Easter Sunday

Theme: A people of the Temple bear witness of resurrection

Luke 24
(excerpted; fresh translation)

On the first day of the week,
the apostles and some others were gathered together.
As they were talking, suddenly Jesus was standing among them.

“Peace be with you,” he said.*
But they were terrified; they thought they were seeing a ghost.

He said to them, “What’s wrong? It’s me!
Look—touch me. I’m flesh and bones, not a ghost.”
And he showed them his hands and feet.
They gave him some broiled fish,
and as they watched, he ate it.

Then he said to them:
“It was written that the Messiah** would suffer
and would rise from the dead on the third day,
and that in his name
repentance and forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed to all peoples,
starting at Jerusalem.

Of all this, you are witnesses.
But wait here in Jerusalem
until I send you what my Father promised
and you are clothed with power from heaven.”

Then he led them out to Bethany
and was taken away from them, up into heaven.

With great joy, the disciples returned to Jerusalem.
There they all spent their time in the temple, praising God.


* Peace be with you: in Hebrew, Shalom aleichem

** the Messiah: or the Christ, the Anointed One


Reflection:

Lent is over; Easter has come. But here’s a final reflection to cap off the Lenten series.

Luke’s version of the Easter story ends with the disciples in Jerusalem, waiting to be clothed with power from heaven so they can go out in the name of the Christ to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins to all peoples. Their wait will end on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit falls on them.

And what do the disciples do while they’re waiting? They spend their time in the Temple, praising God.

Today, I will gather with my congregation to celebrate resurrection. We will sing hymns of praise, as I imagine the disciples doing in the Temple at Jerusalem in the days following that first Easter.

As I sing Easter hymns with my congregation, I’m going to imagine that we’re standing inside the sanctuary of the Temple at Independence. I’m going to imagine the sanctuary filled with members of Community of Christ from all over the world. When our Easter service is over, we will pour out of the Temple onto the World Plaza, with its world map made of bricks. We will go forth to bear witness of the risen Christ and to proclaim, in his name, repentance and forgiveness of sins in every nation where Community of Christ members live.

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Photo by Emma Gray

We proclaim that people need to change the way they live.
We proclaim that people can change the way they live.
We support and participate in ministries that help people change the way they live.
We change the way we ourselves live.

We forgive people who have wronged us or hurt us.
We ask forgiveness of people whom we have wronged or hurt.
We work for reconciliation.
We work for healing.
We work to make peace.

Echoing the risen Jesus, we wish for everyone who crosses our path:
Shalom aleichem. Peace be with you.

That’s the vision, at least.

Holy Saturday

Theme: A people of the Temple follow Christ in the way of suffering love

Mark 8:34
(excerpted; fresh translation)

Jesus said:
“If any of you want to come with me—
disown yourself,
pick up your cross,
and follow me.”

Doctrine and Covenants 164:6b-c
(excerpted; fresh rendering)

As Christ’s body,
lovingly and patiently bear the weight of criticism
from those who hesitate to respond
to God’s vision of human worth and equality in Christ.
This is your burden.

At the same time, always remember:
The way of suffering love that leads to the cross
leads also to resurrection.
Trust in this promise.

Reflection:

“Pick up your cross,” says Jesus. In Doctrine and Covenants 164, the Spirit tells us that our cross—our burden—is to “lovingly and patiently bear the weight of criticism from those who hesitate to respond to God’s vision of human worth and equality in Christ.”

What does that mean?

What does God’s vision of human worth
call me to do
that would lead to me being criticized?

What does God’s vision of equality in Christ—
equality in the church—
call me to do
that would lead to me being criticized?

I am supposed to lovingly bear the weight of that criticism.
What does that look like?
It sounds like it may involve suffering:
“the way of suffering love that leads to the cross.”

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Scott Olson/Getty Images. A memorial march for victims of gun violence in Chicago, 2016.

About this Lenten reflection

Good Friday

Theme: A people of the Temple follow Christ in the way of suffering love

Mark 15
(excerpts; fresh translation)

Early in the morning,
the religious authorities turned Jesus over to Pilate,
charging him with many crimes.
Pilate sentenced Jesus to be scourged and crucified.

The soldiers dressed him in purple
and crowned him with thorns they had woven together.
For a scepter, they had a staff, which they also used to beat him on the head.
They knelt down in front of him and spit on him.
Then they led him away to be crucified.

They took him to the place called Golgotha (which means “skull”).
It was about the third hour of the morning* when they crucified him.
They crucified two bandits with him.

Passersby shouted,
“Hey you! The one who was going to destroy the temple
and build it again in three days!
Save yourself! Come down off the cross!”

At about the ninth hour,**
Jesus shouted, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?
(“My God, my God, why have you deserted me?”)

He gave one more loud cry and died.
And the veil in the temple was ripped in two, from top to bottom.


* third hour of the morning: around 9:00 a.m.

** ninth hour: around 3:00 p.m.


Reflection:

Why the ripping of the veil in the Temple? Here’s my thought:

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Photo by Daniel Ventura

In the Temple at Jerusalem, the veil covered the Holy of Holies, the innermost sanctuary. That was the room where the Ark of the Covenant was kept before it was lost. In that room, behind the veil, God’s presence was understood to reside. Only the high priest would pass through the veil, into the Holy of Holies, to stand in God’s presence, and that only once a year, on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

The ripping of the veil would leave the Holy of Holies exposed to view. There would no longer be a barrier concealing God’s presence from human eyes. God would be exposed to display.

Does the ripping of the veil at the moment of Jesus’s death mean that, in Jesus’s death, God is fully exposed to our view? Jesus’s death removes any mystery about who God is; Jesus’s death shows us who God is. God is a person who loves us so much that he (she, if you prefer) became human alongside us. God lived with us. God became one of us. God became vulnerable, as we are. God suffered, as people do. God suffered horribly. And God died, as we do.

If someone asked me to picture God in my head, there are lots of images from scripture I might choose from: God as a king seated on a throne. God as the creator who opens his/her hand to feed his/her creatures. God as a rock lifting me high out of reach of danger. God as a forgiving lover who is willing to have me back when I have been unfaithful. God as a loving mother. God as a defender of the poor and victims of injustice. God as a generous, impartial benefactor, showering rain and sunshine on the just and the unjust alike.

Or: God as a battered, bleeding human body—a corpse—nailed to a cross. That too is a true picture of God, perhaps the most mysterious.

Jesus was God, living and suffering and dying in solidarity with human beings. Following Jesus means living and suffering and, possibly, dying in solidarity with my fellow human beings. My solidarity is supposed to extend, like Jesus’s did, to all human beings. How far does it extend right now?

About this Lenten reflection

Maundy Thursday

Theme: A people of the Temple follow Christ in the way of suffering love

Mark 14
(excerpts; fresh translation)

On the first day of unleavened bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed,
two of Jesus’s disciples entered Jerusalem and prepared the Passover feast.
When evening fell, Jesus and the Twelve came.
They reclined and ate.

After the singing of hymns,
they went out to the Mount of Olives, to a place called Gethsemane.
Jesus began to feel frightened and distressed.
He said, “Wait here and keep watch.”

He went a little farther, fell on the ground, and prayed.
He was saying, “Abba (Father)…
You can do anything… Take this cup from me…
But let it be as you will, not what I will…”

A troop of armed men came, sent by the religious authorities.
Judas, one of the Twelve, was with them.
They grabbed hold of Jesus and arrested him.
He said to them,
“Why have you come out after me with swords and clubs, like I’m a bandit?
I was with you every day in the temple, preaching.
You didn’t see fit to arrest me then.”

All the disciples deserted him and fled.

Jesus was led away to the religious authorities.
They were looking for testimony to justify putting him to death.
Some witnesses claimed,
“We heard him say:
I will destroy this temple, made by hands,
and within three days build another, made not by hands.”

Some of those present began to spit on him.
They covered his face, so he couldn’t see,
then punched him and said, “Prophesy!”
Then they turned him over to the guards,
who continued to beat him.

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Photo by Ronny Light. The Garden of Gethsemane today.

Reflection:

The way Mark tells the story,
I get the impression that you spent today lying low,
slipping into Jerusalem as it grew dark.
You share with your disciples the meal
that commemorates God’s freeing your ancestors from slavery.
It’s supposed to be a celebration.

Later that night, you go out to the Mount of Olives,
across from the Temple Mount.
Passover starts on a full moon, so I imagine it’s a bright night.
You know what’s coming, and it frightens you.
You ask God to save you,
but you accept that that’s not going to happen.

Then it starts.
You lose control of the situation.
You are at the mercy of people who have no mercy.
They can do what they want to you.
No one can help you.
And you are going through it alone,
because your disciples either deserted you or betrayed you.

I pray for everyone who, right now, is frightened.
I pray for everyone who, right now, is asking God to save them.
I pray for everyone who, right now, feels helpless.
I pray for everyone who, right now, feels alone or deserted.
I pray for everyone who, right now, is being abused.

I should do something today—one thing at least—
to turn one of those prayers into concrete action.

About this Lenten reflection

Wednesday of Holy Week

Theme: A people of the Temple follow Christ in the way of suffering love

Mark 12:41-44; 13:1-2
(fresh translation)

Jesus sat down across from the temple’s collection boxes.
He watched the crowd depositing money into the boxes.
Many people of means deposited large sums.

Then a poor widow came and dropped in two coins,
which together were worth one quadrans.*

Jesus called his disciples over to him and said:
“That poor widow has donated more than everyone else.
Everyone else donated what they had left over after their spending.
But she, in her poverty, donated everything she had to live on.”

As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him,
“Teacher, look at it! The stonework, the construction—it’s amazing!”

Jesus said to him:
“You see all this? It will be leveled to the ground.
Not one stone will be left standing on another.”


* quadrans: the Roman coin with the smallest value


Reflection:

In the Gospel of Mark, these are the last words Jesus speaks in the Temple. He appears to be leaving the Temple for the last time in his life.

In modern Bibles, there’s a chapter break between the story of the widow’s mite and Jesus’s prophecy of the Temple’s destruction. As a result, we usually read these passages separately, not together. But there’s no break in the original Greek text. And when I read them together, the prophecy of the Temple’s destruction adds a new layer of meaning for me to the story of the widow’s mite.

Jesus says that the widow’s tiny donation is more praiseworthy than the great sums donated by the wealthy because she gave out of her poverty. Simple enough—the concept, I mean. In another sense, of course, this saying of Jesus’s is deeply challenging, particularly for a person like me, who, while I think of myself as average by my nation’s economic standards, is very wealthy by global standards. Am I really giving as much as I could be? Am I living as simply as I could be in order to increase my capacity to give?

But here’s the additional layer of meaning that I didn’t see until today, when I read the prophesy of the Temple’s destruction as a continuation of the story of the widow’s mite: Jesus lauds the widow’s sacrificial donation to the Temple, knowing that the Temple is going to be leveled to the ground.

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Photo by Kevin Tuck

What if I knew, with certainty, that an earthquake will utterly demolish the Temple at Independence? Would I give money for the Temple’s upkeep between now and then? Or what if I knew that within a generation Community of Christ will collapse financially and cease to exist? Would I still give this institution my time, talents, and treasure? Or would I shift my giving to another institution that I thought was more stable, more likely to endure? I would seriously consider the latter.

This isn’t just a hypothetical thought exercise for me. I want very much to believe that I am making some kind of enduring difference. I need to believe that I am contributing to decisive change in the world: abolishing poverty, ending war, saving the planet. Otherwise, I’m susceptible to despair—to feeling, “What’s the point?” I understand that every human life is of great worth, even though fleeting, and therefore every act of kindness, however small, performed for any person is worthwhile. But I want to be doing more than performing small, fleeting acts of kindness in a world that’s sliding irreversibly into a black hole of misery. I want to know I’m helping to bring about the Millennium.

Jesus, as portrayed in today’s Gospel passage, doesn’t seem to see things that way. If I had been in the Temple that day, knowing what Jesus knew, I would have stopped the widow and said, “Don’t donate those coins to the Temple. Give them to a beggar—that will do more good.” Jesus, however, sees something inherently praiseworthy—supremely praiseworthy—in the widow’s giving, even if she’s giving to a cause that may not mean anything in the long run. I’m not ready to sign onto that point of view entirely, but I sense there’s something I should learn from it.

About this Lenten reflection