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I try to post well in advance of the upcoming Sunday.

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Monday, March 20, 2023

Easter Sunday, Year A, April 9, 2023

Quotes That Make Me Think
Easter's First Light at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

"We should not see the event as proving resurrection as a belief, since that would have been widespread. It was more that this Jesus had been raised, had been raised first of all, and, as follows later in the chapter, has a role to exercise and a commission to give. That commission, in turn, directs attention to the ministry and teaching of Jesus as the good news."

"First Thoughts on Year A Gospel Passages in the Lectionary: Easter Sunday,"William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"It is only fitting that just as the tomb will not contain Jesus, neither can Mark's story. Jesus is not bound by its ending; he continues into the future God has in store for the creation."
Commentary, Rolf Jacobson, Matthew 28:1-10, Easter A, Preaching This Week,, 2011.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from

(From wikipedia: "The Paschal homily or sermon (also known in Greek as Hieratikon or as the Catechetical Homily) of St John Chrysostom (d. 407 CE) is read aloud on the morning of Pascha (a.k.a. "Easter" in the West), called "the Great and Holy Pascha of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ" in the Eastern Orthodox Church and Eastern Catholic Churches of the Byzantine rite. According to theTradition of the Church, no one sits during the reading of the Paschal homily. Portions of it are often done with the interactive participation of the congregation.)

Are you God's friend and lover?
rejoice in this glorious feast of feasts!
Are you God's servant, knowing God's wishes?
be glad with your Master, share his rejoicing!
Are you worn down with the labor of fasting?
now is your payday!

Have you been working since early morning?
you will be paid fair and square.
Have you been here since the third hour?
you can be thankful, you will be pleased.
If you came at the sixth hour,
come up without fear, you will lose nothing.
Did you linger till the ninth hour?
come forward without hesitation.
Even if you came at the eleventh hour?
have no fear; it is not too late.

God is a generous employer,
treating the last to come as he treats the first arrival.
God gives to the one and gives to the other:
honours the deed and praises the intention.

Join, then, all of you, join in our Master's rejoicing.
You who were the first to come, you who came after,
come now and collect your wages.
Rich and poor, sing and dance together.
You that are hard on yourselves, you that are easy,
celebrate this day.
You that have fasted and you that have not,
make merry today.

 The meal is ready: come and enjoy it.
The calf is a fat one: you will not go away hungry.
There's hospitality for all, and to spare. No more
apologizing for your poverty:
the kingdom belongs to us all.
No more bewailing your failings:
forgiveness has come from the grave.
No more fears of your dying:
the death of our Savior has freed us from fear.
Death played the Master: but he has mastered death

Isaiah knew this would happen, and he cried:
"Death was angered when it met you in the pit."
It was angered, for it was defeated.
It was angered, for it was mocked.
It was angered, for it was abolished.
It was angered, for it was overthrown.
It was angered, for it was bound in chains.

Death swallowed a body, and met God face to face.
It took earth and encountered heaven.
It took what is seen and fell upon the unseen.
O Death, where is your sting?
O Grave, where is your victory?
Christ is risen and you are overthrown.

Christ is risen and evil has fallen.
Christ is risen and the angels rejoice.
Christ is risen and life reigns.
Christ is risen and not one dead remains in the tomb.

Christ is risen indeed from the dead,
the first of all who had fallen asleep.

Glory and power to him for ever and ever!

Some Thoughts on Matthew 28:1-10

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

Mary Magdalene and the "other Mary" are the principle actors throughout Matthew's Gospel. They arrive at early dawn.  He omits their purpose being the anointing ritual because as we might remember this was done in chapter 26. (Daniel Harrington, Matthew, Sacra Pagina, 409)  Earthquake as sign and motif runs throughout this particular gospel as a foreshadowing of apocalyptic events.  While Mark's Gospel leaves the disciples with the question, "Who will roll away the stone?" as a moniker for the work of Gospel sharing, here the angel (not unlike the infant narrative) explains the stage that is set before the women as they arrive.

We therefore are told and are led to understand the events, how the soldiers are powerless and how all this has happened as a completion of a long awaited re-creation moment. The angel tells them to go and tell the Good News and to go to Galilee.  We might well remember throughout our journey with Jesus in the Matthean narrative that Galilee is where the action is!  So go....we are charged with the women and see that the resurrected Lord goes before us to meet us there, out there, where the ministry and mission field lies.

As they are leaving, Jesus immediately appears to them as the resurrected Lord.  He too charges them to go to Galilee...there is the climax of our story.  The action is there. The work is there. The mission is there. Go and I will meet you there.

The Matthean scholar Daniel Harrington points out that so important is the message of he is not here, go and tell, go to Galilee that the words of the angel and of Jesus appear almost as a "doublet." (Harrington, Matthew, Sacra Pagina, 410) We can see it here:

The Angel:
1. He is not here; for he has been raised,
2. go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead,
3. he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’

1. [He is the risen Lord] they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.
2. go and tell my brothers
3. go to Galilee

It seems to me a number of scholars will tend to write a lot about how Matthew "tidies up" Mark's account.  The problem I have is this too often takes us deep into a historical critical deconstruction of the text. It too often assumes that Mark has no reason for making his testimony in the particular manner to serve a particular mission context or based upon his own understanding of eyewitness accounts.  Both Matthew and Mark give clear testimony and each should be taken in their own right; neither is less or subservient to another.  I guess I am on my soap box now but Mark and Matthew have integrity unto themselves and we sometimes miss the very important witness when we over compare.

The second thing that seems to be dealt with in the literature is Matthew's own section of material which serves to prepare the disciple for this message:
17When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’
You and I cannot preach (I don't think) with a sense of purpose if we do not preach the testimony of the resurrection in Matthew's Gospel for the purpose of bring people to:

1. Worship the risen Lord
2. Aid people with their doubt
3. Proclaim the risen Christ as Lord
4. Make disciples
5. Understand, articulate, and offer baptism as the primary way of becoming a member of God's family
6. glorify God and love neighbor
7. walk with Jesus through life's pilgrimage
I love what Daniel Harrington writes when he describes the nature of what has taken place:
The empty tomb is the necessary presupposition for christian belief in jesus' resurrection.  By itself it does no prove Jesus' resurrection, for the emptiness of the tomb can be explained in several ways. Christian must also appeal to the appearance stories and tot he growth and development of the Church as additional supports for their belief.
The controversy surrounding the empty tomb ought not to obscure the starling content of the early Christian proclamation about Jesus...An event reserved for the end of human history [as believed by most in Jesus' time and in our own] has happened in the midst of human history....To this extent the kingdom of God is among us. (Harrington, Matthew, Sacra Pagina, 413)
This it seems to me is the proclamation of Easter Sunday - Jesus is risen for a purpose.  This resurrection is an apocalyptic event in the lives of those who experience it such that they in turn do these things.  If there were ever an altar call in the Episcopal church (outside of baptism and confirmation) this Sunday is it!


Some Thoughts on John 20:1-18
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel
We begin with  Mary discovering that the body is not there and reporting it to the disciples.  There is the famous disciple race.  The beloved disciple loves Jesus more and so he arrives at the tomb first before Peter; this is the intent of the story teller at least.  When he arrives he sees the burial clothes and he believes. He sees, he experiences, the resurrection and he believes.

Mary Magdalene then experiences the risen Jesus.  She has been searching for him; she sees him but does not immediately know him.  In fact she does not know him until her name is called.  Raymond Brown points out a number of reasons for this in John, vol 2, 1008ff.  Playing out the reality of Jesus' own words in John 10.3:  "The sheep hear his voice as he calls by name those that belong to him."  "I know my sheep and my sheep know me."  Her response is to announce to the disciples that she has "seen the Lord."

Two different experiences of the risen Christ from two loving followers are what we have to preach on this Easter.  They give us a sense that the risen Lord is known in many ways and experienced in many ways.  While true belief will come with the Holy Spirit, we are given here in John's resurrection account the beginning of the new creation story.

The Victory has been won on the cross. The chasm that separated the earth and the heaven is no breached.  The disciples begin to experience a new order and a new creation. They begin to understand the things which have been told them.

In these resurrection accounts we have the beginning of faith which comes from experiencing the risen Lord.  Their faith will grow even as Jesus continues to make his journey to the father. He remarks that we are not to cling to tightly to these experiences for the unity if fulfilled in the ascension which is soon to come.  Jesus is even now, as he stands before Mary, making his way to the Father.  Then, and only then, will the comforter and Holy Spirit be unleashed in the world.  Then, and only then, will the disciples come to a fullness of belief.

John's Gospel tells us clearly that resurrection is not simply a bodily, this world, experience but it is a resurrection into unity with God.  Only when Jesus is resurrected and unified will the new creation truly spring forth.  So now...on Easter we read John's Gospel we prepare and raise our heads for the coming of the Holy Spirit and the salvation of creation which is even now upon us.

"The first ones ever, oh, ever to know of the rising of Jesus, his glory to be, were Mary, Joanna, and Magdalene, and blessed are they are they who see.  Oh blessed are they who see the Lord, oh, blessed are they who see." (Hymnal 1982, 673)

"The reference to 'all' may also have a much wider focus: all people and all of creation. That is at least the goal of this love which flows from the heart of God and that needs to be the goal of that love in and through our lives as well, so that no one is beyond it and no part of creation beyond our care and concern."

"First Thoughts on Year C Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 11, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"Since the author recognizes the ongoing reality of slavery in his instructions to slaves in 3:22-25, the final contrasting pair, slave/free, in 3:11 helps show that for the author what has been negated in baptism is not the existence of such contrasting groups. Rather these contrasts no longer serve as the prime identity of people's separateness since they are all in Christ who gives them their prime identity."

Commentary, Colossians 3:1-11, Richard Carlson, Preaching This Week,, 2013.

The passage we have for today from Paul's letter to the community in Colossia comes after a concern about a bunch of rules or ways of doing ritual that are drawing the members from the real focus of worship and life in Christ.  (2.21ff)  Some scholars believe that these may be rooted in purity laws. Paul offers a very important vision of Christ - he offers freedom and reconciliation. The Christ that Paul and I believe in is one who is not an oppressive liturgical fundamentalist!  Worship itself should mimic a God of freedom and liberation.

Paul then says (in the beginning of our passage) Christ has left the ways of the past behind, we are now able to be joined directly with God through Jesus's work on the cross.  Evil has been trampled and so too any distractions which draw us from the love of God.  So we are to "rise up" as Ray Wylie Hubbard sings and become united to God in Christ Jesus.

Certainly the images of "above" language are about "harmony, justice, and peace" says William Loader.  The things that are below are of a more worldly nature.  These will get in the way of our worship and life with God.
5Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry)...8But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. 9Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices10and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.
Paul's view is that when these things are set aside, not as new rules or laws, as a way of living together new life is revealed - resurrection life is revealed.  And in this we receive the poetry of love and unity that is found in the last verses:
11In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!


Some Thoughts on Acts 10:34-43

We are reading from the book of Acts during Easter. Luke is believed to be the author of this book and so it is a continuation of the story of the Gospel. When we look at it this way we see an important story arc that has been in effect from the earliest passages of the Gospel – Jesus is Lord of all.

Drawing on Richard Hays’ work we easily see a narrative that begins to portray Jesus as Lord – as the Kyrios. Luke begins in 1:16 and carries the term to our passage for today. Of all the Gospel authors, Luke uses the term the most. He ties it into Isaiah’s prophecy and the suffering servant as we discussed in the readings during Holy Week. (Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 253ff)

In this Easter reading we have the high point of Luke’s arc in the words of the Peter:
“I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem.
…All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
What is revealed here is the immortal nature of God’s Word – the Immortal Word – the second person of the Trinity. God acting through the word, in this case Isaiah’s prophetic word, long before the unique person of Jesus. God reveals the ultimate unity of God and that just as this God was Lord of Israel so this God in Christ Jesus is Lord of all. The incarnate Word made flesh reigns because God reigns. Jesus is Lord of life and Lord of death it turns out on this Easter day – of all.

We should probably be clear before moving along, we humans are the ones who put boundaries on God. We, the religious, like God to be lord of insider our church walls but not outside. We like our God to be lord of us but not them. We desire a God who is lord of our country but not theirs. We confuse this lordship (with a little “l”) because we think we get to be in charge of God. We believe we get to decide who God likes and doesn’t like. That is of course is all very silly nonsense. We have no control over what God is Lord over. It turns out, as our passage tells us today, that God in Christ Jesus is Lord over all. The scripture says something about this: the son sun rises on both the righteous and unrighteous alike.

Because the Revised Common Lectionary Loves Acts 10 you can chose it for your third reading OR

Some Thoughts on Jeremiah 31:1-6

I fear nobody every choses Jeremiah for their Easter Sunday preaching. This, however, is a fantastic text.

Let us begin by rehearsing a bit this Jeremiah person…. Jeremiah had the vantage point of seeing the people wonder this way and that to other gods in times of stress and fear; and he saw his king call people to return to the worship of the Lord too. It was a highly-charged time of politics mixed with religion and foreign diplomacy. We probably underestimate the pressure he felt on every side to offer a vision and path towards God.

Our passage for this Easter Sunday begins by reminding those who hear Jeremiah’s words that God intends to be the God of all the people of Israel – the faithful and unfaithful. God loves his people and wishes to draw them closer to God’s self. God desires that they return and bear fruit of faithfulness and fruit that can be harvested. And, Jeremiah hopes the people will return to worship at Jerusalem – on Zion.

Matthew leans heavy into Jeremiah as a source of prophecy for the Gospel. In particular this passage is rehearsed in Matthew’s birth narrative. Richard Hays writes, “Matthew’s richly allusive citation of Jeremiah 31 in the birth narrative material. If the reader is meant to recall the context of ‘Rachel weeping for her children’ in Jeremiah, the suggestion lies at the hand that Jesus, the Messiah who will bring the end of Israel’s exile, will also establish ‘a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.’” (Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 120)

In this way the new covenant prophesied by Jeremiah is lifted out of the context of return from Babylon and is offered as a vision of the unique incarnation of the Word Jesus as the one to bring all of Israel into a new relationship with God. It is not a prophetic word about how the king of Judah returns people to an old law but to a new law. It is a higher law – as discussed previously on this blog.

God in the work of Jesus upon the cross and tomb roots a new covenant in the earth and upon the resurrection day is raised as a new sign of God’s grace. God draws not only the faithful and unfaithful religious Israelites into God’s bosom but instead through this rebirth draws all people to God’s self.

Good Friday, Holy Week, ABC

Quotes That Make Me Think

"Today the Master of the creation and the Lord of Glory is nailed to the cross and his side is pierced; and he who is the sweetness of the church tastes gall and vinegar."

Byzantine Liturgy, Triduum, (LTP, 1996)

Sunset to sunrise changes now,
For God creates the world anew;
On the Redeemer's thorn-crowned brow
The wonders of that dawn we view.
Although the sun withholds its light
Yet a more heavenly lamp shines here; and from the cross on Calv'ry's height
Gleams of eternity appear.
Here in o'erwhelming final strife
the Lord of life has victory;
And sin is slain, and death brings life,
And earth inherits heaven's key.

Clement of Alexandria

"In the end, Pilate attempts to crucify the Truth. He places a placard nearby mockingly announcing Jesus as The King of the Jews. The irony is thick, of course, because Pilate has unwittingly announced the truth."

Commentary, John 18:33-37, Jaime Clark-Soles, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons


Prostrate on the ground, your Son prayed, O God, that this hour might pass, this cup be taken away.  But then he rose to do your will, to stretch out his arms on the cross, to be lifted up from the earth an to be glorified by you.  Prostrate before you, O God, we ponder the mystery of your saving will.  In this hour of Christ's exaltation, we beg you: Open our hearts to hear the story of our salvation, to stretch out our hands in prayer, to venerate the cross by which the whole world is lifted up to salvation, life and resurrection.  We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year C, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on John 18:1 - 19:42
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Gospel

Raymond Brown writes:  "The other gospels mark Jesus' death with miraculous signs in the ambiance: The Temple curtain is torn; tombs open and bodies of the saints come forth; and an expression of faith is evoked from a Roman centurion. but the Fourth Gospel localizes the sign in the body of Jesus itself: When the side of Jesus is pierced, there comes forth blood and later. In 7:38-39 we heard: "From within him shall flow rivers of living water," with the explanation that the water symbolized the Spirit which would be given when Jesus had bee glorified. That is now fulfilled, but the admixture of blood to the water is the sign that Jesus has passed from this world to the Father and has been glorified. It is not impossible that the fourth evangelist intends here a reference not only to the gift of the Spirit but also to the two channels (baptism and the Eucharist) through which the Spirit had been communicated to the believers of his won community, with water signifying baptism, and blood the Eucharist."

One of my mentors once remarked of how careful one must be when dealing in sermons preached in the midst of the great liturgies of the church. I have come to understand and to agree. When we address the text that is before us we quickly realize that the text itself, and the reading of it in publicworship, is carries a weight which can barely be matched by a few meager words from the pulpit.

The piece that I find the most interesting is the uniqueness of John's Gospel and in particular the last words of Jesus. There is a tremendous feeling of agony and suffering in the last words of the synoptics: "My god, my God, why have you forsaken me?" John's words echo Luke's in their triumphant nature and give us a sense that in this moment we have victory.

Jesus in the fourth Gospel accepts death, in all of its pain and suffering, as the completion of God's plan to unite the world (its earthiness and creatureliness) with the Godhead. The fourth Gospel's death scene from the cross is a song of victory.  It relishes the death of death, the finality of sin, as the falling cross bridges the gap once for all between heaven and earth.

Psalm 22 gives us this victory song:
1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.
3 Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.
4 In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.
5 To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.
6 But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people.
7 All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
8 “Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver— let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”
9 Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
10 On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God.
11 Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.
12 Many bulls encircle me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13 they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.
14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast;
15 my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.
16 For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled;
17 I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.
19 But you, O Lord, do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid!
20 Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog!
21 Save me from the mouth of the lion! From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.
22 I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
23 You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
24 For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.
25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord. May your hearts live forever!
27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.
28 For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.
29 To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him.
30 Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord,
31 and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.

The Psalm captures both the defeat and the ultimate victory which is God's. It is John's Gospel thought that is most like the end. The words, "It is finished." are a victory cry and not some pitiful words from a dying prisoner!

Raymond Brown explains it this way, "In John's theology, now that Jesus has finished his work and is lifted up from the earth on the cross in death, he will draw all men to him. If "It is finished" is a victory cry, the victory it heralds is that of obediently fulfilling the Father's will. It is similar to "It is done" of Rev. 16.17, uttered from the throne of God and of the Lamb when the seventh angel pours out the final blow of God's wrath. What God has decreed has been accomplished." (John, vol II, Anchor Bible, 931)

If we combine this then with the images of Brown's above, Psalm 22, we see that the piercing then is the handing over of the sacramental life of the Godly community into the hands of those who will come after. The Spirit which is about to be poured out in chapter 20 is already here prefigured. Be cautious not to move into Pentecost too soon. However, I do think it is important to understand that the work of Jesus on the cross is the culmination of his earthly mission and for John it is the final death blow to the ruler of this world.

Some Thoughts on Hebrews 10:16-25

Resources for Epistle

Paul has been teaching the Hebrews that the Holy Spirit has brought them to faith, and that it is the same Spirit which speaks to them in scripture.  As an example he pulls from a passage that I spoke about in the Maundy Thursday meditation and that is the passage from Jeremiah chapter 31.  
31 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. 33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
The passage speaks of God's promise for a new covenant.  Paul says that the promise itself is that God's action on the cross, takes away the sins of the past and moves the follower of Jesus towards a sinless life. Craig Koester (Hebrews, Yale Bible, 441), Luther Seminary professor of New Testament, writes that Paul offers to his readers the notion that "God creates a situation in which he does not allow past or present sins to define his relationship with people."  God wills that such a divide is bridged by the cross.

There is justification and reconciliation between God and humanity.  The work on the cross is complete and final.  This is a unique Christian thought.  There is no need for a temple or Colosseum where sacrifices need to be made in order to create a renewed relationship between humanity and the gods.  There is no long list of law that is to be followed in order to fulfill the requirement to bridge the gulf.   God's action upon the cross is what puts and end to remembering the human disobedience.

We are boldly given permission to be in God's presence.  The sacrifice of Jesus, freely given for the sake of his friends and on behalf of sinners is what provides the release. This is new and it is a way of living.  Paul says the sacrifice is made and the curtain removed.

New life is given through the opportunity of putting behind us anxiety, fear, death, and impurity. (Koester, 444).  Instead we are given the opportunity as Christians to live a new life, to participate in the new covenant.  The Holy Spirit gathers us in and sends us out. We are purified by Christ's action and with the character of boldness and hope we are sent out to confess and make known our faith.  We are to "provoke" one another.  [Paul here uses a negative work in a positive sense. (445)  We are to encourage a new life of witness in one another.  Furthermore, this new life is to look like love and good works.

Craig Koester writes, "Love is not simply an emotion, but entails care for others, including strangers and the afflicted.  Love is congruent with righteousness and can be expressed in parental instruction.  Good works of love are the opposite of the 'dead works' of sin....they are the saving work of Christ in the believer's actions. (445)

The Hebrews text gives us both a theological underpinning to the Johannine Gospel of victory.  It defines what that victory is and it offers a vision of what the Christian is to do with their new freedom.

Some Thoughts on Isaiah 52:7 - 53:12
(Isaiah 53:4-12) 

The passage from Isaiah that we read is very much tied to the nativity story. It is part of the liturgical recognition of the uniqueness of God in Christ Jesus as the eternal Word. The excitement of the good news of Christ is now once again heralded on the day of the crucifixion.

The passage falls within what most Old Testament scholars call the fourth servant poem. God is speaking in this text to Israel. And, in the context of the Old Testament God is speaking to Israel’s sufferings and God’s ultimate triumph.

Dirk G. Lange, Associate Dean and Chair of Missions and Professor of Worship at Luther Seminary in Saint Paul, Mn, writes:

Not only is a messenger coming to announce a victory from the battlefield, but God’s self is coming in triumph. The Lord returns! The battlefield is not just any confrontation between two armies but the field of history itself in which God is triumphant, for it is not only Jerusalem that is redeemed but also all the nations. Finally, the watchmen watching for the messenger cannot contain themselves! Even before the messenger arrives they recognize the news and sing it out! 
The news is stated in cosmic terms: “Your God reigns!” Once again, we encounter the realignment of all earthly power and authority. The victory that is proclaimed does not belong to this or that king, to this or that country, to this or that ideology, but to God alone. Psalm 97, one of the psalms appointed for Christmas Day, also echoes this theme in song. (Read more here.)

Reading this on Good Friday the text naturally shifts it to a Christian perspective revealing the “suffering servant” and the servant’s triumph as that of Christ. The suffering is Christ’s suffering on the cross. The servant’s triumph is Christ’s resurrection. The triumph is for the people of Israel but for the Gentiles as well.

Saint Athenasius writes:
They say then: “A man in stripes, and knowing how to bear weakness, for his face is turned away: he was dishonored and held in no account. He bears our sins, and is in pain on our account; and we reckoned him to be in labor, and in stripes, and in ill-usage; but he was wounded for our sins, and made weak for our wickedness. The chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his stripes we were healed.” O marvel at the loving-kindness of the Word, that for our sakes He is dishonored, that we may be brought to honor. “For all we,” it says, “like sheep were gone astray; man had erred in his way; and the Lord delivered him for our sins; and he opens not his mouth, because he hath been evilly entreated. As a sheep was he brought to the slaughter, and as a lamb dumb before his shearer, so open he not his mouth: in his abasement, his judgment was taken away.” 3. Then lest any should from His suffering conceive Him to be a common man, Holy Writ anticipates the surmises of man, and declares the power (which worked) for Him, and the difference of His nature compared with ourselves, saying: “But who shall declare his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth. From the wickedness of the people was he brought to death. (Read whole text here.)

This text from Isaiah, Richard Hays believes, forms the background of the Good News presented in Mark’s Gospel. It is with an eye to this passage that our first Gospel author sees and understands that God has returned to God’s people in the person of Jesus. (Hays, Echoes of the Scripture in the Gospels, 30) Here then in the Gospel of Mark the revelation of God’s man is about the incarnation. Mark does not mention the suffering servant at all in the rest of the Gospel – not even in the crucifixion. (Echoes, 86)

For Matthew the image will come alive and dwell throughout the narrative. Keeping the Markan material, by the time Matthew writes it is clear that the correlation between the suffering servant of Israel and Jesus is essential in understanding the work of Jesus upon the cross.

Luke’s Gospel is the one New Testament narrative that draws the most from this passage. Hays points out that every bit of the narrative from the meal onward reveals Jesus as the suffering servant. (Echoes, 216ff) It might be easy to say that the arc of developed theology spans the first 5 decades of Christian writing after Jesus resurrection with an ever more pronounced and definitive understanding of Jesus as the suffering servant. Isaiah’s prophecy speaking beyond the return of the people Israel to their homeland to the defeat of death itself and the doors of heaven being opened to all humanity.

Here in all of this though is an interesting correlation worth exploring homiletically but seems to be outside of most of the discussions I have read. In fact, I have never preached on it before. And that is this: The suffering servant is an image of Israel (God’s people suffering) and God’s triumphant act. It seems a powerful image to play on the notion that Jesus, while on the one hand embodying the image of the suffering servant, also takes on the embodiment of Israel –yes – but all humanity. It seems of the utmost important to understand the catholic (the universal) nature of the suffering servant’s identity as that of the people. The suffering servant of Isaiah reveals the burden of all Israel, the suffering servant of the Gospels (Jesus) is revealed as the vessel in which is poured not the burden of any one people but the burden of the whole world.

Previous Sermons for Good Friday

Sermon Good Friday Year B, March 30, 2018, St. Mark's, Bellaire

Reflections: The Broken Man and his Breaking Cross

The Crucifixion is a Public Warning

Jesus Thirsts for Righteousness and Thirsts for Us

When Death Met Christ

Lives Lived, Boxes Filled

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Maundy Thursday, Holy Week, Year ABC

Quotes That Make Me Think

"Infinite, intimate God; this night you kneel before your friends and wash our feet. Bound together in your love, trembling, we drink your cup and watch."

New Zealand Prayer Book

"Oneness in love is the language of intimacy. It applies to our relation with God and Christ (and to their relationship). It is to apply also to our relationships with each other in community."

"First Thoughts on Year C Gospel Passages in the Lectionary: Easter 5," William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"Fortunately, this passage actually has TWO new commandments: 1) Love one another as I have loved you. And, 2) Forgive one another as I have forgiven you. Christ-like-love is the goal. Forgiveness is the salve that heals brokenness and makes love possible once again."

Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, John 13:31-35, David Ewart, 2012.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons


With joy, O God of salvation, the assembly of your holy people begins the three day pasch, in which Christ manifests the gospel in his own flesh and blood.  Stir our hearts by the example of this Savior, who welcomed to his table even those who would betray, deny and desert him, the Lord who knew their weaknesses yet bend down to wash their feet. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year C, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on John 13:1-35
Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

Much like the place of Maundy Thursday as the beginning of Christian Passover or the doorway into the Triduum, our passage is the beginning through which the disciple walks into the important teachings in following chapters which then lead directly into the crucifixion.  This passage is a doorway in John's Gospel for the disciple to follow Jesus to the cross, through the grave and to Easter.

Meister des Hausbuches,
Jesus Washes the Feet of the Apostles 
Most scholars including Raymond Browne see that our passage falls into three distinct sections.  The action in 1-5, the interpretation to the disciples, and the further interpretation to those who read the Gospel and believe.

Section One: The Action
13Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.

We see a clear Johanine understanding that Jesus is returning to the Father. We might remember the earlier teachings on John wherein I talked about how Jesus clearly is the incarnate word come to dwell in the world.  Furthermore, we see the very deep roots of our orthodox faith which understands that it is Jesus' loving of the disciples that brings them into the family of God.  Despite the work of those that would destroy the community and creatures of God, Jesus will be victorious. He washes their feet. This may be a sign of baptism. What is clear is that Jesus serves the disciples and loves them as if they were his own to care for and tend.  This is the first and essential piece of the Gospel; and it is radical.  Jesus serves his followers.

The Second Section: First Interpretation
We shall remember that this is "Commandment day", this is the meaning of Maundy. Here we have the essential ingredient to all of Christian teachings about discipleship.  While avoiding words that are liturgically connected with baptism Jesus offers this very basic exercise of cleaning and washing.  Jesus is enacting a sign of hospitality. It is a welcoming into the company of God's family, formally in baptism, here signified with the tenderness of a mother or father.  Jesus is uniting all of creation and all of humanity with God. We are being adopted into Christ's household as a person might be brought into one's own home (Genesis 18:4  1 Samuel 25:41; Luke 7:4422:27).  This is the way our community is to be like. Within the covenant community which claims Christ we are to accept the freely given grace of our Lord and share it with others by repeating the act of loving embrace to others.

We know that the outward washing of the body does not cleanse the soul, but it is clear that this love and care is to be a hallmark of the inward grace.  It is the hallmark of Jesus' ministry and it is to be the hallmark of our own lives lived in the wake of Jesus' ministry. The hospitality of God is to be echoed by all who come after him. 1 Peter 2:21, the author writes: “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps”.

The Third Section: The Second Interpretation Here it is as if Jesus stops focusing upon his disciples and steps out of the Gospel in order to focus on the reader.  When we welcome, when we open ourselves up to those who have been sent by Christ into the world we too become part of the family.  While certainly Jesus is to be betrayed, nevertheless we are to act in accordance to the witness we have been given. We are to “love one another”.  This is the basic sign of ones salvation and knowledge of God and his Son Jesus.  We witness in this text the breaking of bread and sharing of wine, the emblems of a self-giving God.  We are to love and keep his commandments.  While we often will spend our time in the pulpit on this Holy night speaking of love, it is important to recognize the reality that forgiveness is also part and parcel of the life lived in Christ.

And in a miraculous way, beyond all that pulls at our church, all that works to destroy and condemn us, all that we do to one another in word and action, in our most broken and most divided, it is tonight, this holy night that we pause, and remember to love and forgive. We pause and put down our destruction and remind ourselves of the service and hospitality of our God. We remind ourselves that it is his grace and love which unites us one to another and into the family of God. It is his love which binds us forever. And so, it is on this night that we are challenged to be a better people, a loving people, a hospitable people, a kind people. This is our work should we choose to follow.

"O Lord Jesus Christ, though didst not come to the world to be served, but also surely not to be admired or in that sense to be worshiped. Thou was the way and the truth - and it was followers only thou dist demand.  Arouse us therefore if we have dozed away into the delusion, save us from the error of wishing to admire thee instead of being wiling to follow thee and to resemble thee." Soren Kierkegaard

Some Thoughts on I Corinthians 11:23-26

This section of the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians is dealing with accusations by fellow members of the community that others are abusing the Lord's Supper.  Our theologians have pulled out of the text for us to read on this Holy Thursday the passages that deal with the tradition of the "supper" itself; and Paul's interpretation of Jesus' actions at the Last Supper.

The first followers of Jesus have already formed a tradition and this tradition is given to the Corinthians from Paul.  He provides the words that have been given to him and the meaning that these remembrances are to remind the follower of the first supper and the grace they receive by continuing the tradition.  The elements are offered with the same words we use in our liturgy today.  Thanks is offered, blessings made and the gives are shared.  The bread is broken, literally, and shared.  This is a very different tradition than the Aramaic formula in the Passover tradition. (Joseph Fitzmyer, First Corinthians, Yale Press, 438).  Like the washing of feet in tonight's Gospel from John, it is very clear that these things are done, broken, and given to those gathered - the faithful.

Fitzmyer reminds us (443) that the "new covenant" that is mentions is a reference to Jeremiah 31:31-34.

31 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. 33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
It is Paul's, and the new Christian movement's, understanding that Jesus and this meal is fulfillment of this ancient prophecy and promise.  For Paul the rehearsal of these things by those who follow Jesus - was essential.

In the last verse we have Pauline material which makes clear his understanding.  Fitzmyer says it well:

The active sharing of the bread and the cup is a way not only of expressing one's belief in the presence of Christ in the Eucharist and of commemorating the Last Supper, but also of announcing to others what the death of Jesus has achieved for all Christian believers.  The act of sharing is not only memory and recollection, but above all, proclamation, based on the Passover event of old...this double aspect of the Eucharist, remembrance and proclamation, is not to be neglected....there is no worship without remembering, and there is no liturgical remembering without proclamatory narrative. (444)

Therefore, the remembering and rehearsing of this ancient meal is not simply something God is doing but it is essentially something the one who follows this God does in order to remind themselves of the Gospel narrative.

Chosen on this night of Holy Thursday as our reading, it is has special meaning.  The congregation rehearses and retells our sacred story.  For the preacher it is an opportunity to make the connection between our weekly remembrances and the first supper of passion week.

Some Thoughts on Exodus 12:1-14

Moses has attempted to convince the Egyptian Pharaoh to let God’s people go. The Pharaoh’s heart hardened, he has refused. Again and again, God has sent signs, portents, and plagues to reveal that God intends to raise God’s people from Egypt.

The passage that is appointed for the Maundy Thursday liturgy is about the Passover of course. That moment when the people of Israel consume a goat and mark their doors in order to be spared from the last and terrible slaughter of Egyptians. Stanley Hauerwas once told me, “God is getting over God’s tendency to violence.” Regardless of how you read this horrific story, it is of paramount importance for following this last of the plagues the Egyptians allow the people of God to go free. By the blood of the sacrifice, painted upon their door mantle, they are freed…they are delivered…they are passed over by death and have life, they pass over from slavery into freedom. The story which is the “Passover” has another meaning too: God’s compassion spares.

Now, there are two very important arguments here. The Gospel narratives place Jesus’ last supper and death near the time of Passover. The first argument that is made (and I fear has won out in our present time) is that Jesus’ last meal was the remembrance meal of the Passover called the Seder. This is celebrated by many religious Jews today. J. Jeremias in his text The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, 1966, has influenced a generation of people that this is in fact the case. The argument is based upon a “conjecture” found in the text that there was an older Palestinian calendar for Passover that is now lost. Though this cannot be found anywhere or referenced specifically.

It is clear that the authors of the New Testament saw Jesus’ death and resurrection as a metaphor for the Passover. The Passover, if you will, prefigured the resurrection of Jesus. This can be seen emerging theologically in the middle of the second century in the work of Irenaeus of Lyons.

However, there is a second case made for a different root for the liturgy we now recognize as the Eucharist, and that in fact Jesus’ last supper was not the Seder but the Chabûrah or Feast of Friends. C. Kucharek on the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, L. Mitchell in his book The Meaning of Ritual both track the Chabûrah as a major link in the tradition. Their research taps into the ancient texts of The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles and The Didache - two early Christian texts. The biggest proponent of this tradition in the Episcopal Church is our very own Gregory Dix, who in The Shape of Liturgy, places Jesus’ death before Passover. And, that the Chabûrah was a feast kept between rabbis and their followers. (I take all of this from my longtime friendship with Richard Fabian and his work on liturgy and the Eucharist at St. Gregory of Nyssa.)

I say all of this because people will be quick to draw a direct lineage between the Seder, Jesus’ last supper with his disciples, and the modern-day Eucharist. What seems important is that rather than appropriating a perfectly good liturgy of our religious ancestors we might ought to see that what Jesus was doing in his feast with friends was an essential breaking of the specialized meal for the religious to a meal for all people. Friends here being redefined not by those who are given any particular religion by virtue of birth or by nurture of family. Friends instead are those whom God loves in Christ Jesus. Friends are those bound by love and for whom new families are structured out of their participation in a table meant for all people and not a few. This is accentuated when we take into account the nature of customary seating. Jesus was most definitely killed for eating with sinners. At the final supper, he sits with John on one side and Judas on the other – my friend John Peterson is quick to point out. Jesus places his greatest follower – the one whom he loved and his greatest detractor on both his left and right.

If we keep this in mind and return to the text and how it is used in the New Testament we see something very interesting. While there is reference to the looming Passover, there is no direct reference to this passage. This passage, the Passover passage, is used differently.

Luke uses the text, refers to the text, as a charge to Jesus’ followers to be ready. In Luke 12 Jesus tells them to be ready. His time is approaching when he will no longer be with them and they must be ready and be on the move. (Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 203) Again, Luke seems to nod in the direction of our passage from Exodus when in Acts the tradition of Jesus as being key and not passages of laws including but not limited to keeping the Passover. (Hays, 220) Finally, in John’s Gospel, often called the “book of signs” the idea that Jesus’ legs were not broken so like the pure lamb was seen as a sign of the sacrifice.

We can spend a lot of time on the kind of food served at the meal or the meaning of the meal itself. When we do so we miss, most often the fact, that it is not the meal nor the lamb that was slain in Egypt that is our deliverance. Rather that all of those stories prefigure the unique person of Jesus who will be our final deliverance. God in Christ Jesus shall bring all of us to the table of friends (where both the good and the bad shall be seated), and from the table we shall all go united in Love with haste into the world to proclaim a story of deliverance. We are delivered. We know the work of Jesus because we know the old old story of God’s deliverance of a people from death into life, from slavery into freedom.

Previous Sermons For This Sunday

Sermon Maundy Thursday Year B, March 29, 2018, St. Mark's, Bellaire

The Passover of God

Maundy Thursday sermon preached at Trinity Church, Galveston 2011.

Friday, March 17, 2023

Liturgy of the Palms, Year A, April 2, 2023

You Servant, Lord our God, speak the word that all the weary long to hear. Your Son humbles himself to carry the cross that your people long to embrace. As we enter this holy week, let the same mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus. Empty us of ourselves, and draw us close to his cross, that, comforted by his word of forgiveness and gladdened by his promise of Paradise, into your hands we may commend our spirits.  We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God forever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

The notes for the passion liturgy are below the Palm Liturgy notes.

Palm Liturgy

Some Thoughts on Matthew 21:1-11

"Thus Jesus' approach to Jerusalem has become for many a symbol of the confrontation they must make, including the confrontation with themselves."
"First Thoughts on Year A Gospel Passages in the Lectionary: Palm Sunday,"William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"Now Jerusalem is not a large city. And what the authors of the Bible take for granted and fail to mention is that while Jesus is parading in on a donkey through one of the back gates, on the other side of the city Pilate is parading in on a war horse accompanied by a squadron or two of battle-hardened Roman soldiers. Do you think anyone at Pilate's parade heard about Jesus' parade? Heard what the crowd had shouted? Let's see what unfolds in the week ahead."
Holy Textures, Understanding the Bible in its own time and in ours, Matthew 21:1-11, David Ewart, 2011.

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

The triumphal entry has been recast from the Markan story and it makes clear the importance of this event as a sign of both who Jesus is as the Messiah and the importance of the event in the continuing story of Israel. (See Zechariah 9.9, Psalm 118:26 and the image of a shaken city welcoming the prophet king Deut 18:15-18)

In Matthew's narrative, these are the very first encounters with Jerusalem and the Temple. It is of eschatological significance, though I really do believe that for Matthew the emphasis is on the prophet king's entry and the importance of connecting his life's journey with that of Israel itself. 

Jesus is fulfilling the scripture's prophetic witness. He is the "meek and humble king." He is the one to guide the searching Israel. He is the Lord and he is the Son of David. 

This witness comes to us as we enter as a church family Holy Week and make ourselves ready to witness to the last days of Jesus' life. So often preachers will spend time on the passion narrative also characteristically read on this day. However, to do so is to arrive at Good Friday too soon. 

I encourage you to preach on the event of Palm Sunday. Use the drama of the liturgy and the lesson from Matthew to draw you ever deeper into the journey yet to be made - the journey to a common meal, a trial, a crucifixion, and a burial. Bear witness to who this Jesus is. He arrives on the doorstep of Jerusalem and the Temple with a life's journey behind him. He arrives there and we join him bearing witness to who he is and what he has done. This is a moment for us to be present with Jesus in his sacred footsteps towards the cross. For us to proclaim and worship our meek and humble King who fulfills all righteousness and makes his way to the Temple of our souls.

Sermon For Palm Sunday
"Everyone Loves The Other Parade"

Heavenly Father, I humbly beseech you to see before you the sheep of your own fold, the lamb of your own flock, and a sinner of your own redeeming. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

On this day in which we remember the palm entry and procession into Jerusalem by our Lord, and on a day in which we come here to re-enact that with palm branches and palm crosses. We also intermingle into that recognition of God's desire to be with us, we have this Baptism and Confirmation.

We have a lot of images going on today in our service. And what—as I was praying and thanking and making notes all week, one of the things that came to me was a very old baptismal spiritual, which some of you will know because Episcopalians will use this and sing this many times, Wade in the Water. Right? The great African-American spiritual Wade in the water, wade in the water children, wade in the water. God is going to trouble the water. God's going to trouble the water. And indeed on this day, our God is a troubling God. God is troubling Jerusalem in this Gospel lesson. God is troubling the world with his love. A troubling God indeed. So let us wade in a little bit.

I know that that hymn itself is about freedom. It is a song that is deeply rooted in our own history and desire for freedom. It is a song that speaks to the freedom of the Israelites, those brought out of Egypt and set free into—through the Red Sea of the water that is divided and they walked through it.

It is also a hymn that refers to John's Gospel, which we read a lot in Holy Week, John's Gospel chapter 5 wherein there is a lame man sitting by a pool. And the words are, "For an angel would come down in a certain season into the pool and trouble the water. And whosever there first would stick themselves in thereafter the water had been troubled for them they were made whole." They were made whole. God is troubling the water.

In our Gospel passage, of course, we have a parade. It's a parade into Jerusalem of Jesus on a donkey and people are throwing down garments and palm branches. But as most scholars say—believe, there were—there was more than 1 parade on that day in Jerusalem. There were 2 parades actually. The other parade was a Roman parade. It was a parade by which Pilate and his guards were coming in from the countryside where they had been residing. They were entering the city of Jerusalem to fortify it, to be present, and occupy it during the Holy season and days around Passover to make it clear, as Marcus Borg points out in his book The Last Week, that they are the ones who are to be adored. They are the ones to be worshipped. And this is their city.

Describing it, he says they enter the western gate and in some kind of imperial procession. So I want you to get your minds around what is happening there. A visual panoply, he says, of imperial power with cavalry on horses and foot soldiers, leather and armor and helmet and weapons. Banners and golden eagles mounted on giant staffs so they would go through the crowd and could be—could be seen on these poles and the sun glinting on those eagles and on the metal of the soldiers. And the sounds of the marching feet and the creaking leather and the chinking buckles of the horses and the beating of drums. The beating of drums.

It was a magnificent parade if you will. And he and other scholars point out that this parade is a display of Roman power of imperial theology if you will. A reminder that their belief was that the emperor himself, the ruler of Rome and all its precincts including this little town over here of Jerusalem belonged to the emperor who they called Son of God. Who they called Lord. Who they called Savior. The story was, of course, his mother, Atia was the human mother Apollo who had come down and given birth to the emperor. Pilate's parade is happening at this same moment. You can't listen to the Gospel parade and hear the images that are swirling around Jesus and not understand that a little over 3,000 feet, only 3/4 of a mile away, there is a rival parade at the same time, happening in the same moment in opposition. A rival social order. A rival theology to what Jesus is presenting. And not think they were troubled in that moment.

God troubled the waters of Jerusalem at that moment. For Jesus' procession while it is one that is humble on a donkey, no great banners, drums. Just some litter, litter, it's litter that they had grabbed. Just ripping off. Throwing around. Some clothes. But what is powerful are the images themselves. For what is here in their cries as we are told in the Gospel and the image of a Messiah on a donkey are the images from Zechariah and Micah. Powerful prophetic images to the people of Jerusalem reminding them that God loves them in the midst of this oppression that God will free them in the midst of this oppression, that God is troubling that city and offering them a vision of peace. A king who comes in peace to a city that is both the city of faith and the city of faithlessness. An image of a God who longs to gather his people and his children. To gather them in. God has heard the cry of his people in this oppressed city. God is troubling the waters. God is coming down. If they would just wade in a little, they would find the freedom they seek. The wholeness they desire, an image of plenteous food and work. The fortunes of Zion would be restored and peace will reign under vines and the harvest will be plentiful.

God is troubling the waters even in this. Jesus' procession stands in direct opposition. It is an assault Ched Myers, the scholar, says and writes, in direct conflict with a world that says that power is what we use in our economy and wealth. God and Jesus are troubling those images and troubling a world and its politics as a usual idea, its power and greed and consumption, and exploitation. God is dreaming of a different world, a different kind of kingdom. God, in Jesus' coming in this parade, to take on his Father's work. Jesus is giving a physical sign—if you will–memorializing that this kingdom is a different kind of place. It is a place for the least of these and a place for all of God's people.

God's troubling vision of this kingdom will be the kind of vision in which you could tear down the whole temple in 3 days and have it built back up because this is a kingdom for the people. It is a kingdom that will be unleashed across the countryside and not just held in Jerusalem or places of power. But it is a kingdom that will go out to where every human being is and trouble the waters of their lives so that they may be healed and restored and receive freedom. This day, these 2 competing parades are the hallmark of our beginning of Holy Week. They remind us of the struggle that we have living in these 2 worlds. These worlds in opposition to one another. This weekend is Holy Devotions Oh Children of God are about us wading into some deep theology and deep story and deep narrative about how God troubles the world and chooses us in opposition to everything that he sees.

And I think that is what the most miraculous part of the story is. God doesn't somehow wait for us to become perfect. Doesn't kind of wait for the powers that be to get it right. Doesn't wait for you and I to have—somehow become sinless. But this God that we believe in chooses us and all of our brokenness. And the fact that we actually like the other parade better? I mean, come on, face it. Who doesn't like a parade with drums and soldiers and banners and everything else? We should own the fact that Pilate has a better parade, people! I mean that's the whole point is that that's the parade and yet somehow we see a glimpse of how it could be different. And yet no matter how hard you and I try, we are unable to live into that kingdom. I mean—maybe—someone was able to achieve perfect kingdom life this Lent. I'd love for you to come and take my place right now and tell us how you accomplish it. I'm pretty sure—as I've said—almost every week in Lent, I'm pretty sure that my Lenten discipline of holiness lasted less than 24 hours.

We fail to achieve the vision that God has for us, and yet he continues to come down into the world to make himself lower than the angels to greet and meet us and offer us his love. To trouble the waters of our lives and to invite wholeness and healing if we would but take a step towards him into this holy water.

The peace of Philippians is so powerful. It is not that God is somehow—that God somehow is obedient to some vision that he has, but that God is obedient to his love for us. He loves us so much, he can't but help but be with us no matter what we do, no matter how many times we fail. The image that Paul gives us in Philippians is one of a God bound to us and devoted to us. Who keeps parading into our lives on a donkey and offering us healing and wholeness.

It is that season, my friends, in which we stand by the pool. This Holy and deep well of God's story and we rehearse it and we remind ourselves of God's presence. And the waters are indeed troubled. From this point over the next 7 days, they will be troubled and troubled, but God will walk with us all the way into the city. And no matter how many times we ask, "Do you love me?" Jesus will say, "I do." And when we whisper in that dark night, "Would you give your life for me?" And like all human mothers, he says, "Yes," and he does. He is with us even to the end of the ages, and his song is repeated over and over again. Yes, I love you. Yes, I will love. So let us make our way. Let us make our holy way to the water. Let us wade in deep as it troubles us. And let us there find wholeness and healing that is great and glorious. And it is for us and for our people.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Passion Liturgy 


O God, for whom all things are possible, you have highly exalted your suffering Servant, who did not hide from insult but humbled himself even to death on a cross.  As we begin the journey of Holy Week, take our sin away by Christ's glorious passion and confirm our worship and witness, so that when we proclaim the name of Jesus, every knee shall bend and every tongue proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God forever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Matthew 26:14-27:66

"The killing of love, the killing of Jesus, becomes the would-be killing of God. It is paradigmatic for all time." 
"First Thoughts on Year A Gospel Passages in the Lectionary: Passion Sunday,"William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"How do we relate a story that much of our audience already knows by heart?" 
Commentary, Matthew 27:11-54, Eric Barreto, Preaching This Week,, 2011.

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

All scholars will remind us that the passion narrative that Matthew offers a very close story to the story of Mark.  If we look at the variations what emerges is a very important twist.

The first is the idea that the world and powers are working intently to deliver Jesus unto his death. (M 26.16.  There is a focus upon those that betray the Son of Man.  (M26.24)  Peter is played up as one who is faithful (M26.35) but who will end the end deny him.  It is clear that it is the power of the state and sinners that have betrayed Jesus. (M26:45-46)   Jesus also clear that God is in control but that he will not beseech him to deliver him but rather that he will be faithful even if it brings death.  (M26.53-56) There is a reality here that Jesus in Matthew reminds us that this is the ancient tradition of the prophets of Israel. We should remember that Matthew has a theme of Prophet King and here in this passage we are reminded that we shall always kill the prophet that comes to us... this is our nature.  This, like Peter's betrayal, is highlighted in Matthew by the fact that even the disciples flee.  Before Pilate Jesus is quiet and committed. (M27.13, 14)  In Matthew, Pilate exonerates himself from culpability over Jesus' death. (M 27.23-26)  The crucifixion and death are the responsibility of the people - of all people. While it is humanity that is responsible for the death of Jesus it is also the broader humanity that is the first evangelist - the Centurion and others say, "Truly this was the Son of God." (M27.54)  

What is highlighted is that we have in Matthew a clear conflict between God's work and humanity's work.  There is a sense that the governance of the realm by Pilate is different (and obviously so) from the governance of the kingdom of God.  That humanity and human ways of judgment and forgiveness are considerably divorced from God's.  William Loader writes:
Matthew reworks the scene with Barabbas. It becomes Pilate’s initiative (not the crowd’s) to bring Barabbas into the equation. Choose Jesus Barabbas (Aramaic: son of the father) or Jesus (Son of God). The effect is to lay the blame squarely on the crowd. By inserting a report about the wife of Pilate and her dream (27:19), Matthew suggests that she, like Joseph and the magi of the birth stories, has a special connection with the divine. It could even indicate that he wants to exonerate Pilate. Washing his hands and declaring Jesus innocent (27:24) might point in that direction. Matthew certainly points to the bloody consequences for Jerusalem and its inhabitants (27:25). But, standing back from the picture, we cannot overlook Pilate’s role. Whatever game he is playing in the narrative, as such leaders are wont to do, he does not escape responsibility. The fundamental conflict remains: God’s way and Rome’s. 
...With these new swathes of meaning on the canvass, Matthew now has the centurion joined by his companions witnessing not only how Jesus died (Mark 15:39), but also the earthquake and its sequels and declaring to all the world that Jesus is truly the Son of God (27:54). As in Mark, here the Gentile response gets it right, but in Matthew the focus is primarily on the fact that Jesus is ‘Son of God’, a designation he has added in both 27:49 and 40. That drives the poetic and had already done so in Mark who surrounds the moment of death in darkness. 
...The killing of love, the killing of Jesus, becomes the would-be killing of God. It is paradigmatic for all time. ‘Son of God’ is Matthew’s way in part of claiming that what happened here happened to God in some sense. This event became a point of revelation of God and evil, of love and hate. It will be mythologised far beyond Matthew’s earthquake and Mark’s darkness and spawn the imaginations of faith. Some will be helpful, some, unhelpful; some, fitting the event back into the values of deals and transactions, some, simply allowing the blood to flow and finding it in all violence and sin; some, putting it into competition with others’ insights, some, seeing it as a light which seeks its companions universally.
This powerful image of Matthew's gospel along with the images from Philippians will make for a transformative message of the Gospel and God's dying love for humanity.  If not we will slide into an old understanding of God's requirement of Jesus to die for our sins type message which is neither scriptural nor revelatory.

Some Thoughts on Philippians 2:1-13

"Like Timothy and like Paul's audience, leaders and members of our own congregations are called to imitate Jesus by refusing to insist on their own prerogatives or status, whatever they may be, and serving others in humility."
Commentary, Philippians 2:5-11, Elisabeth Shively, Preaching This Week,, 2013.

"This revision of a hallowed text throws a monkey wrench into the inner workings of Christian theology. So, let's do it."
Commentary, Philippians 2:1-13 (Pentecost 20), David E. Fredrickson, Preaching This Week,, 2008.

David Fredrickson has an interesting take on this passage which has influenced me a good deal. He uses this quote which I think is a good place to begin:

Out of love for that likeness, His son took on my limbs, was conceived and born of a virgin, bearing all the attributes of men, and though He is the Lord of all He became a servant to undertake in one body the burdens of all. He who dwelt on high took the likeness of a slave, though he was reigning as God with the likeness of God, in company with His regal Father. He took on the likeness of a slave, and destroyed that guilt by which man of old was a slave to punishment and death. Bearing the form of slave, the Lord became our flesh and restored His servant to freedom, so that through Christ's plundering of the earthly Adam on the cross, my heavenly form might return to me. (tr. P. G. Walsh, The Poems of St. Paulinus of Nola, 310-311)
What lies at the center of this passage is this: did God in Christ Jesus come across the abyss between God and humanity because of God's love for us? Or, did God in Christ Jesus come across in order to show us how to live life as a servant?  The problem with the latter is that it makes the figure of Jesus into a kind of guiding spirit who pedagogically teaches us a thing or two about faithfulness. In the end, this way of living type offering undermines the very core of Christian theology on the incarnation.

Therefore, let's go for the first version!

So the passage for today certainly is Paul's teaching to the good people of Philippi that they should be encouraged to continue in their good life together - after all this appears to be the only one of Paul's letters where there is not a conflict raging.  He writes: "If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others."  Paul is clearly making the case for those who follow Jesus are to be obedient to God by loving, by being unified, by serving and working for others - putting self aside, and to be humble.

Who is this God that we believe in? Paul continues... God in Christ Jesus, though he has no need to do so because he is God, loves and so snatches (ἁρπαγμὸν - harpagmos - see scholarly definitions here) out of eager desire humanity. God reaches out and takes hold of humanity by taking on humanity like a lover.  The slavery that he takes on is slavery of love. This is rooted in the Latin tradition of servitium amoris. (Fredrickson)  Here is an interesting essay on this. This is an idea that the lover is tied intimately to the beloved.  Fredrickson here is helpful in this, he writes, "he emptied himself [the phrase in Greek always refers to a bodily occurrence preceded by melting; liquefaction of the body and subsequent draining away of the once-solid self was the poetic way of describing longing, the desire for union with an absent beloved.]."  God empties himself ἐκένωσεν (ekenōsen) out of this longing and servitude to humanity whom God loves and desires.  God in Christ Jesus does this even unto death on the cross.

This is an important and radical shift. Certainly, it is one that is hinted to in Martin Luther's theology of the cross.  Yet, it has also been lost in years past.  Here we are able to see that God in Christ Jesus himself gives himself completely over to us even though his love for us means that we will ultimately kill God - as we do. This reorients and changes the action of the sacrificial center of the cross to God's love and human response.  This hermeneutic shift is and can be a powerful one as we walk into Holy Week.

Some Thoughts on Isaiah 50:4-9

The passage from Isaiah is one of the shortest readings in the lectionary, and yet also one of the most profoundly influential in our understanding of the unique revelation of Jesus Christ.

We have not been reading Isaiah for a bit so remember this is a piece of his writing that is most likely brought forth during the Babylonian captivity. It is part of what is commonly called the “servant songs” by most scholars. These are sections that speak of the suffering servant of Israel. It is broken up into an introduction, the abuse of the servant, and the discipline of the servant.

The servant imagery, in the sections in which our passage today is a part, is clearly a reference in Isaiah’s writing to the suffering of the people of Israel at the hands of their captors. Later as the prophecy grew in revelation it would be seen as an image of the new David, the Messiah, who would restore Israel.

What is most important for the Christian reader is to understand that the Gospel authors, especially Matthew, understood Jesus in the light of these servant songs. The trial and the day leading to the crucifixion are seen in this light.

With the catholic/universal mission in one hand and the suffering servant songs in another, the authors of our Gospels reveal the person of Jesus to be the long-awaited Messiah. A Messiah who does more than the resuscitation of Isreal, but instead creates a whole new Israel – creates a whole new lineage of Abraham- that stretches around the known world. It is not the fortunes of an old Zion that is being recreated, but instead a new community of Spirit and truth.