Easter Sunday

Christ is risen.

Christ is risen indeed.

Alleluia!

This changes everything.

Jesus breaks through the unbreakable bond and gives hope to each one of us.

Today is about new life and new beginnings, shared quietly and personally early in the morning.

Other resurrections had been more public:

  • A little girl lay on her deathbed, mourned by her devastated parents and their entire village. When Jesus took her by the hand and she stood up, joyous shouting and loud exhalations filled the tiny room. Word traveled fast. Social media had nothing on the speed with which this good news was shared.
  • Lazarus had been buried in his tomb for days before Jesus arrived. He was greeted by the scolding criticism of Lazarus’ sister Martha. Her anger at Jesus’ slow response to their critical need radiates in her speech, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” She and Mary were immersed in grieving rituals, surrounded by family and friends. Their deep sorrow turned to astonished joy when Jesus called Lazarus out of his burial cave. The entire village rejoiced.

But Easter is different.

It’s quiet, early in the morning. There are only a few women who come to mourn at the grave. The Easter  miracle is revealed in a personal way.

  • The angels question the women, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”
  • Jesus speaks directly to one of them, “Mary.” And tells her to go to the disciples and tell them what she had seen.

The Good News of Easter didn’t take the countryside by storm. It wasn’t announced to a crowd. It was a gradual awakening to what God had done. It was passed along from one person to the next.

Easter promises hope for each one of us, individually.  We can share and celebrate it together. But we are invited to discover every day just what “new life” and “resurrection” mean in our own lives.

Christ is risen.

Christ is risen indeed.

Alleluia!

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Holy Week – Saturday

What happened on Saturday in Holy Week?  Nothing.

Sometimes life is like that. There can be days or months when our lives seem to be at standstill and God remains silent.

Long-anticipated plans didn’t come through.

Hoped-for dreams fizzle and die.

Sometimes, there is nothing – just silence, loneliness, disappointment.

Nothing happens on Saturday.

Jesus’ followers are left with their sorrow, their questions, and their grief.

Perhaps Jesus’ enemies had noisy celebrations, thinking they had finally vanquished this bothersome prophet, but that isn’t recorded in the Gospels.

It was a day filled with sadness and emptiness, where joy and vibrant hopeful life once stood. It was a day when people might have been surprised that they still needed to do ordinary things like fetch water, prepare meals, and watch the children.  When it feels like our world has ended, it seems unfair that mundane tasks must still be completed. We want to wallow in the darkness and simply allow the emptiness to consume us.

Nothing happens on Saturday.

It must have been hard to imagine going on.

It must have been impossible to consider ever feeling joy again.

The world as they knew it – as they wanted it, as they had dreamed it – had ended.

Now one endless day after another stretched out before them like an endless parade of nothingness.

Holy Saturday is for those times in our lives when we don’t know how we will carry on.

God is in that place, but God can seem very far away – closed off from us like the heavy rock that is rolled in front of the tomb.

On Holy Saturday we simply wait and watch and  hope for a better time.

Holy Week – Friday

Who wants to think about death? Many schools and even some public buildings are closed today, but Good Friday services are never crowded. Clearly not everyone is considering this day off as an opportunity for prayer and worship.

Over the years I’ve heard many reasons for not attending Good Friday services.

  • “It’s too sad.”
  • “I already know the story.”
  • “I don’t like to think about it.”
  • “It’s kind of morbid.”
  • “It just makes me cry.”

And it’s true – Good Friday is filled with human experiences any healthy person would prefer to avoid.  There’s pain, torture, cruelty, sadness, loneliness, abandonment, doubt, and fear.

Good Friday recognizes that pain – physical, spiritual and emotional – is a part of human life.  This is universally true – every person you meet, regardless of culture, race, or economic status – has experienced pain and loss. Remembering that fact might allow us to bridge the gap between ourselves and our fellow life-journeyers. Maybe it could increase our compassion for one another.

Good Friday reminds us that sorrow is part of life.

Good Friday looks honestly at those times when evil seems to prevail.

God Friday confronts us with times when God seems absent.

As Christians, we know this is not the end of the story. We don’t have to stay in sadness. We are not required to dwell permanently on thoughts of death.

But neither should we ignore it. As tempting as it is to simply skip over the hard part of our story in our rush toward Easter morning, it is good to pause on this reflective day.

  • Perhaps we will think about someone who is sad and reach out to them
  • Maybe we will reflect on our own sadness and be willing to accept help or support
  • We can mourn a loss, knowing that our tears are precious in God’s sight
  • We can rely on God’s promise to be with us, even in the valley of death
  • We might lament or take time to consider what makes us afraid or lonely. We can lift up our prayers.

Jesus suffered. He cried out to God in his pain.

Good Friday gives us permission to pray brutally honest prayers.

Finally, Jesus entrusted himself, body and soul, to the One who created him. As he died, he said, “Into your hands I commend my spirit.” After a bruising end to his life, Jesus was safe in God’s care.

That can give us, even on this sad day, hope that lives on and will never die.

Good Friday

 

Holy Week – Thursday

How many “lasts” have you experienced?

The last day of school.

The last time you saw a loved one.

The last chemo treatment.

The “last” does not have to be sad, but it is usually memorable. It is an event that remains ingrained in our hearts and minds.

Jesus came to the table, knowing this would be his final meal; it was literally his last supper. But it was meant to remembered forever.

It is touching that Jesus made this profound moment so accessible. It tells me that Jesus wanted to ensure that this particular gathering could be enjoyed by people across the globe.  He took a basic need – eating – and elevated it so participants could receive a heavenly glimpse of fellowship, love, and support. Jesus chose the simplest elements – wine and bread – and transformed them into a powerful moment of blessing.

There is a universal appeal to breaking bread – whether it’s cornbread or rice cakes, whole grain or gluten-free – together. When we eat and share together, we are offering one another sustenance that comes from God.

Blessing and breaking bread was the last communal act Jesus shared with his disciples. It was also the first way Jesus revealed himself to traveling disciples following his resurrection. “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him” (Luke 24:28). Jesus entered into their despair and turned it around when he nourished their bodies and fed their spirits.

It’s easy to make this more complicated than it needs to be. We could engage in dry church-y arguments about “transubstantiation” and the real or symbolic presence of Jesus in the elements.

But that would miss the point. Jesus wanted to give himself to his followers. At its simplest, this last supper depicts Jesus sharing himself with all who came after him.

“Do this in remembrance of me,” he tells us.

We can remember and give thanks.

And then we can pass that blessing along.

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Holy Week: Wednesday

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”  Matthew 23: 37-38

It is such a poignant scene –  Jesus is standing on the hillside overlooking Jerusalem and weeping.  He laments people’s hard-heartedness and their unwillingness to be touched or changed by God’s love.  He has traveled the countryside sharing glimpses of God’s transforming love, yet so much of the world seems untouched and remains uncaring.

As he prepares for his crucifixion, I imagine Jesus being filled with “if only’s…”

If only

  • The people would listen
  • They would recognize the gifts God was offering
  • They would accept God’s forgiveness and then share it
  • They could view one another with God’s eyes
  • They could celebrate unity instead of division, distrust, and prejudice
  • They didn’t love power more than compassion
  • Their fear wasn’t greater than their trust

The flawed disciples show us reflections of ourselves:

  • People who jockey for position and want to be put above others
  • People who are afraid to defend what is right
  • People who, when left on their own, hesitate to speak their faith or live their convictions
  • People who are afraid of those who are “other” than themselves
  • People who are quick to judge
  • People who betray
  • People who deny
  • People who run away

Jesus is lamenting what is true about us – that we sin and fall short of the glory of God. Jesus mourns our failure to accept God’s love, healing and new life, but that will not stop his determination to continue to offer God’s gifts. He will go to death – he will go to hell and back – so these undeserving, oblivious people – people like us – can receive God’s unending love.

Holy Week: Tuesday

“Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was whom Jesus had raised from the dead. There they made him a supper; Martha served…”  John 12

What a relief to finally reach the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus! After an emotional day in Jerusalem, filled with ecstatic crowds followed by the confrontation at the temple, their home must have felt like an oasis in the midst of this tumultuous week. Jesus briefly found a safe haven, a home filled with an uncomplicated, loving welcome and a meal that would nourish both body and spirit.

And there was Mary – loving, compassionate Mary – who “took a pound of costly ointment of pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair” (John 12). Jesus recognized this loving gesture for what it was – a way of offering support, surrounding him with prayers and love, and blessing him with a sweet memory of compassion. For someone about to face unrelenting cruelty and unimaginable pain, it was a precious gift.

Relaxing at his friends’ house, Jesus did not have to give or provide anything. He didn’t preach or teach. For a sweet, short time, he simply received the love and devotion of one who cared.

Mary could not prevent the approaching agony.  She was unable to shield Jesus from the pending pain and loss. She could not take his place. But she could offer comfort and an unmistakable sign of devotion.  Jesus would carry this memory with him.

If it were in our power, all of us would protect our loved ones from pain and suffering. If it were up to us, we would ensure that family and friends would be shielded from life’s bruising power. We would stare down the forces of sickness, injustice and cruelty that destroy lives.

Yet we cannot always take away another’s pain. We cannot always shoulder others’ burdens and we are unable to shield even our precious loved ones from the agony that life can deliver.

  • But we can care.
  • We can pray.
  • We can stand by their side.
  • We can offer a compassionate heart and a listening ear.
  • We can remind them they are not alone.
  • We can love.

 

In a world that delivers mockery, discouragement, betrayal, and brutality, Mary shows us how to offer comfort. We may not be able to change someone’s situation, but we can bless them with loving kindness.

Mary’s courage and compassion teach us how to live the Gospel of love.anointing oil Mary

 

 

 

Holy Week: Monday

“Jesus entered the temple of God and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple and he over the tables of the moneychangers…”  Matthew 21

What a contrast to the joyous Palm Sunday parade where everyone was waving their palm branches and singing their praises to Jesus! One moment that is festive celebration with triumph, hope, and rejoicing.

And then Jesus enters the temple, throws over tables and shouts at the money changers.  “You have made this a den of robbers.”

Ouch.  Way to ruin a mood.

Sometimes people try to use this passage to determine what fundraising activities should or shouldn’t be run by the church.  Raffles – yea or nay? Bingo? What about bake sales on Sunday? Can one set up tables of wares in the sanctuary or is that crossing the line?

But this story is about more than how good-hearted folks try to earn money for their struggling congregations.

This is about focus.  It’s about paying attention and how we spend our time. The money-lenders and salespeople were in “the temple of God” and were completely unaware. They were so focused on the business at hand that they were oblivious to the Spirit of God moving in and through that holy place.

Jesus puts a stop to that.  It makes me think of a parent who finds their child endlessly playing computer games inside on a beautiful day.  The parent may unplug the computer or stash the laptop in the closet and say, “Go outside!”  Why?  Because you are missing a blessing. And you are causing other people to miss that blessing as well.

The story invites us to consider – what is pulling us away from God? What is distracting us? What is consuming our attention without feeding our soul? What would Jesus toss out of our life if we would allow him access?

During Holy Week, we remember Jesus’ journey to the Cross.  God is about to act in magnificent ways.  Jesus doesn’t want people to miss that. What can we put aside so we will be more aware of God’s blessings and God’s calling in our lives today?

Here is a lovely prayer about this Scripture by Rev. Maren Tirabassi.

 

 

Holy Week: Palm Sunday

“Hosanna, praises to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Eternal One! Hosanna in the highest!” Matthew 21

Amid enthusiastic crowds and waving palms, Jesus entered Jerusalem on that Sunday and changed his life – and our lives – forever.  Once he crossed the divide from outside the city wall and entered the gate to busy city streets, there was no turning back.

His journey would take him to betrayal, anger, false accusations, wild gossip, loneliness, despair, doubt, and pain.  It was a difficult, overwhelming path. It’s astonishing that he chose to go on that journey.  It’s one more sign of his unrelenting love for us.

One mystery that our faith celebrates is that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine.  He could have skipped this hard part; he could have silenced his accusers and destroyed his enemies. He could have called on his divine powers to release him from the need to go through the upcoming agony. Instead, he chose to immerse himself in the very human encounter with loss, pain, and even death. He knew that each one of us will experience these in our lives and he didn’t want us to be alone when we did.

If you are on a difficult path right now, or if you know someone who is, the story of Palm Sunday is for you.  There is great hope here. When Jesus decided to walk on that brutal path toward the Cross, he was choosing to know what it is like to be vulnerable, overwhelmed, and scared – to be human.

When we lift up our prayers in the midst of pain and loss, confusion and betrayal, we are talking to someone who has experienced those very human conditions himself. Whether we are excluded because of who we are, what we look like, or who we love, we can turn to One who has been on this journey before us.

This can offer us hope and maybe the strength to carry on. Life can be brutally painful at times. It is easy to be disheartened and wonder where God might be at this particular, overwhelming moment. Palm Sunday reminds us – God is on this path with us.  When we talk with God – even through gritted teeth, unsure if our prayers will make any difference – we are talking to One who knows. Who understands. Who has been here.

“Hosanna!” means “save us!”  Those prayers for strength, wisdom and endurance are lifted up to God who has promised never to leave us or abandon us.  The message of Palm Sunday is one of hope.  We are not alone.  Let us lift up our voices and sing our praises to God.

 

Love shouldn’t hurt

Domestic violence was the topic in worship last Sunday. Our Lenten celebration of kindness and loving our neighbor was punctuated by the reminder that love shouldn’t hurt.

Now, that may seem obvious to you. Yet Patty Sue Brown, an advocate for our local domestic violence shelter, shared startling statistics with us. They are eye-opening.

  • 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime.
  • Domestic violence is the 3rd leading cause of homelessness.
  • Women ages 18-34 are at the greatest risk of being victims of domestic violence.
  • Every 9 seconds a woman in the United States is a victim of domestic violence (the rate is even higher in other countries).

It was difficult to hear about pain happening all around us. Some folks wondered if this was a proper topic for a Sunday morning sermon. There were, after all, children and young people present. But this is a message for all ages and a topic we can’t ignore.

We learned that February is designated as “Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month.” It gives one pause to realize that such an awareness campaign is necessary. We want to encourage people of all ages to recognize the warnings signs. The power wheel illustrates that violence is not limited to physically hitting or grabbing someone.  Controlling behavior, causing another person to feel isolated or devalued, and words that belittle or shame are all on the violence spectrum.

Domestic violence 2As beloved children of God, each of us deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. We need to care for ourselves and be mindful of the needs of our neighbor.

During that same worship service, we heard the parable of the Good Samaritan, that unlikely hero who sees a person in need and responds with kindness and compassion. The story reminds us to actually see one another and recognize signs of distress and hurt. The Samaritan’s willingness to reach out to a stranger saved that person’s life.

The leaf added to our Kindness Tree this week was “helpful.” We offer ourselves as the hands of Christ, reaching out to all of God’s people.

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Celebrating our “Kindness Tree”

A tree grows in our sanctuary.  Actually, it is pretty barren right now, with a single paper leaf dangling on it.  This is our “Kindness Tree.”  During the season of Lent we will be talking with our children and congregation about how we live out Jesus’ command to “love our neighbors as ourselves.”  Each week we will add another leaf to celebrate acts of kindness. And together we will wonder – How do we live kindness?  How do we share kindness?

In the midst of the excessively nasty rhetoric in the news and social media these days, it is important for the church to offer another voice, an alternate tone, and a different viewpoint. There are few public figures that I as a parent would lift up to my children as viable, admirable role models. There are words and phrases spewed across the airwaves that we would not allow our Sunday School children to repeat. And there are attitudes and hateful opinions that contradict the Gospel of love and new life that we cherish.

What’s a church to do?

We can offer a new conversation. We can encourage our children to listen to the life-giving voice of the One who created them and loves them unconditionally. We can be inspired by Jesus who always reached out to the outcasts, shared meals with the shunned, and healed the forgotten, the lonely, and the hurting. We can try to follow his footsteps.

We can live kindness.

Every week during Lent we will listen to stories and examples of people who make a difference in someone’s life. Our role model will be the Good Samaritan who had the wisdom to recognize a beaten, abused man left on the roadside as a beloved child of God. The Samaritan was himself part of a reviled group of people; popular opinion labelled him as a subhuman who should be feared.

The Samaritan didn’t allow others to define him. He didn’t listen to their narrative and wasn’t swayed by their opinion. Instead, he lived his truth.

He shared loving kindness with a stranger.

Sometimes people talk about “giving up” something for Lent and it may be that weaning ourselves away from the endless negative chatter would be a good start. But perhaps adding something to our lives would be even more important.

  • We can speak words of kindness.
  • We can share acts of thoughtfulness.
  • We can remind one another – friends and strangers – that we are created in the image of God.
  • We can be gentle with one another.
  • We can encourage each other.
  • We can wonder if a person we encounter is going through a difficult time.
  • We can extend grace.

Every day between now and Easter, let’s make someone’s life a bit better.

As Aesop reminds us, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”

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