Pathways through Lent, Uncategorized

Palm Sunday

There’s a hymn that never fails to bring me to tears: “My Song is Love Unknown.” We often sing it at communion and so rarely get through all seven verses. But when I see it in the bulletin, I hope there is a big crowd that day so we can get through them all. Every word of that hymn speaks to me—“never was love, never was grief like thine.” The words are by Samuel Crossman, a 17th-century poet who, like others of that period—George Herbert, Robert Herrick, John Donne—wrote of the mystery of God’s selfless love.

What touches me so dearly in these verses is God’s unconditional love for each of us; how he spent his life on earth trying to get us to understand that he came down from heaven for us, no strings attached; that even though we are determined to go in one direction, away from God, he is determined that we shall go another.

I grew up in a Dutch Calvinist community and attended Calvin (as in “John”) College. We certainly learned of God’s love and salvation but we also got a healthy dose of “total depravity,” how each of us was born into sin. As an English major, I was drawn to a class of metaphysical 17th-century poets (maybe because it was the 70s) and particularly recall a poem of George Herbert’s called “Love (III),” which at the time was so unnatural for a reticent Calvinist like me: “Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back, guilty of dust and sin. But quick-eyed Love [God/Jesus/Savior] observing me grew slack from my first entrance in, drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning if I lack’d anything.”

The concept that Christ would pursue me, would choose me—someone born into sin, someone who grew up resisting love without any conditions—with grace, listening calmly to my cares, and say: “And know you not who bore the blame?” Please, Love was saying, sit down, you poor stressed-out soul, you who always thought you were worthless, I have selflessly and lovingly taken your sins: “You must sit down, says love, and taste my meat.”

I realized there were no more excuses left for me, I could not deny this suitor. God’s love was there for me to take. “So I did sit and eat.” Even though I accept it with joy and gladness it will always make me cry.

Barbara Van Woerkom

Appointed readings for today: Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 31:9-16, Luke 19:28-40, Luke 23:1-49

Pathways through Lent, Uncategorized

Saturday in the Fifth Week of Lent

The Hamlet Psalm

Out of the depths have I called to you, O LORD; LORD, hear my voice; let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.

If you, LORD, were to note what is done amiss, O Lord, who could stand?

For there is forgiveness with you; therefore you shall be feared.

I wait for the LORD; my soul waits for him; in his word is my hope.

My soul waits for the LORD, more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.

O Israel, wait for the LORD, for with the LORD there is mercy;

With him there is plenteous redemption, and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.

Psalm 130

The iambic pentameter that brings the plays of William Shakespeare vividly to life contains all the information—all the clues—that one needs to understand his characters. Lines that start with an “O” signal acute emotion. Words or phrases that might be repeated mean something vitally important is being conveyed. That brings me to Psalm 130, often subtitled de profundis—“Out of the depths.” I’ve nicknamed it the Hamlet Psalm. After all, who is responding to “out of the depths” circumstances more than Hamlet? But the stanza in Psalm 130 that reminds me most of Hamlet the play is the fifth: “My soul waits for the LORD, more than watchmen for the morning.” Hamlet opens with a scene on a castle rampart where watchmen are fearful of what the night could bring. (If you’re familiar with the play, you know that they have reason to be nervous: the ghost of Hamlet’s father is going to make an appearance.) Now note that the psalmist repeats the phrase “more than watchmen for the morning.” Centuries later, Shakespeare includes two scenes in the first act of Hamlet that involve the night watch. These watchmen: they’re important, but why?

One interpretation of the allusion in Psalm 130 draws on the custom in ancient Israel that one of the Levites, who kept the night watch in the Temple, was appointed to announce the moment of the dawn, a liturgically key moment, because it was then the daily sacrifice was to be offered. The Levites are said to have watched eagerly for the first glimmer of dawn. Brightening skies meant a dark, possibly cold, night’s work was past and an act—the sacrifice—symbolizing God’s covenant mercy was about to occur.

Sunrise, then, became a moment of blessing, an assurance of God’s abiding love. Creation guarantees us this daily Holy Greeting—“God’s recreation of the new day.” During Lent, I’m considering how I emerge out of the darkness each morning. What’s my first action, my first response? What’s the first light I encounter each morning? From the iPhone I grasp for in the half-light? A peek of the actual new day through the window blinds? A step outside, when I let the dog out and look up at the sky? What daily morning moment can I create to remind me I am a Child of God?

Anonymous

Appointed readings for today: Ezekiel 37:21-28, Psalm 85: 1-7, John 11:45-53

Pathways through Lent, Uncategorized

Friday in the Fifth Week of Lent

O Lord, you have enticed me,
and I was enticed;

you have overpowered me,
and you have prevailed.

I have become a laughingstock all day long;
everyone mocks me.

For whenever I speak, I must cry out,
I must shout, “Violence and destruction!”

For the word of the Lord has become for me
a reproach and derision all day long.

If I say, “I will not mention him,
or speak any more in his name,”

then within me there is something like a burning fire
shut up in my bones;

I am weary with holding it in,
and I cannot.

For I hear many whispering:
“Terror is all around!

Denounce him! Let us denounce him!”
All my close friends are watching for me to stumble.

“Perhaps he can be enticed,
and we can prevail against him,
and take our revenge on him.”

But the Lord is with me like a dread warrior;
therefore my persecutors will stumble,
and they will not prevail.

They will be greatly shamed,
for they will not succeed.

Their eternal dishonor
will never be forgotten.

O Lord of hosts, you test the righteous,
you see the heart and the mind;

let me see your retribution upon them,
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 evildoers.

Jeremiah 20:7-13

 
In the Book of Jeremiah, the Prophet Jeremiah tells the story of his call and four years of prophesying. As a prophet, Jeremiah intercedes between God and God’s people, calling the people to amend their ways and turn their hearts to God. He warns the people of Judah of approaching disaster and calls them to repentance. The people do not listen—trapping Jeremiah between the integrity of his call as a prophet and the demands of those with whom he lives. Verse 7 brings the reader into Jeremiah’s personal lament:

O Lord, you have enticed me,
and I was enticed;

you have overpowered me,
and you have prevailed.

I have become a laughingstock all day long;
Everyone mocks me.

The prophet’s language, as he rails against God and the people, brings the reader into the depths of his despair. We palpably feel the gripping hold of the tension of the forces at play in his struggle. We see the sincerity of his lament, and we feel his anguish.

Stepping into Jeremiah’s intimate conversation with God also allows us to look at our own struggles, at the external and internal forces in our own lives. Jeremiah provides us a model of prayer and lament in taking our struggles to God. Are there tensions in our own lives between our environment and the ways God calls us to live our lives? Lament, as a form of prayer, might help with those tensions. Let us not be afraid to use lament to take tensions and struggles to God in intimate conversation. In doing so, we, like Jeremiah, will find hope:

Sing to the Lord,
praise the Lord!

For he has delivered the life of the needy
from the hands of evildoers.

There is hope because God promises to be with us. Trust that God is with us.

Marilyn Jenkins

Jeremiah 20:7-13, Psalm 18:1-7, John 10:31-42

Pathways through Lent, Uncategorized

Thursday in the Fifth Week of Lent

Sleepers, Awake!

At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. At midnight the cry rang out: “Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!” Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.” “No,” they replied, “there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.” But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. Later the others also came. “Lord, Lord,” they said, “open the door for us!” But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.” Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

Matthew 25:1-13

In 1948, my father, a Foreign Service Officer, was assigned to the American Consulate General in Istanbul, Turkey. These were the early days of long distance air travel, so our family of five traveled by ship from New York on a voyage that lasted almost a month, putting in at a number of Mediterranean ports before arriving at our destination. We had spent a couple of days each in Genoa and Naples exchanging cargo and were headed south for a nighttime passage through the fabled Strait of Messina. I remember going to bed that night with the chug of the ship’s diesels in my ear and memories of recent explorations.

At about three in the morning, my father woke us up. “Boys,” he said, “you’ve got to get up and see this.” “Aw, Dad,” we replied rather grumpily. “Can’t we just sleep?” “No, put on some clothes and come up on deck. I’ve got something to show you.” Most reluctantly, we did so, and when we got up to the rail, we saw we were passing the conical island of Stromboli. The three-thousand-foot volcano was erupting in a mass of flames and smoke in the moonlight, with molten lava pouring down its flanks. Hot rocks and ashes hurled upward looked like sparks in the distance. The undersides of nearby clouds were illuminated a ghostly red.

In the days before video documentaries would make such spectacles seem commonplace, it was a vivid sight I carry with me to this day, some seventy years later, and I often wonder how close I came to missing it. Are we open to new experiences beyond our comfort zones when there is no one there to prod us? What else do we miss for want of a little extra effort? Where do we fail to see the awe and mystery of new life and substance in God’s creation?

Powell Hutton

Appointed readings for today: Genesis 17:1-8, Psalm 105:4-11, John 8:51-59

Pathways through Lent, Uncategorized

Wednesday in the Fifth Week of Lent

There was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.

Now that day was a sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, “It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.” But he answered them, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your mat and walk.’” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take it up and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in the crowd that was there. Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus, because he was doing such things on the sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “My Father is still working, and I also am working.” For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because he was not only breaking the sabbath, but was also calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God.

John 5:1–18

In this reading from John’s Gospel we hear of the invalid who had come to the pool at Bathzatha to be healed. The man could not find anyone to carry him to the pool because it was the Sabbath. Jesus directs the man to “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” The man did so and was made well.

This seems a rather different heavenly intervention from the typical Old Testament God—commanding, demanding and creating for His people. Jesus is one of us. As a fellow human being, Jesus gives the lame man work to do before he is made whole. Jesus doesn’t ask the man for lock-step obedience or the sacrifice of many bulls—He asks the lame man to do impossible work: to “Stand up, take your mat and walk.”

In each of Jesus’ eight miracles recounted in the Gospel of John, Jesus asks a person to do work to accomplish the miracle. In Cana at the wedding, Jesus asks servants to fill the water vessels. Healing the official’s son, Jesus tells the official to turn away and walk away. When distributing the loaves and fishes, Jesus tells the disciples to pick up the crumbs that turn into the loaves and fishes. When Jesus walks on water, He tells the disciples to help Him get on board the boat. Jesus tells the blind man to bathe in the pool before his sight is restored. Jesus tells Martha to remove the stone from Lazarus’ grave to view the living Lazarus, and Jesus tells the disciples to physically cast the empty net on the other side of the boat before it can be filled with fish.

Jesus asks more of us, perhaps, than the God of the Old Testament. He is not necessarily asking us to obey the many laws and commandments and sacrifice cattle; instead, He is asking us to pitch in with Him to do the often difficult, real work of advancing God’s kingdom on earth. Jesus made it sound simple, leaving us with only two commandments: Love the Lord your God, and Love your Neighbor as yourself. But it is rarely simple to love God (all the time) and our neighbors (all of them). And it often requires very difficult work. However, in our daily life, full of the complexities of finances, politics and relationships, Jesus has reduced our theological complexity to His two “simple” commandments. If we do the often difficult work of loving God, all the time, and loving our neighbors—all of them—God promises to join with us in performing the miracles that will change us and our world forever.

Carolyn Buser

Appointed readings for today: Daniel 3:14-20, 24-28, Psalm 23, John 8:31-42

Pathways through Lent, Uncategorized

Tuesday in the Fifth Week of Lent

A Call to Action

Ever read Street Sense? It’s a bi-weekly newspaper written by D.C. citizen journalists who are homeless. I usually buy my copy from a vendor in front of the Whole Foods on P Street.

One issue featured poetry written by young men who were members of the Free Minds Book Club and Writing Workshop. Christian Lamar Taylor, “a go-go musician/poet with a great sense of humor” submitted this piece:

Forgiveness

Forgiveness is hard but it happens.

At times you will need to forgive or be forgiven.

 

I have forgiven people

for the things they have done to me

because after a while

it just gets old.

 

Forgiveness means a lot.

 

Forgiveness can save lives when a person

does something wrong to another person

grab the Bible and ask for forgiveness.

 

He shall answer your prayer.

 

It might not happen right away

but it will happen

right out of the blue.

“…because after a while it just gets old.” Does it ever. Taylor has felt the heavy, sullen burden that comes from holding a grudge, adding fuel to the fire of anger, fooling yourself into thinking hatred sets you free. What’s the alternative? “[G]rab the Bible and ask for forgiveness.” Take decisive action, go for it! Something’s going to happen “right out of the blue” if we proceed with an open and contrite heart. Yes, yes.

Forgiveness as a call to action: that insight of Christian Taylor’s has stayed with me ever since I first encountered his poem. It took on an urgent quality when I went on to read that Christian Lamar Taylor had been shot at 9:45 p.m. on a Sunday on the 1200 block of 7th Street, NW. The Street Sense poet was now a Street Saint. I owe it to him to keep forgiving.

Carolyn Crouch

Appointed readings for today: Numbers 21:4-9, Psalm 102: 15-22, John 8:21-30

Pathways through Lent, Uncategorized

Monday in the Fifth Week of Lent

Spring Training for Christians

Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.

1 Corinthians 9:25

If you love to watch college basketball as I do, you are probably aware of the Michigan Wolverines’ incredible journey to and through the Big Ten Conference tournament this year, with their harrowing escape from an aborted airplane takeoff, to a team decision to come to DC anyway, arriving two hours before game time, playing in practice jerseys without their regular equipment, with their band using borrowed instruments—and then beating the odds to win four games in four days against higher-seeded opponents and emerging as the Big Ten champions. What an amazing story of strength following on the heels of a shared adversity! An inspiring story.

One wonders: does adversity heighten teamwork, strength, motivation? Were the trials of the trip—the plane accident, the escape, the debate about canceling, the loss of sleep and late arrival—keys to the team’s success? Maybe. But individuals on the team have to be physically ready and know how to play the game first, before any sort of shared experience like this is going to help. Individual preparation and team practice are part of the equation—hours upon hours in the gym, pumping iron, taking practice shots, honing skills. These are all necessities. Without those basic building blocks, no amount of extra motivation is going to lead to success on the basketball court.

There’s an obvious parallel here to our spiritual lives and our ability to fulfill the Great Commandment. Studying the scriptures, learning about them, trying to apply their lessons to our own lives, denying ourselves of certain temptations, and experiencing hardship are all ways we can practice for faith and build Christ-like life skills. Lent is often called “Spring training for Christians.” Let’s get to the gym!

Bill Josey

Appointed readings for today: 2 Kings 4:18-21, 32-37, Psalm 17:1-8, John 11:18-44