Archives: Lent

Friday: The Rock and the Handmaiden

All week we have grappled with our dual nature.

It began on Palm Sunday. We started by shouting Hosanna to the Son of David, and ended shouting for his crucifixion.

It’s bewildering and exhausting being knocked from pillar to post, being confronted with our best selves and our worst selves, hardly knowing from one minute to the next who we will be.

Are we Jesus’ faithful disciples, pledging to be with him to the end and actually going through with it?

Or are we his betrayers, selling him out to those who would kill him and running and hiding when the trial comes?

We face the dichotomy of our divided selves one more time today, on Good Friday.

We are two people in this story.

We are Peter, and we are Jesus’ mother Mary.

We are the ones who deny him, and the ones who will not be kept away from him but stay at his feet until the bitter end. Continue reading

Wednesday: For the Sake of the Joy

The remarkable truth about Holy Week that we find so hard to grasp is the fact that everything and everyone is redeemable.

There is no tragedy so great, no action so unjust, no person so evil that he or she cannot be redeemed by the saving work of Jesus Christ.

We say we believe that, but most of the time we are carrying around grudges and shame and wounds that we, in our heart of hearts, don’t think Jesus can heal.

Because why would he want to? Why would he bother with redeeming our sins when he could just sweep in on a white horse and carry us off to heaven?

Well, Jesus doesn’t work that way, and we’re never going to understand his work on the Cross if we don’t understand what redemption is.

Sometimes people think that redemption is erasure of bad things.

It’s just gone, like it never happened.

But that is not redemption.

God is not doing a retroactive censorship of our lives, blacking out the parts that we’d rather not remember.

Redemption is a threefold process. It consists of forgiveness, illumination, and healing.

Erasure, elimination, forgetting and cutting out the deeds of sin and pain does not happen at all in redemption.

They’re still there. But they are fundamentally changed.

Let me explain. Continue reading

Tuesday: Where I Am

Jesus says something very important in our gospel lesson today. He says, “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.”

We’d like to think of ourselves as servants of Jesus.

Well, we’ve just been given a very simple test of whether we are in fact servants of Jesus.

We ask where he is, and then we evaluate whether we are there also.

This seems like a simple test at first.

Where is Jesus right now? Well, he’s everywhere and nowhere, at the right hand of God the Father and present in the Eucharist and living in our hearts.

Jesus is in a lot of places.

So in that sense, it’s not a very helpful test. But let’s ask where Jesus is just in this gospel lesson and see where we end up.

We begin with the Greeks at the festival.

They have clearly heard of Jesus and they approach Philip saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

Well, let’s start there. Is anyone approaching us to ask to see Jesus?

Are we living in such a way that people, strangers, know that they could approach us to ask about Jesus?

If someone has heard something interesting about Jesus, would they know that we are someone who could tell them more, show them more? Continue reading

Monday: Preparing for the Day of His Burial

We return as we always do on Monday of Holy Week to the little house in Bethany.

Ears still ringing from the raucous crowds thronging the streets of Jerusalem yesterday on Palm Sunday, perhaps our own voices are hoarse from shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David!”

Our unspoken hope was that if we proclaimed it loudly enough, maybe this year we won’t hear our own voices a scant week later shouting “Crucify him!”

Jesus knows what is coming, and he comes here to the house in Bethany for strength.

Perhaps we can do the same.

But as always with Jesus, and especially during Holy Week, there is a dose of keen insight awaiting us, insight about our selves and our motives that we might have been happier without.

Jesus draws strength from his dearest friends: Martha with her untiring service, practical and steadfast, Mary with her extravagant devotion, intense and demonstrative, and Lazarus who loves with neither deeds nor words, but his simple, quiet presence.

Martha speaks with her hands, Mary speaks with her tears, and Lazarus speaks with a small smile and the love shining out of his eyes as he sits at table with Jesus for the last time.

The goodbye, unspoken in any direct terms, vibrates in the room with palpable intensity.

Is Jesus going to come to your house tonight?

Are you his trusted confidante, someone who loves him not for the miracles and the prophecies of his kingship but for himself?

Are you his companion at meals uncounted?

Have you shared table fellowship with him, times of laughter and feasting, over weeks and months and years of friendship?

Has he raised you from the dead? Continue reading

Useless Love: Bethany and Leningrad

Realistic. Practical. Sensible. Those are words we all like to use to describe ourselves and our churches.

We are Christians who believe in an amazing story of death and resurrection, but in the end we have to come back down to earth and live in the real world.

Someone has to make sure the budget balances.

This is exactly the attitude of Judas in our gospel story today, the attitude Jesus condemns.

We don’t normally think of ourselves in the same category with Judas.

And a great deal of the time, those practical considerations do need to guide our behavior as individuals and communities.

But Jesus profoundly values Mary and her gesture in this gospel.

He finds her pouring of fragrant oil over his feet and wiping them with her hair deeply meaningful, and he will not allow this beautiful, intimate moment to be ruined by the mean-spirited practicality of Judas.

What makes Judas even more blameworthy—and even more of a warning to us!—is that he overlays his criticism of Mary with a virtuous moral justification.

“We could have used that money to serve the poor!” he laments with outward heartfelt piety and inward smug self-righteousness.

Have you ever seen this happen at church?

Someone takes the moral high ground, not out of love but because it places him or her in a position to score points on someone else.

“I’m more Christian than you are,” is a game that has no winners.

Jesus saw this and Jesus cuts right through Judas’ posturing.

In this moment, Mary and her gesture mean more than Judas and his proposed action.

That’s hard for us action-oriented Americans to take!

All the beautiful gestures in the world won’t get the pledge campaign launched or the nave vacuumed or the food pantry stocked.

Or will they? Continue reading

How To Bless God Even When You Feel Like You’re Stuck In a Pigsty

As we build our life of faith, we ask to be conformed to the Mind of Christ, so that we might be ever more able to live faithfully as the Body of Christ.

And part of that process is taking on some of the characteristics of God—as lofty and intimidating as that might sound at first!

We usually think of asking God to bless us. But in the Way of Love, God is asking us to bless the world.

And all of our spiritual practices make us ready to say yes to that calling.

Many of us might feel pretty inadequate to take on something as big as blessing the world.

In that, we have something in common with our brother the Prodigal Son.

In our story from Luke today, one of the most well-known and beloved in the gospels, we hear of a young man who made certain choices.

To some, those choices might seem rash, selfish, and short-sighted.

To others, they may simply seem like the folly of youth.

The Prodigal Son actually sounds eerily like a denizen of 21st century America, a natural product of a highly individualistic, self-centered, and hedonistic society.

Continue reading

The Wild Prayer of Lent

If wilderness is the landscape of Lent, then prayer is the road that takes us there.

We live in a blind and busy city most of the time, a crowded confine of social norms, work and family obligations, and a general “business as usual” status quo.

It can be difficult to sustain a dedicated prayer life in the chaotic swirl of trying to keep up with our calendars, care for our dear ones, and cope with the unsettled tension of our common life.

The great gift of Lent is the call into the wilderness. It is an invitation to let the dust of daily life settle, and the graced silence of the desert begin to soothe and open our weary hearts.

But the wilderness cannot invade the city. It can’t come knock on our doors and drag us out into an encounter with the Holy.

We have to say yes.

Continue reading

Trump in the Desert

Our gospel story today from Luke is the most sustained inside look at Jesus’ private spiritual life that we get anywhere in the Bible, along with his experience in the Garden of Gethsemane.

How interesting that we are allowed inside to see his heart at his moments of greatest trial and temptation.

How very like Jesus to humble himself and show us his moments of greatest danger and even near-defeat, to help us know more solidly than ever how present he is to us when we are tempted, tried, and tested by life.

What are the three temptations Jesus faces from the Devil really all about?

Jesus rejects “power, prestige, and perks,” as Richard Rohr puts it. He resists the temptation to manipulate his environment, manipulate his position in society, and manipulate God.

But at a deeper level, he’s rejecting the temptation to take on a false identity.

He will not be the dominator, the miracle worker, the king, the favorite of God. Because that is not who he is.

I was talking with some friends last night about the destructive and often frightening specter of President Trump and what he means in our country right now.

It can be tempting for those of us who find his racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and unrelenting stream of lies exhausting and demoralizing to call him evil.

Continue reading

March Madness Salvation

We’re right in the thick of March Madness, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

As an alum, I am a diehard Kansas Jayhawks basketball fan, and Kansas has created a remarkable March Madness tradition in the last ten years.

I don’t have any stats to back this up, but just from anecdotal evidence, KU seems to be the most highly ranked team that chokes the hardest every year in the tournament.

The higher seed we get, the lower seed we lose to with the most humiliating upset.

Sports analysts around the country have wracked their brains trying to explain this phenomenon, how Kansas can lead the nation in multiple categories for an entire season and then have a sustained nervous breakdown on national television for two hours straight during March Madness.

Well, I know the answer.

It’s all my fault.

The most intense phase of March Madness often coincides with Holy Week, and my priorities that week have often gone badly off track.

The reason Kansas keeps choking in the tournament is because I am engaging in gross blasphemous idolatry of basketball during Holy Week.

That’s the awful truth.

Every year the Jayhawk fight song and the Rock Chalk Chant start to blend with “Lift High the Cross” and “O Sacred Head, Sore Wounded” in my head, and the moral battle is on once again.

If you’d like a halftime report on how it’s going this year, so far the score is Whitney’s Jayhawk Idolatry 1, Whitney’s Priestly Integrity, 0.

Scorekeeping is something we tend to do in all areas of our lives, and our spirituality is no exception. Continue reading

John 3:17: In The Pink

One thing I think you have to grant us: Davies and I are pretty in pink.

You see that this morning, Davies and I are wearing pink vestments. I get the pink set for the 8 a.m. service, and he will wear them for the 10 a.m.

They were a gift to me from a former parishioner after she heard me in a sermon lament that I’d always wanted to wear pink vestments for Rose Sunday, but had never had the chance.

Then they went in a closet and I never remembered to bring them to church for the correct Sundays either in Advent or Lent. But this year was the year!

And Davies has been a hilariously good sport about it as you might have noticed if you saw his fabulous picture on Facebook also wearing my pink heart-shaped sunglasses.

So why are we wearing pink today?

Well, the official name for the 4th Sunday of Lent is Laetare Sunday, and this Sunday has several traditions around it.

“Laetare” is the first word of the traditional Latin introit to the mass for this Sunday: “Laetare Jerusalem: et conventum facite omnes qui diligitis eam,” which means, “Rejoice, O Jerusalem: and come together all you that love her.” That’s Isaiah 66:10.

It’s also called Refreshment Sunday, and it’s a chance to take a break from our Lenten solemnity. It’s like an oasis in the desert, or a chance to leave the wilderness, come back into town, and have a couple of beers at the local watering hole.

Christians have realized for a long time that as noble as our aspirations of self-denial and fasting are in Lent, we’re human, and we need a break. Forty days is a long time.

The gospel says that Jesus had angels ministering to him while he was in the desert. We don’t get that, but we do get a day off before the last push toward Holy Week.

Given that it coincides with losing an hour of sleep changing over to Daylight Savings Time, we could all probably use a break today.

Today is also known as Mothering Sunday in the Church of England, which could mean one of two things. It was a day when servants were let off work to go home and see their mothers, or alternatively, it’s a day to return to your mother church, the parish you attended in your childhood.

It’s also called Rose Sunday, which is where we get the pink. Continue reading

© 2019 Roof Crashers and Hem Grabbers