Saturday, April 19 ~ The Burial of Jesus

~~John 19:38-42
After 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. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now 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. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

~~Jesus was confirmed dead on the cross. Contrary to what we might think, this was not an “event” for the people of Jerusalem. Mary was present. John, the one whom Jesus loved, stood there. Those who followed him may very well have believed they were next. People were scarce, which makes Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, who came to prepare his body for burial, men of courage.
There was no funeral. No final words said over Jesus. No hymns sung. The circumstances struck fear into the lives of his followers. His closest disciples, huddled in fear behind locked doors. No one knew what would come next.
They could imagine that this was the end. It was over. For Rome, this is reflexive action. They crucified as example and participated in genocide as a matter of policy. The Jewish leaders thought they were involved in a power struggle with the Messiah. They should have known that death does not have the final word.
For this day, what was good and proper was done.
We wait patiently.
God has plans. A new thing is about to be done.
Prepare to be amazed.

Jeff W. Bell

Friday, April 18 ~ Good Friday

~~I know what you are thinking. “I am not reading 42 verses. I want this to be quick and easy.” Well…this is Good Friday. What do we owe our Lord on the day we remember he died for us? 

~~John 19:1-42
Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and striking him on the face. Pilate 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.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” When 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.” The 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.”
Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. Pilate 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?” Jesus 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.” From 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.”
When 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 Gab’batha. Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, “Here is your King!” They 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.” Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.
So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Many 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. ~~Then 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.’” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written,” When 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. So 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.” And 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. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill scripture), “I am thirsty.” A 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. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Since 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. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, “None of his bones shall be broken.” And again another passage of scripture says, “They will look on the one whom they have pierced.”
After 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. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now 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. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

~~There was a man I knew years ago. When he met a person for the first time, his first question was always, “Where are you from?” He needed to pinpoint family, neighborhood, social class. First thing. Some would answer him. Some would not.
Today, when Pilate asks Jesus where he is from, Jesus remains silent. Perhaps that is because, at this point, it doesn’t matter. Jesus is a man for the whole world. Birthplace, social origins, occupation does not matter. The fact that he is the saving presence of God in the world, does.
This story is so familiar. We are tempted to read over verses we think we know. But take your time. Walk with Jesus through the trial, the insults, the humiliation. Walk with Jesus through his resolve, his quiet confidence, his incomprehensible silence in the face of injustice and suffering. Silence?
Feel the power made perfect in weakness. It is God’s way. In a world where militarism, self-defense, personal rights and justice for “me” shout for attention, Jesus embraces duty, responsibility, love, passive resistance, self-sacrifice.
By and large, we don’t understand this at all as it applies to our lives. How can this story have been told repeatedly, our sanctuaries be adorned with crosses and we still don‘t understand?
Saving grace takes the day. But the price is steep.
He bridges the gap between who and where we are and where God wants us to be. Earlier he said, “I am in my Father, my father is in me; I am in you and you in me.”
The cross makes redemption a reality for people like the thief on the cross, for Peter, who denied him three times and maybe even for Pilate who didn‘t have a clue.
Jeff W. Bell

Thursday, April 17 ~ Maundy Thursday

~~Matthew 26:26-28
Jesus took bread, and blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”          

~~     When we come to the table, we come with reverence and humility, knowing that these symbols of the sacrifice Jesus made for us to have our sins forgiven. As we break bread together, as one body of Christ and as we raise our cups together to honor Him, there is a feeling of unity, all coming together as one, in spirit and love. Each of us so grateful we have such a wonderful remembrance of God’s love.
     The table each week leads us directly down the path to commune with God and gives us the assurance that being with Him and living for Him, He lives in each of us.
     Just as you and I are satisfied after sitting down to a meal at our own tables, there is no better feeling than coming to the Lord’s table, breaking the bread, drinking the cup and knowing you are fulfilled spiritually. All are welcome and the sense of unity is there.
     At this time, we are one in Christ and with each other.
     So, come to the table, let us break bread together, drink from the cup just as the disciples did in that Upper Room centuries ago.

Judy Otte

Wednesday, April 16 ~ The Betrayal

~~John 13:21-30
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. 

~~Others will suggest Judas action permitted Some believe Judas was the evil betrayer. Jesus to achieve his destiny. I served a church which had a living portrayal of the Last Supper. The characters arrived early for makeup application and a light meal before the portrayal. The early arrivals often had to wait in costume and makeup for up to an hour and a half. The man who portrayed Judas had done so for several years. He was a very insightful person, the kind who had been nominated for Kentucky Teacher of the Year several times. One evening as he waited he remarked, “They all begin to avoid me about an hour before the portrayal.” He was very friendly, funny and a gregarious extrovert. But when they began to get into character, they kept their distance.
Even a character, pretending to be Judas 2000 years later, bore the brunt of all our fears that we could be the one to betray our Lord.
However you feel about what Judas did that night at the Last Supper, we must remember the direction in which we are headed. In a couple of days, we will stand at the foot of the cross, witnessing Jesus willingness to be the one who reconciles us to the Lord God of all time and eternity. Judas handed the authorities access to Jesus and all that followed.

The darkness prepares us to welcome the light. But who among us wants to be known as Judas Iscariot? Who wants to be known as the person who betrayed a friend? In spite of our intentions, some may know what it means to walk away from friends who have helped save us without so much as a goodbye. Forgive us Lord. Please forgive us.
Let us learn from our temptation to betray those who have loved us along the way.
Jeff W. Bell 

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.


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