March 4, 2018

The Third Sunday in Lent

The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers at their business. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all, with the sheep and oxen, out of the temple; and he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; you shall not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for thy house will consume me.” The Jews then said to him, “What sign have you to show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he spoke of the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken. John 2:13-22

 

The most remarkable aspect of this story is the verse that is probably least noticed. It appears to be merely an afterthought appended at a much later date: “When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this.”

What actually captures our attention is the unexpected violence of Jesus’ actions. His outburst seems out of character — a rare moment of exception, when anger gets the best of him. And we wonder then what to make of this and how to justify this very physical manifestation of his fury. Our focus often remains fixed on the particulars of his reaction and what it was about these mundane transactions that caused his eruption. It’s easy to imagine grounds for complaint or postulate some kind of injustice whenever business is negotiated. But Jesus’ violence should not be taken as a form of social protest; it was, quite differently, a moment of revelation.

Violence is a mode of communication. It happens when “I want to say something to you that really cannot be said to you, that you are not in a position to hear, and when, yet, I insist that you are going to hear it.” More pithily, violence declares the “alienation of what is to be from what is.” Jesus’ actions disrupted not just the trade that was happening that day; they were his declaration that the very logic on which any transactions depend have no place in the economy of God. In the temple there could be no room for any manner of quid pro quo. Jesus was not just overturning tables. He was “overthrowing everything” — even the very “way in which God will create the future… in utter contradiction of every standing order.” And this violence is as good a description of resurrection as we can get.

All quotations from Robert Jenson: Essays in the Theology of Culture

 

The Rev. Peter T. Vanderveen
Church of the Redeemer, Bryn Mawr

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March 3, 2018

Saturday after the Second Sunday in Lent

But one of those who stood near drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to them, “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But let the scriptures be fulfilled.” All of them deserted him and fled. Mark 14:47-50

 

It is always heartbreaking to ever hear of Jesus’ life, teachings or ministry being used to justify war or any kind of violence. All one has to do is even glance at the beatitudes or Sermon on the Mount to know that Jesus taught, and lived, nonviolence as a core principle. But if anyone ever has a lingering question about it, his response to violence committed by his own protectors on the night of his arrest ought to clear it up.

At this point Jesus knows what’s coming. He is looking down the barrel of a gun with the finger of ridicule, torture, and execution on the trigger. Yet, when one of his friends tries to stop one of those about to arrest him, he stays his hand with a simple, “Let it be.” Jesus is able to do this because he knows the victory never lies with the violent. God wins, love wins, justice wins, even when in the midst of human chaos and fear that seems far away.

 


Father, not my will, but yours be done. (Repeat).

 

The Rev. Christopher Bishop
Saint Martin’s, Radnor

March 2, 2018

Friday after the Second Sunday in Lent

Immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; and with him there was a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard. So when he came, he went up to him at once and said “Rabbi!” and kissed him. Then they laid hands on him and arrested him. Mark 14:43-46

 

At the center of Bologna in Italy, there is a complex of 4 (once 7) churches, known as “Little Jerusalem” because copies have been built there of what is believed to be Christ’s tomb, a miniature Gethsemane and even Pilate’s Courtyard at Santo Stefano. Daily, this “little Jerusalem” teaches, through the narrative of its architecture, the story of betrayal and suffering unto death to worshippers, pilgrims and the most casual tourist. This struck me as powerful, having our tradition of only annual, Holy Week connection to the stories of Judas’ and Simon Peter’s betrayal of Jesus. For this to be a constant in people’s lives took me a little aback.

20170312_venice_264Standing in Pilate’s Courtyard, admiring the plump cockerel in its perfect niche, the sunny courtyard with its pretty stone well, I wondered that these symbols of life could be perverted to mean betrayal. Then, one kiss, given to betray instead of to express love and devotion, resulting in the worst perfidy. Isn’t this how betrayal happens: casual, barely noticed, bit by bit? Then the unspeakable consequences: the grey lifeless, tortured figure of Jesus sculpted above the nearby crypt.

Today’s passage from the Gospel of Mark invokes the crowd of temple military with their swords and clubs eager to pick up whomever Judas identifies – but evidently unable to identify him themselves. Unleashed by the religious authorities, they act without questioning the veracity of the claims made against the man they have been sent to arrest and bring before Pilate. They carry out decisions that have been made in all their names by fearful chief priests, scribes and elders, colluding with the Roman state.

The experience of standing in Pilate’s Courtyard in Bologna’s “little Jerusalem” left me conscious of the quotidian nature of betrayal. It is part of the difficult truth of our humanity. We can each be degraded, whether we betray ourselves or one another, or when betrayal occurs in our names. We betray the God we love.

I believe we are living in a time of betrayal of many of our deepest commitments as people of God. Whether it’s the environment, international assistance, respect for treaties, our treatment of the alien among us, protection of long-respected immigration goals, health-care as a human right…much of who we are as people of faith is compromised daily.

Jesus, in Mark’s gospel, prepares the sleepy disciples for Judas’ approach : “Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.” Would that we could live more consciously, recognizing our complicity in his betrayal, and that God grant us the will to object, and the strength to resist evil; that is my prayer.

 

The Rev. Barbara Abbott
Saint George’s, Ardmore

March 1, 2018

Thursday after the Second Sunday in Lent

And he came the third time, and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come; the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” Mark 14: 41-42

 

Was it so much to ask that the disciples sit and watch? No wonder on finding them asleep the third time, Jesus is disgusted with them. Given the heaviness of fear, trepidation and terror that weigh so heavily upon him, at best all the disciples could offer Jesus in these hours is their presence. None of them is equipped with an experience of life that could offer guidance, wisdom, even consolation to Jesus. Their very presence is all they have. And that is something each of them – each of us – can offer in times of deepest distress. Be aware of the pain that others bear that you can never know. We know from sitting by the bed of a sick child; waiting with a friend for the results of a critical lab test; holding a deathbed vigil. Oddly, families visiting prisoners on the day of execution are permitted relatively short visits. But the disciples have failed to offer Jesus what they could – the comfort of their presence. And now it is too late. The moment has urgently come upon them all. There is no need to counsel the disciples any further. Jesus must be sick with anxiety and fear, yet he resolutely faces squarely what comes next. “Let us be going.” What might the disciples have experienced in waiting with Jesus? How powerful an experience to be in Jesus’ and God’s presence on this terrible night! What revelation of God did they miss that enabled Jesus to face his betrayer, one of his very own, into the hands of his enemies, and what would follow? Mark’s spare and direct account captures the depth and breadth of the terror, betrayal and regret of this moment. Have mercy on us, God, have mercy.

 

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

February 28‬, 2018

Wednesday after the Second Sunday in Lent

And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. Mark 14:39-40‬

 

The presence of a friend is a gift that not only makes our life sweeter but also helps make difficult pain easier to bear. Companionship – fellowship with another that helps us know we are not alone – that we are with someone who knows us and loves us – can be a balm and comfort in the journey of life.

As Jesus prayed in the garden, he wanted and needed his companions. He needed them at his side – to watch, to wait, and to pray, together. But every time Jesus turned to his friends, every time he reached out for their presence, they abandoned him for sleep. ‬

This isn’t the only time Jesus finds himself reaching out to his friends with no response. He is constantly reaching out to us, too, his beloved friends, to gift us with the grace and gift of companionship. He reaches out to be a presence for us, to hold us through whatever situation life has to offer. But we are not always ready or responsive. Sometimes we are distracted. Sometimes we are asleep.

The good news is that even though we don’t always turn toward his outstretched hand and take his offer of companionship, his presence and offer are never rescinded. They are always there for us. God never gives up. Not in this life, nor the next. Jesus is always our companion, is always waiting for us to turn and respond, to take his hand. And even if we don’t, even in our darkest hour, in our death and beyond the door of our death, Jesus outstretched hand touches us and holds us, softly, until we turn, and meet his grace.

 

The Rev. Amanda Eiman‬
Saint David’s, Radnor‬

February 27, 2018

Tuesday after the Second Sunday in Lent

He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. Mark 14:37-38

 

The evening begins with Jesus and his disciples celebrating the Passover. A mood of distress is set at the beginning of the meal with the announcement that one of the twelve will betray Jesus. The anguish is heightened for Jesus because this is their Last Supper, something he knows the disciples are incapable of grasping. After supper, they come to the Garden of Gethsemane for a time of prayer. At some point, Jesus brings Peter, James and John to a place separate from the rest, and says to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here and keep awake.” Jesus goes a little further, throws himself on the ground and he asks his Father to remove the cup of suffering he is about to drink. He then submits to the Father’s will.

We can only imagine Jesus’ torment as he returns to Peter, James and John. Then to find them sleeping adds disappointment and hurt to his suffering. The level of distress, agitation, aloneness, anguish and fear that must be raging in Jesus are beyond our imagination, but yet, he is gentle in his rebuke of the disciples for falling asleep. And his reminder to them, and to us, is that regardless of our best intentions, we are weak in carrying out our resolve. Only by mindfulness and prayer can we receive the strength to maneuver the trials and conflicts of life.

Lent is a time when we are reminded of our weaknesses. It is a time when we renew our resolve and practice the discipline of keeping awake and being constantly in prayer. It is an essential part of our journey to the cross which allows us to live a life of resurrection.

 


Loving God, help us to be watchful and to see the loving sacrifice of your Son in all that we encounter so that we make his sacrifice worthwhile through our actions. Amen.

 

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

February 26, 2018

Monday after the First Sunday in Lent

And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, ‘Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” Mark 14:35-36

 

In Mark’s gospel, prayer is a dangerous activity. From the start of his ministry, Jesus is confronted with the tempter whenever he goes off to the wilderness or to a deserted place to pray. In prayer, he does battle with the lure of power, the enticement of popularity, the temptation to abuse or misuse his God-given powers. In every instance, Jesus struggles with his identity as he hears God’s call to surrender his entire self to God. Time and again, Jesus emerges from prayer in Mark’s gospel and sets his sights on proclaiming the good news of God’s kingdom and doing what is necessary to bring God’s world about. He knows more and more that this is what God wants of him.

In the passage above, Jesus is pleading with “Abba,” to take away what is coming. Struggling in fear, knowing the end was near, his prayer ends in surrender, “not what I want, but what you want.” That is our prayer, every time we pray the Lord’s prayer, “Thy will be done.” These words that we often recite by rote with little thought, are really a prayer about surrender. In it we are asking that our will be aligned with God’s will. We pray that God’s World, his Kingdom may come. When we pray this prayer, we release what we want to what God wants; we submit ourselves to God’s design, giving up our own will. To pray in such a way is to allow oneself to fall dependently into the loving embrace of God.

So, ultimately prayer is an activity of love. It is an activity of intimacy. It is a way for us to approach God, our Creator, the one we call Father, Abba, and immerse ourselves in God’s world. It is time spent unveiling our hearts to God, speaking about our deepest needs, the deepest longings of our hearts. We place our fears, our self-doubt, our joys and our sorrows before God. We trust that God knows what is best for us and so we surrender ourselves to God. We begin to understand and accept God’s activity among us. We become better at allowing God to be God in the fullest sense of what that means. Prayer is not so much about getting what we want but learning how to accept what God wants for us.

 


I invite you to pray this as a mantra (a repeated phrase) throughout this day:
Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done.

 

The Rev. John W. Sosnowski
Christ Church, Ithan