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Posts Tagged ‘lent’

“Father, Into Your Hand…” (Luke 23.46)

As in the first ‘word’ in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus addresses the Father again. We might remember that his very first words in the Gospel are about being in his Father’s house. So it may not surprise us that his final words prior to his death are about being taken into his Father’s hands. Jesus on the cross is consistent with the rest of Jesus’ life. Luke wants us to know that nothing, not even the cross, can stop Jesus from demonstrating the ways of God. He has already forgiven his executioners and made reservations for a criminal to enter paradise, now he commits his spirit to the Father.

We may find ourselves thinking of Psalm 31, especially the part where the psalmist says “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” Jesus was saturated in the Psalms. The Psalms reveal some rugged emotional terrain. So does the cross. Jesus knows about rugged terrain. It should not surprise us that in challenging moments he reaches into the language of the psalms and adds “Father” before he goes on to quote “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” Again, we should not be surprised. It was Jesus who taught us when we pray to say “Our Father…”

When we read this “word” we should not forget the connection between spirit and breath. We are reminded of a true gift from God. We do not possess our breath. We cannot hold it in or keep it. It is gift. Given again and again and again. We inhale, we exhale – gift.

Jesus gives his spirit willingly. Like the rabbi at his own funeral, he commits his life to God the Father. His spirit is not taken from him by those who put him on the cross. He gives it back to the One who gave it to him. He gave away what they thought they were taking from him. Admittedly, this is contrary to the visible evidence. From all appearances, Jesus had his breath taken from him. Meanwhile, Jesus is trusting that the Father is greater than the power of death.

This text reminds us of our dependence on the Father. Our spirit, our very breath is a gift from the Father and our lives are dependent on him. Perhaps we can think of many things we easily take for granted that in wiser moments we recognize as gift. We have been given much. Just look around. Look at your clothes, hands, feet. Breathe deep. Color, smell, taste – all gift. During Lent, we are reminded that following Jesus demands thankful, grateful spirits. May we give even those back to him.

Perhaps it is fitting to conclude with an observation. While many were hostile toward Jesus, Luke highlights that Simon carried the cross, the daughters of Jerusalem mourned for him, a criminal was welcomed into paradise, the centurion praised God, and Joseph was waiting for the kingdom. Some of these may have been aware of the conclusion of Psalm 31 “Be strong and let your heart take courage, All you who hope in the Lord.” We too follow Jesus into the emotional terrain of a hostile world. May we also “Be strong… take courage… and hope in the Lord.”

A prayer from Pastor Susan Vigliano: “Thank you for the gift of life, Father God. There will come a day when I will meet you face-to-face. The One who gave me life and has numbered my days. As I take in each breath and exhale may I remember, by your grace, that my life is not my own. Just as Jesus gave His life up to save humanity, it is my desire to give my life in service and worship to you. In a world that invites me to worship and serve anything and everything but you, may I be fixed on the breath that you gave and remember the name of Jesus. Thank you, Jesus, for your Lordship and leadership. It is my desire to follow you unto my last breath.”

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“It is Finished…” (John 19.30)

The final word Jesus speaks in John’s Gospel is “It is finished.” This is not a resignation. Walter Brueggemann calls it “God’s victory cigar.” Things still look bleak. Jesus is still on the cross. It is not yet Easter Sunday, still Jesus declares victory. His work is done. Jesus has completed the commitment made when the Word became flesh.

Perhaps we are prompted to ask “What is finished?” Part of what is finished is the dying and there were no efforts to make the dying less painful like we moderns might claim to do. Mostly, what is finished is the victory of God’s way in the world. Jesus has performed an enactment of the way God works. It was successful. It is finished. God’s sacrificial way of love, peace, generosity, grace, and forgiveness has been demonstrated. On that Friday, at the place called skull, death gave its best shot but could not defeat the plan of God. This is noteworthy since what happened on the cross appeared to have been a defeat.

The power of death and everything that tries to convince us that God’s way is not the way have been defeated. The power that tries to convince us it can coerce us into compromise is defeated. The power that tries to convince us we can manipulate our way to our own salvation has been defeated. Selfishness, greed, hostility, anxiety, hate, and violence have no power over us. Everything influenced by death is defeated. It is finished.

When one looks at what took place on Good Friday at the place called skull, it appears the weakest was the one with nails in his hands. John wants us to understand otherwise. This Gospel wants us to recognize Jesus as in control on the cross, as he has been all along. Like the conductor of an orchestra he continues to determine what happens next. Whereas Matthew and Mark ask the question “where is God” during crucifixion, John leaves little doubt where God is when Jesus dies. God is on the cross proclaiming “It is finished.”

God’s strange new world is coming at us. Business as usual is bad business. Business as usual is just participation in ways that have already been defeated. The ways of God have been turned loose in the world. Following Jesus is to follow one who has defeated death. The ways of God have been demonstrated and they are victorious. It is finished.

A prayer of response from Pastor Susan Vigliano: “Jesus, there are no adequate words to express my gratitude for your victory on the cross. Yet, at times, I feel compelled to thank you with the words I have. I am compelled to gratitude that sometimes feels like groans instead of words and sometimes expresses itself as uninhibited worship. Thank you, Jesus, for your victory of obedience that paid the price for my sin and that brought me into eternity. Thank you for welcoming me as your co-laborer to spread the Good News that you have been victorious over sin, death, and satan.”

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“I Thirst” (John 19.28)

The Gospel of John tells us that Jesus said “I thirst” and then goes on to tell us he said it because of an old psalm. Yet, considering the circumstances, we might imagine it did not require an old scripture for Jesus to know he was thirsty.

Interestingly, this is not the first time Jesus claims to be thirsty in John’s Gospel. Chapter 4 tells us of a time when weary from a journey he was seated by a well and said to a Samaritan woman “Give me a drink.” The conversation goes on until we learn “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst.” The further the conversation goes the less the Samaritan woman seems to understand about thirst, but the more she began to believe Jesus was the one who could quench it.

In response to his words on the cross he was offered a sponge of sour wine. Earlier, John has already told us that Jesus rebuked Peter (18.11) “The cup which the Father has given me – shall I not drink it?” Here on the cross, we find the same determination to drink the cup – Even if that cup is full of sour vinegary wine.

John keeps giving us glimpses of “The Word was God” mixed with “The Word became flesh.” Jesus was a real human in need. On the cross, God subjected his own self to the reality of human need. This was no pretend job. Jesus is reduced to the most helpless. And he is thirsty. We are reminded that at the beginning of the Gospel we are told “The Word became flesh.”

At the same time, the soldiers divided Jesus’ clothes the way they did and onlookers responded to his statement of thirst “that scripture be fulfilled” because Jesus possesses the authority of one who was with God from the beginning. Those in attendance that day had no idea that Jesus was the one making decisions. And we are reminded that at the beginning of the Gospel we are told “The Word was God.”

It is ironic that one who offered living water and walked on water and who turned water into wine is now thirsty. We may wonder, can he now turn sour wine into water? But John says he mentioned his thirst to fulfill an old scripture. People always take Jesus so literally in John. “Sir, you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep…” The Samaritan woman didn’t know he had access to the actual stuff from deep in the well of creation. Maybe it is not literal water he is thirsty for. Maybe he is thinking about something else.

The Gospel appears to be interested in both literal thirst and figurative thirst. The more we try to discover what Jesus is talking about the more the waters flow back and forth from literal to figurative. Perhaps John wants us to ask why we are content with sour wine when living water is readily available. Perhaps Lent asks us to give up our sour wine in order to enjoy what Jesus offers. Following the one who said “I thirst” is to follow one who knows the weariness of the journey. At the same time, it is to follow the one who offers water which after will cause us to never thirst again.

A prayer of response by Pastor Susan Vigliano: “Jesus, the water I drink is often sour because it is old and stale. Instead of the fresh, living water that you offer me daily, I often choose the encounters I have had with you in the past. Help me, Jesus, to remember that there is fresh living water to drink every day. You are a Father who meets all our needs. The needs of my human body are met according to your will, even if you need to send a raven or provide manna from heaven, I believe your promise that you will meet my needs for sustenance. You will care for me when I am suffering. And you have living water that I need every day.”

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“My God, My God…” (Matthew 27.46; Mark 15.34)

The only words Matthew and Mark report to us from the cross are “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Both report them in Aramaic so we cannot miss them. The fact they come to us in Jesus’ native language may suggest some emotion. Jesus is not the first to know about being forsaken, he is quoting a psalm. Surely this is not a coincidence; the psalms are part of a collection of songs and prayers that travel a long journey of presence and absence. Just as Good Friday happens as part of a larger story, this “word” occurs as part of the practice of singing and praying the psalms. Old Israel knew about feeling abandoned by God. Some still feel it.

The cross is not for safe religion. In fact, pop religion will try to convince us that a scene like this is not possible. The cross goes against the way we think the world is supposed to work. The cross leaves the holiness of God raw in the world. This is evidenced as the temple curtain is torn and as the Son of God hangs exposed on the cross. Here is a cry for the abandoned. It exposes a holy God whose plan is victory by weakness.

The Gospel writers do not report the crucifixion in the same way. This reminds us there is more than one explanation for what happened on this day. For some of us, Good Friday and the place called skull is a good match for what we feel. It tells us the truth about suffering and the high cost that comes with the ways of God.

Mark writes after both Peter and Paul had been executed. He writes as other Christians were in danger of execution. It is difficult to know exactly how this would have affected Christians in Rome but we can be certain that they lived in fear.  They may have felt forsaken. In this context, Mark writes to help the church get through the suffering without losing hope for the future or forgetting the Jesus story.  This is a dark Gospel intended to help readers navigate dark days.  The Gospel wants us to know how far God is willing to go.

Raymond Brown talks about crucifixion as gruesome on account of the “screams of rage and pain, the wild curses and the outbreaks of nameless despair of the unhappy victims.”  Brown goes on, “Yet it was not in rage but in prayer that Jesus screamed his loud cry.”  Even though he feels forsaken, he cries out to “My God.”

During Lent we follow one who knows what it means to feel forsaken. We follow one who experienced unimaginable pain. We follow one who knows how to navigate dark days. We follow one who has traveled the paths of presence and absence. This is good news. We cannot go where he has not already been.

A prayer of response by Pastor Susan Vigliano: “Father in Heaven, when the time of suffering and darkness come to my life let my mouth speak your name just as Jesus did. Let my eyes be fixed on you and let my hope be in your perfect will, not my circumstance. Even if I feel forsaken let my obedience and your name on my lips be my guide. My feelings may fail me, but you, oh Lord, will never fail me. Even in suffering and humiliation, you will never fail. Place in me a steadfast heart that will obey.”

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“Woman, Here is Your Son” (John 19.26)

John leads up to this saying by talking about the crowds calling for crucifixion, the interaction between Pilate and the chief priests, and the soldiers who were gambling for his clothes.  However it is almost as if Jesus is looking for someone. John tells us that “When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, He said to His mother ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’” Whatever else we think of these words, we can consider them “family forming.” Jesus says something that sounds like a formal introduction between two who have likely already met. But they have not known one another like he wants them to know one another.

John wants us to know that Jesus continues to make decisions even from the cross.  And here is no small decision.  It is “After this,” John says “knowing that all things had already been accomplished.”  The scene is simple.  Not everyone at the cross is hostile. There are sympathetic viewers at the cross.  Jesus saw his mother.  Jesus saw the disciple he loved.  He speaks to his mother.  He speaks to the disciple.  “From that hour the disciple took her into his own household.”  Here a new family is set in motion.

Relationships have changed. Family is defined differently. We are known, not by biological traits or proper names, but by our relationship to Jesus. At the cross a new community emerges. Not one of blood connection but a connection even more significant. Mark 3.32-33 helps us to see a family that embraces what Jesus is talking about. There Jesus tells us that family is not determined by blood. Instead those who do the will of God are his mother and brothers. Here is a surprising new relationship that violates old boundaries. We are called to meet new brothers and sisters, new mothers and fathers.

Relationship changes in the presence of the crucified Jesus.  Two individual followers become family.  When we gather together in our groups of two, three or more, we gather at the cross.  When we choose the way of the cross, we join others who are in relationship with Jesus.  We are not spectators, we are participants.  God comes near when we participate in His plan, even when we do not understand.

It is interesting that the two people at the cross are not named but identified only by their relationship with Jesus.  As his mother and the disciple whom he loved lose Jesus physically, they find a new family.  On account of what happened at the cross, we define ourselves differently.  Our identity is no longer determined by relationship with mother and father.  Instead we are defined according to our relationship with Jesus.  We are identified as part of a community that meets at the cross in relationship to a crucified King.

During Lent we want to remember that following Jesus includes joining this community gathered at the cross. No longer individuals we are identified by our relationship with Jesus as a family formed by Jesus. Lineage, DNA, and other traits do not tell the entire story. We can only know our identity and significance in relationship to the one who died on the cross.

A prayer of response from Pastor Susan Vigliano: “Jesus, it’s not easy to see every beliver as my own family. It is clear that you place a higher priority on love and relationship than anything else. There are times that I create distance with peopple I don’ like , or can’t seem to relate to, instead of finding ways of communicating that we are part of the same family. I pray that you will help to see my brothers and sisters in Christ the way that you want me to see them.”

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“Today You Will Be with Me…” (Luke 23.43)

We can be certain that things were not quiet the day of the crucifixion. Onlookers likely heard sounds of violence. There would have been shouts from soldiers and hammers pounding. There would have been gasps from the crowd and gambling for garments. The voices of Luke’s text are interesting. The rulers speak “Let him save himself.” The soldiers mock “Save yourself!” A criminal speaks “Save yourself and us.” Three times people hostile to Jesus tell him to save himself, he does not reply to any of them. And then we get the following short conversation. In response to the criminal who taunted Jesus, another criminal speaks “Do you not even fear God?” and then asks Jesus “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus responds “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

This “word” from Jesus teaches us something about grace. This is exactly the kind of thing Jesus is executed for. He is killed because they could not tame him. The sympathetic criminal does not deserve grace. Yet, we learn about grace from the crucified Jesus. Not even a cross can stop him from his move “to seek and to save that which was lost.”

Luke has included us on a journey. Not everyone responds to Jesus the same along the way. Some respond favorably. Others reject him. All the way to the cross we are faced with the question of how we will deal with Jesus. All the way to the cross we discover that not everyone agrees with the kind of people Jesus spent time with. Now we find that the one who “receives sinners and eats with them” also dies with them and for them. It is possible Jesus was not crucified because he claimed to save people, but because he would not stop saving the wrong people. Jesus never stops welcoming unlikely people into the kingdom, even a guilty criminal who has been sentenced for execution. No further questions are necessary, welcome to the kingdom.

Needless to say, this would have been difficult for onlookers to understand. From all appearances the powers of death were eliminating any hope of future and certainly something other than paradise. Yet, Jesus affirms a future for this criminal beyond this day. We do not know what else the three on the cross may have said to one another. If anything at all, Luke does not think it important to record it. Yet, the conversation continues. Every one of us is still asking for or receiving what we do not deserve. We are all either asking Jesus to do things the way we do them in the world or we are believing he knows what he is doing.

Reading this “word” of Jesus during Lent reminds us that an invitation to join the kingdom is an invitation to follow him. The text reminds us that following Jesus cannot be interrupted by the powers of the world. We are not limited by what the world offers. Following Jesus takes us beyond the borders of this world, beyond what we think we might deserve or think is in store for our future. Following Jesus may take us to a place full of the wrong people.

A prayer of response from Pastor Susan Vigliano; “Thank you Jesus for inviting me, a sinner, into your kingdom. You made the way for me and gave me the faith to believe. You loved me first. I admit to wondering if everyone is really good enough to make it into your kingdom.Sometimes I wonder if some sin or crime is just too much for grace and salvation. I confess my struggle to love and accept everyone regardless of their crime or sin. I ask you, Jesus, to soften my heart and to give me your eyes for everyone. Turn my heart of stone into a heart of flesh and give me your grace.”

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“Father Forgive Them…” (Luke 23.34)

We know how difficult forgiveness can be. It is often easier to not forgive than to forgive. I suspect we sometimes wish there a limit on things we are expected to forgive. We may wish that transgressions of a certain severity are optional as to whether we forgive them or not. Surely that would make navigating this difficult territory much easier.

Jesus does not draw a line or give permission to not forgive anything. If anything is beyond forgiveness, killing the Son of God might qualify. Still, from the cross, during his own execution, Luke tells us that Jesus says “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing. “ In fact, Luke suggests this is the first thing he said. Perhaps he wants us to know that this is more than an account about a Friday afternoon execution. We are about to witness the way God works. We are witnesses of grace. The drama of Good Friday is changed because of these words. This is a prayer that reaches into a corrupted world and changes everything.

This is just the radical sort of thing we have come to expect from Jesus. Perhaps we could interpret his statement something like this, “Before I am executed I want you to know I will not hold a grudge, I will not seek revenge, instead I forgive the organizers of this execution, I forgive those who will carry out the killing, I forgive all who mock and jeer and those who gamble for my clothes, I forgive you all.” This is the way Jesus is. Jesus does not keep score. Forgiveness may not be our natural move but it is always his next move.

Crowds called for his execution. Rulers and priests mocked him. Soldiers hit him. Still, Jesus prays that they will be forgiven. This is revolutionary. Yet this is what Jesus does. This is his move. If there were doubts before, we can be certain he meant it when he said we should forgive seventy times seven. We can be sure he was serious when he taught us to love our enemies. This forgiveness theme just will not stop. Jesus refuses to participate in the way the world does business. He refuses to play that game. Even from the cross, his next move is forgiveness. We are reminded that God is not saving all the good news for Easter Sunday.

Luke is writing for people removed from the ministry of Jesus, removed by geography and time. He writes for people who live outside the region where these things occurred. People who live years after these things took place. People like us. This is Good News no matter what side of the planet we live on and no matter what century we live in.

When reading this “word” from Jesus we can be sure God is serious about forgiveness and desires to forgive us. Yet, during Lent we also have in mind his desire that we follow him. Our text makes clear that following him means we do not have to carry around old hate or revenge strategies. God has no interest in these things. The cross makes it clear that there is a huge difference between the way the world works and the ways of God. We follow a God whose next move is always forgiveness.

Pastor Susan Vigliano adds the following prayer to this meditation: “Lord, would you show me the hidden places in my heart that are holding on to unforgiveness and bitterness? I know in my head that holding on to unforgiveness leads to death and I desire the life you offer. My heart still feels the pain. Please heal my heart and take my pain. You paid for the sin committed against me and for the sinful way in which I have held on to unforgiveness. I need you in order to forgive. I need your strength, power, love, and mercy to release this hurt into your hands. I am calling on you, Jesus and choosing your way that leads to life.”

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