In the Tomb with Jesus
April 11, 2020
Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge, Minister of Pastoral Care
Lectionary Readings: Job 14:1-14 or Lamentations 3:1-9, 19-24 • Psalm 31:1-4, 15-16 • 1 Peter 4:1-8 • Matthew 27:57-66 or John 19:38-42
Holy Week at RRCB
Throughout Holy Week, we have allowed some of those who were present to Jesus near the end to be our guides, as portrayed by Frederick Buechner in his book, Peculiar Treasures. We’ve had Mary Magdalene be our guide, and Mark the gospel writer to be our guide, and today, Holy Saturday, allow Peter to be our guide. Here’s a portion of Buechner’s description.
And then there were the things he did or failed to do, those final, miserable days just before the end. At their last supper, when Jesus started to wash the disciples’ feet, it was Peter who protested—“You wash my feet!”—and when Jesus explained that it showed how they were all part of each other and servants together, Peter said, “Lord, not my feet only but my hands and my head!” And he would probably have stripped down to the altogether if Jesus hadn’t stopped him in time. At that same sad meal, Jesus said he would have to be going soon, and because Peter didn’t get what he meant or couldn’t face it, he asked about it, and Jesus explained what he meant was that he was going where nobody on earth could follow him. Peter finally got the point then and asked why he couldn’t follow. “I’ll lay down my life for you,” he said, and then Jesus said to him the hardest thing Peter had ever heard him say. “Listen, listen,” he said, “the cock won’t crow till you’ve betrayed me three times”, and that’s the way it was, of course—Peter sitting out there in the High Priest’s courtyard keeping warm by the fire while, inside, the ghastly interrogation was in process, and then the girl coming up to ask him three times if he wasn’t one of them and his replying each time that he didn’t know what in God’s name she was talking about. And then the old cock’s wattle trembled scarlet as up over the horizon it squawked the rising sun, and the tears running down Peter’s face like rain down a rock.
While John places himself at the foot of the cross, and James and John are described as being with Jesus in Gethsemane…When it comes to the Passion week, the spotlight, so far as disciples are concerned, falls on two of them: Judas and Peter. Judas is, of course, the one who betrays Jesus, supposedly for 30 pieces of silver, and almost immediately regrets his decision and commits suicide. If this betrayal of Jesus is indeed true, it would be most bazar to leave this portion of the story out. It’s rather essential. And we, at least the very human part of us, need for it to be there. For we need a villain. We need someone to (conveniently) blame. We need to pin this on someone. Only Judas is not alone. The other disciples are there, too, or at least somewhere, even Peter. And while Judas probably would have been voted most likely to betray Jesus (if there was such a category in the disciple’s yearbook) Peter would have probably been voted most faithful. He claims as much. Does he not? “Why, Jesus, I’ll die for you” And in the garden, while he showed he was anything but a trained fighter, he did pull a sword and do something; even if he only managed to cut off an ear, and that of an unfortunate servant. But then, there’s this denial, his denial. I love Buechner’s description of him crying like rain on a rock. Buechner is making a little play on words here. Peter-Petra-the rock. But it’s also a very apt description; because I’m sure Peter did cry. I’m sure it crushed him, his own betrayal of Jesus. It crushes us, too; for we need Peter not to bend, not to break. We need Peter to be who he wished he was and who we wish we were too—ever faithful, ever loyal, never betraying, never denying. Yes, if Judas represents us at our worst, Peter represents us at our best; and yet, he still falls short. We still fall short. We compromise. We concede. We rationalize. Yes, Peter’s denial, repeated three times for good measure, reminds us that even at our best, we too fail, reminds us that even at our best we are no better than the worst; and that all of us, all of us, are in need of the grace Jesus offered from the cross.
Now then, as we all know, Judas and Peter met different ends. Judas, in his guilt and grief, gives up on himself, and on the possibility that God’s grace could indeed forgive him. Peter, though…well, he could have done the same. I think that he could have; for I believe those tears were real. But instead of hanging himself, Peter hung in there. He gave grace a chance to find him and redeem him; and, as we all know, he went on to be the leading figures in the early church.
So the lessons Peter seeks to teach us during Holy Week are at least twofold. It calls us to face up to our faults, our failings; to our propensity we have to deny, to betray, to compromise when the going gets tough; the need we all have, even at our best, for grace. But then it also calls us to trust that grace, to trust that it has been, is, and will be enough, sufficient, for us and for all.
It’s Holy Saturday, dear friends. The lilies are not yet in the Sanctuary. We are not yet shouting our Hallelujah’s. We are with Jesus in the tomb, separated, isolated. But even now these truths remain, even now, that grace is sufficient. Blessings. See you tomorrow. Amen.
“Were you There?”
April 10, 2020
Rev. Dr. Daniel Glaze, Pastor and Dr. Bob Gallagher, Minister of Music
Lectionary Readings: Isaiah 52:13-53:12 • Psalm 22 • Hebrews 10:16-25 or Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9 • John 18:1-19:42
Holy Week at RRCB
Several years ago, I had the pleasure of singing with my church choir the beloved church musical Celebrate Life! The musical, you may be aware, follows the life and ministry of Jesus. While singing this music was an incredible experience, one moment disturbed me greatly.
The most difficult part of this choral piece has nothing to do with music. The most difficult part of the musical comes when the score and script have the choir play the role of the angry crowds surrounding Jesus in his final days. The choir, during the scene with Jesus and Pilate, is supposed to shout chants of “kill him!” and “crucify him!” I have to tell you, I could hardly form the words.
The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ final days, and particularly the account of Good Friday, are surely among the most painful passages of scripture. For one thing, the details are gruesome. But there is another reason these scriptures are painful. I think it is because when we read them honestly, we can find ourselves in the story. We find ourselves there in the crowd. As much as I would desire to be counted among Jesus’ loyal followers, I’m afraid I might have deserted or denied him just as his friends did.
As much as I’d love to believe that I would have stuck by his side…to the end, I’m not so sure.
Considering my own place in the crowd when Jesus was being beaten and killed causes me to think of that beautiful, but perhaps haunting Spiritual, Were You There.
Well, there are inherent qualities of both the music and the story, the text of this hymnal, that make it just a universally important hymn or spiritual for us to know. It outlines a story that we should all understand. The idea of whether we can personally put ourselves in the place of those who are present throughout the story of the crucifixion and removal to the tomb. So for that reason it became the very first spiritual, African American spiritual, to appear in a main line hymnal; the 1940 hymnal of the Episcopal Church. It had been published in 1899 in a volume called Old Plantation Hymns. But its first appearance in a church hymnal was in 1940. In 1938 H.W. Gray published a setting by Harold Friedell who would someday become the organist/choir master at St. Bartholomew Church on Park Avenue in New York. This spiritual lends itself very well to be sung as a solo or as a choral piece because of its simplicity and yet the depth of feeling of the whole piece.
Maundy Thursday at Home
Maundy Thursday, April 9, 2020
Rev. Marnie Fisher-Ingram, Associate Pastor to Youth & Their Families and Mrs. Sandy Rooney, Minister to Children & Their Families
Lectionary Readings: Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14 • Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19 • 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 • John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Holy Week at RRCB
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John 13:1-17; 31b-35
Commandment. This is the meaning of Maundy as it refers to the Thursday before Easter. This commandment is what Jesus gave his disciples during their last shared meal. He commanded them to love one another just as he has loved them. On this Thursday before Easter it was the day Jesus shared his last meal with his disciples and washed their feet. While the disciples did not recognize how powerful this moment was, we know now that it was truly a significant moment.
This year we are unable to meet together. It is a day in which we remember the goodness that Jesus brings to our lives. The hope we have because he was willing to sacrifice himself. The love we have because of his sacrifice. Below you will find a simple family service for your sharing of this day.
- Pieces of bread, crackers, etc.
- Beverage of choice
- Candle & Lighter
- Coloring page and markers for children
- Construction Paper
Children’s Activity prior to the meal:
Make a placemat for the family meal. Each family member would need a piece of paper and markers. Write or draw your menu and then write the names of the people who are eating the meal together. At the end of the meal pray for one another.
The following service can be shared during your family dinner or after.
Light the Candle
Read John 13:1-17; 31b-35
- Why is this story important?
- How does this story make you feel?
- Why is Holy Week significant or special?
- Who is Jesus to you?
Sharing of Communion
- In these times, we suggest each person having their own piece of bread/cracker and their own cup with a beverage in it.
Bless the bread and cup as a reminder of all that God has provided us and that God is walking through all our days with us. God sent his Son so that we might have an abundant life. Though life might look different these days, Jesus still loves us unconditionally.
Share the meal by blessing each part:
- The Bread of Heaven.
- The Cup of Life.
Together as a family sing Jesus Loves Me.
- What is your favorite meal to have together as a family?
- What are the good things in our life right now? (maybe write these on post it notes and place on your refrigerator)
Close by giving thanks for all that God has provided in the gift of his son, Jesus.
Christ is Here
Good Morning Friends. Each day this week, we are drawing near to God as we focus on the last week of Christ’s life. Today, based on Frederick Buechner’s writing in his book Peculiar Treasurers, let’s glance into the life of Mary Magdalene.
As Jesus, in his ministry, traveled and taught, healed and touched, many people were transformed and healed.
Buechner says, Jesus “had a group of women with him whom he’d cast evil spirits out of once and who had not only joined up with him but all chipped in to help meet expenses. One of them was Mary Magdalene, and in her case it was apparently not just one evil spirit that had been cast out but seven…she seems to have teamed up with Jesus early in the game and stuck with him to the end. And beyond. …she was also one of the ones who was there when they put what was left of him in the tomb.”
Early on in Jesus’ earthly ministry, Mary Magdalene was healed, made whole, transformed. It was so life-changing that she left everything and followed him… We must call her a disciple. She loved and was devoted to Jesus so much that, in the face of fear and pushing the horror aside, she stood near him until he took his last breath. She was with him until it was finished… until he was laid in the grave.
Even in the dead of Friday evening and Saturday… she was ready to go back to follow ritual burial practices and anoint his body with spices. She was still keeping vigil.
She is a tremendous example to us of how someone lives when Christ really transforms their life…of what faithfulness looks like.
Buechner rightly says that Mary comes into sharpest focus on that Sabbath morning she arrived to anoint his body. When she arrives in the dark she finds the grave to be open and empty. In an adrenaline rush she heads to get others… Peter and one other returns and after seeing her words are true, they once again leave.
But Mary, she remains—crying. The grief is multiplied, as she can’t even take care of his body and honor and cherish this one who meant so much.
When the man, whom she assumes to be the gardener, calls her by name and she realizes it is Christ, she is shocked and overjoyed, hurrying to grab onto him.
Buechner says this makes her “not only the first person in the world to have her heart stop beating for a second to find him alive again when she’d thought he was dead as a doornail but the first person also to have her heart break a little to realize that he couldn’t be touched anymore, wasn’t there anymore as a hand to hold onto when the going got tough, a shoulder to weep on, because the life in him was no longer a life she could know by touching it, with her here and him there, but a life she could know only by living it: with her here—and with him here too, alive inside of her life, to raise her up also out of the wreckage of all that was wrecked in her and dead.”
Things were to be different from here on for Mary. And it’s this same way for us. We cannot physically hold onto the Savior. We don’t get to bury our faces into Christ’s shoulder to cry or hold his hand when we are afraid. I know right now these comforts sure sounds like something from which we could benefit.
But Jesus explains to her… he isn’t gone because she can’t touch him.
And he isn’t gone now… because we can’t touch him.
But Christ is here, alive inside of our lives, raising us up from all that is broken and dead.
And, we will only know Jesus Christ by living with and in Christ… waking up to the presence of the Holy One found in every breath we take, through every act of service and love, even in the midst of our fear and sadness.
O God, please… enter into our week, into our lives… Work your ways in us, even as you did for Mary Magdalene, so that we are bound to you in faithfulness and love. May we travel close at your side, finding your presence alive within us and coming forth through us. Give us all we need to journey with you this week, even as you journey with us. Amen.
God Bless and keep you, dear friends.
Most years, at this time, when we’ve just celebrated the parade, the pomp and circumstance of Palm Sunday, I find myself encouraging you to make a mental and spiritual pivot—to realize that Easter isn’t here yet, and before we get there, we have to journey through Holy Week. And most years, I find myself inviting you to willingly engage the darkness of Holy Week.
But I don’t think I have to do that this year. I don’t feel compelled to invite you into the darkness because in many respects, we’re already there.
This is a dark time, isn’t it? We’re anxious, we’re afraid, we hear stories of doctors and nurses overwhelmed and overrun. We hear of people (maybe even our own loved ones) becoming sick and perhaps hospitalized…and we’re scared. We don’t know when we’ll even turn the corner, let alone find ourselves emerging from all this. Yes, this is a dark time.
So rather than inviting you into the darkness, this year I want to invite you to look for the light. Because if we will pay attention, there is light to be found. Just as there is light to be found in healthcare workers, teachers, social workers, ministers, neighbors giving their all for one another in these days, there is also light to be found throughout Holy Week. Moments of light as Mary anoints Jesus’ feet, as Jesus shares a last supper with his disciples, gives them a great commandment of love, as he washes their feet, as he prays in the garden. And even at that darkest of times—as Jesus was hanging upon the cross, with his precious last breaths, he offers forgiveness. If we would look closely, there are moments of light.
The Psalm for today, Monday of Holy Week, is Psalm 36. Hear this excerpt (Psalm 36:7-9):
“How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.”
Holy and Loving God, we thank you for the gift of your sacrificial love. Give us the courage we will need to walk through this holiest of weeks with you. Teach us to listen to the leading of your Spirit. Help us to see moments of love and light in the midst of the darkness. This we pray in the name of the one who loved us so much that he gave his life for us. Amen.