Archive for the ‘Psalm’ Category

Preparation for Worship. For today’s worship, you will need 2 candles, a gathering of beautiful objects (for example, plants, stones, a small fountain, a silver pitcher, a large cross. pictures of beautiful or awe-inspiring places).  If you want to celebrate communion, have some food and drink to share. The type of food and drink does not matter for they are merely symbols which help us celebrate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

EABC Artwork and Text Vertical


Invitation. 
There are times when living the way of Jesus feels particularly hard. This week’s gospel reading reminds us that God’s constant love and the Spirit’s enduring presence is with us.  We are never alone and never abandoned.  So, don’t be intimidated. Continue doing good–living the way of Jesus.

 

 

The Worship of God

Light two candles in recognition of Christ’s presence.  In our practice, one candle represents Jesus’ divinity and the other Jesus’ humanity.

Gathering for Worship

Passing the Peace
Say to one another, “May the Peace of Christ be with you.”
Respond by saying, “And also with you.”


Call to Worship
Come, let us gather in praise of the one who shows us the way:
The way of Christ is love.
Let us gather in thanksgiving for the one who teaches the truth:
That we were all made in God’s image and called good.
Let us worship the one who gives us life.
Blessed be our God, source of all creation.


Opening Prayer.
The prayer will use the beautiful objects and/or images you have gathered. Touch or show each one in turn; repeating the first two lines of the prayer as often as needed to move through your objects and/or images.

One: This (name object) is not God.
All: Our God is within and beyond. 

——when all objects/pictures have been noted—-

One: We are not God.
All: Our God is within and beyond.

God of all Creation,
out of your being all things were made,
yet in all things your being is uncontained.
Help us to see you
within all things,
within all people.
Help us to know that you are
beyond our understanding,
beyond our imagining,
from everlasting to everlasting. Amen.

Songs and Psalms of Praise and Prayer

Song of Praise
Joyful, Joyful We Adore You

Joyful, joyful, we adore You,
God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flow’rs before You,
Op’ning to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness;
Drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness,
Fill us with the light of day!

All Your works with joy surround You,
Earth and heav’n reflect Your rays,
Stars and angels sing around You,
Center of unbroken praise;
Field and forest, vale and mountain,
Flow’ry meadow, flashing sea,
Chanting bird and flowing fountain
Praising You eternally!

Always giving and forgiving,
Ever blessing, ever blest,
Well-spring of the joy of living,
Ocean-depth of happy rest!
Loving Father, Christ our Brother,
Let Your light upon us shine;
Teach us how to love each other,
Lift us to the joy divine.

Mortals, join the mighty chorus,
Which the morning stars began;
God’s own love is reigning o’er us,
Joining people hand in hand.
Ever singing, march we onward,
Victors in the midst of strife;
Joyful music leads us sunward
In the triumph song of life.


A Reading from the Psalms
Psalm 66

Bless our God!
Let the sound of praise of God be heard!
God preserves us among the living,
and has not let our feet slip one bit.

Indeed God, you have tested us;
you have refined us like silver.
You brought us into a snare,
and laid burdens on our backs.
But you caused one to lead us;
we went through fire and water,
but you brought us out to abundance.

I come to you with offerings.
I keep the promises I made to you,
the ones my lips uttered,
the ones my mouth spoke when I was in deep trouble.
I will offer the best to you….

Come and listen, all you who honor God;
I will tell you what God has done for me:
I cried out to God with my mouth
but praise was on the tip of my tongue.
If I had cherished evil in my heart,
my Lord would not have listened.
But God did hear me.
God listened to my voice in prayer.

Blessed be God!
who has not turned away my prayer
or withheld faithful love from me.

Prayers for Others. As we did last week, pause after each line to give voice to prayers as prompted.

Merciful God, who shelters us and guides us,
we give you thanks for…
God who comforts,
receive those who are fearful and lonely…
God whose love is steadfast,
be refuge for the ill, the dying, and those who care about them…
God of righteousness,
we ask for your wisdom and ways of justice to prevail
in our community, this nation, your world…
God who seeks our trust,
grow us and guide us in your ways that are life-giving in your world…
Amen.

Song of Praise
All Things Bright and Beautiful

Celebrating Communion

Communion.  (Bread and wine were common foods during Jesus’ day.  As we celebrate communion at home, use common food and drinks you have. The type of food and drink is not what matters, but it matters that you remember Christ as you share, eat, and drink.)

A Reading from the Gospels, Mark 14:22-24.  While [the disciples and Jesus] were eating, [Jesus] took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.”

Share what you have to eat. Before everyone eats, have someone say,
“This food represents the body of Christ. As we eat, we remember Jesus.”

Share what you have to drink. Before everyone drinks, have someone say,
“This drink represents the covenant Christ made with us that our sins will be forgiven. As we drink, we remember Jesus.”

Prayer of Thanksgiving. Dear God, thank you for your abounding compassionate love. Thank you for guiding and leading us through these difficult times. Thank you for always being with us. Amen.

Song.  End communion by singing a hymn. You may want to sing Amazing Grace.

Amazing grace how sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I am found,
was blind but now I see.

The Gospel Lesson for the 6th Sunday of Easter

Listen to the gospel lesson and/or read below.

A Reading from John 14:15-21

Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.  This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

Reflection “If You Love Me” from Tonya

Listen to Tonya’s reflection and/or read below.

When you hear the phrase “keep my commandments” what comes to mind?

The first thing that pops into my head is The 10 Commandments. Can you name them?  (You can find them in Exodus 20 if you want to look them up.)

  1. You will have no other gods before me.
  2. You will not make idols to worship.
  3. You will not make wrongful use of the Lord’s name.
  4. You will remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.
  5. You will honor your parents.
  6. You will not murder.
  7. You will not commit adultery.
  8. You will not steal.
  9. You will not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  10. You will not covet what your neighbor has.

Good deal. Now what comes to mind when you hear Jesus say, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

The words “commandment” or “commandments” appear in John’s gospel just a handful of times. Jesus first utters the word to his disciples in chapter 12. He tells them that God has given him a commandment about what he is to say and what he is to speak. Jesus goes on to say that commandment is eternal life. Well, that’s God’s commandment for Jesus. What is Jesus’ commandments for us?

It is not hard to figure out. There’s no mystery to unlock. Take a look in John 13:34. Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” Jesus says it again in John 15:12, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” So in chapter 14 when Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” Jesus is telling us, “If you love me, you will love one another just as I have loved you.”

What does it mean to love one another? It does mean you don’t want what your neighbor has. You don’t make up stories and tell lies about others. You certainly do not take what does not belong to you, whether that be a physical object, a relationship with another person, or a life (in other words, stealing, committing adultery, and murdering). And loving others does include honoring your parents. But when Jesus says, “Love one another,” this love goes further than just the last six rules of the 10 Commandments.

Loving Jesus means living a life shaped by the love of God. Take for example, the goals you have. What happens when you allow God’s love to shape your goals?  How about the choices you make? What becomes of the outcome when you allow the decision to be shaped by God’s love? What about how you respond to others? Whether it be a qauick response or a long thought out one, what happens when you welcome God’s love to determine your responses? When we allow our lives to be shaped and influenced by the love of God, then that’s when we show our love for Jesus.

Loving others means you look at others through the lens of love. How does life change when you look at it through the lens of love? If love governs your perception of others, what difference is made? If love motivates your judgment of others, what difference is made?  If love facilitates your understanding of others, what difference is made? I dare say, a life-changing difference is made not only for you, but also for others.

As those who have chosen to live the Way of Jesus Christ, we have been given direct instructions. Jesus doesn’t invite or suggest here. Jesus doesn’t say, “If you love me, you will consider my invitation.”  Nor does Jesus say, “If you love me, you will mull over my suggestions.” Loving one another is not an invitation, nor a suggestion; it is not a recommendation, nor advice. Loving one another is a command from Jesus; it is a requirement. Just as God gave Jesus the command of eternal life, Jesus gives us the command to love one another. How much? “Love one another,” Jesus says, “as I have loved you.” We have nothing at all to lose by loving one another, yet we lose everything when we do not.

It is a tall order. It is difficult to carry through. But it is an order we can fulfill with our lives. Jesus doesn’t expect us to handle this on our own. The Holy Spirit of God comes to us and abides with us and in us. The Spirit points us to the truth of God’s love. The Spirit of God encourages to abide in God’s love and thus love one another. And we need not fear doing this on our own. God will never abandon us. Never.

The greatest truth in all the world is the love of God. The gospel of John keeps on teaching us this. The love of God was there at the beginning of time and will continue through all eternity. God’s love is the truest thing in all the world.

Questions for Reflection:

What makes it difficult to love others?
What are some ways we show our love for others during this pandemic?
How do we learn to love others?

Prayer of Thanksgiving. Offer a prayer of thanksgiving for God’s love and ask God to help our church family grow deeper and deeper in love.

 

Affirmation and Blessing

Song of Faith
Just as the Tide 

Just as the tide creeps over silver sand
flooding the bay with slow and steady gain,
like brightening dawn across the eastern land,
certain and sure is love that comes again.

When threat and fear conspire friends to betray,
and bitter failure every hope has slain,
when broken trust makes dark the dismal day,
Jesus, speak of the love that comes again.

As sure as tide and dawn your love has come,
come to redeem our failures and our pain;
Jesus, come now, and find in us a home,
revive us with the love that comes again.


Sending Out

May the blessings of the One who is the Way be with you in the days to come.
May God guide your feet wherever you go.
May the blessings of Jesus who is your Life be with you in the days to come.
May Jesus lead you by the hand to those who are your sisters and brothers in need.
May the blessings of the Spirit of Truth be with you in the days to come.
May you journey with the Spirit to that Way which is everlasting.


Closing Song.
 In our tradition, we close worship by singing the first verse of Blest Be the Tie.  Mindy starts us each week, and so she does today as well.

Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love.
The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above. Amen.

______________ 

Credits: The image is from the Alliance of Baptist website. The Call to Worship and Opening Prayer are from Seasons of the Spirit™ SeasonsFUSION Lent • Easter 2020, Copyright © Wood Lake Publishing Inc. 2019. Used by permission.  The words to Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee were written by Henry Van Dyke (1933) and is set to the famous tune “Ode to Joy” which is the final movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s (1827) final symphony, Symphony No. 9. Psalm 66 is based on a translation by Tonya’s Old Testament professor, Marvin Embry Tate, Jr. as printed in Word Biblical Commentary: Psalms 51-100.  It is read by Elizabeth and Michelle. Elizabeth created the video.  All Things Bright and Beautiful was written by Mrs. Cecil F. Alexander and arranged by Richard Shephard. The organ was played by Tracy; the flute, by Tessa; and the handbells, by Tonya and Elizabeth. The singers were Ally, Laura, Kendall, Justin, Elizabeth, Tonya, and Mindy.  ‘Mazing Mindy put all the instruments and voices together!!!  Amazing Grace was written by John Newton (1807) and played by Aidan on the piano. The gospel was written by John and read by Jeffrey. Just as the Tide was written by Leith Fisher and is set to the tune, EVENTIDE. The hymn is sung by Mindy.  The Sending Out was written by Thom Shuman and used by permission.  Blest be the Tie was written by John Fawcett (1782) and sung by Mindy. Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-724755. All rights reserved.

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Preparation for Worship

For this morning’s worship, you will need two candles. In our tradition, we light two candles at the beginning of worship to represent the presence of Jesus. If you want to celebrate communion, have some food and drink to share. The type of food and drink does not matter for they are merely symbols which help us celebrate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Invitation.  God invites us to become and be God’s people. Living into this reality can be fraught with peril, be it because of our own needs to trust, learn, and grow or from those who see us as an enemy. In all of this, God is faithfully loving and present.

 

The Worship of God

Light two candles in recognition of Christ’s presence. In our practice, one candle represents Jesus’ divinity and the other Jesus’ humanity.

Gathering for Worship

Passing the Peace
Say to one another, “May the Peace of Christ be with you.”
Respond by saying, “And also with you.”

Call to Worship
Come and know that God is good!
We come seeking God’s shelter.
Come and know God’s mercy.
We come seeking wholeness and God’s peace.
Come and abide in God’s steadfast love.
Receive us as we are, as we come to worship you, O God.

Opening Prayer. Merciful God, our hearts are troubled. We long for a world free of hate and destruction. We yearn to know your presence in our daily lives; as we awaken and sleep, as we play and work, as we eat and pray, in moments mundane and profound. Receive us, shelter us, and nurture us as your beloved people, for your purposes and to your glory. Amen.

Songs and Psalms of Praise and Prayer

Song of Praise
Know that God is Good

Know that God is good.
Know that God is good,
Know that God is good, God is good, God is good.

Halle, hallelujah!
Halle, hallelujah!
Halle, hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Know that God is good.
Know that God is good,
Know that God is good, God is good, God is good.

 

A Reading from the Psalms
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16

I take refuge in you, Lord.
    Please never let me be put to shame.
        Rescue me by your righteousness!
Listen closely to me!
    Deliver me quickly;
        be a rock that protects me;
        be a strong fortress that saves me!
You are definitely my rock and my fortress.
    Guide me and lead me for the sake of your good name!
Get me out of this net that’s been set for me
    because you are my protective fortress.
I entrust my spirit into your hands;
    you, Lord, God of faithfulness—
    you have saved me.

15 My future is in your hands.
    Don’t hand me over to my enemies,
    to all who are out to get me!
16 Shine your face on your servant;
    save me by your faithful love!

Prayers for Others. Pause after each line to give voice to prayers as prompted.
Merciful God, who shelters us and guides us,
we give you thanks for…
God who comforts,
receive those who are fearful and lonely…
God whose love is steadfast,
be refuge for the ill, the dying, and those who care about them…
God of righteousness,
we ask for your wisdom and ways of justice to prevail
in our community, this nation, your world…
God who seeks our trust,
grow us and guide us in your ways that are life-giving in your world…
Amen.

Song
Walk Humbly with Your God


Celebrating Communion

Communion.  (Bread and wine were common foods during Jesus’ day.  As we celebrate communion at home, use common food and drinks you have. The type of food and drink is not what matters, but it matters that you remember Christ as you share, eat, and drink.)

A Reading from the Gospels, Mark 14:22-24.  While [the disciples and Jesus] were eating, [Jesus] took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.”

Share what you have to eat. Before everyone eats, have someone say,
“This food represents the body of Christ. As we eat, we remember Jesus.”

Share what you have to drink. Before everyone drinks, have someone say,
“This drink represents the covenant Christ made with us that our sins will be forgiven. As we drink, we remember Jesus.”

Prayer of Thanksgiving. Dear God, thank you for your abounding compassionate love. Thank you for guiding and leading us through these difficult times. Thank you for always being with us. Amen.

Song.  End communion by singing a hymn. You may want to sing Amazing Grace.

Amazing grace how sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I am found,
was blind but now I see.

The Gospel Lesson for the 5th Sunday of Easter

Listen to the gospel lesson and/or read below.

A Reading from John 14:1-14

{Jesus said,] “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.”

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father?’ Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”

Reflection “The Way, Figuratively” from Jeffrey

Listen to Jeffrey’s reflection and/or read below.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.” These words of Jesus start our reading in the Gospel of John today. And yet it is often noted in this time of global pandemic that people are indeed troubled. Isolation is emotionally taxing. Fear is on the rise. Uncertainty is widespread. I hear people talking about a return to “normal” which I believe means living without fear of death and illness or the uncertainty of the availability of resources. When Jesus says “Let not your heart be troubled” I take that to mean that he wants us to find trust in God despite our immediate circumstances. Fear is real, and it is powerful, but it does not have the ability to keep God’s love away. No isolation from others can restrict God’s presence. Being without the normal substance of life does not lift the obligation to show love and offer hope.  What’s left? Belief in God’s salvation, God’s goodness, God’s mercy. Why? Because I believe in God regardless of my freedom or lack of it. We say somewhat haphazardly that faith in God is the most important thing. If it only seems real when we are at ease and in luxury then we have seriously misunderstood God’s role in our life.

Rather than troubled, perhaps in response to our limiting circumstances and our fear, we can let our hearts be turned to those whose “normal” life includes the daily fear of death, illness, loss, and hunger. While all of us are restricted temporarily, more than 40 million people in the US live in enough poverty that the fear and troubling we sense now is what they experience daily. If our crisis is a taste of their normal, then our hearts should be troubled on their behalf. If we as followers of Jesus and workers of God’s justice were not troubled by the poverty and oppression of those around us before, I pray that our own fear and troubling will move us into a deeper compassion and more urgent care for others. In the end, may this crisis make us more Christ-like in our response to others.

Now, let’s move our attention to Jesus’ statement in John 14:6 – “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”

We were lost in the woods. I mean, literally lost. It was the summer of 1981, I was 14 years old, and hiking at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico with two adults and 6 other Boy Scouts. We had camped the night before near a wilderness canteen that had root beer in barrels, provisions for re-stocking for the next three days, and a young brown bear cub that raided any loose gear left on the ground at night. As we broke camp and left that morning for an 11-mile hike to our next camping spot, we were well fed and in high spirits. By mid-afternoon, we were scheduled to stop at a bivouac that had great rock climbing and rappelling options. A short time after a hasty lunch under a stand of Ponderosa pines, however, we knew we were lost. The trails signs were not right. The adults were peering over maps and scratching their heads. We went a couple of miles one way only to return to the same “lost” location an hour later. Two o’clock—still lost. Three o’clock—no closer to camp. Four o’clock and a scout ranger named Michael found us. When we didn’t show up for climbing and rappelling, the staff were sure we needed help. With our new guide who knew the trail well, we arrived in camp in time to make dinner although we missed the chance to climb and rappel. Eleven miles had become sixteen. We were tired and disappointed, but all safe and back on the right course. When Jesus says “I am the Way” here in John 14, I think of that summer afternoon in the mountains. We needed a guide because we didn’t know the way to camp.

Just like all the other “I am” statements in the Gospel of John, when Jesus says “I am the way, truth, and life,” these are figurative images. Michael the ranger literally put us on the right trail. Jesus does so figuratively but that doesn’t mean it is somehow less real. Aimlessly wandering day-by-day is not a good life plan. In the same way that a day’s journey without a good map will leave us feeling lost, trying to navigate life without direction and purpose seems fruitless. Being lost in the wilderness is fearful, stressful, and if it lasts too long, defeating. The same happens when we find ourselves lost in life. Jesus offers the hope of both being found and set on a meaningful journey in life when he says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” He is giving us the opportunity to let his life guide us, God’s Way give us direction, a good and generous Spirit pluck up the courage in us to do God’s mischievous work of justice and hope. From the New Testament book of Acts we know that the first followers of Jesus were not called “Christian” for several years after the resurrection (Acts 11:26). They were known as followers of “The Way” (see Acts 9:2, 19:9, 22:4, and 24:14) which seemed to identify them directly with Jesus as well as a particularly identifiable manner of living. In the countless years since, things have not changed much. Even in our technologically advanced, digitally improved, globally connected world, Jesus himself is still a Way that has meaning and purpose and hope.

Despite these great images from John 14, I have to admit that it is not one of my favorite set of verses in the Gospel. Not because of what it says but because of how it has been used by people to make the dwelling place of God an exclusive gated community for themselves and people most like them. Some claim that what Jesus meant to say was “only one way, only one truth, and only those who are like me have life.” They seem to think that only a few people are in heaven—only Christians like them, by which they mean people who believe the same things. They seem to think that heaven is small and God’s role in judgement is to condemn and kickout. They reduce what it means to be a Christian to a list of tenets that one has to believe. If you don’t agree with any one of the nine basic fundamentals, (see the list at the end), then you are not on the way, you don’t believe the truth, you will not have life with God. That’s baloney. A few men manufactured these interpretations of the Bible to restrict the wideness of God’s mercy into a set of provable facts one has to believe to be a real Christian in their estimation. The Way of Jesus in John is, instead, an open call for everyone to join the human journey with God. Jesus gives us an image of heaven as a welcome place for many rather than for the few, and that God’s role in judgement is to show mercy and offer grace rather than tell people to turn and burn. For some, they have forgotten that John the baptizer described Jesus as one who had come to “take away the sin of the world(John 1:29) and that Jesus recognized the global image (cosmic?) of the incarnation when he said famously that “God so loved the world…” (John 3:16). The human way to live like God, then, is to cast open the doors of life and heaven just as wide and show the same kind of mercy that God has offered. All women and men are created in God’s image (Genesis 1) – The whole earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it; the world and all who live in it (Psalm24)  – We have One God who is above all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4). This Way of Jesus, the truth and the life he gives, is not to be restricted to a few unless we become guilty of dismissing the wider arc of the biblical witness to God’s welcome and justice through forgiveness and grace.

In a similar way, John 14 has been used to mislead us about heaven. The old King James Version of John 14:2 reads, “In my Father’s house there are many mansions.” The word “mansions” here is a bad translation of the Greek. More contemporary translations use “many rooms” rather than “mansions” or the substitute in the more cumbersome “many dwelling places.” It may seem like a picky point, but the difference in “mansions” and “rooms” is important. By putting mansions in heaven we are left with the somewhat unfortunate image that heaven is like Provo, Utah or Bridgeport, CT, or Orlando, FL – three of the top ten places in the US with the highest concentration of “mansions” (defined as big houses over $1Million). In England in 1611, when the King James Version was being approved, perhaps they believed heaven was similar to life as a Baron or a Duke living in a big stone mansion with all our needs met daily but without a need to earn our keep. Wealth and privilege and ease are hereby elevated as the ultimate symbol of divine provision. If heaven is a place of mansions for all, then it becomes a short mis-step to associate wealth on earth as a replica of heaven with God. Or equally problematic, we might begin to think that if God provides a mansion in heaven then God surely blesses the wealthy on earth. Jesus taught otherwise. Our hearts turned toward God recognize the ungodliness of living at the expense of other people, lesser people, who spend their life doing our bidding so that we can have luxury. Taking more than we need so that earthly abundance becomes our comfort is to replace hope in God with trust in wealth. In short, if what we want the most is more money, greater ease, and servants to please, then we are not on Jesus’ way of serving and loving others, and our work for justice and solidarity with the poor will be derailed as we journey toward more stuff for ourselves.

Jesus did not say, nor mean, we have a mansion in glory. A better reading of John 14, and one that seems to me consistent with the Greek, is that Jesus says “in God’s home there is plenty of room.” Enough for me and for you—enough for us and for them—enough room for all. The abundance of God’s provision in heaven is an abundance of welcome instead of wealth. The glory of God is not architectural majesty. The fullness of God’s place, that place to which Jesus is going and we know the way, never runs out of space for us or others. To claim that we can define a set of limits on God’s home is blasphemy. In Jesus’ day, those of the “in-crowd” and the “out-crowd” were clearly defined. Religious Jews were in and Gentiles were out; the healthy were in and the lepers or lame or blind (especially the blind!) were out; the wealthy were in and the poor were a hard maybe. Perhaps Christians today can learn a lesson from all this speculation about God’s favorite people and the certainty of who is going to heaven and who is not. Put simply: it’s not our job, we don’t know, and claiming such knowledge is sinful. The hopeful word from Jesus here is that there’s plenty of room in God’s glory and so we are assured that we too have a place with God, and we are relieved of the burden of deciding who is in God’s grace and who is not. We have permission from Jesus to believe that God’s welcome for everyone is founded on God’s wisdom, fueled by God’s love, and assured by God’s mercy.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. When your heart has been troubled who or what eases the burden and fear?
  2. Is there a time you have been lost, either literally or figuratively? How did you find your way? Share your story with those around the table.
  3. What image of heaven brings you comfort or peace?

 

Prayer of Thanksgiving. (Offer a prayer of thanksgiving to God.)

 

Affirmation and Blessing

Sending Out

May the blessings of the One who is the Way be with you in the days to come.
May God guide your feet wherever you go.
May the blessings of Jesus who is your Life be with you in the days to come.
May he lead you by the hand to those who are your sisters and brothers in need.
May the blessings of the Spirit of Truth be with you in the days to come.
May you journey with the Spirit to that way which is everlasting.

Closing Song.  In our tradition, we close worship by singing the first verse of Blest Be the Tie.  Mindy starts us each week, and so she does today as well.

Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love.
The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above. Amen.

______________ 

Credits: The Call to Worship and Opening Prayer is from Seasons of the Spirit™ SeasonsFUSION Lent • Easter 2020, Copyright © Wood Lake Publishing Inc. 2019. Used by permission. Words and music for Know that God is Good are unknown. It is a traditional refrain from the Congo and accompanied by Kendall on the steel pan & djembe. Psalm 31 is from the Common English Bible and read by Mike, Tyler, Laura, and Sarah. Walk Humbly With Your God was arranged by Robert J. Powell. The organ is played by Tracy and singers are Laura, Ally, Kendall, Sarah, Elizabeth, Tonya, Wyatt, and Justin. Mindy mixed all the single voices together to make a choir. Amazing Grace was written by John Newton and played by Aidan on the piano. The gospel was written by John and read by Addi, Anna, and Emily.  Blest be the Tie was written by John Fawcett (1782) and sung by Mindy. The Sending Out was written by Thom Shuman and used by permission.  Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-724755. All rights reserved.

Appendix:  Here’s one list of the Nine “Fundamentals” as interpreted in the early 20th century in the United States. I disagree theologically with at least 6 of these!  –Jeffrey

  • Inerrancy of the Bible
  • Literal seven-day (24-hour day) creation
  • Virgin birth of Jesus
  • Trinity as Father, Son, Holy Spirit
  • Miracles of Jesus were all real
  • Original sin and human depravity
  • Substitutionary atonement theory
  • Literal bodily resurrection of Jesus
  • Future second coming of Jesus

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open gate

Preparation for Worship

For this morning’s worship, you will need two candles. In our tradition, we light two candles at the beginning of worship to represent the presence of Jesus. If you want to celebrate communion, have some food and drink to share. The type of food and drink does not matter for they are merely symbols which help us celebrate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

 

The Worship of God

Light two candles in recognition of Christ’s presence. In our practice, one candle represents Jesus’ divinity and the other Jesus’ humanity.

Gathering for Worship

Passing the Peace
Say to one another, “May the Peace of Christ be with you.”
Respond by saying, “And also with you.”

Call to Worship
We gather here, listening for the voice of the giver and guardian of our lives.
God comes to us as a good shepherd, calling us by name.
We gather here, longing to follow in just paths of life.
God comes to us as a good shepherd, leading us in right ways.
We gather here to follow and praise God,
whose good and steadfast love abounds all of our lives.

Opening Prayer.
God who calls and leads us
we long to know your voice through the thick and the thin
we long to rest in your care for all our needs
we hold out our hands as a sign of our desire to hear you and follow you
Amen

Songs and Psalms of Praise

Song of Praise
Praise Him! Praise Him!

–original words of Fanny Jane Crosby

Praise him! praise him! Jesus, our blessed Redeemer!
Sing, O earth his wonderful love proclaim!
Hail him! hail him! mightiest angels in glory,
Strength and honor give to his holy name!
Like a shepherd Jesus will feed his people–
In his arms he carries them all day long.
O ye saints that live in the light of his presence!
Praise him! Praise him! Ever in joyful song!

Praise him! praise him! Jesus, our blessed Redeemer!
For our sins he suffered and bled and died;
He our Rock, our hope of eternal salvation,
Hail him! hail him! Jesus the Crucified.
Loving Savior, meekly enduring sorrow,
Crowned with thorns that cruelly pierced his brow.
Once for us rejected, despised, and forsaken,
Prince of glory, ever triumphant now.

Praise him! praise him! Jesus, our blessed Redeemer!
Heav’nly portals loud with hosannas ring!
Jesus, Savior, reigneth for ever and ever,
Crown him! crown him! Prophet and Priest and King!
Death is vanquished! Tell it with joy, ye faithful,
Where is now thy victory boasting grave?
Jesus lives! No longer thy portals are cheerless.
Jesus lives, the mighty and strong to save.

 

A Reading from the Psalms
Psalm 23
–from A New Zealand Prayer Book| He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa

 

The Lord is my shepherd:
therefore can I lack nothing.
You Lord make me lie down in green pastures:
and lead me beside the waters of peace.
You revive my spirit:
and guide me in right pathways
for your name’s sake.
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil:
for you are with me,
your rod and your staff are my comfort.
You spread a table for me
in the sight of my enemies:
you have anointed my head with oil,
and my cup is overflowing.
Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Prayers for Others. (Lift up in prayer world leaders, scientists, medical professionals, essential workers, advocates and caregivers.)

 

Celebrating Communion

Communion.  (Bread and wine were common foods during Jesus’ day.  As we celebrate communion at home, use common food and drinks you have. The type of food and drink is not what matters, but it matters that you remember Christ as you share, eat, and drink.)

A Reading from the Gospels, Mark 14:22-24.  While [the disciples and Jesus] were eating, [Jesus] took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.”

Share what you have to eat. Before everyone eats, have someone say,
“This food represents the body of Christ. As we eat, we remember Jesus.”

Share what you have to drink. Before everyone drinks, have someone say,
“This drink represents the covenant Christ made with us that our sins will be forgiven. As we drink, we remember Jesus.”

Prayer of Thanksgiving. Dear God, thank you for your abounding compassionate love. Thank you for guiding and leading us through these difficult times. Thank you for always being with us. Amen.

Song.  End communion by singing a hymn. You may want to sing Amazing Grace.

Amazing grace how sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I am found,
was blind but now I see.

The Gospel Lesson for the 4th Sunday of Easter

Listen to the gospel lesson and/or read below.

A Reading from John 10:1-10. Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.  The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.  The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.  They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.”  Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.  So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them.  I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

 

Reflection “Jesus is the Gate” from Tonya

Listen to Tonya’s reflection and/or read below.

During the great quarantine of 2020, I’ve been hearing strange sentences in my house like “Tonight’s the last night until November that you can go tarantula hunting.” and “There’s a creeper about to blow up my house.” and “How many bells did you get for that fish?” None of these things make sense unless you know the girls are playing Animal Crossing or Minecraft.

It is the same with the gospel passage for this morning. It does not make sense, unless you know that Jesus is saying these things to interpret the healing that has just taken place. John 10:1-10 is just a small part of a larger story that begins in chapter 9.

The story goes like this.  Jesus and his disciples are walking along and they see a man who has been blind since birth. The disciples want to know why this man is blind. Who in the family sinned for God to cause the blindness. Did the parents or the man, himself? Jesus clears up their misunderstanding, “No one sinned. This man was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” Then Jesus gives the man the ability to physically see. Yep, this is that healing where Jesus takes some dirt and mixes it with his spit to make some mud, then spreads it on the man’s eyes, and then tells him to go wash in the pool of Siloam. Of course, his eyes gain sight.

Do you recall how the people reacted? Everyone wants to know how it happened. They were astounded that this man who could see was the same man they had known all their life to be blind. How did this happen? The man told them. He said, “A man named Jesus made some mud, spread it on my eyes, and then he told me to go wash in the pool of Siloam. So I did. And now I can see.” People were in an uproar over the change. Some refused to believe it was the same man. Others were offended that a man named Jesus could do such a thing. Others were mad that such a work had been done on a day when religious people were supposed to rest. So they interrogated the man’s parents trying to get the story straight. Out of fear of exclusion, his parents deflect by saying, “Go ask him; he is a grown man and can speak for himself.” So they call the man back a second time. He tells them he has no idea how it happened, but it did and Jesus is the one who did it. They refuse to believe. You see, they think Jesus is a sinner. They see him breaking rules. They think he doesn’t do things the way that he should. This new ability to see, it surely could not have come from God. So they drove the blind man, well, the man who had once been blind, they drove him away, throwing him out of the house of worship.

Jesus heard that the man had been driven out, so he looked for him and found him. [Ooooo, one sheep cast out of the flock and the Good Shepherd goes out to find him.] Jesus talks with the man helping him understand that he, Jesus is the Son of Man, the very Son of God. Jesus helps us remove the obstacles that keep us from seeing God in the world. And for any who might fool themselves into thinking that there are no obstacles hindering their sight of God, God gives them sight to see how blind they really are. It is a blessing of judgment, helping us to judge our understanding of God, helping us to see more clearly so that God’s work might be revealed in us when God chooses.

With this story swirling in our minds, now we can better understand what Jesus is teaching us in chapter 10.  The first five verses list a cast of characters: a thief, a bandit, a shepherd, the sheep, a gatekeeper, a gate, and a stranger. Jesus uses these characters to paint images:  someone with ill intentions climbing over or under the fence to get into the pen of the sheep, the blessing of hearing the voice of someone you love, the affirmation of being called by your own name, the pleasure of following someone you completely trust, and the image of running away from the calling voice of strangers.

Need someone to follow, who will take care of you, never shun you, lovingly chase you down when you wander off or when others won’t let you in?  That’s me, Jesus says. Need someone to find you when you get lost, who knows your name even though you are one of millions, billions. That’s me, says Jesus. But they didn’t get it. Maybe they were not used to herding sheep. Maybe they had grown up in the city and didn’t have a clue about livestock. I sure don’t. I have only raised puppies and kittens. They didn’t understand, so Jesus gives them another angle from which to look.

Twice Jesus says, “I am the gate.”  Now Jesus has already said “I am the light of the world.” And Jesus will go on to say, “I am the Good Shepherd.” Light to brighten the darkness. A good shepherd to lead us in the right way. And here a gate to provide welcome, protection and provisions.

Think about it, one of the main purposes of a sheep gate is to keep the sheep together. During the night, the gate provides protection, keeping the bandits and thieves away, keeping the sheep in. During the day, the gate opens so the shepherd can come in and then lead the sheep out to pastures where they may graze. At night or in day, the gate works for the well-being of the sheep. Jesus is that gate.

The religious who drove away the man born blind were supposed to be shepherding the sheep. They were supposed to be taking care of God’s people. But they had become more like bandits and thieves. They were more interested in gaining and maintaining power and authority than taking care of the sheep. They desired to be a gate that kept sinners out and only a select few into the flock.

Jesus denounces their authority when he says, I am the gate for the sheep. Again Jesus says, I am the gate that provides salvation, safety, and pasture. I am the gate that provides life abundant.

Here’s one of those images of Jesus that many have used to build a religion of exclusion. They make Jesus out to be a gate that keeps sinners out and lets only a select few in. And that is exactly what Jesus is preaching against when he says, “I am the gate.” Jesus is not exclusive. Jesus is welcoming. Jesus is inviting. Jesus genuinely cares for each and everyone of us.  John put the good news down in words to read and hear so that we might know that God loves the world, not a tiny part of it, not a select few, but God loves the entire world. Jesus is the gate, letting the world in during the dark of night, and leading the world out to pasture during the light of day.  Jesus is the gate, our gate, that brings abundant life.

Questions for Reflection:

  • Do you have a gate at or near your home? If so, for what is it used?
  • What about the two gates at the church, where are they located and what is their purpose?
  • How is Jesus like a gate?

Prayer of Thanksgiving. (Offer a prayer of thanksgiving to God.)

 

Affirmation and Blessing

Song of Faith
We Shall Walk

We shall walk through the valley and the shadow of death
We shall walk through the valley in peace.
And if Jesus himself shall be our leader,
We shall walk through the valley in peace.

We shall meet our brother in the valley of peace
We shall meet our sister in peace.
And if Jesus himself shall be our leader,
We shall walk through the valley in peace.

There will be no sorrowing there.
There will be no sorrowing there.
And if Jesus himself shall be our leader,
We shall walk through the valley in peace.

Sending Out

When the community is a shepherd,
then no one will want.
Imagine everyone having
a safe place to lie down,
water to drink,
education to restore the soul,
and a meaningful path
of work or retirement –
for God’s sake, God’s sacred.

There are many dark valleys
of illness, loss, depression,
addiction or fear,
but when there are companions –
with a walking stick of guidance
and a staff of assistance –
then there is comfort.
Imagine the community’s table set
with the kind of generosity
that changes enemy into friend,
the greatest honor anointing a stranger
and every empty cup
of the most vulnerable overflowing.

Surely, then our breaking bread
and all our prayers
will mean something,
and our neighbors’ goodwill follow.
No one will worry as much about
personal God’s-house-dwelling,
as the community’s hospitality to others –
Day by day by day by day
and all our lives long.

Closing Song.  In our tradition, we close worship by singing the first verse of Blest Be the Tie.  Mindy starts us each week, and so she does today as well.

Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love.
The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above. Amen.

______________ 

Credits: The Call to Worship and Opening Prayer is from Seasons of the Spirit™ SeasonsFUSION Lent • Easter 2020, Copyright © Wood Lake Publishing Inc. 2019. Used by permission. Praise Him! Praise Him! was written by Fanny J. Crosby and the music was played by Kendall on the steel pan & djembe. Psalm 23 is copied from A New Zealand Prayer Book – He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa and used with their permission.  Amazing Grace was written by John Newton and played by Aidan on the piano. The gospel was written by John and read by Ally. The spiritual We Shall Walk was arranged by Tim Sharp and sung by Laura, Ally, and Mindy. The Sending Out is a poem written by Maren C. Tirabassi published in SeasonsFUSION. Used by permission.  Blest be the Tie was written by John Fawcett (1782) and sung by Mindy.  Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-724755. All rights reserved.

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Preparation for Worship

For this morning’s worship, you will need two candles. In our tradition, we light two candles at the beginning of worship to represent the presence of Jesus. If you want to celebrate communion, have some food and drink to share. The type of food and drink does not matter for they are merely symbols which help us celebrate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

 

Invitation. In our daily walk of faith, countless blessings surround us. We need to take the time to recognize these blessings and realize God’s presence is always with us and within us. The power to be a blessing is within us because God’s love rests in our souls.

 

The Worship of God

Light two candles in recognition of Christ’s presence. In our practice, one candle represents Jesus’ divinity and the other Jesus’ humanity.

Gathering for Worship

Passing the Peace
Say to one another, “May the Peace of Christ be with you.”
Respond by saying, “And also with you.”

Call to Worship
By Christ dying, we have been set free from the futility of sin.  Alleluia!
By Christ rising, we have been set free from the fear of death.  Alleluia!
By Christ loving, we are compelled to love another deeply from the heart.
Alleluia! Thanks be to God!

Opening Prayer. God of blessings, we often do not recognize all the blessings you have given. Sometimes, we miss seeing that you can bless the world through us. Sometimes, we hoard your blessings not allowing them to flow through us.  As we worship you today, clear our sight so we may see your blessings. Help us to know how we can be used by you to bless the world. Remove any stinginess so your blessings may be shared with others. Amen.

Psalm 116:1-4, 12–14–19.
A declaration of love and commitment to lifelong thanksgiving to God.

I love God because God hears my cries and pleadings.
Because God listens closely to me,
all my life I will proclaim to others:
“The confines of death surrounded me;
the deep chill of hell entombed me.
I came face-to-face with trouble and grief.
So I cried out, ‘Save my life, O God, please!'”

What can I do to repay God for such kindness?
I will lift up the cup of salvation for all to see.
I will continue proclaiming God’s name.
I will continue keeping the promises I have made to God.

Before everyone
I will humbly express gratitude to God
and tell of God’s faithfulness.

Song of Praise
Praise God, All Ye Little Children

Praise God! Praise God! All ye little children!
God is love! God is love!

Praise God! Praise God! All ye little children!
God is love! God is love!

Love God! Love God! All ye little children!
God is love! God is love!
Love God! Love God! All ye little children!
God is love! God is love!

Thank God! Thank God!  All ye little children!
God is love! God is love!
Thank God! Thank God!  All ye little children!
God is love! God is love!

Celebrating Communion

Communion.  (Bread and wine were common foods during Jesus’ day.  As we celebrate communion at home, use common food and drinks you have. The type of food and drink is not what matters, but it matters that you remember Christ as you share, eat, and drink.)

A Reading from the Gospels. Mark 14:22-24.  While [the disciples and Jesus] were eating, [Jesus] took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.”

Share what you have to eat. Before everyone eats, have someone say,
“This food represents the body of Christ. As we eat, we remember Jesus.”

Share what you have to drink. Before everyone drinks, have someone say,
“This drink represents the covenant Christ made with us that our sins will be forgiven. As we drink, we remember Jesus.”

Prayer of Thanksgiving. Dear God, although we have not seen you, we love you. Even though we do not see you now, we believe in you and rejoice.  Thank you for sharing your life with us so fully. Amen.

Song.  End communion by singing a hymn. You may want to sing Amazing Grace.

Amazing grace how sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I am found,
was blind but now I see.

The Gospel Lesson for the 3rd Sunday of Easter

Listen to the gospel lesson and/or read below.

A Reading from Luke 24:13-35.  Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Reflection “Seeing Hope” from Jeffrey

Today’s gospel reading fills in some of the events of that first Easter Sunday. After Mary’s marvelous morning at the tomb with Jesus she returned to the disciples and followed Jesus’ command to bear witness to the resurrection. In doing so, she delivered what had to be the first Christian sermon! We don’t know exactly what she said but it must have been something like, “I have seen Jesus. He’s alive. He called me by name. Resurrection life is no longer just a possibility. God’s hope is truly realized in him. Please believe me.” Some people did believe Mary, and sadly some did not. Were the message of Mary all that we had, it should be enough. Yet the stories of resurrection appearances will multiply and continue in the Gospels. Just as a host of angels proclaimed Jesus’ birth, a crowd of people witnessed his resurrection – women and men, disciples and by-standers, those locked safely in their homes and two friends walking back home from their religious festival. It is the witness of these two walkers travelling to Emmaus on that first Easter Sunday that draws our attention today.

Seven miles to Emmaus was farther than a religious Jew was allowed to walk on the Sabbath so Cleopas and his friend are understandably traveling on Sunday. The Sabbath had ended on Saturday at sundown and they are walking in the next day’s light. They know about the events in the early morning hours at the tomb of Jesus. They heard the women’s witness and are weighing reports from the men as well. The two travelers are astounded yet uncertain, wanting to believe but struggling with what they know to be true, debating what possibly might be different given what they heard Jesus say and what the witnesses now tell them. An uninvited stranger joins their hike home and he appears to know nothing of the past three days. We know this man is Jesus though they don’t recognize him. As the miles stretch on into the late afternoon hours on the road, Jesus explains to them the scriptures. If Mary preaches the first Christian sermon, Cleopas and his friend are in the first Christian Bible study and it’s led by Jesus!

This Emmaus story has lent itself to a rich array of interpretations. I want to focus this morning on Cleopas’ search for hope. We know little that is definite about Cleopas, except that he had known about Jesus before this Easter Sunday. Speaking for himself and his unnamed companion, Cleopas mentions in verse 21 that “we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” And that hope was based on what Cleopas knew about Jesus who “was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people” (v. 19).

Cleopas needs hope as it must have been in short supply in his day. An occupying government with full authoritarian rule allowed a bare toleration of religious Judaism. The land was not considered Jewish land and the Emperor or a ruling Roman governor could move them out of Jerusalem at will. Politicians were conspiring to keep this indigenous minority under control and make sure the Jews knew that they had no legal recourse, no rights, and no voice of complaint. The Jews were not facing religious intoleration so much as suffering from the over-bearing weight of immoral political power targeting a racial minority.

I am reminded of the First Nations in this land several hundred years ago. They must have needed a surprising hope as European conquerors took their native land, claimed a superior civilization and made decisions that ended in full control and frequent death. How did the indigenous Cherokee or Sioux or Shawnee think it would end? What was their hope?

Or the African slaves that were captured and brought unwillingly across an ocean, their lives interrupted for profit, their freedom given over to a stranger in authority, their families dismissed as inconsequential to the success of exploration. While on the boat they must have deeply hoped for land. Once on land, how could they not hope for freedom and return? After realizing their lives were under the absolute control of brutal and immoral white owners, how can they see an end for which they could hope?

Cleopas had hoped in Jesus. Past tense. This hope was because he had seen Jesus. He had heard his words, witnessed the way he healed others. The hope Cleopas had in Jesus was based on what he had seen with his eyes and heard with his ears—substantial enough to embed in him the possibility that in this one named Jesus the future God promised just might come true for him and for all Israel. Cleopas had hoped, but now he couldn’t see it because he could no longer see Jesus. He needed something new. What he needed, frankly, was not just to hope in the best that he could imagine, but to begin to hope in what God can make possible.

I believe that you and I find hope when we can see it. At times when our vision is clear, our hope is strong regardless of the circumstances that surround us. I have known people who are desperately poor and incurably hopeful, especially the Christians we served along side in Haiti several years ago. They were not hopeful because they could imagine wealth and abundance in their future, but because they could see the good works of God among them. Isn’t that what Jesus gave Cleopas before death and resurrection? I have known some remarkable folks who suffered illnesses that robbed them of life, literally, and they never were without hope because they could see in Jesus the possibility of life ending in life in what we celebrate as resurrection. I plainly remember one conversation with a man within days of dying of cancer—he was barely 50. We had an open and frank conversation about many things at the end of which I asked him if he was afraid. With absolute conviction he turned to me and said, “No, because I have seen what God has made possible through the resurrection.” He had hope because he could see what God intended for us all.

Cleopas and his friend find their hope when Jesus serves them a meal and they see him for who he is. The season of Easter is a reminder that to have hope in Jesus is not a trite encouragement to seek success or find a cure or live in ease. It is the opportunity to see Jesus as more than just the man of Nazareth who can do amazing things to people he meets. It is to see in this one the possibility that God imagines for each of us.

Cleopas and his friend take some food and then return to Jerusalem that same day. The last seven miles must have been with lighter hearts than the first half of their journey as they had wonderful news to tell. They too had seen Jesus. Their witness added to what others would come to know and see for themselves.

As Easter people we have hope, not as some kind of wish fulfillment that is limited by the best thing we can imagine for ourselves. Our hope is in what we can see from God – healing and teaching, truth and promises, life fulfilled in our living with others and life everlasting with God in resurrection. May God gives us eyes to see, and in seeing, find hope.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. What are some possible definitions for “hope”?
  2. Many people are discussing how this global pandemic will end, and frankly, no one knows the right answer. What do we hope even now even though we don’t know how this crisis will end?
  3. What do we “see” in Jesus that helps give us hope?

Prayer of Thanksgiving. (Offer a prayer of thanksgiving to God.)

Song of Faith
Christ in the Stranger’s
Guise

From heaven to here and from here to heaven
Is a distance less than tissue thin,
And it’s trod by him who, in the stranger’s guise,
Is made known when he is welcomed in.

Chorus:
SO, COME LORD CHRIST IN THE STRANGER’S GUISE,
KNOWN BOTH THROUGH SCRIPTURES AND THROUGH BROKEN BREAD.
YOUR KINGDOM COME AND ON THE EARTH YOUR WILL BE DONE
BY THE PEOPLE YOU’VE LOVED AND YOU’VE LED.

The folk who journey on the road with Christ
Are the ones who’ve left their selves behind.
Their song is taught them by the deaf and dumb;
Their horizon is shown by the blind.

The love that’s shared along the royal road
Is a love not found when standing still.
It lives and grows wherever faith is known
As a movement grounded in God’s will.

From heaven to here and from here to heaven
Is a distance less than tissue thin,
And it’s trod by those who meet the risen Christ
As a stranger to be welcomed in.

Sending Out

Benediction (If there are more than one of you, choose someone to read the following.)

Alive to God’s blessings
may we journey into life in new ways.
May we take to heart the gift of God’s
presence,
peace,
and forgiveness.
Receive it gladly.
Live it with passion and boldness.
Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia

Closing Song.  In our tradition, we close worship by singing the first verse of Blest Be the Tie.  Mindy starts us each week, and so she does today as well.

Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love.
The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above. Amen.

______________ 

Credits: The Psalm is a paraphrase and is read by Calley, Desiree, Matthew, and Mindy. Elizabeth created the video. Wyatt played the Horn in F with Kendall adding in percussion for Praise God All Ye Little Children. The gospel reading is the New Revised Standard Version and is read by Marcella. Tonya played piano, Tessa played flute, and Mindy sang for Christ in the Stranger’s Guise, a song published by the Iona Community. The Benediction comes from the Seasons of the Spirit Fusion, Sunday April 26 and used with their permission. Blest be the Tie was written by John Fawcett (1782) and sung by Mindy.  Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-724755. All rights reserved.  All other writings or recordings were created by Jeffrey and Tonya.

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The following worship guide is based on our regular weekly worship at Cullowhee Baptist Church. It is not an obligation, but a suggestion. Follow or amend as needed. Home worship will be more brief than corporate worship in the sanctuary. Involve all the people at your home in the worship time who are able. To prepare, have open a copy of the worship guide, and designate a space to gather. A table is a good place because it is safe for candles and limits distractions. Set out one or two candles to represent the presence of God.

May the Lord bless our worship today.
Grace and peace, Tonya and Jeffrey

The Worship of God

Light two candles in recognition of Christ’s presence. In our practice, one candle represents Jesus’ divinity and the other Jesus’ humanity.

The Blessing of Music
a Vivaldi piece/organ and trumpet

Gathering for Worship

Call to Worship
We’re here because we’re people who have heard a rumor
that there’s life to be found on the other side of death.

We’re here because just the rumor is enough to bring us hope
and just the hope is enough to bring us a moment of life.

We’re here because even though it is only a flicker, a moment, a breath
it’s changed our death forever.

Easter Greeting
Alleluia. Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

A Time of Great Thanksgiving

Verses of the famous Easter hymn, Christ the Lord is Risen Today, is interspersed with readings of thanksgiving from the book of Psalms.

A Hymn of Praise
Christ the Lord is Risen Today

Christ the Lord is risen today. Alleluia!
Earth and heaven in chorus say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia!

A Psalms of Praise
Psalm 136:1-9, 23-26

O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
O give thanks to the God of gods,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
O give thanks to the Lord of lords,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
who alone does great wonders,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
who by understanding made the heavens,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
who spread out the earth on the waters,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
who made the great lights,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
the sun to rule over the day,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
the moon and stars to rule over the night,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
It is the LORD who remembered us in our low estate,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
and rescued us from our foes,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
who gives food to all flesh,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
O give thanks to the God of heaven,
for his steadfast love endures forever.

A Hymn of Praise
Christ the Lord is Risen Today

Hail the Lord of earth and heaven, Alleluia!
Praise to you by both be given, Alleluia!
You we greet triumphant now, Alleluia!
Hail the Resurrection, thou, Alleluia!

Psalm 16:5-11
The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
I have a goodly heritage.
I bless the LORD who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
I keep the LORD always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;
my body also rests secure.
For you do not give me up to Sheol,
or let your faithful one see the Pit.
You show me the path of life.
In your presence there is fullness of joy;
in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Hymn of Praise
Christ the Lord is Risen Today

King of glory, soul of bliss, Alleluia!
Everlasting life is this, Alleluia!
You to know, your power to prove, Alleluia!
Thus to sing, and thus to love, Alleluia!

Prayer
Almighty God, thank you! Through Jesus Christ you have clearly shown us that death has been overcome and the gates of everlasting life have been opened. We celebrate with joy the day of the Lord’s resurrection! Raise us from the death of our sins by your life-giving Spirit. Amen.

The Gospel Lesson for Easter Day

John 20:1-18

Listen to a collection of our church members reading the gospel lesson.

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”  Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb.  The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.  He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in.  Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.  Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.  They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”  When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”  Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).  Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'”  Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Reflection from Jeffrey

Let me note first that the circumstances of this year’s Easter celebrations are unique. We are not gathering for Easter sunrise in the cemetery, or for breakfast with our sisters and brothers in Christ, or even for worship in the sanctuary. We are separated from each other while we live under the threat of a global pandemic. Even on this holiest day of the year as we remember the resurrection of Jesus, we are keenly aware that God wants us to be healthy and to give each other life and hope rather than illness or grief. Worship is a priority yet during times of human crisis we adapt. And so we have done this Easter. As we are isolated at home we are not removed from God. Perhaps this year we lean into our separation from each other and embrace enough simplicity to focus on the joy of resurrection more than Easter lilies, bonnets, and bow ties. Without the crowds and pomp and beauty of ceremony, the simple hopeful truth of God may take center-stage as that which sustains life and evinces hope. Perhaps the monks and nuns in our Christian tradition were onto something when they recognized that withdrawing from the frills of life in public can sometimes eliminate barriers and help us know God better. Although our time in isolation is brief (at least I hope so!) may these days of simplicity highlight something new about the joy of living and the hope of resurrection.

The Sabbath day of Jesus’ death must have left the disciples tottering between faith and doubt, remembering and desolation. While the setting sun and the rising moon told her that the new day began several hours ago, the first waking moments of this dawn had a purpose for Mary. She had to gather her grief over the loss of Jesus enough to take the first steps forward without knowing what might come after. Grief disorients us all. Now in the dark, which for me simply means, as soon as she possibly could, this disciple came to serve her Lord once more–to complete the ordinary after-death care for his body.

What she discovered on that early morning was a sequence of unexpected surprises. Where she expected to find a tomb, she found a stone out of place. Where she had assumed that returning with Simon Peter she would discover someone had stolen Jesus’ body, instead she encountered two angels with a message. Where she thought she saw a gardener who could explain it all, she heard the voice of Jesus calling her name. Where she had wanted to stay and cling to Jesus as long as allowed, she was told to go and provide witness to life. Each one of these morning surprises changed her life. Yet none of these life-altering moments were within Mary’s imagination for how the day would go when she started out in the dark of the new morning. The limitation of Mary’s imagination was eclipsed by the willed intent of God. Where Mary imagined death and grief, God showed the reality of life and joy. Resurrection doesn’t reveal what we can become, it displays what God envisions. And God’s possibilities are always more than we imagine.

Mary had seen Jesus heal, heard him preach, confessed him as her Lord. But none of these moments of awe or realizations of belief prepared her for the surprise of resurrection.

We are prone to take the resurrection for granted. We tend to turn its promise into an assurance that salves our fear about death. It certainly does that and with great confidence in God’s miraculous ability to create and recreate anew. Nevertheless we must not allow the resurrection to remain a future reality. And we equally cannot limit God’s intent for our resurrection living now by our own dreams or shortcomings.

Resurrection means more than just something new. Resurrection is an awe that moves us into the possibility of God’s Way. The resurrection doesn’t teach us to be a better person, but gives us the courage to be the person God created us to become. I have dreams and hopes for my life and calling. I know my likes and wants. I understand my gifts and limitations. But the resurrection is not just a happy announcement that I’m alright after I die. It is the reality that God imagines for me something I did not wake up this morning expecting. And if it is God’s call, I will need to rearrange my expectation to meet God’s request. If I had plans for how I’d live my life, perhaps God gives an opportunity that was beyond what I could imagine but fully within what God knew was the reality of my life. But let’s be clear, resurrection is not a motivational device. Instead it opens our eyes to the possibility of what God can do. Resurrection shows us that God’s possibilities are beyond us but include us.

As much as we want to talk about Mary, oh and Peter and John, and of course the other disciples isolated back at home, let’s not forget that Jesus remains the central focus of our confession and life. Jesus exemplifies for all of us what it is possible to do with one human life living in every way within the will of God. Jesus is what it means to be human. He also demonstrates what it means to make the possibility of a peaceable community with others become true in our lives together. These too are part of the human possibility of living in the miracle of the resurrection.

And there’s more. I am convinced that it is possible to read the New Testament book of Romans as a long Easter sermon. Although Paul does not recount the events of Easter Sunday morning, his ideas represent one of the earliest known attempts to understand the death and resurrection of Jesus. As a sermon illustration, Paul turns to the story of Adam. Yes, that first Adam, in the garden with Eve enjoying paradise. Trained as a Jewish Pharisee, Paul read, and likely memorized, the stories in Genesis. Adam in the garden established the first three truths about God and humanity—one, God created all things good; two, God’s first expectation is obedience; and three, the inevitability of disobedience carries consequences, primarily the loss of paradise. In Romans, then, Paul makes a point about Jesus by comparing him to Adam. Adam was the first born, and Jesus the first resurrected. Adam gives life on Earth to the entire human family, Jesus gives life everlasting to all humanity. From Adam comes the human propensity to sin, and from Jesus comes complete forgiveness. After Adam is cast out from the garden paradise, all of us experience death. As Jesus is resurrected from the garden tomb, all of us are welcomed in life eternal.

Paul’s claim, therefore, is that Jesus’ resurrection is the miracle of God for Jesus first, but for all of us as well. The resurrection of Jesus has forever changed the human condition. It alters that third lesson from the Garden—the consequences of our sin no longer bind us to death. God’s forgiveness is an essential truth and a humanity reality. We can set aside the idea that God sees us as inherently flawed and replace it with the reality that God knows us to be good. We are not, given this divine opinion of us, freed from the obligation for obedience. We still only live well when we live in God’s Way with each other in this world. But we need not fear a God of revenge for Jesus has revealed the mystery of God’s resurrection and assured forgiveness as an everlasting grace. God does not exact vengeance on us (no matter what Jonathan Edwards once said) but has unleashed resurrection on the world through that first Easter morning when Mary gave witness to the empty tomb and the resurrected Jesus.

Prayer of Thanksgiving. (Offer a prayer of thanksgiving to God for helping us to see the world with different eyes, for changing our hearts, for helping us treat one another as friends, for opening our minds to be able to think differently about things.)

Sending Out from Worship

Benediction
Colossians 3:1-4

So since you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

Closing Song.  In our tradition, we close worship by singing the first verse of Blest Be the Tie.  Mindy starts us each week, and so she does today as well.

Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love.
The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above. Amen.

______________ 

Credits:  The image is Ukrainian Easter Eggs purchased in Kiev while the church was on a mission trip. The Blessing of Music was offered by Dr. Brad Ulrich (trumpet) of Western Carolina University and Dr. Vance Reese (organ) of Brevard College. The Call to Worship was written by Cheryl Lawrie. Charles Wesley wrote the words for Christ the Lord is Risen Today.  The video was persistently prepared by Ally and Elizabeth but did not work with our slagging internet speed here in the mountains, so an audio file is offered instead. The gospel was read by Brenda and Kristin.  Blest be the Tie was sung by Mindy.

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By Catedrales e Iglesias Album 2646

Today’s post is quite different from the others. There are two readings and a hymn as we embrace the full sorrow of this day when our Savior Jesus suffered death upon a cross. We offer no reflective words. We felt they would get in the way.  May we follow Christ’s great humility and the example of Christ’s patience. May the Lord bless and keep you.

Opening Words

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth should change…. (Psalm 46:1-2a)

Take a moment to pause and gather yourself for worship.

A Prayer of Petition

Psalm 22

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.

Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our ancestors trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried, and were saved;
in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm, and not human;
scorned by others, and despised by the people.
All who see me mock at me;
they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
“Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver—
let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”

Yet it was you who took me from the womb;
you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
On you I was cast from my birth,
and since my mother bore me you have been my God.
Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.

Many bulls encircle me,
strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
they open wide their mouths at me,
like a ravening and roaring lion.

I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
my mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.

For dogs are all around me;
a company of evildoers encircles me.
My hands and feet have shriveled;
I can count all my bones.
They stare and gloat over me;
they divide my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots.

But you, O Lord, do not be far away!
O my help, come quickly to my aid!
Deliver my soul from the sword,
my life from the power of the dog!
   Save me from the mouth of the lion!

From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.
I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him;
stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
For he did not despise or abhor
the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me,
but heard when I cried to him.

From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
The poor shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the Lord.
May your hearts live for ever!

All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord;
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before him.
For dominion belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations.

To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
and I shall live for him.
Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord,
and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,
saying that he has done it.

The Gospel Reading

John 18:1-19:42

After Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. 2Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples. 3So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. 4Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, “For whom are you looking?” 5They answered, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus replied, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. 6When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they stepped back and fell to the ground. 7Again he asked them, “For whom are you looking?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” 8Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So if you are looking for me, let these men go.” 9This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken, “I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me.” 10Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus. 11Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?”

12So the soldiers, their officer, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him. 13First they took him to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. 14Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was better to have one person die for the people.

15Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, 16but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in. 17The woman said to Peter, “You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” 18Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing round it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself.

19Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. 20Jesus answered, “I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. 21Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.” 22When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” 23Jesus answered, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?” 24Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

25Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, “You are not also one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” 26One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” 27Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.

28Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover. 29So Pilate went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” 30They answered, “If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.” 31Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.” The Jews replied, “We are not permitted to put anyone to death.” 32(This was to fulfill what Jesus had said when he indicated the kind of death he was to die.)

33Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” 38Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”

After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no case against him. 39But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” 40They shouted in reply, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a bandit.

19Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. 2And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. 3They kept coming up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and striking him on the face. 4Pilate went out again and said to them, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.” 5So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” 6When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.” 7The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.”

8Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. 9He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. 10Pilate therefore said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” 11Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” 12From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.”

13When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha. 14Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, “Here is your King!” 15They cried out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but the emperor.” 16Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.

So they took Jesus; 17and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. 18There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. 19Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” 20Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. 21Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’”  22Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” 23When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. 24So they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.” This was to fulfill what the scripture says,
“They divided my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots.”
25And that is what the soldiers did.

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

28After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” 29A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. 30When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

31Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. 32Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. 35(He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) 36These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, “None of his bones shall be broken.” 37And again another passage of scripture says, “They will look on the one whom they have pierced.”

38After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. 39Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. 40They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. 41Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. 42And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

A Hymn to Sing or Read

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

Piano accompaniment with vocalist.

Piano accompaniment only.

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died
My richest gain I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride

See from His head, His hands, His feet
Sorrow and love flow mingled down
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were the whole realm of nature mine
That were a present far too small
Love so amazing, so divine
Demands my soul, my life, my all

Concluding Prayer for the Church

Save us, O Lord, when we are awake,
Keep us when we sleep.
Then we will wake in Christ and rest in peace. Amen.

 


Title: Crucifixion, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=56509 [retrieved April 7, 2020].  Original source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Parroquia_de_la_Asunci%C3%B3n_de_Mar%C3%ADa_(Coatepec_Harinas)_Estado_de_M%C3%A9xico,M%C3%A9xico.jpg. Artwork by is file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial ShareAlike 3.0 License.

The music was played by Tracy and sung by his friend, Emily.


 

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JesusZambia-medium

Opening Words

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth should change…. (Psalm 46:1-2a)

Take a moment to pause and gather yourself for worship.

A Prayer of Thanksgiving

Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19

I love the LORD, because he has heard
my voice and my supplications.
Because he inclined his ear to me,
therefore I will call on him as long as I live.

What shall I return to the LORD
for all his bounty to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the LORD,
I will pay my vows to the LORD
in the presence of all his people.
Precious in the sight of the LORD
is the death of his faithful ones.
O LORD, I am your servant;
I am your servant, the child of your serving girl.
You have loosed my bonds.
I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice
and call on the name of the LORD.
I will pay my vows to the LORD
in the presence of all his people,
in the courts of the house of the LORD,
in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise the LORD!

The Gospel Reading

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” 11For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” 12After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

31When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Reflection

Listen to Jeffrey and/or read below.

Today marks “Maundy Thursday.” I was unfamiliar with that term for a long time but have since come to associate it with the word “mandate.” “Maundy” and “mandate” not only sound alike, they are related like word cousins. Since “mandate” means command, today is the day we revisit the command that Jesus gave his disciples when he washed their feet. And as John renders the story in his gospel, this happened just before the death of Jesus on that providential Friday.

Jesus gave his disciples a mandate just before his arrest and crucifixion. In John’s gospel it reads like this: “14So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”

Almost exactly 25 years ago this week, Tonya and I joined a couple of dozen students and a handful of faculty in the Mullins Lounge at Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY for a Maundy Thursday footwashing service. I had never been to a footwashing before and wasn’t sure what to expect. In that setting, with this same gospel reading from John we are using today, the atmosphere in the room turned quickly toward humility and servitude. As a wash basin of water made its way down the row of chairs, and one person after another scrambled to the floor to bathe the feet of their neighbor, a quick glance at the seating arrangements revealed that Molly was going to be washing Michael’s feet. Michael had been working on the facilities crew all day and still had on his muddy work boots. Molly was our beloved, respected, inspiring yet embattled professor of theology. With intention and care, and without a flinch at the grime on his feet, she took the fresh towel handed to her and cleaned his feet. Then Molly looked at him and said, “now you go and do the same to another.” Everyone in the room repeated this simple act. The person sitting beside us got down and washed our feet. They then looked up at us and said “go and do the same.” We immediately did what was asked of us as we turned to wash the feet of the next person. Then we had the chance to tell them to “go and do the same.”  In a literal sense, every person in that Maundy Thursday service both did what Jesus commanded and also asked another to follow Jesus in the same way.

Here is the heart of Maundy Thursday. Serve humbly and ask other Christians to do the same. It is a command that does not require a clear outcome or a calculated procedure. It is a requirement of discipleship that asks us to treat every person we encounter as worthy of our attention and our care. We cannot wash feet with pomp and ceremony. We cannot serve any person in this humble way without recognizing their innate human value to God and their worth in our eyes. Even as Jesus takes up his cross, we are still in need of taking up our towels.

Sometimes we are willing to wash the feet (speaking figuratively now) of the people we care about, or family members, or those who show promise of success or (even worse) who can help us in return. Yet if Jesus, their “Lord and Teacher,” could wash the feet of Judas who would betray him as well as Peter who was going to deny him along with the other ten disciples who would leave him to die alone, then we cannot be like Jesus if we fail to serve others.

The focus of this Jesus-commanded servanthood is always the person in front of us. While that sounds so obviously true, it requires constant self-awareness. We must reflect often on our motivation for care of others. We must check our ego and selfish drive for success, or reputation, or kickback. When care for another becomes what I can get out of it, then we have moved from servanthood to personal embellishment—one of these is a Christian virtue and the other is a millstone that weighs us down. When I help someone so as to check a mark on my account in heaven, then my motivation is clouded by self-promotion rather than genuine compassion for another human created in God’s image. Guess which one Jesus is giving us a mandate to replicate.

Jesus has taught these same truths in other places in the Gospel. And yet now, mere hours before the injustice of his execution, one of his final object lessons is not lost on the disciples. Perhaps we might should linger on the theological implications of the death of God in the crucifixion of Jesus. Or maybe, just maybe, Jesus wanted us to focus on living life after his death with a clear definition of genuine servanthood. Yes, Jesus will die tomorrow. Because of that, we live this day and every day as servants of one another. It is in being a servant that we are being like God. It is our most basic divine task.

On this “Commandment Thursday” we have our orders from Jesus. Apparently he thinks we are up to the task! Wash one another’s feet. Do what Jesus did. Love someone else in the way Jesus loved them. Perhaps we can even edit the “Golden Rule” here and call it the “Holy Thursday Rule” – “Do unto others as Jesus would do for them.” That’s a mandate for all of us who claim to be followers of Jesus.

A Hymn to Sing or Read

Lord, whose love in humble service
bore the weight of human need,
who upon the cross, forsaken,
offered mercy’s perfect deed:
we, your servants, bring the worship
not of voice alone, but heart,
consecrating to your purpose
ev’ry gift that you impart.

Still the children wander homeless,
still the hungry cry for bread.
Still the captives long for freedom,
still in grief we mourn our dead.
As you, Lord, in deep compassion,
healed the sick and freed the soul,
use the love your Spirit kindles
still to save and make us whole.

As we worship, grant us vision,
till your love’s revealing light
in its height and depth and greatness
dawns upon our human sight,
making known the needs and burdens
your compassion bids us bear,
stirring us to faithful service,
your abundant life to share.

Concluding Prayer for the Church

Save us, O Lord, when we are awake,
Keep us when we sleep.
Then we will wake in Christ and rest in peace. Amen.

 


Artist: JESUS MAFA, a Christian Community in Cameron. Title: Jesus washes his disciples feet, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48299 [retrieved April 6, 2020]. Original source: http://www.librairie-emmanuel.fr (contact page: https://www.librairie-emmanuel.fr/contact). This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial ShareAlike 3.0 License.

The gospel was read by Meagan. The music was played by Wyatt.  The hymn was written by Albert F. Bayley.


 

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The Lord's Supper - Matthew 26:17-30

Opening Words

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth should change…. (Psalm 46:1-2a)

Take a moment to pause and gather yourself for worship.

A Prayer of Adoration

Psalm 145:3-7

 The Lord is great and so worthy of praise!
    God’s greatness cannot be grasped.
 One generation will praise your works to the next one,
    proclaiming your mighty acts.
 They will talk all about the glorious splendor of your majesty;
    I will contemplate your wondrous works.
 They will speak of the power of your awesome deeds;
    I will declare your great accomplishments.
 They will rave in celebration of your abundant goodness;
    they will shout joyfully about your righteousness:

 

The Gospel Reading

John 13:21-32

After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him; Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the festival;” or, that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.

When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.”

 

A Reflection from Tonya

Listen to Tonya and/or read below.

Well, it’s the Wednesday before Easter. Tonight we would have gathered in the Fellowship Hall for dinner and a Seder Remembrance. I would be sending Jeffrey back to the grocery store to get the right kind of horseradish–not the one with the mayonnaise. We definitely would have the leeks again this year so we could hit one another. We would laugh imagining how crazy things must get at a Seder Meal with all those cups of wine to drink. We all enjoy the faces of the children experiencing horseradish for the first time. As we learn how our Jewish sisters and brothers celebrate Passover, the common thread of God’s provisions through time is highlighted for us. We are going to need that reminder because the crucifixion is just a couple of days ahead.

Did you notice the painting at the top of the blog? I love the artist’s vision of the last meal Jesus shared with his disciples. Did you notice how BIG the cup is? We use tiny little glass cups for communion which hold less than 2 ounces of juice. The bowl in the painting looks like my “That’s a Bowl.” It looks like it could hold a gallon or more!  The size of the cup brings to mind the words of Matthew 20.  One of the mothers of two disciples comes to Jesus with her boys. Jesus asks her what she wants. She simply asks that her sons might sit at his side when he comes into his kingdom–one on his right and one on his left. These would be places of great honor. Jesus looks at her sons and tells them they have no idea what they are asking for. Are they able to drink the cup that he is about to drink? Take another look at how big that cup is. Can you drink all that?

The cup Jesus was about to drink was full to the brim with suffering. Jesus and the disciples had come to Jerusalem for Passover and the raw reality of what lay ahead troubled Jesus. They reclined around a low table that night for dinner. As they reclined on carpets and cushions, they could see that Jesus was upset. The suffering was starting to begin. He shares with all of them that one of them will betray him. Which one of them will it be? Simon Peter with a nod of the head tells John to ask Jesus who it will be. John asks. Jesus doesn’t verbally name the disciple. Instead Jesus says it will be the one to whom Jesus gives a piece of bread that has been dipped in his dish. He takes a piece of bread, dips it, and hands the piece of bread to Judas. Judas eats the bread and the deal is done. Betrayal is poured into the cup that Jesus drinks.

After Judas leaves the dinner, Jesus tells his disciples that he will only be with them a little longer. Isolation is poured into the cup. “Where I’m going, you cannot come,” says Jesus. And loneliness is poured into the cup. They don’t get it. Simon Peter says, “Lord, I will lay down my life for you!” Jesus knows better. Disappointment is poured into the cup. Isolation, loneliness, and disappointment. How well we know those three experiences at this moment. Isolated from one another’s fellowship trying to slow the spread of the virus. Some of us alone as we strictly follow “stay at home” orders through at least April 30.  Disappointed that so many much anticipated events have been postponed or cancelled–weddings, graduations, birthday parties, recitals, and Sunday worship. And perhaps there are moments when we feel betrayed. We sing with the psalmist, “God, why have you forsaken us? Why are you so far away?” (Psalm 22)  We are afraid that the things God doesn’t do will outweigh the things God does.

Borrowing words from Howard Jacobsen (found in The Passover Haggadah: An Ancient Story for Modern Times published February 2020), ours is a religion of suspense. Jacobsen writes of the Jewish faith, but the same is true of Christianity. Ours is a religion of suspense. We walk by faith and not by sight. Suspense. We don’t know how things will turn out. All our questions are not answered. Jesus’ response after the meal is fitting for us now as it was then, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” (John 14:1)

The cup the world is drinking right now is big. There’s a lot to swallow–betrayal, isolation, loneliness, disappointment, and death. But don’t you dare forget all of God’s bounty and provisions that have already come. And today remember the cup of salvation which was poured for us which Christ drank for us.

A Hymn to Sing or Read

Accompaniment

What Wondrous Love is This?

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul.

Ye winged seraphs fly, bear the news, bear the news!
Ye winged seraphs fly bear the news!–
Ye winged seraphs fly, like comets through the sky.
Fill vast eternity with the news, with the news!
Fill vast eternity with the news!

To God and to the Lamb, I will sing, I will sing;
To God and to the Lamb, I will sing–
To God and to the Lamb, who is the great I AM,
while millions join the theme, I will sing, I will sing!
while millions join the theme, I will sing!

And while from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on,
And while from death I’m free, I’ll sing on.
and while from death I’m free, I’ll sing and joyful be,
and through eternity I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on,
and through eternity I’ll sing on.

Concluding Prayer for the Church

Save us, O Lord, when we are awake,
Keep us when we sleep.
Then we will wake in Christ and rest in peace. Amen.

 


Artwork by a Christian organization in Cameron called JESUS MAFA. Title: The Lord’s Supper, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48272 [retrieved April 6, 2020]. Original source: http://www.librairie-emmanuel.fr (contact page: https://www.librairie-emmanuel.fr/contact). This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial ShareAlike 3.0 License.

The Psalm reading is from the Common English Bible. The gospel was read by Robin. The hymn is played by Tessa.


 

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Anointed

Opening Words

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth should change…. (Psalm 46:1-2a)

Take a moment to pause and gather yourself for worship.

A Prayer of Thanksgiving

Psalm 36:5-9

Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
your judgments are like the great deep;
you save humans and animals alike, O LORD.

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.

The Gospel Reading

John 12:1-11

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet,  and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5″Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” 6(He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

9When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, 11since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.

Reflection by Tonya

Listen to Tonya and/or read below.

My Aunt Almedia was an excellent party hostess. (She was the aunt who made sure when I married that I had a silver tea pitcher and platter so I could host my own dinner parties with style.) It wasn’t just the setting Almedia could pull off joyfully and elegantly, but it was also the atmosphere. Her dining room table was always filled with laughter, fun, and joy.

I imagine the dinner party in Bethany was just as exuberant! Lazarus was there–the man who had died and three days later came back to life! That brief empty place at the table filled again through the miraculous power of Jesus. Oh, what a joyful time it would be if we could sit around the table with our loved ones who are no longer with or around us. Sometimes it is death that separates us. But there are other reasons too: incarceration, family squabbles, distance, and now this global pandemic. Just imagine how wonderful it is going to be to sit down at the table with one another again when all this is over.

Who is the honored guest at the party? Yes, Jesus, the miracle worker. Words and actions of gratitude fill the evening. And then the party mood completely changes. Mary walks in and anoints Jesus’ feet with an expensive perfumed ointment. The smell of the perfume and the sight of Mary’s devotion catches everyone’s attention. What is Mary doing? Jesus’ feet have already been washed. And you don’t “anoint” the feet of the living, that’s what you do for the dead to prepare them for burial.

Judas breaks the silence and the mystery of the moment. He judges Mary’s devotion to Jesus as wasteful. That was some expensive perfume, Mary. You should have thought better than to put that stuff on Jesus’ feet! Why, imagine how much money you would have gotten from selling it. The poor sure could use that money. Wasteful woman! The gospel tells us what we cannot know about Judas’ character. He was the treasurer for the group, and he liked to sweeten his own personal wants with the group’s money. Jesus shushes Judas.

Mary of Bethany gets it. This one whom they celebrate tonight, Jesus, will not be with them much longer. Before Jesus puts words to what will become of him, Mary recognizes that the road Jesus must travel will lead directly to death. It is not until after this anointing Jesus will say things like, “The light is with you for a little longer….” (John 12:35) “Little children, I am with you only a little longer….” (John 13:33) “I am going to the Father….” (John 14:12) “A little while, and you will no longer see me….” (John 16:16)

Mary could have sold this ointment and given the money to the poor. She could have saved the ointment for Jesus’ burial. But she did neither of these things. Recognizing that Jesus was soon to leave them, she gave Jesus the best of what she had. Surely such devotion and adoration must have encouraged Jesus in walking the road set before him. He was not alone in his understanding that his Way of life would lead to death. Such an untimely act as what Mary did (anointing the living) would set the disciples’ minds to wondering. Mary’s gift blessed them too. They would not easily forget the fragrance of her service, sacrifice, and devotion.

Oh, that our devotion to Jesus would be so intense and sincere; that our service to the Lord would fill life with a pleasing fragrance; that our sacrifices would bring glory to the name of Jesus.

A Hymn to Sing or Read

 

Were You There?

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?

Were you there when they pierced him in the side?
Were you there when they pierced him in the side?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they pierced him in the side?

Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?

Concluding Prayer for the Church

Save us, O Lord, when we are awake,
Keep us when we sleep.
Then we will wake in Christ and rest in peace. Amen.

 


Artwork by Lauren Wright Pittman. Title: Anointed, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=57085 [retrieved April 4, 2020]. Original source: http://www.lewpstudio.com – copyright by Lauren Wright Pittman. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial ShareAlike 3.0 License.

Pittman writes of her artwork of Mary of Bethany: “This is the posture that Jesus calls all of us into; a profoundly uncomfortable, shockingly reverent position; coming face to face, intimately engaging with the residue of Christ’s footsteps to smell and almost taste the journey of Christ.”

The gospel was read by Michelle. The music was played by Tonya.


 

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The “Home Worship Guide” is intended to give your family, or you as an individual, an opportunity to worship God in a way that is interactive and reflective. Each service is centered around the biblical lectionary-based readings associated with the church year and are created specifically for Cullowhee Baptist Church, although we hope others will find them meaningful as well.

To prepare, have open a copy of the worship guide, and designate a space to gather. A table is a good place because it is safe for candles and limits distractions. Set out one or two candles to represent the presence of God. If you want to celebrate communion, pour a cup for each person and have something simple to eat.

The worship guide is based on our regular weekly worship. They are not obligations, but suggestions. Follow them or amend them as needed. Home worship will be more brief than corporate worship in the sanctuary. Involve all the people at your home in the worship time who are able.

Grace and peace, Tonya and Jeffrey

 

The Worship of God

Light two candles in recognition of Christ’s presence. In our practice, one candle represents Jesus’ divinity and the other Jesus’ humanity.

Gathering for Worship

Passing the Peace
Say to one another, “May the Peace of Christ be with you.”
Respond by saying, “And also with you.”

Call to Worship. Psalm 95:6-7
O come, let us worship and bow down,
let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!
For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.

Litany of Praise  (You may want one to read the non-bold text and all to read the bold.)
Thanks and praise to you,
Jesus Christ, King and Lord of all,
given the name above every other name.
   Jesus, King and Lord of all,
   we worship and adore you.
King of righteousness, King of peace,
enthroned at the right hand
of Majesty on high;
   Jesus, King and Lord of all,
   we worship and adore you.
Great high priest,
living forever to intercede for us;
   Jesus, King and Lord of all,
   we worship and adore you.
Pioneer of our salvation,
you bring us to glory
through your death and resurrection;
   Jesus, King and Lord of all,
   we worship and adore you.
Every knee bows to you;
every tongue confesses,
you are King of kings
and Lord of Lords,
to the glory of God.

A Time of Prayer, Confession, and Assurance

A Reading from the Book of Psalms

Listen to a collection of our church members reading the Psalm.

Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29

Give thanks to the LORD
for the LORD is good.
God’s faithful love lasts forever!
Let the people say it.
God’s faithful love lasts forever!
Let the church say it.
God’s faithful love lasts forever!
Let everyone who honors the LORD say it.
God’s faithful love lasts forever!

Open the gates of righteousness to me
so I may enter through them
and give thanks to the LORD.

This is the LORD’s gateway:
the righteous may enter through it.

I thank you because you answered me
and became my salvation.
The stone the builders rejected
has become the main cornerstone.
This is the LORD’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day the LORD has made,
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Save us, we beseech you, O LORD!
O LORD, we beseech you, give us success!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD!
We bless you all from the house of the LORD.
The LORD is God,
and he has given us light.

You are my God, and I will give you thanks;
you are my God, I will extol you.

O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
God’s faithful love lasts forever!

Prayer (The following prayer is based on the Lord’s prayer. We have been praying in unison this prayer each Sunday in Lent. Before you begin, if there is more than one of you, choose someone to close the “Silent Prayer and Meditation” by reading the “Words of Assurance.”)

Divine Source of love and life,
holy is your name.
May your Way of living resonate throughout the earth
just like it does in heaven.

With your great wisdom show us
that what we truly need
you freely give us to receive.
With your steadfast love
forgive us
when we fail to trek your Way of life.
With your grace and mercy
make us ready
to forgive one another.

Acknowledging your abiding presence
may we understand
how to surrender to you instead of temptation
for everything belongs to you.

Silent Prayer and Meditation

Words of Assurance.  The Lord is merciful and compassionate, very patient, and full of faithful love. The Lord is good to everyone and everything; God’s compassion extends to all creation. May we bless God’s holy name forever and ever. Amen.

Celebrating Communion

Communion.  (Bread and wine were common foods during Jesus’ day.  As we celebrate communion at home, use common food and drinks you have. The type of food and drink is not what matters, but it matters that you remember Christ as you share, eat, and drink.)

A Reading from the Gospels. Mark 14:22-24.

While [the disciples and Jesus] were eating, [Jesus] took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” 23Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. 24He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.

Before you eat, have someone say,
“This food represents the body of Christ. As we eat, we remember Jesus.”

Before you drink, have someone say,
“This drink represents the covenant Christ made with us that our sins will be forgiven. As we drink, we remember Jesus.”

Prayer of Thanksgiving. (Offer a prayer of thanksgiving to God for coming to live on this earth as Jesus and for the forgiveness promised to all of us.)

Song.  Close communion by singing a hymn. You may want to sing Amazing Grace.

Amazing grace how sweet the sound
that saved a wrench like me.
I once was lost, but now I am found,
was blind but now I see.

The Gospel Lesson for Palm Sunday

Matthew 21:1-11

Listen to a collection of our church members reading the gospel lesson.

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me.  If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.”  This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,
“Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them.  A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.   The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?”  The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Reflection from Tonya. “Hosanna, Loud Hosanna!

You are welcome to listen to Tonya share her reflection or read it below.

Here we are at the beginning of the holiest of weeks. This year’s Holy Week is so different than all the years before. Everything has changed. But the disruption to our normal Palm Sunday worship does not mean that our worship of God this Holy Week will be of less importance to God or to us.  There is a blessing to be found in these eight days and we invite you to receive them with us.  So instead of remembering the last week of Jesus’ life in one worship service, daily readings and prayers will offered for your worship of God. May Holy Week 2020 comfort you and encourage the roots of your faith in Jesus to grow deeper.

There are two strong memories for the children of Cullowhee Baptist: bringing in the poinsettias during the Hanging of the Greens service and marching around the sanctuary with palm fronds waving in what we call the Palm Frond Parade. Today is Palm Frond Parade day. This year we are reading Matthew’s gospel account of Jesus coming to Jerusalem. There’s a donkey and a colt. The disciples put their cloaks on the donkey and Jesus rides into the city. Crowds gather spreading their own cloaks on the road. Others without cloaks cut down branches and spread them on the road. The crowd before and behind him shout, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” The keep walking with Jesus shouting, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” As they enter Jerusalem, the city is great turmoil. But the crowd keeps on shouting “Hosanna in the highest heaven!” “Hosanna!”

First, why a donkey and a colt? Jesus and disciples are at the Mount of Olives when he sends two of his disciples down into the village to secure some transportation. He specifically wants them to bring him a donkey and her colt. The magic word to the owner or anyone who asks what they are doing is to say, “The Lord needs them.” And everything will be fine. And it is. Everything goes just like Jesus says.

It all goes back to the prophet Zechariah. In Zechariah 9:9-10 we read these words, “Rejoice greatly! Shout aloud! Your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Zechariah describes the animal twice. It is like an echo but with different words saying the same thing.  Matthew quoting Zechariah is telling us that our king is coming–triumphant and victorious and humble.

So, we have to ask. Is this really a triumphant entry into Jerusalem? I mean, Jesus is riding a donkey. The people in front and behind him only have cloaks, some tree branches, and their voices to announce his arrival, the arrival of their king. And did you see what he was wearing, I mean see what he was riding? A donkey. Think back to the military parades you have seen. Soldiers dressed in uniform marching to the same beat in straight lines. There are horses and tanks. There are flags and rifles and sometimes missiles. The commander rides on a stately horse, or in a massive tank or now a days in a really snazzy car.  Jesus choose none of these. Instead of a tank, Jesus rides into the city on a tractor. That comparison by Rev. Katie Hines-Shah highlights the huge discrepancy. It isn’t as grand as befits the King of Kings. And that’s how Jesus continues to keep things in check. He rides into Jerusalem humbly, poor and afflicted, coming as the Prince of Peace.

The crowd ushers him into Jerusalem with loud shouts and cries of “Hosanna!” I beg your pardon, but I have always thought that “Hosanna!” was like a cry of rejoicing! More like the word “Hallelujah!” To me it was a shout of adoration and acclamation.  Merriam-Webster helped me to see that yes, now a days it does mean just that. Since the 12th century It has become a way of praising someone or something or some event. But follow the word trail: from Middle English, back to Old English, back to Latin, back to Greek, all the way back to the Hebrew. And the Hebrew word “Hosanna!” means “pray, save us!” As Jesus was riding the donkey with the colt in tow, the people are shouting, “Save us!”

We have been barred from all pomp and circumstance this Palm Sunday. We miss the beautiful sound of Tracy playing the organ and Barbara the piano. We cannot wave our palm fronds. We cannot hear the choir sing, nor the trumpet play. We sorely miss the eager smiling faces of our church children parading through the sanctuary. This year we are forced to see the reality of Jesus’ simple entry into the city. It was a rough and simple display of our Savior. We are invited to see what true triumphant really looks like and how Jesus defines victory. The week ahead will tell us even more.

May the Lord bless and keep us all.  Save us, O Lord. Save us, we pray.

Questions for Reflection: 

Describe the scene from Matthew’s story. How does Jesus look? How do the crowds look? What do you imagine them saying and doing?

What does a humble entry into the city communicate about one’s style of leadership? How can we be humble?

What salvation do you seek from God for yourself and others?

Prayer of Thanksgiving. (Offer a prayer of thanksgiving to God for helping us to see the world with different eyes, for changing our hearts, for helping us treat one another as friends, for opening our minds to be able to think differently about things.)

Sending Out from Worship

Benediction (If there are more than one of you, choose someone to read the following.)

And now we lay down the palm branches.
And with them we lay down our belief
that there is another way
for you to be God.

As the last echo of the final alleluia fades,
so does our hope that this journey can end
in any other way.

The week stretches ahead
glory-less
and pain-full
Whether we walk with all faith or none
we look towards the cross,
knowing it is both the most human
and most divine
of all journeys.
Travel the road into this holiest of weeks
with courage,
with love,
and with the uneasy peace that is the gift of faith.
Amen.

Closing Song.  In our tradition, we close worship by singing the first verse of Blest Be the Tie.  Here’s Mindy leading us in the first verse. It struck me this week that all the verses are fitting for such a time as this when we cannot gather together. Continue singing them if you like.

Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love.
The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.

Before our Father’s throne, we pour our ardent prayers;
Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one—our comforts and our cares.

We share our mutual woes; our mutual burdens bear;
And often for each other flows the sympathizing tear.

When we asunder part, it gives us inward pain;
But we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again.

From sorrow, toil, and pain, and sin we shall be free;
And perfect love and oneness reign throughout eternity.

______________ 

Credits: The Call to Worship was written by John Leach. Psalm 130 was read by Connor, Kelly, Amanda, and Allison. The video was prepared by Elizabeth. The gospel was read by Wyatt, Annelise, and all the little children. The Benediction was written by Cheryl Lawrie. Blest be the Tie was sung by Mindy.

Cover art is an acrylic by John August Swanson entitled Entry into the City, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=56544 [retrieved April 4, 2020]. Original source: http://www.JohnAugustSwanson.com – copyright 1990 by John August Swanson. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial ShareAlike 3.0 License.  Read more about Swanson….

 

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