Liturgy of the Palms / Passion – The Gospel Passage: A Preview of the Story

It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him; for they said, “Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people.” (Mark 14:1 – 2)

I must tell you, beloved reader, the day I sat down to write on the long passage (Mark 14:1-15:47) I was not feeling well at all, having caught a nasty cold or flu. I was at times fumbling as to how to organize my thoughts and ponderings. I had blindly forged in dealing with the long passage from Mark that tells the complete story of the Passion. I had thought to separate the story over two days, since there were so many verses. What I did not consider was that we would be presented with the same story (albeit from a different gospel) during Holy Week. And having dealt with the story now, I would be at a loss for something new to see. And I have to confess, what I had written was a good bit of “dreck”, not something I would have like to have been remembered for! Thank goodness I realized my missteps and am in the processing of revising my thoughts and comments.

But I did make a few good points along the way. First, that in times past the Passion Story was presented as a play in communities, the parts being played by the people of the specific town. It came to be a tourist event, and people would travel to see it. More recently people have been traveling to the movie theater or their television to see the story presented in a more professional manner. I am not sure that is an improvement.

Secondly, later in the passage,

On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, “Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” So the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.” (Verses 12 – 16)

I found it to be of interest that just the way the colt was found, the upper room came to be discovered by Jesus directing his disciples to actions that human knowledge could not predict. The story of the Passion of Christ is not the story of a common human but the son of Divine who is coming to the end of the mission and ministry that started with his birth. That fact alone may account for why the story is presented so often in the RCL.

Another thought I had came from a portion further on in the story.

Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus said, “I am; and ‘you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,’ and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.'” Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?” All of them condemned him as deserving death. Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” The guards also took him over and beat him.” (Verses 61b – 65)

Sometimes we hear truths that we do not want to believe. We criticize and condemn the messenger in order to prove the message to be false. But truths can not be beaten and stamped out. Truths will stand up against any torture. Another aspect of truths is seen while Jesus is being questioned and abused inside.

While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest came by. When she saw Peter warming himself, she stared at him and said, “You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.” But he denied it, saying, “I do not know or understand what you are talking about.” And he went out into the forecourt. Then the cock crowed. And the servant-girl, on seeing him, began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” But again he denied it. Then after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean.” But he began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know this man you are talking about.” At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, “Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.” (Verses 66 – 72)

Truths also come out at inconvenient and embarrassing times. As much as we want to hide and deny the truth, it will come out. Peter did much better later in his life in aligning himself with Jesus Christ. And Jesus’ resurrection he gave Peter the opportunity to show how much he had learned about being a follower of Christ.

What I have presented here is certainly not all of the high points of the passion story, and probably not the ones that come down to us in biblical commentaries and exegesis. The passion story is full of poignant moments and sufferings. That is after all the meaning of “passion” in this instance – the suffering of Christ for our sake. Amid that suffering is lessons that we need to take to heart. I hope during Holy Week I am able to find more lessons and present them to you, beloved reader. Selah!

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Fourth Sunday of Lent: The Gospel Passage – More than just John 3:16

And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:14 – 15)

The gospel of John is a book of allusions and clues as the what the writer say as a spiritual and mystical Messiah. You can tell by the connection of the Israelite and Moses in the desert with the snakes, and Jesus sacrificed on the cross where all could see. Humanity continually needed saving and salvation, and the Messiah offered that for all times. How lovely and mystical. Then comes the remembered portion.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (Verse 16)

I suspect when the writer of the gospel of John wrote this, he did not imagine that this verse would resonate through time. It is an important statement, but so are the other theological statements and explanations.

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (Verse 17)

But, the veracity of my statement may not be accepted. Verse 16 capsulizes so much of the aim of Jesus’ salvation and redemption of humanity. Not even Paul could say it better, I imagine. The writer of the gospel of John does have more important things to say.

Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (Verse 18)

The writer of the gospel of John is just as adamant about his theology as any other biblical writer. Let us look back and see what we might have missed after verse 16. The purpose of the Messiah was not show humanity where they had gone wrong. This is the same thing that Paul says, that it is the law that condemns, but God’s grace that sets us free. Those who believe and profess that Jesus is the son of the Divine and believe/follow all that Jesus established are not condemned. It is unbelief that leads to sin and condemnation. The writer of the gospel of John continues.

And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” (Verses 19 – 21)

Those who believe in Jesus and in the Divine have come away from their sinning, and are now within the grace of salvation. And continuing to do what is correct and true keeps them within that salvation and state of grace. Gravitating to evil takes them out of the light of the Lord and leaves them vulnerable to sinning. Coming back to the light of the Lord brings them back into God’s grace. It was not the purpose of Christ Messiah to condemn them of sin, but to offer humanity away to escape the state of sin and evil. Yes, this was done because of God’s love for humanity. But there is more to it than that. And it is not just believe in Jesus Christ but living out that belief every day. Yes, let us celebrate the truth of verse 16, but let us also remember the whole of salvation. Especially in this time of Lent. Selah!

First Sunday of Lent: The Epistle Passage – Hopeful signs move forward into Lent

With Ash Wednesday looming on the horizon, and knowing that I will be working my way through a good bit of scripture, I decided to add an extra day of writing on the normal scripture passages for the first Sunday/week of Lent. Seems unusual, I know, to have a whole set of four scripture passages plopped down in the middle of another four set. The church year is just rife with special days and scripture passages to use. A reminder that it is not necessary to use all the scripture passages; pick and chose as you see fit. In order that I might provide all of my beloved readers fodder for their reflections, I try to comment on most everything.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that a passage from I Peter was part of this week’s normal readings. I have great affinity for the apostle Peter and for the writings that are attributed to him.


“For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.

And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you–not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.” (I Peter 3:18-22)

Washing away our sins. Either by washing away the sinning that was happening in the time of Noah; or washing away sin by baptism that is backed up by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Peter the apostle was never one for couching truth is soft terms, so he pairs the hopeful sign of baptism with the gruesomeness of so many people dying by drowning. Or, that could be my own dark sense of humor seeing that potential pairing. But the writer of I Peter does give hope by saying that Jesus went to redeem those souls who did not listen and turn away from sin. And if Jesus did that for them, then most assuredly we are offered the same grace and forgiveness. Another hopeful sign as we move from Ash Wednesday to our personal reflections on the nature and condition of our soul.

You see, beloved reader, Lent is not meant to be despair and hopelessness. Yes, if Lent did not make way into Easter we could give up all hope and abandon ourselves to our gruesome fate. But our Lord and Savior await us at the end of Lent, and so we can journey forth with confidence that all will be well. That is one of the things I appreciate about Peter. He faces square on the tough things of life, but carries with him, and proclaims to all who would listen, faith and assurance. Selah!

Ash Wednesday: The Old Testament, Psalms, and Epistle Passages – On Valentines Day!

It was only when I sat down to write on this series of passages that I realized Ash Wednesday is also Valentines Day. What cosmic coincidence! And what better day to think (and yes, ponder) on our need for Christ’s redeeming love!

Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming, it is near- a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come.” (Joel 2:1-2)

But as I said before, (haven’t I?) we do not need to be sad and sorrowful. As Paul would say, it is only sorrowful for those how have no hope and knowledge of the Lord. To those who know and follow the Lord, the Divine says . . .

“Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts [emphasis mine] and not your clothing. Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.” (Verses 12 – 13)

This is the substance of Ash Wednesday, to turn and return to the Lord. We use the ashes of last years Passion Sunday palms as a reminder that the Messiah came to us and entered into our lives. There is no reason to doubt this, even if the writer of the book of Joel does.

“Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the LORD, your God?” (Verse 14)

We know, beloved reader, we know. We know the Lord God have ever in the Divine mind a way to bridge the gap and reunited humanity with the Divine. We know that away was made for a sacrifice that would restore all things to humanity. So we may, with all confidence . . .

“Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy. Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep. Let them say, “Spare your people, O LORD, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?'” (Verses 15 – 17)

Human love and emotions may ebb and flow. And if we were honest, we would say that Valentines Day is a day of wondering if the beloved ones in our lives love us as much as we love. It is a universal fear that we love more than we are loved. Gifts of flowers, chocolate and other tangible expressions ease our fears and confirm our hopes. In the say we, we may wonder about that we when think about the Divine. The psalmist says,

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.
Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me. You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.” (Psalms 51:1- 9)

In other words, love me O Lord. Do not let my sin stand between You and myself. Do what is necessary to make me pure enough to be loved by you. I do not want to depend on my own human ability to cleanse myself of my sins. Do this for me, O Lord God!

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.” (Verses 10 – 13)

On Valentines Day, we send greeting to those we care for. Whether they be near to us, or far away, we send out thoughts, sentiments, and good wishes to those we care about. Or at least that is what we intend to do. How often have we let the opportunity to show that we care slip away. Sometimes it takes special days to remind us that we need to tell the ones we supposedly love and care about, that we do care about them. That is another tenet of Ash Wednesday, a reminder to us to tell God we love the Lord and are thankful for our deliverance.

“Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.” (Verses 14 – 16)

Would it make sense to you, beloved reader, if I said trying to give the Almighty Lord God a Valentines Day care would be worthless? That trying to send the Creator of the Heavens and Earth a floral arrangement would be down right silly? That it would not be possible to give Jesus Christ a box of chocolates? No, what the Divine wants is this . . .

“The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Verse 17)

It is now, when the observance of Lent starts in earnest, that we need to spend time with the Lord God. Many of us do have a daily walk with the Lord; we have our own spiritual disciplines and practices that keep us in communion with God. I am not saying we are negligent in that. But Ash Wednesday and the weeks of Lent invite us to tune up our practices and reaffirm our commitment. As Paul says, . . .

“We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:20b—21)

Our devotion, spiritual practices and disciplines are like Valentine gifts to the Divine. As I said above, it is not material things that the Lord wants from us. The Lord wants us!

“As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!” (chapter 6, verses 1 – 2)

I want to tell you, beloved reader, that I sat down to write today’s comments and reflections with great joy. I so looked forward to delving into scripture and making connections between the lectionary passages and every day living. And even more so when I realized it was Valentines Day! What an honor and a joy to write about the Lord’s love for us on a day devoted to expressing love! It is my furtive hope that you have found something in what I have written that resonates within you. As Paul wrote, I also hope . . .

“We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see–we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” (Verses 3 – 10)

Admittedly I have not suffered for the gospel as Paul has. Not even close! I am not saying I do!! My purpose is to uplift, and perchance to enlighten. And hopefully to give you something to think about and ponder on. And, finally, to try to express to you, as much as humanly possible, the depth and breadth of the Divine’s love for you. Selah!

 

First Sunday of Lent: The Old Testament Passage – Never Again!

Ash Wednesday is coming. I am just letting you know, beloved reader, that we are soon starting the period of time when we are to look within our selves and see where we have gone astray from the Lord. Where Year A had the theme of newly coming to the faith, Year B is the theme of recommitting ourselves and renewing our relationship with the Lord. Ash Wednesday has the potential of being a day of sorrow, and Lent often has the theme of sorrowing over our sins. But the passage for today, the Old Testament passage, actually has reassurance within it.

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him,
“As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” (Genesis 9:8 – 11)

Many years ago I planned a chapel service that emphasized God’s promise that never again will humanity by separated from the Lord and left to fend for itself. The (slow) coming of the Messiah was to bridge the gap between the Divine and sinful humanity.

“God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.” (Verses 12 – 15)

The Lord’s promise is a good thing to remember when times seem tough. While humanity has gone through tough times, the times seem enough tougher than before. But the Lord is with us, and when the sun shines through the gloom and dark, the light illuminates the hope and love that the Divine has for us, and the hope and love that is incarnate in humanity and creation.

“When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.” (Verses 16 – 17)

Ash Wednesday and Lent are coming, but we will not be alone. The Lord will be with us, and at the end of our time of examination and introspection, God will be waiting for us. No matter how alone and bereft we may feel, the Lord God promised we will never be alone. Selah!

Fifth Sunday of Lent: The Gospel Passage – Jesus Christ = Resurrection and Life

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.
Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill.” (John 11:1-2)

Some gospels say she was the sister of Lazarus and Martha. Other says she was a different Mary. A not so socially acceptable Mary. It would interesting to know if it was one and the same Mary – the Mary who was socially acceptable, who sat at Jesus’s feet, and who wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair. But I digress – the focus is on Lazarus.

“So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” (Verse 3)

In the time of Jesus, any illness had the potential for being serious as medicine then did not follow the same regime as it does now. On with the story.

“But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (Verses 4 – 16)

I want to insert briefly that Thomas meant die with Jesus, assuming that the Jews in Judea would be successful in killing Jesus.

“When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” (Verses 17 – 22)

Martha had faith in Jesus, and knowledge of who Jesus was (and is still). It was not then that Martha needed to be told and reminded of God’s glory and Jesus being part of that glory. Or at least not very much.

“Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him.” (Verses 23 – 29)

I have in the past wondered what it was about Lazarus that made him worthy of being resurrected. But as I ponder on this passage, I am starting to think it was not Lazarus per se but when it Jesus’ ministry that Lazarus became ill and died. Lazarus was not the only person that Jesus brought back to life. Nor was Jesus the only one who brought back from the dead. Elijah did also. But it was at this point in Jesus’ ministry that connection between Jesus being Lord over life and death was made. Let us read further in this story.

“Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him.
The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.” (Verses 30 – 33)

I have to ask, and I would have to ask the writer of the gospel of John – why the difference? Martha says if Jesus would have been there Lazarus would not have died, assuming that Jesus would have healed him. But Mary says the same thing, and Jesus was “greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.” The biblical commentators reflect two causes; being by the total scene of mourning OR being indignant at the false mourning and weeping that the Jews accompanying Mary were doing. There was such a profession as being professional weepers and mourners to give sound and numbers at funerals. The writer of the gospel John might have made note of such as these, and having Jesus react to them. Or, Jesus upon seeing the woman who wept for him, wept on her behalf. Let us continue the story.

“He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep.
So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” (Verses 34 – 37)

Criticism and cynicism noted by the writer of the gospel of John, and Jesus reacts.

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.” Verse 38)

I can see where the two interpretations to Jesus’ grief and disturbance came from. I should not forget that many times the writers of the gospel were also acute observers of the society of the time.

“Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.” (Verses 39 – 45)

Power over life and death. It is hard not to believe when you see such dramatic proof. But while some did believe, there were others who were angered (or perhaps more accurately, frightened) at the display/report of such power. The verses that follow this passage tell of the reaction of Jewish/Temple authorities and their fear. And the story of Jesus’ ministry moves one step closer to its conclusion.

These events of Jesus’ life are remembered and set down to explain what was to come. While each of the gospels might differ somewhat, they form a cohesive story of what Jesus did. And with these stories in hand, generation after generation has had to decide whether they believe or not.

While we are in the season of Lent, we are also in Year A of the Revised Common Lectionary – the year of coming to new faith. In the early Christian church, the season of Lent and Easter was a preparatory time of coming to faith. May you use this time to ponder on your own faith, perhaps coming to new understandings. I pray that you faith in grounded in the strong foundation of who Jesus Christ was, and is to you. And the place of our Lord God in your life. Selah!

Annunciation of the Lord: Gospel and alternate Psalms Passage – How Mary played a part to bring the Light to fruition

[I’m going to tread down a divergent path for this passage, so be warned.]

“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.” (Luke 1:26 – 27)

Have you asked or heard about how your mother and father met? My parents met as a high school they both attended. My husband’s parents just got to know each other living in a small town, or at least I assume that is the story. My husband and I met at college. My grandfather say my grandmother traveling on a street car and liked her looks enough that he followed the street car. For every child, there is a story about how his/her parents met – regardless of whether it is a pleasant story of not.

In the Jewish tradition that Jesus grew up in, most marriages were arranged. So Joseph and Mary may have been matched up by their families instead of meeting at the market square or by the town’s water well. Jesus’ mother and his “other” Father – that’s a different story.

“And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Verses 28 – 33)

Now Mary and the Lord God knew each other. She had to in order to “have found favor with God.” While women did not serve in the Temple or Synagogue, and they had a special place in the Lord God’s house of worship, it was not uncommon for a woman to be devote in worship of God. Jesus and his disciples knew of women who were devote, as did Paul. So Mary must have been such a woman of devotion. But nothing in any woman’s experience of worship of God would point to this type of service to God. Mary did not question that she was called into service to God but wonder how this would come about according to her understanding of fertility and child birth.

“Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.” (Verses 34 to 35)

I used to think that it was a great burden to place on a young girl to be singled out by God and be made subject to the type of criticism and disfavor that she must have borne in her community. I have revised my thinking on that. But still, it must have made an interesting story to young Jesus when/if he asked about how his parents met or how babies are born or any of the other questions young children might ask. Questions that are universal and timeless amongst young humanity.

Just as Mary’s pregnancy was distinct and set apart from other women in her community, so too was the birth of Jesus. It is good to remember this when we think of Jesus. From the first moment of his conception is was different and set apart. Yet he grew and matured as any other child and young man. It is good to remember this as we journey through Lent. That Jesus’ life story is close to ours, but yet different. That we may live a life like any other, yet as followers of the Lord God and Jesus Christ we are set apart. And that all followers of the Divine are part of a unique family starting with Mary, and with Joseph.

“And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.” (Verses 36 – 38)

“Let it be.” One of the many reasons I admire Mary is that she trusted in the Lord God so completely that she was obedient. Even when things looked unfathomable, she trusted. I try to that too. And I look to the same God that she did. Through that connection she is my spiritual sister.

I do not know if Mary would have read the psalms or been familiar with them. I would like to think that she was. Because it seems to me, in many ways, Mary’s life lives out the psalms. To her is credited the Magnificat. And the alternate psalms passage for this day sounds a lot like what Mary might have felt.

You have multiplied, O LORD my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you. Were I to proclaim and tell of them, they would be more than can be counted.
Sacrifice and offering you do not desire, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required. Then I said, “Here I am; in the scroll of the book it is written of me.
I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” (Psalms 40:5 – 8)

Mary, however, did not say much out loud. Many times the scriptures tells us she pondered things in her heart. I would like to think in her older/later years she talked and told the people around her about what God had done for her and how the Lord had accepted her service. Indeed, how would we know so many things about Mary if she had not spoken to someone?

“I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; see, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O LORD. I have not hidden your saving help within my heart, I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation.” (Verses 9 – 10)

The Day of Annunciation is at it’s foundation Mary’s story. Yes, it is the story of how/why Jesus is the Son of God. But it is Mary’s story; of how faith brought forth greater faith. And it can be our story too. We may not be called to bring forth an infant Jesus, but we can carry the news of our Lord God and Jesus Christ. That too is part of the journey of Lent.

May you, gentle reader, ponder in your heart and then tell the “glad news of deliverance”! Selah!