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Easter Sunday, March 31st

 

Scripture: John 21:15-19

Reflections: 

Today, we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection-the fulfillment of the hope of our faith that the last word is love and life, no matter how hard it may get along the way. Prior to the text today, in John (20:24-29) Jesus reveals himself to Thomas and shows Thomas his wounds.  This is significant because the Risen Christ still bore on his body the mark of his crucifixion.  But these scars had been now been transformed into signs of his victory over sin and death. 

            Over the past week or so, we’ve spent some time with Peter. We’ve seen the journey he has been on-this one whom Jesus described as the “rock.” Peter has been acting anything like a rock!  And yet, his failures opened him up in ways that perhaps nothing else can.  There is no genuine Easter experience without Good Friday.  There is no way to grow into the person Christ calls us to be without suffering some wounds.  There is no way to become a more forgiving person without suffering and struggling in honest and real ways.

And in our text for today, Jesus repeats three times (symbolic given Peter’s three time denial of Jesus), the question, “Do you love me?”  And each time, after Peter responds that he loves him, Jesus essentially says, “Demonstrate your love of me by doing something concrete in the world.”  In other words, “If you truly understand me and what I’m about Peter, act like me, be like me, and forgive like me.”  Forgiveness is the heart of Jesus’ call to his disciples.  And our commitment to receiving and offering forgiveness means that we are no longer content with being young and immature, but like Peter want to learn how to discover the joy and freedom of letting Christ fasten a belt around us and lead us to the place our will, will never lead us! 

 

Journal Questions:

            How do I fasten my own belt and go wherever I wish?  What might it look like to let Christ fasten his belt around me and lead me to where I do not wish to go, but need to go?

 

Spiritual Practice:

            Like Peter, you’ve been on a journey with Christ this Lenten Season.  Take a moment to look back.  What were the Good Friday experiences?  What were the Easter experiences?  Be grateful for all of it.  The pain of Good Friday and the glory of Easter Sunday both reveal the love, power, and wisdom of God.  Thank God for God’s work in you this Lenten Season.  And commit yourself to be an ongoing student in the way of forgiveness.  Consider sharing with someone your experience this Lent.  Consider passing your devotional on to someone else. 

Holy Saturday, March 30th

Scripture: Luke 23:34-43


Reflections:

            The cross, perhaps more than anything else, reflects back to us how we are treating God, each other, and ourselves.  In our text for today, Jesus hangs between two criminals.  And in the midst of unimaginable pain and horror, and a felt sense that God has abandoned him, Jesus says, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

 Jack Kornfield tells the story of going with Maha Gosananda, a respected Cambodian monk, into the refugee camps where thousands of Cambodians had fled the terrible holocaust conducted by Pol Pot.  In the refugee camps, every family had lost children, spouses, parents to the ravages of genocide, and had their homes and temples destroyed.  Upon arriving, Maha Gosananda announced to the refugees that there would be a Buddhist ceremony the next day, and all who wished to come would be welcome. 

Since Buddhism had been desecrated by Pol Pot, people were curious if anyone would go.  But the next day, over ten thousand refugees converged on the meeting place to share in the ceremony.  After beginning with silence, Gosananda began to chant the familiar Buddhist invocations, which touched the souls of the regufees, and led many to weep in unison. People wondered what Maha Gosananda would say.  What he did was repeat words from a sacred Buddhist scripture: “Hatred never ceases hatred; but by love alone is healed. This is the ancient and eternal law.” 

As he repeated these words over and over again, thousands of voices began to join him and repeated the words in unison.  Wayne Muller wrote of this event, “Out of the mouths of people who had been wounded, oppressed, made homeless, aggrieved, crushed by pain of war, came a prayer proclaiming the ancient truth about love, a truth that was greater than all the sorrows they had seen and felt.”  The brave among us are those who are able to forgive.  Jesus’ heroic acts on the cross were the embodiment of the ancient and eternal law.

             

Journal Questions:

How was Jesus embodying the ancient and eternal law-the way things really are?  What did Jesus know that his oppressors not know?

Spiritual Practice:

            Spend some time with a cross today. Look at it, touch it, feel it in your hand if you can.  Be open to the mysteries the cross reveals about the ancient and eternal law of God’s forgiving love.  Consider how the cross reminds us of how we are treating God, each other, and ourselves.  Be open to the pain of this truth.  But stay with the pain long enough to rediscover the love that can be found in the pain and through it-a love that cannot be conquered by anything.  Let the cross in your hand be a reminder of God’s victorious love and way. 

Good Friday, March 29th

Scripture: John 18:1-11

Reflections:

            Yesterday, the author of Mark refers to something, which happened as Jesus was being turned over by Judas to the authorities.  One of the disciples draws his sword and cuts off the ear of a slave of the high priest.  The author of John suggests it was Peter who did this.  And in our text for today, Jesus tells Peter to put his sword back into its sheath, saying, “Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me!”

            I was touched the evening after the the Newtown tragedy, when Robbie Parker, the father of one of the victims, Emilie Parker, stood in front of his house, and expressed deep pain at the loss of his daughter, gratitude for her precious spirit, and offered his condolences to all the families effected by this tragedy, including the family of the shooter.  He said to the shooter’s family, “I can’t imagine how hard this experience must be for you.  And I want you to know that our family, and our love and support goes out to you as well.” 

            Parker, who finds strength in his faith, religion, and family, went on to say that night that he wasn’t mad at God for not stopping the shooter and instead, respecting the shooter’s free will.  He also said that the best thing he could do in response to this was to use his free will to make sure his family, wife, and remaining daughters are taken care of, and to do anything he could to help others.  I couldn’t help but think that this is someone who takes seriously Jesus call to put his sword back in his sheath. 

 

Journal Questions: 

            When have you observed or experienced someone putting their sword in their sheath?  What understanding of power is Jesus modeling for Peter?

 

Spiritual Practice: 

            Tonight, meditate on the fact that our Lord was crucified (it might be helpful to read Mark 15:16-41).  Meditate on the fact that the one who embodied the love and wisdom of God was betrayed, mocked, ridiculed, stripped, beaten, and killed.  At West Side we typically sing, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”  The answer if we are truthful is “Yes.”  Remembering that Christ died for us, and our sins, allow yourself in the silence to say “yes” to being a student of Jesus, learning the way of Jesus, and embodying the way of forgiveness.  Offer God your willingness to choose a better way.

Maundy Thursday, March 28th

Scripture: Mark 14:26-72

 

Reflections:

Today we reflect on the events right after the Last Supper, when Peter denies that he ever knew Jesus.  There’s an old English Proverb, “The eyes are the window to the soul.”  In a sense, Jesus looks deeply into Peter’s soul on a number of occasions; today is one occasion where this happens.  Anthony De Mello (who I based the spiritual practice from two days ago on) was inspired by this text and created an imaginary dialogue of Jesus gazing into Peter and his own soul. 

He writes, “I related well with the Lord. I would converse with him, thank him, and ask for help.  But always I had this uneasy feeling that he wanted me to look at him... And I would not. I would talk, but look away when I sensed he was looking at me. I was afraid I should find an accusation in his eyes of some un-repented sin. Or a demand: something he wanted from me.

One day I summoned up courage and looked! There was no accusation. No demand. The eyes just said, “I love you.” And, like Peter, I went outside and wept.”  Choosing the way of forgiveness is an act of repentance, of returning to God, to Christ’s gaze, to love. It is an act of repentance because it is turning towards a more generous way of looking at broken and sinful humanity.

 

Journal Questions: 

            How were Peter’s tears a gift in terms of his intimacy with God?  When have tears moved you in a positive direction in my relationship with God, your self, or others?

 

Spiritual Practice:

If you have an icon of Jesus, spend some time with it. If not, try to visualize Jesus looking at you, into your eyes.  Let his eyes look into your soul.  Notice the love in his eyes.  There is no accusation. There is no insistence.  There is simply love.  Let that love look deep into your soul. Now take a mirror and gaze into your own soul.  See if you can look at yourself with that same love.  Ask for the Grace to let Christ’s eyes become yours.  Make it a point today to look at someone with the eyes of Christ, the eyes of grace, the eyes of love.

Holy Week: Becoming the Beloved Community

Wednesday, March 27
th

Scripture: Mark 14:17-25

Reflections:

Today is the day before Maundy Thursday, when we remember Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples. In preparation for tomorrow, we spend some today with Mark’s account of the Last Supper.  When the disciples gathered together at the Last Supper, it seems clear that only Jesus (and perhaps Judas) knew that it was going to be their last meal together.  One can only imagine what was going through him, as he looked at his disciples, his friends, his companions.

According to Mark, when Jesus tells the disciples that one of them will betray him, they each wonder and worry, “Surely, not I?” While we focus on Judas’ betrayal, the truth is that all of the disciples will in the end betray him.  Not only will Judas turn him over to the authorities, but Peter will deny him and the rest will desert him.  In Jesus’ hour of need, his disciples, friends, and companions simply are not there.

But despite Jesus’ knowledge of what will happen and whatever pain he is carrying in his heart, according to Mark, Jesus stays at the table with them and breaks bread with them-a sign of intimate friendship among brothers.  Marjorie Tompson writes, “Instead of abandoning his disciples as faithless friends, he responds to their fickleness with forgiveness.  He gives his life for them and to them.”  That is something worth celebrating tomorrow on Maundy (or Commandment) Sunday when we remember that Christ’s central commandment is to love one another as he has loved us.

 

Journal Questions: What does it mean to you that Jesus stays at the table?  What does it mean that Jesus hangs in there with you despite your lack of faith or trustworthiness?

 

Spiritual Practice: 

            Quietly sit with the question, “What does it mean to me that Jesus stays at the table?”  Spend some time with this story and imagine that you are at the table with the disciples.  Hear yourself say, “Surely, not I?”  Then allow yourself to feel the weight of the untruth knowing that you too have and will betray him. Confess your lack of faith and ask for forgiveness.  And then hear Jesus say to you, “There is nothing you can do to change my love for you.  No matter how great your sin is, the love of God is greater.”  Conclude your time resting in God’s love.

Tuesday, March 26th

Scripture: Romans 8:18-25

Reflections:

            In many ways, Christ is like a mid-wife in our lives.  He is the presence encouraging us to trust the birthing process we participate in and undergo.  This process is painful and messy, and it doesn’t always go as planned.  This is true for individuals, families, communities, nations, and our world.  Often when we undergo transformation (such as becoming a more forgiving human being) or participate in transformation (such as helping to create a culture of forgiveness), we experience labor pains.  And when we are suffering from labor pains, Christ is the voice encouraging us to breathe through the pain and let the life and love of God be willed through us.

            Early on this Lent, we reflected on the Beatitudes-Jesus’ attempt to summarize what constitutes a blessed or happy life.  Clearly, the Beatitudes are not the wisdom of the world.  But do we believe they are the wisdom of God, as Jesus suggests?  With Christ as our midwife, we have someone who is encouraging us to trust God’s wisdom-to live into the freedom and glory of forgiving love and to help usher this into the world.

Such deep and wide love can only emerge (be born) in us and in our world through great strength of soul. Marjorie Tompson writes, “Forgiveness is a clear sign of the courageous, humble resilience of the human spirit undergirded by grace. Forgiveness says yes to life, hope, (and) the future.  It holds out the possibility of redemption for the offender and the offended, joining in God’s fond project for this world.”  Choosing to be a forgiving person and to create a culture of forgiveness is living in hope for what we do not see and being willing to wait and work with patience, something increasingly challenging for our “gotta have it now” culture.

 

Journal Questions:

            Where do you see creation “subjected to futility” and the “bondage of decay?”  How do you participate in these realities?

 

Spiritual Practice:

            Begin your prayer time by assessing how you are in your own heart. Do you notice any resentment, anger, or bitterness there?  Offer God these feelings and ask for the grace to make these feelings yield to love someday-if not today.  Then enter the silence deeply, attending to the sounds around you, the sensations in your body, and your breathing in and out.  When you are centered, pray for those you love.  Bless each person who comes to your mind.  Then pray for those you dislike or who dislike you.  Over each of them say this prayer, “May you and I be friends some day” imagining some future day when that will happen. Then, remember all who you’ve cared for in prayer and say, “May my time with you be a grace for both of us.”  Conclude your time by resting in silence and in the love that has come alive in you as a consequence of your prayer for others.

Monday, March 25th

Scripture: Ephesians 2:11-22

Reflections: 

 

In our text for today, Paul demonstrates how the love of God as revealed in Christ is able to break down dividing walls between Jews and Gentiles and create a sense of one-ness amongst them.  Bishop Desmond Tutu, inspired by the love of Christ, was an important member of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa.  The Commission’s goal was not retributive justice (which is the goal of our judicial system), but restorative justice (which is God’s goal for humanity).  It’s aim was to be redemptive.  And it sought to achieve this by creating space so that people on both sides of the apartheid issue in South Africa could engage in truth telling and offering limited amnesty for those who pleaded guilty to violence.

The hearings allowed confession, forgiveness, and healing to begin in a safe environment.  The process the Commission established served to bring what had happened in the darkness (outside of the nation and world’s awareness) into the light so that all could see more clearly what had happened.  This process of truth telling gradually led the nation of South Africa through its dark, divisive past into a place where moving forward together as equal citizens could begin. 

Tutu, touched by the noble side of the human spirit which remained strong even under oppression and injustice wrote, “It is quite incredible the capacity people have shown to be magnanimous—refusing to be consumed by bitterness and hatred, willing to meet with those who have violated their persons and their rights, willing to meet in a spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation, eager only to know truth, to know the perpetrator so that they could forgive them.” There are many people who through this are living witnesses to the power God has granted us, which enables us to transcend the conflicts of the past and live into a common humanity.   

 

Journal Questions:

 What are the dividing walls that Christ would break down in the church?  What are the dividing walls that Christ would break down in the world?

 

Spiritual Practice:

            Spend some time pondering this image of Christ breaking down the dividing walls and making the two into one.  Confess the ways in which you use your faith in Jesus to build walls with others and to distinguish yourself from others.  Imagine what it would look like for you to be a Christian committed to breaking down walls and recognizing your oneness with all humanity.   Ask Christ to tear down anything in you that would keep you from this work of reconciliation.  And offer yourself to be a “little Christ,” which is the literal meaning of Christian.  Be open to any stirrings or nudges towards justice

Passion and Palm Sunday, March 24th

Scripture: Matthew 5:43-48

Reflections: 

 

I want to devote today’s devotion to Martin Luther King Jr. who in response to this text said we should be grateful that Jesus didn’t challenge us to “like” our neighbors.  He pointed out that liking someone has to do with feeling affection for them, while loving someone has to do with the conscious choices we make and practical actions we take.  “Like” does very little for the world.  “Love,” the choice and action, is the one thing that can change the world.

Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote that this call to love our enemies was not the language of Utopian dreamers, but an “absolute necessity for survival.”  He saw the love of our enemies as the key to solving the world’s problems.  He wrote, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that…Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.  We can never get rid of an enemy by meeting hate with hate; we get rid of an enemy by getting rid of enmity…Love transforms with redemptive power.”

King believed passionately in the power to develop and maintain the capacity to forgive.  He didn’t challenge people to ignore injustice-rather he challenged people to see that the only way to really deal with it was through “soul force.”  He wrote on behalf of the oppressed black minorities, “Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws, because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is co-operation with good…But…we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer.  One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves.  We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.”

 

Journal Questions:

            How is forgiveness an example of soul force in the world?  How are you (or someone you know or know of) manifesting soul force in your life and in the world?

 

Spiritual Practice:

            Begin your time of prayer soaking in God’s love and light, as you would soak in sun on the beach.  Once you have had your share of time in the “sun” spend some time praying for your enemies or those who persecute you.  Visualize God’s love and light surrounding them.  Give them some time in the “sun.” Stay with this meditation longer than it feels comfortable to stay.  Let the love and light really soak into them.  Be generous, as God is generous.  Ask yourself, do I feel more whole, complete, or at peace (three better translations of the Greek word, teleioi translated as “perfect”)?

Passion and Palm Sunday, March 24th

Scripture: Matthew 5:43-48

Reflections: 

 

I want to devote today’s devotion to Martin Luther King Jr. who in response to this text said we should be grateful that Jesus didn’t challenge us to “like” our neighbors.  He pointed out that liking someone has to do with feeling affection for them, while loving someone has to do with the conscious choices we make and practical actions we take.  “Like” does very little for the world.  “Love,” the choice and action, is the one thing that can change the world.

Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote that this call to love our enemies was not the language of Utopian dreamers, but an “absolute necessity for survival.”  He saw the love of our enemies as the key to solving the world’s problems.  He wrote, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that…Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.  We can never get rid of an enemy by meeting hate with hate; we get rid of an enemy by getting rid of enmity…Love transforms with redemptive power.”

King believed passionately in the power to develop and maintain the capacity to forgive.  He didn’t challenge people to ignore injustice-rather he challenged people to see that the only way to really deal with it was through “soul force.”  He wrote on behalf of the oppressed black minorities, “Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws, because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is co-operation with good…But…we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer.  One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves.  We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.”

 

Journal Questions:

            How is forgiveness an example of soul force in the world?  How are you (or someone you know or know of) manifesting soul force in your life and in the world?

 

Spiritual Practice:

            Begin your time of prayer soaking in God’s love and light, as you would soak in sun on the beach.  Once you have had your share of time in the “sun” spend some time praying for your enemies or those who persecute you.  Visualize God’s love and light surrounding them.  Give them some time in the “sun.” Stay with this meditation longer than it feels comfortable to stay.  Let the love and light really soak into them.  Be generous, as God is generous.  Ask yourself, do I feel more whole, complete, or at peace (three better translations of the Greek word, teleioi translated as “perfect”)?

Saturday, March 23rd

Scripture: Luke 14:12-14

Reflections:

           

Years ago, I remember hearing a sermon called “Extend the Circle.”  The point the pastor was making was that our circles are always too small and Christ was calling each of us to, “Extend the circle.”  Martin Luther King Jr.’s image of the Beloved Community did just that for America.  The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa did just that.  The ordination of women did that for the Presbyterian Church (USA).  In each case, the circle of inclusion was extended.

As Christians, we often talk about “peace.” And often this conversation focused on peace in our individual soul (“I’ve got peace like a river in my soul”).  But the Old Testament understanding of peace, or “shalom,” which shaped Jesus’ understanding of peace, was focused on the community.  Shalom wasn’t simply characterized by the absence of conflict, but also by the presence of, as Marjorie Tompson puts it, “the rich wholeness of a community whose members live in mutual respect, freedom, and joy.”  The practice of forgiveness, perhaps like nothing else, helps form “shalom” in human communities.

            In our scripture for today, Jesus turns our understanding of community on its head.  The community Christ seeks to create isn’t amongst the likeminded, or blood relatives, or similarly situated in life.  The community Christ seeks to create includes the “poor, crippled, lame, and blind.” Imagine if our circles included those who could never repay us for inviting them to the party?   Imagine if we looked at ourselves from the perspective of those at the bottom?  Imagine if we allowed “them” to touch us and transform our hearts?

 

Journal Questions:

            If you had a party like Jesus suggested who would be the hardest to invite?  Who might have the hardest time accepting your invitation?

 

Spiritual Practice: 
            Spend some time drawing up an invitation list for a party with people you wouldn’t normally invite and who could not return the favor.  Have some fun with this.  Be intentional about inviting the “poor, crippled, lame, and blind” and be flexible in your interpretation of this (someone who has the “poor me’s”, someone who you think is really “lame”/”uncool”, someone who is blind to truth and justice).  Then take these people to prayer.  Take time praying for each one.  Ask the Spirit to guide your next steps with them.  Be open to some surprises along the way.

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