Monday, April 6, 2015
Jonah 2:1-10; Psalm 97; Acts 2:14, 22-32; John 14:1-14
Though Jonah did not obey God’s call, the great fish does, and gives Jonah time to think over his rebellious behavior. What follows is a psalm that may at first seem a bit out of order as it presumes what comes at the end: the fish spewing Jonah out on dry land, and, for the moment, that has yet to happen. The psalm is, however, a classic prayer for deliverance and works out of the conviction that the Lord hears and answers our prayers, even in the darkest and most hopeless of circumstances. And, can you think of anything more hopeless than being in the belly of a great fish for three days and three nights?! The psalm is actually a composite of others in the psalter calling on the Lord for deliverance; virtually every one of its lines can be found elsewhere in the psalms. However, it is also unique to Jonah’s circumstances. Notice how intentionally theological it is: it is the Lord who tossed him into the deep, not the sailors! And, as the billows pass over him and the weeds wrap around his head, Jonah goes down to the land whose bars closed upon him forever—the belly of Sheol, not the fish—the land of the dead. Verse 6 is the pivot point, as almost all psalms of lament and prayers for deliverance finally turn to psalms of praise. Jonah goes down to the deep and the Lord hears and lifts him out of the pit. As his life is ebbing away, Jonah remembers and calls out to the Lord, who hears his voice—his prayer has come to the Lord’s holy temple; God’s dwelling place. After a summary condemnation of those who worship falsely, praying to vain idols, there is a promise to offer sacrifices of thanksgiving and pay his vow. With one final affirmation of assurance in the Lord’s deliverance, the fish spews Jonah onto the dry land.
Psalm 97 celebrates God’s sovereign rule over all the earth—not just Israel!—and utilizes material from other psalms as well as many themes from Second Isaiah (40-55), creating a hymn of praise that recognizes the Lord as not only Israel's King, but sovereign over all creation. References to lighting and storm challenge the notion that those were the works of the Canaanite god Baal. Not simply the earth, but the heavens as well, proclaim God’s glory. Though nothing can fully contain God’s glory, it puts to shame those who bow down before worthless idols. For the Lord is not simply a god, but God of all the gods. This is a conviction that emerged in Israel upon its return from Babylon. The Lord had rescued them from the land of the wicked and now continues to “sow light for the righteous,” leading them in God’s way. “Rejoice then in the Lord, O you righteous. Give thanks to God’s holy name!”
Peter responds to the crowd’s reaction to the outpouring of the Spirit upon the disciples at Pentecost and preaches a sermon in which we hear the earliest understanding of how it is Jesus was handed over and what his death and resurrection mean. Jesus the Nazarene appeared among them with deeds of power and wonder—signs that God was at work in him among them. But, his being handed over was neither an accident nor solely their own doing. It was God’s design. Yes, they crucified Jesus, doing so through those outside the law—the Romans. But it all occurred with God’s foreknowledge and design. Consequently, God raised Jesus up, freeing him from death, because it was impossible for death to hold him. Peter quotes as witness Psalm 16:8-11, a personal lament that confesses trust in God’s power to deliver from the power of Sheol (which by now is identified as Hades), and the assurance that God will not allow Jesus’ body to decay into corruption, but, rather, save him and make known to him the way of life, giving him the gladness of being in God’s presence. Peter then quotes Psalm 132:11 that cites God’s promise to David: one of David’s own descendants will sit on his throne forever. Standing near the site of David’s tomb, Peter declares David a prophet who, through these words, was speaking of the resurrection of the Messiah, now alluding to Psalm 16:10. David did not rise again and ascend into heaven; his tomb is right here. Rather, it is Jesus that God raised up—Peter and his 120 companions are witness of that. The sermon continues tomorrow. Notice one thing, however: by the writing of the Book of Acts, the psalms are viewed by the church as prophetic witness to Jesus as the Messiah and are being read “Christologically.”
Jesus has been trying to prepare his followers for his departure, but they consistently misunderstand him. Gathered with them in the Upper Room, he has just foretold his betrayal and Peter’s denial. Now he turns to comfort them, telling them not to be troubled or afraid. As they believe in God, so, too, they are to believe in him. In his Father’s house there are many dwelling places. Were that not so, would he have told them that he is going away to prepare a place for them? Certainly not! And if he goes—and he will—he will come again and receive them unto himself so that where he is, there, they may be also. Then he tells them that they know the way to the place where he is going. Thomas objects: they don’t know where he is going; how can they know the way? Jesus responds that he is the way, the truth and the life and that no one comes to the Father except through him—he is the door into the heart of the Father. If they know him, then they know the Father, and, having seen Jesus, they have seen the Father. Phillip, not understanding what Jesus means says, “Lord, show us the Father and we will be satisfied.” Jesus responds, “Have I been with you all this time and still you do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” Jesus again affirms that he and the Father are one; the words he speaks are not his own but those of the Father who dwells in him and is doing his work through Jesus. Again Jesus says it, “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but, if you do not believe it, then believe me because of the works that the Father is doing through me.” But more, truly, those who believe in Jesus will do the works that he is doing and, in fact, will do greater works than these. Why? Because he is going to the Father, and, from there, Jesus will do whatever they ask in his name so that the Father can be glorified in the Son. Again he says it: “If, in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” This passage is troublesome for those who read Jesus' words exclusively, rather than inclusively, and so, wince at Jesus saying, “No one comes to the Father except through me,” thinking it too exclusive for the good news of redemption that the gospel proclaims for the world. What those so troubled forget is that Jesus and the Father are one, to be in the Father’s presence is to be in the Son’s and the Spirit’s as well. More, we do not come to the Father because of our confession of faith in Jesus, but because of what the Father has done in and through Jesus, whose life, death and resurrection have provided, not “a way,” but “the way” to the Father. I’ve often remarked to those troubled by this text that one does not need to know the name of the door to walk through it.
Sunday, April 5, 2015, The Day of Resurrection
Exodus 12:1-14; Psalm 93; John 1:1-18; Luke 24:13-50
Passover commemorates the night the Lord protected the children of Israel from the plague of death God was bringing upon the land of Egypt in order to set the enslaved Hebrews free. Our lesson today describes God’s instructions to Moses, who, in turn, passes them on to the elders and, through them, to the people. The meal is to take place during the Jewish month of Nisan, mid-March to mid-April (we are in the middle of the seven-day festival which began this year last evening, April 4, and will end the evening of April 10). On the tenth day of Nisan, each household is to secure an unblemished, one-year old, male lamb, either a goat or a sheep, and prepare it for slaughter. If the household is small and the animal too large to be completely consumed by the one family, they may join their closest neighbor. Each member of the household is to partake of the meal. On the fourteenth day of Nisan, every household is to slaughter their lamb at twilight. They are to take some of the blood and smear it on the two-door posts and the lintel of the homes in which they will eat. Then, that same night, they shall roast the lamb whole, over a fire, and eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. None of the animal is to remain until morning; what is not eaten is to be burned. They are to eat quickly, fully dressed and ready to travel. The Lord is coming through the land to strike down the first-born of every household—male or female. When God sees the blood of the lamb on the door posts, God will pass over that household and the plague of death shall not strike it. The reason we are reading this today is because, in Christian theology, Jesus is the Passover Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. In his death, God has passed over us to bring us, with Jesus, to new life. Originally in the church, some form of the Hebrew verb pasach, meaning “pass over,” was used to name today. In places where romance languages are spoken, it is still called Pasch, Pesach or Pascah. Unfortunately, early on in English-speaking countries, the word “Easter” was applied, using the name of the fertility goddess of spring, and, from that time on, the pagan symbolism of eggs, rabbits, daffodils, and other fertility symbols have turned Easter into a spring festival of renewal rather than the day in which the Pascal Lamb, slain for the sin of the world, was raised to new life as the first fruit of what God is doing to destroy death and the first born of God’s new creation.
Psalm 93, probably used during the annual enthronement of Israel’s king, has been appropriated by the church for today, because, in his resurrection, Jesus has become King of kings and Lord of lords. The psalmist praises the majesty, strength and holiness of the Lord—Israel’s true king—and recalls how all creation has been fixed by God and shall not be moved. So, too, is God’s throne firmly fixed from of old and is “until everlasting.” Even the floods join their voices in praising God’s majesty. God’s reign is eternal, God’s decrees are sure, and only holiness is suitable for God’s house. In the enthronement, this psalm reminds Israel’s king of who it is who truly reigns in Israel, and to whom the king is accountable—the Lord.
In place of the epistle lesson today we read the prologue to John’s gospel, an introductory hymn proclaiming Jesus as the eternal Word of God. “Word” in Greek, is logos, which can also mean the creative and unifying force in the entire cosmos. This Word—note when it is upper case, as it is here, it is always referring to Christ. This Word was in the beginning with God and it was through him that all things were made (God speaks creation into being in Genesis). The Divine Word was not simply life but also Light, who shines in the darkness (notice it is present tense in an active voice—he is still shining!), and though the darkness has tried to overcome it, it cannot. The second part of the hymn introduces the theme of John the Baptist, a major, competitive religious figure in the day this was written, putting John in a subservient context to the Divine Word. John came to testify to the Light that was coming into the world. The third section focuses on the coming of the Light into the world and his rejection by the world that he made. But to those who received him, who believed in his name (a major metaphor in John’s gospel for what Paul calls “faith”), he gave power to become children of God, born by the will and purpose of God. The hymn comes to its climax in verse fourteen, telling us that the Divine Word became flesh and lived among us and that we (the church for whom this gospel is written) have seen his glory (biblical image for the expression of God’s presence), a glory that reveals him as his Father’s son—full of grace and truth. Again, we are reminded that John testified to Jesus. This is John’s only role in this gospel where he is never referred to as “the Baptist.” From the fullness of the Word of God we have received grace upon grace. The law was given through Moses, but grace and truth were given through Jesus Christ (the first time he is named). He, and he alone, has seen the Father. Consequently, he, and he alone, can and has made God known.
The women who had been to the tomb return to tell the others what they have seen, but it is ignored as foolishness by the eleven and the other disciples who have been gathered together since the crucifixion. Now that the sabbath has passed and they can travel, two of them return to their home in Emmaus, a village about seven miles from Jerusalem. As they walk, they talk about all that had taken place in the last week. Jesus joins up with them, but in his risen form they do not recognize him (“their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”). He asks them what they have been talking about. Stopped in their tracks by his question, Cleopas looks at Jesus and asks, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there these days?” Jesus simply asks, “What things?” and Cleopas responds, revealing who Jesus’ followers had hoped and thought him to be—“a prophet mighty in word and deed before God.” They had even hoped that he might be the Messiah—“the one to redeem Israel.” But the chief priests and leaders had handed him over to be crucified. It is now the third day since that happened. But, early this morning, some women in their group had gone to the tomb, seen a vision of angels, and returned with the astonishing word that Jesus was still alive, though they had not seen him. Jesus responds by scolding them for failing to understand what the prophets had declared: “it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer all this and then enter his glory.” Then, beginning with Moses and all the prophets, Jesus interpreted to them the things about himself in scripture (remember, it was a long walk!). As they arrive in the village, Jesus goes ahead of them, as if he were going on. The two disciples from Emmaus urge him to remain with them for the night, as the day is almost over. Jesus agrees, and, when at table with them, “took bread, blessed and broke it and gave it to them”—notice the Eucharistic words. As he does, “their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.” It is Luke’s way of reminding the church that the Risen Lord is present with them in the meal as they do it in remembrance of him. The two look at one another in astonishment and say, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” They rise from the meal and, at that very hour, return to Jerusalem and, upon arriving there, find the apostles and other disciples gathered, saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” At that, the two tell the rest of them what had happened on the road and how Jesus had been made known to them in the breaking of bread—now a metaphor for the Lord’s Supper. The reality of Jesus’ resurrection is unfolding among his followers, but there is more to come. While they are standing together wondering about all of this, Jesus appears among all of them, saying “Peace be with you.” He extends his hands and asks them to touch him. Then he asks for something to eat. He is not a vision or a ghost that cannot be touched and does not eat. Jesus has been raised from death, never to die again. They are to proclaim forgiveness of sins in his name, but remain in Jerusalem until they are “clothed with power from on high.” Having said this, Jesus leads them back to Bethany, lifts his hand in blessing, and, as he does, withdraws from them and is “carried up into heaven.” Luke ends his gospel here, with all of the events of Chapter 24 happening on the Day of Resurrection. This sets the platform for Luke’s second volume, “The Acts of the Apostles,” which will open by retelling the events of the ascension in a slightly different fashion.
Saturday, April 4, 2015, Holy Saturday
Job 19:21-27a; Psalm 43; Hebrews 4:1-16 or Romans 8:1-11; Luke 23:47-56
Today’s reading from Job is the portion of this epic poem that is most well-known: “Oh that my words were written down in a book, or with chisel and hammer they were carved in stone forever. For I know that my redeemer lives and 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, whom I shall see (on my side), and not another.” The word “redeemer” here can also be translated “vindicator” or “redeeming vindicator.” Translations differ regarding the portion I have placed in parenthesis. Some simply say, “I will see him with my own eyes.” Seeing God “On my side,” suggests that God would be more than a vindicator, but actually Job’s advocate and constant defender. Or, is Job asking for a heavenly vindicator to stand with him against God? What is most clear is that Job knows that a heavenly vindicator exists and, rather than be declared innocent after his death, Job wants a face to face audience with God now—with or without the vindicator—in order to establish his own innocence and the injustice of what he is suffering. The church has, of course, identified this redeeming vindicator as Jesus, who will stand before God on our behalf at the last and has not only overcome the accuser, but driven him out of God’s presence forever.
Psalm 43 is a wonderful little psalm that is a petition for God’s help in times of trouble, asking for God’s vindication against the ungodly ones who have behaved in deceitful and unjust ways against her. Affirming her trust in God, she asks why this has happened: “…why have you cast me off?” Then she prays, “Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me!” Isn’t that what we most need when besieged by the confusion of deceit and injustice all around? Once led through the treachery of injustice, let God’s light and truth bring her to God’s holy hill in Jerusalem and to God’s dwelling there, the temple. There she will worship God with exceeding joy and praise him with the harp. After reaffirming her commitments to God, the psalmist turns reflective and asks herself, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?” Her counsel is that universal word that continues to resound throughout scripture: “Hope in God, for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.” Yes, this is a difficult time, but God is present within it as her help and will again be triumphant. There will come a time beyond this when she will again be filled with joy and praise.
We are at the high water mark of Paul’s theology in the letter to the Romans: there is no condemnation for those who are joined to Christ Jesus, because God has done in Christ what the law, weakened by human flesh, could not do for us. By sending his son in the flesh, Christ dealt with sin, and condemned it in his own flesh, so that what the law was designed to produce might be fulfilled in any who walk, not by the flesh but by the Spirit. It is then, a matter of mindset! Set the mind on the flesh (sin and its ways) and the result is always death. Set the mind on the Spirit (God and God’s ways) and the result is life and peace. The former is hostile to God; it cannot possibly submit to the law, much less keep it, and therefore simply cannot please God. But in Christ, we are not of the flesh but of the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in us. And though our bodies are dead because of sin and still susceptible to its power, the Spirit is alive in us because of God’s righteousness. Then Paul says, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit which dwells in you.” It is not just a promise about the future beyond death; it is a promise for life now. God is doing in us what you and I cannot do for ourselves, in and through Jesus Christ.
Jesus had been hanging on the cross surround by mockery and rejection, save the one criminal who had asked to be remembered when Jesus comes into his kingdom. Thereafter, Jesus entrusted himself to God and died. Now, we hear five very different responses to him. First, the centurion in charge of the Roman crucifixion detail proclaims Jesus not only innocent but just—the Greek word’s first and primary meaning here is “just.” Second, the people of the city, those who have watched the mock trial and, out of curiosity, have followed the detail out for the crucifixion, now suddenly face the injustice of it all, and reacting to “what they have seen,” leave the site beating their breast in mourning, contrition and repentance. The third is the extraordinary actions of Joseph of Arimathea, a Jew who was a member of the elite Sanhedrin—the religious council that conspired to have Jesus killed. We are told that he did not consent to the council’s action and now goes to Pilate to secure the body for burial. Fourth is Pilate’s response—it is most unusual—he consents to Joseph’s request. Rome did not grant such burials to the convicts it crucified. But then again, Pilate has known from the moment he met Jesus that Jesus was innocent of the charges brought against him. Is Pilate attempting to atone for his complicity in granting this permission? Joseph takes Jesus’ body and treats it as though it belonged to a member of his own family, giving it a hurried burial in his own, heretofore, unused tomb because the sabbath will soon arrive. Finally, the women who have accompanied and helped provide for Jesus from the very beginning in Galilee have been watching all of this from afar. There is one last act of provision they must offer: spices and ointments for his dead body. But, as the sabbath is about to begin, they return to where they have been staying to prepare ointments to apply to the body once the sabbath is past. That commitment will make them the very first witnesses to what God does once the sabbath rest is past.
Good Friday, April 3, 2015
Genesis 22:1-14; Psalm 22; 1 Peter 1:10-20; Luke 22:24-38
This is one of the most chilling lessons in the Old Testament: God’s ultimate and last test of Abraham. After years of waiting for a son to fulfill God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah, God tells Abraham to take his son, Isaac, to Mt. Moriah and offer him to God as a burnt offering. The word “Moriah” is similar to a verb meaning “to see” and is understood to be a place where the Lord can see Abraham’s obedience. Later, tradition identified Mt. Moriah as the temple mount in Jerusalem. Abraham does as God tells him! We are not sure which is the more disturbing, God’s command or Abraham’s assent, but either way, we understand the story is centered in what theologians call “a moral paradox.” The story is masterfully told, drawing on the pathos of Abraham’s silent, determined obedience, and Isaac’s open innocence, in pursuit of what has been commanded. Bearing the wood for the fire on his own back, Isaac repeatedly asks his father about the sacrificial victim. A major theme emerges here: God himself will provide the lamb—God will “see to it,” playing on the verb “to see.” Does Abraham believe that, or is it simply his way of avoiding Isaac’s demanding question? The tension of the drama increases as the altar is built, the wood placed upon it, Isaac bound and placed on the wood, and Abraham’s knife is poised to slay the boy. Only then does God intervene (“the angel of the Lord,” is a pious way of avoiding naming God present to intervene). Stopping the action, God announces that he has “seen” that Abraham fears him above all else since he has not withheld his son, his only son, from him. Looking up, Abraham sees a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. He takes the ram and offers it up as a burnt offering instead of Isaac, and names the place “The Lord will provide.” The phrase can also be rendered, “The Lord will see.” Of the many things that can be said about this text, two seem appropriate this day. First, in a world where the sacrifice of children was not unusual, and even far more frequent in Israel’s life than is often realized, frequently used in an attempt to insure one’s future (the sacrifice of the first born to insure the fertility of the womb that bore him, the sacrifice of a king’s son at the city gates to insure their protection), this text is clearly a polemic against it: the Lord does not demand the sacrifice of children. Second, what the Lord is not willing to demand of Abraham, the Lord requires of himself in the death of his only Son! But from that sacrifice comes the redemption of the world and the revelation of God’s power to turn death into new life.
Psalm 22 is the best known lament in the Psalter, primarily because it contains the words that are on the lips of Jesus hanging on the cross and is all but prophetic concerning what takes place there. It is a lengthy plea for help that describes the psalmist’s troubles. Day and night he calls for help with no answer. Yet, God is the Holy One enthroned on the praises of Israel; the One his ancestors trusted and he delivered them. But the psalmist does not ask on the basis of his own righteousness. He is but a worm, not human, and scorned by others who despise and mock him. “Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver,” is repeated in the passion (Matthew 27:43 ) with the chief priests, scribes and Pharisees using these words to mock Jesus in his dying. In the midst of suffering, the psalmist remembers that God has cared for him since his birth and from that time the Lord has been his God. Again he pleads, “Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.” Vivid language follows to describe the psalmist’s condition: surrounded by strong and destructive bulls, poured out like water, a heart melted like wax, bones out of joint, mouth dried like a potsherd, and his tongue cleaving to his jaw. The psalmist understands this as God’s judgment against him: “you lay me in the dust of death,” circled by dogs ready to devour his flesh. His enemies likewise stare and gloat over his suffering and divide his clothing among them by casting lots—another image Matthew includes at the cross. After one final plea for the Lord’s presence and aid to save him from the power of the dog and the mouth of the lion, suddenly, there is a shift in the second half of verse 21: “From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.” God has acted. The rest of the psalm is one of praise to God for not hiding his face, for answering and for coming to the psalmist in his distress. The psalm is exultant and filled with promises to testify to the Lord’s goodness among his brothers and sisters in the midst of the congregation. His rescue is such that “all the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship him.” For, dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations. Even those yet unborn will be told about the Lord and proclaim him. It is easy to see why the infant church found in this psalm prophetic witness to Jesus’ passion, death, resurrection and eternal rule, and how its influence found its way into the passion narratives.
The theological cantus firmus of 1 Peter is that God has graciously acted through the death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ, to bring about a salvation that is being kept in heaven for those to whom Peter writes, those being protected by the power of God through their faith and trust in him. The author of 1 Peter reads the entire Old Testament through a Christological lens, so that all of it is understood as preparation for and in service to the Gospel revealed in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Having said that, he presses his readers to live lives of holiness, worthy of the grace and salvation Christ will bring when he reappears. Notice that their ultimate salvation still lies in the future. Consequently, they are to abandon the ways they formerly lived as ignorant children and become holy as God is holy! If they are going to claim to belong to God in Christ, they must live lives that look like it, for they have been redeemed from their former ways, in the sense of “ransomed,” not by perishable things like silver or gold, but “with the precious blood of Christ.” None of this has been an afterthought on God’s part, but was destined by God before the foundation of the world and revealed at “the end of the ages” for their sake. 1st Peter affirms that before creation, God knew its future ways of becoming captive to sin, and determined, even before bringing creation into being, the means for its redemption.
As the disciples question who it is among them that will betray Jesus, they fall into an argument over which one of them is the greatest. Jesus intervenes by reminding them that this is the way the rulers of the Gentiles behave. Even though the Gentiles call those in authority their “benefactors,” it is not to be so with Jesus’ followers. Rather, the greatest among them is to become like the youngest, and their leaders must be like those who serve at tables. For which, after all, is greater, the one reclining at table or the one serving? Is it not the one being served? Yet, Jesus is among them as one who serves. They have stood with him in his trials and now, just as the Father has conferred on him a kingdom so that they may eat and drink at his table, he confers on them a kingdom of their own. They will sit on thrones judging the people of God (the word “judge” is used in the sense of the “judges” of the Old Testament who governed the twelve tribes of Israel). Do not miss the Eucharistic language here intended for the churches to which Luke is writing. They are, in their Eucharistic assemblies, at table with Jesus in the kingdom that has already come among them. Leadership in that community of shared table fellowship is to be servant leadership after the likes of Jesus’ own leadership among them.
Note: If you are not going to be participating in a Good Friday service remembering our Lord’s passion and death, then please continue today’s reading through Luke 23:56.
Maundy Thursday, April 2, 2015
Jeremiah 20:7-18; Psalm 27; 1 Corinthians 10:14-17; 11:27-32; Luke 22:1-23
Jeremiah confesses his anguish at his appointed lot. The Lord has enticed him—no, overpowered him—and Jeremiah is helpless in the face of that. This has made him a laughingstock to everyone. When he speaks, it is the Lord’s words that he must speak, and he cries out “Violence and destruction!” If he determines to no longer speak God’s word, it becomes like a burning fire within him that he cannot contain. His enemies plot terror against him from every side. Even his friends watch for him to stumble, hoping to entice him away or prevail over and take revenge against him. But, this final confession ends in words of confidence: “the Lord is with me like a dread warrior; therefore all my persecutors will stumble.” They will not prevail, but be greatly shamed and their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten. Now the confession turns from trust to, first, a petition and, then, a word of praise: “…let me see your retribution upon [my enemies], for to you I have committed my cause. Sing to the Lord, praise the Lord, for he has delivered the life of the needy from the hands of the evildoers.” That said, Jeremiah curses the day he was born, despairing over the prophetic life that he has been consigned by God to live. It would have been better for him to die in his mother’s womb than to be born into the toil and sorrow that has marked his days in shame.
Psalm 27 expresses confidence in the presence of the Lord and does so in triumphal language. “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom then shall I fear?” (Sorry, that’s the way I memorized it, and this should be memorized, right after Psalm 23!) The Lord is the strength and stronghold of my life, of whom should I be afraid? Enemies range from “evildoers,” adversaries and foes—all shall stumble and fall because of the Lord’s care. “Even though an army encamps against me, yet, my heart shall not fear.” The imagery of a fearful heart is so true to life when anxiety hits. After one more expression of confidence, the psalm turns more reflective: “One thing have I asked of the Lord and that will I seek after: to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.” This is precisely the same sentiment with which Psalm 23 ends. It goes on to affirm (and perhaps even recall) God’s sheltering care in the day of trouble. The double action of “conceal me in his tent,” and “set me high on a rock” covers the span from shelter when on the run to ultimate triumph over those who pursue. And now, the psalm turns victorious and exultant with promises of sacrifice, shouts of joy and songs (psalms) and melodies to the Lord (remember, they were often accompanied by or sung to melodies; not just recited). There is the request for God to hear when he cries, and to answer. Immediately, his heart says to him “Come, seek his face,” and he replies, “Your face Lord, do I seek; do not hide it from me.” Notice the kind of face-to-face intimacy of relationship that is being sought as the psalm pleads not to be turned aside, cast away or forsaken. And then there is the extraordinary confession, “Though my mother and father forsake me, the Lord will not, but will take me up.” There follows the request to be taught the Lord’s ways and to be led on a level path (who of us does not want life without its ups and downs?), and to be kept out of the hands of his adversaries, for false witnesses have arisen against him and are breathing threats of violence. The psalm ends with the wonderful affirmation, “I believe I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living,” and then “wait for the Lord, be strong, let your heart take courage. Wait for the Lord.” This last phrase, in one or another form, appears some fourteen times in the Old Testament, better than a third of them in the Psalter. The faith of the Psalter, if not all of Scripture, can be summed up as “Waiting for the Lord.” Seeing the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living along with the previous, “the Lord will take me up,” was later seen as a reference to life after death in heaven. Here, in its original setting, it simply means goodness of life lived with and out of the strength of the Lord now, here, in the land of the living.
Paul, in warning the Corinthians about their thoughtless and shameful behavior with one another in their evening worship meals, has recounted the exodus story as their own and has incorporated images of both baptism and the Lord’s Supper into that narrative. They were “baptized into Moses in the cloud and the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink—Christ himself. However, that did not prevent the Lord from punishing them for their sinful behavior. So, too, the Corinthians must be careful not to desire evil, as the children of Israel did (he calls them “your ancestors”), or become idolaters, as their ancestors were. As today’s lesson opens, Paul again refers to the Supper with words that are often incorporated in todays’ Eucharistic liturgies: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ; the bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” Partaking thus of Christ, they are to avoid what has been sacrificed to demons, or they partake of that sacrifice as well—they cannot do both!—for, in doing so, they will unite Christ with the demon to whom the food was sacrificed. Stepping over Paul’s handing on the tradition of Jesus’ words of institution of the Lord’s Supper, the reading continues with the theme of the consequences of participating in the worship meal in “an unworthy manner.” They will be answerable for the Lord’s death. Rather, they are to examine themselves and their behavior with one another before eating the bread and drinking the cup. For, to eat and drink without “discerning the body,” is to do so in a manner that will bring judgment upon them. This text has a long history of abuse in the church in its debate over the presence of Christ in the Eucharist and questions about who is and who is not able to receive the sacrament. Transubstantiationists have insisted that Paul is saying that, unless one “discerns” Christ present in the bread and the wine, one cannot commune, for doing so would be to one’s own judgment. When read in isolation from Paul’s larger argument, it can be read thus. But, when read in the larger context of Paul challenging the Corinthians over their behavior with one another at the supper, “the body” he is demanding they discern is not Christ present in the bread and wine, but Christ present in the body gathered about the Eucharist—their need to discern Christ present in one another and, thus, to behave accordingly. Whatever Christ’s relationship to the bread and wine, they must understand he is present in and among them in the Eucharist in more than bread and wine—he is the host of the meal! They cannot abuse or disregard one another in their assemblies and then come to the table to receive Christ in bread and wine. Rather, until they can perceive Christ in one another, they are not to come to the table, lest they receive Christ in an unworthy manner and, therefore, bring judgment upon themselves. Their failure to do this in the past has resulted in many of them being weak and some of them dying. So, when they come together for worship, they are to wait upon one another so that their coming together is for their blessing rather than condemnation.
As the Passover draws near, the chief priests and scribes continue to plot Jesus’ death, but in a way that will not turn the people against them. Luke tells us that Satan enters Judas, who goes to the religious officials and offers to betray Jesus to them. Pleased with this, the officials offer Judas money, which he accepts, and then begins to look for an opportunity to betray Jesus to them when no crowd is present. The narrative shifts to Jesus instructing Peter and John to make preparation for them to observe the Passover meal, which normally was celebrated within families with others invited as guests. When they asked him, “Where?” Jesus tells them to look for a man carrying a jar of water and follow him to his house and there make the preparation. In that culture, carrying water was something only women did, unless, of course, there were no women in the household. This has led some to suggest that the meal was held in a guest room in an Essene monastic community, and, in fact, there is some evidence that the site of the Supper was, indeed, precisely that. For Luke, however, the more important thing is that Jesus is not only making preparation for the most important meal of the year in Israel’s life, the moment that instituted and ever after commemorated their liberation from Egypt, but doing so as an act that signals the making of a new covenant marking a new liberation. Now gathered at table with them that evening, Jesus tells them how eager he has been to share this Passover meal with them before he suffers. He then tells them that he will not eat this meal again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God—until his coming suffering has fulfilled its redemptive purpose. Blessing and then sharing a cup of wine with them, he says neither will he do this again until the kingdom of God comes. Thereafter, he takes a loaf of bread, blesses, breaks and gives it to them and says, “This is my body given for you, do this as my remembrance.” Finally, at the last cup of wine shared in the Passover meal, he blesses and shares it with them. (In Jesus’ day, Passover meals included four commemorative cups of wine—two at the beginning of the meal and two at its conclusion. Luke is the only gospel writer that includes a second cup of wine in the Lord’s Supper, one at the beginning, instituting the covenant meal and the one at its conclusion.) With this last cup, Jesus tells them it is poured out for them in the new covenant of his blood. The first covenant was commemorated with the blood of the sacrificial lamb smeared on the door posts while the household ate the Passover meal. This new covenant is being established in the shedding of his own blood as he, himself, becomes the Pascal lamb whose blood is poured out for them to bring that new covenant into being. With that, he tells them his betrayer is among them. Though the Son of Man goes forth as has been determined, woe to the one by whom he is betrayed! Those at table with him immediately begin to ask one another who among them could do such a thing?
Author: The Rev. Dr. Fred R. Anderson
Created: June 21, 2012
The Rev. Dr. Fred R. Anderson, Pastor of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, offers thoughts on today’s lectionary readings.