Saturday, April 15, 2017

Planning the Funeral

The day after a loved one dies is the first day that reality starts to take hold. Customs vary by region and faith, but, the dawning of the day after is not a day to sit idly by the window meditating on the life of the lost one, the lost relationship. There is too much to do.

I have sat on these “days after” with many families. The most difficult, painful, emotionally wrenching encounters are with mothers and fathers who have lost a child, minor or adult.  There are literally no words of comfort. All you can do is cry along with the grieving and try to plan the funeral, one step at a time.

I try imagine the challenge of trying to console Mary on Saturday morning.  Hadn’t the angel made this very clear, that she was “highly favored”? Hadn’t it been promised that her son would be given the “throne of his father David”? Hadn’t Elizabeth prophesied that both she and Jesus would be “blessed”?  But now, instead of having the front seat to the coronation of her son the king, she spent Friday afternoon lying in the dirt as her son’s blood dripped all around her during his death by torture. And they placed him in the tomb.

Now it is the day after.  Everyone sits around, trying to recall the words he spoke. How could he, how could everyone who followed him have been so wrong?  But, there is a funeral to plan.  What songs shall we sing? “They said ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’ How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?”  Who will dare try to sum up his life in a eulogy? Will anyone come as we sit together, or will they everyone be too fearful, too ashamed to be seen with Mary, the woman who said God visited her?

I wonder if maybe, just maybe, this funeral planning was put on hold for a day because Mary still believed that her son would be king?

Maybe the ‘other Mary’ told Mary she felt the earth stirring up a recipe of hope this Saturday.  “Hold off on that funeral, Mary.” Maybe it was just words meant to comfort. Maybe it was true.  Let’s see what the morning brings, shall we?

Pastor Bill

P.S. I will be taking my “spring writing break” for a while.  Thank you for your faithful readership!  Lord willing, we will re-connect in good time.

Holy Saturday, Holy Week "Also Present in the Grave"

Reading Jeremiah 23:24b (NIV) "Do not I fill heaven and earth?" declares the LORD.

Jesus is dead. He lies in a grave.

"Low in the grave he lay...."

But, he was not alone. Grave sites, be they tombs carved in the side of stones; holes dug in the earth; urns filled with ashes; whether the ocean depths or the summit of the mountain, the dead do not lie alone.

The LORD fills the earth. His presence is unseen, but in some mysterious way, not unknown, not 'unfelt'.  The LORD's life force is stirring this Holy Saturday.

Jesus is really dead, but he died in this knowledge:

" body will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the will make known to me the path of life... ." (Psalm 16:9-11)

"...waiting the coming day, Jesus my Lord."

Just you wait.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday, Holy Week "The Revealing of God's Arm"

Reading Isaiah 53:1b "...and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?"

I wonder if that is something to be desired or feared?

On this holy night our Lord, Jesus Christ, was dead. Really. Dead. "He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death."

But here's the thing, Isaiah explains: "...he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth."

Why, God, did you forsake your Son? "Yet it was the LORD's (Yahweh's) will to crush him and cause him to suffer... ."

Is this what is means to have be on the revealing end of the LORD's mighty arm?

Or is it this?  "After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied... ."

I choose to believe, or I believe by the power of the Spirit, that earth and heaven will be one and that this is when Jesus will be satisfied, all because of a Friday afternoon in which he died an unspeakable death and dwelt in his grave for what must have been in heaven an unbearable three days. Unless you knew how it was going to end.

And this is how the arm of the LORD has been revealed to us.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Thursday, Holy Week "Fear and Following"

Reading Luke 22:54b "Peter followed at a distance."

Can you blame him, really?

Who doesn't want to avoid danger that could lead to arrest and even death?

He could have just gone home, right? I mean, at least he followed Jesus as Jesus was being hauled away for his so-called "trial".  Would it not have been wiser, for the sake of the movement, to stay away, so that the leader of the disciples could carry on Jesus' work?

Ah, the beauty of rationalizing our decision to follow Jesus at a distance.

Can you imagine, as the rooster crowed, the piercing to the toenails look when Jesus eyes met Peter's frightened stare? "The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter."  Crushing. No wonder he "went outside and wept bitterly."

So much of our lives, as followers of Jesus, are spent living in this Holy Thursday moment of fear, or shame, or guilt, that someone might see us so close to Jesus that we get labeled as one who is "with him."

Can you blame us, really?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Wednesday, Holy Week "Only Jesus Was Silent This Day"

Reading Matthew 26:15 "What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?" (Judas)

Wednesday of Holy Week is remarkable for what does not happen to Jesus.  Scholars call this day "Silent Wednesday" because we don't know what Jesus did today.  The speculation is that that he and his disciples spent time in fellowship, perhaps with other friends, just enjoying each others company one last time.

But I don't know.  Jesus had to know by now what was about to unfold.  I know how I feel the day before a major event in my life, and I have had no life event even approaching  the trials and trauma of the next two days in Jesus' life. I pretty much want to be alone.  My intestines roil. I don't want to talk to anyone.

Jesus was about to be "dead man walking". Did he really attend a party?

I think he spent time thinking about where Judas was and what he was doing.  Either Jesus had spies, or he had divine knowledge of what Judas did on Wednesday, offering to help capture Jesus for a price. Because on Thursday night, Jesus will tell Judas to go do what he planned. No one else seemed to have a clue what was going down.

Jesus rested? Maybe. Jesus wrestled with his betrayal by Judas? Maybe. Either way, while Jesus was "silent" this Wednesday, evil was not. It never is.

Jesus could be silent on Wednesday because he knew Friday was coming, and so was Sunday.  Still, the day's events had to trouble him as he tried to fall asleep for the last time before his death.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Tuesday, Holy Week "A Time for Darkness"

Reading Luke 22:53: "...this is your hour-when darkness reigns."

The Source of Light was about to willingly engage the forces of "darkness."

Jesus knew that he, the Light of the World, was descending this week into utter darkness.

Spiritual darkness.

Physical darkness.

Did Jesus know that, while darkness was given its own "hour", that the eternal Light would emerge from the darkness victorious?  If he had such assurance from God as he walked toward Friday, did it make the journey any easier?

Is this statement to the authorities who are arresting Jesus one which springs from the knowledge of coming victory or the despair of looming defeat?

Walking toward Friday takes courage that God alone can provide, and faith that Jesus alone possessed.

It is by the faith of Jesus that you have been saved, by grace.  Darkness reigned for but an hour.

The darkness of Friday would not be a surprise to Jesus. Neither would the Light of Sunday.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Monday, Holy Week: Musings on the Two Marys

Reading Matthew 28:1.
" ...Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb."  (NIV)

God calls these two women to be his prophets and preachers about the most momentous moment in the history of the world.

It is a brave thing they did, going to the tomb. It is a mysterious thing that they had ears to hear the angel's news, and a miraculous thing that they believed what they heard.

It is a life-changing vision they had of that empty tomb.

It is the greatest act of faith that any person could have shown that day as they left the tomb as bearers of the light, the light which the darkness had not, has not, will not overcome.

Thank God for sending such a resounding message that he chooses women to be God's ministers.

Then and now.

To conclude otherwise is to deny the choice God made in relying on the "Two Marys" to carry the light.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Opening Day

It was Opening Day this past week.  I was not at the ballpark cooking up brats and swilling down cold beverages.  But, I was thinking about the first day of major league baseball as I was speaking with a guy who was in Omaha. When I mentioned that it was Opening Day the guy’s voice lit up. He started to wax on about the beauty of this particular Opening Day because his Chicago Cubs were beginning their defense of their World Championship.  He told me about watching and listening through losing seasons with his Dad, and the unfettered joy of “Game 7” last October when Cubs fans patience was rewarded.  Here we were, me cheering for a Milwaukee Brewers team which advertises that it is “rebuilding” (again) and him cheering for a team thinking they are destined to “repeat”.  Yet we both were full of Opening Day hope: “this could be our year!”

“Hope springs eternal” is an over-used phrase, but it truly does apply on Opening Day.  Everyone is tied for first place. Everyone hopes that this will be the year their team becomes the “Miracle Mets” or the big league version of the “Bad News Bears”: a bunch of misfits who stumble upon a winning formula. On Opening Day, everyone is a potential winner of the biggest prize, and people fill the ballparks to celebrate that hope.

I know it is just coincidental, but I love the way that Easter Sunday happens near Opening Day.  Easter is “Opening Day” for so many people of faith. It is the day they “re-set” their faith clocks; it is the day that they come to hear about how, no matter where their life finished in the standings last year, this year could be different.  This could be the championship year for their faith, the year they discover how to produce more victories than losses. So the crowds line up and fill the stands waiting for those beautiful words that mean hope is here: “Play ball!”  The Church’s proclamation is the same: “He is Risen!” Those words mean it is time to start living a new life under new power and with a new focus.

It’s almost “Opening Day”, friends. Don’t miss the first pitch of what just could be the best season your life.  

P.S. My Brewers beat Mr. Omaha’s Cubs last night in extra innings. I’m telling ya, this could be the year!

Saturday, April 1, 2017


“No Crosses Allowed in Workplace” screamed the headlines.  It was the lead story on the evening news, while the cable news outlets ran special reports on this “Breaking News”.  The reports all covered the Supreme Court’s determination that employers could ban employees from wearing any religious symbols in the workplace. No jewelry in the shape of a cross; no crucifixes; no “fish” symbols; no “WWJD” wrist bands.

The case started with a group of atheists complaining to the HR department that they were offended by the HR Director’s gold cross which she wore over her clothing during Lent.  The president of the company stated his company was “neutral” in its views of religion, and therefore instructed the HR Director to remove her gold cross during work hours. The HR Director claimed religious discrimination. The case worked its way through the court system until, finally, the Supreme Court, in a landmark opinion, gave a new meaning to “religious freedom”.  The court reasoned that, so long as everyone was barred from expressing their religious preferences in the place of employment, no one could do so.

Leaders of religious organizations wondered aloud if this is the first step down the slippery slope of becoming “one nation without regard for God”. The nation’s citizens, however, were noticeably less bothered by the case’s final outcome.  Pundits speculated that, as religious practices have diminished among the population, the concern about protecting the right to express faith publicly has likewise dropped dramatically.  Among the nation’s children, less than half of those polled knew why people wore a cross in the first place.   

Meanwhile, God sighed.

(This is not an April Fool’s joke. It is fiction based on a real decision by the European Court of Justice.  Of note: the European ban on wearing crosses grew from an employer’s action banning an Islamic headscarf at work.  The court reasoned that Islamic religious garb could be banned if crosses were too. It is a legal theory coming to a court near you.)