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Monday, April 6, 2015

Easter Monday....a word about the Harrowing of Hell

Easter Monday....musings on the Harrowing of Hell.

Descent into Hell, Duccio, 1308
Christian doctrine and belief asserts that Jesus Christ 'descended to hell' in order to preach and proclaim the good news of God's love and mercy to those who had lived and died before his incarnation.   Hell of course is an interesting discussion: and one that often carries with it a lot of personal baggage.   But here the understanding of the church is not that those who lived before Christ were somehow being tortured in the afterlife, or in any discomfort.  The assertion was that they simply waited, slept as it were until the light of Christ would be revealed to them.  

Below is an excerpt from an ancient sermon, where Christ is explaining his presence to Abraham about his purpose in "hell."   I find it quite beautiful and while it should have been posted on Saturday....I thought it a descent Easter Monday thought.

"Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise.  I order you, O sleeper, to awake.  I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell.  Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead.  Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image.  Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated."

To this I can only say:  Amen!

Sunday, April 5, 2015


“The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 
Luke 24.34

REMBRANDT Harmenszoon van Rijn The Ascension of Christ

Saturday, April 4, 2015

For all who wait.....Day 40 in Lent 2015 Saturday of Holy Week

Day 40 in Lent 2015  Saturday of Holy Week

"Be strong, and let your heart take courage,
    all you who wait for the Lord."  Psalm 31.24

Waiting is hard.  And yet waiting is so much a part of our culture that we even have rooms designated for this activity and lists that are generated solely for those who must wait.   This being said, I don't like to wait.  Maybe because I'm impatient--perhaps.  But I think the real reason I don't like to wait is that I'd rather be 'doing' something than just waiting.   Waiting sounds so, well, so passive.   It also means that I'm not in control of the situation and that is a whole other subject all together! 

GUERCINO The Dead Christ Mourned by Two Angels
Here on the last day of Lent, situated between Good Friday and Easter Sunday all we can do is wait.   But our waiting need not be an invitation to do nothing.  No, this kind of waiting is ripe with expectation.  You see, we know that God will be faithful to God's promise.   We know that Jesus will rise from the dead and we know that tomorrow morning some women will go and find an empty tomb.   Knowing this our waiting is filled with preparation.  We are planning meals and worship schedules, we are getting out our Easter best and preparing for company that will join us to celebrate.   You see, when we wait with God, we wait with hope and that makes all the difference.

We who worship Christ are not na├»ve to pain, suffering and death.  We know that all these things exist and are the occasion for heartbreak and grief.  And yet, we also know that these things do not have the final word.  We are confident that even the deepest darkness will give way to the light of God's presence and that there is no denying the faithfulness of God.   So we wait....but we wait defiantly!  Our waiting is lived out not in rooms that make us comfortable but in lives that remain focused on what we know the outcome will be.  Our waiting stands by the old, old saying; It might be Friday (Saturday); but Sundays coming!   

A prayer for today:  "Dear Lord,  I ask that in all my waiting I might take courage that you are there and that nothing will be able to separate me from your love.  Amen"  

Friday, April 3, 2015

Behold the life giving cross.....Day 39 in Lent 2015 Good Friday

Day 39 in Lent 2015  Good Friday

"Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words."  Romans 8.26

Meditating on the cross of Christ can all to easily become a narcissistic enterprise into imagining that I can somehow feel what he felt or experience what he experienced.  The cross is awful--it's horrible.  It is public execution that is meant to shame and humiliate not only the offender but the family of the offender as well.  The mean spirit and mob morality of folks who have decided to scapegoat a particular individual are all well documented--it is unfortunately not rare in our day.  The cross is not meant for me to gaze upon and feel guilty; although this is what modern piety has turned it into.  No, the cross stands forever as a memorial to the triumph of God who through the cross shows a different way. 

What if love is ultimately the victor?  What if forgiveness is the answer to the plague of violence that we impose on each other?  What if Jesus truly is the King?  What if truth is found not in the power politics of Pilates expediency, but in the selfless giving of Jesus' life for the sake of the world?  

Come to this day in prayer.   But do me a favor, use your prayer time not to focus on you or your sin or your shortcomings....instead use this time of prayer to focus on God and what the cross reveals about God's nature.  May the Holy Spirit intercede for you as you contemplate the mysteries of faith. 

A prayer for today:   "Dear Lord may I see in your cross the love which you have for me and the whole world.  Amen."

Thursday, April 2, 2015

In the business of feet....Day 38 Lent 2015 Maundy Thursday

Day 38 Lent 2015 Maundy Thursday

"For you are all children of light and children of the day;
we are not of the night or of darkness."     1 Thessalonians 5.5

On Maundy Thursday we remember Jesus giving us the sacrament of Holy Communion, the foot washing and the betrayal of Jesus.   John in his Gospel makes the point that as Judas was leaving to go and betray Jesus--it was night.  Night in John's Gospel especially is a vivid metaphor for all those things that run counter to God.   Judas of course goes out to betray Jesus at night, because he has been overcome by the darkness of this world.    This is not our lot!

BABUREN, Dirck van Christ Washing the Apostles Feet
c. 1616
Paul is convinced that we on the other hand are children of the light and children of the day!   This means that we are reflecting the life of Jesus in all that we do.  Since Jesus is the light of the world (John 8.12) so we are to reflect this light as we live in the fullness of his presence.  What does that mean.  First and foremost it means that we are to find the time to come to the family table.  To gather with the other people of God around the sacrament of Holy Communion and once again hear the words that this Jesus has been given for us!  Not just for our own salvation; but that we might participate in the salvation of the whole world through him!   

This happens when we follow his example of washing feet.  That is, to serve each other, and to find in service to the other the highest calling of the Christian life.  This reality gets shown in the parable of the Sheep and the Goats which suggests that the mystery of the incarnation (God come to us in Christ) continues to be lived out in the love that we show for one another.   Tonight at worship I'll undoubtedly talk about the sacrament and about what it means to come to the family table of our Lord; but I'll probably also call us back to the family business....we do feet.   That's what it means to be a child of the light. 

A prayer:  "Dear Lord, help us to let our light so shine before others that they might see you reflected in what we do.  Amen"

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Devil made me do it.....Day 37 Wednesday in Holy Week

Day 37 Wednesday in Holy Week

"And do not bring us to the time of trial,
        but rescue us from the evil one."   Matthew 6.13

Jesus offers us the Lord's prayer in two places, here in Matthew above and also in the Gospel of Luke.  The prayer is simple and to the point.  There is not a lot of fancy words or wasted window dressing; but Jesus invites us to get right to the heart and point of our communication: we give honor to God, we pray for God's Kingdom to come in our midst, we ask for our 'daily bread' which is those things we need for life and health, we ask for and pledge to live by the word of forgiveness and finally we ask to be saved from times of trial and to be rescued or delivered from the evil one (evil). 

GAUGUIN, Paul Words of the Devil (Parau Na Te Varaua Ino)
I do believe that evil is real, and I'll also accommodate those who understand evil as being personified in a particular being; for it all points to the same reality that there are forces at work which are counter to the forces and intention of God.   In my experience these forces enter into the systems that manage our lives: politics, church, finance, industry, family and community.  They are subtle and often disguise themselves as a plea for some greater good.   But here is my test to see whether or not evil is a foot.  Does the solution, implication, direction counter the words of the Lord's prayer.  Does it take away the honor and sovereignty of God?  Does it work against the Kingdom of God as Jesus proclaimed it?  Does it keep others from receiving what should be their 'daily bread?'  Does it call for retribution rather than forgiveness?  

This is not perfect, but if things can't pass the "Lord's Prayer" test...well then I say to them, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  Amen.

A prayer for today:  "Our father who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread.  And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  Amen"