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First Thoughts Blog

Category Archives: Lent 2020: The People of Passion Week

Lent - Day 42

Day 42  Saturday

JESUS

 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Matthew 28: 16-20
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
 
Luke 24: 36-53
As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them.
 
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
 
And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.
 

CAST NOTES

Jesus is really risen. He ate broiled fish before his disciples. One of my favorite images of a real resurrection came through actor Bruce Kuhn. As he recited this episode from Luke, Bruce pretended to pick a fish bone from his teeth. It hit me: this was a real man, risen from the dead. Still Jesus. Of course, he was also transformed, outfitted for an eternal, embodied life, always our brother and advocate.
 
The protagonist of Passion Week has won, against all odds, his great victory. He has withdrawn now until the time of his return to set all things right. So this is the age of the mission of the church. We tell the story of our hero that all might know he is a worthy and sufficient Savior. So all might bend the knee to his kingship. So that all might raise their voice in saving worship as we declare, “Jesus is Lord!” 
 
We live now connected to Jesus by his Spirit that he has sent to dwell in our hearts, to inspire our worship, to grow the fruit of love in our lives and empower our witness. We go forth under the blessing hands and shining face of the ascending, still incarnate Jesus Christ.
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

For centuries, this short message by John Chrysostom, has been read every Easter in churches throughout the world. We will make it our final prayer as we anticipate our Easter worship tomorrow.
 
Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hell when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.
 
Isaiah foretold this when he said,
“You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below. ”
Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
 
Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
 
O Death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?
 
Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
 
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
 
To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen.
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

 

Lent - Day 41

Day 41  Friday

PETER, PART 4


That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

John 21: 15-19
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”
 

CAST NOTES

After that wonderful breakfast on the beach, Jesus turned his attention directly on Peter. “Do you love me more than these?” I imagine Peter, full of heart, delighted to be asked to express his ardor for Jesus, “You know I love you!” The second questioning, however, might have baffled him. Peter didn’t mind reassuring Jesus. But his affections were never hidden. Of course he loved Jesus. The third inquiry cut Peter to the quick. How could Jesus keep questioning the deepest, truest part of Peter’s very life? What a moment of understanding it must have been when it dawned on Peter. Three times he had denied Jesus. Three times he would be asked to affirm his love to Jesus and before others. These questions were meant for restoration!
 
Years before, as Luke 5 tells us, in the first great catch of fish, Peter had dropped to his knees, ashamed of his sinfulness before Jesus of such holy power. Jesus had assured him of forgiveness by giving him a mission: from now on you will be a fisher of people. Here on the beach Jesus restores Peter by re-missioning him. Feed my sheep! 
 
So, too, we get forgiven and restored, we get opportunity to worship and express our love not just as ends in themselves, but so we can enter the mission Jesus has for us! 
 
With this episode in mind, we can see how personal was Peter’s praise in the first letter we have from him, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1: 3). Indeed, the resurrection turned the dead despair of Peter’s denial into relief so great it made him new and filled him with living hope.
 
Peter’s final benediction in that letter also arises from his profound personal experience, “And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 5: 10-11).
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Hold this scene of restoration and re-missioning in mind as you pray aloud Peter’s own words of praise and hope:
 
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! 
According to his great mercy, 
he has caused us to be born again 
into a living hope 
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading,
kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power 
are being guarded through faith for a salvation 
ready to be revealed in the last time.
In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved with various trials,
So that the tested genuiness of your faith—
More precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—
May be found to result in praise and glory and honor
At the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Though you have not seen him, you love him.
Thought you do not now see him, you believe in him,
And rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,
Obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 
(1 Peter 1: 3-9)
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).


ENCORE

 
Imagine the joy Peter had after Jesus reinstated him! Jesus demanded that he declare his love, and Peter, tested to his core, declared his love for Jesus passionately. Jesus told him to go and feed his sheep. Peter would fulfill that command. His sermons in Acts skillfully, ardently proclaim the news about Jesus. 
 
Soren Kierkegaard wrote,
 
As God created man and woman, so too He fashioned the hero and the poet, or orator. The poet cannot do what that other does, he can only admire, love and rejoice in the hero. Yet he too is happy, and not less so, for the hero is as it were his better nature, with which he is in love, rejoicing in the fact that this after all is not himself, that his love can be admiration. He is the genius of recollection, can do nothing except call to mind what has been done. . . . He follows the option of his heart, but when he has found what he sought, he wanders before everyman’s door with his song and with his oration, that all may admire the hero as he does, be proud of the hero as he is (as quoted in Raniero Cantalamessa, Remember Jesus Christ, 2007, p. 77).
 
Peter well knew that he was not the hero of our redemption story. Jesus is the one hero. Peter rejoiced to take the part of troubadour. His two letters as well as his testimony in Acts overflow with admiration for his champion, Jesus.  
 
And so Peter urged all of us to join him as an orator for Christ, whatever the size of audience, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3: 15, NIV).
 
 

 

Lent - Day 40

Day 40  Thursday

DISCIPLES, PART 3

 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

John 21: 1-14
After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
 
Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.
 
When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
 

CAST NOTES

Jesus was alive. But not always with them. He came and went for those forty days between his resurrection and his ascension. Sometimes he taught them the Scriptures, even ate with them (Acts 1: 3-4). Other times he was gone. They weren’t always sure what to do in between. They had gone to Galilee for a while, as the angel had commanded (Matt. 28: 7). In this episode, a restless Peter decided to do what he knew how to do, what he had done before Jesus called him: fish on the Sea of Galilee (aka the Sea of Tiberias).  
 
It was a night much like the one recorded in Luke 5. They had caught nothing. At dawn, they were near the shore and saw an early riser on shore with a charcoal fire. Déjà vu washed through them as he ordered them to cast the net again. As it filled miraculously with fish, John knew. It was Jesus! Great-hearted, impetuous Peter couldn’t wait for the boat to get there, so he leapt into the sea and swam for Jesus.  
 
There’s a great tenderness in the scene that follows. Breakfast on the beach with Jesus. Ordinary fellowship over a basic meal. Extraordinary spiritual communion with the risen Lord. Loaves and fish, so like the feast in the desert that fed five thousand. Broken bread and knowing Jesus, so like the supper at Emmaus. Word and sacrament. Learning and communing. Jesus alive giving them himself.
 
This is a snapshot of the ordinary Christian life. Week by week, gathered worship over Scripture and the Supper. Day by day, time with Jesus as we read his Word by the illumination of the Holy Spirit and pray to him by the prompting of his Spirit within. Speaking to him of ordinary concerns. Being lifted out of our little story into his big story so that our day to day becomes shot through with greater possibility and deeper meaning. The encounters that inform us over a lifetime.
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Imagine this scene of breakfast on the beach with Jesus as you pray (or sing!) the words to this classic hymn by Thomas Chisholm: 
 
Great is thy faithfulness!
Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed thy hand hath provided—
Great is thy faithfulness, 
Lord unto me!
 
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thy own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!
 
Great is thy faithfulness!
Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed thy hand hath provided—
Great is thy faithfulness, 
Lord unto me!
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

Lent - Day 39

Day 39  Wednesday

THOMAS

 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

John 20: 24-30
Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” 
 
Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
 

CAST NOTES

We can be thankful for Thomas’ doubts. For he is our man on the scene. Thomas represents all of us who were not there when the risen Jesus appeared. He speaks for us when he voices his concern that these kinds of things just don’t happen. For all of us who feel we missed the one class when the keys to understanding were passed out, Thomas is our man. Others may have been gifted with easy faith, but we have always struggled. We want to know with certainty and there seems little to be had. Go on Thomas, and make your demands for all of us!
 
Curiously, the account does not tell us whether Thomas actually touched Jesus or not. Rather, right after Jesus’ offer, we hear Thomas declare, “My Lord and my God!” (vs. 28). Perhaps he did touch Jesus, or perhaps none of that made any difference. Jesus had come to him in risen glory and offered himself. He exhorted Thomas to put away his doubt and start believing. That was enough for Thomas. Interestingly, the biggest doubter, the last holdout, ended up being the one who made the strongest declaration of who Jesus is in all the Gospels! “My Lord and my God!” This skeptic became the boldest confessor.
 
We all need to turn a sharp eye on the doubts we have. Too often we can let our struggles with unanswerable questions provide cover for us so that we do not have to deal with the Christ who comes and calls us to himself. So we each have to ask, “Would I throw my doubts up even if they were all answered? Or am I ready and waiting for Christ to make himself known to me? Am I anxious to join doubting Thomas as the boldest believer and cry out to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Oh Jesus, my Lord and my God,
Forgive my doubts.
All I ever wanted was for you to be alive.
They said you were,
But I missed it. As usual.
I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Why didn’t you wait til I was there?
I could not release my grief to a dream.
I could not revive hope if you were a fantasy.
How awful that week of waiting was.
They rejoiced; I sulked.
Then there you were!
Inviting me to touch you.
True is the Psalm: 
In your presence is fullness of joy,
In your right hand are pleasures forevermore. 
I did not need to touch after all.
All I ever wanted was not enough.
But you overflowed every expectation.
It was you, alive, everlasting, real.
Oh Jesus, my Lord and my God!
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).


ENCORE

In Thomas, we have a guy who is a big realist, and a big doubter. He demands to verify what the other witnesses saw. And once he did, he gave himself to the truth: Jesus is risen!
 
The mystical reality of faith in Jesus is that the once and for all event of Jesus’ days among us, of his cross and resurrection, can cross time and come into our immediate experience. Time and space are no obstacles.  The witnesses have passed the story from one generation to the next.  Thomas saw, and he told. Others believed and received the truth of the resurrection in their very bones. The Spirit came within them and brought about a sense of Christ’s presence they had never had before. He brought power for changed lives. He brought forgiveness and peace. He brought power to tell others. And they experienced the truth. And they told others, and they told others, and now these words are being passed to you. Jesus is risen! (Gerrit Dawson, April 28, 2019 sermon).
 
 

 

Lent - Day 38

Day 38  Tuesday

CLEOPAS

 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Luke 24: 13-35
That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
 
So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.
 

CAST NOTES

This is the only mention of Cleopas in the Bible. We do not know if he had been following Jesus for a while or if he had just been drawn to him during the events of Passion Week. Either way, Cleopas was both sad and baffled. Like we do after momentous happenings, these men were going over and over what had happened. Jesus played dumb! Just as he did with Mary, in the after-mirth of his return to life, he seemed to enjoy teasing out the revelation of his rising.  
 
For the rest of their walk to Emmaus, Jesus explained how the Scriptures pointed to these exact events that happened to the Christ. Their hearts burned with eagerness and anticipation. They urged Jesus to stay with them in the village. Next, Luke tells the story in a way that we cannot miss the connection with the Lord’s Supper. Jesus took bread, blessed God, broke bread and gave it to them. In this second ever enactment of the sacrament, their eyes were opened. They knew this man was their Lord Jesus.
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

The famous French mathematician Blaise Pascal longed for a deeper connection to Christ, something that would bring Jesus from “head” knowledge to “heart” experience. One evening, it happened. He wrote down this experience and kept the paper in his vest pocket where it was found after his death. I invite you to make it your prayer today for a heartfelt realization that Jesus is risen and real.
 
The year of grace 1654,
Monday, 23 November . . . 
From about half-past-ten in the evening until half past midnight
FIRE
‘God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob,’
Not of philosophers and scholars,
Certainty, certainty, heartfelt, joy, peace.
God of Jesus Christ.
God of Jesus Christ.
“My God and your God.”
“Thy God shall be my God.”
The world forgotten, and everything except God.
He can only be found by the ways taught in the Gospels.
Greatness of the human soul.
“O righteous Father the world had not known thee, 
But I have known thee.’
Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy. 
I have cut myself off from him.
“They have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters.”
My God wilt thou forsake me?
Let me be not cut off from him forever!
“And this is life eternal, that they may know thee,
The only true God and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent.”
Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ.
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

Lent - Day 37

Day 37  Monday

MARY MAGDALENE
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

John 20: 1a, 11-18
Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb…
 
Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him, “Rabonni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
 
Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.
 

CAST NOTES

Hers is the most poignant of all the resurrection stories. John focusses intently and personally on Mary Magdalene. She had come to the tomb to complete the burial anointing of the body of Jesus. She wanted the chance to hold him one more time. After the horror of Friday, she wanted to see him at peace now.  
 
And so the sight which greeted her was all the more bewildering. The body was gone. Oh, was it not enough to mock him, and then beat him, and finally kill him? Now they had stolen his body as well. Jesus was not allowed to be at rest, and Mary was not allowed the certainty of her grief. This tragedy never ended. They were still doing things to him.
 
Then a strange man inside the cave asked, “Woman, why are you weeping?”  She says she just wants to see him. The body, the body would be enough for her, if only they had not taken it.  
 
Then, John tells us, Mary turned around and saw Jesus. She did not recognize him. Oh just tell me where he is and I will go to him!
 
And then came the turning of the tears. Jesus spoke to her one word, “Mary.”
 
“Rabboni! My teacher!” She fell at his feet and held on to him hard. He was alive. How could it be? His voice still sounded in her mind, the voice like no other. “Mary.” She knew. Beyond hope. Beyond belief. And the rains fell again, though now she was weeping for joy. The turning of the tears.
 
We experience the wonder of resurrection when we hear Jesus call our name. It is the great mystery of Christian experience that this unique event in history can become personally accessible to us when we place our full trust in Jesus and open our hearts to him, asking him to call us by name to himself. 
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

I never thought I would hear your voice again.
The sounds of your agony lingered from Friday.
Barely sounding like the man I had known, 
Your cracked voice cried out your agony and faith.
And then with a great cry, you were silent.
There would be no more.
No more stories, no more laughter, no more prayers.
How I yearned to comfort you!
I wanted to climb up that cross and touch your cheek,
Put my face by yours and tell you it would be all right.
Even after as we took you down I wanted to hold you,
I wanted a moment.
But sunset was coming and we had to get you to Joseph’s tomb.
All Sabbath I waited like a caged lioness,
Waiting for first light of the new week.
I wanted that moment. Even in a burial cave.
To smooth your hair, wipe your brow, 
Wrap you tight against the cold of death.
When you weren’t there, I thought I would come undone.
But you! Oh you, you were playing with me!
All risen, you let me wait to see until you called my name.
I’m not angry. Go ahead and tease.
Just say my name! 
I follow when you call. I worship where you are.
I dance where you walk alive. 
My Rabboni. My Jesus again. 
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

Lent - Day 36

 

MEETING THE RISEN JESUS

Week Six

 
Fritz von Uhde. Woman, Why Weepest Thou? 1892.
 
Beyond hope and any expectation, Passion Week ended in triumph. The great reversal occurred when the verdict of “guilty” upon Jesus got reversed by the only true Sovereign Judge. In raising Jesus, the Father vindicated the Son. He answered Pilate’s declaration in presenting a battered and defeated Jesus. Now as the stone popped off the tomb, the Father declared to the world,  “Behold the man!” Jesus emerged rippling with everlasting life in a restored, renewed and eternally resurrected body.
 
Jesus began to reclaim his disheartened disciples. We see him act almost playfully as he takes his time revealing himself to Mary in the garden and the disciples along the road to Emmaus. 
 
Poignantly, he shows himself to Thomas who had missed his first appearance. And tenderly he restores Peter from a threefold denial through an opportunity to declare his love three times, and receive his mission, the mission of the church in triplicate.
 
Artist Fritz von Uhde tenderly depicts Jesus reaching to Mary as he calls her name, turning her dismay to joy. 
 

Day 36 Sunday

THE MARYS
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Matthew 28: 1-10
Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
 

CAST NOTES

Mary was a popular name in New Testament times! Mary, Jesus’ mother, and Mary of Bethany who anointed Jesus were not one of the Marys named in this account. These were Mary Magdalene, from whom Jesus had cast out seven demons, and Mary the mother of James, Joseph and Salome, about whom we know little.
 
They had come early on the first day of the week to complete the burial process interrupted by the Sabbath that began Friday evening. They expected to tend the dead. Instead they found the stone rolled back, the guards paralyzed with awe, angels proclaiming resurrection and then Jesus himself alive!
 
How can we describe their experience? Master storyteller J.R.R. Tolkien coined the term eucatastrophe for this sudden reversal where something horrible becomes wonderful beyond hope. It’s a “good” catastrophe which changes everything. Tolkien wrote in a letter to his son that the eucatastrophe in a story: 
 
. . . pierces you with a joy that brings tears . . . it produces its peculiar effect because it is a sudden glimpse of Truth, your whole nature . . . feels a sudden relief as if a major limb out of joint had suddenly snapped back. It perceives . . . that this is indeed how things really do work in the Great World for which our souls were made . . . the Resurrection was the greatest eucatastrophe possible . . . and produces that essential emotion: Christian joy which produces tears because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled, as selfishness and altruism are lost in love.
 
We have glimpses of this wonderful, piercing resurrection joy. When you thought you were ruined and a solution came through at the last moment. When you knew you were going to die, then didn’t. When you thought a loved one was lost, for good, but then she came home. When you thought the relationship was broken forever and then you reconciled. But all of these are caught up, raised higher in the great, glorious reversal that the Marys were first to witness. they mocked Jesus breaks my heart. And all the more when I imagine my own participation. 
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER (11th C. LATIN PRAYER)

Come Christian, bring your sacrifice 
Of praise to Jesus Christ, 
Our conquering victim and 
Our Easter king. 
Jesus, the sinless lamb, 
Has saved the sinful flock and 
Reconciled us to the Father. 
 
Death and life have wrestled
In a wondrous fight,
The leader of the living
Fell to the powers of night
Dead, yet he reigns in power
His strange victory to share.  
 
Speak, Mary, friend of Christ,
What did you see on sorrow’s road?
Tell us your story.
 
“I saw the tomb of the living Christ.
I saw his resurrection glory.
I saw the witnessing angels.
I saw the head-cloth and the shroud.
Christ my hope has risen,
And goes before his own to Galilee.”
Trust Mary, believers, for only she has truth to tell,
Unlike the falsifying crowd of rumour-makers and deceivers.
 
We know that Christ is truly risen,
Defeating death and hell’s dark thrall.
So conquering king, have mercy on us all, Alleluia.
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

 

Lent - Day 35

Day 35  Saturday

JOSEPH OF ARIMATHEA
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Luke 23: 50-56
Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments.
 
On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.
 
John 19: 38-42
After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.
 

CAST NOTES

Joseph does not appear until the very end of the gospels. He was an incognito disciple of Jesus. He had a place on the ruling Sanhedrin council, so for political reasons he had kept his loyalty hidden. He only makes his devotion to Jesus known after it is too late! The council had condemned Jesus; Jesus had been executed. Standing for him after the fact made no sense. Jesus needed supporters at his trial, not after. Jesus was gone, and nothing was to be gained by showing open belief. Joseph was committing political and social suicide, and so was his friend Nicodemus.
 
So why did he use, and risk, his position to approach Pilate? Why did he expose himself as a follower of Jesus as he helped take the body down? Why did he bring scandal on his family by placing the body of a condemned criminal in his own tomb? Why did he go to the expense when it was too late for the cause of Jesus?
 
Only love could have made him do it. The grief of deep love led him to cast caution to the wind. Passion made precious an otherwise useless gesture of loyalty. Without Jesus in the world, Joseph no longer cared what happened to him. All he cared about was honoring Jesus in his burial.  
 
We have known this impulse: when we spent extravagantly on a funeral; when, albeit too late, we stood up for a friend who had been unjustly dismissed; when we remodeled a home just because our departed spouse would have loved it. 
 
In the end, of course, Joseph provided a unique, known tomb for Jesus rather than the dung heap or an unmarked pauper’s grave. That meant when Jesus rose, there was a precise empty tomb to show the world. And Joseph’s love was not wasted.
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Too late to speak.
Too late to stop them. 
Lord, I tried to work quietly behind the scenes.
But I was only protecting myself.
For what?
Without you, nothing I have matters.
This world is dead to me.
These positions a joke.
I know I could not save you anyway,
There were too many of them,
But I ache to have tried harder.
No more hiding!
I will get you off that cross.
Gently, with dignity that befits a king.
I will save your body from the dogs and the gawkers.
You shall have my burial place.
I will tend your tattered form
With all my love and care,
With all the power at my disposal.
Too late, I know, to save you
But not too late to let them know
I am yours, and I will love you forever.
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

ENCORE

     These pliers indicate the horror of the task Joseph of Arimathea undertook. We read so quickly that he took down Jesus’ body from the cross. But crucified victims were affixed to the wood. Jesus had been spiked in the hands and feet. These thick, Roman nails had to be pried from the wood so the body could be removed. Amidst wracking grief, Joseph and any who helped him would have had to exercise brute strength simultaneously with tender care. They did not want to tear Jesus any further. This process was not immediate. It was awkward, public and intense. As you look at this picture, seeing Jesus resting in the invisible arms of his Father, note how Cigoli brings us back to the real-world labor of Joseph’s love for Jesus. He had to remove the spikes to care for his Savior in burial.
 
 

Lent - Day 34

Day 34  Friday

THE CENTURION AT THE CROSS
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Luke 23: 47-49
Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things.
 
Mark 15: 37-39
And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”
 

CAST NOTES

Centurions were officers in the Roman army that occupied first century Israel. The name comes from the Latin for one hundred (e.g., a century), indicating they might have 100 men under their charge. Centurions fare well in the New Testament. Jesus praised the faith of a centurion who trusted that Christ could heal his servant with but a word (Luke 7: 1-10). In Acts, we read of Cornelius, a centurion known to be “a devout man who feared God with all his household” (Acts 10: 2). He received a vision from God that Peter would come to him. And so he readily accepted the gospel, being baptized as one of the first Gentile believers.
 
The centurion at the cross, despite his grim job of guarding people being crucified, seems to have been sensitive to the uniqueness of Jesus. Perhaps because he had seen a lot of guilty people die, he knew how strikingly different Jesus was. Confidently entrusting himself to his heavenly Father meant that Jesus did not internalize guilt for crimes. His equanimity revealed his innocence. The way he called upon God as his Father in his agony convicted this centurion that Jesus was indeed the unique Son of God.
 
Rome and Jerusalem may have condemned Jesus, but the centurion read the signs and saw the deeper reality.
 
So, too, the way we suffer reveals the most about our character. Agony tests our faith. When it proves real, it is pain that authenticates the connection we truly have with our God.  
 
We think of the inspiration we get from those who fight cancer with trust that, win or lose, they remain “in his grip.”  
 
Believers grieve at graveside, but they do not despair. The peace that passes understanding rises through those joined to Jesus in a way that can’t be faked.
 
People get fired, left, swindled, robbed, flooded. The mature Christian in those moments, has a heart that trusts revealed for the unbelieving world to see and marvel over.  
 
So now, while we can, for the sake of the watching world, we are called to cultivate a deep relationship with Christ through prayer, the Word and sacraments to that what is exposed in us is the real deal. 
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Surely this man was innocent!
I saw you Lord.  
Speak forgiveness to your enemies.
Give John and Mary to each other.
Pass hope to the thief.
I heard you Lord, cry out to a God you thought had forsaken you,
And trust him anyway.
 
I saw you in agony not curse your God nor your fate
As do so many.
You entrusted yourself to a faithful Creator. 
You died as you lived, following a plan
You knew had been written for you.
 
I heard the ripping of the Temple curtain 
All the way out on Golgotha.
Barriers coming down.
God and man meeting as one again.
Because you, Jesus of Nazareth,
Are the Holy One.
Surely this man is the Son of God! 
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

ENCORE

Follow the story of Cornelius the centurion who became one of the first Gentile believers. As you read, consider what is it that makes a person of a different religion and ethnicity open to hearing the story of Jesus:
 
At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius.” And he stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.” When the angel who spoke to him had departed, he called two of his servants and a devout soldier from among those who attended him, and having related everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.
 
The next day Peter rose and went away with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa accompanied him. And on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 
 
Cornelius opened himself to the strange possibility that a Jewish man could bring him news of the world’s savior, and even before Peter had finished speaking, the Holy Spirit filled Cornelius and he believed.
 

Lent - Day 33

Day 33  Thursday

JESUS DIES
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Matthew 27: 45-50
Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.
 
Luke 23: 44-46
It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.
 
John 19: 28-30
After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
 

CAST NOTES

The protagonist of Passion Week reaches the worst point. The hero in a life and death struggle is fastened inextricably to death. This play appears to be a tragedy.
 
Today’s four sayings from Jesus on the cross express his excruciating suffering and his final hope.
 
I thirst. Of all the bodily alarms going off in his dying, thirst rose to insist most. In the parable Jesus told of the rich man in Hades, he yearned for but a drop of water to assuage his agony (Luke 16: 24). Now he had entered the full horror of Psalm 22, “my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.”
 
My God, why have you forsaken me? The physical dissolution was not the worst. Crucified Jesus was bearing the sin of the world. He felt no trace of his Father. He quoted from Psalm 22: 1 in what has come to be known as the cry of dereliction. Abandonment. Ruin. Utter loneliness. 
 
Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. Yet, even feeling no trace of his Father, Jesus willed to trust him. He again quoted a Scripture, this time Psalm 31: 5. The second half of that verse adds, “You have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God.” Jesus showed faith in a faithful Father even when he felt abandoned. 
 
It is finished. In Greek it’s one word: tetelestai. It has been brought to full completion. John notes this as the fulfillment of Psalm 69: 21, “for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink.” Scholars such as Brant Pitre have noted that this would have completed the fourth cup of Passover which Jesus earlier declined. It would have been the sign of the new Kingdom dawning. In his death was our beginning. In his completion of suffering was our full atonement. 
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Lord Jesus, on the cross you prayed the script written for you a thousand years earlier. You evoked Psalm 22 to find words for your horror and hope in your hopelessness. So we pray them with you to fill in your story,
 
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, 
From the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day but you do not answer,
And by night but I find no rest. . . .
All who see me mock me;
They make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
He trusts in the LORD, let him deliver him;
Let him rescue him, for he delights in him!
 
Yet you are he who took me from my mother’s womb . . . 
Be not far from me, for trouble is near,
And there is none to help.
 
I am poured out like water.
And all my bones are out of joint,
My heart is melted like wax . . . 
They have pierced my hands and feet—
I can count all my bones—
They stare and gloat over me;
They divide my garments among them,
And for my clothing they cast lots.
 
But you, O LORD, do not be far off!
Come quickly . . . Deliver my soul . . . Save me!
 
You have rescued me!
I will tell of your name to my brothers;
In the midst of the congregation, I will praise you.
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).