Living Easter

Easter is not over, it’s just entering its second week. It’s really easy to slip out of Lent, a time of discipline and fasting, celebrate the holiday of Easter and then move on. Especially after more shootings in California and Baltimore, Jesus’ victory over death seems to lose its savor. But as Atlanta Terence Lester based activist explains, when nothing seems to change around us, then we have to change our selves and our own communities. Our actions seem small, but they are a start. If more and more people were to be encouraged to be brave enough to keep trying, then change would be evident. This is how we live into the resurrection and keep the celebration going. This is how we live into the kingdom of God that Jesus spent all of his time telling us about. During the weeks of Easter leading to Pentecost, a time in the church when we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit with tongues of fire, I will be sharing practices I have adopted and other practices that can be used for change around us. This week I am sharing small, easy, practical things we can do in our every day life.

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  1. I don’t always have cash on me, and when I do it’s for a specific reason, so I can’t really afford to give it away. So when I am approached by people who are looking for money I try to carry something else on me instead: I carry a small water bottle and a snack, like a pack of crackers and a granola bar, so I can offer them something. Often people could use some sustenance. If they don’t want it, they don’t have to take it and I can wish them a good day. A compassionate interaction, even if our help is limited, can really change how we as a society see and treat people who are in need of help.
  2. Keep your change! At the end of the year you can roll it up, put it in the bank, and cut a check to donate it as a gift to a charity of your choice. Or my denomination has an initiative known as “10 cents a meal” (can also be known as “Pennies for Hunger or “Cents-ability”) where every 10 cents buys a meal for a person in need. People in our churches save their change each month to bring it to church to donate.
  3. It you have a few extra bucks to spend at the store and you’re tempted to get some canned food, first do a few minutes of research. First, find out what charities, shelters, kitchens, and other nonprofits are local to you. Second, go to their website and find out what they are specifically looking for. Often places like these are looking for feminine products, underwear, baby wipes, and socks. Find out their specific needs and try to fill those instead of giving cans of green beans and corn. Only donate those food items if a food pantry specifically asks for them.

These suggestions are just a small start! I am trying out all of them, especially the first one. If you think of something helpful, share it with others! Just make sure that you’ve done your research and that these acts are going to be helpful and not just seem helpful to make us feel good. It’s about making change, not a pat on our back for doing something. Next week I will talk about volunteering time. Let’s keep the resurrection victory moving in our daily lives this Eastertide.

Revelation 1:4-8
John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

Easter Prayer

 

Burst forth Christ Jesus! Just as you burst forth from the tomb on resurrection day so long ago, burst forth in our spirits renewing us to overcome the hold of death and decay. Just as the sun rays spill over the horizon on this new day, let your love spill out of our hearts over the world so that all may know that your goodness overcomes all evil. Just as the flower buds pop open, let our minds pop open to your divine mystery and the vastness of your kingdom. Just as the spring rains shower our thirsty soil, let your justice shower over the righteous and the unrighteous. Just as the temperatures warm the air around us, help us to share the warmth of inclusion that is your call to discipleship. Just as the grass grows lush and green around us, help us to grow as new creation while the old passes away. Just as the slumbering creatures awaken to stir the wild around us, help us to awaken so that we might do your work of loving the least of these. Just as the breeze sings through the trees and the rocks shout beneath the cascades of the waterfall, we sing your praises and shout in rejoicing. Burst forth Christ Jesus! Burst forth in our daily lives as the living God with us, reminding us that we have been set free from death because you are our victor over the grave. Amen.

Holy Saturday

John 19:38-42
After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

Remember Jesus.

Remember the 3 historically black Seventh District Churches in Louisiana.

Remember Notre-Dame.

Remember the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

Remember Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Center in Christchurch, NZ.

Remember the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Remember the people at the Mexico/American border.

Remember the separated immigrant families.

Remember the DACA recipients.

Remember Flint, Michigan.

Remember the people of color who are raising their voices against unjust killings, the broken justice system, the suppression of voters, gentrification, privilege, and equality.

Remember those in prison and those that our justice system fails.

Remember Columbine, Parkland, Sandy Hook, and all others. Too many others.

Remember those who died by suicide.

Remember those with us now struggling with depression, anxiety, PTSD, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, etc.

Remember the homeless, the impoverished, the unemployed, and underemployed.

Remember those who are constantly displaced by the affordable housing crisis.

Remember the LGBTQ+ community who are excluded from the military, adoption processes, and other discriminatory, violent acts.

Remember the rejected LGBTQ+ youth without support, families, or homes.

Remember the people who are living with, speaking up about, and fighting back against all forms of abuse.

Remember the women who are pounding against the glass ceiling.

Remember Venezuela.

Remember Northern Ireland.

Remember Yemen.

Remember Nigeria.

Remember Ukraine.

Remember our warming, suffering planet.

Remember these so that you might remember Jesus.

Good Friday

Psalm 22
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest…  I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him. From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him. The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD. May your hearts live forever! All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him. For dominion belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations. To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him. Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.

 

I once wrote an exegesis paper on Matthew 27 where I got called out for not commenting on Jesus referencing Psalm 22. Oops. This was an important lesson for me to learn about viewing events in scripture in a greater context. We often talk about how Jesus felt abandoned and was showing his “humanity” in this moment of crucifixion when he cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” However, if we look deeper, it’s more of a prophetic moment. The original Psalm chooses to allow trust to overpower the feelings of abandonment, having faith in God’s deliverance and that the poor will be satisfied. This is a Psalm of overcoming. Jesus was not crying out in defeat, but knowing that this moment was not the end.

This was a hint to those around him: God will overcome. A warning to those in power, an encouragement for all who fear. Unfortunately, the disciples had fled and weren’t there to pick up on the hope that Jesus was speaking. On Good (holy, pious) Friday let us dare to bear witness to the pain, and choosing to engage in the hope. Let us not flee or turn away, but stay present, keep working, and keep hoping in deliverance.

Maundy Thursday

Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14
The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the LORD. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.

On Maundy Thursday we think about the Last Supper and Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. The Gospel of John is the text for today alongside of this Exodus passage. According to John the last supper wasn’t exactly a Passover meal, but just before the festival of Passover. So let us look at what is happening before the Passover is instituted and what the time before Passover might indicate.

God was about to change the lives of the Israelites who’d been enslaved for hundreds of years. God was going to pass through the land, claiming the lives of the firstborn in Egypt. This would be the breakthrough to liberate God’s people, and they had to be ready to move. Loins girded, sandals strapped, staff in hand, eat and run. It’s a time of anticipation, preparation, obedience, action, and trust in God. A new day, a new life, a new era is coming, and this time before Passover is the time to get ready.

In this time now, just before Passover, Jesus is gathering his friends and preparing them for his departure. Jesus girds himself with a towel. Instead of having the disciples have their sandals on, they are taken off so Jesus can wash their feet. They’re not on the run, but instead sit together with Jesus as he gives final thoughts and teachings. It’s a time of confusion, tension, and betrayal. A new day, a new life, and a new era is coming, and this time before Passover is the time to get ready.

On Maundy Thursday when we celebrate community meals, foot washing, and communion, let’s lean into this sacred time before the big event, the big holiday. In this moment let us prepare for what God is about to do in our lives, in our communities, in our churches, and in the world. Let us be vigilant to the movement of the Holy Spirit who might ask us to do weird, unprecedented things like putting lamb’s blood on the doorpost, or bending to wash feet. What seems strange now may be made clear soon. Take a breath in this uncomfortable pause to take a leap of faith and trust that something new is around the corner.

Palm Sunday

Luke 19:28-40
After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.'” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it 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!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

 

 

Update: The previous blog post falsely stated that the same crowds who shouted, “Hosanna” are the same ones who cried out for Jesus’ crucifixion. This is a misconception, so I have rewritten a new blog post and apologize for the error.

My first attempt at this blog was a statement on the fickleness of humankind…which is true, but not the point of this scripture. In the update above I had made a false statement about the same crowds being there on Palm Sunday and on Good Friday. That’s not biblically founded. Then I thought I would write about a Palm Sunday anthem, “Ain’t No Rock Gonna Shout For Me.” It’s a spiritual-gospel style song based on this text. It’s got a great swing and is a lot of fun to hear and sing. But it’s an “original spiritual” written by a white guy. So, that’s problematic, and I am not comfortable with writing about a song that could possibly be a form of cultural appropriation.

So maybe that’s my message this Palm Sunday: look closely at scripture, especially well known texts reading and rereading, interpreting and reinterpreting these stories while freeing them from our appropriation to our preconceived theology. So I’ll point some things out and pose questions so you can consider them and interpret the scripture yourself:

Why is Bethany and the Mount of Olives an important location in this story?

How did Jesus know about this colt? And what does it mean that he commissioned two people to take it without permission (steal)? How does the need of the Lord justify this robbery? Do the owners get their colt back? Do they consent to this?

What are the significance of the cloaks?

Who are these people who are praising God? Why are they quoting Psalm 118?

Why are the Pharisees there? Why do they tell Jesus to stop them?

What does he mean by the stones shouting out?

 

Consider these and other questions that arise as you read this strange story. Strip away the familiarity and try not to appropriate it to validate your theological beliefs. Read it with new eyes, learn something new from this passage. Maybe you’ll find a new practice of biblical interpretation. I had to learn this lesson myself, to break away from a message I had heard before and was repeating without enough research. I will strive to continue learning so as not to make assumptions about scripture and the groups of people within.

Lent Week 5

John 12:1-8
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

 

 

Bold. Bold of Mary to use her agency to commit to a mysterious action that no one in the room would likely understand of anointing Jesus’ feet. Bold of her to use a potential source of wealth in an act of service. Bold of her to do something as intimate as using her hair to wipe his feet.

Bold of Judas to open his mouth and condemn the action.

Bold of Jesus to not only engage with her in this way, but to stick up for her.

In Lent, we think that our boldness might get us in trouble and lead us astray. If we’re quick to shoot off at the mouth, if we are speaking our mind without listening to others, if we act selfishly, these bold actions can hurt us and others. Those are the things we spend Lent repenting of.

But boldness is love, in service, in undermining oppressive power and authority, in eschewing wealth for the sake of equality, in devotion to Christ through our devotion to others is what we are called to do. Even if others misunderstand, or roll their eyes at us because we are “bleeding hearts”, or we are “too p-c”, or that we’re “snowflakes” because we make decisions to respect people and their needs, we are called to be bold. And this text shows us that Jesus is on the side of boldness.