Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter Sunday

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24  Isaiah 65:17-25  1 Corinthians 15:19-26 or Acts 10:34-43  Luke 24:1-12
“O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!” (Ps. 118:1)
“He is not here, but has risen.” (Luke 24:5b)

Love wins!  When Jesus Christ is raised from the dead, love wins.  God’s love wins.

The world and its ways conspired to kill love, tried to kill hope, tried to kill faith—tried to breed hatred, despair, and distrust, tried to usurp love by stoking the fires of fear. But they failed. They failed because they did not count on love going so far as to accept and even embrace death. The world and its ways discounted God—discounted God’s love and the way of God’s world. On Easter, Jesus is raised from the dead, and God’s astonishing love wins. 

No one can take away from or diminish God’s love. Even the most shameful dying and death by crucifixion could not do that. And ironically, it led God to show just how potent this love is. Death could not contain it; shame could not contain it; hatred and violence could not contain it. Love wins. And this love is so amazing that when God raised Jesus from the dead, he transformed death. He took it into himself and changed it. He took away its terror. Death is no longer the end. Death still is, but love wins. 

And, God’s love keeps winning. We only have to look at history:  the ending of legalized slavery; the commitment to equality for all; the creation of mechanisms for pursuing peace that supplant the winner-dictates-all approach. We see St. Paul, Dorothy Day, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Martin Luther King, Jr., those who believed with heart, soul, and body that love wins. God wants us to share this love so that others may share in this great abundance of love and life.

Christ is risen. Love wins! Alleluia!

—The Rev. Heather Warren

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Holy Saturday

Psalm 31:1-4, 15-16  Job 14:1-14  1 Peter 4:1-8   Matthew 27:57-66

He descended into hell.

So it says in the Rite I version of the Apostle’s Creed, recited for centuries as our affirmation of faith. Jesus, placed in a tomb on Good Friday, did not stay there, according to long tradition. He descended into hell and brought out all of those who had been cast there, beginning with Adam and Eve.

There is no real scriptural support for this idea of a Harrowing of Hell, as it is called from the Middle English, but there are references to his descent “into the lower parts of the earth” and making “captivity itself captive” (Ephesians 4: 9,8). 1 Peter claims the Christ “made a proclamation to the spirits in prison” and “to the dead” (1 Peter 3:19, 4:6). Much of what we understand about Christ’s descent into hell comes from the non-canonical 4th century text known as the Gospel of Nicodemus although earlier theologians like Origen and Tertullian also make reference to Christ freeing the dead from Satan’s grasp.

If we believe that Christ’s death and resurrection overthrew the power of Satan and freed us all from sin, then it is not hard to believe that, while Jesus’ friends and family were grieving his atrocious death and fearing that they might be next, God, meanwhile, was up to something else. All of those who had gone before were being released into new life—not physically but spiritually, brought into the nearer presence of God, while the devil was placed in captivity until the final battle that is yet to come.

As so often happens when we are preoccupied with the cares and concerns of life, God is working all things to our good. In God’s meanwhile, even our worst can become our best. In God’s meanwhile, even death can become life. Even when it seems that all is lost, in God’s meanwhile, all can be restored.

He descended into hell.

Meanwhile . . .

— The Rev. Elaine Thomas

Friday, April 3, 2015

Good Friday

Psalm 22  Isaiah 52:13–53:12  Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9  John 18:1–19:42

In depictions of art, and in the lyrics of hymns, we sometimes proclaim that Jesus was lifted “high on the Cross,” as if elevating him put him a little closer to Heaven—and a little farther from us.

But that is not how it was on this day we now call “Good Friday.” The Cross the Romans used for executing prisoners was low to the ground so that people walking past could see the horror up close. That was the point, you see. We are your God, the Romans declared. There is no other.

For the followers of Jesus, it wasn’t supposed to end this way. Jesus had entered Jerusalem something of a local hero. He had cured the sick and confronted the corrupt. For months, he taught every day at the Temple, and he shared his table with outcasts, tax collectors, lepers and even women. He exploded the social taboos.

It seemed like he could do anything and get away with it.

But then the Romans got their hands on him, and all of their brutality spilled forth to break him—and break anyone who believed him. We are your God, the Romans declared. There is no other.

No one likely venerated that cross or collected splinters as relics.

Devout Jews walked on the other side of the road and averted their eyes. And why wouldn’t they? It was a hideous way to die.

There was another reason to avert the eyes from the executioner’s cross. Death on the cross was a sure sign that the condemned was headed to Hell itself.

Christians in a later time would develop theological theories that Jesus died on the Cross to pay a “ransom” for our sins—to “atone” to a bloodthirsty God for our wrongdoing. But what kind of God is that?

Maybe we should look at this another way.

By dying in the worst way a human being could die, Jesus shows us the very nature of God—that God dwells not just in the sunlight, but in the dungeons where people are tortured.

It is God who weeps.

— The Rev. Jim Richardson

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Maundy Thursday

Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19  Exodus 12:1-42  1 Corinthians 11:23-26   John 13:1-17, 31b-35

During Holy Week, we transition from participating in the crowd that both praises and then condemns Christ on Palm Sunday to an intimate association with Christ on Maundy Thursday. The readings of Maundy Thursday make the association of Passover with the institution of the practice of the Eucharist and foot-washing. We become Christians as we learn that this is what it means to follow him. To follow Jesus is to remember him every time we break bread and share wine. To follow Jesus is to serve others. The foot-washing ceremony brings us into an intimate association with each other. Jesus teaches us by modeling. As he washed his disciples’ feet, we are to do likewise.  We are to care; we are to serve.  These readings give us the sacraments and ritual practice whereby we become the body of Christ, enacting Christ in the world. Who we are in our association to Christ has changed from us being part of the peer pressure crowd to being Christ in the world. We now are to encounter everyone else as we have encountered the Christ, as servants. We are to be Christ in the world, to become his body and blood. 

Yet after such an intimate exchange, the service of Maundy Thursday is often marked by the stripping of the altar and even putting away of any reserved sacrament. Annually we mark this memory of Jesus being sentenced to death. We move from intimacy to remembering his beatings in prison and his awaiting death. He is gone. We are alone remembering his pain. We cannot reach him, we cannot find him.

For a while I could not remember some word
            I was in need of,
and I was bereaved and said: where are you,
            beloved friend?

(from “After I Fall down the Stairs at the Golden Temple”  ~Mary Oliver)

— The Rev. Sarah Colvin

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Wednesday in Holy Week

Psalm 55  Jeremiah 17:5-10, 14-17  Philippians 4:1-13  John 12:27-36

I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest.
I would flee far away
And stay in the desert;
I would hurry to my place of shelter,
Far from the tempest and storm.”
  Psalm 55:6-8

We know that the dark days are upon us. Just as Jesus knew in John 12, we know today that his death is once again uncomfortably close. It would be easy to read the words of Psalm 55 and Jeremiah 17 as the unspoken words of Christ. But what if these are also our words? “Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea; hear me and answer me.” (Psalm 55:1) These days of ours do feel dark at times. It has certainly felt that way on grounds this past year. It certainly continues to feel this way for many people of color in our society who have resonated with the cry “I can’t breathe!” Sometimes we can only see the darkness and want to fly away to a place of shelter from the storm. We might hear our voice in the urgent cry in Jeremiah, “Where is the word of the Lord? Let it now be fulfilled!” (Jer 17:15) We cannot keep waiting. Our times are urgent.

As Jesus tells the crowd about his impending death, they find themselves getting caught up in their questions. They want to know more. He is about to leave them and they need to understand! “. . . how can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is the ‘Son of Man’?” But Jesus responds without answering their questions, instead saying, “Walk while you have the light, before the darkness overtakes you. . . . Believe in the light, so that you may become children of light” (John 12:35-36) Some commentators rephrase this as, “According to the light you have, walk.” Don’t wait for the light to be perfect. Don’t wait for your doubts to pass, for the path to be straight, for perfect understanding. Don’t wait for a perfect faith. The times are too urgent to wait. Our world needs us now, not on Easter Sunday. Because— today—someone needs you to walk in the light you have. Imperfectly, awkwardly, restlessly.

Become the children of the light by walking in the light you have, because this is not a day to wait, it is a day to walk. “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Phil. 4:8)

— Gillian Breckenridge