holy week

Holy Week Meditations: Good Friday - The Upside Down

Welcome to Good Friday. If you've been reading along thus far, we've been looking at some of the details and "secondary" characters in Matthew's passion narrative. Today, Jesus, "stretched out his arms on the hard wood of the cross so that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace..." (BCP, 101). We'll look at one more little detail in the narrative: The Jerusalem Zombies.

You're like whaaaaat? There's no zombies in this story! Let's look again: 

Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 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. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”
— Matthew 27:50-54

Yeah. Pre-resurrection resurrections? Matthew is the only one to include the bit about the earthquake and its power opens graves and their occupants start coming out and appearing to folks in Jerusalem "after his (Jesus') resurrection."  It would appear that at the quake, the tombs were opened and where the earth's crust is split some bodies, caskets, etc start protruding from the ground. THEN after Sunday morning, these dead - who were left exactly where they were on Friday because Jews don't exactly like touching dead bodies (see: Good Samaritan parable) - were also raised with Jesus. 

"Are you the gatekeeper? ...wait for the sign, then all the prisoners will be released."

"Are you the gatekeeper? ...wait for the sign, then all the prisoners will be released."

So many questions about this. Did the power of the resurrection spill out a little bit and because of Jesus' proximity to other graves, a few of them get up and walk around? Were they ghosts and it was like a scene from Ghostbusters where the apocalypse is happening? Were these the folks who, as we'll learn tomorrow during Holy Saturday, when Jesus goes down to the dead/hell, on his way back up he draws up everyone with him - having destroyed death? As much as I like the first question, it was probably something closer to that last one.

Upside down. Sorry Barb.

Upside down. Sorry Barb.

As I mentioned in the last post, people are riddled with fear at this seismic and cosmic event. People had good reason to be: 1. The temple curtain was torn in two thus the veil between the holy of holies and the inner temple was lifted. It was a glimpse into the divine - nothing separating God and us. 2. The earthquake shook it all up. If you've ever experienced one you know it rattles you as much as it does your china. 3. Tombs were open and bodies came out. Icing on the cake of terror if you ask me. Things have been turned upside down. The Roman centurion assigned to Jesus' crucifixion, as his soldiers were shaking in their armor, confirms and captures the fear and awe from the Good Friday upside-down: "Truly this man was God's Son."  

Can we pause and meditate on the magnitude of quake that shakes grave clothes off not only for those Jerusalem dead but also for us? 

Helpful hints for today: Walk a stations of the cross to remember Christ's suffering. Attend a Good Friday service. Take communion from reserved sacrament. Print the passion narrative or grab a bible and take a walk to a favorite spot outside, sit, and read it again. Pray. 

Holy Week Meditations: Maundy Thursday

Welcome to Maundy Thursday! "Maundy" is a fancy way of saying "Mandate" and contrary to bro-theology does not come from the fact that Jesus' final words to his disciples were during a man-date with his bro's in the upper room. It does, however, come from the instructions he gives them - a new commandment, "Love one another as I have loved you" (John 13:34-35). John's Gospel includes Jesus washing his disciple's feet and giving them this commandment. Matthew does not include this but emphasizes Jesus telling the disciples, male and female, he is going ahead of them to Galilee (the place where Jesus chose to focus his ministry). This connects the thread to what the angel says at the empty tomb and what Jesus says when he meets the two Mary's on Easter morning.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. What struck me this Maundy Thursday is the male disciple's absence after this point in the narrative. They celebrate the Passover dinner with him, Jesus washes their feet, have a love feast where he tells them "Love one another like I have loved you" and then they live into Jesus' warning and abandon him. As Presiding Bishop Michael Curry says in Crazy Christians, "Let's call the roll of those Jesus asked to follow him, let's take attendance of the apostles at the crucifixion of their Lord. Simon Peter? Absent. (The other 11 disciples?) Absent. Mary Magdalene? Present and accounted for!" (p4). Today, let's look at some PRIMARY characters in the narrative who, unfortunately, are often overlooked and treated as secondary. 

Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him. Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.
— Matthew 27:55-56
Pieta by Michelangelo

Pieta by Michelangelo

Matthew includes Mary Magdalene, Mary, mother of James and Joseph, and Mrs. Zebedee. Mark includes Salome. John includes Jesus' mother, Mary and Mary the wife of Clopas. There are many commentaries on why this is, including the idea that the women had a kind of immunity to be present at the cross as mourners. But really these guys were scared out of their wits. They were concerned for and terrified for their lives. 

Mary Magdalene and the first Easter egg. (According to tradition, after the resurrection, Mary traveled to Rome and presented the Emperor with an egg and exclaimed, "Christ is Risen!" The emperor replied, "Christ is no more risen than that egg is red." And immediately the egg turned red and thus we have the tradition of dyeing eggs at Easter.)

Mary Magdalene and the first Easter egg. (According to tradition, after the resurrection, Mary traveled to Rome and presented the Emperor with an egg and exclaimed, "Christ is Risen!" The emperor replied, "Christ is no more risen than that egg is red." And immediately the egg turned red and thus we have the tradition of dyeing eggs at Easter.)

Nevertheless, the women persisted. Mary Magdalene, Mary, and Mrs. Zebedee were courageous and bold DISCIPLES. They too were present in the upper room, they bank rolled the male disciple's ministry in Galilee, and when the male disciples fell asleep in the garden, the women held vigil at the tomb on the Sabbath into the wee hours of the third day. (Spoiler Alert:) on the first day of the week, the women disciples are there at the tomb. In Matthew's Gospel, they don't have spices or embalming (presumably they've already done it before they sealed the tomb of Friday night). They are going because THEY LISTENED to Jesus! He repeatedly told folks that he would be raised on the third day - so here they are, going to see! They trusted and had faith. As I heard Bishop Curry preach at the Festival of Homiletics in 2014, "If not for Mary Magdalene and the other women, we may not have known about the brother (Jesus)!"

Peter, James, and John (Jesus' inner circle) are nowhere to be found. Did they not hear him? Even Pilate and the chief priests heard Jesus' proclamation and were concerned about it - they had extra guards posted and they had the rock sealed for fear that disciples would steal the body and claim Jesus was raised from the dead. Or maybe they feared the real resurrection itself? Either way, every. single. person in the narrative is riddled with fear...except the women. Praise God for the faithful witness of Mary Magdalene. 

Pondering's for us: (From Sam Wells' Power and Passion)

  • I wonder what it is like to feel you cannot love as much as you are loved.
  • I wonder what it is like to hope like Mary Magdalene and trust in Christ wholeheartedly.
  • I wonder what it is like to run towards death instead of away from it. 
  • I wonder what it is like to not fear. I wonder especially these days, and especially as a woman, POC, or person with a disability or any marginalized person, what it would feel and look like to live without fear like Mary Magdalene? 
  • I wonder what it feels like to have joy and awe that drowns out fear and anxiety. 

Holy Week Meditations: Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Happy Holy Wednesday!! We're moving through Holy Week to the cross and the tomb and today we're looking at another minor character in the passion narrative, Pilate's wife - let's call her, Claudia

The Message of Pilate's Wife  by James Tissot

The Message of Pilate's Wife by James Tissot

Though Claudia appears in only one sentence of the narrative, I think it an interesting detail worth exploring! In Matthew 27:19 we find Pilate examining Jesus and ready to make his decision when he gets word from his wife. Some artists have taken liberty and depicted Claudia herself running to tell him although it seems like a messenger is the one who brings word. Either way, she's had a dream about Jesus, which is rather odd considering who she is and where she is from: she is a Roman citizen; probably a member of the equestrian class (not horses, but a step down from senate and ruling class); and the wife of the Governor. Let's have a look at the text:  

While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.
— Matthew 27:19 (NRSV)

So perhaps it was a handwritten note that he receives. I wonder if it gave him pause. The next verse says that the chief priests and elders were growing impatient pressing him for a decision. I wonder if his ego shoved it aside - disregarded it - because Mrs. Pilate was unhappy with this post in po-dunk nowhere Judea. I wonder he wrote her off because she started having visions and dreams and his inflated sense of self thought it was not her place to influence his decisions. I wonder how she bore those private sufferings (after seeing into the heart of God's plans and Jesus' transforming love) as a loving wife, a dutiful Roman, and therefore a hopelessly trapped woman because of all of this.

Have you ever suffered a great deal because of dream? Many throughout scripture "suffered" or were bothered or had their lives interrupted because of dreams: Jacob dreams of a ladder; Joseph dreams and interprets Pharaoh's dreams in Egypt; Daniel dreams and interprets for the Babylonian King; Joseph dreams about danger from Herod and the holy family flees to Egypt; the wise men/magi dream and return home by a safer route; but these are just some highlights. The point is, God speaks to them (and us, I believe!) through dreams. I've heard it said that a reoccurring dream is the Holy Spirit telling us something but the message is not going through. After my father's death, I suffered a great deal because of reoccurring dreams - but I see them now as God comforting me and I am grateful for them. 

But back to the text and the narrative and Jesus who awaits verdict: given the nature of dreams in scripture, this is another instance of God breaking in and the veil between us being torn like the temple curtain later that day. Sam Wells points out that Claudia's use of the word "innocent" is worth noting. It spells grave consequences, morally, for Pilate that to condemn the wrong/innocent/righteous person could potentially weigh on his soul. It also gives power to Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God. His sinlessness, purity, and willingness to be a sacrificial lamb are affirmed through a gentile - an unlikely character (which, is par for the course with how God chooses to operate as often he speaks and uses the outsider, the seedy character, the seemingly unworthy to reveal his kingdom and will.)  

Questions for us today:

  • Recall a time when you were unable to trust someone close to you: how did it feel?
  • Have you ever been silenced? How did it feel? 
  • What is it like to sometimes NOT be able to talk about your faith, openly, publicly? 
  • When you first met Christ, who did you tell? How did they react? 
  • Do you remember dreams? If so, how might God be speaking through them? What message is not going through?