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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Wednesday, April 8, 2015
Micah 7:7-15; Psalm 99; Acts 3:1-10; John 15:1-11

This text was spoken by the prophet Micah in Jerusalem during the last years of the divided monarchy of Judah and Israel, 721 BCE. Micah, in the previous six verses, has just announced that no one is just—not one person in Judah—all are treacherous. There is no one who can be trusted. Now Jerusalem, speaking to her enemy, confesses that God’s judgment on her has been just, because of her sin. She must bear the indignation of the Lord until he takes her side, as he will, for she expects the Lord’s forgiveness and her own ultimate restoration. Then, she will see her vindication among those nations who have ridiculed her, those who said to her, “Where is the Lord your God?” She will see their downfall. Then Micah speaks again, calling on God to be the shepherd among the people, to rebuild the city walls, to expand and restore its boundaries from Assyria to Egypt and from sea to sea and mountain to mountain—the boundaries of the unified kingdom under Solomon. Give the people abundant food and wonders similar to those they experienced when the Lord brought the people out of Egypt. This text was later read by the early church through “Christological eyes”—through the lens of Christ and his life—seeing it as a prophetic commentary upon Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. He bore the indignation of the Lord, because he took upon himself the sins of the world. Those who looked upon Jesus in his hour of need, mocking him with “Where is your Lord,” will be covered with shame. Yet, it was the love of the Father who restored him to life to shepherd his people and lead them into abundant life.

Psalm 99 is a psalm of praise that extolls the Lord’s holiness and sovereign power—the mighty King of the universe—who is also a lover of justice. The Lord is enthroned on the cherubim in the Holy of Holies in the temple; let the whole earth quake. For God is not only sovereign in power, but has also established equity, justice and righteousness among Jacob’s people. This, the last of the psalms that praise God as King, was and continues to be used in the church as a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, ascension and triumphant reign. Because the church of the New Testament regarded the psalms as the work of the prophet David, it quickly understood him to be writing about his greater son, the Messiah. As Moses, Aaron and Samuel all went before the Lord on Israel’s behalf, so also did Christ go into heaven on our behalf. This psalm then blesses God for being forgiving, but also remembers God’s need to avenge wrong doings. The psalm ends, calling on everyone to extoll, praise and worship the Lord at his holy mountain.

As the church grows in Jerusalem, the disciples continue their worship discipline in the temple. Peter and John, on their way to the temple for prayers, encounter a man, who has been lame from birth, being carried to the temple gate named “Beautiful,” where he would sit and beg. (Remember, the lame were not permitted into the inner portion of the temple because of their malady.) Seeing Peter and John about to enter the temple precincts, the lame man cries out to them, asking for alms. Peter focuses his attention on the lame man and announces that he has no silver or gold to give to him, but what he does have he will give to him. Taking the man by the hand, Peter says, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk”—and the man does. Immediately, strength comes into the man’s feet and ankles and he begins to leap and praise God, and, for the first time in his life, enters the temple. All those who have regularly passed the lame man recognize him and are now filled with wonder and amazement at what has happened to him.

In one of his many “I am” sayings, in which Jesus uses the ineffable name of God as a designation for himself, he says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine dresser.” The image of the vine was a strong one in the Old Testament for the people of Israel. Jesus tells his followers that he is the true vine and they are the branches. Every branch that does not bear fruit, the Father takes away. Every branch that does bear fruit, the Father prunes so that it may be even more fruitful. After reminding them that they are clean because they belong to him, he tells them that no branch can bear fruit unless it is connected to the vine, therefore, they are to abide in him, and he in them, that they may bear much fruit, for apart from him they can do nothing. After warning that those who do not abide in him will be broken off, gathered up and thrown into the fire, Jesus repeats the promise he made to them earlier: whatever they ask in his name he will do for them. By this, his Father is glorified, that they bear much fruit and so prove to be his disciples. As the Father has loved him, so he has loved them. If they keep his commandments they abide in his love, just as in keeping his Father’s commandments Jesus abides in his Father’s love. Thus, his joy will be in them and their joy will be complete.

Posted April 8, 2015
Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Tuesday, April 7, 2015
Isaiah 30:18-26; Psalm 98; Acts 2:36-47; John 14:15-31

Isaiah speaks words of hope to Jerusalem. The Lord has acted against them, giving them adversity, but is waiting to be gracious to them, to show them mercy and act to deliver and heal them. The people of Jerusalem shall weep no more. At the sound of their cry, the Lord will answer and act. They have eaten the bread of adversity and drunk the waters of affliction, yet the Lord will provide for them a Teacher who will follow close at hand to give them instructions about turning to the right or to the left. They will abandon their idols like filthy rags. Thereafter, rain will water their seed to produce grain. The ground will produce crops and abundant pasture for their animals, with produce so abundant that the oxen and donkey will eat silage. Every lofty place will spring forth with abundant water. The text then falls into apocalyptic imagery of great slaughter at the Lord’s deliverance and the cosmos reacting, with the moon shining brighter than the sun for seven days as the Lord binds up the wounds of his people. The language here clearly lies behind that which Third Isaiah uses in its vision of God creating new heavens and a new earth (Isaiah 65:17-25).

Psalm 98 exhorts us to “Sing to the Lord a new song!” But the imperative is about more than us; all creation is called on to sing joyfully for what the Lord has done—marvelous things! Israel is called to remember the way the Lord has gotten victory for them in the midst of the nations. In their distress, the Lord remembered his steadfast love for them and his faithfulness to them and vindicated them in the sight of their captors. All the ends of the earth have seen God’s victory on Israel’s behalf. The earth is especially called to join in the song of praise using all the musical instruments at hand: lyre, lute, trumpets and horns. The personification of aspects of creation is rich and expressive: let the sea roar, and all who live in it; let the floods clap their hands and the hills together break into song at the presence of the Lord, for he is coming to judge the earth. And when he comes, he will judge the entire world with righteousness and its peoples with equity. Joy to the world! Isaac Watts paraphrased this psalm into that well-known and deeply loved hymn. Though most think it was written as a Christmas carol, it is really a metrical setting of this psalm.

Peter’s first sermon on Pentecost continues: Jesus has been exalted to sit at God’s right hand—the seat of honor. Having been so exalted, and having received the Father’s promised Spirit, Jesus has poured out that Spirit upon his followers, giving them power to speak languages foreign to them in order that all Jews gathered in Jerusalem might hear and believe. Again, quoting David (Psalm 110:1) and the text Jesus himself had earlier used against the Pharisees (Matthew 22:41-46), Peter proclaims that Jesus is to remain at the Father’s right hand until the Father defeats all of Jesus’ enemies—making them his “footstool.” Peter continues, “Therefore let the entire house of Israel know that God has made Jesus, who they crucified, Lord and Christ.” “Jesus is Lord,” is the earliest confession in the Church. It quickly added that he was and is “the Christ—God’s anointed.” And soon the two were conflated into “Jesus Christ,” shorthand for “Jesus, the Lord, is God’s Christ,” God’s anointed means of salvation. At this point “Lord” probably means “Sovereign” or “Master,” and has not yet taken on the connotation that he is also the God the Israelites call The Lord.” That will, however, soon be the case. As soon as the people heard this, they are cut to the heart and say, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter responds, “Repent, be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” The promise is for them, for their children and for all who are far away and who are near (the dispersed children of Israel), “everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” With these and many other arguments, Peter exhorts them to save themselves from their evil generation. About three thousand people respond, welcoming Peter’s message and are baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Thereafter, they devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread (Lord’s Supper) and the prayers. Awe comes upon everyone because of the wonders and signs being done among them by the apostles. The believers stay together and hold all things in common, selling their possessions as others have needs. And day by day, they spend much time in the temple and continue to break bread (metaphor for what will become the Eucharistic meal) in their evening worship, eating their shared food with glad and generous hearts as the Lord continues to add to their numbers those who are being saved.

Jesus turns from the subject of leaving his followers to prepare a place for them to promising the gift of the Holy Spirit. If they love him, they will keep his commandments and he will ask the Father to give them the Spirit, an Advocate and Helper, who will be with them forever—the Spirit of truth whom the world cannot receive. Though the world cannot know or see the Spirit, they will know him because he will abide in their hearts. Jesus will not leave them orphaned; he will be back. It is the promise, not only of his resurrection, but also his post-ascension presence in their worshipping community. And because he lives, they too will live. When that happens they will know that he is in the Father and the Father is in him. Returning to the theme of his commandments, Jesus tells his followers that those who keep them love him and will be loved by his Father as Jesus loves them. The authentic sign of their obedience to him in his community is their love for one another. Those who love him will keep his words, and he and the Father will come and dwell within them. Conversely, those who do not keep his word do not love him. But know this: the word that they hear is not his, but the Father’s who sent him. He is saying all this while he is with them. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, who the Father will send in Jesus’ name will teach them all things as well as remind them of all that he has said to them. He then blesses them with the gift of peace, a peace unlike any in the world, and tells them not to be troubled or afraid by what is about to happen to him. He is going away, and then he is coming back. If they loved him, they would rejoice in this, because he is going to the Father who is greater than himself. Jesus is telling them this beforehand, so that when it occurs, they may believe. He will no longer talk much with them about this, for the ruler of the world is coming. He has no power over Jesus; for Jesus is doing what the Father has commanded him to do so that the world may know that Jesus loves the Father. All that is about to unfold is neither an accident nor a victory by the ruler of this world. It is precisely what the Father has planned. When it is over, Jesus will be back after he goes to the Father, and will be with them through the gift of the Spirit, who the Father will send in Jesus’ name. If Jesus is the door to the Father, the Spirit is the conduit through whom we enter into fellowship with the Three-in-One.

Posted April 7, 2015
Monday, April 6, 2015

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.

Posted April 6, 2015
The Day of Resurrection

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.

Posted April 5, 2015
Holy Saturday, April 4, 2015

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.

Posted April 4, 2015
The Rev. Dr.       Fred R. Anderson

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.

© 2014