Archive for May, 2014



For April 17, 2014: Maundy Thursday

The Reading            Exodus 12:1-14

Exodus 12:1-14 gives instruction for a ritual meal—but unlike most ritual meals, it is to be eaten in haste by people who stand with one foot out the door ready to flee, and the blood from the lamb that is slain for the meal will mark the households to be spared when God executes judgment.

The Response            Psalm 116:1, 10-17

Psalm 116:1, 10-17 gives thanks to the Lord for help, good things, and deliverance from bondage. “The cup of salvation” could be one of the four cups of the Seder or Passover feast; it could also be a symbol of the abundance of blessing.

The Epistle            1 Corinthians 11:23-26

The epistle written to the Jewish and Gentile church at Corinth passes on the words of Jesus at the first Last Supper: remember whenever you eat and drink, for the everyday stuff of bread and wine are the slain Lamb and God’s new promise of unconditional salvation.

The Gospel            John 13:1-17, 31b-35

En route to being betrayed to his own death, Jesus teaches us the truest way to be God: love and serve.

For April 16, 2014: Holy Wednesday, Year A

The Reading            Isaiah 50:4-9a

For the first evening of the Triduum—the holy ‘three days’ leading up to Easter—we begin with a lesson that is also read on Palm Sunday: the third of the “songs of the suffering servant”. Though abused, the nameless servant speaks encouragement, listens to teaching, and fears no shame because the Lord God will help.

The Response            Psalm 70

The brief but heartfelt Psalm 70 calls upon the Lord for help against those seek one’s life and who gloat when bad things happen to one.

The Epistle            Hebrews 12:1-3

This short reading is preceded In Hebrews by the list of persevering, believing heroes of the faith that it calls “a cloud of witnesses”. Our chief example, of course, is Jesus, who withstood the worst that people could deal out in order to win people for God.

The Gospel            John 13:21-32

The reading from the gospel of John tells part of the story of what Jesus endured: that people whom he loved and had taught would nevertheless be among those to betray and deny him.

For April 13, 2014: Palm Sunday, Year A

1. The Liturgy of the Palms

The Gospel            Matthew 21:1-11

The gospel of Matthew that we read to open the Palm Sunday service tells of the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. It paraphrases Psalm 118:25-26, which forms part of the Sanctus that we sing most Sundays during the Eucharistic prayer.

The Psalm            Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29

Psalm 118 is the psalm of praise that includes the verses of praise and triumph that are cited in Matthew’s version of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

 

2. The Liturgy of the Word

The Reading            Isaiah 50:4-9a

The reading from Isaiah is the third of four “songs of the Suffering Servant”. The servant speaks with the authority of a teacher but listens like a student, and submits to God even in the face of insult. It is not clear about whom the passage was originally intended to be, but of course we read it as prophecy about Jesus Christ.

The Response            Psalm 31:9-16

Psalm 31 is one of the classic psalms of lament. The speaker may be terminally ill or perhaps simply deeply at odds with the rest of the community, but is certainly in crushing distress. Nevertheless, the speaker—like Jesus en route to the cross—declares trust and hope in the Lord.

The Epistle            Philippians 2:5-11

Just who the Suffering Servant was thought to be in the time of Isaiah remains unclear. This reading from the letter to the church at Philippi clearly identifies Jesus Christ as God choosing to humble himself even to death. It may be a very ancient hymn. It is certainly a concise and lyrical confession of faith.

The Gospel            Matthew 26:14-27:66

Each gospel’s Passion reading sheds its own light on the sorrow that is the betrayal, framing, mocking, and hideous death of the Son of God. Matthew’s Passion contains interesting nuances: perfidious Judas repents (though he still kills himself), and Pilate is depicted on the horns of an intractable political dilemma.

 

Ponderables

Even if we participate in all the services scheduled for Holy Week, those take up at most a handful of hours of the Triduum, or ‘three days’ between Wednesday sunset and Saturday sunset. Much more common, of course, is that Palm Sunday is the extent of our brush with Holy Week: for the rest of the days, we’re preoccupied by daily obligations plus Easter eggs and preparation for visiting relatives (those we visit and those who visit us).

As we read the Passion gospel, and as we go about our dailinesses… how shall we respond?

The best choice of all and for all might be “Hosanna”. The word is derived from the Hebrew Hoshana, meaning ‘Save us!’

Save us, O Lord, from cheering for the Jesus who kicks butt and not the Jesus whose war steed is, incongruously, a young donkey. Save us from betraying our families, our friends, and others with a kiss—and when (not if) we’ve betrayed them anyway, save us from such grim despair that we slam the door on life. Save us from framing and shaming those who tell us what we didn’t want to hear. Save us from crucifying others again and still on our own unresolved pain.

And save us from the complacency that blinds us both to our own guilt and to the only way past it: the way of the cross.

For April 6, 2014: Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year A

The Reading            Ezekiel 37:1-14

As the book of Ezekiel tells it, God’s people were deported to Babylon in the sixth century before Christ for failing to uphold their part of the covenants. This familiar reading tells us, though, that there is help: no matter how dead we are and how we are dead, God is ready to breathe new life into our spirits and to bring us home.

The Response            Psalm 130

Some psalms are laments and some praises. Psalm 130 is a short and cogent summary of the human condition: when things are bad and even when I am bad, good God is on my side anyway, no matter what.

The Epistle            Romans 8:6-11

This passage from the epistle to the Romans carries forward the theme of the first reading. Through our own efforts we cannot please God and so we gain only death. Through Christ, however, we have the Spirit of God in us and so we have life.

The Gospel            John 11:1-45

In today’s gospel, Jesus knows he is already marked for death if he ventures anywhere near Jerusalem. He is also aware that, in Jewish belief of the time, the soul hovers near the body for three days. Nevertheless, he ventures to Bethany, and four days after Lazarus has died, to work a spectacular miracle.

For March 30, 2014: Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A

The Reading            1 Samuel 16:1-13

When the first king, of Israel, Saul, stopped being the Lord’s man, the Lord rejected him in favor of a new king. The reading from the first book of Samuel dwells on God’s criteria: what matters is not how someone looks or seems to fulfill the script, but what is in that person’s heart.

The Response            Psalm 23

Psalm 23 is the familiar and heartening hymn to the goodness of the Lord, our leader. The shepherd’s rod helped him defend sheep from wolves and lions; the staff or shepherd’s crook served to guide the sheep. As with young David in the first reading, anointing is a sign of the Lord’s chosen one.

The Epistle            Ephesians 5:8-14

Whether or not the book of Ephesians was written by the apostle Paul or to the church he founded at Ephesus, the message certainly applies to the twenty-first-century as it did to the first: having been saved from the darkness of our hearts, we are to live as children of light.

The Gospel            John 9:1-41

The very long gospel for the fourth Sunday in Lent of Year A relates the story of a man born blind. Jewish orthodoxy of the day held that people suffer because they or their parents have sinned. Jesus tells the disciples otherwise, and he heals the man.

For March 23, 2014: The Annunciation, Year A

The Reading            Isaiah 7:10-14

With the kingdom of Judah caught between powerful enemies, King Ahaz seeks an alliance with Assyria in defiance of the promise from God that Isaiah has given him. In a reading that is familiar from Advent and Christmas, the Lord offers to prove that the Lord’s intentions are good—but Ahaz refuses.

The Response            Canticle 15

King Ahaz was asked to trust God for an outcome that looked uncertain, and he declined to do so. A girl named Mary, offered a miracle that will turn her life upside down, says yes. Canticle 15, which we know as the Magnificat, is the song of praise that Mary then sings, and the continuation of the gospel for the Annunciation.

The Epistle            Hebrews 10:4-10

Sacrifices and burnt offerings in the Old Testament are intended to atone for sins. Chapter 10 of the book of Hebrews explains how they cannot work. It is Jesus coming to do the will of God that sanctifies us—and in so doing, Jesus gives us a model to follow.

The Gospel            Luke 1:26-38

Like the Old Testament reading and the psalm, this gospel passage is familiar from Advent. Mary, in contrast to King Ahaz, is appropriately perplexed by the angel; she seeks to understand why the angel greets her as he does; and when he gives her a sign, she accepts it and declares her obedience to God’s will.

 

Ponderables

The readings for the feast of the Annunciation play on themes of understanding, obedience, and sacrifice. Ahaz, raised to be a king, nevertheless misunderstands what is being offered and why; he chooses to disobey when obedience would be relatively easy, and the consequence is that he unwittingly sacrifices the good of the nation to his own desperate need to feel in control. Jesus, uniquely begotten by God, understands exactly what the divine plan for the world is and how it involves him; he continually chooses to obey, even to the point of death; and the consequence is that he deliberately sacrifices his own life and human need to feel in control in order to do God’s will in saving even the least of us. Mary, for her part, is the product of a culture that expects her to marry when and how it demands and does not encourage her questions; she nevertheless thinks about what the angel means and asks how things work; and the consequence is that, though she cannot fully foresee all that is being asked of her, she agrees to the potential sacrifice of her good name in the community in order to become the Theotokos—the bearer of God.

Mary is quite rightly held up as a model of human obedience to the Lord—and she questions and ponders. So what if questions and doubts are in fact integral to belief in God? And what if it is this kind of reasoned, questioning human obedience that prepares the way of the Lord?

For March 16, 2014: Second Sunday in Lent, Year A

The Reading            Genesis 12:1-4a

This short reading from Genesis is bigger than it looks. Abram (whom we know as Abraham) is rich but childless, in a day when family and children are everything, and God tells him to leave behind all the security that he has. But God promises a bigger family than Abram or we can imagine—and Abram believes him.

The Response            Psalm 121

Psalm 121 did not exist in the days of Abram, but it speaks to his situation and to ours as pilgrims in this world: the Lord who made heaven and earth watches God’s children and means us good.

The Epistle            Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

The epistle returns to the promise through which Abram became Abraham. Righteousness comes not by earning but through believing. What is more, it comes to Abraham’s descendants in God: each and every one of us who believes God as Abraham did receives righteousness as Abraham did.

The Gospel            John 3:1-17

Nicodemus is a man with a problem: he’s a Pharisee who grasps that Jesus is from God. The gospel challenges his thinking—and ours: God’s style is to love us, and love means not condemning even those who can’t stop asking questions.

 

 

Ponderables

I feel for Nicodemus, teacher and leader of his people. Smart people, at least in a culture that reveres intelligence, are popularly supposed to have all the answers; admitting to ignorance or uncertainty gets one dismissed as a fraud, and asking difficult questions gets one blown off as a troublemaker.

But I’m morally convinced that having faith doesn’t mean that uncertainty is just to be papered over, and it doesn’t mean that difficult questions aren’t to be asked.

Nicodemus knows what Judaism says about righteousness. Abram’s faith may be reckoned to him as righteousness, but mainline Judaism generally makes the same claim that most religious orthodoxies do: that righteousness is the fruit of following the rules. Nicodemus is also smart enough and worldly enough to grasp how unattainable that kind of righteousness is.

Jesus offers a way out that is stunningly at odds with the way we tend to do religion. God isn’t offering to love us once we’re righteous enough: God is offering to make us righteous because that’s the kind of love God has for us. And that’s the kind of love that God calls us to have for all God’s world.

What if the best Lenten discipline I can undertake is to stop telling God how to condemn me?


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