A Good Friday Meditation

Original water color by Cathie Horrell

Original water color by Cathie Horrell

He is led out of the garden, where he has gone with his disciples after they shared a Passover meal, not by angels with fiery swords, but by men armed with swords sharp enough to cut off a person’s ear. He has come to the garden to pray. While his disciples, full of Passover wine, sleep. For Jesus there is one more cup from which to drink.

At the meal he pours the wine into the cups and after he said the blessing everyone drank from their wine cups. Three cups of wine are blessed and the blessing cups drank from. Someone that night reads the story of the Hebrew’s peoples flight from Egypt. The story of how God saves. Then Jesus takes the unleavened bread from the bowl, the matzoh, breaks it in half, and shares with all present a piece of the same bread that sustained the Israelites as they made their long journey to the land of promise. At today’s Seder Supper, a piece of that bread is wrapped in linen and hidden away, for the children to go in search of after the supper ends. In a few days the women who have wrapped Jesus body in linen will go in search of him but find no one where his body had been lain, except once again the angel standing guard in the garden. This only after Jesus has given himself, broken like the Passover bread, shared now with the world, his life-blood spilled out upon the hard ground of Calvary for all to see.

Today we experience the deepest expression of self-giving, where Jesus of Nazareth continues to share with us the greatest and final Passover. The passage of the Son of God from life to death. And we understand what this offering in complete freedom and love means only as it stands in the midst of Jesus’ final meal and in his rising to new life in three days. We can only make sense of this day when we think of it in terms of his whole life, his words of care and concern for others, his healing, his teaching, his message, his work, his whole person. In his life and in his death he is the embodiment of God’s love and good will for us. We see the Father’s com-passion, the God who suffers with us, in Jesus’ Passion−the cross where we encounter God in the depths of his/our humanity.

That this God is no extra-terrestrial is nowhere more evident than today. This is the day called good because God shows us in no uncertain terms his willingness to suffer for all human kind, for every human person, for you and I. Today God in Jesus embraces every lost, lonely, suffering, unloved, betrayed, sick and dying human being. In this day’s death because we know he is risen we know that it is God who protects and sustains Jesus and ourselves, and truly becomes one with all human kind. Not in spite of human suffering, but in the midst of it. Today in Jesus on the cross the human and the sacred become bound irrevocably together. Today there is no longer any barrier or boundary between us and the God who comes to earth, to experience all we experience and joins, in the human and sacred Jesus, with us forever. We live now in the unfailing presence of Yahweh, the God who saves. In Yeshua of Nazareth, which means God saves, we know without a doubt his good will for us. The promise now to us is that in the face of any death, evil or  suffering, any ‘no’ to life, God’s ‘yes’ is greater. This is the only certainty of God’s will we can speak of. Today we glimpse the kingdom of God come in Jesus’ life and in his death because we know that in him the promise of eternal life is kept. Today is a Promise kept. And if we doubt that, we might hear the echo of the final words of scripture forming in the heart of Jesus today as he extends to us the unleaving bread of himself and the final blessing cup is passed on to us for us to partake.  For in Jesus God truly makes his home in us. And his name is God-with-us. He will wipe away all tears from (our) eyes; there will be no more death, and no more mourning or sadness. (Rev. 21:4)

 

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Servant and Savior

Last Supper

Jesus washing the feet of his disciples is one of the most touching scenes from his life. Here is Jesus, Lord, Savior, Messiah, the Christ, before these titles were placed upon him, on his knees washing the feet of his friends. He tells Peter in his exuberance that he is setting an example for them. Tonight our priests will wash the feet of their congregations. I must say having done this every year it is a rather odd experience. Somewhat uncomfortable as you are there in front of everyone having the leader of your church washing your feet. I have to wonder if this isn’t how Peter felt when he at first refused Jesus to wash his feet. But Jesus tells Peter he is setting an example so that they might copy what he has done for them.

Then Jesus was deeply disturbed because he knew that he was going to be betrayed by Judas. But after Judas leaves the room, Jesus speaks to his disciples one of the greatest talks of his life. (John 13:31-17:26) These four and half chapters of John’s gospel contains the whole meaning of Jesus’ life. Who he is. What he is about in his own words. All of what he meant when he begins the discourse with I am the Way: I am Truth and Life.

These are the words of transformation. These are the words that change the ordinary substance of our humanity into something sacred, into Christ. These are the words that feed us and sustain us. These are the words that change Jesus’ life into our own. These are the final words of man who has just risen from his knees before his friends, knows one of them will betray him, and then goes on to tell them that he loves them. That he will always be with them.  No matter what.

Here is an image we can take beyond the cross; here is the Savior of the world on his knees with a rag in his hand washing the dust of the road off his companions feet, preparing those who have traveled those dusty roads with him all this time, for something even more astounding. Through it all, the man who was reluctant to change the dirty water into wine at Cana, at his last meal, will hold up a cup of wine, and say I Am the life-blood, that he gives himself as the best wine saved for last, servant and savior, guest at the feast, bridegroom of the soul.

Water to Wine

Passover with Jesus and disciples

During the Greco-Roman feast of Dionysus stone vessels were filled with wine as a sign of the god’s ability to instill life. Many of these Greek and Roman rituals were taken and adapted into Christian rituals. At Cana Jesus replaces the jars of water with wine. According to John’s gospel Jesus is now the sole god who instills life. The large earthen jars at the wedding feast filled with water were there for washing. For ‘purification’, for the washing of guests who had traveled over the dusty roads and could wash hands and feet before they sat at the banquet table. This water was not drinkable. And because in those days there were no water purification systems – unless you got your water directly from a well, fed by one of the many springs that ran under the city – the meals were accompanies by mead, the precursor to our beer, and/or wine.

Jesus changing the undrinkable water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana is usually interpreted as one of Jesus’ first miracles. But Jesus’ reply to his mother, seems to indicate two things: that he wasn’t too concerned about the lack of wine and that whatever he saw his life to be about, it was not time to show himself. The man who becomes largely known for his miracles and healing doesn’t see himself as a miracle worker. I like what Michael Chabon says, and I paraphrase, faith bought by signs or miracles is bought very cheaply. Jesus seems to have no need to demonstrate or prove himself as a miracle worker in the ordinary sense of the being a magician. But John has told this story at the beginning of Jesus public ministry for a reason. And I don’t think it’s about proving Jesus was god by doing magic. For it seems that the real miracles Jesus performed were those of healing other. Those that helped others and brought about their well-being. A little wine more or less at a banquet would most likely not have been uppermost in his mind. Of course, the case could also be made that at his mother’s behest he provided what was best, even the best wine, for the bridal party. At the end, of life, of the current system, Jesus is bringing to us the best of what is life-giving. Himself.

One purpose of the wedding feast at Cana may have been to signal to those listening to the story that Jesus had come to change things. That transformations were coming. And these transformations would be life-giving. That Jesus, like his Father, was the god who brought life and could change it, purify it and that the quality and substance of life would be the best. Also notice, that in each of the gospels every scene is about change. Someone or something changes. Fishermen leave their trade, evil spirits are sent packing, people see and walk again, large shrubs grow from tiny seeds, a child comes back to life, water turns into wine. A man comes as guest at a wedding and later will liken himself to the bridegroom. A jar is broken and expensive oil from it becomes his anointing.

At the Passover meal which we celebrate tomorrow night, the jars of water will be there again. But at this final meal of Jesus and his disciples, unlike his first at Cana, the bridegroom will wash the feet of those he loves, and their lives will be changed forever.

A Wedding and A Passover

Passover with Jesus and disciples

Have you noticed that Jesus spends a good deal of his time in the gospels at meals with others? Meals have a significant meaning in Jesus’s life. The wedding feast at Cana, according to John’s gospel, is a prelude to his public life. Jesus story begins then and we know ends with a meal. One a wedding celebration where Jesus and his mother are present; the last where Jesus is at table with his disciples, sharing with them the Passover meal. These two meals, one where Jesus has gone to celebrate a wedding with his disciples, friends and family, and the last meal of his life, where he celebrates another transformative moment in the lives of himself and his friends. The wedding at Cana has become famous for Jesus turning water into wine. His first (recorded) miracle. One he seems reluctant to perform – when told by his mother (a not so subtle hint) that they have no wine – he replies with that enigmatic statement it is not yet my time.  But apparently his mother had every confidence he was a capable of because she then addresses the wine steward and tells him to do whatever Jesus says.

The Passover meal that Jesus celebrate with his disciples is a celebration of another sort. It is the remembrance of the time when the angel of death passed over the home first born Hebrew child, a prelude to the Exodus. So two meals, preludes to pivotal moments in Jesus’ life. For at the Passover meal Jesus will shortly become the Passover himself. He will be the first-born of the Father, who is raised back to life, effecting the greatest transformation one can make. From death to life is the preeminent Passover. One that is perhaps previewed in the wedding feast at Cana.

The water that Jesus changes into wine will become the water and blood that will flow from Jesus’ punctured side as he hangs on the cross. The soldier’s spear was meant to verify that Jesus was  indeed dead, and yet as it did show that in human terms Jesus had expired, the water and life-blood that drained from him, gave witness to the transformation that would take place in three days, with the ultimate wedding of human and sacred life when Jesus came forth from the tomb where he had been buried. In three days time the life-blood of Jesus would flow in him, the union of body and spirit now a living person, and thereby change the way a small cultic group of  his followers would grow into a world-wide movement, the Jesus movement, watered if you will, with his own life-spirit, which is now available to all of us in abundance.

To Remain in His Love

Last Supper  Today we are at the table with Jesus once more as he celebrates the feast of Passover with his disciples. The gospels record that only Jesus’ disciples were present. But perhaps a few of his family members who had come to Jerusalem for Passover were there with him also. The gospels say that his Mother and Mary were there with him when he died the next day. So perhaps they were already in the city having come for Passover and shared that final meal with him along with his disciples. It was to be the last meal he would have with them before he died. Even if it were only the twelve, this last meal was special, it was a last meal with his friends. It was a family matter.

This morning I somehow turned to the gospel of John to read the account of the Last Supper. What I found there was only the long farewell discourse of Jesus to his disciples and the scene where Jesus washes their feet.  [Not St. Paul’s words that Christians say were the words instituting the Eucharist; those sometimes troubling yet perhaps prophet words of Jesus about his body and blood. (1 Cor. 11:23-27).]

Jesus washing the feet of his disciples is one of the most touching scenes from his life. Here is Jesus, Lord, Savior, Messiah, the Christ, before these titles were placed upon him, on his knees washing the feet of his friends. He tells Peter in his exuberance that he is setting an example for them. Tonight our priests will wash the feet of their congregations. I must say having done this every year it is a rather odd experience. Somewhat uncomfortable as you are there in front of everyone having the leader of your church washing your feet. I have to wonder if this isn’t what was getting at Peter when he at first refused Jesus to wash his feet. But Jesus tells Peter he is setting an example so that they might copy what he has done for them.

Then Jesus was deeply disturbed because he knew that he was going to be betrayed by Judas. But after Judas leaves the room, Jesus speaks to his disciples one of the greatest talks of his life. (John 13:31-17:26) These four and half chapters of John’s gospel contains the whole meaning of Jesus’ life. Who he is. What he is about in his own words. All of what he meant when he begins the discourse with I am the Way: I am Truth and Life.

These are the words of transformation. These are the words that change the ordinary substance of our humanity into something sacred, into Christ. These are the words that feed us and sustain us. These are the words that change Jesus’ life into our own. These are the final words of man who has just risen from his knees before his friends, knows one of them will betray him, and then goes on to tell them that he loves them. That he will always be with them.  No matter what.

Anyone who loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make a home in him. It is here he calls his disciples and us friends. It is here that we are reassured that we are one with him as he is one with the Father. As he is one with the Father. It is here that he says I have loved you.

Here is an image we can take beyond the cross; one of the last images of Jesus before he died kneeling before those he loved. Asking us only to remain in his love.

Passover and Maundy Thursday

 Passover began this past Monday evening. During Passover, our Jewish brothers and sisters invite friends and family into their homes for a Seder supper, to celebrate Passover together. The Seder supper recalls  the Exodus of the Hebrew people from Pharaoh’s house of slavery. In preparation for their being led out, Yahweh gave instructions to the people as to how to prepare themselves for their flight from Egypt. It is also called the feast of Unleavened Bread because the people had no time for the bread they would take with them to rise. The name for Passover comes from the their sprinkling the blood of a lamb over their two doorposts and lintel so that the angel of death, one of the plagues set upon  Egypt to persuade Pharaoh to let the people go, would pass over the houses of the Hebrew people.

Jesus’ last supper was the Passover meal. Tonight Christians go to their respective churches to celebrate the Last Supper. It is called Maundy Thursday as it recalls Jesus’ washing the feet of his disciples before  the Passover meal they shared together.  The meal together becomes a sign of his self-giving, his sense of service to his followers. The Last Supper recalls the Exodus and the Passover meal Jesus shared with his friends the night before he died. The words of the Eucharist celebration are the words St. Paul puts down in 1 Corinthians 11:23-27 that he received from the Lord, and in turn passed on to you. They are the words that turned Jesus’s last supper, his final Passover feast, into the Eucharist, the Mass, as the Christian remembrance of Jesus’ Passover from death to life.

There is much speculation outside the gospels accounts of the Jesus’ last meal with his friends, as to what actually occurred there. The gospels tell us that Jesus knew one of his own would betray him. It would not have taken super powers for Jesus to know that there were those who were out to put an end to him and his teachings. He was surely aware that John, whose work he most likely took up after his cousin’s death, had been killed because he challenged the status quo both religiously and politically.

As a devout and faithful Hebrew, one very familiar with the sacred writings of Israel, he would have read, along with singing the Psalms, the story of the Exodus.  At the close of the reading he would have held the scroll up and said ‘this is the word of the Lord.’ Soon enough he would be raised up to the world as the living Word, the Word of G-d become flesh.

Part of the readings that night would recall Yahweh’s command to Israel in the Book of Exodus to perform Passover as a yearly ritual in remembrance of the day Yahweh brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. You will observe this ordinance each year at the appointed time. For St. Paul these words that Jesus’ disciples heard at the Passover meal with him would also be remembered as Jesus’ own instructions to remember what they did together that night on the final Passover he most likely knew would be his last to celebrate with them.

In the Passover meal Yeshua of Nazareth stands as the center point, at the heart, of the ongoing faith journey of G-d’s sacred people. The people chosen and meant, called to be his own. Part of the promise given to Israel was that she would bring the rest of the world to faith in the one G-d, the Lord of Life, the I Am Who Am.

Yeshua of Nazareth came to his own people. He came to a scattered and oppressed Israel.   His mission as he understood it was to the Hebrew people. We understand from St. Paul too, that being saved, saved from oppression, being set aside as a sacred people for G-d, would come to the Jews first and through them to the rest of the world.

Israel gave us Jesus. We believe Yeshua (which means Yahweh saves) of Nazareth to be the Christ. Our faith in Christ is also faith in the G-d of Israel.

As we all join this week in spirit if not in place to celebrate the Passover of the Lord let us remember together with gratitude the bitter tears and the suffering of our shared faith journey that transformed forever who we are, a people all, meant and sacred.  Let us remember as charged the G-d of Israel and of Jesus, who brought us from slavery to freedom, from death to life, giving us a way of being his, a way to  him.

Father Abraham and the Triumph of Faith

Romans 4, 5 & 6

 winter_scene Paul once again is fit with a diatribe about the Law and sin. In another of his tangled arguments (7:14-25) he is demonstrating his own struggle between the good he knows to do, with the unintended ‘sin’ his body seems to be intent on as well. Well, I guess we’ve been down this road before. For too long. The battle between body and soul, the spiritual self and the unspiritual self. The eternal battle of light and dark. Good and evil.

Before this entanglement though Paul reaches back to the origins of faith, to Abraham and the promise made to him by God. He has just pointed out the value of the Law itself: it kept us faithful, and had the ability to render us sacred. But, before the Law was given, even before Abraham was circumcised, he had faith. Paul’s appeal here seems to be to both to the Jewish converts and the non-Jewish converts in Rome. There was most likely a considerable population of Jews that had fled Palestine and were now living in Rome.

So this appeal to Abraham is something they and we can understand. Paul makes it clear: faith came first. Abraham’s faith initiates the fulfillment of the promise to everyone, no matter if you subscribed to the Law, which is good and has good intentions, or not. Another sign of the Mosaic Law was, and still is, circumcision, but again, Paul points out that even this custom, which is a sign of belonging to the law, participation in the covenant, did not precede Abraham’s faith. Abraham is the father of all who have faith. Faith which is first. Faith which is given. Faith which is gift. Faith which is grace. Paul has gathered everyone into the net. No one is lost. We are all counted, if we have faith. Faith now in the God who raised Jesus from the dead. Faith in Christ.

The link to Abraham and the origins of our faith is unbroken.

Through Jesus we enter a state of grace. The grace that is greater than sin. Grace that reigns now and is God’s life within us.

As we make our approach to Holy Week, we circle back to our spiritual heritage. Our ancestors go before us. Their faith brought us to the day of our faith. During the next week we are mindful of Passover, Passion and Death. Just as we journey with him, we will also celebrate Passover with him, we will pray in the garden with him, and we will be challenged and mocked with him. Paul reminds us what we might already know: that suffering brings perseverance which brings hope, the hope that cannot deceive, as God has poured his Holy Spirit into our hearts.

As we enter the heart of Holy Week, we enter the heart of the God who has poured into our hearts the life of a most sacred heart. We enter the tomb with Jesus and we rise with him into the garden of new Life. Jesus’s resurrection is ours as well. It is the ever recurring cycle of life and death, dying and rising. In Christ we are free, even in our most unspiritual selves, and are freely given the grace of the Spirit of Christ which we have only to summons like Lazarus from the tomb, to partake of a sacred legacy that reaches back thousands of years ago and yet is ever present with us and available to us today.

The Unleaving Bread

1 Corinthian 4-6

Today our contemporary approach to our behavior is that it is not driven by what others think of us, at least so we say.  Paul on the other hand does care very much about how the people interacting in proximity to his new converts see them. And he cares about the activities in their lives which distract from living their lives as examples and witnesses to the Christ he has brought to them and the Christ they have received. We are stewards of the mysteries of God he says.  But what does this mean? And what are these mysteries?

Paul says that as stewards we are to keep to what is written. I take this to mean the Hebrew Scriptures. In the story of Israel are the unfolding mysteries that carry through in the message and meaning of both Jesus’s life and Paul teachings.

Stewards are those entrusted with the keeping and running of households. God’s household is the kingdom. The kingdom of God is not just words but it is power. Power. A big word, wielded, used as a shield, considered to be a way of being that excuses supremacy, rule, dominion over others, muscle, strength. Power here is none of those things. Power is simply in its most original sense, the ability to act. So what Paul is saying is that the kingdom is not merely rhetoric and nice words; it is something real, active and alive in our lives that carries with it activity. Action. Achievement and realization. The living words that have power over our lives. The Word that became flesh.

Paul enlists the image of yeast here. Yeast causes the dough to rise, be puffed up. Paul wants us to clear our households of the old yeast, the yeast that corrupts, that he associates with evil. We are to be the new bread, the unleavened bread. Yeast also takes time for the bread to rise. When God sent the plague over Egypt to encourage Pharaoh to let God’s people go, they were to sprinkle the blood of the lamb over their door posts so the angel of death would Passover and not kill their firstborn. When they were finally ready to leave Egypt they did not have time to make bread that needed to rise. So they took with them unleavened bread. They were headed for a new way of life. A life of freedom, freedom to worship Yahweh as they were meant. And the unleavened bread was the bread, the bread of their freedom and new life, was thereafter used for their yearly Passover celebration of their Exodus from Egypt.

Paul moves seamlessly from his image of the yeast and the new bread we are to be, to Christ as our Passover.  Our unleavened bread; shortly he will refer to the bread of life and institute the words we now use at the Eucharist. The words Jesus may have used as he celebrated the Passover with his friends the night before he died.

During the readings during Holy Week in my church last year a boy named Jacob read one of the passages about Jesus as the unleavened bread, our Passover.  But Jacob didn’t say unleavened, he said unleaving. Jesus was the unleaving bread. He kept to that way of the word throughout his reading. Jacob, you got it right! What a wonderful way of saying it. Jesus is our unleaving bread.

I wish Paul had been as insightful as Jacob. For Paul goes on to tell the newly formed community of followers not to eat with people who are wicked. But when Jesus was alive he ate with EVERYONE. Tax Collectors, Sinners, the Wicked.  Jesus even said that the wicked will be welcome in the kingdom of his Father. But after his death his disciples did not continue this practice. Paul here departs from the actions of Jesus, actions that enraged the religious establishment, upturned their purity laws. The wicked were unclean. The unclean were not allowed in the company of the elect. But Jesus didn’t care what the religious establishment thought of him. He cared more for those who came to him. I do realize that Paul wants his new converts to keep out of harm’s way, out of temptations way, until at least they are stronger in their faith. This too is an example from when the people went into Canaan, the land promised to them by Yahweh; they were to keep to themselves, as a way of strengthening their community. The way Elizabeth kept herself apart after Mary left her, so that her child, Jesus’ cousin and first Heralder, John the Baptist, might grow strong within his mother.  But apparently in the company of Jesus you were in the kingdom of God, no one was barred from admittance. With Jesus you experienced the action, the power of his grace-filledness, his life; he is our Passover, saving us from  death, saving us for life, saving us for a life beyond captivity, to be led out with only our daily bread; saving us so that we might find him and know that he journeys with us, accompanies and sustains us, pitches his tent with us, our unleaving bread.