; give me grace to see Him in the minutes and moments of my days; through Jesus Christ, Amen.

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*Readings are from the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B

Good Friday, April 3, 2015

Good Friday (Year B)

Scripture Readings*: Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Hebrews 10:16-25, John 18:1-19:42, Psalm 22

Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12

Isaiah gives a clear description of the sufferings of Christ. With striking contrast one sees: The Servant valued by God, but rejected by men (52:13–15). Eager for a powerful ruler, God’s people see no beauty in the carpenter of Galilee despite His good works (53:1–2). Despised by His own people, Christ was a sufferer, not a conqueror (v. 3). His affliction seems to be evidence of God’s displeasure, but His suffering actually is for us, that we might be healed by His wounds (vv. 4–6). He remains humble in life and death. Though innocent, He dies “for the transgression of “My people” (vv. 7–9). It was God’s intent to crush Him, for Christ is a guilt offering, a substitute paying the price of our sins (v. 10).

Yet death is not the end. Beyond the grave “the light of life” awaits the Savior. He not only rises, but is satisfied that His suffering was not in vain, for by it He “will justify many” (v. 11). Vibrant with new life, Christ is raised to glory. In submitting to God’s will, “He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (v. 12).

Hebrews 10:16-25

The writer of Hebrews quoted the prophet Jeremiah (Jer. 31:33–34), of which is also part of a passage he’d referenced in Hebrews 8:7–12. The Old Covenant worshiper could not say that he had “no more consciousness of sins” (Heb. 10:2). But the New Covenant believer can say that his sins and iniquities are remembered no more. There is “no more offering for sin” (Heb. 10:18) and no more remembrance of sin!

No Old Covenant worshiper would have been bold enough to try to enter the holy of holies in the tabernacle. Even the high priest entered the holy of holies only once a year. The thick veil that separated the holy place from the holy of holies was a barrier between people and God. Only the death of Christ could tear that veil (Mark 15:38) and open the way into the heavenly sanctuary where God dwells.

“Let us draw near … Let us hold fast … Let us consider one another.” This threefold invitation hinges on our boldness to enter into the holiest. And this boldness (“freedom of speech”) rests on the finished work of the Savior, Jesus Christ.

John 18:1 – 19:42jesus-pictures-crucifixion-2

John records the events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion… his arrest, examination by Annas and the high priest, Peter’s denial, and a detailed description of Jesus’ trial before Pilate. John also adds a graphic account of Christ’s crucifixion, His undying concern for Mary and Jesus’ death and burial. John’s account reveals a night and day no one since has been able to forget!

Back to the Future

Our world began in a garden. That same garden was the setting for its fall. It’s no surprise then that God used a garden as the place where the world’s redemption would be set into motion.

Notice John’s words telling us Judas knew where Jesus would be because the garden was a place Jesus often went. No doubt, Jesus often returned to the garden as a means of figuratively returning to the point of God’s original creativity and perfection. As Judas approached, imagine Jesus’ unspoken understanding of God’s plan coming full circle as creation’s redemption began to unfold.

On this Good Friday, what comfort we draw from this revelation. God’s grace extends all the way back to the origins of our pain – back even further to that place before pain and brokenness entered our existence – restoring and redeeming even the smallest details of our lives. As we look to the cross, we see God’s infinite mercy bringing us full circle back to a garden and that place of sheltered perfection and provision found only in His revealed presence.

Prayer for Good Friday – Almighty God, as I behold Your Son on the cross, help me see my life redeemed through the sacrificial gift of Your love; through Jesus Christ, Amen.

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*Readings are from the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B

Maundy Thursday, April 2, 2015

Maundy Thursday (Year B)

Scripture Readings*: Exodus 12:1-4, 11-14, I Corinthians 11:23-26, John 13:1-17, 31b-35, Psalm 116:1, 10-17

Exodus 12:1-4, 11-14

The month God strikes the firstborn of Egypt is established as the beginning of the Hebrew religious year (12:1–2). Moses tells each Jewish family to select a year–old lamb on the 10th, care for it till the 14th, and then kill the lamb. The blood is to be sprinkled on the doorframe of the home, and the lamb roasted and eaten (vv. 3–11). That very night God will strike Egypt’s firstborn, but will pass over the blood–marked homes of the Israelites (vv. 12–13). For all time Jewish families are to hold a commemorative meal on that date, as culmination of a seven–day Passover season.

Just as the Israelites continually re-tell the story of God’s intervention on their behalf, we too, benefit by rehearsing God’s acts of mercy in our lives.

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

The Lord’s Supper is a unique, holy occasion for the gathered church to sense the participation of every member with Jesus in His death. At the Lord’s Table we are present at the Cross and testify to it.

The outward signs express the new covenant in Christ—His body broken, His blood shed, the benefits which flow from His death and sacrifice. His blood is the seal and sanction of all the privileges of the new covenant.

John 13:1-17, 31b-35Detail of Jesus Christ with Saint Peter from by Giotto di Bondone

It was custom in Middle Eastern countries for a slave to wash the feet of guests. Jesus’ foot washing was an example of humility and service (v. 15). Christ took the place of a slave and humbled himself to wash the feet of his disciples. The visual lesson is clear: if their Lord and Teacher has washed their feet, then they should wash one another’s feet and serve each other in humility. This must have been a striking rebuke to the Twelve, for just that evening they had been debating who was to be the greatest! (See Luke 22:24–27.)

Signs of Love

Imagine the scene the morning after the first Passover. Amidst the deaths of every firstborn in Egypt, the people of God are seen peering out from between bloody wooden doorposts, their children and animals unharmed, even as the blood runs down the supports that protect and shelter them.

This imagery was what Christ invoked when He took bread and broke it, poured wine and shared it. In a few hours, He knew it would be His body broken, His blood dripping down wooden posts as His disciples stood protected beneath it. And He looked through time and saw you and me, standing beneath this same bloodied protection, peering out at a world marked by death and grief.

As you eat, as you drink, let this scene fill your heart with renewed wonder at the enormous gift of God’s love. And let it be the impetus for your own signs of love, demonstrated through humble service, to a hurting world.

Prayer for Maundy Thursday – Most merciful God, as I receive Your Son’s Body and Blood, let me feast on You in my heart with thanksgiving, remembering Your gift of eternal life; through Jesus Christ, Amen.

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*Readings are from the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B

Palm Sunday, March 29, 2015

Palm Sunday (Year B)

Scripture Readings*: Isaiah 50:4-9a, Philippians 2:5-11, Mark 15:1-39, Psalm 31:9-16

Isaiah 50:4-9a

In this third servant song, Isaiah reveals the servant’s declaration of confidence in God. He had not drawn back from the Lord’s commission, despite severe opposition and humiliation. He persevered, confident that the Lord would one day vindicate him before his enemies. The song concludes with an appeal for the servant’s faithful followers to continue to trust the Lord and with a warning of judgment to those who reject the Lord’s guidance.

Philippians 2:5-11r17

Christian humility begins with the example of Jesus.

Paul stresses that Jesus is God – equal with God the Father in status and glory. As a human being, Jesus willingly laid aside his status and glory.  He didn’t cling to it or grasp at it.  Jesus was unwilling to use his godly nature and power to promote himself in any way.  He emptied himself, put aside his heavenly glory to be human. And then, he shed every layer of human status and dignity. As a result, God has given him the highest place in heaven.

God’s nature is to give and his glory is to serve. This is also to become the nature and glory of his Christ-like people, the church.

Mark 15:1-39

The events leading to the death of Jesus move swiftly. He is taken to Pilate, who gives in to the pressure applied by Jewish leaders and orders Christ’s crucifixion (15:1–15). Jesus is beaten and mocked (vv. 16–20). He falls on the way to Golgotha and a pilgrim is forced to carry Jesus’ cross (v. 21). At Golgotha He is crucified and ridiculed by His enemies (vv. 22–32). With the cross, shrouded in a supernatural darkness, Jesus utters His last cry and dies.

Mark’s story of Jesus’ life is enclosed by the centurion’s affirmation: “Truly this man was the Son of God.” Jesus – God’s only Son – died for us that we might live for him.

Learning to Love What Is Good

We teach our children to eat their vegetables before they get dessert. Children fuss and complain because they have not yet developed the maturity to ask for and love what is good. In a sense, the crowds that called for Barabbas’ release were like children.

Barabbas offered immediate gratification and peer approval. The crowd didn’t want to think critically about what they were asking for; didn’t want to face the fallout of going against the wishes of the high priests. They wanted their cake and to eat it, too.

Thankfully, God is our loving parent. He understands the lifelong process we face in learning to love what is good. That’s why, in a very real sense, He “kept Jesus on the table” even when the crowds chose Barabbas over Him. Obviously, we’re not comparing Christ to cauliflower. But to become a follower of Christ, our tastes and choices must mature. Like the crowd that rejected His Son, God knows in time our own choices grow in understanding and maturity. With His grace, we learn to love what is good.

Prayer for Palm Sunday – God of tender mercy, who sent Your Son to suffer death upon the cross on my behalf: give me that same humility to share in Your suffering so I may also share in the joy of Your resurrection; through Jesus Christ, Amen.

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*Readings are from the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B

5th Sunday in Lent, March 22, 2015

Fifth Sunday in Lent (Year B)

Scripture Readings*: Jeremiah 31:31-34, Psalm 51:1-13, Hebrews 5:5-10, John 12:20-33

Jeremiah 31:31-34

The Lord makes an amazing announcement! Unlike the present Mosaic covenant (vs. 32), “The day will come … when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah.” This new covenant would be written on his people’s hearts. It would bring about a new kind of relationship with God and a permanent remission of sin. The New Testament clearly identifies this New Covenant as God’s promise of forgiveness through the death of Christ on the cross (Hebrews 8:1-13).

Hebrews 5:5-10

A Jewish high priest had to be chosen by God and had to be compassionate (5:1–4). Jesus fulfilled both requirements. God selected him to be an eternal priest like Melchizedek, as David had predicted (5:5–6, 10; Psalm 110:4). While on earth, Christ showed great compassion (see Matt. 9:36; 14:14; 15:32). He learned much about our suffering through his own suffering (5:7–10).

John 12:20-33Wheat_in_the_field

While the Greeks may have expected Jesus to talk about his triumphant reception at Jerusalem’s gate, instead he spoke symbolically of his fast-approaching death. Just as a grain of wheat must be planted and die to produce more wheat, Jesus must now die to give spiritual life to all who believe in him (vs.23–24). Likewise, his followers must die to their own lives to produce the fruit of God’s Kingdom. If they do so, they will be richly rewarded in due time (vs. 25-26)

As Jesus contemplated his approaching crucifixion, God the Father audibly spoke words of comfort to him. The people mistook it as either an angel or thunder.

Surrender

What do you think you know about God? What do you believe to be true of yourself? Lent – and today’s readings – challenges us to rethink our assertions. Is God a scorekeeper of rules and deeds? Do we ever find purpose and meaning in this life?

Jeremiah shows us a God who is passionate about a relationship – so much so, that He is willing to do away with a system He created in order to bring about personal intimacy with His people. Paul echoes this by explaining how much God learns about us through Jesus’ earthly suffering.

Take off your mask. Let down your guard. Lower your defenses. Surrender. Find yourself embraced by the One who already set aside all the rules and regulations for a shot at a relationship with you. Discover a Savior who understands how life batters and bruises, leaving us broken and bloodied. He’s been there. And He’s waiting to resurrect purpose out of life’s every pain. Surrender your judgments – of God and yourself. Allow God to amaze you, revealing a new perspective of Him and your life – one you never thought possible.

Prayer for Fifth Sunday in Lent – God of love, give me Your desires and promises, that I may see with focused and clear vision Your eternal joy; through Jesus Christ, Amen.

*Readings are from the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B

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4th Sunday in Lent, March 15, 2015

Fourth Sunday in Lent (Year B)

Scripture Readings*: Numbers 21:4-9, Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22, Ephesians 2:1-10, John 3:14-21

Numbers 21:4-9

The fiery snakes may have been an adder, which is found in the sandy desert land of Sinai. These adders are very poisonous. The antidote was to look at a bronze snake held up on a pole.

The lifting up of Christ was compared to this incident in the desert, as those who look to him will live (Jn. 3:14–15). The means of deliverance in both cases was faith.

Ephesians 2:1-10

One theologian introduced this passage section as: “Transformed from transgressors to trophies.” Paul reminds us that we were lost in sin and under God’s curse (2:1–3), but now by grace we have been saved and given a place in God’s eternal plan (2:4–7). This salvation is “a gift from God” given “by his special favor” (2:8). God’s “special favor” is also referred to as grace, and it describes God’s part in offering salvation apart from any requirement to keep the law. “When you believed, describes faith, our part in accepting that offer. It is apart from works (2:9) but is also for the good works God created us to do (2:10).

John 3:14-21Henry_Ossawa_Tanner_-_Jesus_and_nicodemus

Jesus reminded Nicodemus of the time when a bronze serpent on a pole was lifted-up, saving Israel from a plague (Numbers 21:4–9). He predicted that his own approaching death would – in the same way – bring spiritual healing to all who believed in him (3:14–16).

Presenting the gospel in a nutshell, verse 16 clarifies: 1) The source of the gospel: God’s love, demonstrated in the giving of His only Son to die on the cross; 2) The beneficiaries of the gospel: “everyone who believes”; 3) The required response: simple faith in Jesus, and; 4) The importance of that response: Those who believe will live forever, and those who do not believe will perish.

What Do You See?

There’s an old adage that says, “What you see is what you get.” But is it? Perhaps what we get is a result of what – and how – we see. Today’s readings certainly give us a reason to examine this statement.

Had we been in the desert with Moses and the Israelites, we might have merely seen a statue or a piece of art erected on a pole. Had we been standing on Golgotha, we might have seen three lawbreakers facing justice. But what we initially see is not necessarily all we get. Through eyes of faith, God’s people viewed these subjects through a different lens. They saw healing and salvation and lived.

Faith does the same for us. Faith invites us to come closer. See life from a different angle. View God from a new perspective. Faith makes the case that what we see is not what we get. Faith dares us to believe that we get what can only be seen through God’s eyes.

What do you see? Lent gives us the opportunity to see ourselves – and God – differently. Take a look. Examine life from a different angle. See God as He presents Himself, rather than as we envision Him to be. Watch as life changes as you see it through His eyes.

Prayer for Fourth Sunday in Lent – God of grace, help me see You living in me, giving me a changed life as a result of Your indwelling; through Jesus Christ, Amen.

*Readings are from the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B

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3rd Sunday in Lent, March 8, 2015

Third Sunday in Lent (Year B)

Scripture Readings*: Exodus 20:1-17, Psalm 19, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, John 2:13-22

Exodus 20:1-17

The critical list of basic spiritual and moral commandments is introduced: “And God spoke all these words.” These principles for living in harmonious relationship with God and with one’s fellowman are no mere human invention. While they provide moral guidance for all, they are specifically intended for the covenant community: for men and women who share a common relationship with God.

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

Paul argues that human wisdom (the ability to see and understand reality) is shown to be foolishness by the Cross. Human philosophy’s appeal to rationalism must be guarded. Faith demands that we look beyond the “known” and accept God’s promise, even when it defies logic. It is through the eyes of faith that our differences are resolved and our essential unity in Christ is maintained.

John 2:13-22Jesus_Chasing_the_Merchants_from_the_Temple

In the clearing of the temple, Jesus brought forth God’s standards of what is right and what is wrong. Present for the Passover, a time of remembrance for Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, Jesus encountered individuals who were profiteering from the religious festival. Jews who had traveled great distances needed to purchase animals for sacrifice, as well as exchange their money into local currency. They encountered entrepreneurial individuals who offered both services.

The issue at hand was not business or profit making as such, but the mockery of the entire sacrificial system of the temple and the exploitation of devout men and women by greedy individuals who were capitalizing on religious sentiment. This spectacle aroused the indignation of the Jews. Their concern was not the moral issue of whether the sellers and money exchangers should have been there in the first place, but on what grounds Jesus took it upon Himself to expel them.

Voices

Our world is filled with voices of how to make life better. Richer. Happier. Too often, those voices fill our heads with their noise and their messages vie for a home in our hearts, defining how we view our worth, our value systems, and ourselves. Today’s readings point out the contrast between the voices in our heads and the voice of God.

It’s your life – you’re in charge. I am the Lord your God Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Work hard to get ahead. Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Get what you want, when you want it. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. Make yourself look good at all cost. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. Whoever has the most money wins. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, wife, or possessions.

Lent offers us an opportunity to examine to Who – and what – we listen. God is speaking. Can you hear Him?

Prayer for Third Sunday in Lent – God of wisdom, preserve me, body and soul, from the evil that assaults my soul; through Jesus Christ, Amen.

*Readings are from the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B

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