A Prayer for Those Needing Hope

As is my custom, whenever I am asked to offer prayer in public worship, I post it here. Today, I also had the privilege of leading the worship service, in the absence of both of our pastors. Another congregant, Dr. Greg Spencer, Professor of Communication at Westmont College, preached a powerful word on learning to hope well. This prayer was built on two passages — Psalm 33:18-22 and John 11:1-44. Immediately before this prayer, the congregation sang 3 verses of
“Be Still, My Soul.”

I want to invite you to still your souls for a few moments. To quiet and center yourselves in the presence of the God who loves you,
the Lord who is on your side,
the One who is your best, your heavenly friend.
I will extend this same invitation to stillness
at several points throughout today’s prayer.

 

Please pray with me:

Faithful Friend,
Loving Father,
Beautiful Savior,
Winsome Holy Spirit,

Blow through the cobwebs,
loosen the grip of fear and anxiety,
free us from the distraction of the various responsibilities we carry,
open our minds and our hearts to YOU.

Help us to remember you are consistently guiding us to a future which you can see, but we cannot. You are not controlling us or condemning us, you are guiding us.You are coming alongside, you are a companion on the way. A companion who knows us, inside and out . . . and loves us anyway.

Part of what keeps us distracted, what makes it difficult to still ourselves, are all the lists we carry around in our heads. One of those is the list of ways in which we have fallen short — fallen short of who you’ve designed us to be and fallen short of what you’ve called us to do.

So, in the silence of the next moment or two, help us to still our souls, and to offer that list to your tender care. Help us to also receive the forgiveness and acceptance that your grace makes possible.

Hear our prayer, O Lord:

+++Silence+++

There are other lists inside our heads, too, Lord, lists we sometimes fail to recognize
or acknowledge in ways that might bring us life and joy. A primary one of those is the gratitude list — all those things, which, if we take just a minute to think about it, we are deeply grateful for — things about our life, our work, our community, our home, our relationships. It’s a good thing to be grateful, God, a very good thing. So hear our words of thanksgiving now, as we sit, quietly, with you.

+++Silence+++

And as a gentle word of encouragement to those sitting nearby us, we offer to you one or two items from that list out loud, all together, right now:

+++Shared speech+++

Oh, it’s lovely thing to say thank you! And we truly do have so many things for which to say it. “Thank you! Thank you!”

Then there is different kind of list, a heavier one. That’s the list of people and situations that feel difficult, maybe even hopeless to us — physical, emotional, mental, financial, political, relational — all of them places of pain, in our lives and in the lives of others whom we love. Hear and answer, O Lord, as we silently lift to you some portion of that list which we each carry in our hearts. Have mercy, Lord Jesus. Hear us as we pray:

+++Silence+++

Last, but far from least, in that pile of lists we carry with us is the one which holds those things we hope for — events, milestones, healing, newness, times of refreshment,  moments of reconciliation — this list is unique to each one of us and yet the hope is something we share, at a level deeper than words. Will you help us to hope well? To trust that you know best? To learn from our mistakes, to focus on your faithfulness, and to practice resurrection as we wait? Help us in this moment of stillness to verbalize or to visualize those things for which we hope:

+++Silence+++

God of all hope, thank you for listening. Thank you for the invitation to be still in your presence, and for the assurance that though the way may be thorny, the end, ah, the end, is filled with joy.

Be with our brother Greg as he breaks open the Word for us this morning. And bless our pastors this day, Lord God — Ian and his family as they find rest and recreation in the Sierras, and Jon and his family as they meet and worship with the congregation in Salem on this day. May each one of them find moments of soul-stillness, moments when the assurance of your loving presence fills them, and us, with joyful expectation.

We pray all these things in the blessed name of Jesus, the Christ, Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John 11:1-44
“Well, what did you expect?”

 

Here you are reading this. You anticipated something, or you hoped for something, right? “What did you expect?” is a question we often hear—and it has a hint of criticism in it. “Aren’t you shrewd enough to know what’s coming next . . . that there would be traffic . . . or a negative answer . . . or that you would need your sweatshirt?” Expectations are part of how we think and talk about the future. So are anticipations and hopes. Jesus cares about how we live in relationship to the future. He wants us to “anticipate well” by keeping our insistent expectations about this world low and our hopes for what God can do high. Sound like a hard line to walk? We’ll walk through it together this Sunday morning.

FIRE — Use It or Abuse It? — for SheLoves, August 2018

Each week during the winter months of the year just past, our Confirmation students would arrive, shivering in the central California coolness, for our very early 8:45 a.m. Sunday classes. My husband would gather wood from a nearby pile and light a fire in the lovely fireplace in our gathering space. One by one, the girls would line up in front of it to warm themselves. (Generally speaking, middle school boys do not admit to discomfort of any kind!) Some chose to sit on the hearth for the entire lesson, not wanting to leave that cozy space.

Now, juxtapose that picture with this one: last December, the largest wildfire in California history raged through the foothills of our community, after destroying hundreds of homes in a large town to our south. We ate blessed to live in a house-with-a-view, one that put us in a direct line with the Thomas fire’s voracious movement across our city landscape. It was horrifying to watch and left scars that remain visible today, eight months later.

Fire.

Cozy or cancerous? Source of warmth and comfort or disaster and dismay? Something we are drawn to or repelled by?

Depending on the circumstances, both sets of answers apply, don’t they? Fire can give life or take it, it can provide order or create chaos, light up a room or demolish it. Like so much of life, fire is a very mixed bag.

Now take that truth about physical fire and apply it to our use of ‘fire’ in more metaphorical contexts:

“The fire within,” for example — is that a good thing or a dangerous one?                             “We need to light a fire under him/her.“ Good advice or bad idea?                                         “I spend all my time putting out fires.” Negative thinking or reality check?                             “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” Wise counsel or needless nay-saying?

It depends, right? The difference between a contained fire, used for warming or cooking, and an uncontrolled wildfire is immense. And a person filled with the ‘fire of faith’ can be a rich source of healing for the broader community or a danger to everyone he or she touches. Where is the line between healthy passion and unhealthy obsession? Even more pointedly, how can we learn to be the light of the world without destroying people in the process?

Far too much of today’s conservative church is caught in the grip of unhealthy, obsessive behavior and language. We find it terribly easy to choose sides, state opinions, and make judgments about people, politics and policies. We make so much roaring noise that whatever light we may carry becomes barely visible. . .

To finish this essay and join the conversation, please click here.

A Prayer for Those in Need of Goodness and Mercy

Whenever I am invited to pray in public, I try to post those prayers in this space. Sometimes, people ask me for a copy and this is the easiest way to make that happen. In our church community, we find ourselves in a surprising season of discord and misunderstanding. We’re working on it! And the sermon for the day helped, as did the song that just preceded this prayer, “Psalm 23,” with the chorus that begins with, “Surely goodness, surely mercy” Yes, indeed. Please, Lord. (Our primary teaching text was Zechariah 8)

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Oh, Good Shepherd, we gather together in this place,
at this time in our history and in the history of the world, to acknowledge —
out loud and with all of who we are —
that we stand in need of goodness, we stand in need of mercy.
Every last one of us as individuals, and all of us together as your people at Montecito Covenant Church. All of us.

We need to remember, and to give thanks for, the truth that You are on our side,
even though the valley be dark and the way ahead, uncertain.

Lead us, O Lord, into green pastures. Restore our souls, refresh us with the water of life, remind us that we belong to You, and remind us that You are good.

Even as we acknowledge that goodness in You, O God, we must also own the truth that we are sometimes not so good.

We step on toes, 
we say harsh things,
we talk about others when they are not present,
we make judgments with incomplete facts,
we make assumptions,
and stand on entitlement,
and fail to practice grace and peace.

Forgive us, O God. Forgive us. And help us to forgive one another, too.

The climate in the world around us right now is not particularly conducive to forgiveness, nor to goodness and mercy. So it seems even more important than usual that we — as members of Christ’s body — practice what we preach. Will you help us to do that, please?

The text before us today reminds us of some of those things we preach, and we need to hear them, we really do. Bless Pastor Jon as he brings us your word for today. Give us ears to hear, O God, give us hearts to understand, and give us feet that walk out that truth into our world, beginning with the patio, and then the lunch tables we will share together a little later today. May your grace and joy infuse every conversation, guiding us into wisdom, and good decision-making.

Most of all, Lord God, will you help us to let your goodness and mercy inform what we say and do in our day-to-day living? That is not always easy for us. Some of us are in the throes of deep grief during these days of summer —

loved ones die,
relationships dissolve,
circumstances take a nosedive,
hard decisions must to be made,
ugly voices rise to the top in too many dialogues,
children suffer,
politicians seldom tell the truth,
poverty of all kinds surrounds us,
wars never end.

To us, the world feels a shambles, and we forget about goodness and mercy.

But we are not YOU, O God. Help us to look around us and see what you see — a world in need. . . yes. But a world that is also deeply loved, a world held in place by a Good and Merciful Sovereign, a world in which we are invited to partner with that Good Sovereign in the necessary work of restoration, reconciliation, recovery, and renewal.

We give you thanks this day for the evidence of that good work in the lives of those graduating from Bethel House and the Rescue Mission last night, celebrated right here, in our sanctuary. And we give you thanks for the changed hearts in thousands of teenagers, including some of our own, who were at the CHIC conference in Tennessee this past week. Thank you!

Bless and encourage every hurting heart in this room, O God. And use each of us to make that blessing real. Help us to be good neighbors — to each other, and to all those we meet day by day. Because everybody, from the grocery clerk to the rude driver behind us, needs a little goodness and mercy in their life, too.

They need the truth that we already know: that all of us belong to you — every last, mixed-up, weird and wonderful one of us.

Glory be.

In the name of Jesus — who loves us, who died for us, and who, by the power of the Spirit, was raised to new life, the One who dwells today in the church, including this one, in that name, we, together say,

AMEN.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Redefining Terms — For SheLoves, May, 2018

Anyone who has read my work for any length of time will know that the content of this month’s essay at SheLoves has appeared, in slightly different form, here and in an ebook I put together about five years ago. It’s a BIG topic for me, essential to my spiritual and emotional health and sanity and I’m happy to have another venue in which to speak it true. I believe this to be one of the most important truths of our faith, one that can help us navigate any misguided theological input from our past. I’d love it if you would click over and join in the conversation at SheLoves.

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When I was a little girl, faithfully attending Sunday school each week, we had a little saying that went like this: “Jesus, Others and You – that’s how you spell JOY.” And I inhaled that sentiment like it was the sweetest of perfumes. YES! We should always be last on the list, giving ourselves away to Jesus and to other people. That’s how you live like Jesus, right? That’s how you are a good girl, a truly good girl.

As I got older, that simple phrase became a little more complicated, and the scent of it a little more cloying. This time, it went something like this: “He must increase, I must decrease,” lifting the words directly out of the mouth of John the Baptist near the end of chapter 3 in John’s gospel. From there, it morphed into, “More of Jesus, less of me,” and the older I got, the more terrified I became when I heard those words.

I didn’t recognize it as terror initially. In fact, I didn’t know how deeply this message had affected me until I began to be interested in spiritual direction. I first learned about direction by reading a series of novels, of all things. In the late 80’s and early 90’s, British author Susan Howatch wrote a great bunch of stories about priests in the Anglican church and I devoured those books when I was in my 40’s. They were earthy, to be sure, but they were also rich and filled with beautiful tidbits of theology and ecclesiology. Throughout the entire series, some of my favorite characters were spiritual directors.

So I began to look for a director, and the first woman I interviewed handed me the beautiful Prayer of Abandonment by Charles de Foucauld. It’s a beautiful prayer, filled with love, joyful submission, and trust. But I could not pray that prayer.

I tried, but I’d get to the word ‘abandon,’ and start gulping great gasps of air. I prayed about it, I talked it over with the woman who had given it to me, and her immediate response to me was this: “Diana, you need therapy. Not direction.” (Did I mention I was in seminary at the time and beginning to hear God’s call to professional ministry? What??? Pastors might need therapy? Well, that’s a great big YES.)

I spent the next twenty years trying to unpack what happened inside me as I read that prayer and, in the process, I have taken a long look at that old Sunday school saying and the use (or mis-use) of that verse from John 3. And I’ve done a TON of personal work on all kinds of important things. . . all because I gagged on the word, “abandon.”

There is lots more to these thoughts — come on over and join us at SheLoves!

A Wide Believing — For SheLoves, April 2018

I took a month off from SheLoves in March, but I’m back in the April edition, pondering some words that I found in the memoir I reviewed here last week — “Forgiving God,” by Hilary Yancey. Come on over to their site to finish this reflection. Click here.

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“If I could ask anything of us, this ragged band of us looking for a way home, crossing the Jordan River, it would be to believe wider for each other.” — Hilary Yancey,
in “Forgiving God: A Story of Faith,” pg.57.

 

I have heard the truth that ‘thoughts and prayers’ are not enough. This is a phrase shouted by voices around the world in recent days, words that flow from the painful experiences of those who are oppressed, victimized, traumatized, ostracized, threatened, abused and neglected. And these words are true. Thoughts and prayers are too often not enough, at least in the way ‘thoughts and prayers’ are so often understood and defined.

I find myself wondering if we have allowed our language about prayer to descend into the realm of cliché because we have not fully grasped what prayer is and what prayer can do. I am in the late autumn of my life and I still do not fully comprehend either the definition or the experience of prayer. It is an idea we use (and abuse) far too easily, I think, a word better saved for deep times of soul connection and firm commitment. It is no small thing to promise someone that you will pray for them; no, it is not.

Hilary Yancey’s words, quoted at the top of this post, are from her new memoir . . .

Please do click this link and come join us at SheLoves. After a month off, I’m back in that good space today with some thoughts about prayer, about widening our understanding, definition and practice of it. Just click here!

4:38 p.m.

27

They tell me there was snow on our mountains for about five minutes this morning. I never saw it, but I believe it was there.

I know in my head that my mother has been gone for exactly one year today, but my heart does not yet fully comprehend this truth.. It seems I am able to believe in the snow without ever seeing it, but unable to wrap my head around tangible things right in front of my face, like a clock or a calendar. 

Even though it is the way of things, even though death comes to every one of us at some point along the journey, even though my mother’s death was, in many ways, the very best way for death to happen, this losing a much-loved mother is hard and it is painful. At times, it still feels strange, unnatural and weirdly disorienting. Tears spring at the oddest times. Some small piece of decor or clothing will catch  my eye and I realize I am smiling sadly, even nodding slightly, as if offering a brief moment of homage to the force of nature who was my mom.

One year today.

We walked her last journey together, she and I, and it was not an easy one. I remember lovely sunlit moments along the way — sitting by the pool at her residential facility, each of us in a large sunhat, drinking in the ocean air, bird sound, and bright blooming vines that surrounded us. I remember laughter, her wonderful, rich laughter. I remember a smile as big as whatever room she was in, welcoming one and all. I remember how beautiful she was, even as age and disease slowly ravaged her.

I also remember deep confusion, the devastation when she no longer knew I was her daughter, her tears of frustration and of fear when she tried to make sense of something that was no longer within the sphere of her cognitive ability. I remember trips to the emergency room, her terror and embarrassment when strapped to a gurney she did not want or need. I remember deep bruises from falls, and the firm conviction that, ‘this is not my room, I’ve never been here before in my life.’ I remember a growing disconnection from things like seasons, days, time itself. 

I also remember her leading my Brownie meetings, teaching my 11th grade Sunday School class, bending over her beautiful stitcheries, and I remember with glee her bawdy sense of humor. I was deeply aware of how thirsty she was to learn, to read, to discuss, to ponder and wonder and observe. I remember how feisty she could be — and how volatile!

I remember how much she worried over me. Oh, my, how she could worry!

Now, at this late stage of my own life, I know all of that was because of her deep love and concern for me, but then? Then, it felt suffocating, limiting, inhibiting. She worried over my height, my weight, the way I walked, the fact that I might be “too smart to ever catch a good man.” She dragged me to multiple dermatology clinics because of my dry and sensitive skin,  she always wanted me to be ‘more social,’ and regularly encouraged me to invite classmates over to hang out. She also wanted me to enjoy athletics, something she was good at and I most definitely was not.

We found our way together, yes, we did. I was her first child — longed for and loved and cherished. As does every first-born, I bore the brunt of her inexperience and the leftover wounds of her own, sometimes chaotic, upbringing. But she was smart, my mom. And she was good. She learned from her mistakes, she apologized easily, she loved deeply and well. We found our way to one another during my adolescence by reading books together and writing each other notes about them. And we laughed. A lot. 

We also shared a deep love of beauty, in all its permutations. Today, on this anniversary, and as my computer clock tells me it is now exactly 4:38 — the moment of her death, one year ago — I want to remember and reflect on that most of all. She was the embodiment of beauty in so many ways — in her face, surely. But even more so, in her spirit. Yes, she could be ugly, too. Aren’t we all? But the beauty of her is what I cling to now.

Gasping at a glorious sunset, tenderly arranging flowers for the dinner table, creating a cake or a sketch, looking for and finding the beauty of others, even eventually encouraging me to reach out past the boundaries she herself had always drawn around me, as a female child. She didn’t fully understand my call to ministry at midlife, but she supported it. She wept when I told her — through my own tears — that I never could have considered going to seminary if my husband didn’t make enough money for its cost to have no impact on any other person in our family. She wept because she knew that wacky belief came directly from her own fears and prejudices, her own false picture of what it means to be female in this world. 

My mother learned. And she kept on learning, right up until dementia moved in to stay. And while she learned, she continued to love us all so very well. I thank God for her every day of my life. And I thank you, my dearest Mom. I miss you more than words can say.

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A Beautiful Book — Book Review: “Forgiving God,” by Hilary Yancey

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Those of you who subscribe to my monthly newsletter already know that this one was on the top of my to-be-read pile as April began. It took me exactly ONE DAY to read it, and I am re-reading parts of it regularly.

This book is the real deal. Combine a tender heart with a first-class brain, a fierce streak of independence with a humble desire to yield, add to that a stubborn commitment to do it right and do it well, what do you get? Hilary Yancey.

She is young — younger than my eldest grandson. She is SMART — working toward a PhD in philosophy at Baylor. She is a wife and mom — married to author and soon-to-be Anglican priest, Preston Yancey, and mom to Jack and June (short for Junia). Over and around all of that is this truth: she is a force to be reckoned with. Also? She is an earnest, open, willing-to-admit-questions-and doubts follower after Jesus. 

She writes beautifully, with a lyrical style and startling honesty. They tell me poetry and philosophy often go together and this book makes me believe that, big-time. “Forgiving God” is the story of Hilary’s first pregnancy, just six months into marriage. This particular journey into motherhood was difficult, mystifying, troubling, terrifying and ultimately, salvific. It is both humbling and inspiring to see how she and Jack not only survived a troubling pregnancy and a 43-day stay in the NICU, but somehow managed to triumph over every setback, every complication. 

At what was thought to be a routine 18-week ultrasound, her son Jackson was diagnosed with a rare and severe facial deformity. With each week that passed, her now high-risk pre-natal care visits brought more and more difficult news. Teetering between praying for a miracle and trying to learn all she could about how to deal with what could come for her newborn boy, Hilary takes us into her own dis-ease, disappointment, and wonder. She also shares with us some of the pieces of her journey as a graduate student, eloquently positing big ideas about God’s sovereignty and foreknowledge. She does both — the personal story-telling and the philosophical musing — exquisitely well.

I am grateful for this book because of its beauty and power as a ‘good read.’ More than that, I am grateful for it in my practice as a spiritual director. I meet regularly with friends who are dealing with all kinds of issues, some of them extraordinarily difficult. Hilary’s thoughtful, intelligent, and ultimately hopeful words have already helped some of us find solid ground in the midst of what often feels like very fluid terrain.

This is a memoir that is a gift to read — and to re-read. I highly recommend it. Buy it, give it away — and then write a short review at as many places as you can think of. Hilary is not doing the usual big promotion push, so any help we can offer would be grand. 

Easter! — Journey’s End!!!

If you’ve traveled along this road with me from the beginning of our time in the wilderness — thank you. If you’ve checked in now and again — thank you. This has been a rich and humbling experience for me to immerse myself in these good words for these 47 days. And now, we enter into the Great Feast of Easter! He is Risen! He is Risen, indeed!

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Acts 10:34-43, The Message

Peter fairly exploded with his good news: “It’s God’s own truth, nothing could be plainer: God plays no favorites! It makes no difference who you are or where you’re from—if you want God and are ready to do as he says, the door is open. The Message he sent to the children of Israel—that through Jesus Christ everything is being put together again—well, he’s doing it everywhere, among everyone.

“You know the story of what happened in Judea. It began in Galilee after John preached a total life-change. Then Jesus arrived from Nazareth, anointed by God with the Holy Spirit, ready for action. He went through the country helping people and healing everyone who was beaten down by the Devil. He was able to do all this because God was with him.

“And we saw it, saw it all, everything he did in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem where they killed him, hung him from a cross. But in three days God had him up, alive, and out where he could be seen. Not everyone saw him—he wasn’t put on public display. Witnesses had been carefully handpicked by God beforehand—us! We were the ones, there to eat and drink with him after he came back from the dead. He commissioned us to announce this in public, to bear solemn witness that he is in fact the One whom God destined as Judge of the living and dead. But we’re not alone in this. Our witness that he is the means to forgiveness of sins is backed up by the witness of all the prophets.”

 

The hummingbird re-emerges
from the sleep of death.
The Messiah walks right
out of that tomb.

And the women see him.
And the women carry the word.
THEY are the first apostles,
the first witnesses,
the first to share the glory of Easter
with the world.

Go and do likewise!

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Walking in the Jesus Way: A Lenten Journey — Day Forty-Six, Holy Saturday

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Matthew 27:57-66, The Living Bible

When evening came, a rich man from Arimathea named Joseph, one of Jesus’ followers,went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. And Pilate issued an order to release it to him. Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth,and placed it in his own new rock-hewn tomb, and rolled a great stone across the entrance as he left. Both Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting nearby watching.

The next day—at the close of the first day of the Passover ceremonies—the chief priests and Pharisees went to Pilate, and told him, “Sir, that liar once said, ‘After three days I will come back to life again.’ So we request an order from you sealing the tomb until the third day, to prevent his disciples from coming and stealing his body and then telling everyone he came back to life! If that happens, we’ll be worse off than we were at first.”

“Use your own Temple police,” Pilate told them. “They can guard it safely enough.”

So they sealed the stone and posted guards to protect it from intrusion.

 

The women were there.
The women were always there.

And yet, we so often read
right over them.

What a pity.
And a grave loss to the church
for far too long.

But like the hummingbird,
which in the cold climes
of the Andes mountains
hibernates to preserve
energy,
the women wait for the light.
And the warmth of day.

Surprises await.

Walking in the Jesus Way: A Lenten Journey — Day Forty-Five, Good Friday

We are almost at the end, my friends. Almost. And today’s passage is very long. It is the entire Passion Narrative, which is traditional reading for Good Friday. I encourage you to read it all the way through, in its entirety, and maybe do what I did — note the details. There are always details that I’ve missed, no matter how many times I’ve read or meditated on any biblical narrative, this one more than most. You’ll see the details that spoke to me — I’ve bolded them, just as I’ve done for the past 44 days.IMG_0176

John 18:1-19:42, The Living Bible

After saying these things Jesus crossed the Kidron ravine with his disciples and entered a grove of olive trees.  Judas, the betrayer, knew this place, for Jesus had gone there many times with his disciples.

The chief priests and Pharisees had given Judas a squad of soldiers and police to accompany him. Now with blazing torches, lanterns, and weapons they arrived at the olive grove.

Jesus fully realized all that was going to happen to him. Stepping forward to meet them he asked, “Whom are you looking for?”

“Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.

“I am he,” Jesus said. And as he said it, they all fell backwards to the ground!

Once more he asked them, “Whom are you searching for?”

And again they replied, “Jesus of Nazareth.”

“I told you I am he,” Jesus said; “and since I am the one you are after, let these others go.” He did this to carry out the prophecy he had just made, “I have not lost a single one of those you gave me. . . . ”

Then Simon Peter drew a sword and slashed off the right ear of Malchus, the High Priest’s servant.

But Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword away. Shall I not drink from the cup the Father has given me?”

So the Jewish police, with the soldiers and their lieutenant, arrested Jesus and tied him. First they took him to Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the High Priest that year. Caiaphas was the one who told the other Jewish leaders, “Better that one should die for all.”

Simon Peter followed along behind, as did another of the disciples who was acquainted with the High Priest. So that other disciple was permitted into the courtyard along with Jesus, while Peter stood outside the gate. Then the other disciple spoke to the girl watching at the gate, and she let Peter in. The girl asked Peter, “Aren’t you one of Jesus’ disciples?”

“No,” he said, “I am not!”

The police and the household servants were standing around a fire they had made, for it was cold. And Peter stood there with them, warming himself.

Inside, the High Priest began asking Jesus about his followers and what he had been teaching them.

Jesus replied, “What I teach is widely known, for I have preached regularly in the synagogue and Temple; I have been heard by all the Jewish leaders and teach nothing in private that I have not said in public. Why are you asking me this question? Ask those who heard me. You have some of them here. They know what I said.”

One of the soldiers standing there struck Jesus with his fist. “Is that the way to answer the High Priest?” he demanded.

“If I lied, prove it,”Jesus replied. “Should you hit a man for telling the truth?”

Then Annas sent Jesus, bound, to Caiaphas the High Priest.

Meanwhile, as Simon Peter was standing by the fire, he was asked again, “Aren’t you one of his disciples?”

“Of course not,” he replied.

But one of the household slaves of the High Priest—a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off—asked, “Didn’t I see you out there in the olive grove with Jesus?”

Again Peter denied it. And immediately a rooster crowed.

Jesus’ trial before Caiaphas ended in the early hours of the morning. Next he was taken to the palace of the Roman governor. His accusers wouldn’t go in themselves for that would “defile” them, they said, and they wouldn’t be allowed to eat the Passover lamb. So Pilate, the governor, went out to them and asked, “What is your charge against this man? What are you accusing him of doing?”

“We wouldn’t have arrested him if he weren’t a criminal!” they retorted.

“Then take him away and judge him yourselves by your own laws,” Pilate told them.

“But we want him crucified,” they demanded, “and your approval is required.” This fulfilled Jesus’ prediction concerning the method of his execution.

Then Pilate went back into the palace and called for Jesus to be brought to him. “Are you the King of the Jews?” he asked him.

“‘King’ as you use the word or as the Jews use it?” Jesus asked.

“Am I a Jew?” Pilate retorted. “Your own people and their chief priests brought you here. Why? What have you done?”

Then Jesus answered, “I am not an earthly king. If I were, my followers would have fought when I was arrested by the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of the world.”

Pilate replied, “But you are a king then?”

“Yes,” Jesus said. “I was born for that purpose. And I came to bring truth to the world. All who love the truth are my followers.”

“What is truth?” Pilate exclaimed. Then he went out again to the people and told them, “He is not guilty of any crime. But you have a custom of asking me to release someone from prison each year at Passover. So if you want me to, I’ll release the ‘King of the Jews.’”

But they screamed back. “No! Not this man, but Barabbas!” Barabbas was a robber.

Then Pilate laid open Jesus’ back with a leaded whip,  and the soldiers made a crown of thorns and placed it on his head and robed him in royal purple. “Hail, ‘King of the Jews’!” they mocked, and struck him with their fists.

Pilate went outside again and said to the Jews, “I am going to bring him out to you now, but understand clearly that I find him not guilty.”

Then Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate said, “Behold the man!”

At sight of him the chief priests and Jewish officials began yelling, “Crucify! Crucify!”

“You crucify him,” Pilate said. “I find him not guilty.”

They replied, “By our laws he ought to die because he called himself the Son of God.”

When Pilate heard this, he was more frightened than ever. He took Jesus back into the palace again and asked him, “Where are you from?” but Jesus gave no answer.

“You won’t talk to me?” Pilate demanded. “Don’t you realize that I have the power to release you or to crucify you?”

Then Jesus said,“You would have no power at all over me unless it were given to you from above. So those who brought me to you have the greater sin.”

Then Pilate tried to release him, but the Jewish leaders told him, “If you release this man, you are no friend of Caesar’s. Anyone who declares himself a king is a rebel against Caesar.”

At these words Pilate brought Jesus out to them again and sat down at the judgment bench on the stone-paved platform. It was now about noon of the day before Passover.

And Pilate said to the Jews, “Here is your king!”

“Away with him,” they yelled. “Away with him—crucify him!”

“What? Crucify your king?” Pilate asked.

“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests shouted back.

Then Pilate gave Jesus to them to be crucified.

So they had him at last, and he was taken out of the city, carrying his cross to the place known as “The Skull,” in Hebrew, “Golgotha.” There they crucified him and two others with him, one on either side, with Jesus between them.  And Pilate posted a sign over him reading, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” The place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and the signboard was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek, so that many people read it.

Then the chief priests said to Pilate, “Change it from ‘The King of the Jews’ to ‘He said, I am King of the Jews.’”

Pilate replied, “What I have written, I have written. It stays exactly as it is.”

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they put his garments into four piles, one for each of them. But they said, “Let’s not tear up his robe,” for it was seamless. “Let’s throw dice to see who gets it.” This fulfilled the Scripture that says,

“They divided my clothes among them and cast lots for my robe.”

So that is what they did.

Standing near the cross were Jesus’ mother, Mary, his aunt, the wife of Cleopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside me, his close friend, he said to her, “He is your son.”

And to me he said, “She is your mother!” And from then on I took her into my home.

Jesus knew that everything was now finished, and to fulfill the Scriptures said,“I’m thirsty.” A jar of sour wine was sitting there, so a sponge was soaked in it and put on a hyssop branch and held up to his lips.

When Jesus had tasted it, he said, “It is finished,” and bowed his head and dismissed his spirit.

The Jewish leaders didn’t want the victims hanging there the next day, which was the Sabbath (and a very special Sabbath at that, for it was the Passover), so they asked Pilate to order the legs of the men broken to hasten death; then their bodies could be taken down. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the two men crucified with Jesus; but when they came to him, they saw that he was dead already, so they didn’t break his. However, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and blood and water flowed out. I saw all this myself and have given an accurate report so that you also can believe. The soldiers did this in fulfillment of the Scripture that says, “Not one of his bones shall be broken,” and, “They shall look on him whom they pierced.”

Afterwards Joseph of Arimathea, who had been a secret disciple of Jesus for fear of the Jewish leaders, boldly asked Pilate for permission to take Jesus’ body down; and Pilate told him to go ahead. So he came and took it away. Nicodemus, the man who had come to Jesus at night, came too, bringing a hundred pounds of embalming ointment made from myrrh and aloes. Together they wrapped Jesus’ body in a long linen cloth saturated with the spices, as is the Jewish custom of burial. The place of crucifixion was near a grove of trees,where there was a new tomb, never used before. And so, because of the need for haste before the Sabbath, and because the tomb was close at hand, they laid him there.

 

Evocative,
chilling,
painted thoroughly
with details.

The weather,
the time of day,
the key players,
the word play,
the secret disciples,
the love of a son
for his mother.

These are what jump
into my spirit this day.
These are what sober me,
settle me,
make me grateful,
make me ponder,
and wonder.

These are the things of life.

And death.