Meditation for Holy Saturday
Job is possibly my favorite book in the Hebrew Bible. I think what I appreciate the most about it is not just its demand that God explain why the innocent suffer but also its recognition that unmerited suffering is an irrevocable part of the human condition. Although we as people of faith know that God is the source of all goodness, light, and love, we are also aware that if God is in control that He must be able to prevent our sufferings. Job puts it very strongly by saying that “the hand of God has touched me! Why do you, like God, pursue me, never satisfied with my flesh?” (19:21-22). While I do not believe that God directly inflicts horrible punishments on us, I cannot deny that if God is all-powerful that He theoretically has the power to end our suffering. This leaves us with the painful question of why? Why does God allow bad things to happen to us and to those whom we love?
I will not pretend that I have a perfect answer to this question, but speaking for myself, I find the beginnings of an answer in the suffering, crucifixion, and death of Jesus. Like Job, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God” (19:25-26). Through my belief in the Incarnation, I know that in Jesus’s suffering God intimately knows what it is like to suffer, to feel overcome, and to feel ultimately alone. I know that Jesus felt despair when he shouted out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). Yet I also know that God was present amongst the disciples while they mourned after the crucifixion, thinking that they had lost everything. God is present among us in times of pain and we can have faith that God through Jesus understands our pain. This to me represents true faith. For me faith is not so much about absolute truth as it is about finding hope amidst fear, meaning amidst chaos, light amidst darkness, and transcendence amidst the mundane.
The Dream of the Rood
8th Century Anglo-Saxon Poem
The Rood (cross of Christ) speaks:
It was long past - I still remember it -
That I was cut down at the copse's end,
Moved from my root. Strong enemies there took me,
Told me to hold aloft their criminals,
Made me a spectacle. Men carried me
Upon their shoulders, set me on a hill,
A host of enemies there fastened me.
And then I saw the Lord of all mankind
Hasten with eager zeal that He might mount upon me.
I durst not against God's word bend or break,
When I saw tremble all the surface of the earth.
Although I might have struck down all the foes,
yet stood I fast.
Then the young hero (who was God almighty)
Got ready, resolute and strong in heart.
He climbed onto the lofty gallows-tree,
Bold in the sight of many watching men,
When He intended to redeem mankind.
I trembled as the warrior embraced me.
But still I dared not bend down to the earth,
Fall to the ground. Upright I had to stand.
A rood I was raised up; and I held high
The noble King, the Lord of heaven above.
I dared not stoop. They pierced me with dark nails;
The scars can still be clearly seen on me,
The noble wounds of malice.
Yet might I not harm them.
They reviled us both together.
I was made wet all over with the blood
Which poured out from his side,
After he had sent forth His spirit.
And I underwent full many a dire experience on that hill.
I saw the God of hosts stretched grimly out.
Darkness covered the Ruler's corpse with clouds
His shining beauty; shadows passed across,
Black in the darkness. All creation wept,
Bewailed the King's death; Christ was on the cross....
Now you may understand, dear warrior,
That I have suffered deeds of wicked men
And grievous sorrows. Now the time has come
That far and wide on earth men honor me,
And all this great and glorious creation,
And to this beacon offers prayers.
On me the Son of God once suffered;
Therefore now I tower mighty underneath the heavens,
And I may heal all those in awe of me.
Once I became the cruelest of tortures,
Most hateful to all nations, till the time
I opened the right way of life for men.
Meditation Before the Altar of Repose, 1981
I will watch with You one hour, Lord.
How it must have hurt You when they fell asleep -- leaving You all alone in Your agony of soul.
How often have I likewise hurt You, Lord?
I kneel here and gaze at the flickering candles and think of that night so long ago.
Were You cold, Lord?
In the darkness, did the wind blow through the trees and send shivers up and down Your spine?
Here I am all nice and warm — my car parked outside.
How far away it all seems to me --
And yet --
You are here also.
I feel Your presence in the silence here.
Can I somehow ease Your pain in my feeble gesture — to watch one hour with You?
The Peace of God
Betsy Rossen Elliot
As we consider the events of that ancient Holy Week, the tension mounts. We know what’s coming, and it’s not good. Well, ultimately it is the best, but the day to day, as the disciples experienced it, gets worse and worse.
We can relate, as we consider what we’ve been through in the past year, what we’re still going through on so many fronts. The young church at Philippi certainly knew adversity, and the apostle Paul sought to encourage them in their faith with a letter. A letter he wrote from his prison cell in Rome.
Paul told the Philippians to pray, with thankful hearts, and let their requests be made known to God. Then he made a bold promise: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:7). This is the overwhelming balm that Jesus told his disciples he was giving to them—and to us—when he shared the Last Supper with them. Knowing what they were all about to face, he said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” (John 14:27).
Jesus and Paul did not say that we would be free from trials and sorrows. Quite the contrary. God promises to be with us through all that life throws at us and lovingly urges us not to be afraid, to believe and rest in his peace. God gave us his Son and his peace.
Late last summer, when I was feeling anything but peaceful, I talked with a dear friend on the phone. I expressed my anxiety, and she commiserated with me. But then she reminded me of one of the verses of the old hymn “This Is My Father’s World.” It has given me comfort and peace ever since then.
This is my father’s world.
Oh, let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the ruler yet.
God has got this. And we have his peace.
A New Take on John 12:23-25
Jesus knew the end was near. He was not naive about this. He knew it and his followers knew it. He had defied too many men in power by sharing God’s vision for truth and justice. Inevitably he would be arrested and crucified. In those times, everyone knew what happened to those who went too far. Law and order would do its thing.
Yet Jesus didn’t plan an escape route or try to re-brand. Instead, he said to his followers, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” By saying that he offered hope.
Then he told his followers (who understood agriculture) that a seed cannot germinate unless it falls to the ground. Only then will it grow, develop roots and a tall stem with many new kernels. If many of these new kernels die and enter the soil, then an entire field of wheat is possible. And soon many fields are possible. This is both regenerative and sustainable, and a lot of bread can be made from this work. Son of Man glorified.
So Jesus knew he had to die in order for God’s vision for truth and justice to spread. And that is a powerful message all by itself. Easy to like and share that news! So why couldn’t Jesus just stop right there! Instead, he added: “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Wait, what? Did Jesus just tell me to hate my life?
I have always struggled with this scripture reading. Hating your life simply isn’t socially acceptable. After all, people will not like me unless I am (enthusiastically) lovin’ life!! Imagine if I started saying that I hate life at office parties or church socials. Before long I would be all alone. Besides, God did create this earth and all these people. So if I hate life, doesn’t that mean I’m ungrateful?
On the other hand, the recent past has really made life in this world easy to hate. We have been surrounded by a toxic virus, toxic media, toxic masculinity, toxic capitalism. This has poisoned many relationships. It has poisoned our culture. Truth and justice are twisted into something unrecognizable and I do not like what I see. So if I love life, doesn’t that mean I’m complicit?
Ultimately, I cannot forget that Jesus commanded me to love God and my neighbor. Live a life of love. And Jesus did not despair when facing torture and death. Instead, he looked forward to seeing God's vision realized. Live a life of hope. And Jesus did not escape or re-brand to appease those in power. So, I will work harder to let go of those things in my life that offer an escape. And I will identify those who hold power over me, whoever they are, and not re-brand myself in order to please them. I am a follower of Jesus, a sharer of God's vision, and a product of many seeds.
The Triumphal Entry
The Rev. Deacon Mike Bond
What is all the excitement about? Why are the people stripping the palm trees of their fronds? And what was all the shouting about? It’s all about Jesus. He’s the one who cured the man who was blind since birth. And that had never happened before! And it was this same Jesus who raised the dead man Lazarus, after he had been dead for four days.
They had heard about Jesus and the healings he had done, but when they heard that he was coming into town from Bethany, just two miles from Jerusalem, they got really excited to finally see Jesus and Lazarus together.
Now the temple leaders were getting really angry that so many people were becoming followers and believers of Jesus. Jesus had become a very real threat to the status quo.
When I think about all of the events of Jesus entrance into Jerusalem, I can’t help but think about the way Jesus entered my life. I had been a warrior all my life. I believed in the angry God who was just waiting to get me for all the wrong I had done. And yet Jesus came into my life not as an angry king demanding retribution, or riding in on a horse brandishing a sword, but peacefully, quietly and gently. He didn’t force me to do anything but rather brought options that I never thought I would ever have.
Jesus will test your trust in the status quo. Jesus will over turn your tables of nice neat piles you have put in perfect order. And Jesus will press you into service if you want to be his follower. But he will never force you to do anything you don’t want to do. That’s not the way he works. Jesus will draw you out. Jesus will empower you to do things you never thought of. Jesus will make a triumphal entry into your life if you will only let him.
Ride on, King Jesus!
A narrative reflection from the perspective of a resident of Jerusalem.
The Rev. Rachael Gregory
Electricity danced across the air above the clouds…
Who is it? Could it be?
Finally, after all these years… after all our prayers…
The constant darkness, oppression, abuse, imprisonment, death….
For so long, we’ve seen nothing, felt nothing…
How long have we cried??
” The Lord our God is dead! He has abandoned us! He hates us!”
The air… our lives have been stale and stagnant.
Can’t…breathe… Can’t put one foot in front of the other.
Don’t dare look up… don’t dare desire…
don’t dare hope… for this life, for this “kingdom” to be overthrown.
And yet…There’s been some excitement around here lately!
This man, Jesus, Son of Joseph, from Nazareth of all places!
He’s been doing some pretty outlandish, unheard of things.
Things are happening around him.
Food – TONS of food where there had been none!
The Crazy man is now SANE! We don’t have to be afraid of him anymore.
The lame are walking! The blind are seeing!
The morbidly ill…even the dead… are alive and well!
It’s like AT HIS WORD, the bondage of sin falls away and people are made free!
All that has been happening out there beyond the city gates…and today...TODAY...
He’s coming here!
Murmur, Murmur, Murmur…Rumble, Rumble, Rumble…The news is flying like wildfire!
He’s riding into the city! (of course, on a golden chariot)??
NO…. on a baby donkey.
It doesn’t matter. People are running to greet and cheer him on anyway!
They are waving palm branches like they are golden royal fans.
Hope and joy are rising in torments and floods
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
Glory in the Highest!!”
If his word has changed the very world…. Changed people’s individual lives all around us...
How much more will he bring change inside the city gates –Inside the temple walls – to this “kingdom”!
Hypocrisy and bondage will be TOAST before day’s end!
Ride on, King Jesus!! Show them who is boss!
We will all join the parade, and drag our friends with us!
The tension, the excitement is building to fever pitch…
Surely, Jesus will proclaim his kingship and authority in just a few moments!
The current kingdom will be overthrown, and HIS Kingdom will be established!
Ride on, King Jesus!! Into the center of the city!
We are all behind you…We all stand with you.
Suddenly, the parade stopped.
It’s TIME…. VICTORY will be proclaimed at any second!
Jesus dismounted from the donkey…
But instead of making THE PROCLAMATION— instead of OVERTHROWING the current kingdom,
He silently walked through the temple.
He turned around, and quietly returned thru the city gates back to Bethany….on foot.
NO Proclamation….. NO Battle…NO Victory….
Ride on, King Jesus!?
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!?
Hosannah in the Highest!?
WHAT A FARCE!!!!
Jesus’s face was fixed even harder towards Jerusalem…
To riding on… to proclaiming victory…
To changing the world forever.
It would just be a different kind of battle,
An unexpected path to victory.
One that made absolutely no sense to human understanding.
Ride on, King Jesus!
To Gethsemane, the cross, the grave, to Hell itself!
Seize the victory – the Kingdom of God as your own!
Ride on, Ride on, King Jesus!
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosannah in the highest!