The application of scripture to daily living and the discovery of the laws of the universe for easy living.
We are a church that believes in the redeeming power of the word. We believe that life becomes easier when we obey spiritual laws. We believe that life becomes difficult because we violate the spiritual laws of the universe. We believe that Jesus came to teach us about the discovery of these laws and how to live in love and unity with each other. We believe that all have sinned through the adherence to false theology and disobedience. We reject oppression in all of its forms and we study the Bible faithfully to discover the laws of the universe given to humans for us to live a meaningful life. We believe in the oneness of humanity and see racism as a violation of the laws of unity (Psalm 133 1). W are led by the belief that in God there is no east or west, we are led by the giver of everything good and walk under the light of God's salvation. (Exodus, 17 : 15)
Easter Sunday April 11, 2020
Why Are You Crying?
Ps. 118 1 -2, 14 – 24; John 21 : 1 – 18.
In the 2000 years of Christianity, there are only two recorded occasions where the church was officially closed around the world. The first was during the Spanish Flu which occurred between 1918 and ended in 1920. The COVID – 19 this year will be the second time this has happened. Wars and persecution did not close the church in the past and many gave their lives for what they believed in. It is interesting to note that swords did not stop worship but the two incidences just mentioned, both from invisible enemies did.
The church is closed and like those who lived 100 years ago during the Spanish Flu, we are asked to worship from home. Easter is a special time in the church calendar, but this year the gatherings and the rituals we cherish have become public danger and if we must survive, life as we know it must be arrested and put on hold. Pope Francis laments our present predicament when he noted that “thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void”. Yet all is not lost and we will rise from all these and the church will become strong again.
This Easter morning, it is easy to dwell on our present predicament in our fear and angst and forget the message of Easter and the promise of hope that it brings to all believers, and so I want us to reflect on the story of the Resurrection as the Evangelist John recalled the story. Turn with me to the Gospel According to St John 21 : 1 – 18. I want us to look at the question that was posed to Mary, first by the angels and then by our Lord himself: “Why are you crying?” This seems to be a rather simple question but it is a spiritual as well as an existential question that seeks meaning about Mary’s action and emotions. Let us quickly summarize the story to help us understand this question and why it was asked.
Mary rushed to the tomb in her grief on the first day of the week, St John reports. It was not even daylight yet. To her astonishment, the stone that was supposed to cover the entrance of the tomb was rolled away. Obviously, that was a sign that there was an intruder and that someone had tampered with the tomb. Notice that she quickly made two assumptions on seeing what she thought was a vandalized tomb as she reported what she saw to the disciples. First, the body was removed; second, the whereabout was unknown. The disciples hurried to the cemetery and went a little further than Mary: they looked inside the tomb only to find the wrappings of the body, but not the body. Simon Peter later went much further and entered the tomb which gave others the courage to join him inside. (v. 8). Not finding answers, the disciples left the scene and returned to their homes (v. 10). Mary refused to leave the tomb but this time alone she stooped and looked inside. That is when she discovered two people sitting opposite each other who turned out to be angels sitting where the body was. They asked her the question which formed out text today. “Woman, why are you crying?? (v. 13). Notice her response to the question all resting on her prior assumptions: “they have taken my Lord away and I do not know where they have laid the body”. It was then that she turned around and saw Jesus, but she did not recognize him. Jesus then asked the same question that the angels asked: “Woman why are you crying?” She now makes the third assumption, blaming who she thought was the cemetery keeper Just show me where you kept the body, she accused him. It was not until the Lord called her by her name that her eyes opened and she realized that she was talking to the great teacher (v. 16). Notice again Jesus’ reply : stop clinging to me for I have not yet ascended to the father”. Mary did what we all do she ran back to the disciples to tell the good news.
The good news to all of us is that Good Friday is always followed by Easter Sunday. When the pain of the cross is passed we rejoice and celebrate the Resurrection. The pain of the quarantine, the isolation, the fear of this invisible enemy will pass and we will rise to the joys of reclaiming our lives back. Given this reality the question that was asked of Mary is asked of us this Easter morning “Why are you crying?’
This story reveals why we in our uncertainty and fear become anxious and panic.
1. Like Mary we see dimly and fail to think about other possibilities. She left when it was still dark and did not see well. All what she saw was the stone rolled away from the entrance of the tomb. When we consider only one possibility and fail to think about others, it is possible to be anxious and to live in fear. We worry about the what- ifs and see our shortcomings rather than the possibilities.
2. We make wrong assumptions on very little information. Mary simply assumed that the tomb was vandalized and that the body was moved by those who hated our Lord and the movement he led. At the beginning of this pandemic, some people did not believe it was real and some still do think it is not a big deal. We cry and we live with anxiety when we fail to learn about our situation and make wrong assumptions. There is the human tendency to look at the worst case scenario, but it takes accurate knowledge to make the right decisions.
3. We listen to others who may have as little information as we do. The disciples who ran to the tomb, took Mary’s assumption and then just looked into the tomb without going in. When Peter arrived, he went in looked around and then they all left. They believed what Mary assumed and never even thought about the scripture that had prophesied about his resurrection.
4. We cry when we see our own situation as forming the beginnings of our ruin rather than rely on God. We cry when we fail to do all we can to find answers to our own problem. It was when Mary stooped to see the tomb and investigate the empty tomb that she discovered that there were two angels in the tomb. Sometimes we fail to find answers to our own problems because we are not doing enough on our own. Someone says that there are no vacancies and we give up rather than persist on finding out why. Someone tells us that the situation is very difficult and we believe without finding out if our own story can be different.
5. Taking a break from our troubles and looking around can serve us better sometimes than just merely looking up. It was when she stood up from looking down and when she looked around that she found out that Jesus was just standing beside her. Sometimes the help we seek can simply be right there with us if we can stop mourning and clear our eyes so we can see well. It was when Jesus called her name that she returned to reality and God opened her eyes to see that the Lord she was seeking was right behind her.
6. Finally, looking for Jesus is not about clinging to the lord in buildings and attending prayer and fasting services, but in working with our brothers and sisters in the world. When hands are open to serve others, one writer wrote, God is happy than when it is closed in prayer. We cannot be Christians if we do not serve God’s people. Mary was trying to hold on to the risen Lord in the garden, but the message from the Lord himself is to go to God’s people and share the message of the kingdom.
In this Easter, in the days of the pandemic, we do not need to cry and we do not need to be anxious. The pandemic will be over, life will return to normal and the message of Easter given to Mary and to the disciples long ago and to the people of God is that Easter is a time for us to stop mourning and to rest upon God’s word.
I want to leave you this Easter Morning with the story of the Rev. William B. Collyer. He was just a youngster when he began studying for the ministry. The only surviving child of his parents at a time when child mortality was high, he grew up seeing the sorrow of his parents. When he was assigned to a little church, he too saw the sorrow and suffering of members of his church and so on Easter Sunday he wrote a song that we still sing in church today.
Morning breaks upon the tomb;
Jesus scatters all its gloom.
Day of triumph through the skies;
See the glorious Savior rise.
Ye who are of death afraid
Triumph in the scattered shade.
Drive your anxious cares away;
See the place where Jesus lay.
Christians, dry your flowing tears
Chase your unbelieving fears;
Look on His deserted grave,
Doubt no more His power to save.
Easter is a call for all of us to dry our tears and change our ways. With that, we too like Mary can look at the deserted grave and banish our doubts that Jesus is alive to save.
Thanks be to God and Happy Easter.
The Revised Common Lectionary for Holy Week 2020
This is Easter like no other. As you shelter in place and cannot attend your house of worship, these are suggested passages called the Revised Lectionary for those in traditional churches in Year A (2020). We will attempt a reflection on at least one passage for your spiritual upliftment each day in these trying times. You will recall that we had a reflection on Palm Sunday already.
Sunday, April 5, 2020: Liturgy of the Palm Ps. 118 : 1 - 2, 19 - 29; Matt. 21 : 1 - 11
Monday, April 6, 2020: Ps. 36 : 5 - 11; Isa. 42 : 1 - 9; Heb. 9 : 11 - 15; John 12 : 1 - 11
Tuesday, April 7, 2020: Ps. 71 : 1- 14; ; Isa 49 : 1 - 7; Icor 1 : 18 - 31; John 12 :20 - 36.
Wednesday, April 8, 2020: Ps. 70: Isa. 50 - 4 - 9a; Heb 12 : 1 - 3; John 13 : 21 - 32.
Thursday, April 9, 2020: Ps. 116 ; 1 -4, 12 - 19; Ex 12 : 1 - 4, (5 - 10) 11 - 14; I Cor. 11 : 23 - 26; John 13 : 1 - 17, 31b - 35.
Friday, April 10, 2020: Good Friday Ps. 22; Isa. 52 : 13 - 53 : 12; Heb. 10 : 16 _ 25; John 18 : 1 - 19, 42.
Saturday, April 11, 2020: Holy Saturday :Job 14:1-14; Lamentations 3:1-9, 19-24; Psalm 31:1-4, 15-16; 1 Peter 4:1-8; Matthew 27:57-66
Sunday, Easter Vigil April 12, 2020: Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Psalm 136:1-9, 23-26; Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18; 8:6-18; 9:8-13; Psalm 46; Isaiah 55:1-11; Matthew 28:1-10 (Not to be used as a vesper)
Sunday, April 12, 2020: Resurrection of the Lord Acts 10:34-43; Jeremiah 31:1-6; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Colossians 3:1-4; John 20:1-18
Sunday, April 12, 2020: Easter Evening: Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 114; 1 Corinthians 5:6b-8; Luke 24:13-49.
“HOSANNA” IN THE MIDST OF A PANDEMIC
Ezekiel Ette, Ph.D.
(Matt 21 : 1 – 11)
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.” (Matt. 21 : 1 - 3
The world is in a locked down mode this Palm Sunday. Streets are empty and businesses are closed. We are told to stay home and if we must venture out, to avoid touching our face and to wear mask to avoid spreading the deadly Corona Virus. Thousands are dead around the world and hundreds of thousands are sickened with no end in sight. Fear is everywhere and individuals scramble to write their last wills here in the United States. No one is safe and no social class is immune. From China to Iran and Italy thousands are dead and in New York in the United States the dead are packed in refrigerated trucks. Fear and anxiety has gripped nations despite our claimed sophistication and knowledge of science. What the Spanish Flu did in 1918 when it killed millions has happened again with the corona virus. In our anguish and our fears we ask why and seek meaning for an invisible enemy that appears meaningless and violent in its ferocity. As I look outside my window in my neighborhood, however, I can see the signs of life and the coming of spring. The flowers on the trees shake against the breeze in this sunny day. The daffodils in their many colors and shades shake against the wind and in God’s earth these plants announce a new year and the unfolding of a new season. It is Palm Sunday today, and as I read in Mathew’s Gospel about our Lord’s Entry into Jerusalem certain things from the story jump out at me. Yet this Palm Sunday is like no other. Perhaps those who have lived through war time can tell you about the angst and worry about survival during a holiday. Yet for us Christians, the message of Palm Sunday has a very rich meaning in this trouble times.
Turn with me to the Gospel of St Mathew 21 : 1 – 11 and read this old story.
The story is a simple one. Jesus is approaching Jerusalem and is getting ready to cross the three ridges called the Mount of Olives 2.4 miles outside the city of Jerusalem. As St Mathew recalls the event, Jesus called two of his disciples and sent them on an errand. “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me.” (V2). Then one more thing he told the messengers in verse 3 “If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.” Our Lord knew that there will be questions asked and people will need answers. Many commentators have disagreed on this passage. Was there a prior arrangement between Jesus and the owner or did the Lord of the universe foresaw what would happen if the owner of the donkey saw strangers untying his donkey. Many theologians think that this knowledge is supernatural. After all, the Prophet Zechariah had prophesied long ago that the Messiah would enter Jerusalem riding on a donkey. This was the messiah and his entry into Jerusalem that day fulfilled this prophecy.
It all happened as our Lord had instructed and when they brought the donkey back, the people took off their cloths and put on the back of the donkey for Jesus to sit. Those who had no cloths or the poor whose cloths could not withstand the wear and tear that might result, went into the woods and cut branches and put on the road so that the king might ride past. You can imagine the noise and the surprise of people in the city especially since there were many who travelled long distance so they could enjoy and worship during the feast of Passover.
I want to draw your attention this palm Sunday to two things in this old story of our faith: The first is the human need for meaning and the second is the human plea for deliverance and the need to rely on God. Let us first examine the human need for meaning. The human need for meaning is overwhelming. We must make meaning for actions and events for through this, we make sense of the world. We all as human beings have a set of expectations about life and these expectations allow us to plan. We know time will continue, we will finish school, have jobs, get married, work and retire. All these form what social scientists call the assumptive world. The problem we have is: what happens when things occur and our assumptive world is violated? Where do we turn to when things are no longer the same? It was not different in Jesus’ time. Our Lord knew that questions would be asked and reasons for such actions sought especially since the donkey belonged to someone else. This need for meaning is still strong today and becomes the more pervasive and urgent in a post-modern world where few things make sense. We just push to get on but we merely get by. We wonder what the purpose is to try and be good, organize the community and make our lives meaningful. Erik Erikson, the American Psychologist had said that our middle age years represent a struggle between generativity and stagnation. We struggle to create something meaningful for our communities and try to make our lives meaningful. Yet as we try to contribute, others may see our efforts as displaying our ego and question our sincerity. Like those who witnessed the untying of the donkey, people may question “what are you doing?” Who do you think you are?” As we watch the carnage of this pandemic, it is natural to wonder why and to ask where God is. As we hear about the need to protect oneself we wonder how we can shut ourselves inside without food and basic necessities. Some have lost jobs and means of livelihood in order to stay alive. Our assumptive world seems to be violated. We have lots of questions but very few answers and no one seems to know the right answers. How long will this last? What should we do and where do we turn to?
As instructed, the disciples sent to fetch the donkey were simply obeying the voice of the savior. “The Lords needs it” they said. The Lord needs you in God’s kingdom. The Lord needs you to gather the broken pieces of the lives in your community. The Lords need your hands, your hearts and your minds no matter what twisted meanings others may find. The Lord needs all of us. You do not need to go outside and expose yourself to this virus in order to serve your community. You can call others and use social media to stay in contact. The Lord needs you to stop the spread by avoiding gathering in places with close contact with others. A few short weeks ago, a church choir defied the ban on gathering. Forty members of a church in Seattle went to choir practice and nearly all caught the virus and as I am writing tonight, two are dead and many of them are in critical condition in a hospital. The Lord needs all of us to do our part in curbing the spread. In a letter that the Apostle Peter wrote to Christians who fled Jerusalem to other lands he specifically reminded them that it is Christian duty to obey authority whether it be governors or kings. (I Peter 2 : 13 – 15). This he reminded the church is pleasing to the Lord. If you insist on going to church when the authorities are banning public gathering, you are not serving God.
The second thing I want us to note in the story is the human plea for deliverance. It is common for us humans in difficult times to seek help. It is also possible to ask the wrong people for help and to get false help. This virus has no cure yet someone may try to sell you some snake oil.
At the time of Christ and during colonial rule in Palestine, conditions were unbearable. In our time as we are forced to shelter at home and see the world through television reports and our smart phones the fear is overwhelming. Reports of people who are battling the virus or dead are sent to us daily on our phones and smart devices. This virus respects no class and no hierarchy. From the Prince of England to the actors in Hollywood, from the very poor in public houses in New York to the poor factory worker in China to the powerful politicians in Law houses, no one is immune. Like those who were under the Roman yoke on that bright day when Jesus rode into Jerusalem we too must echo their cry “ “Hosanna” or save us now.
So in the middle of a pandemic what should we do? The Bible provides some suggestions. Our faith has always endured crisis and those before us had depended on God who has always been our help in ages past and our help in years to come. Consider these examples of what those who lived in fear and angst did on that day and what you can do on Palm Sunday:
1. Have hope do not despair. The ancient took comfort in the word of the Lord. They reminded each other of the words of the prophet Zechariah that God does not forget God’s people. God told the prophet: Say to the daughters of Zion, behold your king is coming” Do not lose hope, the Lord will come and will take away this scourge and life will return to normal. It was not an accident that the crowd on that day of Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem chose a song often sung during procession to the Temple. It was a song of anticipation of a better day in the future “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”.The Lord will give us his peace and will provide what we need.
2. Do not forget to pray. Waiting can take us to God but it is important to remember that it can also take us away from God. With people out of work and not having enough to do at home, there may be temptation to drink excessively. “Your King is coming” the Prophet Zechariah had announced. We cannot wait for the king in a manner that does not honor the sovereign.
3. Tune out a little sometimes because listening to the news at all times can create fear. Hope should be devoid of fear.
4. Find something constructive to occupy your time. Sometimes the overlooked things may find usefulness. The donkey was a beast of burden and was considered unclean because it does not chew its cud (Lev. 11 : 26), yet our Lord chose it as a means of transportation.
5. You may not have all what you need think about improvising for what you do not have and avoid self-pity. Those who did not have cloths to throw on the donkey and on the road cut branches and participated in the praise.
6. Use your time indoors to tell the stories of your life to each other.
It is Palm Sunday and amidst the pandemic, may we never forget in the lines written by John Brownlie more than 100 years ago
Behold, the Lord to Zion rides,
And crowds hosannas sing;
They spread their garments in the way,
And hail Him as a king.
May our praises continue to ring for Jesus our king and may we continue to be sheltered in his everlasting arms. Thanks be to God! Happy Palm Sunday!
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