31 March 2010

The Triduum - Maundy Thursday, 1 April 2010

Exodus 12:1-14
Psalm 116:1, 10-17
I Corinthians 11:23-26
Saint John 13:1-17, 31b-35


The Triduum, or the Great Three Days constitute a Liturgy that is celebrated over the period of three days; Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Day.  With the reforms of the liturgy in the 50s and 60s, the Triduum, as a liturgical period distinct from Holy Week, has become more and more a given.  Each liturgy has its distinct acts.  Maundy Thursday concentrates on the Mandatum Novum  (“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another), the Washing of Feet, and a solemn celebration of the Holy Eucharist.  The day commemorates Christ’s institution of the Eucharist.  The color for the day may be white or scarlet.  The last act of the evening is the Stripping of the Altar and the setting aside of the Reserve Sacrament on an Altar of Repose. 

Good Friday is noted for the simplicity of its liturgy, during which the Passion According to Saint John is read, the cross is venerated, and the reproaches may or may not be said.  There is a communion of the Pre-Sanctified, using reserved elements from the previous evening’s mass. 

The Easter Vigil is a liturgy that centers on a long series of readings from the Old Testament that culminates in Baptisms and Affirmation of Baptism, following which the first mass of Easter is sung.  The color of the day is White or Gold.

Exodus 12:1-14
The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the LORD. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.

This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.

In this reading from Exodus, we read about the institution of the Passover, and all of the customs that surround it.  The logic behind the choice of this reading is that the Passover is foundational to the institution of the Eucharist, and so the day that celebrates its institution properly looks back to its Jewish roots.  There are many symbols evident in the reading that are translated into Christian icons:  the Lamb and Jesus, the Seder Meal and the Eucharist, The Bread and the Wine and the elements of the Eucharist, the saving properties of the Blood, the notion of a day or rite of Remembrance, and the whole theological notion of being saved from death, and given freedom. 

Breaking open Isaiah
1.  Have you ever been to a Seder?
2.  What elements of the meal and ritual were striking to you?
3.  What are your images and impressions at the Eucharist?

Psalm 116, 1, 10-17 Dilexi quoniam

I love the LORD, because he has heard the voice of my supplication, *
because he has inclined his ear to me whenever I called upon him.

How shall I repay the LORD *
for all the good things he has done for me?

I will lift up the cup of salvation *
and call upon the Name of the LORD.

I will fulfill my vows to the LORD *
in the presence of all his people.

Precious in the sight of the LORD *
is the death of his servants.

O LORD, I am your servant; *
I am your servant and the child of your handmaid;
you have freed me from my bonds.

I will offer you the sacrifice of thanksgiving *
and call upon the Name of the LORD.

I will fulfill my vows to the LORD *
in the presence of all his people,

In the courts of the LORD'S house, *
in the midst of you, O Jerusalem.

This is a thanksgiving psalm, in which the psalmist gives thanks for recovery from illness.  Its use here is dependent upon several images in the psalm that relate to the institution of the Eucharist, namely:  “I will lift up the cup of salvation” and “I will offer you the sacrifice of thanksgiving.”  Other images relate to the Passion of our Lord: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his servants”, and “I will fulfill my vows to the Lord.”

Breaking open Psalm 116
1.     What kinds of vows have you made?  Have you made any to God?  Have you made any to yourself? 
2.     What is your prayer life like when you are ill or threatened?
3.     What is your prayer life like when you are healthy and secure?

I Corinthians 11:23-26

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

This passage from I Corinthians predates the accounts of the Institution of the Eucharist in the Gospels, and it is language that we preserve in the Eucharistic Prayer, that rehearses Christ’s words and actions.  In this reading, Paul impresses upon his reader that he is not inventing or amending, but rather passing on apostolic teaching about this central Christian rite. 

Breaking open I Corinthians:
1. What do you believe about the Eucharist?  How would you describe it to someone who had asked you what it was?
2.  What are your thoughts at the communion?  What goes through your mind?
3.  What does Jesus mean when he talks about the new covenant
4.  How important is the Eucharist to you?

Saint John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" Jesus answered, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand." Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" Jesus said to him, "One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you." For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, "Not all of you are clean."
After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord--and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, `Where I am going, you cannot come.' I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

John does not place the institution of the Eucharist at a Passover Meal, as do the other Gospel writers.  He also includes something described as the “new commandment”, and the foot washing as well.  There would have been a foot washing regardless of whether Jesus wanted to comment on it or not.  It was part of the etiquette that was expected of a host at dinner.  It looks back to nomadic days, when a guest, or chance traveler, would need to refresh themselves and their feet after a long journey in the desert or wilderness.  So it is here – but Jesus puts a new interpretation on it (just as he does on the bread and wine that accompany the meal).  As host, Jesus not only offers a foot washing, but offers to do it himself, taking on the role of a servant.  In his subsequent speech on what has happened, Jesus tries to describe a different kind of community – a community that is known for its ability to love one another.  Indeed, this becomes a telling sign in the early church, when the Christians of Antioch are characterized by those outside the church when they comment, “see how they love one another.” 

Breaking open the Gospel:
1. How does the Eucharist instill love?
2.  If you see someone going to communion with whom you have some difficulty, how does his or her presence at the meal affect you?
3.  What are the bounds of the love that Jesus describes?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Maundy Thursday:

Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

24 March 2010

The Sunday of the Passion (Palm Sunday), 28 March 2010

At the Liturgy of the Palms
Saint Luke 19:28-40
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
At the Liturgy of the Word
Isaiah 50:4-9
Psalm 31:9-16
Philippians 2:5-11
Saint Luke 22:14 – 23:56


Before the revisions to the Roman Liturgy that began with Vatican II in the late 1960s (which reforms were soon taken up by Anglicans and Lutherans as well) the Sunday of the Passion was observed as the Last Sunday in Lent, and was then followed on the following Sunday with Palm Sunday.  With the reform of the lectionary, and the introduction of the three-year cycle of readings, also came reform of the calendar as well.  Lent, as a penitential season, was devoted to catechetics (preparations for Baptism) and the emphasis on the Passion of Jesus was removed to the services of Holy Week and the Triduum (The Three Days – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and The Vigil of Easter).  Thus, Palm Sunday and its procession with Palms was combined with the Sunday of the Passion and its reading of the Passion of the Lord.  Therefore there are additional readings commented on here.  The Liturgy of the Palms has its own Gospel and Psalm, and The Liturgy of the Word for the Sunday of the Passion has its usual set of readings.

The Liturgy of the Palms


Saint Luke 19:28-40


After telling a parable to the crowd at Jericho, Jesus went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, "Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, 'Why are you untying it?' just say this, 'The Lord needs it.'" So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, "Why are you untying the colt?" They said, "The Lord needs it." Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,

"Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!"

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, order your disciples to stop." He answered, "I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out."

All of the Gospels share this particular reading, and each adds his own specific elements.  Jesus enters Jerusalem via Jericho, taking a route that would have been well known to the thousands of pilgrims who had “gone up to Jersusalem” before him.  We need to look at the passage for what it says, and not sentimentalize it, as is so often the case.  The donkey was not a sign of humility, but rather a common beast of burden in the Ancient Near East.  Kings road on donkeys as well as horses, and here Jesus enters as any person of note might have.  There is an allusion to a passage from Zechariah 9:9 which talks about “your king coming to you…seated on a colt”.  Both Matthew and John make the reference explicit, but Luke, perhaps mindful that his audience may not be familiar with the Hebrew prophets does not.  A second quotation is from Psalm 118:26a, “Blessed is he…” which we will recognize from its quotation in the Sanctus which we either sing or say at every Eucharist.  This entry into Jerusalem is symbolic on so many levels, for it is Jesus who only a short time before reminded his hearers, that it is Jerusalem that kills the prophets.  This reading allows us to journey with Jesus into a momentous week.

Breaking Open St. Luke:
  1. What are your childhood remembrances of Palm Sunday?
  2. Read through the verse and make note of the visuals that are suggested.  What does the scene look like to you?
  3. Why does Luke quote Psalm 118?  What did the Psalm verse originally mean, and what does this say about Jesus?
  4. What would the stones shout out (last verse)?

Psalm 118 Confitemini Domino

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; *
his mercy endures for ever.

Let Israel now proclaim, *
"His mercy endures for ever."

Open for me the gates of righteousness; *
I will enter them; I will offer thanks to the LORD.

"This is the gate of the LORD; *
he who is righteous may enter."

I will give thanks to you, for you answered me *
and have become my salvation.

The same stone which the builders rejected *
has become the chief cornerstone.

This is the LORD'S doing, *
and it is marvelous in our eyes.

On this day the LORD has acted; *
we will rejoice and be glad in it.

Hosannah, LORD, hosannah! *
LORD, send us now success.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; *
we bless you from the house of the LORD.

God is the LORD; he has shined upon us; *
form a procession with branches up to the horns of the altar.

"You are my God, and I will thank you; *
you are my God, and I will exalt you."

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; *
his mercy endures for ever.

This psalm is thematically related to the Gospel for the Palm Sunday Procession, and indeed may mirror for us a temple liturgy.  There is a “progress” to the psalm as it moves from the gates of the temple to the altar of sacrifice.  Some verses have become crucial in expressing Christian theology, especially verse 22, “The same stone with the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.”  In addition, the verse concerning the progress of either priests or king, (blessed is he who comes) is sung in the Sanctus during the Eucharistic Liturgy.  The altar is described as having “horns”, and indeed ancient Canaanite altars had such, as is illustrated below.  In sum, the psalm gives thanks for all the graces received and perceived in the temple precincts.

Breaking open Psalm 118
  1. What are the blessings that the psalmist recounts in the psalm?
  2. How might a Jewish reader perceive this psalm?  How might a Christian perceive it?

The Liturgy of the Word

Isaiah 50:4-9a

The Lord GOD has given me
the tongue of a teacher,
that I may know how to sustain
the weary with a word.
Morning by morning he wakens--
wakens my ear
to listen as those who are taught.
The Lord GOD has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious,
I did not turn backward.
I gave my back to those who struck me,
and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;
I did not hide my face
from insult and spitting.
The Lord GOD helps me;
therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame;
he who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me?
Let us stand up together.
Who are my adversaries?
Let them confront me.
It is the Lord GOD who helps me;
who will declare me guilty?

This reading comes from the so-called Suffering Servant Songs that are found in Second Isaiah (Chapters 42 – 53).  This selection is from the third of these songs, and its inclusion on this particular Sunday is obvious with its references to the sufferings that parallel the sufferings recounted in the passion of Jesus.  Who the Suffering Servant was for Second Isaiah, we cannot be certain, although it was probably Israel itself.  For Christians, reading these songs, the connection with Jesus is easy, and it serves as an Old Testament background and context to the Passion Narrative.  The Gospel writers would use such materials to tie Jesus to ancient prophecies, and to show him as fulfillment of those hopes.

Breaking open Isaiah
  1. What kind of suffering might have ancient Israel experienced that led this Isaiah to write this poem?
  2. How do you think about the sufferings of Jesus?
  3. How do you think about the sufferings of the world?

Psalm 31:9-16  In te, Domine, speravi
Have mercy on me, O LORD, for I am in trouble; *
my eye is consumed with sorrow, and also my throat and my belly.

For my life is wasted with grief, and my years with sighing; *
my strength fails me because of affliction, and my bones are consumed.

I have become a reproach to all my enemies and even to my neighbors,
a dismay to those of my acquaintance; *
when they see me in the street they avoid me.

I am forgotten like a dead man, out of mind; *
I am as useless as a broken pot.

For I have heard the whispering of the crowd; fear is all around; *
they put their heads together against me; they plot to take my life.

But as for me, I have trusted in you, O LORD. *
I have said, "You are my God.

My times are in your hand; *
rescue me from the hand of my enemies, and from those who persecute me.

Make your face to shine upon your servant, *
and in your loving-kindness save me."

This is a David psalm, in which the author laments about his problems, and his status over against his enemies.  It is a relatively common type of psalm, and its content is repeated in various other psalms.  Reading it on this particular Sunday, we could easily put the words of this psalm into the mouth of Jesus.  The value of this psalm is in its emotional intensity, which gives us a clue about the sufferings of Jesus and the sufferings of the world.

Breaking open Psalm 31
  1. What kind of image do you have of the author of this psalm?
  2. What kinds of laments do you have in your life?

Philippians 2:5-11

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death--
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
This passage, the so-called “kenosis” (emptying) reading is perhaps one of the most beautiful passages in the Bible.  It may actually be a quote of an ancient Christian hymn.  In it Paul talks about Jesus “emptying himself” and becoming totally receptive to the plan that God the Father has for him.  These verses became the basis of a  series of Protestant debates in the sixteenth century, and was briefly the focus of theological discussion around the doctrine of the incarnation during the nineteenth century.  Most interpretations look to Paul’s quotation of this hymn as a call for all of us to empty ourselves to God’s will.

Breaking open Philippians:
  1. How did Jesus humble himself?
  2. How do you open up yourself to God?
  3. What does it mean to confess “Jesus Christ is Lord”?

Saint Luke 22:14 – 23:56

When the hour for the Passover meal came, Jesus took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God." Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, "Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes." Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!" Then they began to ask one another, which one of them it could be who would do this.
A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. But he said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.
"You are those who have stood by me in my trials; and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
"Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." And he said to him, "Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!" Jesus said, "I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me."
He said to them, "When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?" They said, "No, not a thing." He said to them, "But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, `And he was counted among the lawless'; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled." They said, "Lord, look, here are two swords." He replied, "It is enough."
He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. When he reached the place, he said to them, "Pray that you may not come into the time of trial." Then he withdrew from them about a stone's throw, knelt down, and prayed, "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done." When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, and he said to them, "Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial."
While he was still speaking, suddenly a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him; but Jesus said to him, "Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?" When those who were around him saw what was coming, they asked, "Lord, should we strike with the sword?" Then one of them struck the slave 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. Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple police, and the elders who had come for him, "Have you come out with swords and clubs as if I were a bandit? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness!"
Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest's house. But Peter was following at a distance. When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. Then a servant-girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, "This man also was with him." But he denied it, saying, "Woman, I do not know him." A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, "You also are one of them." But Peter said, "Man, I am not!" Then about an hour later still another kept insisting, "Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean." But Peter said, "Man, I do not know what you are talking about!" At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, "Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times." And he went out and wept bitterly.
Now the men who were holding Jesus began to mock him and beat him; they also blindfolded him and kept asking him, "Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?" They kept heaping many other insults on him.
When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes, gathered together, and they brought him to their council. They said, "If you are the Messiah, tell us." He replied, "If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I question you, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God." All of them asked, "Are you, then, the Son of God?" He said to them, "You say that I am." Then they said, "What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips!"]
Then the assembly rose as a body and brought Jesus before Pilate. They began to accuse him, saying, "We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king." Then Pilate asked him, "Are you the king of the Jews?" He answered, "You say so." Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, "I find no basis for an accusation against this man." But they were insistent and said, "He stirs up the people by teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to this place."
When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he was under Herod's jurisdiction, he sent him off to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign. He questioned him at some length, but Jesus gave him no answer. The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. Even Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then he put an elegant robe on him, and sent him back to Pilate. That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies.
Pilate then called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, and said to them, "You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death. I will therefore have him flogged and release him."
Then they all shouted out together, "Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!" (This was a man who had been put in prison for an insurrection that had taken place in the city, and for murder.) Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again; but they kept shouting, "Crucify, crucify him!" A third time he said to them, "Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; I will therefore have him flogged and then release him." But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed. So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted. He released the man they asked for, the one who had been put in prison for insurrection and murder, and he handed Jesus over as they wished.
As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus. A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. But Jesus turned to them and said, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are surely coming when they will say, 'Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.' Then they will begin to say to the mountains, 'Fall on us'; and to the hills, 'Cover us.' For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?"
Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!" The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!" There was also an inscription over him, "This is the King of the Jews."
One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, "Are you not the Messiah? 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 have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." He replied, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."
It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun's light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit." Having said this, he breathed his last. When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, "Certainly this man was innocent." And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council, had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they 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.
I am reluctant to comment on the Passion, and encourage you only to read it through and feel its power.  Luke borrows a great deal of material from Mark and has some features that are uniquely his.  It is best, when reading the material to keep in mind Luke’s devotion to the poor, and his use of women in his narrative.  He is at a disadvantage in that the theology and iconography of the Passion is so dependent on Old Testament archtypes and images.  Mark, Matthew, and John are better at this.  What is important to remember is that Luke is translating this for a gentile audience, and it is interesting to see what he underscores as important.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. Do the poor make an appearance in Luke’s Narrative?
  2. What kind of roles do the women have?
  3. Which Gentiles are mentioned, and what roles do they have?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

Almighty and everliving God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

17 March 2010

The Fifth Sunday in Lent

Isaiah 43:16-21
Psalm 126
Philippians 3:4b-14
Saint John 12:1-8


This Sunday, on the cusp of the devotions that accompany Holy Week, anticipates in what will come with the Triduum (The Great Three Days – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Vigil of Easter).  Each of the readings awaits what will come and what will be remembered. 

Isaiah 43:16-21


Thus says the LORD,
who makes a way in the sea,
a path in the mighty waters,
who brings out chariot and horse,
army and warrior;
they lie down, they cannot rise,
they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:
Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
The wild animals will honor me,
the jackals and the ostriches;
for I give water in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
the people whom I formed for myself
so that they might declare my praise.

This section of Isaiah was written either during the Exile in Babylon, or immediately following it.  It’s stance is one of hope and promise.  In the reading the author calls the reader to remember the mighty acts of God toward Israel, and the deliverance from Egypt: hence: “who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters.”  That is the basis for the relationship that the people are to  have with their God – one of remembrance of God’s intervention in their history, and of deliverance and freedom.  The most important passage in this reading, for our purposes this morning, is “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.”  This seems at odds with the initial passages of the reading.  The author doesn’t want us to forget God’s deliverance of the people, but rather to forget the slavery, the oppression, and the exile.  “I am about to do a new thing” announced a new intention, a new direction for the people.  That we see this new thing in the person of Jesus Christ, is precisely why the lesson is included here, where the impossible is considered.

Breaking Open Second Isaiah:

  1. Are there “former things” for you which should really be forgotten?
  2. How has God broken into your life, and done a new thing?
  3. What kind of “way in the wilderness” do you think God is making for you?  For Trinity Church?

Psalm 126 In convertendo

When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, *
then were we like those who dream.

Then was our mouth filled with laughter, *
and our tongue with shouts of joy.

Then they said among the nations, *
"The LORD has done great things for them."

The LORD has done great things for us, *
and we are glad indeed.

Restore our fortunes, O LORD, *
like the watercourses of the Negev.

Those who sowed with tears *
will reap with songs of joy.

Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, *
will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.

This psalm is designated a “pilgrim psalm” or a “song of assent”, a part of a collection of psalms that were sung as pilgrims ascended to Jerusalem.  Since Jerusalem sits on the spiny ridge that runs the length of Palestine, most pilgrims had to ascend, to climb up, to the holy city.  We are given some other clues as from where these pilgrims might have come – “Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses of the Negev”.  The Negev is a triangular section of land, to the south of Palestine that runs between the Sinai peninsula, and the Arraba Valley.  Here the sudden spring rains fill the wadis (our arroyo) with rains that can replenish the land, or destroy anything standing in the way.  The mood of this psalm is akin to the first reading from Second Isaiah, where the pilgrim is giddy with gladness, remembering what God had done for them.  The psalm also may have been used at an autumnal harvest festival, where the crops mentioned would have resulted from the watercourses. 

Breaking open the Isaiah
  1. What are all the emotional words that are used in this psalm?  Write them down, and think about how you relate to them.
  2. What are the great things that the Lord had done for them?  For you?
  3. What might the tears have been from?

Philippians 3:4b-14

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

Paul starts off with one of his proverbial lists.  He wants the Philippians to understand his credentials as a pious Jew – and he recites them all (circumcised on the eighth day, and so on).  He not only wants them to understand but to be impressed, because he is going to toss all of that aside for something that he views as even more important and impressive.  What is of value to Paul, then, is “knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”  The reading especially fits in today because of the final paragraph where he discusses “the goal”.  What he listed earlier many might have thought of as an achievement, but Paul is striving for more.  Paul is striving for what lies ahead in Christ.  This notion of anticipation and expectancy form the themes for the readings today.  The questions that might form our devotions during the coming Holy Week could center around the question of what “lies ahead in Christ?”

Breaking open Philippians:
  1. What are you really proud of?  What have you accomplished in your life?
  2. Of what are you really proud in your life in Christ?  What have you accomplished there?
  3. Do you still have goals?  Do  you know what they are – can you name them? 
  4. What goals might we enjoy as a congregation?


St. John 12:1-8

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus' feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?" (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, "Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me."

This action by Mary, and its recounting by St. John, are moments of pure anticipation.  Here Mary anoints Jesus feet (something that any guest would have expected from their host) but does this in an unusual manner.  He is anointed with a very expensive unguent (and here we are to anticipate the Marys bringing spices to the tomb to prepare the dead Jesus for burial).  The situation, however, points out something else, namely, that the disciples still don’t get it – at least Judas Iscariot.  But this is anticipation as well, pointing out the one who will betray Jesus for money.  John is getting us reading for both cross and resurrection.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. What do you think of Jesus’ statement, “the poor you have with you always”?  How do you interpret that?
  2. What do you think of Mary’s act?  Does it make you uncomfortable?
  3. How do you prepare yourself for the Holy Week devotions?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:
Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.