This was the last time Jesus would be together with all twelve of his apostles.  So much was to be revealed that night.   Betrayal.  Denial.  Impending and inevitable death.  Servanthood.  Love.  It was all so much — too much — for the apostles to take in.  They had spent their years with Jesus often confused and amazed.  But tonight would be the epitome thus far of their confusion and amazement.  I can’t imagine how difficult it was to take it all in.  And yet, I do try to imagine it.

Whenever I partake in Communion I remember this night, and I can almost feel myself present in that Upper Room.  The somber air.  The gentle spirit of Jesus.  The sudden revelation of chaos about to unfold.  Events that cannot be stopped, no matter how profound our disbelief or what our wishes are.

During Communion I am sometimes in the same chaotic state the apostles must have been in:  I don’t want Jesus to pour out his blood and for his body to be broken.  Not this loving, frustrating, thought-provoking, challenging man who has taught us so much about God and what God wants from us.  Yet the apostles had no real idea what Jesus was talking about or what was actually about to happen in the next few moments and days.  But you and I know.  And you and I know why it all unfolded as it inevitably did.  Or at least we struggle to know why.

As was so often the case with the apostles, they didn’t quite get what they were being told.  But time would reveal the meaning of the Last Supper.  Today we share every week in Jesus’ act of love and the remembrance of his most precious sacrifice.  We know what it represents: the cross.   The literal broken body and shed blood  “….for you,” for me, for us.   The intensity of feeling when I realize the depth of this love is breath-taking to me.  And I feel so incredibly blessed each time I receive Communion.

As I read of Jesus’ blessing of the bread and giving thanks for the cup, I was suddenly reminded of another time Jesus gave thanks at the beginning of a meal.   The loaves and fishes.  We still shake our heads in amazement when we recall how many Jesus fed when God worked through him to multiply the few fish and loaves of bread.  Yet how many more and how eternally has he fed with one cup and one loaf of bread ?

Eli Davis


Prevailing Words

Psalm 12

May the Lord cut off all flattering lips,

the tongue that makes great boasts,

those who say, ‘With our tongues we will prevail;

our lips are our own—who is our master?’

The Psalms have no kind words for the duplicitous  or the manipulative with words. On the other hand, in our world the ability to control others with our language is prized, whether it is in politics, advertising, indoctrination, or the gospel of prosperity. Material rewards follow, if we can artfully tell people what they want to hear. Influence supersedes honesty.

When the Pharisees in today’s Gospel demanded that Jesus state the source of the authority of his teachings and miracles, were they only demanding transparency? Why did Jesus turn their question against them by saying, “Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? Answer me.’”  With this counter, he avoided answering their question.

Jesus had taken this sort of test before. When Satan took him up to the pinnacle of the Temple and challenged Jesus to throw himself down, he was demanding a naked display of power.  Jesus responded, “It is written, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.”  A direct answer to the Pharisees would have been a comparable display of power.  Candor would be self-promoting and distracting from the work of the Kingdom.

So how can we know when to be direct and honest? Perhaps by judging what the consequences are for us.  The Psalmist curses those who boast, “With our tongues we will prevail; Our lips are our own—who is our master?” (12:4). If what we say gives us more power over those who hear us, we are vying for influence. If our words give us no advantage or even compromise our power, they set our listeners free.

Bill Tucker

When something goes awry at work, in our personal relationships, or within any pressing situation, our culture advocates immediate action to rectify the problem and return to the ideal state we’ve strived to create. Suffering is undesirable, uncomfortable, and we want to get it over with as quickly as possible. Paul forces a complete rethinking of this modern perception, saying not only that our struggle provides the pathway to God’s succor, but that it is actually impossible to have one without the other: “as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall you be also of the consolation.” (2 Corinthians 1:7)

We might view today’s accompanying readings from the Books of Psalms and Lamentations as excellent examples of what it means to wallow. In fact, they unveil the true intent which God manifests in our trials: “Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.” (Psalm 51:8) God has to break us, to whatever extent, to rebuild us.

What’s remarkable is that this is no platitudinous shrug-off as if to say “That’s just the way it is.” The only way we find the peace that passes all understanding is by undergoing our own passion, just as Jesus dies on the cross because there is no other way for him to redeem us.

So the next time we encounter suffering on whatever scale, there is no need to panic or fear that things are not as they should be. There is nothing that God places before us that He will not lead us through. In our moments of self-doubt, Jesus never waivers in his love for us, and faith in us. When we have come through the shadows, our consolation is assured, however we choose to bring it into being. “What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them” (Mark 11: 24).

Imogen Howes

We have a full plate of readings today, honoring our Savior Jesus Christ in triumph and grappling with the sorrow of his betrayal, trial, and death. What a range of emotions to experience in one day!

It’s relatively easy for us to celebrate with the crowds, waving our palm branches. There are so many situations we want to change in the world around us–hunger, grief, poverty–and while we work to alleviate suffering, we know that only in God’s kingdom will all sorrow cease. So when Jesus “rides on in majesty,” we cheer with the crowds, because we want to see him coming into our world, making all things right.

But that’s not all there is to the story–the sad truth is that Jesus was misunderstood, unjustly condemned and crucified. His passion–the word comes from the Greek word “pascho,” to suffer–took him to the very depths of human experience. He was executed in the most degrading way the Roman Empire knew. His followers wept over his body and buried him.

It’s difficult for us in 2010 to understand fully the sorrow of those long-ago mourners. We grieve as we remember that first Good Friday, but we know that Jesus Christ rose again, that this grave is not permanent. The disciples did not know that. And so we often anticipate the joy of Easter on Palm Sunday, knowing that the sorrow of Good Friday is transient—we want to jump from Palm Sunday’s triumphal entry to Easter’s  triumphal Resurrection.

But these readings will not let us off the hook. Joy is more meaningful in light of the sorrow that precedes it, and sometimes even gives it greater meaning. A theologian once said that “the road from Palm Sunday to Easter must go past Calvary.” And so we recognize Jesus’ sovereignty and share the joy of that Jerusalem crowd . . . and we also grieve with the disciples as the world goes dark.

On Palm/Passion Sunday, we must grasp both the joy of Jesus Christ’s presence with us and the devastating grief of his crucifixion, the excitement and celebration of today and the sorrow that will come in a few days. Today we remember what will happen.

Martha A. Daniels

Invisible Things

“There is no weakening on our part, and instead, though this outer man of ours may be falling into decay, the inner man is renewed day by day.  Yes, the troubles which are soon over, though they weigh little, train us for the carrying of a weight of eternal glory which is out of all proportion to them.  And so we have no eyes for things that are visible, but only for things that are invisible; for visible things last only for a time, and the invisible things are eternal.” 2 Cor. 4:16-18.

What inspiring words!  When I was a child and faced with some difficulty, my mother would say, “Well, that’s a little cross for you to bear.”  Her words both acknowledged my struggle and construed it as an opportunity.  I could, if I chose, see the current struggle as a chance to grow stronger, train myself to handle greater challenges in the future, and claim my small portion of eternal glory.   It was a chance to see the invisible and leave my limited vision of the visible world behind.

Jim Etzkorn

Facing Suffering

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.”  2 Corinthians 4:8

A hand- written note in the margins of my study Bible next to 2 Corinthians 4:5-12 says, “theology of the Cross = new life through suffering”.  There is much about suffering  in the Daily Office readings for today.   “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  laments the writer of Psalm 22 while Jesus asks James and John if they are able to drink “the cup that I drink,” and we all know what is in store for Jesus.

We also admit that even the most peaceful and routine life includes suffering  as we experience the anguish of shepherding a child through the difficulties of growing up or simply adjusting to the vagaries and disappointments of careers, the struggle to maintain a marriage, or caring for elderly parents.  Finally, we all face the existential fact of our own death.

I’m glad that I have a faith that doesn’t tip-toe around the issue of suffering but faces it head on and, thanks be to God, gives us the strength, the courage, and the wisdom to experience the joy of life in Christ even in the midst of suffering.

Barbara Scoville

Mark 10:17-31

I both love and am shaken by what Jesus says in this passage.  “Sell what you own, and give the money to the poor” and “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”  Those are inspiring, yet frightening and challenging words. This passage from the Gospel of Mark helps me realize I have not given enough away in this life.  I have not let go of the things I cling tightly to.

Several years ago a pastor at one of the churches I attend gave a wonderful sermon, remarking that she had yet to meet anyone who claimed Lent as their favorite liturgical season.  I wrote her that she had now met someone who eagerly looked forward to and embraced Lent.  “Abstaining from some of the pleasures and indulgences in my life for the remembrance of Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice is such a very small thing to do….An action to show even a fraction of my love for God in Jesus — I run to that with an open heart.”

This still stands true for me, but I often wonder during the season of Lent: What about the other 325 days of the year?  So I am humbled when I ask myself: what if I am really hoarding/clinging to more than I think I am?  And if I haven’t given “enough,” why not?  What am I afraid of?  Am I afraid of total surrender and trusting in the Lord?

In Mark’s passage the rich man has a sincere faith; he certainly believes he has followed all of the commandments.  Jesus looks at him with love.  Like so many of us, the rich man is well-meaning, but naïve.  Following the commandments is not the real test of faith.   Sacrifice is called for, a sacrifice that will hurt; the kind that will make us think our whole world will change if we decide to follow this road.

In a book of sermons on suffering by Barbara Brown Taylor, she writes about sacrifice and says “buried in the demand is a promise: that what we lose for his sake we shall find again, returned to us more alive than ever before.”  The sacrifices that Christ calls us to make demand trust in the Lord and belief that he will be there to hold and keep us no matter how much of our earthly “security” we lose or give away.    Jesus is prompting us to realize that holding on to that earthly “security” prevents us from realizing what the kingdom of God is truly about.

Eli Davis