I cannot believe what I am seeing. Someone asks the crowd a question that will haunt me forever. This man, Jesus, faces certain death if everyone responds in a certain way. A man steps up and asks the massive group, “What do you want me to do with this man?” I heard everyone begin to shout, “Crucify Him!” I never saw such hatred, but soon I found myself picking up the chant. What if we provoke Jesus to action by calling for his assassination? This event could be the beginning of hope. We will move him to act and stop this nightmare.
Fighting back the tears, I raise my voice along with the others. “Crucify him!” I shout at the top of my lungs. I continued, hoping that this would change the trajectory of the story. Jesus does nothing. The one I perceived to be the Messiah of the world stands and accepts the punishment given to him.
My hope turned into anger as I realized this man is not who he claims to be. We followed the wrong man because the Son of God would restore sanity. Instead, he stands there with eyes filled with compassion. I took this moment for weakness. How dare he trick me into believing what he had to say. Death is the correct judgment for causing such chaos in the city. My cries turn from hope to downright anger. “Crucify Him!” I join in louder support.
I feel the cold, hard steel of fury running through my veins. How lost I am, and it was under Jesus’ teaching that brought me to a place of despair. “Crucify Him!” I shout. Let him suffer the weight of his sins. I changed my life to follow him. I gave up everything I had because I believed in him. In my misery, I shout, “He must die for his sins.”
I am numb and cannot express how I feel. I smile at those who walk by and pretend that all is well. I make light of my interest in Jesus and pretend that what is going on does not affect me. Inside I am dying, wondering why I followed the man in the first place. If he indeed is the Son of God, why does he not overturn this godless society? It just does not make sense unless he is not the person he pretends to be. I refuse to think that his teachings proved exaggerated at best and lie at worst over the past years.
On this night, I celebrate Pesach with my family. I hope to leave this feeling of dread by turning to what I know, ritual in the story of deliverance for our people. Even in my observance, I cannot help but notice the irony in this entire situation. We tell the story of our redemption when we hope that Jesus is the appointed one to relieve us from bondage at this moment. Still, there is not a word, only silence.
I search for peace in the observance of my custom, but the storm continues to rage. Doubt stands at the forefront of all my thoughts. I feel as if I am slowly dying, unable to gasp for my next breath. I chant, “O come, O come Emmanuel and ransomed captive Israel.” Still, nothing happens. As I sink deeper into despair, I realize God does not answer me. My heart breaks, and I descend into the deepest parts of my soul.
I stand here, letting go of a hope that does not seem to come. Where is the Messiah that Jesus claimed to be? My faith shakes as I struggle to find a message of promise that does not appear. I feel let down and wonder what I must do next. I trusted Jesus and stood and waved branches as he entered the city. Now, I wonder if anything he told us was true.
With my confidence waning, I feel the darkness closing in around me. “Where are you, my Lord? I need to hear your voice and sense your spirit near me.” Still, no sound, no action, no restoration. I am not sure how I can continue to keep the faith when all around me is blackness. I ask once again, “Where are you promised, Messiah? Speak tenderly into my heart and create in me the joy of my salvation.”
Maybe there is something that I do not know. Could it be that Jesus has a plan that is better than I expected? Of course, he will rain as the Messiah when we least expect it. This realization is my candle in unexpected darkness. The flicker of the light of hope shines so that we will know that the story is far from over. In my brokenness, I will still shout your glory, oh Lord.
He arrives on the back of a donkey, and nothing happens. We paraded down the street, waiting and hoping to reestablish God’s authority over the land. I am a little nervous that Jesus may not be who he claims to be. I cannot give up hope just yet. There is still time to overthrow the whole system and declare himself King of the Jews. I wish he would make his move sooner rather than later. “Defeat our enemies and restore your people, Oh Lord!”
For now, I will not give in to defeat. I will hold my head high, knowing that the Messiah will reveal himself at the right time. Until that moment, I stand here in the knowledge that the Divine will serve holy justice to those who continue to suppress the chosen people of the Lord. So, let us patiently wait that hope is right around the corner, and restorative life is not a long way off. My spirit raises, pleading, “Come, holy Jesus, and renew the face of the earth.”
Today we celebrate the arrival of the Messiah. He is in Jerusalem now, so we wait for him to show his authority over the Romans. God will be with him, and in one fail swoop, he will reclaim the land for us, his chosen people. We show him pride and eagerly wave palms to celebrate the entrance of a King! How he smiles and waves at us, assuring us all will be made right soon. The excitement in the air is so thick that I can hardly breathe. I witnessed the chosen messenger from God in the flesh.
For many years we waited for this moment when the world would experience the splendor of God, unleashed on a world desperate to hear good news. The bright light that surrounds him is out of this world. Words fail me to describe such incredible beauty. It is neither sun nor moon, but a radiance unique unto him. It is easy to see why so many people place their trust in this man. His whole personhood illumines the Divine. Through the joy of this moment, we step on sacred ground, holy and set apart for all to see.
I stand there, looking out at the many faces welcoming him into Jerusalem. Will this feeling of adoration continue to the ultimate revelation of his divinity? I cannot say, but I know that there is a feeling of hope in the air. For now, let us feast and remain steadfast in our joy for what the future brings. Today is the beginning of the end for the Romans. Let us celebrate the good news of this day.
Any other year Ash Wednesday would begin with a solemn service in the sanctuary, complete with the dispensation of ashes followed by Communion’s observance. Unfortunately, this is not the typical run of the meal year, where we celebrate customs in quite the same way. COVID-19 is still a large part of the conversation, and we do not worship in the sanctuary. This past year brought a new thought to our church. We had to reimagine worship while in a pandemic. I hope that, upon closer inspection, we may continue with some of the good things that came out of this horrible time in our history.
One way we approach Ash Wednesday this year is not to dispense ashes on our foreheads. Instead, each family will receive some ashes in a small container. They should set them in a prominent place in the home, office, or car. When someone catches a glimpse of the ashes, they remember that they are human, and their bodies will be laid to rest, back in the dust. They hold fast to the promise that the perfect lies within each heart will find its way back to the Creator. The image of God that lived within us from the very beginning carries our souls back home. Perfect must return to perfect.
On this first day of Lent, let us be grateful for our Creator, who gave us life. Traditionally, this day is a somber one, but let us create a new way of looking at things. Could we transform this day into a time to express our joy for taking an active part in this world? Imagine how the heaviness of this day may give way to a celebration. Lent is a time to reflect on mortality, but never does it say that we must stop living. I hope that we turn our thoughts to places of hope and a remembrance that we journeyed through some very dark times. We celebrate that we have seen a great light.
How appropriate that Valentine’s Day falls on Transfiguration Sunday. We encounter eros (romantic love) with agape (the love of God), two different expressions to explain connections with those we adore and Divine grace. At first glance, both words appear separate; however, some characteristics complement the other upon closer examination. Eros concerns unwavering passion for a person. The energy in the devotion to someone is all-consuming, fiery, and boundless.
Where I see a crossover between the two expressions occurs in our commitment to God. I hope to have the elements of an all-consuming, passionate dedication to my Creator. The Transfiguration indicates a moment where agape flooded the hearts and souls of the disciples. In response, they wanted to show the moment’s holiness by responding to a type of love (eros) that limits itself to humanity. Jesus provided them a new way, agape, to share in the joy of a relationship with the Divine. This new way of loving moved past passion and into wonder and awe.
So, this coming Sunday, let us worship with awe combined with a passion for devoting our hearts and minds over to the care of God. May our faith find vitality and strength as we understand the idea of transformative love. Valentine’s Day may introduce us to love, but Transfiguration Sunday fulfills it. Our glimpse into perfection gives us the sanctifying grace of God to enhance our worship.
Let us learn the strengths discovered in love directed to our Creator. The One calling us to ministry is the author of our lives. The Divine is the giver of our dreams and the source of our devotion. We share in the reality that we return to Him what He gave to us. Such interdependence wraps us in complete adoration to the wellspring of endless hope and promise. May you have a wonderful holiday filled with transformational love. May it call you passionately and boldly to live a life in dedication to the One who created us.
As a pastor, one of the most challenging things to do is to observe the Sabbath. The command to do so is one of the top ten ordinances written by God’s hand to the people. Ancient communities took people outside of the city walls and stoned offenders for not taking the time instructed by the Creator. That is how serious honoring Sabbath is to God and the people. The time offers us a break to move from the mundane into a time of special attention to rest in God’s arms. Psalm 23 reminds us that He leads us beside still waters. The Holy leads us to a place of quiet.
One of the things with which parishioners struggle is understanding that Sunday is usually not a pastor’s Sabbath. Clergy work on what others perceive as a day of rest. Faithful adherence to maintaining a particular time must occur some other day. We must remain diligent in seeking out time that pulls into close relations with God. We must observe a day of rest and renewal, a chance to refuel our spiritual tank.
We must define what it means to take time to grow closer to God. It is not catching up on chores around the house or any other honey-dos. True Sabbath means opening ourselves up to the possibilities of hope and rest, all in the presence of the Holy One. In other words, are there things that you do that bring you joy? For me, I love to put together puzzles. I find peace and a sense of quietness in my spirit. I reflect on all kinds of things, but eventually, I realize that I rest beside still waters. I do not know what brings you closer to God, but whatever it is, follow it with your whole heart.
I remember hearing about what it means to be a born-again Christian when I was a teenager. The idea confused me as I struggled to find my way in my part of the world’s religious landscape. As I grew older, I never rested on the idea of being reborn. Nicodemus seemed to voice my concerns with such imagery. How is one born a second time? It is impossible to have a second birthday.
Years passed, and as I continued my theological studies, I realized something about my faith, the born-again idea did not work for me. The imagery regarding what Jesus meant by such a strange notion continues to offer debate today. For over two centuries, people attempt to make sense of the nature of being born anew. I hear Jesus reply to Nicodemus, “The wind blows, and you do not know from where it comes.” In other words, there is a ton of unexplained happening that can only find their definitions in holy mystery. In other words, I do not know how, but I do know the who. God is the source of all things.
My conversion did not require an answer concerning being born again. I found comfort when I realized the Divine presence in my life and how God actively participates in the world. I discovered a wealth of love and support from the Creator of the Universe. No strange gimmicks scared me into discipleship, only faith, and holy love. Acceptance into the family of God does not depend on a recitation of a prayer or any other tangible experience. All that is required is the realization that the free grace of the Divine awaits our acceptance. Our commitment to a new way of being in the world transforms our hearts and minds to offer ourselves to God. A desire to be made whole leads to absolute peace.
As a pastor, I hear from many parishioners who pledge to make changes in their lives, hoping to connect with God. I see the resolutions fade and with unfulfilled hopes and dreams, I see a sense of loss. There is nothing worse than making a promise to myself, only breaking my commitment within a week. I feel like a slide back into the darkness that I so desperately want to leave. I start out with the best of intentions, only to surrender when things get difficult. Little do I realize at the time, but my ability to rebound from defeat gets more challenging with each try.
It continues to be my experience that I must have a plan of action to succeed. Writing a resolution on paper is one thing but charting a way to achieve is another. I spend time in prayer and contemplation before moving forward with a spiritual discipline. For instance, a couple of years ago, I decided that I wanted to read the Bible through in one year. Looking at how large the Bible is caused a little anxiety and fear that I could not achieve such a huge goal. I had to plan comprised of many smaller goals to reach the larger. Planning a course of action set me on a course by which I could find success.
This year add to the idea of making resolutions. Make a list of goals and plan a way by which you can accomplish your dreams. Spend time in prayer asking the Holy Spirit to guide you on your journey. Write down and mark off smaller successes as you move to the big enchilada. In time, you find a sense of hope, purpose, and meaning. The way to the summit of achievement teaches valuable life lessons. Let the Spirit guide you, always taking time for prayer.
Happy New Year, and may God continue to guide you on your journey. Find joy in the greatest times of strife and remember to always look forward. Never surrender to the darkness but embrace the light. Remember, the darkness will never conquer it. Praise be to God, who brings us out of our greatest trials and into wholeness.