Good Friday of Holy Week

Gospel Lesson: Mark 14:43-15:47

Key Verse: Some women were watching from a distance, including Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James (the younger one) and Joses, and Salome. When Jesus was in Galilee, these women had followed and supported him, along with many other women who had come to Jerusalem with him.
 
Commentary

We know Mary Magdalene, although she gets an undeserved bad reputation. The other Mary might be Jesus’ mother, since tradition has it that two of his brothers are James and Joses. As for Salome, this is notthe daughter of Herodias, who danced in exchange for John the Baptist’s head, but one of Jesus’ disciples who has come with him from Galilee. There they stand, at a distance, but near enough to see and hear the agony of death on the cross. There they stand, silent witnesses to the sacrifice of their beloved Lord. We who watch distanced by centuries, comforted by what we know comes next, often turn away, unable to bear the horror and grief. Yet there they stand, watching and waiting, these women of Galilee, who cared for this One’s needs, supplied food and places to rest and sleep, listened to his stories and watched him heal broken people and broken lives. There they stand, providing strength to one another, holding one another as grief and fear shakes their bodies. Yet they stand, and watch. Watch until it is finished, determined to see where they take him. For there is one final service to be provided. His body that was anointed before his death by unnamed woman will be anointed once again. That is their plan. Named and unnamed, the sisterhood of the disciples from Galilee will care for their Lord.

 
Meditation/Call to Action
  • Those of us who have stood at the bedside know the feelings of grief, loss and love as life slips away. Can we – dare we – imagine what it would be like to watch in public, from a distance, as our loved one perishes from a cruel death? What does it take to remain at the cross?
  • Have we ever poured our time and energy into a movement, an opportunity, an experience, only to find it slipping through our fingers, never fully realized or completed?
  • Was Jesus’ death more than just a leader’s death, but also the death of a dream of new life?

 

Prayer

O God,

            our presence at the cross does indeed cause us to tremble,

            as our hearts break and our eyes fill with tears.

The depth of your love for us becomes real in that moment,

            for you are willing to be sacrificed to give us life.

Help us, in the darkness of this day,

            remember your promises,

            rely upon your assurance,

            and keep us near to your heart. Amen.



Maundy Thursday of Holy Week

Gospel Lesson: Mark 14:17-30

Key Verse: Jesus said, “I assure you that one of you will betray me – someone eating with me.”

 
Commentary

The sacrament of holy communion, the words we speak and the bread and cup we share, are a participation in the supper in the upper room. We re-member the occasion, as if were there that night, each time we celebrate the sacrament. But sometimes we forget that the meal was shrouded in betrayal and faltering faith. We are told that all the disciples asked, “It’s not me, is it?” Jesus does not name the one among them, but later, in the garden, says, “You will all falter in your faithfulness to me.” As we know from the rest of the story, Jesus was accurate in his prediction. Although we prefer to blame Judas, and shame Peter, the probability is that we, too, will falter in our faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus does not break the covenant God is making, does not limit the table to those who are worthy. Who among us would sit down to a meal with people we know will betray or deny us? Yet that is what Jesus does – offering himself to us – in spite of our unworthiness. Knowing us, knowing our faults and failures, Jesus offers us love and forgiveness. Knowing that, we are better able to love him and forgive one another, sharing the meal that makes us one.

 
Meditation/Call to Action
  • What if we had been among the disciples in the upper room, and heard Jesus’ announce that one of us would betray him?
  • Can we imagine a time or way in which we might do that? Would we ask, “It’s not me, is it?”
  • In what ways does a recognition of our likelihood of stumbling in our faith journey, as well as Jesus’ compassionate response to us, encourage us to move deeper in faith and commitment?
 
Prayer

O Jesus, who knows us so well,

            who feeds us knowing we will stumble,

            how we long to love as you love.

Teach our heart to love,

            and our lives to serve,

            that we may glorify your name. Amen.

 



Wednesday of Holy Week

 

Gospel Lesson: Mark 14:12-17

Key Verse: The disciples left, came into the city, found everything just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover meal.
 

Commentary

For most of us, the image that shapes the meal in the upper room is Leonardo DaVinci’s painting, The Last Supper. Jesus and twelve disciples, with enough details to puzzle generations of art and biblical scholars, a moment captured for eternity. Only when we learn more about the Jewish tradition of the Passover meal do we recognize that the image is incomplete. The ritual requires the presence of at least one woman, who lights the candles and begins the observance. Young people are necessary to ask the historic questions that define the occasion. And in Jesus’ time, guests did not sit, but reclined at the table. When we think of Jesus’ disciples, the twelve men who are named come to mind. In this passage, the gospel writer is clear that disciples were sent to prepare the Passover meal, but the Twelve arrive later, with Jesus. In our family celebrations, it is often women who care for the plans and preparations. Because Passover is a family celebration, it is likely that at least some of the disciples sent to prepare were women, maybe the same ones who have been providing for Jesus’ ministry with their money. When we add women and children to picture, when we remember this is a gathering of family and close friends, the meal in the upper room adds texture and richness to our faith that DaVinci’s painting, with all its intricate details, cannot add.

 

Meditation/Call to Action

  • Even the most familiar of stories can surprise us with details we failed to notice, with insights we hadn’t caught, with new meanings relevant to a particular moment in our life. What, if anything, surprises you about this reading of a very familiar story?
  • If we think of holy communion as a celebration of family and close friends, akin to the Passover meal which is one of its origins, does it change how we receive the elements and offer our thanks to God?
  • In what ways does that expand our experience of the words, “Do this in remembrance of me”?

 

Prayer

You invite all of us, O God,

            to share at your table of grace.

You call people of all genders, races and ethnicities to be your disciples,

            and give them the opportunity to prepare for your holy meal.

We are humbled by your invitation,

            and honored to serve your people at the holy meal. Amen.

 



Tuesday of Holy Week

Gospel Lesson: Mark 14:3-9

Key Verse: She has done what she could. She has anointed my body ahead of time for burial.
 
 
Commentary

Sometimes, like the woman who anointed Jesus, we receive criticism for what we have done. We are accused of wasting money or time; we didn’t do enough to support people in need; we don’t belong at the table; we interrupted an important conversation; we are not wanted or valued. The woman’s gift is extravagant, a treasure received or earned with effort. Often, those who criticize are suspicious of unknown women who behave in embarrassing ways, that suggest a relationship with Jesus that we do not understand. We wonder about her motivation, and about what she expects to receive in return. Such extravagance makes others uncomfortable, wondering about their own extravagance – or lack of extravagance. What a gift Jesus gives to the woman when he defends her, recognizing the significance of her anointing his body for burial, accepting the gratitude and love that pours from the alabaster jar and from her life. Sometimes, the voices criticizing our actions for what we have done are our own. We waited too long; we spent too much; we acted without considering the consequences; we intruded when we should have stayed out; people will misunderstand what we intended. Whether the voices come from within or without, remember what Jesus had to say: “She did what she could. . . .wherever in the whole world the good news is announced, what she’s done will also be told in memory of her.”

 

Meditation/Call to Action

  • In what ways does extravagance toward Jesus – our own or someone else’s – make us uncomfortable?
  • Does fear of criticism act as a barrier toward doing what we would like to do to express our love for Christ?
  • Is there a gift that might anoint the body of Christ in the world that we have been afraid to offer?
  • Have we been afraid of criticism or rejection if we pour out oil from our alabaster jars?
  • What might help us offer our gift of love, as the woman did that evening?

 

Prayer

O Jesus,

            how we long to pour our love upon you,

            to express our love and gratitude in tangible ways.

Knowing that you honor unnamed men and women frees us to serve,

            encourages us to give,

            and increases our love for you.

We give thanks in your holy name. Amen.

 



Monday of Holy Week

Gospel Lesson: Mark 11: 1-3, 10-11

Key Verse: But they agreed it shouldn’t happen during the festival; otherwise, there would be an uproar among the people.

Commentary

Hidden agendas are nothing new, as we learn that the temple leaders are plotting to arrest Jesus and kill him, and that one of Jesus’ disciples is willing to assist them in the plan. The leaders are protecting their own authority, but we do not know Judas’ motive; the text suggests it was money that motivated his betrayal. Interestingly, the leaders are willing to kill Jesus, but not to create an uproar among the people. As the story continues, they will gather enough of the crowd to support their cause, to shout “Crucify him!” when Pilate would prefer to release Jesus. “The crowds” play an important role in Jesus’ ministry, including this final week. We are quick to blame Judas, and find it shameful when Peter denies him. But the crowd is feared by the leaders, and the crowd’s decision distresses Pilate. Who holds the crowds responsible for the part they play in the events of the week? Dare we ask, were there some who shouted “Hosanna!” on Sunday, only to shout “Crucify him!” Friday morning?

 

Meditation/Call to Action

  • In what ways are we influenced by the crowds of our time? Are there ways that “we the people,” as responsible participants, might affect the outcome of those who plot against our best interests?
  • A popular phrase in some Christian communities is “Jesus died for your sin.” That’s a simplified version of atonement theology, meant to get our attention and . . . response. What is the response we expect from those to whom we refer? Perhaps, if we choose to use that phrase, it would be wiser to say, “Jesus died for my sin.” If we remember Judas at that moment, what shall our response be?

 

Prayer

O God,

            who forgives us while we are yet sinners,

            accept our gratitude for second chances.

As we move through this week with all its anguish and challenges,

            be our strength and support that we might submit to your will,

            through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

 



6th Sunday of Lent: Palm Sunday

Gospel Lesson: Mark 11:1-11

Key Verse: “If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘Its master needs it, and he will send it back right away.’”

 
Commentary

We do not know who owns the colt the disciples bring to Jesus, nor whether those who question what the disciples are doing are the owners of the colt. But the words, “Its master needs it, and he will send it back right away,” satisfy those who questioned. There are times when the master needs what we have, but we are not always satisfied with the words, “the master needs it, and he will send it back right away.” We set up structures and regulations to ensure that it really is the master who needs it, that those who might benefit from our gifts are worthy of our help, and that what we “lend” will indeed be returned to us. It takes great faith to trust without question, to give without reservation, to be satisfied with the words, “Its master needs it.” Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was intended to send a message. VIPs and conquering heroes enter the city on gallant horses or in chariots, surrounded by regalia. Jesus enters on a borrowed colt, surrounded by common folks shouting hosanna, “Save us, Lord!” Branches pulled from trees substitute for flags and banners, clothes spread on the ground instead of a red carpet. When Jesus asks to borrow what he needs, will we offer it freely? Will we make it possible for a new kind of leader to enter Jerusalem with a different kind of honor as we shout, “Hosanna! Save us, Lord!”?

 
Meditation/Call to Action
  • We have come to celebrate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem as a magnificent parade, but in truth, it was more likely an unnoticed entry, surrounded by a rag-tag crowd of supporters. His visit to the temple went unnoticed by the officials. At the end of the day, he returned to Bethany, accompanied by the twelve. Where might we find ourselves on this eventful day? Do we have a place in the story?
  • We celebrate Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem, and we plead to be saved, but the rest of the week will be filled with fear, grief, and loss. How might the memory of Jesus’ entry help us during this week that leads to the cross?

 

Prayer

O gracious God,

            who enters the holy city on a borrowed colt,

            surrounded by ordinary people who long to be saved,

let us be among those who celebrate Jesus as we lend what we have,

            that the hope of this day will sustain us through the dark days ahead.

Amen.

 



5th Sunday of Lent

Gospel Lesson: John 12:20-33

Key Verse: [Some Greeks came to Philip] and made a request: “Sir, we want to see Jesus.” Philip told Andrew, and Andrew and Philip told Jesus.
 
Commentary

Why Philip? We are accustomed to thinking that Peter, James, and John are the disciples closest to Jesus. If we were asking to see Jesus, we would go to one of them. Perhaps the Greeks were unfamiliar with the hierarchy of Jesus’ disciples. Maybe they had met Philip somewhere. And why did Philip go to Andrew before going to Jesus? In John’s gospel, it is Andrew who hears Jesus and follows, inviting Peter to come and see. Philip, we are told, comes from Bethsaida, the home of Andrew and Peter. Perhaps the Greeks, lost among the crowd that was following Jesus, went to the first disciple they could reach. Perhaps they were afraid that, as Greeks, their request might be ignored. We don’t know why they wanted to see Jesus. The mystery of how the good news spreads in the world is not logical, based upon information. Rather, it is a haphazard network of connections that are not obvious, not sensible. If those who receive the request insist upon knowing the why, how and when from those who want to see Jesus, the network breaks down. If the disciples fail to take the request to Jesus, the Greeks have no chance to see him. As disciples, even those who think of ourselves as minor players in Jesus’ ministry, we must be willing to take those who want to see Jesus to him, without erecting barriers based upon human distinctions or concerns. Without Andrew following Jesus, there might have been no Peter, the rock upon whom Jesus’ church is built. Who knows what Jesus might do with the Greeks who ask to see him?

 

Meditation/Call to Action

  • Although we seldom have someone ask to see Jesus, we are often in relationships where people’s longings become apparent. Sometimes, we ourselves want to see Jesus. What might be the ways we can see Jesus, and help others to see Jesus in ways that are genuine and true to the gospel message?
  • Think about the people who have helped us see Jesus. Perhaps they were Sunday School teachers, relatives, or neighbors who heard our spoken or unspoken request. What have we learned from them which will help us bring people to see Jesus?
 

Prayer

Open our eyes, O God,

            that we may see Jesus for ourselves.

Open our ears

            to hear the people who come asking to see Jesus.

Open our hearts,

            that the Good News may continue to spread throughout the world,

            from age to age,

            from generation to generation. Amen.

 



4th Sunday of Lent

Gospel Lesson: John 3:14-21

Key Verse: God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. (from The Message)

 
Commentary

The verse that is most often cited from this passage is “John 3:16.” It appears on bumper stickers, billboards, posters at sporting events, and public bathroom stalls. While John 3:16 could be understood as an invitation to faith, it often feels like an accusing finger is being pointed at those who have not yet accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. Adding verse 17 to our posters makes all the difference in the world. Now, we discover Jesus is the way the world is put right again. When I have made a mess in the kitchen, there is no need for someone to point out the mess. What a relief it is when they get a mop and clean the floor, gather up trash that has spread throughout the room, or fill the sink with water and begin to wash dirty pots and pans! Through Jesus’ presence, and through belief in the one who believes in us, the mess we have made can be cleaned up. When we have given up hope of ever being set right within ourselves or with others, Jesus’ grace floods us with assurance of God’s love, and the will to do the difficult work of reclaiming a whole and healthy life. The mess we create as individuals, as well as the mess we make in community, affects us all. When we begin to apply Jesus’ mercy, when we begin to seek Jesus’ justice, when we stop blaming and start fixing, Jesus really does make all the difference in the world.

 
Meditation/Call-to-Action
  • Think of a time when it felt like life was messed up, when trouble was coming down from all sides. What kind of response helped put our situation in perspective, making it possible to admit our errors, accept responsibility, and begin to “clean up our act”?
  • How might we, as ones who believe that Jesus came to set the world right again, become partners in the work?
 

Prayer

Thank you, God,

            for sending Jesus to set us and our world right again as a sign of your great love.

Remind us to lean on your strength as you repair brokenness in us and others,

            and to invite those whom you love to receive your gift of new life,

through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
 


3rd Sunday of Lent

Gospel Lesson: John 2:13-22

Key Verse: His disciples remembered that it is written, Passion for your house consumes me.

 

Commentary

The disciples remembered a phrase from Psalm 69, an appeal to God from one who is suffering from hatred and estrangement. “Because passion for your house has consumed me, the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me!” Jesus’ anger and actions are about far more than merchants conducting business in the temple. Anyone who insults God is also defiling God’s house. The temple officials who profit from the business taking place, the ones who put unnecessary or harsh burdens on people who are poor, the ones who use the letter of the law to deny God’s law of love, are guilty. Though Jesus cleanses the temple, passion for God’s house includes far more than caring for a religion facility. The passion that consumes Jesus’ ministry is the well-being of all creation, all people, all that is and all that will be. The passion that consumes Jesus’ ministry is creating a world which is the fulfillment of God’s plans, where it will be “on earth as it is in heaven.” Although we often understand “passion” to refer to deep feelings about something, another definition of the word is “suffering,” and a third definition is “love.” In Jesus, the three come together, for his deep feelings for God’s house, his willingness to suffer for the sake of what he loves, lead to the cross and resurrection, the Passion of the Christ. The disciples remembered, and believed.

 
Meditation/Call to Action
  • Sometimes this passage of scripture is used as an example of “holy anger,” the willingness to confront practices or assumptions that are destructive to God’s holy ways. What are some of the ways in which God is being insulted today?
  • Are there ways in which religious laws are being used to place burdens on people whom God longs to set free?
  • How strong is our passion for God’s house?
  • Are there ways in which we might put “holy anger” to work in our lives to eliminate those things that prevent our passion, our willingness to serve God and God’s people, even to the point of suffering ourselves?
 

Prayer

O God,

            if our passion for your house grows dim from weariness or doubt,

            ignite our hearts once again with your love,

that we may remember, and believe in your love,

            through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

 



2nd Sunday of Lent

Gospel Lesson: Mark 8:31-38

Key Verse: “You are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts.”

Commentary

Although Peter had been a disciple since the earliest days of Jesus’ ministry, when Jesus announces his crucifixion and resurrection, Peter insists upon scolding and correcting Jesus. Whether it is concern for Jesus, fear for the ministry, or some other issue that sparks Peter’s response, Jesus says he is thinking like a human. While we might rush to defend Peter (and ourselves) by responding that we are human, and we can’t be expected to think God thoughts, Jesus will not let us off so easily. As disciples, listening to his preaching and teaching, observing and participating in acts of healing, feeding, and mercy, we can learn to think “God thoughts.” But as Jesus goes on to teach, God thoughts often put our safety and comfort at risk. When we begin to think God thoughts, we forget ourselves, and the needs of others become our priority. Losing the life we planned, giving up what we thought would make for a good life, is not easy at the best of times. We cannot do it if we are thinking human thoughts. But if we catch even a glimmer of God thoughts, we see that giving up this life in exchange for real life is the best deal offered.

 

Meditation/Call to Action

  • Consider a time when it was necessary to give something up to be faithful to Jesus. Perhaps it was speaking up to friends who told jokes or stories that made fun of women, Jewish believers, or people of another culture or ethnicity. Maybe it involved refusing to participate in a party or event to which “everyone was going.” In what way did that affect your spiritual life, and your relationship with God?
  • When Jesus asks something of us, even if it is very difficult, God provides all that we need to do what is being asked of us. What would you ask God to provide if you were asked to give up your life for the sake of the good news?
 
Prayer

O God,

            whose thoughts are not our thoughts,

            and whose ways are not always clear to us,

when you ask us to follow God thoughts instead of human thoughts,

            give us your Spirit to lead and protect us,

            and give us faith to do the work you expect of us. Amen.

 



1st Sunday of Lent

Gospel Lesson: Mark 1:9-15

Key Verse:  After John was arrested, Jesus went to Galilee preaching the Message of God: “Time’s up! God’s kingdom is here. Change your life and believe the Message.” (from The Message)

Commentary

“Time’s up!” are words that strike fear in our hearts when we are students taking a timed test. Whatever mistakes we might have made cannot be corrected. Whatever questions we have omitted cannot be answered. Our grade depends upon what we have done. When the music stops on the final Jeopardy question, the winner has been determined, to be revealed by the host. But when Jesus announces, “Time’s up!” it is an invitation, not a sentence of judgment. Jesus is announcing the opportunity to correct our mistakes, to answer the questions we have omitted or ignored, to trust God’s good news is meant for us. Jesus’ arrival and Jesus’ message offer each of us the opportunity to become more attuned to God’s love for us, better able to get the right answers for us and for our world. We may have been studying the scriptures and listening to the religion scholars, but for one reason or another, we still find ourselves confused or uncertain. Jesus invites us to believe his message which will clear up our confusion and help us see – and become – kingdom people. If we have failed to be loving, now is the time to love more fully. If we have not helped people who are in need, now is the time to help in big and little ways. If we have held grudges, now is the time to forgive. We can change our lives – our answers on the test – as we trust this Good News.

Meditation/Call to Action

  • Often we are encouraged to downplay the “should have, could have” moments in our lives. But sometimes those are the circumstances that pierce our hearts with the possibility of a new way of thinking, a new way of living. Where are the places we would like to correct, the omissions we would like to fill in?
  • In what ways might we practice a changed life, through helping, healing, loving or forgiving?
  • Are there practical acts we might make that would amaze ourselves or those who receive what we offer?
  • Might someone ask, “Why are you doing this?” giving us the opportunity to share our faith with them?
Prayer

God, whose grace invites us to change our lives and believe this good news,

            show us opportunities to change our lives and our world,

that we might grow in love and commitment to our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.