Happy Easter!

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Today I will fill my day with joy, overcome my isolation and revel in God’s love.

Later, over dinner and bolstered by a glass of wine, I plan to (re)watch a recording of Jesus Christ Superstar from my local PBS station. It’s the 2018 live broadcast version with John Legend as Jesus, Sarah Bareilles as Mary Magdalene, Alice Cooper as King Herod and the most marvelously magnificent Brandon Victor Dixon as Judas.

Just before dawn this morning, I watched Cardinal Cupich of the Chicago Archdiocese give his Easter Message on YouTube. Later, I watched/heard the Easter service at the Washington National Cathedral. I especially enjoyed the virtual orchestra and choir, as well as the very comforting sermon of Bishop Michael Curry. The National Cathedral is also streaming a previously recorded performance of Handel’s Messiah as I write this. How lovely to write about Easter while listening to The Messiah!

Finally, I watched the Easter service of Elmhurst Presbyterian Church, which was so friendly and inspirational. In addition to the sermon, there were scripture readings and prayers from the pastors’ homes and hymns performed by a soloist and guitarist. Also, individual members and families recorded short messages and, in one case, a song with mother on piano, father on flute and young daughter as vocalist. So many smiling faces! They even video-recorded a “message” from three birds who were chirping very prettily from their perches (nests?) inside the letters of the word “Presbyterian” on the side of the church building.

I wish you all a Happy Easter, much love, beautiful music, and a safe, socially-distanced spring.

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 Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Forsaken

 

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Thousands of years before Jesus’ crucifixion, His ancestor David wrote:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest. ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭22:1-2‬ ‭NIV

David’s pain is redolent throughout his Psalms, but it could not compare to the anguish of the cross. Jesus knew his role in history; he knew he had to die. But the gruesome manner of His death must have been a shock even to His fit, healthy system.

Christ’s wrists were nailed so that they carried the weight of his upper body and the bones would tear apart. His chest heaved forward, making it impossible for the lungs to continue working. His legs pulled downward onto the nails in his feet, searing flesh and bone. The guards pierced his side with a spear, then stuffed the wound with a vinegar-soaked cloth to intensify the pain. His burning lungs had breath for only one last utterance.

And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) Mark 15:34

When so many humans are suffering, we are reminded that Jesus suffers with us. We also look forward to His good news.

I pray you all have good news in your future.

Amen.

The Way of Love – Worship

Jesus on Palm Sunday

Within our Lenten devotional series, the theme for today is Worship. Today is Palm Sunday, the day that the public worshipped Jesus most avidly, giving him a “red carpet” welcome to the city of Jerusalem. They had heard about his miracles and, as a result, he had become a local celebrity. His good works had gone viral!

This is a blog post I wrote for Palm Sunday back in 2012:

Palm Sunday, Facebook and the 99%

A week before Passover, Jesus came to the town of Bethany to visit with Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha (his BFFs). A crowd gathered at Simon’s house nearby, where Martha served dinner. Simon was a Pharisee (one of the 1%), but also a follower of Jesus since being cured of his leprosy. However, the crowd was more interested in the miracle that Jesus performed for Lazarus, i.e., raising him from the dead after Lazarus had died and been buried for four days.

Simon, Lazarus, Martha and Mary had a great party with friends from all over the surrounding area, including Jerusalem. After the party, the numerous guests used word of mouth (remember that? it’s a kind of human communication that pre-dates Facebook and Instagram) to tell all of their friends, who told all of their friends, that Jesus would be coming to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. So, the next day, all of these “friends of friends” headed out to greet this great prophet and spiritual leader upon his entry to Jerusalem.

In the custom of the day, they paved the road with their cloaks and with the broad leaves of palm trees — kind of a red carpet (except not actually red). But this was something the 99% would normally do for the 1%, and that was not in line with Jesus’ way of life as a homeless, travelling preacher and material-free Son of God. So he rode in on a young donkey, to remain humble and to fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah:

Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion!
Shout, daughter of Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and having salvation,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
– 15 Zech. 9:9

The Way of Love – Go

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The lowly phone can be a Godsend in these trying times. It can even relieve adolescent isolation, assuming your teenagers are willing to use that little green icon at the bottom of their smart phone screen. Most young people communicate via text. I saw a TV show in which the daughter asked her mom for advice about a boy who had texted her several times. Mom said, “Why don’t you call and ask him out?” Her daughter gasped in horror and said, “Call?!?! How rude!” Etiquette may have changed in the decades between mother and daughter, but the human voice is still an effective cure for isolation.

Jesus calls us to go out into the community, to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. When He was asked by the Pharisees to identify the greatest commandment under Jewish Law, he responded by giving them two new commandments:

“Jesus replied: ‘Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  –Matthew 22:37-39

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Meals on Wheels volunteers delivered to individual customers by coming into the home. These wonderful volunteers put their love for their neighbors to practical use. They’d chat, socialize and do a wellness check.  Now they provide contactless* delivery to protect the health of the recipients, who are typically among the most vulnerable to the virus, as well as the volunteers themselves and their families.  The organization finds other ways to provide human contact and perform wellness checks, primarily by phone.

I’m as guilty as that teenage daughter of not picking up the phone, so I will have to start using the little green icon myself.

 

* Prior to the pandemic, “contactless” referred to credit cards that could be waved in front of a merchant’s card reader device at checkout, without swiping the card or otherwise making contact with the device. I think it’s going to be one of those words on a very sad list that Merriam Webster will publish in 6-12 months under a title like “How the Covid-19 Pandemic Forever Changed the English Language.”

The Way of Love – Learn

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“Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.'”  — John 6:35

Jesus said this to the people he fed, when he performed the miracle of feeding 5,000 with only two loaves of bread and two fish that were provided by a young boy.

So they may have believed that Jesus’ language should be taken literally. Wouldn’t it be great if we could assure the people of the world that they would never go hungry? But Jesus spoke in metaphors, using examples from the physical world as symbols for his spiritual gifts.

We have all seen our grocery stores run out of bread and toilet paper in recent weeks.  (Toilet paper is the great equalizer for a quarantined society.) But Jesus wasn’t sent here to fulfill our physical needs. We need our fellow man for that.

Jesus will feed us spiritually, and that is something that will never go out of stock.

 

 

The Way of Love – Turning

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The Way of Love is a way of looking at the practices that connect us to God and to each other. Some are spiritual and some are practical actions. During Lent, we are looking at one practice each day of the week.

Wednesday’s theme is “turning.” We are challenged to turn away from self-centeredness and reorient ourselves toward God “like a flower turning to face the sun.” (I love that analogy!)

In the Bible there are striking examples of life-changing “turns.” The most mind-blowing  turnaround was Saul, who had made it his life’s work to persecute followers of Christ. On the road to Damascus, Saul was blinded by a flash of light, through which he heard Jesus speak. When Saul reached Damascus, a follower of Christ healed his blindness. Afterward, Saul changed his name to Paul and travelled extensively to bring the good news of Christ to others. Paul’s letters to the churches he founded are memorialized in the New Testament.

In this 13-minute video on the practice of turning, the host interviews Rev. Becca Stevens, who founded an organization called Thistle Farms to help victims of trafficking, prostitution and addiction. They discuss the turning point in Rev. Stevens’ personal life that prompted her to begin her life’s work, as well as the organization’s efforts to allow so many women a safe space to turn their own lives around.

The Way of Love – Learn

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Tuesday’s challenge is to read and study the scripture. I chose a few passages that fit into our theme of light and darkness.

In the Old Testament, we see reflections of a prophecy for the future, for the arrival of a great light, which we understand to be Jesus. Isaiah prophesied:

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”  –Isaiah 9:2

I have lived in that land of deep darkness. But I still have faith in the light.  The apostle John said of Jesus:

“In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”  –John 1:4-5

We see the imagery of light throughout the gospel:

“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'”  –John 8:12

Jesus is my light and my hope. For what is life without hope? Hope keeps us moving forward. And it is difficult to move in any direction without light. At the last supper, Jesus comforted his disciples, preparing them to move forward without Him:

“‘I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.'”  –John 16:33

I remember this quote often as I struggle through daily life. I hope you find it uplifting, too!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lenten Series – Light

Photo: Stephen Hyatt. Source: thechurchesoftheworld.com

Our theme this week is light, or more accurately, light and darkness. In nature and in life, we have both. In our lives, we strive to keep the darkness at bay: love and loss, success and failure, wealth and poverty, friendship and loneliness, health and sickness. It is difficult to walk in the light when we experience obstacles that hurl us into the unknown.

I thought back to this prose poem I wrote in a 2015 blog post in memory of the slain members of Mother Emanuel AME Church. The horrific nature of the crime, the mass murder of a prayer group in a historic church, was so shocking that it broke the hearts of people across the nation, people who had never been to the church or known the victims, people thousands of miles away. We were hurled into the darkness. Yet those closest to the tragedy, the families of those whose lives were lost, carried the light. 

At the bond hearing for the shooter, the families were allowed to testify. They all expressed compassion for the young man. Alana Simmons, the granddaughter of one of the victims, spoke directly to the shooter, saying, “Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate, everyone’s plea for your soul is proof that they lived in love. Hate won’t win.” (Source: NBCNews.com)

Carrying the Light
by Jan Brown

Why do churches have such lovely chandeliers? Perhaps…


To remind us there is something irresistibly beautiful, something higher and more permanent than our imperfect selves.


To remind us of the beauty that can shine from just one beacon, even in a world otherwise devoid of light.


To focus the still-bright light of our lost loved ones, so that we will not flounder in the dark.


To infuse love, the kind of love that shines on every living being, the kind of love that will never falter, never flicker out, never discriminate and never be darkened, no matter how deep the night.

The Way of Love – Worship

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Today’s theme is worship. In his podcast, Bishop Michael Curry says that the act of worship helps us get out of ourselves and draw near to God. Worship reminds us it’s not all about us! We give thanks, we pray, and we go back out into the world changed.

I would add that one way we accomplish this change is through God’s word. For those among us who are homebound, Bible study can be the mainstay of worship. By doing this, we open ourselves up to seeing, hearing and feeling the word of God reflected in so many other aspects of life. And in this way, we begin to heal.

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”  
–Psalms 147:3