The Difficult Task of Rolling Away Stones

rolling away stones_t_ntBudding trees trembled with the weight of snow on their branches. Tulips and daffodils bowed their sullen heads to say goodbye. Was it only yesterday they greeted us with smiling bouquets? Our time together was so brief! I want to coax them back to life. I want to deny the cold and its power to destroy. Ultimately, I know they are gone…though I long for Spring to come and conquer the Winter once and for all.

That’s how it is with resurrections. Rolling away stones is hard…and it takes a lot of time and effort. The dark hours before dawn are filled with the difficult task of transformation…and then there is the waiting…interminable waiting. The bulb must break open and die for the sprout to struggle free and journey slowly through the cold, dark earth. It must suffer through the task of growing through the layers of loam…and maybe stones, before it can encounter sunshine and warmth. It must push its way through the hard-packed soil before it can experience the life-giving rays of sun.

You and I must walk the dark road to Calvary. We placed more than a few nails in the cross…whether we meant to or not. We have to wait, sometimes in darkness, to be transformed. Wait in the cold, musty silence of the tomb for something new to grow within us. We have to allow our hearts to open just enough for something to sprout and inch its way through the dark, crusty layers we allowed to build up…until it can burst through and open wide…wide enough to accept the abundance of love…and grace that awaits its arrival.

The darkness, the waiting, the hard work of growing and changing, the struggle of moving ever upward,  no matter how slow the journey…the arduous task of rolling back stones, are all necessary to resurrection. We cannot see Light, if we do not acknowledge darkness. We cannot claim an eternity if we do not spend time in anticipation. We cannot transform our lives into something worthy of resurrection if we do not experience the pain of growth. We cannot roll back the stone if we do not struggle, first, with a death to self. We cannot know life-giving Light if we do not step out of the tomb and into the world. We cannot know love…or grace if we are not willing to allow them to rain on others.


Holy Week

Yesterday wHoly Weeke heard a wonderful message from Father Danny Fister, at St. Peters Episcopal Church.

He was talking about Judas and said: “Judas liked the idea of Jesus, he didn’t love Jesus.”


That one will open some eyes and ears.

Such a sentiment may be the reason the church is ONLY what it is, when it could be so much more.

Do we just “like the idea of Jesus” but aren't willing to grasp the radical power of his teachings and live in him and through him?

Do you love Jesus with heart, mind and soul?  Or do you just sort of think he offered some good quotable sound bites for living?

Are you willing to walk with him into the darkness, in order to discover the light?

Or do you just sort of like the idea of Jesus?

Thanks Danny.

Moving to the deeper places,


Tuesday, April 15 ~ Jesus Speaks About His Death

~~John 12:20-36
Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the death and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.  
“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say – ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” Jesus said to him, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.”

~~Here I sit at my desk. It is 6:02 p.m. on a Friday night and I am looking out my window at the steeple of the Catholic Church which is catching the late day sun. I think about our enormous towers. One is 96 feet above the ground. The other is sixty feet up. The days are getting longer.

Now, as the sun sets, the asphalt below is covered in grey, out of the light. The towers however, catch the early evening sun, visible in five different directions. They capture the light when much of the world is sinking into murky darkness.

Jesus says at the end of this text, “While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.”  He knows it won’t be long now. He came to Jerusalem to face his destiny, which was to be the one who would restore a vital relationship with the living God. Jesus came to bring us back to where we ought to be. He came for us. He brought the light.

While this image of light is intentionally vague, I think we know what it means. In Biblical times when night came, it was “dark-dark.” Except for the moon and stars, there was no ambient light. You cannot find your way in such darkness.

There is a darkness in the world. We know it. Sometimes we call it evil. Evil casts a pall of blackness on the soul. We cannot see clearly the vision of the kingdom of God. We drift from God, apart, away, alone. But he “knit us together in our mother’s wombs. We are fearfully and wonderfully made.” We are his. We belong to him. He loves every fiber of our being and wants us to walk in his way.

The deep desire of God in Jesus Christ is for us to embrace the light, see the light, walk in the light of his love. The light brings us safety, warmth and shows us the way. The light brings us home. Our home is in this God who is the breadth and length and height and depth and we are called to be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:18-19).

To know his fullness, we must be like the grain of wheat that must die to itself, before it can bear fruit. Mary died to herself when she fell to the floor and used perfume which cost a year’s wages to anoint Jesus (see yesterday’s devotion). That is as good an example as any. Her witness was beautiful, but with soulfully surgical precision, restored sight to those blind to the glory of God who were in the room.

Jesus is going to die. But he is going to teach us until his last breath. In the teaching is the light that allows us to find our way.

Jeff W. Bell

Monday, April 14 ~ Reconciling What Is Broken

~~John 12:1-11
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary 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. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (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.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” When 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. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.

~~Imagine yourself in the room with Mary, Martha, Jesus, Judas and the others. Really. Take time to place yourself there. Become aware of the setting, the people, the emotion and the conversation. Read and reread the scripture carefully.

We are just a few days away from the time of pilgrimage to Jerusalem. People throughout the land have been saving their drachma for a life changing visit to the Temple. The children can feel their heart beat a bit quicker, sharing the anticipation of their parents. Adventure is in the air. The Passover will be remembered and celebrated.
They will remember when Israel was enslaved in Egypt. The angel of death passed over the Israelite households and descended in terrible fury on the Egyptian households. The visitation from the angel of death was God’s final challenge to the Pharaoh to let his people go.

Passover was the culmination of persuasion. Finally, there was a brief moment of permission from the Pharaoh for Israel to be on their way. They escaped into the wilderness and began their forty year journey to the Promised Land.

Jesus is preparing for his entry into the Holy City and his final act of intercession for the people. A bridge of saving grace will be the new avenue to oneness with God.

They crowded into the room, reclining, sitting upright, making themselves small. Jesus and Mary sat at table with each other. There was chatter, whispers and grunts, hungry looks, necks craning just slightly, but not too obviously, to see if the lamb and lentils were ready. Food was served in bowls and on plates and platters. The house smelled like a Middle Eastern version of thanksgiving. The steam rising from the kitchen made the air warm and moist.

Mary made no announcement. There was no ceremony. Her extravagant outpouring of adoration filled the room. Her worship was spontaneous, yet carefully planned. The expense was anticipated. Money was gathered in. A purchase was made which was once in a lifetime. The price she paid was stunning.

A hush fell over the guests. Neither Mary nor Jesus spoke. The gift and her posture said all that needed to be said. The nard was a witness as its aroma wafted into every nostril and could be apprehended by passersby. One sniff and the sacrifice made was evident to all. Mary’s sacrifice would be a glimpse of the future sacrifice to come.

Even Judas’s objection, sounded, well, thin, after everyone there saw Mary empty herself emotionally and spiritually to become one with her Lord.

Jeff W. Bell

Sunday, April 13 ~ The Triumphal Entry

~~Matthew 21: 1-11
When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethpage, 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 crows 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.”   

~~In the movie The Music Man is a song called “Seventy-six Trombones.” A persuasive “huckster” comes to town to form a high school band. He sings a song touting a band with seventy-six trombones and a hundred and ten cornets right behind. Soon enough, the band forms and there is a parade. Garnet and gold uniforms accent the brass instruments and the sound is stunning. (The Ambassadors of Harmony sing this song on YouTube and I listen to this at least once a month. It’s just a silly song, but I enjoy it so much.)
I love a parade. There are fire engines and police cars with screaming sirens; floats, Clydesdale horses, classic cars (sometimes just like one we owned when I was growing up). There are clowns, go-carts, marching bands and their drum lines, military units in lock-step, convertibles carrying pageant winners and proud mommas. There are Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, sports teams and commercial displays. There are balloons, elephants, cowboys, big rigs, clubs, organizations, churches, stagecoaches, fancy carriages. There are dancers, dance teams, guard squads with marching bands. Political figures ride in cars, parade marshals wave to us. People walk with banners promoting their cause. Animal shelters bring dogs to walk down the street and entice you to adopt.
This parade only had one man and a donkey.
His presence was cause enough for a parade.
At least a few must have wondered if he was going in the right direction.
Jeff W. Bell

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