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April 18, 2016, 10:30 AM

Marks of a Healing Community

by Sandy Bach

36-37 Down the road a way in Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha, “Gazelle” in our language. She was well-known for doing good and helping out. During the time Peter was in the area she became sick and died. Her friends prepared her body for burial and put her in a cool room.

38-40 Some of the disciples had heard that Peter was visiting in nearby Lydda and sent two men to ask if he would be so kind as to come over. Peter got right up and went with them. They took him into the room where Tabitha’s body was laid out. Her old friends, most of them widows, were in the room mourning. They showed Peter pieces of clothing the Gazelle had made while she was with them. Peter put the widows all out of the room. He knelt and prayed. Then he spoke directly to the body: “Tabitha, get up.”

40-41 She opened her eyes. When she saw Peter, she sat up. He took her hand and helped her up. Then he called in the believers and widows, and presented her to them alive.

42-43 When this became known all over Joppa, many put their trust in the Master. Peter stayed on a long time in Joppa as a guest of Simon the Tanner.  (Acts 9:36-43 The Message)

Tabitha
She’s a faithful disciple with the heart of a deacon. Her ministry is in the care of widows – one of the most vulnerable in the community. Word of her works has spread some distance in both the gentile and Jewish communities. She is not one of the poor, but a woman with an upper room, which tells us that she is financially well off.

She’s an important member of the Christian community and a god-send to the widows. Every day she risks her economic stability and possibly her own health for the sake of those in dire need. Every day she is empowered by God to serve.

Sadly, though, she gets sick and dies. Was it due to a lack of self-care or something else? Whatever the reason, all faith communities know that even when ministry is going well and thriving, none of us can escape heart ache.

The Disciples
They worship God and listen to Jesus’ voice. They are willing to submit to the authority of Peter. They know him to be a healer. They need healing, a funeral service, and, most of all, a pastoral visit.

Peter
Last week we met up with Peter on the beach. Unable to make ministry work, he went fishing, doing something he knew well. Several disciples followed him. After breakfast with Jesus, he had a heart-to-heart talk with him and realized that his love for Jesus was too deep to ignore Jesus’ lambs and sheep.

So, today we meet up with a transformed Peter. Having received the Holy Spirit, he has preached and healed; despaired of Saul’s persecution of the Church; learned of Phillip’s successful mission in Samaria and is all too familiar with Stephen’s stoning in Jerusalem. He has his days of walking through the “valley of the shadow of death” and days of seeing Christ glorified in word and deed.

He’s in Lydda when two men arrive and ask him to come immediately. We read that he, “got up and went with them.” He arrives and allows himself to be taken to the upper room where Tabitha lays, lovingly prepared for burial. He sees much: the love and respect of the widows; the respect of fellow disciples; the clothing she made day after day; and grief: heart-wrenching grief.

So, he puts everyone out of the room. He kneels and prays, perhaps remembering being with Jesus when Jairus’ daughter was brought back to life; or perhaps he remembers the raising of Lazarus from the tomb. He kneels and prays. This is God’s activity; he’s only the channel.

Then he turns to her and says, “Tabitha, get up.” Tabitha opens her eyes and sees Peter. Then she gets up with Peter’s assistance. Peter invites the disciples and friends back into the room where he shows them not what he had done, but what God had done.

The Widows
They have lost their means of support and so they’re marched off to the fringes of society to live by begging or gleaning or other ways we don’t even want to talk about. They are less than human, walking the streets in shabby clothing, begging off of others and being shunned: Get a job! Don’t be so lazy! Whew! Have you taken a bath lately?

One person, Tabitha, sees their situation and fights to make their lives a bit better. They receive fresh, clean clothing; perhaps even a place to bathe. They learn about this Jesus who ate with sinners and stood up for widows and the orphans.

They are a community of believers and for the first time in a long time they belong. They know love that cares for each other and love in the form of self-respect.

Tabitha gets sick and dies. Their grief is bottomless. Where will they go? What will they do? They simply can’t return to their former lives, but what else is there?

What are the marks of community today? You have to look in the right places to find them because this is an age where individualism is one of the most important characteristics. To find true community, your best chances of finding it in the best sense of the word is in a church.

Church community stands together. They sacrifice precious time to see that the family sitting in a loved one’s funeral can return to Fellowship Hall for a hot lunch prepared with love. They pray for each other over and over again, knowing that a cure may not be imminent, but healing is possible in countless ways. They welcome the stranger with open arms and no expectation that the offering plate will be fuller, but that the life of the church will be.

Church community weeps together. After the 9/11 attack on our nation, the one place you found many Americans was in church praying for peace, for the families of the victims and for each other. Community weeps together when one of their own dies. They weep together over the unfairness of disease and war and social injustice.

Church community celebrates together. Whether it’s a celebration of a member receiving their first service animal, or the anniversary of the congregation, or simply a pot-luck meal.

And in this age of cherished privacy and a stiff upper lift, they’re not afraid to call each other and ask, “How are you doing?” And then settle in for the lengthy answer.

That was the community of Tabitha’s day. And sometimes, thank God, we find it today.

We live in a world changing constantly: a world where the loudest voice gets heard; where one disease is wiped out only to have another new virus emerge; where the ones who aren’t like us aren’t trusted by us; where we suffer and weep behind closed doors.

This is a world that can be difficult to live in. But, it’s a world that Jesus is active in, providing communities like that of Tabitha’s and looking to a God who provides victory over death and calls us into new and transformed life daily.

We are in the world, but we are not of it. We live and work and play in the world, but we worship God and demonstrate a love that tries to model Jesus’ life.

Tabitha became ill and died. So important was her work and her life, that they sent two men to Joppa to find Peter. Peter was the agent of healing and bringing life back.

But this story isn’t about Peter or even Tabitha. This story is about a God who reveals God-self in may wondrous ways.

And it’s a story of a community who refused to be of the world. They believed in the risen Christ and walked with him daily. Their faith inspired their work and their love and refused to let anyone be left to work things out alone. They knew their dilemmas and refused to not believe in a God who could bring healing in many different ways.

Where are the Tabitha’s today?

Who do we know who is turning the world upside down?

Who are the ones who refuse to accept the status quo?

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

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April 10, 2016, 4:59 PM

Feeding Faith

by Sandy Bach

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.  (John 21:15-17 NRSV)

Strange things happen in the Gospel of John.  Water becomes wine at a wedding; water turns to living water for a broken woman in enemy territory.  People are resuscitated back from life.  Jesus describes himself as "Bread of Heaven", "Vine", "Good Shepherd."  And just when you think you've completed reading the entire Gospel, you turn the page to find an epilogue.

Why?  In Chapter 20 we read of the resurrected Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene and then to the 10 disciples.  Finally, he returns to the 10 and this time Thomas is present.  One look at Jesus and he describes who Jesus is, "My Lord and my God."  There are a couple more sentences that bring this Gospel to a very good conclusion.  But, it appears that we need one more story.

While Jesus visited the disciples in chapter 20, he breathed the Holy Spirit on them and gave them their sacred commission:  "As the Father sent me, so I send you." (20:21b)  They have the Holy Spirit to guide them and the commission to go out in ministry.

So why do we see them sitting on a beach at the Sea of Tiberius (Galilee)?  Not only that, they go fishing!  Is this what God called them to do?  Fish?  I think the answer is clear when we read that they fished all night and didn't catch a thing.  Along comes Jesus.  "Children, you have no fish, have you? Try throwing your nets on the other side."

Competent fishermen would have known what to do.  I wonder if they're stuck.  Stuck in seeking a vision for their ministry; stuck trying to fish without giving it thought; stuck trying to figure out where to go from here.

Sure enough, going with Jesus' suggestion to try doing it a different way, they quit fighting the task and do as he suggests.  They catch a lot of fish.  The net is heavy and just as they're ready to pull it into the boat, the disciple whom Jesus loved recognizes Jesus.  "Look!  It's the Lord!"  A comical scene ensues when Peter throws on some clothes, plops himself into the water and manages to get ashore.

Jesus has fish and bread waiting for them on a fire and suggests they bring some more from their catch.  They eat together as they had so many times before, only this time it's a sacred meal.  A sacred meal that resembles the Great Banquet in the Kingdom of God.  After breakfast, Jesus and Peter have a conversation.

"Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?"

"Yes, Lord. You know that I love you."

"Feed my lambs.

"Simon, son of John, do you love me?"

"Yes, Lord; you know that I love you."

"Tend my sheep.

"Simon, son of John, do you love me?"

Now Peter feels hurt.  Does he remember the three times that he denied being one of Jesus' disciples?

"Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you."

"Feed my sheep."

The third time Jesus asked the question, Peter completely commits himself to Christ and his mission.

That mission isn't to be found on a fishing boat.  There's only so much time left in Peter's life and he's been called by God to serve in the world spreading the good news.  He has his mission now and his vision: Feed my lambs, tend my sheep.  Somehow he seems to understand because as we read about the early church in the Acts of the Apostles, we see Peter becoming a strong leader and a powerful healer.

So why the need for the epilogue?  I suggest three messages for you and I today:

  1.  Jesus calls us and feeds us.  We're not alone when we're serving him and his people.
  2. Jesus offers forgiveness and grace.  It's good to know that because we will mess up with denials and betrayals and running in the other direction.
  3. There's no escaping Jesus.  Whether hiding behind locked doors or out on a fishing boat, Jesus finds us.  As the Psalmist writes in Psalm 139:

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
    and are acquainted with all my ways.

Where can I go from your spirit?
    Or where can I flee from your presence?  (Psalm 139:1-3, 7 NRSV)

 Perhaps your relationship with Christ is a close personal faith with him like that of the Beloved Disciple who reclined at Jesus' side at mealtime.  Maybe your sense of call is more like Peter's, that of continuing Jesus' acts of justice and mercy.  Chances are that your faith is a blend of the two along a continuum between the two.  Understanding your relationship with Jesus, how are you fed by him?  How do you keep your relationship with him alive and thriving?  Some ideas include: prayer, time alone in mediation with him, Bible reading and study.  You may also consider how you serve others in your particular community.  Whether through your local church or other organizations, how do you work for justice and mercy as an expression of your love for Christ?

If you're wondering if you're doing enough, begin in prayer and stay at it until you receive an answer.  You may be surprised to discover that your life is a reflection of your love.

If not, God will point you in a direction.  However, you may have to fish on the other side of the boat, rather than doing it the same way all the time.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

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April 3, 2016, 8:49 AM

Empowered to Witness

by Sandy Bach

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”  (John 20:26-29 NRSV)

 

Who is Thomas?  He's not “Doubting Thomas.”  He’s a faithful, faith filled disciple. So, if he’s not a doubter, who is he?

I wonder if Thomas is one of those talented, geeky engineer types. He is the computer nerd who loses track of time. He can make computers do marvelous things, but he can barely hold a conversation with a human being. He is that intelligent engineer who second-gueses those new bridge plans until the rest of us are groaning in pain.

I love these people for the simple reason that I’m not one of them. My creative brain would rather select a color pattern for the bridge than determine its strength. I couldn’t fix a broken computer code if my life depended on it.

Perhaps Thomas is from the Show-Me state of Missouri. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25b NRSV)  Seeing isn’t enough for him. He has to touch, as well. Will he bring a magnifying glass along? Perhaps he’ll demand a DNA test.

Who is this Thomas? Is he the skeptic in some of our churches who doesn’t trust those who count the offering? Or the one who questions someone’s faith because they don’t buy into every single line of the creed? Or is he the cynic who doesn’t believe that those girls were really approached inappropriately?  [Nancy Claire Pittman, “Feasting on the Word: Homiletical Perspective (Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 2009) Year C Volume 2 Page 399 & 401]

Every time they speak, they hurt someone and that lack of trust tears at the core of the congregation.  If this is the Thomas of our scripture passage, we would like for him to trust his fellow disciples and what they all reported to him. We would like for him to be a bit more forgiving and flexible. We wish for him a spirit of love and respect, rather than rigid legalism.

Or, maybe Thomas is shattered by the events of Holy Week. That triumphal entry was amazing! But Jesus kept talking about crucifixion and resurrection. It was too much to take in. And while he tried to figure out what Jesus was saying, there was that Passover Meal where he washed Thomas’ feet and dried them tenderly with a towel. He told them to love each other as Jesus loved them.

That was strange.

Then the betrayal by one of their own group. The denial by Peter. He ran away with the rest of the disciples. And, finally, crucifixion. There are so many questions; so much hurt and pain. Thomas is numb.

So, when he returns from wherever he was, he stands firm and says, “I can’t believe until I see.” It wasn’t distrust of his friends. He’s fumbling and wondering where God is.

Perhaps Thomas is feeling left out. Where was he that evening? Why wasn’t he locked in that room with the rest of the disciples? Perhaps he went out for supplies and when he got back he heard the news, not so much with joy but with a sense of having missed out on something.

So, a little hurt and a little petulantly he says, “I want to see, also.”

On the other hand, maybe Thomas is you and me. Doubting and believing at the same time; fumbling through our faith journey; needing to see before we can believe; needing to hang on to what we know is factual while others testify to a different truth.

Maybe we’re Thomas, looking for God in the silence. Or hiding from God behind those locked doors because of who and what we are. Guilty of denial and betrayal and running in the other direction. Ashamed and fearful that our “real” selves will become apparent to those around us. Maybe he needs to know that Jesus loves and cares for him despite his absence that particular day.

The Thomas in each of us needs so much assurance. We need to hear Jesus’ words to his disciples and a week later to Thomas: “Peace be with you.”

Peace be with you. Not despite who we are, but because of who we are. Peace be with you, because we are God’s creation and he doesn’t make junk. Peace be with you, even though we mess up and get it wrong and then hide from God behind locked doors.

Peace. Not simply an absence of conflict, but God’s shalom. God’s shalom connects us one to another; it’s harmony and completeness. It’s a sense of wholeness. Which only comes from God.

In Jesus’ blessing of peace, he offered forgiveness. No chiding or rebuke or punishment. He forgave them and then breathed on them the greatest gift of all: The Holy Spirit. He solemnly commissions them to go out and do what he taught them to do.

But there’s one more thing he has to say. He gazes on Thomas and says, “Have you believed because you have seen me?” And then he turns and looks at you and at me and speaks again, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

If Thomas is you and I, then maybe we are a bit overly cautious at times. And perhaps at times we find in ourselves the cynic and the skeptic. Or we wonder what we can do to feel part of the inner circle. And, at times, we hide behind locked doors and fail to “see” what others call truth.

But, we are God’s creation and we belong to our Lord who breathed the Holy Spirit on us and tells us, “As the Father sent me, so I send you.”

Don’t worry that you’re not perfect or smart enough or handsome enough. Don’t worry that you’re not enough of anything or that you’re too much of something else. That’s Jesus' job.

So, my friends, I repeat his words to you now:

"Peace be with you.

"As the Father has sent me, so I send you.

"Receive the Holy Spirit."

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.




March 29, 2016, 4:18 PM

Witnessing to New Life

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, [the women] came to [Jesus’] tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared.  They found the stone rolled away from the tomb,  but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them.  The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”  (Luke 24:1-5a)

Christ is Risen!

He is Risen, indeed!

He is Risen and as a result we have new life and new hope!

Or do we?

It’s all well and good to say that, but how do we live it out?  How are we living out the reality of the resurrection?

During Bible Study a few weeks ago, one of my colleagues used this particular phrase to describe the result of the Easter experience: “We are parading our dreams on the streets of reality.”

We are parading our dreams on the streets of reality.

Or are we?

Perhaps we’re like the women who stand at the tomb, the stone rolled away. Entering the tomb, they find it empty.  They are perplexed.  Fear looms on the edges.  Suddenly two dazzling men appear and we’re reminded of the Mount of Transfiguration.  Something very important is going on here.  We need to pay close attention.

But, sometimes it’s too hard to take it all in.  At the appearance of these men, the minds of the women shut down.  They are terrified and who wouldn’t be?  They bow their heads to the ground.

Silence.  The silence made up of fear; of trying to fit the pieces together; of processing what they’ve seen and heard.

That fear and silence are abundant today.  Our nation which is abundant in resources and peoples from all walks of life has so much to offer the world.   But our abundant nation operates with a scarcity mindset.  Politicians tell us what to fear and that they alone are the ones who can fix it.  Our concept of truth is played out in every way from social media to the halls o Congress.  The news media spend time and large amounts of money telling us that we aren’t enough; we don’t have enough; that we aren’t good enough.

Have fear and scarcity taken the place of the promise of resurrection?

Fear is also what we feel when we discover, yet again, that God’s ways aren’t ours.  It’s scary to put our trust in someone whose idea of kingdom bears no resemblance to the kingdoms of this world.

We believe that nothing is impossible with God.  Then we turn on the news.  And we worry, yet again.

Worry turns to fear.  Fear turns to anger.

The problem is that God is beyond our comprehension.  That’s pretty scary for those of us who need to b in control at all times.  We find God, in Jesus, calming storms, feeding thousands at one time.  All of this from a man who was born in a stable to poverty-stricken parents from a back-water district.

God’s kingdom is subversive, where children are welcomed, we love the enemy, and leadership is about servant hood.  Jesus spoke truth to the powerful and the wealthy.  He healed the enemy.  He taught subversive ideas such as, you’re blessed if you’re hungry or poor or weep or if people hate you.

We can’t wrap our minds around God’s activity in God’s world.  And while women and gentiles and children are welcome in the kingdom we know that the cost of discipleship is high: the sidelined are welcome in the kingdom of God, but not in our nation; Jesus ate with his enemies.  Anyone here interested in joining me for lunch with a terrorist?   No.  Me neither.

Jesus practiced servant leadership.  Remember when he washed the disciples’ dirty, stinky, calloused over-used feet?  What does servant leadership look like today?  Weak and ineffective? Or, compelling and profound?

While our faces are bowed to the ground and we’re trying to figure out that empty tomb, the question comes all too quickly.  We’re not prepared.

“Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

We look for the living among the dead because everything is happening too quickly.  Technology has made our world so small that we can literally watch war on our TV’s and tablets.  Our nation is undergoing enormous change and it scares us.  We hang between heaven and earth fighting to get back to what we once were.

We look for corpses in the cemeteries of long dead ideas and ideals; what we often refer to as “the good ole’ days.”  Our vision of our world and our nation and even our communities and our churches live in those cemeteries.  We keep searching them out as if we could return to those former times.

We hang on to what we already know is dead because we don’t dare let go: it’s not safe.  And so we’re stuck in place, fighting it out, like shadow boxing.

The Easter experience as, “Parading our dreams on the streets of reality” is a compelling thought.

Easter people know that God is in all; that God can empty tombs and our mistaken ideas; that God doesn’t change but changes us; that God is always reforming us and the church and the world; that God is never finished.

Easter people remember Jesus’ words.  That he would be handed over to sinners and be crucified and on the third day rise again.  And while we witness the women running to tell others of this great event, we can turn into testifiers of the truth of the risen Christ.

Are you parading your dreams on the streets of reality?  Or do you tuck them away, for fear of laughter and ridicule?

What dreams would you parade if you could?

A working housing program for the poor and dispossessed?

That no child feels the pain of poverty?

That everyone has enough of the right kind of food to eat?

The discovery of a cure for disease?

Fresh insight into the politics of our nation and the world?

Whatever the dreams, dream on.  Get out of the cemetery once in awhile.  Jesus is alive and well and waiting for you.  Jesus is risen and we can walk with him and learn from him.  We can learn what it is to be subversive and we can make a difference.

We can be the risen Lord’s hands that feed the hungry; his voice to speak truth to power; his feet to find the lost, the least and the last.

We are Easter people.  And for those of us who find ourselves in the cemetery, at least part of the time, there’s a way out.  Look for the Risen Christ, standing at the gate of insight and courage saying, “Come, follow me.  I won’t leave you hanging between heaven and earth.  But I will teach you what it means to be a subversive for the Kingdom of God.”

Christ is Risen!  He is Risen Indeed!

Amen.




March 20, 2016, 10:35 AM

What Sort of a King?

by Sandy Bach

"When they brought [the colt] to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road.  As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying:  'Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!' ...As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it..."

It’s an occasion for believers  put on by believers!

Jesus stands on the Mt of Olives gazing on Jerusalem. He’s waiting for two of his disciples to return with a colt.  It’s not a warhorse, but it’s never been ridden: it’s a sacred animal worthy of our Lord.  The rest of his disciples wait patiently and watch. Crowds of Jesus’ followers are beginning to line the roadway that leads down from the Mt of Olives into the Kidron valley and back up to Jerusalem.

Jesus is unusually quiet today. He stares thoughtfully across the valley to Jerusalem. His disciples wonder what he’s thinking.

Finally, the disciples return with the colt.  “Any problems?” someone asks.  No.  It happened just as Jesus said it would.”  They place a few cloaks on the colt and Jesus takes his seat.

On one hand it’s a bit comical:  Jesus feet must be all but dragging on the ground.  But it’s also a parable. When the people see it, they’ll remember what Zechariah wrote:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.   (Zech 9:9 NRSV)

The crowds cheer him on, remembering what he told them; his promises to them; his parables.  Luke’s version of this entry into Jerusalem depicts a throng of believers.  Perhaps there aren’t as many along the parade route as the other Gospel writers depict. But, they aren’t the ones who will stand outside Pilate’s headquarters yelling, “Crucify him!”  The crowd may be smaller than we imagine, but it’s certainly very joyful.

Meanwhile, on the opposite side of Jerusalem, Pilate’s procession ensues: a great warhorse, military regalia; his legion escorts him.  No one cheers. Rather, they slip into the shadows and alleyways, hoping not to be noticed.  The population of Jerusalem will likely double during this Passover celebration.  There will be trouble and Pilate will stop at nothing to maintain control and Pax Romana.

Jesus lets the colt step down into the valley at its own pace.  He smiles and waves.  People lay their cloaks down on the road as a sign of respect. And they call out:  “Blessed is the king who comes in the Lord’s name!”  and "Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven!”

Jesus permits the celebrations, even knowing what he faces this week. “Let the people celebrate; let them enjoy the moment.” And he, too, enjoys the moment; at least for a little while.   But, as the young colt begins the climb out of the Kidron valley and up the steep hill to Jerusalem, you can see a change in his demeanor.  It’s in his eyes.  They grow more serious; distant; sad; even haunted.  As the colt brings him near to the city he begins to weep: For Jerusalem and the deep loss that will occur to the Jews all too soon. For those who weren’t able to listen and hear his words. For himself and what is about to happen to him this week.

I used to think of Holy Week as if it were a bookshelf with book-ends: The joy of Palm Sunday followed by Maundy Thursday, then Good Friday and the Easter Vigil.  Finally, to land in Easter, once more returning to joy.   Holy Week, as I saw it, was deep sadness book ended with joy.

But, this year I see it differently.  Yes, we love the palms and the children singing.  But, we can’t stop in the Kidron Valley and go home.  We must make the trek up to Jerusalem.  This journey is uphill in more ways than one.

Palm Sunday is our entrance into Holy Week.  Holy Week takes us to Maundy Thursday where we hear again Jesus’ mandate to his disciples to “love one another just as I have loved you.” We hear also the Words of Institution that remind us of Jesus’ Last Supper.  Holy Week takes us to Good Friday where we’ll read scripture and sing hymns that remind us of betrayal and fear; politics and empire; torture and death.

Than spend some time alone during the Easter Vigil, once again reading scripture, but this time with an attempt to understand and hear God’s voice in our hearts and our lives.

Finally, we end up at Easter, standing at the empty tomb with the women.

Dare we go with Jesus, through those mighty gates of Jerusalem and Holy Week?

Dare we permit ourselves to see our own place in the liturgy?  Peter who denied.  Disciples who ran.  Judas who betrayed.  Women who wept and discovered.

Dare we allow God into our hearts to convict?

Dare we shed our own tears?

This week will seem like a week of Friday’s but remember this: Today may feel like Friday, but Sunday’s coming: With resurrection, new life and great joy.

But there’s only one way to Easter Sunday and that’s through Holy Week.

I’ll see you there.

All glory and honor be to God.   Amen.

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