March 25, 2018

Palm Sunday

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.  Mark 11: 1-11

 

This is a reading with huge liturgical significance for Christians because we reenact it on Palm Sunday as our entrance into worship and into Holy Week. We shout the verse beginning “Hosanna!” and wave our palms. Taken literally, hosanna expresses a cry for help from the divine like “Save us, now”. Yet, when we proclaim it on Palm Sunday, we intend a joyful greeting like “Savior!”

One preacher, whose sermon I read while preparing to preach a Palm Sunday service years ago, Scott B. Johnston, insisted on the former reading. He asked the listeners to identify their own deepest fear: “When we wave our palms and boldly cry out ‘Hosanna,’ do we dare imagine what we really want God to save us from? Save me from anger. Save me from cancer. Save me from depression. Save me from crushing debt and unemployment. Save me from the strife in my family. Save me from boredom. Save me from the endless cycle of violence. Save me from humiliation. Save me from staring at the ceiling at three AM wondering why I exist. Save me from bitterness. Save me from arrogance. Save me from loneliness. Save me, God, save me from my fears.”

By encouraging me to make myself vulnerable with the crowd crying out to Jesus as he entered Jerusalem, my engagement with the liturgy of Palm Sunday became visceral. I could greet Jesus with a heart full of expectant joy at receiving deliverance from suffering. I joined many other hopeful, expectant people, each reaching out for deliverance, all hurrying to see and greet Jesus. I was ready to process with them into the service and could proclaim God’s love even in the midst of the haunting Gospel narrative to follow.

 

The Rev. Barbara Abbott
Saint George’s, Ardmore

 

NOTE: The word hosanna (Latin osanna, Greek ὡσαννά, hōsanná) is from Hebrew הושיעה־נא, הושיעה נא hôshia-nā’ which is short for hôšî‘â-nā’ and related to Aramaic אושענא (‘ōsha‘nā) meaning “save, rescue, savior”. In the Hebrew Bible it is used only in verses such as “help” or “save, I pray” (Psalms 118:25). However, the old interpretation “Save, now!”, based on Psalm 118:25, does not fully explain the occurrence of the word in the Gospels as a shout of jubilation, and this has given rise to complex discussions.

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March 24, 2018

Saturday after the Fifth Sunday in Lent

And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, ’E ‘lo-i, E’lo-i , la’ma sabach-th’na?’ which means, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Mark 15:33-34

At the conclusion of Toni Morrison’s Beloved, her affecting novel about the dark legacy of slavery and how it speaks to our national experience, she writes about two kinds of loneliness. “There is a loneliness that can be rocked. . . . It’s an inside kind – wrapped tight like skin. Then there is loneliness that roams. No rocking can hold it down. It I alive, on its own. A dry and spreading thing that makes the sound of one’s own feet going seem to come from a far-off place.” What kind of loneliness do we suspect has now overtaken Jesus? From the first moment of opposition to his ministry through the abandonment of his disciples, his solitary struggle to come to terms with the crucifixion that lies ahead, it would seem Jesus feels the roaming loneliness. It only appears so if we believe that he speaks these first words, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me,” unmindful of the rest. In and out of consciousness, it is astounding that he has breath enough to utter these words. We are not privy to his innermost thoughts, distraught as they may be. It may be by rote that he remembers the rest of the psalm, particularly “Praise the Lord, you that fear him; stand in awe of him…give glory.” In the tradition of the prophets, darkness suggested the time of YHWH’s visitation. Therefore, in this seeming darkest hour, and in our darkest hours, if we through discipline live as upright people, who turn to God in the press of hostile opposition, we will find that failure does not await Jesus and us. God has not abandoned Jesus and will not abandon us. God alone is our source of consolation and triumph.

 

The Rev. Jo Ann B. Jones
Church of the Redeemer, Bryn Mawr

March 23‬, 2018

Friday after the Fifth Sunday in Lent

In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe. Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.  Mark 15:31-32‬

 

Asking Jesus for proof of omnipotence is not a new request. Sometimes we find ourselves uttering the words, “If you are God, please save me from this situation… give me a sign.” Or, “If you intervene, if you help me, I will do anything for you in return.”

We all may have had these kinds of conversations with Jesus, at one time or another. But thankfully his relationship with us is not contractual. Mercy, justice, and love don’t operate with this kind of currency. Instead, they are gifts. They are given abundantly, sometimes shockingly, and in disproportionate amounts to our sin. ‬

And the ways that God gives them to us might not always be the way that we ask, or even want. Often mercy comes to us when we least expect, or when we think we are least deserving. Justice may be present in ways that we don’t understand. And love may pierce our hearts in a situation or through a person with whom we don’t want to connect.

We may never be able to get our heads around the magnitude of God’s care and love for us. But what we do know is that it is so powerful that God slipped into the vulnerability of skin and entered our violent and disturbing world so that he could redeem us – redeem the pain, brokenness, struggle and strife. Bind the lame, and transform death into life.

 

The Rev. Amanda Eiman‬
Saint David’s, Radnor‬

March 22, 2018

Thursday after the Fifth Sunday in Lent

Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!”  Mark 15:29-30

 

Are these the same people who sang, “Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” only four days ago? Are these same people who threw palm branches in the path of Jesus as he entered Jerusalem? I would hope not, but suspect that many who ridiculed Jesus as he hung on that cross in shame and suffering, many who had yelled “Crucify him, crucify him” just hours earlier where the same people.

It’s doubtful that there were two separate crowds in Jerusalem, one that shouted “Hosanna” and another that yelled “Crucify him!” Even given the possibility that the religious leaders may have hired some persons to manipulate the crowd, this speaks more to our fickle human nature.

A significant number of these people could have been at the Sermon on the Mount, and if they did not physically follow Jesus around, they aurally followed his teachings and healings. But as he hangs there in disgrace it is so easy to scorn him, to turn his teaching into mockery.

The bullies of this world do that. They mock those they perceive as less than themselves. They blow this way and that, always seeking the advantage. They laugh at compassion and call it weakness. They do all this to keep from realizing how empty they are, how lonely and how much they hurt. But, this trait is not far below the surface of all humanity. Just look at how Hitler manipulated the crowds.

It is for this reason that we need to look at the baseness of our nature in Lent, that we need to see how weak we can be. It is important for us to realize that Jesus must constantly pray for us, “Father, forgive them….”

 


Loving God, who holds us responsible for our neighbors, put a fire in our hearts and ignite our passion so that through our words and actions we may work with you in bringing about justice for all humankind; in the name of your Son whom you anointed to set us free. Amen.

 

The Rev. E. Edward Shiley
Saint David’s Church, Radnor

March 21, 2018

Wednesday after the Fifth Sunday in Lent

It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left.   Mark 15:25-27

 

We often assume that Jesus was executed for blasphemy: that the religious authorities simply couldn’t tolerate his claims of divine authority. Two facts belie this assumption. For one, there was a punishment prescribed for blasphemy, and it wasn’t crucifixion. Crucifixion was reserved for enemies of the Roman state: those who had challenged the emperor’s supremacy. It was a public spectacle, an explicit threat to any would-be rabble rousers. Furthermore, as Mark notes in this passage, the accusation against Jesus read, “The King of the Jews.” Only the gospels according to Mark and John include a reference to the inscription of the charge against Jesus. While John tells us that the religious authorities objected, saying to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, ‘I am King of the Jews,’” Mark allows the charge to stand on its own. In Mark’s gospel, in other words, Jesus was crucified, not for blasphemy, but because he was the “King of the Jews.” This is a subtle, but crucial distinction. Rome decided that Jesus needed to be destroyed not because he violated the Jewish tradition, but because he embodied it completely. Jesus did this by putting his whole trust in God’s saving power. This represented an existential challenge to the emperor’s supremacy, because it fundamentally disrupted the Rome’s ability to secure its position of authority. Most tyrannical regimes coerce obedience by threatening death. By putting his trust in God and going willingly to the cross, Jesus nullified the tyrant’s ultimate threat.

When Jesus is crucified, he demonstrates how the gospel frustrates the powers of the world. The gospel we proclaim is deeply and quietly subversive. It insists that those who claim worldly authority have no real power over us, because Jesus Christ has neutralized their ultimate threat. The season of Lent is an opportunity to acknowledge this truth and recognize that there is nothing we have to fear.

 


For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For if we live, we live unto the Lord, and if we die, we die unto the Lord. Whether we live, therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s. Amen.

 

The Rev. David F. Romanik
Church of the Redeemer, Bryn Mawr

March 20, 2018

Tuesday after the Fifth Sunday in Lent

They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.   Mark 15:21-24

 

Here is Mark’s stark description of the utter disregard for the Son of God. The rejection is so clear, in both its physical and emotional depiction, no one can miss the cruelty, callousness, and inhumanity. The scene is haunting.

The Crucifixion of Christ is always a shaking experience for any willing to think about this account. Whether the reader believes that Christ is “The Best Man who ever lived” or not, any serious observer of Mark’s account cannot dodge the realization that Jesus Christ willingly gave his life to an agonizing death to make a point for your life and mine. The message is forever clear: the love of God for all does not “cut and run,” even and especially in the face of worldly opposition and personal torture. That is simply the powerful truth of our faith in God. God’s love is real.

A lovely friend of mine took his own life. He left a note apologizing to his young wife and children. The note explained he feared he was “losing his mind” and did not want to use the family’s meager savings for his possible recovery. His death was devastating to his family and friends. The lingering family fear was that he would not enter God’s Heavenly Kingdom because he had committed the sin of suicide. When eventually they shared that fear with their rector, he responded, “How can that be?” Then he proceeded to suggest that Christ also suffered emotionally as well as physically on the Cross to make sure we know that God is in the midst of all such suffering with redemptive and eternal loving care especially for those who experience the worst of this world’s consequences.

The Crucifixion of Jesus Christ is indeed so stark we cannot avoid the sense of devastation. The suffering of others is usually less dramatic and apparent, unless it is our own. All suffering is known to God. As we pay attention to it – and love the sufferer – perhaps beginning with our own and extending outward to others, we draw ourselves into God’s company.

 


Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, give mercy and grace to the living, pardon and rest to the dead, and to us sinners, everlasting grace and glory, for with the Father and the Holy Spirit, you live and reign one God, now and forever. Amen.

 

The Rev. Bill Wood
St. David’s Church, Radnor

March 19, 2018

Saint Joseph

And they began saluting him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.   Mark 15:18-20

 

This takes me back to Jesus’ teaching of the principle of non-retaliation to affronts against our own dignity. Jesus’ response to the hatred and brutality of the guards is not met so much with the love he espoused, but with a pure acceptance of God’s will and Jesus’ mission in this world. His seemingly passive non-response to them may feel unnatural to us, but it displays the incredible power of the Holy Spirit helping us to fulfill God’s call to us – even at the most excruciatingly testing times. Jesus is the perfect example of following God’s will AND not taking offense at those persecuting him. He was silent before them and neither in these verses or in later verses did he call for revenge from the Father on those who brutalized him. Some may look at this scene and see cowardice. Others, including me, see incredible strength and resolve – in doing something we’d almost give anything not to do. And this is only the beginning. The brutality, humiliation, inhuman treatment, disgrace and scorn will continue for hours to come. For what Christ endured for all that time, the “sacrifice(s)” we make during Lent can never measure up. But our Lenten practices can reflect our efforts/desires to understand and accept God’s will in our lives –without retaliation, second guessing, or placing our own personal desires above His. There couldn’t be a more humbling model and teacher than Jesus.

 

The Rev. Karen Kaminskas
Saint Mary’s, Ardmore