A proud grandmother told me recently that her grandson had finally uttered his first sentence, something his parents had awaited with bated breath. And what were his momentous words? "I want some fruit."
We need more than a day to celebrate Easter and I love the custom of so many countries that add today to Easter as a holiday to stretch out the joy. For most of us it is Monday as usual, with maybe an extra jelly bean or two to liven up lunch.
“Why do you look for the living among the dead?” - Luke 24:5
This is where Lent comes to a glorious climax, in a garden on a Sunday morning before an empty tomb. No one saw Him come forth but everyone can see the emptiness that death leaves behind. Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia! Let it be our song.
May we add our voice to that of all the rejoicing Christian world on this glorious morning.
Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment. - Luke 23:56
Through this long, sad day the band of believers stayed together and prepared to further honor His dying. There seems to be no evidence that they thought He would rise again. If so, they all would have been planning to go to the tomb. Only the women, deprived of giving Jesus their last offering of a proper burial, are readying things. The others are locked in their grief.
We know the end of the story. These disciples don’t, as yet. Let us pray with them for the unknown tomorrow.
When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. - John 19:30
From the shock and grief of Calvary on a dark afternoon come the words that complete this phase of Jesus’ presence on our earth. What ends here has a new beginning in the heart of every believer. We are here today because He was true to the end. We must receive this spirit that He breathes out to us.
Do we see Good Friday as an ending or a beginning? Our faith supplies the answer.
“Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” - Matthew 26:17
In a world bound together by shared food, this ritual meal with His closest friends will be the last time that He can break bread with those He loves. The Passover meal is laden with the symbolism of freedom and journeying, with the memory of a God who loves and asks us to trust, of a God who saves. Let us take our places at the table with Jesus.
Seated among the disciples, what do we see and hear?
“Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” - Matthew 25:45
In almost His last teaching moment Jesus tells the parable of the sheep and the goats, and identifies with the least of humanity on this earth. Have we heard it too often to really hear it in our heart’s depth? He is no longer physically among us. His brothers and sisters are. Do we see and serve them?
The challenge is as real today as it was on this last day of the public life of Jesus. Can we hear Him?
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” - Matthew 22:36
It was a favorite mental game of the rabbis to argue over which of the commandments was the greatest, a kind of mental gymnastics with no practical result. They would like to force Jesus to take sides in their verbalisms. Jesus has no time for that, so He responds that it is the love of God before all else and then our neighbor as ourselves. The commandments are not part of a game; they are the very sign of the covenant.
Where do we stand before these two great commandments?
When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things and who gave you this authority?” - Matthew 21:23
The leaders of the temple are nervous so they question His credentials. Were it not so sad, it would be ludicrous. Anyone had the right to teach in the temple courtyard. Jesus had done so numerous times already. Now, suddenly, the priestly men of authority want to examine His sources. “By what authority?” Read the full passage and you will see that Jesus does more than answer them.
What authority does Jesus have over our choices of action?
This is such a special week as both Christians and Jews around the world celebrate holy days within the same time span.
Holy Week: The Final Lessons
When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” - Matthew 21:10
Our last steps on the Lenten journey begin with this solemn arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem, as He comes on the royal animal of peace, as He accepts the shouted tribute of the crowds, as He comes into this city where His ancestors have worshipped for a thousand years. But even as the crowds herald Him, this question rises above the excitement, “Who is this?” Have we a personal answer to offer?
What have we learned during these weeks that we might share with a stranger to Jerusalem on this first Palm Sunday?
“Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” - Luke 17:17-18
Our final challenge is never to forget gratitude. This might seem easy. If it really were, there would be no need of this accusation of Jesus. Thanksgiving is not always a part of our prayer, but we see that Jesus would like it to be.
In our prayer today let us respond with this Samaritan leper and express our gratitude. Where shall we begin?
“Be ready for action and have your lamps lit; like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet…” - Luke 12:35
In a world as uncertain of time as was first century Palestine, the lesson of these servants was only too real. They had to be ready whenever the master came back from his party, to take and stable his animal, to offer him some refreshment, to lock the house for the night. They were to be waiting with lighted lamps.
We do not know when or how Jesus will come into our orbit, but we have to be alert not to miss Him. May we pray for this readiness.
“Beware the yeast of the Pharisees, that is, their hypocrisy.” - Luke 12:1
Jesus had infinite patience with sinners, but no time for what He terms hypocrisy. It is a loaded word that means “pretender” or “actor”. The stage is the place for that, not the public arena. So Jesus excoriates the Pharisees for their pretense of great holiness with the length of their robes, their outer signs of fasting, their critiques of their neighbors…
Does our prayer life come from the heart or from a false yeast?
“Where is your faith?” - Luke 8:25
That gets right to the point, doesn’t it? In what or in whom have we placed our trust? So many answers are possible: in technology, in government, in the schemes of another, in a dream for the future…Lent asks us to seriously answer Jesus. On our reply depend our next steps in this sacred journey.
See Jesus standing before us with this basic question. What do we say?
“Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but not notice the log in your own eye?” - Luke 6:41
Isn’t it easy to know what others should do and how they should correct their flaws? Jesus used a vivid example of the log–blind person trying to remove a speck from his neighbor’s eye. The sad thing is that this is often only too true.
Let us resolve to spend less time looking today at the failings of others and more time perceiving our own.
“But I say to you that listen, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you…” - Luke 6:27-28
What was Jesus thinking, we might say, when He said this? One of these commands would be hard enough, but all of them? His response? “Do you really want to follow me or do you want only to be a spectator in the Christian world?’’
And what have we to say?
In one week two things happened: the Rev. Fred Phelps died and I saw "Shrek". Both could have come from the Bible where we read "Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses." (Proverbs 10:12)
The Fifth Week: The Challenges
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” - Matthew 11:29-30
As we move ever deeper into this Lenten journey we have to face the challenges that discipleship involves. Jesus portrays some of them very clearly in this image of His yoke. A yoke is something carried not alone but always in conjunction with another, in this instance, Jesus.
In prayer today let us consider our response to Him.
“Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” - John 20:23
These are the words of Jesus on Easter evening during His first visit to disciples who all failed Him in the time of crisis. He comes with a message of forgiveness and with the warning that what they do not forgive will then be a burden that they will drag through life. Jesus is, of course, also telling them that He has forgiven their failure.
Step into that Upper Room and prayerfully watch the faces of these disciples who abandoned their Master three days before, but who are now told that they are forgiven.
Sister Carol Perry
A gifted teacher and Bible Scholar, Sister Carol uses her extensive scholarship and imaginative storytelling skills to offer a fresh and innovative approach to exploring the Scriptures, bringing the stories of the Bible to life.
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