Holy Saturday – April 11, 2020

Read Mark 15:42-47

The message for today is that it’s never too late.  If we have gotten this far and have not recognized the great love that is made manifest in Mark’s Gospel, that is in the Word—Thy Word is Truth—now is the time to turn to Him, “and immediately” ask Him to renew His covenant with you.  The Good News of Holy Saturday is that the way to God is ALWAYS open.  The curtain has been torn in two.  The gates of hell have been destroyed.  He has led the captives to freedom.  Nothing stands between us and our God, except our own fear, reluctance, and disobedience.

The appointed reading today is not reflective of the events of Holy Saturday.  In the Apostle’s Creed, our baptismal statement of faith, we declare that after His Crucifixion, Jesus descended into hell.  The reading above is about Jesus being laid in the tomb.  And the other lessons appointed for this day are about rest.  But the Church teaches that Jesus did not rest on that day, rather “He descended into hell.”  We have this teaching from 1 Peter 3:18-20; 4:6  and Ephesians 4:8-10 among many others.  This is an important doctrine, that has sadly become lost or buried in our modern culture.  As King David sang in Psalm 24, “Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory!”  The gates of hell have been broken, lifted up, and the King of Glory has come in.  Our Lord has completed His triumph.  He has conquered, sin and hell, and in His Resurrection “death is swallowed up in victory!” (1 Cor. 15:54).

This is the Good News of Holy Saturday.  This is, as Mark declares in the first verse of his Gospel, “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”  The rest of the story must be lived out in our lives.  Mark learned it, and lived it.  He knew the reconciling Love of Jesus.  And he has invited us to join him.

Good Friday – April 10, 2020

Read John 13:36-38; 19:38-42

The first of these two Gospel lessons appointed for the daily office today is intended to be read in the morning; the second in the evening.  But for purposes of this meditation, I recommend that you read them together.  At the Mass of the Presanctified, or the Good Friday liturgy, the lesson appointed is John 19:1-37.  These two daily office readings nicely frame the Passion Gospel of the liturgy.

The first of the two lessons is the foretelling of Peter’s denial.  But what is interesting for our purposes is Peter’s contention that “I will lay down my life for you.”  In the second reading it is two Jewish leaders who claim the crucified body of Jesus.  None of our Lord’s disciples is there, and despite Peter’s assurance, he is conspicuously absent.  

Yesterday we read that Jesus gave us His Body and His Blood.  For us to truly receive Him, He had to die.  Without the crucifixion, there could be no resurrection.  His sacrifice upon that cross was not simply for Peter and His disciples.  It wasn’t just for Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus.  It wasn’t just for that generation, but for us and all who have come before us and will come after us.  His death was for all mankind, even those who had lived before the days of our Lord’s earthly ministry.

In the latter of the two readings for today we read that “because of the Jewish day of Preparation, as the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.”  In John’s timeline it was the day of preparation for the Passover.  But what is significant for us is that there is an implied invitation for us to prepare for receiving the Resurrected Jesus.  As we will see tomorrow, Jesus descends into hell and releases the captives.  He will yet rise from the tomb and greet the women and the disciples.  Will we be ready to greet Him, too?

Maundy Thursday – April 9, 2020

Read Mark 14:12-25

What can we say about Maundy Thursday and the institution of the Holy Eucharist?  We celebrate this event, not only every year during Holy Week, we celebrate this event every time we gather together to break bread.  There are those who would argue that we do “The Lord’s Supper” too often, that it loses its meaning, and has become too familiar.  Thus we do it by rote.  If this were simply a memorial meal, that might be true.  But what our Lord instituted on the night that He was betrayed was a Covenant, a Sacrament, an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace given in His Love for us that we might be nourished in Him by the Real Presence of His Body and His Blood!

As is his wont in the presentation of this Gospel, Mark is spare in his detail.  He gives us the most simple, most straightforward description of the Last Supper.  He stuck to the facts.  He related that when Jesus consecrated the bread He said, “Take; this is my body.”  And when He gave them the wine, He said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.Truly, I say to you, I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”  Every time we partake of the bread and the wine of the Holy Eucharist, we not only remember our Lord’s last meal with His disciples, we re-call His Sacramental Presence.  And at every Eucharist He renews the Covenant in His Blood.  When we celebrate, He truly comes again in power, in grace, and in His all-encompassing Love.  

What more can we say about this Feast of the Institution of the Holy Eucharist?  We cannot add to it, because it is a limitless gift.  But we would be highly remiss if we tried to take anything away from it.  He gave us His Body and His Blood as the covenantal grace and hope for all mankind.  It is THE sacrament of His Real Presence. 

Wednesday of Holy Week – April 8, 2020

Read Mark 12:1-11

Once again Jesus speaks to a crowd which has gathered around Him.  “And he began to speak to them in parables.”  This time, though, it is not a teaching lesson, rather an illustration for the Jewish leaders of the deception under which they are living and ruling.  The scope of the parable is enlightening for those who were schooled in the Old Covenant.  Isaiah laid the foundation for understanding this parable in the fifth chapter of his book of prophecy, and that would not have been missed by the elders.  For Isaiah, “the vineyard…is the house of Israel,” and Jesus borrows that image for His parable.  There is a hedge, a pit for the wine press, and a tower, just like in Isaiah’s song.  And the Lord says that the owner (God) “let it out to tenants.”

When the Lord sent servants—the faithful judges and righteous kings, the prophets and John the Baptist—looking for the fruits of righteousness and repentance, they were beaten and killed.  Last of all God has sent His beloved Son.  “He came to His own, but His own would not receive Him” (John 1:11).  Sadly, Jesus points out, they mistakenly believe that the inheritance of the kingdom will be theirs if they kill the Son. By this, our Lord foreshadows His death.

Even ifthey were blind and deaf to the meaning of the parable, Jesus quotes from a Messianic Psalm:  “Have you not read this scripture: ‘The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? (118:22)”  Though the Son may be rejected by His own people, the Father will exalt Him to the place of glory at His right hand.  And that will be “marvelous in our eyes.”

It is the very next night that this prophetic parable began to be fulfilled.  Let us look to this Cornerstone, for upon Him the Kingdom rests.  He is our Rock and our Salvation.

Tuesday of Holy Week – April 7, 2020

Read Mark 11:27-33

After the cleansing of the Temple, those in “authority” are offended.  They ask Jesus, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?”  It is a rhetorical question, because they already “know” the answer!  Jesus is not a priest, nor even of the Levitical tribe.  Levites were the recognized authority in matters relating to the Temple.  He is not a scribe.  The scribes were the “accredited” teachers—the true rabbis.  And neither was Jesus an elder, that is a member of the Sanhedrin.  They were the court of judges who ruled on all matters relating to the Jewish community.  Jesus, in effect, had overruled every recognized authority by cleansing the Temple of the moneychangers.  From the perspective of the Jewish elite Jesus had no authority in the Temple or the wider community.

But Jesus is a good Jew.  He answers their rhetorical question with one of His own: “Was the baptism of John from heaven or from men?”  Like any rhetorical question, the answer should be obvious.  It was from heaven, but the “authorities” cannot go there, for “they were afraid of the people.”  St. John Chrysostom summarizes the situation for us, saying, “Because they were crafty and said, ‘We do not know,’ He did not say, ‘Neither do I know,’ rather ‘Neither will I tell you.’…And how was it that they did not say the baptism was of men?  ‘They feared the people.’  Do you see their perverse heart?  In every case they despise God and do all things for the sake of men.  On account of men they were not willing to believe in Christ.  As a result, all of their evils were engendered to them.”

Mark has already shown us the dangers of following the crowd (meditations in Week 3).  And here Jesus offers a presage of the crowds frenzy on Good Friday.  Will we stand on the word of the “authorities”?  The word of the crowd?  Or the Word of Truth?  Thy Word is Truth!

Monday of Holy Week – April 6, 2020

Read Mark 11:12-26

In the tradition of the Church, the first three days of Holy Week recount the anointing of Jesus on Monday, the cleansing of the Temple on Tuesday, and what came to be known as “Spy Wednesday,” our Lord’s betrayal by Judas, on Wednesday.  But in keeping with the readings of the daily lectionary, the cleansing of the Temple, is the one designated for today.  We will go with that.

It is interesting that Mark encapsulates his account of the cleansing within the only miracle that Jesus does during His final week.  The miracle of the fig tree is not only the sole miracle during Passion Week, it is the only “judgment” miracle recorded in the Gospels.  It has always seemed unreasonable to me that Jesus would curse the tree because it had no fruit when, as Mark records, “it was not the season for figs.”  But fig trees do produce what are called taksh, which are green pods and appear on the branches before the leaves.  Peasants would often pick the trees clean before the fruit had an opportunity to bud.  It may be that Jesus was looking for the taksh, but the pilgrims coming to the feast beat Him to it.  Regardless, Peter must have related the story to Mark, and most probably applied it to the event in the Temple.  The fig tree has often been seen as a symbol of Israel (cf. Joel 2:21-23), and the cursing of the fig tree by our Lord was symbolic of the inability of Israel to produce fruits of righteousness at the dawn of the Messianic age.

The Lord not only gave the parabolic message of judgment, He also used the encounter with the tree as a teaching tool.  When Peter noted the withered tree the following morning, Jesus replied, “Have faith in God.”  That is an interesting response to Peter’s exclamation.  Jesus, is less interested in their understanding of what happened to the tree than He is in helping them understand and believe in the power of prayer.  He says, “whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” 

Holy Week: Palm Sunday, April 5, 2020

Read Luke 19:41-48

The Gospel of Luke makes nice bookends for our meditations.  We heard from Luke on Ash Wednesday, and as we begin the Passion Week we hear from the good physician once again.  Luke is the only one of the four Gospel writers to record our Lord weeping over Jerusalem.  Jesus wept “because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

St. John tells us in the prologue of his Gospel, that “the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (1:14).  And Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).  “Thy Word is Truth” (John 17:17). The Word of Truth came to His own, and His own received Him not (John 1:11).  It broke the heart of the Lord.  He knew what their rejection of Him would mean.  Jesus wept.

As we enter the events of this Holy Week, what are the things that break your heart?  Are they the things that break the heart of God, or are they the more selfish things, things that we want but cannot have for ourselves?  As we look at our city and those who live here, what is our response?  Do we weep for those who do not know God?  Is our heart broken with the things that break the heart of God?

Mark has shown us through the action sequences, the parables, and the teachings of Jesus, how our Lord has brought restoration and redemption to all who turn to Him in faith.  Now, as we move with Mark from these early chapters into the Passion of our Lord, we make the transition with him from personal redemption to our Lord’s sacrifice for the salvation of all mankind.

Jesus is standing on the Mount of Olives.  He is gazing at the east gate of Jerusalem.  He knows what is ahead.  He has accurately predicted His Passion.  Will you go with Him now?  To Calvary?

Saturday of 5 Lent – April 4, 2020

Read Mark 10:46-52

Mark was apparently not a strong literary type.  Greek may have been a second language for him, and the example of his writing found in the Gospel did not show evidence of great learning on his part.  Compared to Luke’s Greek, in both the Gospel and Acts, Mark’s Greek is grammatically simple.  He was less interested in setting out a well constructed literary treatise than he was in faithfully transcribing Peter’s reminiscences, and presenting the Good News as he had experienced it.  So, it is interesting to see how the Holy Spirit inspired so much of what we have read through these five weeks.  And as we come to the conclusion of chapter 10 and Mark’s introduction to the Passion, it is interesting to see the story in today’s reading as a fine literary transition, as well as an uplifting story of our Lord’s healing power at work.

As Jesus and the disciples leave Jericho, they pass by Blind Bartimaeus.  Bartimaeus is a model of Christian conversion.  He exemplifies persistence, opposition to the crowd, and giving up everything to follow Jesus.  When Bartimaeus first hears that it is Jesus leading the crowd passing by, he cries out to him.  The crowd rebuked the blind man and told him to be quiet.  But “he shouted all the more.”  He was persistent, and he wouldn’t be influenced by the crowd.  Then he made his most telling commitment. “Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.”  His cloak was laid out before him to collect money tossed to him by passers-by.  That represented his entire living.  He threw everything he had away to come to Jesus.

Bartimaeus came to Jesus and immediately he received his sight and followed our Lord on the way.  What a good transition to the Way of Holy Week.  Our Lord has prepared us.  He is asking that we lay aside our cloak and follow Him.  Knowing that Calvary is ahead, will we, with Jesus, say “Not my will, but Thine be done”?

Friday of 5 Lent – April 3, 2020

Read Mark 10:32-45

Many modern commentators claim that the details in this third Passion prediction hint at a transplanted Passion narrative, that Jesus could not have known that kind of detail before the fact.  That seems unlikely.  There really would be no reason for Mark to elaborate on Peter’s recounting of these events.  As Jesus and His band of disciples drew nearer Jerusalem He would want them to be more fully prepared for what was to follow.  He would not hide  the details, even though it would be uncomfortable for them.

When the Lord takes us out of our comfort zone, it is because He has something better planned for us.  The journey to Jerusalem, and on to Calvary, is an important one for all of us to make.  It is the test of our profession of faith.  But, like James and John, we don’t really want to go there.  We want assurances.  The brothers make a selfish request: “We want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”  Their request flows from the springs of their will.  They want to be near to the Lord, but their hearts reveal the selfishness of that desire.  “We want You to do OUR will.”

The Lord has just lovingly explained how He is going to Jerusalem to fulfill the Father’s will.  Nevertheless, Jesus will have His own deep distress as He fights with self will.  “Not my will, but thine be done,” He will pray in Gethsemane (Mk. 14:36).  He wants to offer Himself as the sacrifice that will bring life to James and John.  But the brothers cannot receive that love in the context given.  They want to avoid the unpleasantness of the suffering and death.

The Word of God is not always comforting; it is occasionally a harsh word.  But His Word is always given in love.  How we respond reveals our heart toward His love.  Is our prayer, as Jesus taught, “Thy will be done,” or “We want you to do for us whatever we ask of you”?  We may hear, as the brothers did, an uncomfortable word.  How will we respond?

Thursday of 5 Lent – April 2, 2020

Read Mark 10:17-31

Undoubtedly our Lord did much more teaching in preparing the disciples for the Passion than is recorded here.  For example, Matthew and Luke have included additional teaching material in their respective Gospel narratives that is not found in Mark’s Gospel.  But Mark concludes this section of Jesus’ preparation with the story of the rich young man’s encounter with Jesus.  There is much that Jesus has to say to this young man, and to us through Mark’s relating of the story, but the key is found in Jesus’s response to the man’s declaration that he has kept all of the commandments.  Our Lord said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”  The Lord’s message is simple.   Where is your focus?  What are the things that you hold dear?  Whatever it is, none of it compares to having a relationship with Jesus, the Son of God.  His final exhortation to the young man summarizes all of His teaching:  “Come, follow Me.”

Once again the disciples find that Our Lord’s words shatter their preconceptions about the kingdom.  “How hard it will be for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!”  They have been taught that riches are a sign of God’s favor.  How can it be that one favored by God will not enter the Kingdom of God?  Peter reminds Mark of the sacrifices that he and the other disciples made.  Mark records that Peter said to Jesus, “Lo, we have left everything and followed you.” And Jesus assures them that they will receive a greater reward, but it will come with a cost.  There will be persecutions in this life, but “in the age to come eternal life.”

The way is narrow that leads to eternal life, but Jesus assures Peter, and all who follow after him, that the sacrifices are worth the cost.  “Come, follow Me,” says the Lord.  His way leads to eternal life.