Friday, April 22, 2011

Thursday Night and Friday Morning

Scripture: John 18:1-19:42
So they took Jesus;and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them.
Yesterday was Thursday; our congregation broke bread together and celebrated what has become known as communion in the context of a meal, just as the scripture tells us Jesus celebrated the very first communion with his disciples on the evening before the day he died. Today's long scripture lesson tells the story of what happens after dinner; how Jesus goes to a garden to pray, accompanied by his disciples, how there is is taken into custody, how the next day he is given a show trial and sentenced to die, a sentence that is carried out immediately; and how he dies on the cross and is buried according to Jewish custom.
The story is a sad one for Christians, but for over a thousand years the Friday on which Jesus died has been observed as a Feast Day. Why is this? For Christians, Christ's Death and Ressurection are forever linked and form one single event. They are like two sides of the same coin. Sadly, this way of thinking is not as widely taught as it perhaps once was. I'm not sure why; maybe because it is kind of hard to wrap our minds around at first, and yet if you think about it, it does make sense--without death there can be no resurrection. Without the seeming defeat of crucifixion on Good Friday there can be no exultation on Easter Sunday. It is for this reason that the Friday of Holy Week has become known as Good Friday. As you go about your business today, coloring Easter eggs or shopping for a new outfit, may you be reminded of what it means to be Easter people, to believe that when all seems lost that victory is at hand.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Scripture: John 13: 21-32
Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, "Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me."
Few things sting like a betrayal. Betrayal drives the events of Holy Week and is also at the heart of many literary tragedies, including William Shakespeare's "Othello." Othello's evil frenemy Iago tricks Othello into believing that his wife Desdemona is cheating on him, and he kills her in a jealous rage. Though most of us have not experienced life and death betrayals such as Iago's betrayal of Othello or Judas's betrayal of Jesus, at one time or another someone we trusted has proved unworthy of our trust, and that creates a pain like no other.
Did Judas's betrayal hurt Jesus's feelings, or was he so spiritually mature that he forgave Judas even before Judas carried out the betrayal? The Bible doesn't go into Jesus's feelings in this instance, but we know that Jesus does experience the full range of human emotions, as he is moved to tears at the death of his friend Lazurus. We do know that on the cross Jesus forgives those responsible for his execution, saying, "They know not what they do." Presumably this forgiveness extends to Judas as well.
Are you harboring a grudge against someone who has betrayed you? What would it cost to forgive that person? Often people hang onto a grudge after a betrayal because it prevents them from drawing close to the person again and experiencing yet another betrayal. And yet it is possible to let go of a grudge without opening yourself up to a situation in which you will be betrayed again.
Even if you are not ready to forgive and move on, you can take steps to move towards forgiveness. You can pray to God to give you the strength to forgive eventually.
When I talk about forgiveness of betrayal, the most honest response I get is, "But they don't deserve it." Of course someone who betrays doesn't deserve to be forgiven. Nobody believes that Judas deserves to be forgiven, and yet Jesus forgives him. Forgiveness isn't about giving someone what they deserve. Forgiveness is about bringing grace and healing into a situation that is poisoned with hurt feelings.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Scripture: John 12: 20-36 Jesus said to them, "The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going.
Holy Week coincides with school vacation for my children this year, so we are taking a "working vacation" at a relative's place in the woods. Though we live in the same town, we live very close to the downtown, and so streetlights normally prevent us from every experiencing complete darkness at night. In the woods, though, it's a different story.
There are advantages to streetlights. Even if we forget to turn on the porchlight, at home we don't have to fumble blindly with our keys to get back into the house after an evening out. In the woods, however, there seems to be thousands more stars, and the moon shines more brightly than in our everyday world.
Of course, when Jesus tells us to walk in the light, he isn't talking about starlight or streetlights. Like everything else in the gospel of John, the light is a metaphor for following Christ's way, the way of goodness, truth and trusting in God.
Sometimes the streetlight distorts our view. It casts strange shadows and washes out colors. And yet, our eyes quickly become accustomed to the darkness of the streetlight and this faded reality seems normal. In fact, it can seem comforting, the way the view of the world on the streets at night is less complicated by the details we notice in the daytime. "Bring on the night," says one of my favorite songs. "I couldn't stand another hour of daylight." The clear light that shines out from Jesus illuminates our human failings like nothing else, yet if we stay in the light long enough, it enters into us, so that the light itself shines through us.

Monday, April 18, 2011


Reading from Scripture: John 12: 1-11 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. Last week I received my first pedicure, and it was wonderful. My seventeen-year-old daughter gave me one. First she filled a bowl with warm water and scented bath salts, and invited me to soak my feet, which seem to be sore and tired more of the time as each year passes. Then she lovingly rubbed off the callouses and applied lotion. Finally she filed and polished my toenails, and placed my newly prettied feet into a pair of soft slippers. The whole time she was working on my feet, I kept thinking about the scriptures in Holy Week that deal with caring for feet. On Monday of Holy Week we hear about how Mary, the sister of Lazarus who was raised from the dead, perfumes his feet and wipes them clean with her own hair. On Thursday of Holy Week, we hear about Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. Because Jesus and his followers live in a dry climate and walk everywhere they go wearing sandals, foot care is hard work--considered both menial and unpleasant--yet Mary seems thrilled to be able to anoint Jesus' feet. We often say it is better to give than receive, but sometimes we fall into relationship patterns in which one person does most of the giving while someone else does most of the receiving. This is a normal pattern for some relationships--parents, for example, must do most of the giving in relation to young children--but everyone should be given the chance to experience the joy of giving regularly. If you are better at giving than receiving, ask someone you love to bring you a cup of tea or to run an errand for you. If you tend to be on the recieving end of kindness more than someone you love, do an unexpected kindness today, and experience the blessing that comes from generosity.