Holy Week – Friday: Epistle Passages and Gospel Passage – The story moves ahead with great speed

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16)

I went back and read the complete article – that actually comes from a longer study that Blosser did. He says “Paul had to explain the death of Jesus to a religious culture that had sacrifice at its center. Thus Paul saw the cross as the ultimate sacrifice that once and for all negated the need for all further sacrifice. Paul does not argue the theological issue of whether salvation is achieved by sacrifice but only the divine status of Jesus as God’s ultimate sacrifice.“ [Let’s let Jesus speak for himself] I also went back to make sure my comments on previous days reflect accurately what Blosser said. If you read the article yourself, and you find discontinuity, that would be because I made a misstep. I must admit I was relieved to see that it was indeed Paul’s intent to explain Jesus’ death to “old school” believers that caused him to make the emphases that he did.

“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds,” he also adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:16-22)

I was also relieved to read that Paul’s basis his contentions and arguments on Old Testament scripture – that is, he basis his discussion on what was already established in the “old school” thinking. I think maybe I can move on now! And, because Paul has the Old Testament “covered” I can move on to the Gospel passage, which holds the essence of the story of Good Friday during Holy Week.

“After Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” They answered, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus replied, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they stepped back and fell to the ground. Again he asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So if you are looking for me, let these men go.”
This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken, “I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me.” (John 18:1-9)

It is, beloved reader, a long story; it actually lasts from Maundy Thursday evening to Friday evening, the cusp of the Sabbath during Passover. While the Romans had all the time in the world to decide the fact of Jesus, the Jews who were pushing for his death and the disciples who were eager to discern what the outcome would be felt the rush to have this business completed. In other words, from the time Jesus was confronted in the garden onward anxieties were high. We know Peter was anxious because he drew his sword.

“Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus. Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (Verses 10 – 11)

Jesus was taken from one location to another, which only added to the turmoil.

“So the soldiers, their officer, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him. First they took him to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was better to have one person die for the people.” (Verses 12 – 14)

For example, Peter got nervous and did the very thing he swore he would not do.

“Again Peter denied it [knowing Jesus for the third time], and at that moment the cock crowed.” (Verse 27)

Jesus was questioned, and his disciples witness the full brunt of the animosity that the Jewish leaders had against Jesus.

Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. Jesus answered, “I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.” When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” Jesus answered, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?” (Verses 19 – 23)

Then Jesus was taken to another place, and yet another confrontation.

Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.” (Verse 24)

And from there yet somewhere else. And the whole situation escalated.

“Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” They answered, “If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.” The Jews replied, “We are not permitted to put anyone to death.” (This was to fulfill what Jesus had said when he indicated the kind of death he was to die.) Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no case against him.” (Verses 28 – 38)

By this time the situation was getting quite chaotic. The Jewish leaders wanted action. The disciples, I would imagine, could not keep up with going from one place to another – not mention not being allowed in.

“Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and striking him on the face. Pilate went out again and said to them, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.” The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.” (Chapter 19, verses 1 – 7)

At this point the tide events carried things away. Pilate tried to reason with both Jesus and the Jewish leaders. Jesus knew what would eventually happen – had known for a long time – and did not try to make an intervention for himself. The Jewish leaders knew what they wanted, and would not be dissuaded.

Then he [Pilate] handed him over to them to be crucified. 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. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.'” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” (Verses 16 – 22)

By this point the disciples had caught up with Jesus and were there for his death. They saw his clothes being divided. And faced the reality that Jesus was taken from them.

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.” This was to fulfill what the scripture says, “They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.” And that is what the soldiers did. Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.”
Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.” (Verses 23 – 27)

And they witnessed his death.

After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (Verses 28 – 30)

According to what the disciples believed, this was the end of their travels with their Master. Final arrangements needed to be taken care of.

“After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.” (Verses 38 – 42)

For the disciples this was the end. And from their perspective there would have been no reason to call this day “Good Friday.” The reason why it now is called that . . . . will be revealed in a few days. Shalom!

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Holy Week – Thursday: The Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospel Passage – Now with the story moving on, there is no going back

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.” (Exodus 12:1-14)


This is what Jesus and his disciples were celebrating when they had their shared meal, their Last Supper together. Since they were mostly probably single men, or at least away from their families this Passover season, they came together as a combined household/neighbors. I do not know whether they painted the doorposts and lintel of the house where they were – maybe the door frame to the upper room where they had their meal. Neither do I know whether the remains of the meal were burned. The New Testament – the gospel passage – does not tell us. Jesus and his disciples were far removed from the first Passover celebrated in Egypt. Also far removed from the Passovers in the desert. Generations removed from Passovers in the land that the Lord God gave them. And past history the years where kings ruled over Israel and Judah. What remnant remained of the Passover is recounted in the Gospel passage.

Paul, intentionally or not, started a new tradition – Communion. He recounts what Jesus did at the Last Supper, and for future generations sets a pattern of re-creating and reliving the Last Supper. For some faith traditions the Last Supper is celebrated yearly. For others, when the occasion seems right and proper for such celebrations. And still other faith traditions took on the celebration of the Last Supper as something done whenever the faithful are gathered.

“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.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

For Anabaptists another practice from the Last Supper was adopted and adapted. If some celebrations of Communion have been imbued with pomp, circumstance, ritual, tradition, and exclusivity – foot washing is just the opposite.

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.” (John 13:1)

Humility and servanthood were the important characteristics of foot washing. That, and the desire to replicate what Jesus Christ modeled for his disciples.

“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.” (Verses 2 – 4)

With Judas determined to do what he felt compelled to do, the events of the next few days were set in motion. All that was left was to prepare his disciples for those events, and bring them into closer communion to himself, Jesus.

“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.” (Verses 5 – 11)

Jesus washed Judas’ feet. There is no other explanation possible. Jesus washed Judas’ feet and must have already forgiven Judas for what he will do in the near future. But note what Jesus said, that this foot washing is not absolution of sin. If one has lived such a life where thought and actions are pure and clean, one only needs to cleanse one’s self from the minor dirt of daily living.

“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.” (Verses 12 – 17)

Anabaptists would wash each other’s feet to demonstrate that between fellow believers power and influence are not to be considered. All are equal; all equally need to have the dirt of everyday living washed away; it is as much a blessing to have someone wash your feet as it is to wash another’s feet. That is why footwashing is done in pairs; you wash each other’s feet.

I wonder, beloved reader, if Judas would have washed Jesus’ feet? Would Judas have washed the feet of the other disciples? And how much must Judas have been determined to betray his Lord if after having his Lord humbled before him – he still went out.

“When he had gone out, 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.” (31b – 35)

Tomorrow is Good Friday. For some periods of my life, Good Friday meant it was not a working day. Some years I attended a worship service. Some years I spent with family. For the past decade and a half I have written about Holy Week including Good Friday. In was already into my adult years when I discovered the traditions surrounding Maundy Thursday. It is good to keep learning about the seasons of the church year, and even better to practice them. As we come to the climax of Holy Week, may you think back on the traditions that were important to your Christian journey. And what has helped to form your faith beliefs. Shalom and Selah!

Sixth Sunday of Lent 2019/Liturgy of the Palm & the Passion: The Gospel Passage – Good things have “arrived”!

After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.” (Luke 19:28)

As I quietly but firmly told the RCL, this week/Sunday is Palm Sunday and NOT the eve of Good Friday as the gospel passages for the liturgy of the Passion leads us to. Moreover (and probably more importantly to me) this portion of Luke fits into my theme for the week.

“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.'” (Verses 29 – 31)

I have other years commented on the fact that Jesus “somehow” knew where the colt was and what would transpire. But it should be no surprise that the Divine knew all these things in advance, and it had been arranged for Jesus in advance. It does lead me to ask, however beloved reader, if you have made your arrangements for Lent? And just as importantly for Holy Week and Easter Sunday. In the realm of worship planning and leading services during Lent and Easter are planned out months in advance. Because the services are special and tied so intimately to a theme, care is taken and people are asked to prepare. There is value in last minute planning and trusting to the inspiration of the Spirit; but such “winging it” tends to run counter to some faith traditions. The RCL is proof of such meticulous planning and adhering to patterns laid down centuries ago. But I digress . . . . on to my theme

“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.” (Verses 32 – 35)

Palm Sunday can be seen as the culmination of Jesus popularity amongst some sections and people of Jerusalem. It is also the phenomenon of group-think and impulsive behavior. The disciples were celebrating Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem, maybe thinking he was going to finally face down the Pharisees and such ilk who have been hounding Jesus throughout his ministry. Or maybe it is just that many people in era like a good parade!

“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!” (Verses 36 – 38)

Or maybe it was, as I spoke of earlier, the movement of the Spirit that swept through the populace – the “winging it” impulse that cause things great and momentous to spring forth and happen. I have some of my own “winging it” experiences in my history. But the truth is beloved reader, when we think we are acting in the moment and without any foundations laid out, the Spirit has already gone ahead and made holy preparations. We are just following in the footsteps that were destined for us.

“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.” (Verses 39 – 40)

Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem. And the end of things is coming. We know in another week things will look pretty grim. But today is a day of celebrating! Jesus has come into His Holy city and is welcomed with palms and praise. The Pharisees who tried to shut it down were silenced. Good things, in the form of Jesus Christ, have arrived. It is all celebration for now.

But we also know, beloved reader, that this arrival heralds even deeper and greater things are destined for the weeks ahead. Maybe not what all were expecting – but what all needed! Selah!

Third Sunday of Lent 2019: The Gospel Passage – And even more teachings during Lent

At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them–do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” (Luke 13:1 – 5)

I have spoken of the season of Lent as a time when we consider hardships and doing with out sometime – at least that is a certain way to use the season of Lent. We consider, in a liturgical way, what Jesus had to put up with during the weeks that came before his trial, crucifixion, and then the joyful resurrection. But . . . we put our “blinders” on and do not consider the resurrection until it is upon us. Instead we, liturgically, stay with the suffering.

But because we stay with the suffering, or embark on spiritual exercises to test us, does that mean we are more “sinful” because we are going through it? No. The outcome of Lent is to be our realizing our sins, and what Jesus went through to redeem us and expunge our sins. Just as we do not sin extra because we know we will be forgiven, we are not more sinful because we have tasked ourselves. And, as Jesus points out, we are not more sinful because tough things have come into our lives.

The implication that is being suggested to Jesus (and I have to consult with biblical commentators on this) is that the Galileans were “no-goodniks” who placed themselves in danger when their blood was mingled with the sacrifices they were making. Jesus goes on to see that in the same way those who were killed in an architectural calamity were not sinners either. Stuff happens! And to extend the lesson, when Jesus was crucified it did not mean he was a “no-goodnik” either! Yes, he placed himself in Jerusalem and did not tiptoe around Herod, Pilate, nor the High Priest et al. He was living out his life, just as the eighteen in Siloam were and as the Galileans were. Then Jesus turns this into an even more teachable moment.

“Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'” (Verses 6 – 9)

Lent is our opportunity to turn ourselves and our lives around. Yes, maybe we did missteps, and did not live as we should. But the Divine gives up opportunities to see the error of our ways. In this parable, I believe, the Divine plays both parts; the owner of the fig tree and the gardener. Through Jesus Christ we are given the opportunity to show what we can do and who we can be. Misfortune may come our way, but we can use misfortune to learn about ourselves and our strengths, and grow closer to the Divine. Sin may become too tempting and we succumb. But we can be redeemed and restored, forming a tighter bond to the One that restores us.

Beloved reader, I pray you may use this season of Lent to learn the love, grace, care, compassion, mercy, and forgiveness that the Divine has for us. Selah!

 

Second Sunday of Lent 2019: The Gospel Passage – Warnings during Lent

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ “ (Luke 13:31 – 33)

I do not know if the Pharisees here were “friendly” and genuinely concerned about Jesus in warning him. Or whether they were goading him by telling him Herod had it out for him. And in fact the bible commentators agree with me(!) that it could have been one way or the other. But the warning to Jesus was not the only warning in this passage.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'” (Verses 34 – 35)

The city of Jerusalem and its people have made poor and faulty decisions in the past. Yet Jesus has compassion on them, and is concerned that their decisions will cause them anguish and distress. When the sun is shining and all is well with her chicks, a mother hen will watch them as they peck and scratch. But when dangers looms she gathers them under her wings and protects them at the peril of her own life.

Jesus will not abandon us when we are in need and in harms way. But if we run from the protection – in a sense, disregard what Jesus has to teach us, guide us, and warn us against – we place ourselves in peril. Now, beloved reader, where would you seek shelter when the storms of Lent assail you? Shalom and selah!

First Sunday of Lent 2019: The Gospel Passage – Firm resolve during Lent

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.” (Luke 4:1 – 2)

I looked it up, beloved reader, and if you have water you could go forty days without food. So it was not a Divine attribute that allowed Jesus to do this, but a natural function of the human body. However, the Devil did tempt Jesus in ways that are unique to the Divine.

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.'”
Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'”
Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” (Verses 3 – 12)

It is “tempting” to think that we might be able to withstand temptation such as these if the Devil were to offer it to us. But what you need to understand, beloved reader, is that these temptations were specific to Jesus. Because only Jesus as the Son of God could do what the Devil asked. We cannot turn stones to bread, much less any other food. The Devil is not really interested in us worshiping him/it, although the Devil may tempts us in that way so we do not follow the Lord God. And it was not command that the angels will protect us from harm if we foolishly endanger ourselves. No, it was only for Jesus that these temptations were worth the Devil’s time and effort.

“When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.” (Verse 13)

We never do hear if there was a more “opportune time.” The book and movie, “The Last Temptation of Christ” hinges itself on these phrase, suggesting that the Devil did indeed return and was more successful – for a time. But we know according to Holy Scripture that the gospel writers do not record a return, nor do they give any evidence that Jesus’ resolve failed. (Thanks be to God!)

So what is our portion for this scripture? Or do we have any part of it? Well . . . we have our own temptations; specific to our personality and to the human spirit. One of the things about Lent is that it is forty days of our proving our resolve to following Christ and the Lord God. Are we willing to give up our human agenda and commit ourselves to the way of Jesus? Do we belief that Jesus is the Son of God and empowered to forgive and absolve our sin? (Of course that is not the only thing Jesus did, but it is at the forefront of Lent and Easter.) Do we accept Jesus’ teaching as the way we should live our lives? At each week and stage of Lent there are questions that we need to answer.

Each of the three years of the lectionary cycle Lent has its own distinctive theme. This year is Year C and it is the year of penance, of confessing our sins and being forgiven. The story of the prodigal son has a prominent place in the readings this year. It comes later in the weeks of Lent. Watch for it. Until then, consider the questions that I have posed. Think too what temptations there might be in your life that takes your focus off the Divine and the life you are called to by the Lord God. May you remain firm, and give the Devil no “opportune time”! Selah!

Transfiguration Sunday 2019: The Gospel Passage – Questioning the New Testament text

Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:28 – 31)

This is the story that is the central piece for Transfiguration Sunday. I know, that is pretty obvious. It (meaning the celebration of the day) is placed near the beginning of Lent which makes then time until Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. I know, again obvious. But my point is this – if Moses and Elijah were NOT talking about Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and the events that unfolded from that, Transfiguration Sunday would NOT mark the beginning of Lent. What’s my point you might ask? My point is this – was it because Jesus needed to consult with Moses and Elijah before he went to Jerusalem? Or, did the Divine want to specially mark this time/day as the liturgical beginning of the remembrance of Jesus’ death and resurrection? Or, did the gospel writers “arrange” that this conversation should happen just before Jesus went to Jerusalem?

We can see the connection between Moses’ glowing face from the Old Testament and his appearance now when he, Jesus, and Elijah glowed. We know the significance that was Elijah’s being taken up by a chariot of fire and not seeing death; Moses’ death is not firmly recorded either. So of all the bible figures that might have joined Jesus on this mountain top, they would be the most logical. But I can’t help but feel there is some sort of guiding editorial hand at work.

“Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” — not knowing what he said.” (Verses 32 – 33)

And if were not for Peter putting his foot in his mouth once again, I would really wonder about the whole event. But Peter, good old stumbling along to greater knowledge Peter, gives this whole account the authenticity that is needed. So yes, there is a Guiding Editorial Hand. And it is comforting at the edge of entering the season of Lent to know that the Divine has prepared the way.

“While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.” (Verses 34 – 36)

Now that is interesting. They kept silent. Another mark for authenticity. It was only in considering the back story and the events that lead up to Jesus’ death and resurrection that the transfiguring of Jesus and the appearance of Moses & Elijah became significant. And I hope it was Peter who was brave enough to tell the story.

“On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” (Verses 37 – 40)

These verses and the ones following are not part of the featured text for Transfiguration Sunday. It would seem after the “mountain top” experience, we are back to the day in and day out life of Jesus’ ministry. How often might we have found this true in our lives, beloved reader? We have such inspiring experiences when we feel the Divine’s presence so keenly. Then we are back to the some life we had before.

“Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astounded at the greatness of God.” (Verses 41 – 43a)

It is, beloved reader, that nature of the Christian life that mountain top experiences do not last; they give way to the need to persevere in our every day lives. Maybe for us, just as it was for the disciples, the mountain top experiences can only be properly understood and used when we see where we have come and where we are going. Selah!