Holy Week at St. Mark’s

Image of palm frond by Gini George from Pixabay

There are many opportunities to prepare our hearts as we approach Easter and the commemoration of our Lord’s death and resurrection. We hope you’ll join us this week. All in-person worship requires a reservation. All livestream services may be found on our YouTube channel.

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.

“He gave him no answer, not even to a single charge:” Palm Sunday message from Pastor David Mueller

Palm Sunday banner

[Editor’s note: We thank Interim Pastor David Mueller and John Lasher, director of music and worship arts, for again recording this message and music for us during this season of Coronavirus pandemic when we are unable to meet together. You can follow the text below and listen to the audio by clicking on this link:]

 

Opening Hymn: Ride On, Ride On In Majesty (verses 1, 2 and 5)

Download hymn sheet music here

Words and sheet music for Ride On, Ride On in Majesty

Good morning, people of St. Mark’s.

It is Palm/Passion Sunday morning. Please imagine being in church at St. Mark’s this morning. We have read the Palm Sunday Gospel about Jesus humbly entering Jerusalem. One of the regal hymns appropriate to Palm Sunday is being sung. The crucifer is processing, followed by the choir. You have turned and faced the cross as it passes you and have placed your palms in the aisle.

This imagination and the memories from which it comes is what we have today. But worship on in a humble but hopefully faithful way we will.

Listen now to the passion, according to St. Matthew:

NARRATOR: Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked Him:

PILATE: “Are you the King of the Jews?”

NARRATOR: Jesus said,

JESUS: “You have said so!”

NARRATOR: But when He was accused by the chief priests and elders, He made no answer. Then Pilate said to Him:

PILATE: “Do you not hear the many things they testify against you?”

NARRATOR: But he gave no answer, not even to a single charge; so that the governor wondered greatly. Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. And they had a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them:

PILATE: “Whom do you want me to release for you, Barabbas or Jesus who is called Christ?”

NARRATOR: For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him:

PROCULA: “HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THAT RIGHTEOUS MAN, FOR I HAVE SUFFERED MUCH OVER HIM TODAY IN A DREAM!” 

NARRATOR: Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the people to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. The governor again said to them:

PILATE: “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?”

NARRATOR: And they said:

CROWD: “BARABBAS!”

NARRATOR: Pilate said to them:

PILATE: “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?”

NARRATOR: They all said:

CROWD: “LET HIM BE CRUCIFIED!”

NARRATOR: And he (Pilate) said:

PILATE: “Why, what evil has He done?”

NARRATOR: But they shouted all the more:

CROWD: “LET HIM BE CRUCIFIED!”

NARRATOR: So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washing his hands before the crowd, said:

PILATE: “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves!”

NARRATOR: And all the people answered:

CROWD: “HIS BLOOD BE ON US AND ON OUR CHILDREN.”

NARRATOR: Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered Him to be crucified. Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the praetorium, and they gathered the whole battalion before Him. And they stripped Him and put a scarlet robe upon Him, and plaiting a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and put a reed in His right hand. And kneeling before Him they mocked Him, saying:

SOLDIERS: “HAIL, KING OF THE JEWS!”

NARRATOR: And they spat upon Him, and took the reed and struck Him on the head. And when they had mocked Him, they stripped Him of the robe, and put His own clothes on Him and led Him away to crucify Him.

NARRATOR: As they went out, they came upon a man of Cyrene, Simon by name; this man they compelled to carry His cross. And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means the place of the skull), they offered Him wine to drink, mingled with gall; but when He tasted it, He would not drink it. And when they had crucified Him, they divided His garments among them by casting lots; then they sat down and kept watch over Him there. And over His head they put the charge against Him, which read,

ALL: “THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS!”

NARRATOR: Then two robbers were crucified with Him, one at the right and one at the left. And those who passed by derided Him, wagging their heads and saying:

RIGHT SIDE: “YOU WHO WOULD DESTROY THE TEMPLE AND BUILD IT IN THREE DAYS, SAVE YOURSELF! IF YOU ARE THE SON OF GOD, COME DOWN FROM THAT CROSS.”

NARRATOR: So also the chief priests, with the scribes and the elders, mocked Him, saying,

LEFT SIDE: “HE SAVED OTHERS; HE CANNOT SAVE HIMSELF. HE IS THE KING OF ISRAEL; LET HIM COME DOWN FROM THE CROSS AND WE WILL BELIEVE IN HIM!”

ALL: “HE TRUSTS IN GOD; LET GOD DELIVER HIM NOW, IF HE DESIRES HIM; FOR HE SAID, ‘I AM THE SON OF GOD.’”

NARRATOR: And the robbers who were crucified with Him also reviled Him in the same way. Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice:

JESUS: “Eli, Eli lama sabach-thani?” [That is…] “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”

NARRATOR: And some of the bystanders hearing it said,

RIGHT SIDE: “THIS MAN IS CALLING ELIJAH.”

NARRATOR: And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with vinegar and put it on a reed, and gave it to Him to drink. But others said:

LEFT SIDE: “WAIT, LET US SEE WHETHER ELIJAH WILL COME TO SAVE HIM.”

NARRATOR: And Jesus cried again with a loud voice and yielded up His spirit.

NARRATOR: And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from the top to bottom, and the earth shook and the rocks were split; the tombs also were opened and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of their tombs after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him keeping watch over Jesus saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe, and said,

ALL: “TRULY THIS WAS THE SON OF GOD!”

Hymn: “Ah, Holy Jesus” (verses 1, 2 and 5)

Words and sheet music for Ah, Holy Jesus

 

Grace to you and peace from God our father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. amen.

As the week we call “Holy” is about to begin, along with fellow Christians around the world, we are unable to worship together physically. We read in John 1:14: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”

Ours is an incarnational faith with Jesus having entered our history. It feels very non-incarnational to be away from each other in the flesh and for Christians to be “meeting” in some virtual manner. Better that, however, than to allow the Feast of the Resurrection and the events of the prior week to go utterly unacknowledged.

Please pray with me:

Oh God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, may the Holy Wind blow mightily among us and our Christian family the world over today and into the days ahead. Grant us wisdom for dealing with our reality, which unfortunately includes a deadly disease. May we remain trusting and caring in the midst of crisis, and in this precious season, may we be renewed in our hope. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

I have believed for a long time that a most significant scene in this Passion Drama is Jesus standing before Pilate. Freeze frame this image for a minute or two. Just stare at it: A Representative dignitary of the then most powerful Empire on the planet, sent to Palestine precisely because he was so good at dealing with crises, and The Son of God sent to this world precisely because God so loved the world, facing each other. Stare some more at both men, one having at his hand the power of empire; the other whose power was made perfect in weakness.

“Stare some more at both men, one having at his hand the power of empire; the other whose power was made perfect in weakness.”

Earlier, Pilate had asked Jesus: “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus simply said:  “You say so!” Now, seconds later, in response to Pilate’s asking of Jesus about the accusations against him, Jesus “gave him no answer, not even to a single charge.” In Mark’s Gospel account of the same scene, “Jesus made no further reply.” (Mark 15:3). Luke also has Jesus saying only “you say so.”

John reports Jesus as having said: “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews…. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” (John 18:33-38)

Without denying Divine inspiration, it seems to me that John simply couldn’t accept the quiet of the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark and Luke), and couldn’t resist adding at least some qualifier in this his much later Gospel.

Generally, we are stuck with this quiet even poignant scene, the seeming helplessness of Jesus against this worldly “Goliath,” known as Pilate and everything he represented.

“For God’s sake, Jesus, say something!” “For Jesus’ sake, God, do something!”

This plea has come from countless people throughout history since Jesus’ time on earth, when injustice was occurring, when diseases were spreading, when Jews were dying in the camps, when Armenians were being slaughtered by the Turks, when illness or accident had taken a loved-one, when marriages were breaking up, when financial ruin was rampant, when, when when…. In the face of human tragedy, God seems so silent, so powerless, perhaps even so indifferent. DO SOMETHING! ANYTHING! Lord God, where are You when most we need You?

One of His disciples would betray Jesus, another would deny Him, the others  abandoned Him — and we? Clearly, we would surely have operated differently, better somehow, more faithfully! Yeah, right! The human condition is portrayed in living color here, with us like them — but what of the Divine position?

The very fact of Jesus having died FOR us reveals that God is still dying WITH us, at least for now. Ours is a faith of apparent defeat, of cross-centeredness, not yet one of triumph and victory. The victory can be hoped for and believed in but not experienced just yet. The Kingdom is not of this world! We may not rule here. We may not get our way here! We may not insist that others share our perspective on anything here! And we will need to die rather than kill, bear our crosses before we wear our crowns.

And that is what takes so much faith, gobs of grace, mounds of mercy, loads of love and pounds of patience. The Kingdom has not yet been fully realized and we must continue to pray: “Your Kingdom come” and in the meantime: “Thy will be done on earth as in heaven.”

In our rather quiet way this year, we will celebrate the Feast of the Resurrection, as the victory it was for Jesus and one day will be for us! In His holy and precious Name, Amen.