February 19, 2018

Monday after the First Sunday in Lent

On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, “Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” So the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal. Mark 14:12-16

 

This passage describes the events of the afternoon before Jesus was arrested and crucified. Jesus had somehow already initiated the preparations for the Passover meal, and here he instructs two of his disciples to complete the preparations for this last, crucial meal with his friends. In order to complete the task given them, the disciples had to keep their eyes open for the man carrying the jar of water, and carefully follow Jesus’ instructions.

As twenty-first century followers of Jesus, our task follows the same pattern. In Scripture, we have the general outline of Jesus’ instructions for us, summarized for us in our baptismal covenant. The general outline of the task Christ has given us includes continuing in the apostle’s teaching, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers…persevering in resisting evil…proclaiming the Good News of God in Christ…seeking and serving Christ in all persons, and striving for justice and peace among all people (BCP, 304-5). Yet, in order to understand how each of us is to apply this general outline to the specifics of our daily life, we must keep our spiritual eyes open. We must look for those mysterious signs indicating that the Spirit of Christ has gone ahead of us, preparing the way for us to do God’s will. Lent is a time to slow down and cultivate those spiritual senses that allow us to see where Christ is moving, what Christ has been preparing for us to do to further God’s kingdom. Through Scripture reading, regular participation in the sacraments, prayer, and other spiritual disciplines we are learning see what God is already doing in God’s world. When we can perceive that, all we have to do is get on board.

 


A prayer for mission, to be said after receiving the Eucharist
Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, we thank you for the Sacrament of your son, Jesus Christ, his body in this bread, his blood in this cup. We thank you that you sent your Holy Spirit to reveal the light of Christ’s presence to us in Word, in Sacrament, and in the prayers. May your Spirit kindle in our hearts, warmed by the Sacraments, the fire of Pentecost. Send us out now to do your will. As you have fed our spirits, feed also our imaginations to see you acting the world, so that we may witness to your great and mighty deeds. Amen.

 

The Rev. James Stambaugh
Church of the Holy Apostles, Penn Wynne

February 18, 2018

The First Sunday in Lent

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Mark 1:9-15

 

Lent is a season spent in the wilderness. In the Bible, “the wilderness” is thought to be a very remote and desolate place where people can get lost. It’s a place of danger. A place you shouldn’t travel alone. It’s a place where God’s people have always had to be lead OUT of, like the Israelites following the Exodus. And yet here we are—being lead INTO the wilderness of Lent just as Jesus was lead into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit after being baptized.

We might ask the question: why? Why spend a whole 40 days in a wilderness of fasting, in self denial, in prayer? Why follow the Spirit into a place of discomfort? Part of the answer comes from comparing the life of Jesus with the culture of today. We live in a time where the “wildernesses” are more dangerous than ever. Millions of advertising dollars are spent trying to get us to believe that we are not as happy, healthy, or whole as we could be if we but purchased whatever new product they are pushing. It is a wilderness of instant gratification that leads to debt and regret. Social media lets people portray a false front of perfectionism that has lead to a loneliness and depression. Every news cycle seems to bring a parade of racism, sexism, and injustice. A wilderness of human pain and despair. These wildernesses really are something to fear.

Yet, the wilderness we enter in Lent is a different kind of wilderness. It’s a time to simplify and be lead out of the wildernesses of society into a wilderness of self-discovery of our identity in God. It’s a time when we strip away all the excess stuff in our life that makes us nearly numb with comfort. It’s a time when we can admit that our lives are not perfect, but that we are not alone in Christ. It’s a time when we can look at the world in love so that we might be renewed in the hope that we can help God change it. These were the lessons Jesus learned, and it’s what we are invited to learn as well in Lent. We are lead by the Spirit into the wilderness. Let us journey with Jesus knowing that he will lead the way.

 


Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 

The Rev. Dr. Hillary D. Raining
Saint Christopher’s, Gladwyne

February 17, 2018

Saturday after Ash Wednesday

Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.                                Mark 14:10-11

 

We cannot know light unless we have know darkness! I cannot help but think that this very brief, pithy pericope from Mark about Judas is all too relevant today. Many of us pray that we are never put to this test and yet so many of us are…every day: between money and faith, between betrayal and loyalty. And so I wonder whether after our initial feelings of anger at Judas and even our own shame, we too might have chosen material luxury over the abundance of God’s love, we might even be grateful for this reminder. If we are willing to put ourselves honestly into the story and not “rise above it,” we might rest in God and heal our own temptations. In Lent we fast and pray and adopt disciplines which will reorient us to our God of love. Today, early in this penitential season, we cringe that such good intentions might not produce deeper faith and trust. On the contrary, I would suggest that to live into Judas’ desperation, false ego and our own moments of betrayal against God’s will, however small, might render insight into forgiveness and mercy which will allow us to emerge ever more faithful. Judas’ betrayal was essential to the Paschal Mystery. It demonstrates the depths of human brokenness as well as the depths of God’s mercy. We know these depths because we have witnessed betrayal AND crucial tragedy which lead not to despair but to resurrection life! God uses everything that we might know eternal love! The forgiveness of sins is palpable and available to all.

 

The Rev. Dr. Martha Tucker
Saint David’s (Radnor) Church

Piety in an Impious Age

The Challenge and Opportunity of Lent

In the Ash Wednesday liturgy from the Book of Common Prayer, the priest invites the congregation “to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.” There was a time when the Church took this invitation very seriously. We saw in Lent an opportunity to reclaim our faith in practical ways. This inclination has become less common. In 2014, the Barna group discovered that while 72 percent of U.S. adults were “aware” of Lent, only 17 percent planned to observe it in any meaningful way. There are probably many reasons for this loss of interest in Lent. For one, we are so obsessed with the idea of self-improvement that the central conceit of the season, that we are wholly dependent on God’s grace, seems irrelevant to us. Thus, for many of us, Lenten disciplines have become “New Year’s Resolutions 2.0,” a chance to recommit to whatever self-improvement scheme we abandoned during the doldrums of January instead of an opportunity to recommit to our faith. Perhaps more significantly, we live in a culture that regards any spiritual practice skeptically. By our society’s standards, the idea of devoting ourselves to prayer or the study of Scripture feels like a waste of time. All of this begs the question: why should we heed the invitation to a “holy Lent”? What does it mean to read and meditate on God’s holy word and engage in prayer, fasting, and self-denial in our increasingly secular society?

Il_Pordenone_-_San_Marco_-_BudapestThe answer to these questions can be found in the gospel according to Mark. Once considered the “black sheep” among the evangelists, Mark has undergone something of a renaissance over the past few decades. Historically, scholars dismissed the shortest gospel because it appears to be a mere summary of its counterparts. Recently, however, Christians have begun to rediscover the distinctive and eloquent witness of Mark’s gospel. No longer considered a “black sheep,” Mark has taken his rightful place as one of the true geniuses of the Christian canon. The gospel according to Mark provides a unique and riveting account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. More importantly, it speaks powerfully to today’s Church. More than any other evangelist, Mark’s gospel is suffused with a profound awareness that the good news of Jesus Christ represents a significant disruption of the status quo. Moreover, the gospel according to Mark challenges us to live lives shaped by what God has accomplished through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Like Mark’s gospel, Lent disrupts and challenges us. It forces us out of our self-centered, impatient routines and invites us to look at the world in a new way. In this spirit, the Merion Deanery will be using the season of Lent to explore the ways the gospel according to Mark speaks to us today. Every day, one of the clergy of the Deanery will offer a reflection on an excerpt from the Passion Narrative in Mark’s gospel. These meditations on the events leading to Jesus’ crucifixion and death will help us appreciate the gospel’s true power. Indeed, these reflections will reveal that heeding the invitation to a “holy Lent” can transform our experience of the world. We hope you will make this journey through Mark’s Passion part of your Lenten discipline and consider how this holy season and Mark’s unique perspective can shape our lives of faith.