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2020 Daily Lenten Readings

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).

 

 

Lent - Day 32

Day 32  Wednesday

THE GOOD THIEF
 

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: 38-40
Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left. And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”
 
Luke 23: 39-43
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
 

CAST NOTES

One of the most beautiful conversations in the Gospels occurs on the cross. Jesus was crucified between two criminals who had been condemned for robbery. At first, in Matthew’s recounting, both men railed at Jesus. But then, according to Luke, one thief had a change of heart. Tradition calls him Dismas. He realized that he was being executed for actual crimes committed, but Jesus was innocent. He believed Jesus would come to reign over a kingdom, and he entreated Jesus to “remember” him on that day.
 
We may imagine that the thief had a traditional Hebraic view of death as portrayed in the psalms. What if that darkest lament, Psalm 88, was on the minds and hearts of both men on the cross? The psalmist writes as a man whose “life draws near to Sheol” (vs. 3). He feels already discarded to the pit. He has become a man who is:
 
Like those whom you remember no more,
for they are cut off from your hand (vs. 5).
 
One of the great fears of death was being cut off not only from life in the world but from God himself, as if we get expunged even from God’s thoughts. When the thief entreats Jesus to remember him, it is a plea to remain in existence, not to be left to utter darkness, for to be forgotten by God would mean being cut off from God’s presence. It amazes me to consider how deeply Jesus’ reply matches the mirror-like parallel of Psalm 88: 5. The thief asks to be remembered. Jesus answers, “You will be with me.” In other words, “You will not be cut off from God’s hand. I will enter the experience of that utter forsakenness so that you will not.” 
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

I hated you at first, like I hated myself and everything else. 
I cursed you for doing nothing to save yourself or us,
Though people had said you were a king with power.
But just the way you took our insults, even then,
Closed my bitter mouth.
I knew I deserved to die and never see God.
The abyss opened below me.
The land of shadow.
The land forgotten by the living,
The land without the light of God.
As I hung, I knew my type of people and how they died.
You were not one of us.
What if you were a king that would reign in heaven?
What if you would not be discarded but exalted?
Could you, would you save me from the Pit?
Lord, remember me!
From your agony, you gazed at me,
Weighed my sincerity, believed my need.
You promised that I would be with you.
In the land of the blessed. 
In the company of God and his saints.
In a kingdom that never ends. 
I was falling into the grave and you grabbed my hand
I was slipping into darkness when you shined a light.
I was tumbling into everlasting loneliness 
When you made me your own. 
 
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

Jesus equated his suffering with that of Jonah (see Mt. 12: 38-40). And the thief on the cross, by the words of his request, indicated familiarity with the prayer of Jonah. Read the words Jonah prayed from under the depths, first from the perspective of the thief on the cross, then from Jesus’ perspective.
 
Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish, saying,
“I called out to the LORD, out of my distress,
    and he answered me;
out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
    and you heard my voice.
For you cast me into the deep,
    into the heart of the seas…
    all your waves and your billows passed over me.
Then I said, ‘I am driven away
    from your sight;
yet I shall again look upon your holy temple.’
The waters closed in over me to take my life;
    the deep surrounded me;
weeds were wrapped about my head
    at the roots of the mountains.
I went down to the land
    whose bars closed upon me forever;
yet you brought up my life from the pit,
    O LORD my God.
When my life was fainting away,
    I remembered the LORD,
and my prayer came to you,
    into your holy temple.
I with the voice of thanksgiving
    will sacrifice to you;
what I have vowed I will pay.
    Salvation belongs to the LORD!”

 

Lent - Day 31

Day 31  Tuesday

JESUS ON 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: 32-34
Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” 
 
John 19: 25-27
. . . but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.
 

CAST NOTES

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus always seemed to have such a complete sense of himself. He knew who he was. He knew his mission. He knew the plan of his Father and his role in it.  
 
Nevertheless, it stuns me to see how self-possessed Jesus was during his torture and crucifixion. Even a little pain makes me withdraw into myself. I fear. I doubt. I don’t care about others. But Jesus, with nails in his hands and feet, thorns crushing his head, his open back scraping the rough wood could still focus his mind. He could still notice others. As helpless as a man could be, Jesus could still bless and redeem others.
 
In the first of his seven sayings from the cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, because they know not what they do.” That has always seemed to me a generous assessment of us who crucified Christ! Would it have changed anything in my heart if I had known what I was doing? I fear I would reject him anyway. 
 
Yet Jesus, at precisely the time when we might expect him to despair of the humanity he came to save, recalled a deeper purpose. We were made for God. He is our greatest, indeed, our only good. And as C.S. Lewis said, “I believe . . . that the kernel of what [a person] was really seeking, even in his most depraved wishes, will be there, waiting for him in the ‘High Countries.’” Human beings want, require, crave God, even if awareness has been lost and God-hatred has ruled us. And Jesus came to answer that need. To literally “bleed out” the poison of sin in us to give us the new life of his Spirit by his forgiveness.
 
This love is not only grand in scope, but intimately specific. In a touching scene, Jesus in the agony of the cross nevertheless notices his mother Mary and his disciple John. He gives them to each other to care for each other after his departure. From the cross, he creates bonds, family, enduring care.
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Lord Jesus, your prayer staggers me:
Father, forgive them.
I don’t know how to pray that 
When I am wounded, deceived, left, forgotten or overlooked.
Yet you have placed words on lips:
Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
You are serious about my forgiving!
Lord Jesus, your thoughtfulness staggers me:
John, behold your mother.
Mary, behold your son. 
I live so compartmentalized,
Isolated by busy-ness and technology.
Yet you have placed a rule in our hearts:
Love one another as I have loved you.
You are serious about my connecting!
 
Lord Jesus, forgive me.
Lord Jesus, give me to others.
Lord Jesus, lead me to forgive.
Lord Jesus, teach me to love.
 
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

Jesus came to love us. He had a legitimate claim on us. He is our creator and he called us to himself. But we fled him. He could not force us and have us be free. On the cross he was suspended in agony by his love. Rejected by us, he nevertheless could not let us go. So he endured in love until it killed him.  
 
Those who love inevitably find that there are hours when we can go neither forward nor backward, but must wait helplessly for the other to determine our fate.  
 
From his position of hanging in the excruciating conflict between his love for us and our rejection of him, Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23: 34). That Jesus prayed for our forgiveness does not surprise me. He came to give his life for us, to create a new and living way to God. But that second line worries me. We didn’t know what we were doing? Is the basis for our forgiveness the fact that we were ignorant of who we put to death?  
 
I believe that even knowing what we did, we would have done it anyway. To me, we knew enough. We human beings knew that here was the light of the world and we wanted to be left alone in the darkness. We wanted to snuff out that light. And Jesus surely knew that. Perhaps he means that we neither know the true depth of our sin nor the true extent of God’s love. However much we might know of who Christ is, our capacity to reject him in sin would be there. But never will we fully understand the depth of his love for us. Knowing the lostness in us more than we will ever grasp, still God did not spare his own Son but freely gave him up for us. There is in Christ on the cross revealed a love of God beyond measurement of height and depth (Gerrit Dawson, I Am With You Always, 2000, pp. 120-123).
 
 

Lent - Day 30

Day 30  Monday

SIMON OF CYRENE

 

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

Mark 15: 21-22
And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross. And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull).
 
Romans 16: 13
Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, whose has been a mother to me as well.
 
Acts 11: 20-21 
. . . men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. 
 

CAST NOTES

Simon was in town for the Passover festival. He had journeyed from north Africa, from a region in today’s Libya. So we know he was devout in his belief in the LORD. Simon just happened to be in the streets where the soldiers led Jesus carrying his cross. Reflecting on this passage through the centuries, Christians have always thought that Simon was needed because Jesus stumbled and fell, weak from his horrific flogging. 
 
Imagine Simon’s shock when the Roman guard suddenly picked him from the crowd. I would have feared getting crucified myself!  
 
We wonder how carrying Christ’s cross affected Simon later. Surely he paid close attention to the news about Jesus and to the reports of his resurrection. Perhaps he even met the risen Jesus.  
 
We believe Simon became a fruitful disciple from two statements. First, Mark describes him as “the father of Rufus and Alexander.” That information would only be significant to Mark’s readers if Rufus and Alexander were known believers! Simon created a heritage of faith in Jesus. Second, at the end of Romans, Paul sends greetings to Rufus. If this is the same Rufus, Paul has confirmed Simon’s legacy. 
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Why did you let them pick me?
I was from North Africa.
I didn’t fit the profile!
O Lord, I was so terrified.
This was not my struggle.
But I feared it would be the end of me?
When we got to Golgotha,
Would they link me with you?
 
I looked at you then, on your knees,
Collapsed under the weight of the cross.
Pity awoke first. 
“I’ve got this,” I said,
And you looked at me, 
Through blood and tears,
With love that captured my heart.
 
The mob screamed and spat.
As if they wanted you dead before you arrived.
I felt the fury and knew now
I had been linked with you.
 
Their screams and stones bowed me up.
Fear turned to pride. 
I was linked with you,
And I would get you to that Skull hill.
 
They would be guilty of your full, gruesome death. 
You would finish your purpose.
I would carry you as well as the cross if needed.
Why did you pick me?
I didn’t fit the profile of
One worthy for this honor.
But I loved you then, more than I thought possible.
And I love you now.
 
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 29

MEETING JESUS AT THE CROSS

Week 5

 
 
 
 
Ludovico Cigoli. The Deposition from the Cross. c. 1600. 
 
 
The dark worst point of Passion Week was the six hours of crucifixion. Nature corroborated the horror as the sky went dark and the earth shook.
 
Jesus was nailed to the rough beams in his hands and feet. The word “excruciating” was invented to express the agony of being hung on a cross to die.
 
Yet even in these hours, redeeming encounters occurred. Simon of Cyrene became a disciple after he carried the cross for Jesus through the streets of Jerusalem to Golgotha, the place of the skull. One thief crucified next to Jesus came to faith as he pleaded to be remembered and received assurances from Jesus that he would be with him always. And Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the council who believed in Jesus, came out of hiding to arrange an honorable burial for Jesus.
 
Around 1600, Ludovico Cigoli captured the great and grievous effort it was to take a body from a cross. The spikes had to be removed from the wood and the flesh. The body had to be lowered in a winding sheet, wrapped, then carried off.
 
Jesus’ remaining loyal followers carefully tended him, pouring their love into what, to all eyes, seemed a lost cause. We note by their head-wear the presence of both Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, participating in this work far beneath their station. Here faith shone brightest, when it seemed least victorious.
 

Day 29  Sunday

SOLDIERS
 

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: 27-31
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.
 
Luke 23: 36-37
The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”
 

CAST NOTES

Who knows why they treated Jesus this way. He clearly wasn’t a danger to them. Perhaps the soldiers seethed with anger at being so far away from home. Perhaps they hated this population of Jews who, though obedient, always seemed unbowed in spirit. Perhaps they liked having a victim they were free to bully.
 
We know the delicious thrill of having a scapegoat. Maybe it was the girl in middle school with the smelly hair. Or the boy in high school who never had all his gear for gym. Or the guy with acne we called Pizza Face. As awkward as we felt, at least we weren’t like them.
 
We know the power of displaced anger. When we take out frustration at work on our spouse. When we unload in fury at the children over a simple mistake. When we jerk the dog’s collar for pulling. There’s a rage we want to release on someone who can’t fight back.
 
And of course, there’s the indignation we feel at the presence of holiness. Anger ignites in us when someone won’t participate in the gossip or the slightly shady deal or the drugs at the party.  
 
The soldiers channeled the rage of the sinner against God that is deep inside all of us. They let out the bully I hide, the mocker I disguise and the crusher I mask.  
 
And Jesus took it all. He would not save himself. Because he was saving us. The story of how they mocked Jesus breaks my heart. And all the more when I imagine my own participation. 
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Oh Lord Jesus, 
I scarcely dare admit my connection to this episode.
Paul called it being a God-hater.
You said what I do to the least of these I do to you.
I have called your faithful children “goody-goodies.”
I have gleefully demonized “those people” for whom you died. 
I have mocked “your glory” as a poor reason for suffering.
I have questioned angrily how you wield your sovereignty.
I have wanted to spew my venom on someone else,
Get another to carry the negative energy for me,
Transfer the shame, the guilt and the pain underneath.
You take it all. 
You answer the soldiers with acceptance.
You reply to the howls of our rage with the quiet of bread broken in an upper room.
You ask for me to pour all the poison into your cup
So that you can give me the wine of life.
 
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 his book, Unaplogetic, Francis Spufford describes the way the crowd piled on their hatred as Jesus made his way to the cross. The soldiers were just representative of the frustration, the projection, the venom in every heart:
 
He’s stumbling along under the weight of his own instrument of execution, a great big wooden thing he can hardly lift, with an escort of the empire’s soldiers . . . the bystanders don’t see their hopes parading by. They see their disappointment, they see their frustration. They see everything in themselves that is too weak or too afraid to confront the strapping paratroopers; and much though they hate the soldiers, they hate him more, for his pathetic slide into victimhood. Word of his loose living, his impiety, his pleasure in bad company goes round in whispers. And just look at him. There’s something disgusting about him, don’t you think? Something that makes you squirm inside. Something . . . furtive. He’s so pale and sickly-looking, with that dried blood round his mouth. He looks like a pedophile being led away by the police. He looks like something from under a rock; as if he doesn’t deserve the daylight. He’s a blot on the new day. . . . Yeshua is a joke. He’s less a messiah, more a patch of something nasty on the pavement (Francis Spufford, Unapologetic, 2013, pp. 140-141).
 
Jesus became the object of our pent-up rage at the way life is, our own helplessness to change and our own disgust that we are no better. The soldiers merely expressed more brutally the bruising will in every human heart.

 

Lent - Day 28

Day 28  Saturday

MALCHUS, BARABBAS AND JOHN MARK

 

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

Today we meet three characters from Passion Week about which we know almost nothing. Yet each one had an encounter with Jesus. Holy imagination will lead us to ponder their stories.
 

MALCHUS

 
John 18: 10-11
Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”
 
 
Luke 22: 49-51
And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him.
 

CAST NOTES FOR MALCHUS

The Gospels describe Malchus as the servant of the high priest. More literally he was a bond slave. His life was not his own. He served as a ready and ever-available assistant to Caiaphas, even late on a Passover night. He was related to another servant who would shortly challenge Peter (John 18: 26). Malchus’ job was to listen for orders and then fulfill them. He had come with the band of soldiers to get the man his master wanted. He was not allowed to be armed. He never expected a sword to be drawn against him. Imagine his emotions as a wild Peter struck out: surprise, fear, searing pain, panic that he might die as blood spattered everywhere. The roar in his head that replaced his hearing. Then the man his master called the chief of sinners reached toward him. Maybe Malchus flinched expecting more pain. But the hand soothed. The blood stopped spurting; the throb ceased; the terror went away. Calm, warmth, peace, hearing as clear as he’d ever known. This blasphemer, such a threat, suddenly seemed to be the giver of life. Could Caiaphas be wrong?
 

BARABBAS

Mark 15: 6-13
Now at the feast [Pilate] used to release for them one prison for whom they had asked. And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder, there was a man called Barabbas. And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them. And he answered them, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. And Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” And they cried out, “Crucify him.”
 

CAST NOTES FOR BARABBAS

 
Barabbas was a rebel. One of the zealots who sought to overthrow Rome’s rule by violence, whether acts of guerilla terror or outright rebellion. He had been jailed for murder. An angry, rough man, a true enemy of the state. Ironically, his name means “son of the father.” He knew he deserved death for the deaths he had dealt, and he was proud of it. Yet Pilate released him while Jesus, the true Son of the Father in heaven, sinless and full of love, was sentenced to death. Barabbas experienced literally the great exchange of Jesus’ life for his.
 
What did Barabbas feel when he was released? Did he know of Jesus? Did he experience survivor guilt? Barabbas reminds me of the famous Dickens chapter, “Recalled to life.” I hope he became a disciple!
 

CAST NOTES FOR MARK

 
Throughout Christian history, readers of the Gospel have conjectured that this young man was Mark himself. This curious incident is not relayed in the other three Gospels. We know from Acts 12: 12 that “John, whose other name was Mark,” was from Jerusalem and joined Paul on his first missionary journey. I like to think that Mark the Gospel writer was an eyewitness to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and that he humbly included this brief account of his own wilting and fleeing at the seizing of Jesus. His shame is clearly illustrated by the picture of being so afraid that he was willing to run naked through the streets. The incident motivated him through years of travels and mission for Jesus’ sake.
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Malchus: I believed whatever my master told me. I was proud to serve a man so high, so learned and seemingly so just. But I have been bound to the wrong man. I cannot leave his service. But my heart is yours. You had the power to destroy us all. But instead you healed me and then let them have you. I have seen love now, and can never go back. 
 
Barabbas: Jesus, they traded you for me. You didn’t have to go to condemnation. I could see this was your decision. I thought you were a fool. That I would never look back. But you have haunted me. Somehow claimed me. I cannot get away from you. You bought my life with yours. How now shall I live?
 
Mark: Ah, Lord Jesus, running naked in the streets was the least of the sins of my youth! Yet the shame of fleeing from your need still burns me! Would I be any different today?  
 
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).