Christ is Dead

Holy Saturday

Read Matthew 27:57-66.

The stone has been rolled in place.

Death has been sealed.

And all is silent.

The Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday is sometimes quickly breezed over. It is the bridge between the darkness of Friday and the light of Easter. The bridge between death and resurrection. And it is a day marked by silence.

Nothing is happening. Nothing, that is, expect mourning. The sealed tomb echoes throughout the hearts of Christians that death is final; that Jesus was as human as he was divine; and the eagerness of which we wait for the resurrection.

But before the resurrection – before the new beginnings – before new life – there is mourning. Change happens. It is built into the very fiber of creation. Yet, what will be will only be until we mourn what was. When we gaze upon the stone that has been placed at the entrance of the borrowed tomb, we gaze upon what was as we anticipate what will be.

The tomb gives us permission to mourn.

This is an important and gracious gift. Death makes us uncomfortable. We would much rather engulf ourselves with resurrection and new life than spend an hour, much less a day, surrounded by death. And yet, we mourn at the sealed tomb. We mourn what was, we mourn what was not, and we mourn who we were. With the resurrection, things change, things that were not will be, and we will never be the same again.

So, today, on this Holy Saturday, as we gaze at the sealed tomb, let us mourn what was and who we were in anticipation of the resurrection.

 

It’s Friday, but . . .

Good Friday

All Hope is Gone

Good Friday

the Light that had been sent to the earth was growing dim
love had been replaced with hate
peace replaced with war
the Light had been arrested and dragged away into the night
betrayed by a kiss
but the Light would not go out
the chains rattled as the Light was pushed and kicked
the Light was declared guilty
the people who were loved by the Light cried for the Light to be extinguished
those who loved and followed the Light denied ever knowing the Light
their hearts were filled with the darkness of fear
but the Light would not go out
insults and salvia were hurled at the Light
the Light was flogged and beaten
forced to hike the hill called calvary
mocked and stripped, the Light was left with very little
expect love for those who hated
but the Light would not go out
the Light is finally nailed in place, keeping it from spreading
the banging of the hammer causes the Light to flicker
pierced in the side, the Light continues to dim
until finally, the Light does out
and there is only darkness
and all hope is gone

Guest Post: Foot Washing

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by Rev. April Casperson

Read John 13:1-20.

Lent Ponderings - jasoncstanley.comWhen I read this familiar narrative in John, I’m struck at how the author tells us how Jesus feels, what Jesus does, and how Jesus explains himself. It’s a fascinating glimpse of the consistency between the inner and outer life of Jesus Christ.

Jesus knew that his time on this world had come to an end, and he felt love for those who were in the world. He could have stopped caring, or begun to transition away from being in deep relationship with humanity. And yet, he chose to remain in relationship. Even more radically, he chose to continue to love those in this world until the very end.

Jesus even took his love a step further, demonstrating to the disciples what it meant to be a servant. He participated in a familiar ritual of foot-washing in the middle of a meal, knowing that the disciples would not understand what they were observing. Even so, he continued in the midst of confused questioning, making the ritual both a teaching moment and a tangible demonstration of his love.

Finally, after we read through Jesus’ explanation of the foot-washing ritual, the very next verse (verse 21) states that Jesus was troubled. How unexpected! For Jesus, following his call towards redeeming the world, demonstrating his role as a servant, and embodying his role as a teacher didn’t bring him peace. Instead, he was troubled about what was still to come.

What a striking reminder this is for us. How often are we troubled, even when we follow our calls, live as servant-leaders, and try to make our lives a teaching witness? Maybe we are troubled when we don’t see instant results. Or perhaps we let ourselves do these things in hopes that the actions will settle our souls, rather than the hope that the world will be transformed. And yet, God doesn’t call us to be comfortable or to do good works because they make us feel good in return. God calls us to live faithful lives, and to transform the world, because of the life, work and example of Jesus Christ.

This Lenten season, consider your motivations. Have you allowed your motivations to become of this world, rather than grounded in the call of God?

In this season, may be all be reminded of the One who calls us, and the One who is to be our motivation for service to the world.

Rev. April Casperson is an ordained deacon serving as the Director of Enrollment Management and Scholarship Development at Methodist Theological School in Ohio. 

 

Guest Post: An Insightful Question

Holy Week

by Rev. Andrew Taylor-Troutman

 

Read Matthew 26:6–13.

Lent Ponderings - jasoncstanley.comThere’s a scene in the baseball movie, Moneyball, where Brad Pitt (as the general manager of a professional baseball team) challenges a room full of veteran scouts by asking repeatedly, “What’s the problem?” (Be aware there is explicit language is this clip.) Pitt’s insight is that their solutions are inadequate because they have not grasped the fundamental nature of the struggle at hand. They need new ways of thinking.

Notice in our text that the disciples were angered by the woman’s actions (Mt 26:8). Those who were closest to Jesus couldn’t identify the problem either. Perhaps like veteran baseball scouts, many of us are likewise preferential to “what we’ve always done.” We are irritated by new ways of thinking and even threatened by the inclusion of other people. There is nothing wrong with tradition per se; but what prevents us from achieving new insight?

This question prompts reflection upon verse eleven and the famous (or infamous) maxim about “always having the poor among you.” Does this imply a grudging acknowledgement, even callous acceptance, of the reality of poverty? Does this mean that we should simply stop thinking about the problem? I don’t think so. Consider the full citation from which this verse is drawn: “Since there will always be the poor on the earth, I command you: ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land’” (Deut 15:11). The ongoing presence of those in need does not justify a lack of response; rather the exact opposite–it gives us a mandate to act. We need to think differently and the example of others can be our guide.

One scholar, Eugene Boring, characterizes this text in Matthew as the story of the “insightful” woman: she brilliantly illustrates a new way of looking at the problems of society. She recognizes that Jesus is worthy to be praised, even though he will be executed. She realizes that the glory of the God is manifested in death upon the cross–and, just as importantly, she acts upon her awareness. Some, like the disciples, might question whether she solved the problem; but the point, I think, is that she became a living sacrifice thereby transforming her understanding (Ro 12:1–2).

As we seek insight into the fundamental nature of society’s problems and their solutions for a new time, may we remember that simple acts of grace can open the door to the richness of worship. Instead of fear and anger, may we learn from those who give of themselves. And may the right questions inspire faithful actions.

Rev. Andrew Taylor-Troutman is the pastor of New Dublin Presbyterian Church and author of two books, Take My Hand: A Theological Memoir and Parables of Parenthood. He blogs and can be reached at www.takemyhandmemoir.com

Palm Sunday: Occupy Jerusalem

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Read Matthew 21:1-11.

Lent Ponderings - jasoncstanley.comToday is Palm Sunday. It is a joyous and celebratory Sunday as we praise Jesus as the Son of God. We process into the sanctuary with palm branches waving high. It is a special time. But, Palm Sunday is also the hinge in the Jesus Story. Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week, when the story takes a dramatic turn.

History tells us that there were two processions that day into Jerusalem. From the east, Jesus entered on his humble donkey, and from the west Pilate entered with his array of imperial power. It was a visual reminder of who was in charge. The soldiers, the chariots, the swords, and the bows- all instruments of war – reminded the people of Jerusalem that Caesar was King.

And not just King. The imperial power came with an imperial theology that clearly stated that Caesar was Lord. Caesar was a son of the god Apollo. Pilate’s procession did not only bring a political reminder, but it also brought with it a theological reminder – that all this talk about a Jewish Messiah was nonsense because the people already had a son of god in Caesar.

Jesus’ procession, which we know from the Gospel text, was planned. Before arriving to Jerusalem, Jesus gives his disciples the instructions to prepare the donkey and her colt. Did Jesus know that Pilate was processing in from the other end of town? Assuming that he did (he is Jesus), it is yet another incident when Jesus turns the world upside down.

Jesus offers an alternative to Rome. Jesus’ procession into Jerusalem is one of peace. Jesus – the Christ – the long awaited Messiah – will drive out war with love and peace. The instruments of war will be replaced with instruments of peace.

Pilate’s procession represented the kingdom of Caesar, while Jesus’ procession proclaimed the Kingdom of God. This is the conflict that is Holy Week.

Some scholars have referred to the Palm Sunday procession as a political demonstration. A few years ago, the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations received a lot of publicity. There have been Occupy movements before and since then. These movements, according to Wikipedia are about “social and economic inequality.” Instead of the 1% getting all the good stuff, while the 99% struggle to get by, there should be equality across the board, rather than a hierarchy. Some of you may remember this image floating around social media at the time:

Jesus_Occupy Wall Street

No matter where you stand on the whole Occupy thing, Jesus’ procession into Jerusalem with so many people boldly proclaiming him as the Son of God (and not Caesar) was certainly seen by many of the day as a political demonstration. But when we read the rest of the story, we know that the proclamation and the praise turns into threats and cries for blood.

Palm Sunday reminds us of the tension that is the conflict between the earthly kingdom of power and war and the peaceful Kingdom of God.

Jesus Cried

Lent Ponderings - jasoncstanley.com“Jesus cried.” (John 11:35)

Someone told me the other day that her husband’s favorite Bible verse was “Jesus cried.” It is known as the shortest verse in the Bible.  It was her husband’s favorite verse because when he was in confirmation everyone was required to memorize a Bible verse of their choosing.  So, he chose, “Jesus cried.”

It’s a little verse and easy to memorize. But it holds a lot of weight. It is one of those rare moments in the Bible when we see Jesus’ humanity. We almost forget that while Jesus was divine, Jesus was also human. And maybe because it makes us uncomfortable to think of Jesus as human. If Jesus cried and got angry, than does that mean Jesus had acne and farted?

Jesus was God and human.

So, why did Jesus cry?

Sunday school has taught us that Jesus cried out of grief for his friend Lazarus. His friend died. We too would cry at the grave of our friend. When death has wrapped itself around us, all we can do is cry.

But some have suggested that Jesus was not only grieving the physical death of his friend, but the spiritual death of his people. They were still waiting for the Messiah to ride in on a grand, white horse and stomp out the evil Romans. But the Messiah who stood before them crying was not about war, but about love.

In a few chapters, John will be telling us how Jesus knelt and washed the feet of his disciples. He was a servant to the end.  Yet, here were God’s people who were spiritually blind (dead?) to what God was up to.

I imagine that there are still moments when Jesus cries. Perhaps when students are being shuttled into cold, school buses because of a bomb threat, Jesus cries. When a student lashes out in rage and harms others at his school, Jesus cries. When leaders chose hurtful words to make a point, Jesus cries. When his word is used to keep people out, Jesus cries. When a pastor publicly criticizes another church on social media, Jesus cries.

Jesus’ tears, however, turns into a shout. He shouts, “Lazarus, come out!” Lazarus was the original walking dead. The episode must have been an astonishing site! The stone is rolled away; the stench of death breezes out; the dead man hopples out with the grave clothes still in place. Jesus is the giver of life.

Frances Taylor Gench, one of my New Testament professors from seminary, has written:

If actions speak louder than words, Jesus could have provided no more radical demonstration of his power to give life – both in the present, on this earth, and as a promise that on the last day he will raise the dead.

There is still spiritual death among us today. We could call is spiritual immaturity. We could call it spiritual fatigue. Whatever you call it, Jesus calls us out of it into life.

How will we respond?

He Suffered

Lent Ponderings - jasoncstanley.com“Look, my servant will succeed. He will be exalted and lifted very high. Just as many were appalled by you, he too appeared disfigured, inhuman, his appearance unlike that of mortals. (Isaiah 52:13-14, Common English Bible)

He was born into a broken world full of sin and hate. He grew learning and teaching that hate is not the way. He lived showing the world how love really works.

Because he loved us.

Yet, he was betrayed. He was arrested. He was denied. He was beaten. He was flogged. He was stripped. He was nailed to a cross.

He suffered.

Because he loved us.

Us – who betray and deny him.

Us – who beat others with his words; who flog those who disagree with us; who strip away the rights of the oppressed; who nail others to their crosses instead of picking up our own.

He suffered.

Because he loved us.

Even though we do not always love.

We chose hate over love. We chose malice words instead of words of respect.  We chose to ignore rather than to participate.

His generous act of sacrificial love was an act of justice.  He laid down his life so that we – who are broken and full of sin – may have eternal life.

And, yet, we have been shown love and justice, we continue to neglect love and abuse justice.

We turn the other cheek to avoid the piercing glare of the poor and the hungry; to turn away from the ringing of the hammer of systemic injustice; to demand forgiveness rather than to forgive.

He loves us.

Loving God, we give you thanks for your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lived and died so that we may have life. May your Holy Spirit dwell in us, around us, and through us as we strive to live this life we have been given as Christ lived his, with love and justice for all. Amen.

Guest Post: Lost in Suffering

by Erin Davidson 

Read Isaiah 50:4-9a.

Lent Ponderings - jasoncstanley.comObedient, loyal and steadfast, they’re all big, meaningful words, words that Jesus embodies.  They’re words for us as humans to strive to live and grow into.  As we move through Lent, we experience Jesus’ journey to the cross.  It wasn’t a pleasant one and no matter how much God could have told him about what would happen, Jesus, as a human, wouldn’t have been fully prepared.  Yet throughout this journey of suffering, Jesus remains obedient, loyal and steadfast.  Isaiah writes in this passage about a suffering servant, whether we interpret this servant as the children of Israel waiting to be delivered, or Jesus towards the end of his life, it’s a journey of obedience and God’s steadfastness.

In Isaiah 50:1-3 God essentially asks rhetorically, “Did you really think I have forgotten you?  Did you really think that I’m unable or unwilling to deliver you from this?”  To which God then responds in verses 4-9 that a Savior will come.  Not only will this Savior come but God details some of the suffering he will have to endure.  Throughout it all, this Savior is obedient and loyal to God because he knows God will stay with him the entire time.

Sometimes we get lost in our own “suffering,” forgetting that God is always present with us on our journey.  I cannot imagine being tasked with the role that Jesus had; I also cannot imagine being such a faithful disciple.  However, Isaiah reminds me that God prepares disciples, giving us a “well-instructed tongue” to know the words to use, open ears to listen to those around us.  God equips us with everything needed for the journey ahead and in turn, we must listen and follow.

This year as you read through the stories of Lent, look for examples of obedience, loyalty, and steadfastness. Examine the characters of the story, the words they use, or when they don’t talk. Use their stories to guide how we live our lives as disciples.

Erin B. Davidson is a full time social worker and part time Day Camp Director at Camp Hanover in Mechanicsville, VA.

Unbind

Read Romans 8:6-11.

Lent Ponderings - jasoncstanley.comLent is a season of self-reflection. A season of contemplation. It is the Henri Nouwen and Parker Palmer kind of stuff where we examine our hearts and our souls. John Wesley would ask, “How is it with your soul?” Lent is the time when we reflect on that question. We make conscious decisions to move away from the old life and embrace a new life.

Here in Romans 8, Paul discusses living by the flesh and living by the Spirit. There have been many words spoken and written about what Paul means by the “flesh.” Biblical scholar David Bartlett puts it simply, “Life in the flesh is the life of bondage to sin.” Where, on the other hand, life in the Spirit is “to belong to God in Jesus Christ.”

How are you living your life? In the flesh, bonded by sin? Or in the Spirit, belonging to God?

When Jesus shouts for Lazarus to come out of the tomb, he is calling for Lazarus to come unbound and be set free. When we live in the Spirit, we are living in freedom. But when we are living by the flesh, we are bound in grave clothes and limited to the dark walls of a tomb.

I invite you today to reflect on how you are bound. Ask the question, “How is it with your soul?” Open yourselves to God who calls forth life.

Guest Post: Jesus Grieved

by Rev. Doug Sasser

Read John 11:1-45.

Lent Ponderings - jasoncstanley.comWhen I was three, my mother died in an automobile accident.  My father was a college president at the time, and the chairman of his board of directors advised him to get remarried as soon as possible, maintaining that the college needed a first lady and I needed a mother.  Within a year of my mother’s death, my father began courting a woman he would soon marry.  This marriage was not harmonious and I recall frequently hearing them arguing with each other.  After seven years, their marriage ended in divorce.

Although many factors led to divorce, my father’s decision to get remarried so soon after being widowed may not have been healthy for him and his family.  He was given very bad advice by his board chair.  Psychologists agree grief involves a long emotional process.  We must be able to sit with our pain and allow ourselves to heal slowly over time.  When we try to pretend our grieving is done by starting a new relationship, this typically leads to emotional turmoil later.

Once, when I lost a loved one, my friends at church said to me, “This is probably not painful for you because of your faith in God.”  The opposite is true.  God made us and understands what goes on inside of us when we grieve.

The Jews understood no one should have to grieve alone.  Others from the community surrounded Mary as she grieved the death of her brother Lazarus.  Our text describes how the comforters all accompanied Mary as she went outside of the house to greet Jesus.  Some of those gathered noticed Jesus weeping and acknowledged how much he loved this family.  Jesus cries with them just as those who surrounded Mary had.

Others expect Jesus to offer a quick fix by saying, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”  Martha takes on an accusatory tone when she says to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  We may ask ourselves why the Son of God stood around blubbering instead of raising Lazarus on the spot.  Elsewhere in the scriptures Jesus healed people without even being physically present.

I believe Jesus responded the way he did because he understood the grieving process.  Lazarus is not resurrected in this passage; he is resuscitated.  He will die again someday.  His family shall grieve his loss for longer than three days.  Jesus understood grief is painful and it takes time.  Through the miracle of the incarnation God became flesh in the form of Jesus Christ.  Jesus took on humanity in all of its intricacies.  He knew what it meant to feel pain, sorrow and grief.  Jesus is showing Lazarus’ family how to grieve.

During the season of Lent this is especially evident to us.  Through the scriptures we make the trek down the mountain with Jesus and the three disciples on Transfiguration Sunday.  Then we make the journey with Jesus and the disciples as they travel to Jerusalem.  Along the way we stop as Jesus cries over the city of Jerusalem.  Tension builds as Jesus confronts his enemies after turning over the tables of the money changers in the Temple.  A bittersweet mood hangs over Jesus and the disciples during the Last Supper.  Jesus is deserted in the garden of Gethsemane when those who vowed to defend him to the death an hour earlier run under the cover of darkness.  While on the cross Jesus expresses the ultimate feelings of rejection when he confesses feeling abandoned by God.  Even after Jesus died on the cross the scripture describes how some disciples hide behind locked doors for fear of Jesus’ enemies.  Other disciples expressed their bewilderment over the death of Jesus with a “stranger” they met on the road to Emmaus.

If we are too quick to rush past the sadness of Holy Week and jump to the empty tomb we are not being true to the witness of the scripture.  Also we are not being true to ourselves as humans.  We cannot appreciate the joy and amazement of Easter morning if we have not experienced the events of Holy Week.  Perhaps this is what Jesus was trying to teach Mary and Martha.  Before new life can be celebrated, mourning must occur.  Join those who surrounded Mary in this text.  Allow yourself to grieve, feel pain and cry.  When we allow ourselves space and time to feel pain, we can properly heal.  Jesus Christ, who sits with us and cries with us, is also the one who will raise us to new life.

Rev. Doug Sasser serves the Franklin Charge on the Danville District of the Virginia United Methodist Church. 

Guest Post: Lent is Waiting

by Rachel Mastin

Read Psalm 130.

Lent Ponderings - jasoncstanley.comI have always loved the psalms. No matter where you are in life, you can find yourself in the psalms. And when you find yourself, look next to you, or behind you, or in front of you and you can find God, right there with you. Psalm 130 is part of a small group of psalms (120-134) that are sung by pilgrims who are on the road to Zion. And as we know, Zion is on a hill. They are literally, and figuratively, going up, out of the depths as they work through this psalm. We do not have a pure lament, nor are we completely in celebration. Rather these verses move us through different moods and feelings as the pilgrims walk. There are moments of lament, there are moments of celebration, and there moments of many things in between.

Though we could rest anywhere in these eight verses, I think the place that hits the closest for me is in the waiting. Lent is a time of waiting, of reflection, of repentance. The Psalmist is in the depths, cries out to the Lord and then, faithfully and with hope- he waits. The beauty and comfort of verses 5-6 is that you are not waiting alone.

Years ago my father had a liver transplant. It was supposed to be a fairly quick procedure, just five or six hours of surgery. By the time we got to this point we had been waiting for months. Waiting to see if other treatments worked, waiting to see if his cancer had spread, waiting for him to be moved to the top of the transplant list, waiting for the right donor liver to become available. And on this day, a sunny but cool Thursday in November, we sat at that hospital waiting. His surgery didn’t go as planned, and we waited. For twelve hours to talk to his surgeons and another three until we could put our eyes on him and know he had made it through.

I would be lying if I said that we spent that entire time praying, but it was certainly a large part of it for me. My entire family was gathered in the hospital and as we walked the hallways, tried to get information, made small talk with others who were also waiting, and turned to each other to ask what could possibly be taking so long, God was with us. In the frustration, concern, and confusion; in the small talk and the pacing and then, finally, in the relief, God was with us.

As we go about the rest of this lenten season we may linger in the depths, we may be steadily climbing up, not looking back, singing songs of forgiveness and joy on the way. We may bounce back and forth, climbing to the top and falling back down. Wherever we are, may we always know that God is with us, and may we look at our situation with the hope of Jesus Christ.

Rachel Mastin serves as the Christian Formation and Mission Coordinator at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Richmond,VA. 

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