Pentecost Prayer Vigil

Vatican window with dove

A Prayer Guide for St. Mark’s Pentecost Prayer Vigil

Prepared by Clifford Smith

VENI SANCTE SPIRITUS

“Unless I go the Advocate [the Spirit] will not come to you; but if I do go, I will send him to you. He will lead you to the complete truth.” – John 16:7, 13

With these words Jesus points forward to the new life in the Spirit that will be revealed at Pentecost. It will be a life lived in “complete truth.” Closely related to the word “betrothal,” the “complete truth” means full intimacy with God, a betrothal in which the complete divine life is given to us.

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.

“Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak different languages as the Spirit gave them power to express themselves….

“Now all who heard and saw these things were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” . . . So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” — Acts 2:1-4, 37-40, 41-42.

THE SPIRIT ACTUALIZES OUR FAITH

We are waiting for the Spirit to come. Are we really? This morning during the Eucharist I spoke a little about preparing ourselves for Pentecost just as we prepare ourselves for Christmas and Easter. Still, for most of us, Pentecost is a nonevent. While on secular calendars Christmas and Easter are still marked, Pentecost is spectacularly absent.

But Pentecost is the coming of the Spirit of Jesus into the world. It is the celebration of God breaking through the boundaries of time and space and opening the whole world for the re-creating power of love. Pentecost is freedom, the power of the Spirit to blow where it wants.

Without Pentecost the Christ-event—the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus—remains imprisoned in history as something to remember, think about, and reflect on. The Spirit of Jesus comes to dwell within us, so that we can become living Christs here and now.

Pentecost lifts the whole mystery of salvation out of its particularities and makes it into something universal, embracing all peoples, all countries, all seasons, and all eras. Pentecost is also the moment of empowering. Each individual human being can claim the Spirit of Jesus as the guiding spirit of his or her life. In that Spirit we can speak and act freely and confidently with the knowledge that the same Spirit that inspired Jesus is inspiring us.

We certainly have to prepare ourselves carefully for this day of Pentecost so that we can not only receive fully the gifts of the Spirit but also let the Spirit bear fruit within us.

Henri Nouwen, adapted from: Jesus: A Gospel

 

It is the eve of Pentecost, the celebration of the coming of the promised Spirit. It is the vigil of the day that commemorates the beginning of the Church as bearer of the divine breath…. Pentecost is a moment of great prophetic significance. It marks the beginning of the Church and, therefore, is now the celebration of the Church’s birthday. Pentecost affirms that the Church is an enspirited continuance of the prophetic mission and power of Jesus the Christ.

The Church today continues to witness to the movement of the Spirit in the world, the Spirit which groans in us as it responds to the misery, the hatred, the hunger, and despair that burdens humankind. Centuries ago Paul wrote to the church in Rome about the groaning and indwelling of this Spirit. His words still ring true for us today:

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as children, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what they see? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

“Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but God’s own Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And God who searches the hearts of all knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” — Romans 8: 22-27.

Pentecost celebrates the indwelling of God’s hope in us, incarnate in our world through our lives.

Wendy M. Wright, adapted from The Rising

 

Who could turn a band of frightened fisherman into powerful preachers?

The Holy Spirit!

Who could begin the day with 120 believers, including the twelve disciples

and Jesus’ Mother, and end the day with more than 3,000?

The Holy Spirit!

And who empowers believers today, adding to their number and

challenging them to be a part of the Church He is building?

The Holy Spirit!

VENI SANCTE SPIRITUS

FOR REFLECTION AND PRAYER

1. How have you experienced the Holy Spirit in your life as Advocate or Helper? as Comforter? as Consoler? as Guide? as empowering?

2. Does it make any difference in your life —

    • To consciously regard yourself as the Body of Christ, that is, a member of the “body of believers,” the community of faith, the Church?
    • To know that the Spirit of Christ seeks to indwell in your heart, so that God’s hope and love can incarnate in today’s world through your presence and actions, through your life?
    • To know that you carry the “indwelling Spirit,” to know that you are a manifestation of the continuing incarnation?

3. What specific miseries and burdens of humankind cause you to “groan in travail with the whole of creation?” Pray that the Spirit assist you in prayer regarding these heartfelt “miseries and burdens.” Remember: “God’s own Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.”

4. Offer your personalized and specific prayers for the well-being and fruitful action of today’s Church.

  1. 5. Where and how have you experienced the enlivening and empowering action of the Holy Spirit in the history and ministry of St. Mark’s?

Does it make any difference to know that the same Spirit that inspired and empowered the apostles on the day of Pentecost is today inspiring us at St. Mark’s and all of the Church?

A Prayer for Pentecost

Spirit of God

who bursts into rooms

of fear, laughing life …

your birth-cry

still echoes in

this womb of earth

as we anticipate

the dance of fire.

 

Sigh in our souls

today, O God.

Throw open the doors.

Slip into our hearts

and sweep grace

into those secret places

known only to you.

 

We stand on tip-toe

straining, longing to see,

to feel the flame …

praying it will consume

and transform us

into gifts for one another.

 

Greet us with wisdom

that we may be channels

of peace.

Encourage us with

understanding

that we may affirm

one another.

Support us with counsel

that we may choose

the good.

Sustain us with fortitude

That we may pursue

What is just.

Open our minds with

knowledge

That we may realize

you are God.

Bless us with devotion

that we may always

cling to you.

 

Anoint us with reverence

that we may bow

before the holy within

and around us.

 

Amen.

Prayer to the Holy Spirit

 

Come, Holy Spirit —

Breathe

your healing.

Drive us

from our narrow ways

Touch us

in our faint of heart.

Gift us

with divine inspiration.

Love us

to life and

burn

within us …

until our dying embers

are held

in the heart of God.

There

you will breathe

new life, once again.

Amen!

VENI SANCTE SPIRITUS

A Guide for Prayer and Contemplation on Holy Saturday

Pascha icon

Prepared by Cliff Smith

 

HE SUFFERED UNDER PONTIUS PILATE,

WAS CRUCIFIED, DIED AND WAS BURIED.

HE DESCENDED INTO HELL.

Apostles’ Creed

 

CHRIST IS RISEN FROM THE DEAD,

TRAMPLING DOWN DEATH BY DEATH,

AND UPON THOSE IN THE TOMBS BESTOWING LIFE.

Troparion of Pascha

Eastern Orthodox Liturgy

 

We typically overlook the significance of Holy Saturday, the day which the Eastern Church highlights as the Blessed Sabbath, the “Great and Holy Sabbath.” In the Orthodox tradition this is not only the day that Christ reposed in the earth, but the day that Christ “descended into hell” (or “to the dead”), “trampling down death by death.”

Great Saturday is the “middle day” which meaningfully connects the sorrow of Good Friday with the joy of Easter resurrection. For Holy Saturday is precisely the day of transformation, the day when victory grows from inside the defeat, the day when Christ’s divine Light and Love descended into the depths of the earth, shattering death, sin and evil, and all the powers of darkness.

The Orthodox Church emphasizes the image and idea that the descent into hell is the last and culminating step in the act of the Incarnation of God. It is the act of the One who is the source and giver of life invading the realm of death. It expressed the utter completeness and fullness of the redemption which Christ offers to all the human race and all of creation. It powerfully proclaims: There is no place God is not! All things and all places are filled with God, with His life and His light.

Each feast in the Orthodox world has its particular icon. The Easter (or Pascha) icon is named “The Descent Into Hell.” (For the Eastern Church, an icon is not simply a religious picture. It is a depiction that, when related to contemplatively, becomes a medium of revelation, a grace-inspired encounter with the Divine. Think of the icon as a window fostering a communion between the divine archetype imaged in the icon and you, the praying contemplator).

In “The Descent Into Hell” icon, Christ is shown bringing first Adam and Eve and then all the righteous of former times out of the place of death. Hell is shown as a gaping black hole into which Christ descends as conqueror. The gates of death are shattered and shown lying across one another in the shape of a cross. This icon leads us to image and to “feel” that by the powerful action of descending into hell, Christ makes death itself the final step to “life without end.”

Wendy M. Wright, in The Rising, writes that the descent to the dead as set forth in the Orthodox tradition “speaks symbolically to the length and breadth of divine compassion, to the extent of the redemptive promise and to the utter intimacy of a God whose love penetrates to the furthest reaches of creation’s fallen depths.” “Christ is Risen!” from the dead and has opened for us the way to resurrection. 

Meditate prayerfully upon these antiphons from the Mattins Service on Holy and Great Saturday of the Orthodox Church. What images do they prompt in you? What insights or understandings? What inspirations? What new or renewed dedications? What “new life” begins to stir? Pray them and then let God speak to you.

  • Who can describe this strange and terrible thing? The Lord of Creation today accepts the Passion and dies for our sake?
  • O strange wonder, new to man! He who granted me the breath of life is carried lifeless in Joseph’s hands to burial.
  • O Life, how canst Thou die? How canst Thou dwell in a tomb? Yet Thou dost destroy death’s kingdom and raise the dead from hell.
  • By dying, O my God, Thou puttest death to death through Thy divine power.
  • When Thou wast laid in a tomb, O Christ the Creator, the foundations of hell were shaken and the graves of mortal men were opened.
  • The flesh of God is hidden now beneath the earth, like a candle underneath a bushel, and it drives away the darkness in hell.
  • Buried in the earth like a grain of wheat, Thou hast yielded a rich harvest, rising to life the mortal sons of Adam.
  • Dead in outward appearance, yet alive as God, O Jesus, Thou leadest up the fallen from earth to heaven.
  • Christ the Life, by tasting death, has delivered mortal men from death, and now gives life to all.
  • Willingly, O Saviour, Thou hast gone down beneath the earth, and Thou hast restored the dead to life, leading them back to the glory of the Father.
  • How great the joy, how full the gladness, that Thou hast brought to those in hell, shining as lightning in its gloomy depths.
  • O my Jesus, Fountain of Life, Thou hast brought me back to life when I was dead through bitter sin.
  • The earth, O Lord, is full of Thy mercy: teach me thy statutes and thy way of goodness.
  • Help me, and I shall be saved, and my study shall be ever in thy statutes.
  • Let Thy mercy come also upon me, O Lord, even thy salvation, according to Thy word.
  • How sweet are Thy words unto my taste! Yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth.
  • Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.
  • My soul is continually in Thy hands.
  • O life-giving Vine, Thou wast lifted up from the earth, yet hast thou poured out the wine of salvation. I praise Thy Passion, and Thy Cross, and Thy Descent to the dead.
  • The whole creation was altered by Thy Passion: for all things suffered with Thee, knowing O Word, that thou holdest all in unity.

From The Lenten Triodion of the Orthodox Church

SUGGESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND PRAYER

  • In today’s world, where do the “powers of darkness” and evil seem to reign supreme? Imagine Christ’s light and redeeming love penetrating and transforming these “realms of the dead” in life. What would life be like then? Pray that it may be so.
  • Pray that the leaders and peoples of all Nations may repent, give up hatred and killing, and seek love and abiding peace.
  • Who do you regard as the “Enemy” in the world or in your own life? Pray to God for your enemies.
  • What are the “wrongful ways” within yourself? At this time in your life, what do you want to “give death to,” so that “new life in Christ” can be realized?
  • Pray for the forgiveness of anything for which you seek pardon and absolution. Allow Christ’s merciful and forgiving love to “descend” to the depths of your being.
  • Bring to mind and offer thankful prayer for the remembered lives of those loved and significant persons in your life who have died.
  • Pray for the restoration of all creation, and for that fullness of time when

He will wipe every tear from their eyes.

Death will be no more.

Mourning and crying and pain will be no more.

Revelation 21:4

 

RESURRECTION MORNING

Will resurrection morning come? Grave cloths

and spices veil that mutilated flesh

Love made into a man for us. Conspiring darkness

of this stony sepulchre curves a sheltering vault

about the corpse of God.

 

Night-silent are all birds

and winds make no sound, waiting. Rocks

are massive sentinels honey-combed with tombs.

The guards lean on their spears, mistrustful in the mute

uncanny vigilance of this garden for the dead.

 

Out of the night I cry unto thee, O Lord,

and in the hollow sound shell of my everlasting tomb

I raise my death-stopped voice and sing

the canticle of the grave, the song of annihilation.

 

Will resurrection morning come?

Who could have thought such kingly limbs could lie so still!

O long this vigil to the dawn!

World that Word spoke strains for the lilt of his stricken tongue,

yearns, shocked, for the press of his unstirring foot.

No night songster lifts its beak. No moon gleams.

Darkness over the face of the earth…. The brooding night

envelopes those that slew and those that mourn the slain.

Magdalen lies down in the tent of her hair, and weeps.

 

Out of the night I cry unto thee, O lord!

In the black, bitter salt shrubs of the desert,

in the cruel eclipse, in the hollow pit of emptiness, 

I will wait for thee, Lord, as thou commandest me.

 

Will resurrection morning come?

Who stirs in the womb-heavy dimness?

(The root in the deep dungeons of the soil,

the sap in the trunk’s secret tunnels, the seed

swelling to life in the grave of  last year’s mold.)

 

Death where is your sting?

Light levels the dark

like a warrior’s shaft. The soldiers swoon with fear

as the indomitable Word speaks the universe once more.

In the sleeping land

a gray dawn lips the rim of the world and turns to gold.

Sorrow lasts but a night, and joy has come with the sun.

 

Out of the night I cry unto thee, O Lord.

The terror of the grave surrounds me with dread —

but thou art my help in time of trouble, my rock:

my soul waits patiently for thy perpetual light.

Barbara Dent

From: My Only Friend Is Darkness

 

Now the green blade riseth from the buried grain,

Wheat that in dark earth many days has lain;

Love lives again, that with the dead has been:

Love is come again, Like wheat that springeth green.

 

In the grave they laid him, Love whom men had slain,

Thinking that he would never wake again,

Laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen;

Love is come again, Like wheat that springeth green.

 

Forth he came at Easter, like the risen grain,

He that for three days in the grave has lain;

Quick from the dead, my risen Lord is seen.

Love is come again, Like wheat that springeth green.

 

When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain,

Thy touch can call us back to life again,

Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been.

Love is come again, Like wheat that springeth green.

French carol

Text: John M. C. Crum

Good Friday: The Seven Last Words of Jesus from the Cross

Altar in darkness

Approximately one month or so ago, I asked seven members to each choose a word (statement) of Jesus from the cross and write a response to it. This was a bit before the viral enemy hit hard and forced us to close the Church building and cancel all regularly scheduled services.

The seven were to present their responses in order on Good Friday. We would have sung verses of “The Old Rugged Cross” interspersed between the statements. What you are receiving now in writing – either by email or snail mail – are those responses. Since most people know the tune to “The Old Rugged Cross” we are including the words here so that you can hum or sing them as they are posted.

Interestingly, I asked each person to choose in order of preference the three words/statements they would prefer to respond to. We were surprised, even shocked, that each person ended up assigned their first choice.

– Interim Pastor David Mueller

 

“On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,

the emblem of suff’ring and shame;

and I love that old cross where the dearest and best

for a world of lost sinners was slain.”

“Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34)

Written by Sandy Pierson

Think of Jesus as He so cruelly suffers on the cross, crying out not for himself, but for all who put Him on the cross. He willingly took the place of any sinner and prayed that they might be forgiven.

The people of that day couldn’t comprehend the enormity of Jesus’ sacrifice. However, as it is written in the Bible, today we understand this forgiveness is for everyone. His mercy is freely available.Sandy Pierson

Before suffering on the cross, Jesus instructs his followers to “bless those who curse you and pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:28) which appears to be exactly what he was doing on the cross.

Dear Father God In heaven, Help us to use this ultimate example of forgiveness in our lives when we are falsely accused or abused. We rise up knowing you are the truth and the way showing us direction to lead a righteous life and work towards a perfect relationship with you. Amen

Personal side note: This exercise during Lent and this time of social distancing from all that we know (routines, social times with family and friends), has been a time of reflection on forgiveness in my life. Jesus in my life has helped me through all the mountains and valleys. I think we are all reflecting on the important things in life right now.

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

Written by Kevin Carr

This is the second statement that is listed as one of Jesus’ last seven words.  Jesus made this statement to one of the two criminals that were being crucified with Him.

While researching these words from Jesus, I found a lot of discussion on where the comma goes in the statement. Does it go before the word “today” or after the word “today?” Most current Bibles put it before.

There was no punctuation in Aramaic or old Hebrew language. Commas were added to the Bible in the 9th century. I believe this to be misplaced. The Bible tells us that Jesus died and was buried and did not rise until the third day (1 Corinthians 15:34). Also, Jesus tells Mary after He came out of the grave not to touch Him for He had not returned to the Father (John 20:17).

Kevin CarrRegardless of where you put the comma, it does not change the inspiration the words convey. This statement is what I believe all Christians wish for — to be with God in Paradise. This is a Bible verse that gives us all HOPE.

Jesus was crucified between two criminals and interacted with both. The two criminals represent ways to respond to suffering. The first criminal joined the mockers from the ground and said, “if you are the Christ save yourself and us, too.” He was looking for Jesus to help him out of a bad situation, death on a cross. The second criminal rebuked the first saying, “Don’t you fear God?” He admitted his guilt, knew he needed forgiveness and wanted hope for life after death. He recognized that was what Jesus offered.

I believe that at times we all could respond like either criminal. Many times, I prayed for God to get me out of a bad situation caused by my actions. I was looking for instant relief from my troubles — what some would refer to as a foxhole prayer. It wasn’t until I came to believe in Jesus that I started to experience peace. When I admitted my sins, became repentant and asked God’s forgiveness, I started to feel His presence. Like the second criminal, when I surrendered to God and stopped trying to be my own god, I found comfort. With humility, admittance of my sins and a repentant heart, I ask God for his mercy.

Now there are still times I behave like either criminal. It takes a concentrated effort to be more like the second criminal. What the second criminal asked for was to be remembered in Jesus’ Kingdom. That is what Jesus promised him.  That is when he received peace and comfort. This is the great promise of the Gospel, to be with Jesus forever.

“Oh, that old rugged cross, so despised by the world,

has a wondrous attraction for me;

for the dear Lamb of God left his glory above,

to bear it to dark Calvary.”  

“Woman, here is your son…. Here is your mother.” (John 19:27)

Written by Cheryl Powell

Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, ‘Woman, behold your son!’ Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother!’ And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home. (NKJV)

From one viewpoint, this passage shows the consistent subjugation of women in Biblical times, as here Jesus is asking one of his disciples (which one? — a question for another time) to accept Mary as his mother and take care of her. It also begs the question of where Jesus’s nominal father, Joseph, is at this critical time. Is he there? Will he also join the household of the disciple? What is his reaction to this usurpation of his authority as Mary’s husband? All excellent questions and all irrelevant to this interpretation.

I look at this passage from Mary’s viewpoint as a faithful woman of her time, and as the mother of a son. Mary conceived Jesus through the Holy Spirit while still unwed, during a time when pregnancy before marriage was treated with shunning at best and stoning at worst. And still, her response to Gabriel after being told her destiny was simply “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” A faithful woman, certain that God would not send her a burden too heavy to bear.  I only wish I could be as trusting as she was throughout her life.Statue of the Madonna

From the few accounts found, young Jesus was a good son to Mary, a son who was obedient (for the most part), thoughtful (when he remembered), and loving (if his friends weren’t looking). Little is said about Mary during his teaching time. There is no record in the Bible of Jesus telling Mary his eventual fate. We know he shared that picture with his closest disciples, and of course, Mary witnessed the Passion, helplessly standing by as her firstborn was tortured, nailed to a cross, and died. 

And as He was dying, the final act of this best of Sons for his mother ensured she would not want for any necessity, for a woman without men at that time faced a harsh, hand-to-mouth existence.

So when Jesus says, “Woman, behold your son!” I think of my son — my firstborn and only child — and our relationship. How we were very close when he was young. How we grew apart a little when I was away at school. How he turns to me still, in times of trouble and joy. How he would help me, if I were to become destitute. How I would feel to see him subjected to such treatment, and be as powerless to stop it, or to save him.

And I weep.

“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)

Written by Sue Saltar

“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” I have given this a lot of thought. Of course, there is the obvious. Christ was brutalized, humiliated and alone. When He was in the Garden of Gethsemane, He even asked to have the upcoming events removed from Him. He knew. He was human. It must have felt so very frightening but still He allowed it all come to pass. He knew what He had to do.

I did a lot of thinking and praying during this Lenten season. Was there a time in my life when I felt alone? I cannot compare myself to what Christ went through but I can relate to feeling so very alone at one time. There was a time when I wondered where God was. My faith was tested and I struggled. It took a real desire to find my way back and I found a spiritual advisor who helped me find my way. The journey was not an easy one and very painful.

I think about how Christ could continue on with the direction this last day took. His love for me and for his Father allowed him to move ahead with humility and a certain peace. Yet on the cross he questioned — OR DID HE? Maybe He was showing me how we can feel lost and yet get to the other side. Maybe He was showing me how to do it. I could feel lost and hurting and not give up. Christ died on that cross and the world changed. His example of love grew and grew.

With this example of love, I was able to walk out of my pain and move closer to my God day by day.Three red candles

I am not saying that things went easy for me. I had to bury a grandson at 21 of a genetic disorder. I watched him begin to die at age 3. It was so painful to watch my daughter watch her son die. I had to bury a granddaughter at 27 of a drug overdose. Again, I had to watch a daughter bury her daughter. But at no time did I feel abandoned now.

My faith was my strength. Christ taught me through his suffering how I could be afraid and yet not feel alone.

The lessons Christ taught while on that cross. The lessons of love and obedience. His kindness for the thief hanging next to him. The gift of making his mother our mother, while hurting. I am so grateful for the example of this loving Christ. My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? Maybe not. In His last discourse to His disciples, He tells them His father was there right in Him. He was not alone. His lesson to me, even at the end, is to know that I am not alone and I can count on my God. I am not always sure what OK is, but I know I will be OK, no matter what. I am not alone.

“In the old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,

a wondrous beauty I see;

for ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died,

to pardon and sanctify me.”

“I am thirsty.” (John 19:28)

Written by Wayne Smiley

John 19:28: “After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst.”

I asked for this verse because I feel that in this simple passage Jesus shows us exactly who he is. Jesus shows us just how focused he was on the word of God. Jesus knew why the Father had sent him and he showed his desire in fulfilling his Father’s will.

Jesus knew the writings of the Old Testament. He knew the prophecies. In Psalm 69:21 it is written, “They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” There was no compassion shown to Jesus as he hung on the cross. When Jesus said, “I thirst”, they filled a sponge with vinegar and raised it to his lips.

Wayne Smiley on guitarSome scholars argue that Jesus was fulfilling prophecy in this act while others argue that Jesus knew that even as his life neared its end there might be something important to say and his mouth was simply dry.

Crucifixion is the most horrible death one can imagine. Prior to being hung on the cross Jesus was severely beaten. The skin was ripped from his body. Jesus, fully God and fully man, submitted himself to the will of his Father and allowed himself to be executed in such a horrible manner. He endured the pain of beating and being nailed to the cross.

This was only the beginning of his torment. As he hung there, Jesus’ joints were pulled apart from the weight pulling against them. Every time he took a breath, he would have to pull himself up so that he could inhale. It was arid in the desert and indeed our Lord’s mouth did get dry. Therefore, “I thirst.”

I think of Jesus coming and walking among us as a man. He understood the tolls which we face and the temptations we experience every day. Jesus, as a man, turned to God in prayer to refill his cup and ask for God’s will to be done in his life.

Jesus poured himself out for mankind. He gave of himself through his teaching, his compassion, and in the end through his death. I think as Jesus neared the end of his life, he thirsted but not just in a physical sense. I think Jesus’ spiritual cup was ready to be filled. It was the only thing that would truly quench his thirst.

Jesus being fully God had been in the Father’s presence. He had experienced the love of his Father and thirsted to be in that place again. Jesus gave his all.  He is the only one truly deserving to be in his Father’s kingdom, but through Grace we, too, have been given an opportunity to experience the Father’s love.

“It is finished!” (John 19:30)

Written by Beth Miller

Pause with me a moment. Breathe in. Breathe out. Do it again. Breathe in. Breathe out.

That we can still do that — well, I think it’s a sign that we still have something to do. A role to play. The chances are pretty good that many of our roles have changed a lot in the past month.

Think about it. A month ago today — March 10 — most of us were still in our offices. Kids were still in school. Stores were open, restaurants were taking reservations. Life was chugging along as it did so long ago.

There were some troubling clouds, to be sure. We saw what was starting to happen. We knew things were bad overseas and those of us who have done any travel anywhere beyond these shores could match faces with some of the places so grievously afflicted.

But life here hadn’t changed too much.

Then came March 11. The World Health Organization declared the Coronavirus outbreak to be a pandemic. Full stop. It’s as red a flag as you can get.

On that same day, those who saw this as someone else’s problem might have heard that Delaware had confirmed its first case. And soon offices and schools were closing. Store shelves were vacuumed clear. Confusing messages were sent, contradictory information, false hopes.

Beth Miller

And so much was left undone. Incomplete. Unfinished. Loose ends everywhere.

 

And that’s sort of how life always is, isn’t it? You can work 12 hours a day on something, but you’ll lie down at night with unfinished business awaiting you tomorrow. You can change diapers eight times a day, feed your family over and over, do the laundry, clean the house, fix the truck, pay the bills, help someone out — and it will all need doing again, maybe tomorrow, maybe next week, maybe for the foreseeable future.

Life often seems like a continuum of unfinished business, a never-ending “to-do” list.

In the midst of all of this demand, uncertainty, effort, distraction and the unending “where-is-this-all-going-anyway” kind of questions, it is a fine thing to accomplish something and be able to say, “It is finished.”

You might want a parade when that happens, a bonus check, a “humble-brag” Facebook post that proclaims you a winner or even just a smile from somebody.

But no rainbow spread across the sky when Jesus said “It is finished.” The herald angels who harked at his birth were silent as far as we know. There was blood on the ground, anguish in the air and no one offering their constant expert commentary.

Who on earth knew what he meant? How can the Son of God be finished? Why did no one gallop in to save him? What was anyone supposed to do now? Are we all finished, too?

None of us has witnessed such an event, but Christians are in a love relationship with the One who lived it. We have his words, his counsel, his promises. We have his presence as “Immanuel” — which means “God with us.”

We will never be in a situation truly alone, forsaken, with no one to turn to. God is with us — everywhere, always, forever.

And this is the way Jesus spent his last, torturous day:

  • He forgave his crucifiers.
  • He promised a future in paradise.
  • He showed us where to direct our desperate questions.
  • He tended to family and loved ones.
  • He expressed his need.

And now he was finished. That searing debt — the debt owed by every hater, abuser, cheater and liar, every murderer and thief and oppressor, every one among us, in other words — could now be accounted for. This is the extravagant price of real justice. This is the source of mercy. This is the wellspring of real, living love.

Every damaged human being, every sinful soul, every hopeless, helpless, horrid, evil-infested heart is covered in this exchange — by grace, in full, in advance of the final reckoning day. If we embrace that gift and live every moment as an expression of gratitude for it, our lives can point others to the same Good News, that Jesus the Crucified finished this debt for them, too.

Charles Spurgeon, the great British preacher, put it this way in a sermon delivered in 1861:

“Come with me, poor soul, and you and I will stand together this morning, while the tempest gathers, for we are not afraid. How sharp that lightning flash! But yet we tremble not. How terrible that peal of thunder! And yet we are not alarmed — and why? Is there anything in us why we should escape? No, but we are standing beneath the cross—that precious cross, which like some noble lightning-conductor in the storm, takes to itself all the death from the lightning and all the fury from the tempest. We are safe. Loud may you roar, O thundering law, and terribly may you flash, O avenging justice! We can look up with calm delight to all the tumult of the elements, for we are safe beneath the cross.”

Safe beneath the cross, where Jesus the Christ said “It is finished.”

Much remains undone in our lives and in our world. But the most important mission is accomplished. God has made a way for us.

Let us give thanks, embrace the gift and spread that Good News. It is finished and we are safe with him.

“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke 23:46)

Written by David McClure

Luke 23:46: And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit; and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.

David McClureI have come here from the wreckage of a marriage and a life to find a sanctuary. For some reason, I feel that I am supposed to be here at this place and time. I don’t understand why that is so, but it is. I’ve never been one with clever words or glib phrases. I was a sailor and remain one in my heart.

I can’t write poetry, but I know when it speaks to my heart and soul. I’d like to share this as what I feel from this passage. It may be found in several versions and attributed to different people on the net, but this is the version that has helped me through some very dark days.

“My life is but a weaving, between my God and me.

I do not choose the colors, He worketh steadily.

Ofttimes He weaves in sorrow, and I, in foolish pride,

Forget He sees the upper, and I, the underside.

Not ‘til the loom is silent, and the shuttles cease to fly

Will God unroll the canvas and explain the reason why

the dark threads are as needful, in the Master Weavers’ hands

as are the threads of gold and silver in the pattern He has planned.”

JESUS KNEW HIS FATE. From the time of starting His ministry, He knew what awaited Him. He pleaded (more than once) to be released from it, but it was ALWAYS accompanied by “If it be Your will” when He spoke.

He knew His thread in the pattern. We are not that fortunate, if that is the phrase. We wonder, wander and stray from the path, but can always come back to the Presence and the Love that is the Divine.

I am thankful for that mercy and know that on an appointed day, I will stand before the Judgment Seat. I hope that it will be with humility and acceptance of whatever is determined to be my fate.

Closing commentary from Pastor Mueller:

I once was speaking with a young colleague, who carried a certain suspicion as to whether or not lay people could be trusted to do ministry without the help of clergy. I responded simply by saying: “Trust God’s people!” This is what I have done here. I did not edit any of these. I responded to questions if asked. These offerings are genuinely from the hearts and minds of your fellow Christians here at St. Mark’s. I realize that this was not generally an easy task, but they all have done marvelously. I thank them all!

And now may the Lord bless you and keep you, make his face shine upon you, lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace!

To the old rugged cross I will ever be true,

its shame and reproach gladly bear;

Christ will call me some day to my home far away,

where his glory forever I’ll share.

Refrain:

So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,

till my trophies at last I lay down;

I will cling to the old rugged cross,

and exchange it some day for a crown.

Good Friday ‘Words’ from the St. Mark’s family

Highlighted Scripture says: Father, forgive them.

GOOD FRIDAY: We would usually gather to reflect together in a Good Friday service, but cannot do so this year because of the Coronavirus pandemic. Instead, seven of your fellow St. Markians were asked to provide a personal reflection on one of the seven “words” (statements) of Jesus from the cross.

While they will not be personally presenting their reflections, they have written them out. Watch for these here on the website, by email or in your mailbox if you do not have email.

Lenten Wednesdays at St. Mark’s

St. Mark's altar during Lent

Join us for a special series of Wednesday evening gatherings through the Lenten season, a time of reflection, contemplation, repentance and preparation for the coming celebration of Easter.

At 6 p.m., we’ll share a soup and salad supper in the Great Room.

At 6:45 p.m., we’ll gather in the sanctuary for a brief evensong service, about 30 minutes in length, with prayer, Scripture and music.

Advent Prayer Vigil

St. Mark's sanctuary

Be still! Hark! Pay close attention! Listen!

Quiet us, Lord, that we might be able to hear over the noise of our busy lives, beyond the frenzy and the clutter of our Christmas preparations. Help us to pause and become still, even for a moment, that we might hear the herald of angel voices: “Glory.” “Peace on Earth.” “Mercy.” “Reconciliation.” “Joy.” “Christ is Born.”

Join us for our Advent Prayer Vigil, an opportunity to enter our beautiful sanctuary and sit in silence; to quiet the self; to be still and know that God is God; to prayerfully meditate on Advent, the coming of the Christ, and to know him as Emmanuel, “God with us,” with the power to transform our hearts, our lives, even this broken world in which we live.

Meditative music and an Advent Prayer Guide will be provided.

The Longest Night Service

For many, the holiday season holds sorrow, loss and grief. A loved one who has died is mourned. Losses and other unwanted changes can make normal holiday celebrations too painful for many.

The “Longest Night Service” is meant for all — families, individuals, friends — who have suffered loss. It is a time of reflection and contemplative respite. Its name refers to the time it usually is scheduled — on or near the longest night of the year.

The service will be held at Chester Bethel United Methodist Church, located at 2619 Foulk Rd. in Brandywine Hundred, north of Wilmington. All are welcome.

Advent Prayer Vigil

Take a break from the hustle and bustle and join us in our sanctuary for the Advent Prayer Vigil.

St. Mark's sanctuaryThe Prayer Vigil offers time to sit in silence, quiet the self and to be still and know that God is God. It is time to prayerfully meditate on Advent – the coming of Christ – and to know him as Emmanuel, “God with us,” who has the power to transform our hearts, lives and even this broken world in which we live.
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