A Sacred, Unfailing Message

From Mark 16:1-8 (NLT):

The next evening, when the Sabbath ended, Mary Magdalene and Salome and Mary the mother of James went out and purchased burial spices to put on Jesus’ body.  Very early on Sunday morning, just at sunrise, they came to the tomb.  On the way they were discussing who would roll the stone away from the entrance to the tomb.  But when they arrived, they looked up and saw that the stone–a very large one–had already been rolled aside.  So they entered the tomb, and there on the right sat a young man clothed in a white robe.  The women were startled, but the angel said, “Do not be so surprised.  You are looking for Jesus, the Nazarene, who was crucified.  He isn’t here!  He has been raised from the dead!  Look, this is where they laid his body.  Now go and give this message to his disciples, including Peter: Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee.  You will see him there, just as he told you before he died!”  The women fled from the tomb, trembling and bewildered, saying nothing to anyone because they were too frightened to talk.  Then they reported all these instructions briefly to Peter and his companions.  Afterward Jesus himself sent them out from east to west with the sacred and unfailing message of salvation that gives eternal life. Amen.

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The Old Rugged Cross

I’ve always had trouble calling this Friday good, but reflect with me on the lyrics of this hymn and the theology resonating within:

On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross, the enblem of suffering and shame; and I love that old cross where the dearest and best for a world of lost sinners was slain.

Oh, that old rugged cross, so despised by the world, has a wondrous attraction for me; for the dear Lamb of God left his glory above to bear it to dark Calvary.

In the old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine, a wondrous beauty I see; for twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died to pardon and sanctify me.

To the old rugged cross I will ever be true, its shame and reproach gladly bear; then he’ll call me some day to my home far away, where his glory forever I’ll share.

So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross, till my trophies at last I lay down; I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it some day for a crown.

Waiting for God

From Simone Weil’s “Waiting for God”:

The abandonment at the supreme moment of the crucifixion, what an abyss of love on both sides!

God wears himself out through the infinite thickness of time and space in order to reach the soul and to captivate it.  If it allows a pure and utter consent (though brief as a lightning flash) to be torn from it, then God conquers that soul.  And when it has become entirely his, he abandons it.  He leaves it completely alone, and it has in its turn, but gropingly, to cross the infinite thickness of time and space in search of him whom it loves.  It is thus that the soul, starting from the opposite end, makes the same journey that God made toward it.  And that is the cross.

Prisoner of Hope

From Jurgen Moltmann’s “Prisoner of Hope”:

Earlier, too, Christ had often withdrawn at night in order to be united in prayer with the God whom he always called so intimately “my Father.”  Here, for the first time, he does not want to be alone with God.  He seeks protection among his friends.  Protection from whom?  And then comes the prayer that sounds like a demand: “Father, all things are possible to thee; remove this cup from me” (Mark 14:36)–spare me this suffering.  What suffering?  In Matthew and Luke the prayer sounds somewhat more modest: “If it be possible…” and “If thou art willing,” remove this cup from me.

Christ’s request was not granted.  God, his Father, rejected it.  Elsewhere we are always told “I and the Father are one.”  But here Christ’s true passion begins with the prayer in Gethsemane which was not heard, which was rejected through the divine silence; for his true passion was his suffering from God.

This suffering from God himself is the real torment in Christ’s passion.  This godforsakenness is the cup which he is not spared.  God’s terrible silence in response to Christ’s prayer in Gethsemane is more than a deathly stillness.  It is echoed in the dark night of the soul, in which everything that makes life something living withers away, and in which hope vanishes.  Martin Buber called it the eclipse of God.

A Look Inside

From Edna Hong’s “A Look Inside”:

“Did you ever look inside yourself and see what you are not?” the crippled daughter in one of Flannery O’Connor’s short stories shouts at her spiritually crippled mother.  Few of us have looked long enough into ourselves to see that what seems to us and to others as normally attractive is actually as graceless as a scarecrow and even repulsive.  It is an easy matter for the physical eye to spot physical deformity and blemishes in others and in oneself.  It is not so easy for the eye of the spirit to spot a spiritual dwarf, hunchback, or cripple, although it is easier to see these spiritual deformities in others than in oneself.

…But to spot it in one’s self is not only difficult but painful, and no one wants to take the descending path to that naked, unvarnished truth, with all its unacceptable humiliations.  It is much more comfortable to stay on the level of the plain and ordinary, to go on being just plain and ordinary.  Yet it is to this path that Lent invites.

The reason Lent is so long is that this path to the truth of oneself is long and snagged with thorns, and at the very end one stands alone before the broken body crowned with thorns upon the cross.  All alone–with not one illusion or self-delusion to prop one up.  Yet not alone, for the Spirit of Holiness, who is also the Spirit of Helpfulness, is beside you and me.  Indeed, this Spirit has helped to maneuver you and me down that dark, steep path to this crucial spot.

The Echo of Ashes

From Joyce Rupp’s book, Out of the Ordinary:

“Remember you are dust

and to dust you shall return.”

the large brown bowl

rests on a purple cloth

its roundness holding ashes

freshly burned

black and ready for wearing.

blackened thumbs

press the ancient sign

upon the waiting foreheads.

I hear the message repeated

until it haunts and hunts me down:

remember, remember, remember

you are dust, dust, only dust

someday only dust will remain.

the echo of the Lent-stained ashes

speaks the truth of my humanity:

the humbleness of my beginning,

the simplicity of my departure.

A few wise words

echoing through Ash Wednesday

urge me to deeper things:

renewed dedication,

constant compassion,

and mindful awareness.

I leave marveling

at how simple and sublime

is this envelope of the soul,

which one day returns

to dust, dust, only dust.

 

In Her Memory

And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head.  There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that?  For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.”  And they scolded her.  But Jesus said, “Leave her alone.  Why do you trouble her?  She has done a beautiful thing to me.  For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them.  But you will not always have me.  She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial.  And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her” (Mark 14:3-9, ESV).

I think we’ve made Jesus’ out to be a liar.  I can’t think of the last time I heard a serious proclamation about you.  But here’s to recommending a fresh look at the gospel.  Here’s my small effort at turning us to you because of what you did, what you didn’t do, and what Jesus said about you.

Thank you for the days and labor–whatever that toil–you spent so that you could give Jesus that memorable gift.

Thank you for your example of unwavering stability in the circle of ministry that was as rewarding as it was painful.

Thank you for not allowing the people who spoke poorly of you to change your mind about seeing Jesus.

Thank you for the courage you had to walk into a room of some who didn’t know you as a gift and an evangelist, who didn’t know you as the primer of all our best sermons.

Thank you for the stamina you’ve had in eternity while listening to the good news preached, listening for your name to be mentioned, though the gospel writers in the centuries since didn’t keep it.

Thank you for being so important to Jesus that he said we’d mention you whenever we mentioned him.

Thank you for waiting.

May you and others like you never be forgotten.  May you never be a footnote.  May you share the eternal stage with him who sits upon an enduring throne.