Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter Sunday: A new day (Devotions for Lent from the Gospel of Mark)

As soon as dawn breaks and there is enough light to see where they are going, the women head toward Jesus’ tomb. They carry spices and hope to anoint his body.

Salome and the two Marys (Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James) know that a heavy stone seals the tomb. They wonder who will move it for them, but they are not the least bit deterred from their mission. Someone will move it, or they will try themselves. Either way, they will anoint his body right now.

It’s a gruesome task, this anointing. Jesus has been beaten and crucified. A thorny crown has been pressed into his scalp. No one has cleaned his body and he has been lying bloody and bruised in his tomb for a day and a half.

Yet they hurry to the grave, anxious to do this final thing for him.

When they arrive, they look up to find the stone already moved away, and so they enter the tomb.

There is a young man dressed in white inside, who says, “Do not be alarmed….He has been raised.” He further tells the women to go and find Peter and the others and spread the word that Jesus will meet them all in Galilee. He has gone back to the place where everything started and will meet them there.

His saying “Do not be alarmed” doesn’t change the fact that this is alarming news. The young man doesn’t prevent their fright and confusion at all.

Mark tells us the women leave the tomb completely terrified, saying nothing at all about their experience to anyone. And that’s how the gospel ends.

Except we know that wasn’t the end at all. It was only the beginning, just as Mark said in the very first sentence of his story. “This is the beginning of the good news…”

It is a new day.

Text for the day:

Things to think about:
Many things worth doing begin with an alarming discovery and overwhelming fear.
The most common words in the Bible are “Do not be afraid.”

Things to do:
The grave cannot hold him, or you. Celebrate today!

Jesus Christ, risen Lord, replace my fear with joy and confidence.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Saturday: Sabbath separation (Devotions for Lent from the Gospel of Mark)

The sun set on Friday, Sabbath began, and then the world fell still.  Twenty-four hours of rest.

Jesus lays in his tomb, and his family and friends grieve from afar. The week’s worship day has become their worst nightmare. They spend the Sabbath waiting for it to be over. They are waiting for the sun to set and rise again, so they might get to work.

By the light of Sunday’s sunrise, they will set out for the tomb, anoint his body with oil and spices, and leave it forever in its final resting place.

But for now, they wait.

There’s nothing to be said. There’s nothing to be done.


On the first Saturday of his ministry, Jesus got up before sunrise, went out alone to a deserted place, and prayed. Everyone was looking for him and no one knew where he was.

What is he doing on this Saturday?

He is lying alone in stillness of his tomb, in the most deserted place of all. Again people are longing for him, but this time they know where he is and cannot reach him.

Is he praying, even in death?

For now, we can only imagine.

Text for the day:
None. The Word is silent today.

Things to think about:
What could Jesus be doing while his body lies in the grave?

Things to do:
Grieve for those who try to kill love and life.

Jesus, help me adore you.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Good Friday: Ending it all (Devotions for Lent from the Gospel of Mark)

On the day of Jesus’ baptism, a schism opened in the heavens and a voice came to Jesus,  “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

On the first Friday of Jesus’ ministry, he entered the synagogue, the world of Jewish men, and cast out an unclean spirit. They said of him, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him!” He then crossed the street, entered a home, the world of Jewish women, and lifted up a woman sick with a fever. As the Sabbath ended, the whole city gathered at his door.

At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus couldn’t have been alone if he tried. Everyone wanted him. Then he crossed every boundary and entered every forbidden realm imaginable: sickness, religion, law, nature, gender, age, profession, ethnicity, geography. He has healed everyone and he has done all things well.

Now, on the last Friday of his ministry, he is tried, convicted, whipped, and crucified.  He dies, despised by everyone.

Now a new schism opens. The seventy-foot-high curtain in the Temple, separating the outer courtyard from the Holy of Holies where the ark of the covenant containing the stone tablets of the ten commandments is stored, rips from high in the air all the way to the ground, never to be mended again.

As the Sabbath begins today, instead of being surrounded by friends and people clamoring for his gifts and attention, Jesus is alone in a tomb. But he is not finished.

He is still crossing boundaries and entering forbidden realms. This time, he enters the heart of the empire. He enters the seat of power that keeps every citizen in his or her place. He enters the places the empire uses as a threat to everyone who might think of stepping out of line. He enters intimidation, trial, shame, torture, fear, and death itself.

While the world rests, he is at work.

Text for the day:

Things to think about:
Love and healing shatter barriers and boundaries.

Things to do:
Find something in common with everyone you meet.

Jesus, although we have done the worst, continue to do your best.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Maundy Thursday: Love and betrayal (Devotions for Lent from the Gospel of Mark)

The Passover is about to begin. On this night, Jesus and his friends will eat the most important meal of the year and recount together God’s saving acts in the history of their people. They will remember slavery in Egypt, the ten plagues, and how God released their people from bondage. They will remember God’s protection from the angel of death, escaping from the Egyptian army, and God’s provision in the wilderness. They will remember that they are God’s chosen people and that God, who acted so mightily on their behalf in the past, can and will act again. They will remember they are blessed.

As expected, they gather together in a small room and share a feast.

When the feast is done and everyone is full and satisfied, Jesus reaches for a loaf of bread. Who could eat another bite? And if anyone could, why would they eat that? He breaks the bread, saying it is his body. “Take it.”

He takes a cup of wine, maybe even the cup poured out for the prophet Elijah, poured in case he would return, and says, “This is my blood of the covenant, poured out for many.”

He tells them that they will all desert him.

He has given everything. They will not return the favor.

They won’t even stay awake and pray with him. They will give in to the after-meal tiredness and fall asleep in the garden.

Of course, they are still thinking he has come to conquer the empire and take the Temple. When Judas arrives with thugs in the garden, one of the disciples rises to defend Jesus. He cuts off someone’s ear as if to say, “Finally! The revolution begins!” When he is silenced by Jesus, he doesn’t have any idea what to do next. Without weapons, what power do any of them have?

They all scatter, just as Jesus has said they would.

Text for the day:

Things to think about:
When does violence seem like the only option?

Things to do:
Lay down your weapons and pray.

Jesus, lead me still.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Wednesday, Holy Week: Anointing (Devotions for Lent from the Gospel of Mark)

After spending two days in the crowds, Jesus and his disciples return to Bethany, a little town not far from the city.

They are staying with Simon. Most people wouldn’t stay with Simon, or even enter his house at all. Most people, in fact, would turn away from him and keep their distance. Simon is a leper. That doesn’t seem to bother Jesus. He’s already crossed every social and political boundary he’s encountered. Now he’s eating and drinking with the outcast and unclean, threatening his own health and the health of the entire community.

As they sit down to eat, a woman comes with an alabaster jar of pure nard, a costly ointment, and pours it on Jesus’ head.

Some insight about this anointing: “Alabaster” derives its name from the Eygptian goddess Bast, often depicted as a cat or lion with a human body. As such, alabaster jars often carried the images of cats carved into their bodies. Cats were the guardians and protectors of mystery and the Otherworld, looking with guile upon a human world that could neither see nor understand the depth of their knowledge.

Nard was an expensive incense, burned in the Holy of Holies in the Temple by the high priest once a year.

Furthermore, the only people anointed were kings. In Psalm 23, when the Psalmist says, “You anoint my head with oil,” he is saying, “I am a king in your eyes.”

In other words, this unnamed woman comes, and makes Jesus her king, high priest, Holy of Holies, and guardian of the deepest mysteries. He is the bridge between all that is unclean and all that is pure. As usual, just about no one else in the place understands this, and once again, they start talking about money.

Judas Iscariot, however, does understand. He understands all too well that this is dangerous business. He immediately seeks a way to end the revolution that could otherwise kill them all.

Text for the day:

Things to think about:
Who do you say Jesus is?

Things to do:
Meditate about money and mystery. What place do they hold in your life?

Jesus, be ruler of it all.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Tuesday, Holy Week: Everything on its ear (Devotions for Lent from the Gospel of Mark)

Yesterday, Jesus encountered a fig tree on his way to the Temple. Although it isn’t the season for figs, he went looking for figs anyway. Not finding any, he cursed the tree saying, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” Then, he turned everything in the Temple on its ear.

After a raucous Monday, Jesus and his disciples return to the Temple Mount. They pass the tree Jesus curse and find it has withered to its roots. Now the disciples take note of what he said to the tree yesterday.

In the Temple courtyard, the chief priests, scribes, and elders of the people begin to ask Jesus all sorts of questions to trip him up. They question his authority and his teaching, but he answers them in parables and riddles. He quotes scripture in ways that make no sense to them.

On the side, he teaches his disciples about forgiveness. He points out the example of a poor widow who gives to the Temple treasury from her whole self; all she has to live on. He warns them to be wary of those with power.

As they leave the Temple Mount, the disciples turn and admire the buildings of Jerusalem and the Temple looming large on the horizon.

Jesus says these buildings are nothing at all, and will one day be left in rubble. He speaks again about his coming death and the signs of the end of things. These things are nearer than anyone realizes, yet no one seems to notice.

Jesus speaks from the heart of the city about what it means to be spiritual in economic, political, and social realms. Like the fig tree, people are expected to produce fruit out of season. Specifically, they are expected to forgive and to give everything they have for the sake of others. They are expected to live as citizens of God’s empire, even as they navigate life in Caesar’s empire. If they don’t, they and the whole world will be a cursed place. No one understands what he’s saying. The Temple courtyard has been cleared, and he has explained everything well, but that doesn’t mean people’s minds and hearts have been cleansed.

Text for the day:

Things to think about:
We are called to produce fruit out of season.

Things to do:
Go out of your way to do something kind and selfless for someone else today.

Jesus, move me to action.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Monday, Holy Week: Are cursing and cleansing acts of God? (Devotions for Lent from the Gospel of Mark)

Yesterday, Jesus rode into Jerusalem triumphant. He ascended the Temple Mount, looked all around at the courtyard and the inner courts, and saying nothing, left the area. What Mark doesn’t say is that he left disgusted.

The courtyard of the Temple is a bustle of activity. The moneychangers are there, exchanging the every day currency of the empire for temple currency so visitors can offer their annual temple tax. There are booths where acceptable sacrifices are sold: unblemished doves, the highest quality grains, freshly baked loaves of bread, and first-press olive oil. Perhaps worst of all, the Temple courtyard is a shortcut from the heart of the city to the road that leads to the Mount of Olives and on to Jericho, giving access to the road alongside the Jordan River leading north to Galilee and south toward Egypt. People are dressed for their journeys, carrying supplies and provisions of every kind through the courtyard. 

The scribes and Pharisees, Temple regulars and regulators, walk the perimeter, making sure everything is as it should be. Voices fill the space as people haggle, question, study, advise, joke, and ask for travel tips.

What should one find in this courtyard, if not this? It is the center of the city!

That’s what Jesus saw yesterday. Today, he yells aloud, tosses over the tables of those doing business, and closes the highway through the heart of the sanctuary. He quotes the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 56:7), reminding everyone that this place is consecrated to be a house of prayer for all the nations. For many, this courtyard is the closest they can get to the Holy of Holies. (The Holy of Holies is the place where the stone tablets of the ten commandments lie in the gilded ark of the covenant and the place where God’s pillar of fire and cloud finally rests.)

If the Temple courtyard is not a place of awe, wonder, holiness, preparation, and prayer for everyone who ascends its steps, there is no such place anywhere. The aura of God’s greatness and the call to reverence for all people either exist here, or they don’t exist at all.

Text for the day:

Things to think about:
Why do people need holy places? What obligation do we have to the people of the world to maintain holy places?

Things to do:
Spend some time in the sanctuary. Bring your prayers and petitions with you.

Jesus, cleanse our holy places.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Palm Sunday: A victor’s entry (Devotions for Lent from the Gospel of Mark)

Zechariah 9 describes the triumphant entry of a warrior king, who returns to Jerusalem after a thorough destruction of the nation’s enemies. His humble entry into the city on the back of a colt, the foal of a donkey, ushers in the age of peace.

It’s no mistake that Jesus sends his disciples to find a colt that has never been ridden. This is a calculated move, one designed to conjure Zechariah’s images of a yearning nation. When Jesus mounts the foal, the people respond in kind. They know Zechariah’s story and they begin to gather and cheer.

The crowd begins to chant the victory Psalm 118, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” The people cut branches and wave them in the air as Jesus rides along, creating a procession that heads from the Mount of Olives toward the temple, just as the psalm describes.

But Jesus doesn’t give thanks to God in the temple or make sacrifice as victor. He hasn’t declared war on anyone or defeated any military enemy. He hasn’t ensured peace at all. In fact, the tension with the religious leaders mounts.

The procession has echoed the scriptures, but this victor has not conquered armies, nor enemies. Jesus has conquered unexpected things: disease, hunger, fear, demon possession, and prejudice. The scriptures have had very little to say about this.

Jesus, this strange victor, enters the temple, takes a good look around, and then slips away in silence.

Nothing more is said of the parade, nor its participants.

Text for the day:

Things to think about:
If the scriptures describe a military victor, why does Jesus want people to think of Zechariah 9 and Psalm 118 when they think of him?
To what or to whom do you give your allegiance? Why?

Things to do:
Pray for the peace and healing of the world.

Jesus, ride on.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Saturday, week six: Seeing Bartimaeus (Devotions for Lent from the Gospel of Mark)

Jesus and his disciples reach Jericho, a fertile oasis at the base of their climb toward Jerusalem. As they near the city, they hear blind Bartimaeus cry out by the side of the road, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

This is the only time in Mark’s gospel that anyone besides our narrator has suggested Jesus might be a ruler. The Jewish people are waiting and longing for their Messiah, who shall rise from King David’s line as legitimate heir to the throne. The people wait and long for a king to defeat their Roman occupiers.

Blind Bartimaeus can see. He can see Jesus is this Messiah and calls out to him as king. The crowds begin to freak out. If any military authorities hear this rabble, it could mean the end of them all, so they order the blind man to hold his tongue. He begins screaming it uncontrollably, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Jesus calls Bartimaeus, who springs up and runs in his direction.

“What would you like for me to do for you?”

It’s the same question Jesus asked of James and John. They had answered by asking for honor and security. Bartimaeus answers in humility, “My teacher, let me see again.”

Bartimaeus has already seen more than James and John. He has already seen more than the crowd. He has already seen more than the religious authorities and the Roman centurions.

Jesus declares that Bartimaeus has been made well by his faith. Without so much as a finger laid upon him, his eyes are made whole.

Restored, seeing Bartimaeus follows Jesus on his way. They are both headed to Jerusalem, to the suffering Jesus has predicted. Perhaps no one realizes it but the two of them.

Text for the day:

Things to think about:
We can ask Jesus for things that help heal the world, including vision, wisdom, and peace.

Things to do:
Pray for the leaders of the world.

Jesus, guide us all in ways of peace.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Friday, week six: A request from his friends (Devotions for Lent from the Gospel of Mark)

When a leper approached, Jesus laid his hand upon him and cleansed him.

When a group of people lowered their paralyzed friend in front of Jesus, he forgave his sins and restored the strength in his legs.

When Jairus requested that Jesus come and heal his daughter, Jesus raised her from the dead.

When the Syropheonician woman asked Jesus to cast the unclean spirit out of her daughter, Jesus healed her from a distance.

When the masses brought their sick friends, Jesus cast out every demon and cured every disease.

It seems Jesus does whatever anyone asks of him.

So James and John, the fishermen from Galilee, come to him with a request of their own. “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” They are sure they know how everything is going to turn out. They know Jesus does everything well, so they ask for what they want, too. They want a place of honor and security once everything’s said and done.

But those things are not Jesus’ to give.

The request itself infuriates the other ten disciples, and a division opens amongst them. Jesus steps in as quickly as he can. Rifts, divisions, and competition are common amongst the rulers of nations of the world, but the rulers of Jesus’ empire will be known for their humility and service. Those who wish to be first must be least of all, serving all.

Jesus heals the opening rift and tells them: The only honor available here is to die on behalf of others.

Text for the day:

Things to think about:
The Kingdom of God is experienced through selflessness.

Things to do:
Give thanks to God to those people in your life who have made sacrifices for you.

Jesus, bring your Kingdom near to others through me.