Category Archives: Lent

Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday

Remember Me When You Come into Your Kingdom

The Liturgy of the Palms

The Liturgy of the Word

It was the best of times. Jesus entered triumphantly into Jerusalem. From Luke’s Gospel we read:

As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,

“Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!

Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!”

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”   (Luke 19:36-40)

It was the worst of times. How could the Jewish people, in less than a week, go from “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” to “Crucify Him?” Crucifixion was reserved for the worst criminals of the state. Jesus, the triumphant leader, became Jesus, the criminal whom they crucified. Do we ever leave the comfort of praising God in church and find ourselves later in the week taking the Lord’s name in vain?

How could the people change so quickly we ask. In defense of those who got caught up in the frenzy, we must remember that chief priests and religious leaders of the day had much to do with inciting the crowd. Truth is the first casualty with tyrannical leaders. We see that very clearly today.

Even Jesus’s most loyal disciples would leave him as Jesus had foretold. We read from Luke’s Gospel:

“Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded[c] to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” And he said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.”   (Luke 22:31-34)

Jesus understands our weaknesses. He has a plan for us to overcome them when we place our trust in him. It is never too late to repent. With his help we can change. For one criminal hanging on a cross beside Jesus time had run out. Perhaps it was too late for him:

One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”   (Luke 23:39-43)

This criminal found himself empty. Life had emptied him. He had nowhere to go. He was hanging on a cross. He had no one to turn to but Jesus. He was desperate. He had no time for religion. He was facing death and the consequences of his life choices. He could only say: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” That was enough. Jesus made up the difference.

If we are still concerned about what others may say about us, then it is time for us to die to ourselves. The Apostle Paul wrote:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death–
even death on a cross.   (Philippians 2:5-8)

Jesus had died to his own will. There was one more thing to do before he died physical:

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent.” And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.   (Luke 23:44-49)

Jesus commended his spirit to God the Father. By doing so he defeated sin, the grave and hell. He followed the Father’s plan. He died for the sins of the people. There was no more price to pay. He paid it all.

Where do we stand today? Do we desert Jesus in times of crisis as did Peter? We are living in a time of crisis where the Christian faith does not have a high approval rating. This may not new for most of the world, but it is for America. Are we willing to put our faith on the line?

At the time of the crucifixion many of Jesus followers deserted him. Others stood at a distance and watched. Maybe we are keeping our distance? Just to avoid any unpleasantries? This is no time for distance between us and Jesus. Distance leads to fear and weakness. It could ultimately our loss of faith.

Jesus won the victory. Again, he defeated sin, the grave and hell. How do we make his victory our victory? By putting our full trust in him. We are no different from the criminal on the cross. We have no other option. It may appear that we have some time left to think about it. But we do not. We have no guarantees for tomorrow. Now is the time of salvation.

Jesus had to restore and strengthen all his disciples. They became the great apostles of the New Testament. What he did for them he will do for us today. Are we willing to die to ourselves? Are we willing to take up our own cross daily and follow him? As we contemplate the Passion of Christ we see the great love that he has for us poured out on a cruel cross. What will be our love gift to him in return?

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Saturday in the Fifth Week of Lent

Gathering or Scattering?

The Prophet Ezekiel foretold of a time when God would gather his people together in one everlasting kingdom:

Thus says the Lord God: I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from every quarter, and bring them to their own land. I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king over them all. Never again shall they be two nations, and never again shall they be divided into two kingdoms. They shall never again defile themselves with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. I will save them from all the apostasies into which they have fallen, and will cleanse them. Then they shall be my people, and I will be their God.   (Ezekiel 37:21–23)

God is the One who gathers his people together. He is the One who preserves them as a nation.  How is it that those who claim to represent God fear that his actions will divide the nation when it is their actions that divide a nation? This was the case concerning the chief priests and the Pharisees in the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry:

So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, “What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.”   (John 11:47-48)

This type of thinking demonstrates how Satan works. Divide and conquer. Are we, as Christians, aiding and abetting him? Who is sewing division among us and why?

In Jesus’s day the chief priests and the Pharisees acted out of fear. Their fear, however, was based on a false narrative: God will bring division among his own people. Fear, itself, brings division. That is why Satan sews fear. Our fear leads us to condemn others and falsely accuse them of the problems which we ourselves cause.

Fear stems from unbelief. Faith in a loving God dispels fear. Perfect love casts out fear.

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Friday in the Fifth Week of Lent

The Works of the Father

The miracles that Jesus did on the earth testified that he came from God the Father. The Jewish leaders could not deny the works, although they attempted to do so in the beginning without success. However, these obvious works, miracles, and hearings, which only God could do, did not stop them from rejecting Jesus:

The Jews took up stones again to stone Jesus. Jesus replied, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?” The Jews answered, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God.” Jesus answered, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’? If those to whom the word of God came were called ‘gods’ —and the scripture cannot be annulled— can you say that the one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”   (John 10:31–38)

Why is so much effort made to deny the obvious signs of God? We can look to Jeremiah for a clue:

I have become a laughingstock all the day;
every one mocks me.
For whenever I speak, I cry out,
I shout, “Violence and destruction!”
For the word of the Lord has become for me
a reproach and derision all day long.
If I say, “I will not mention him,
or speak any more in his name,”
there is in my heart as it were a burning fire
shut up in my bones,
and I am weary with holding it in,
and I cannot.   (Jeremiah 20:7–9)

People deny God because they do not want to be mocked. The world we live in is all about mocking God. That is what Satan does and that is what he intimidates us to do. But mocking God has consequences:

Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit.   (Galatians 6:7-8)

Do we love the praise of men more that the praise of God. If so, there is ultimately a high price to pay. But if we are true disciples of Jesus, then his presence and Spirit more than compensates for the persecution in this world, and in the end, life eternal in his glorious kingdom.

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Thursday in the Fifth Week of Lent

Before Abraham Was, I Am

What made Abraham great? Better to ask: Who made Abraham great? Abraham had great faith, but he had faith in a great God!

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations.   (Genesis 17:1–5)

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day claimed Abraham as their father. They asked Jesus:

Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you claim to be?”   (John 8:53)

Jesus answered:

Your ancestor Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad.” Then the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.”   (John 8:56–58)

When Jesus used the name “I Am” he made it clear that he was Abrahams father and not the other way around. I Am” or, in Hebrew, “Yahweh” was God’s sacred name. Jesus was Emmanuel, God with us in the flesh. If the leaders had the faith of Abraham they would have recognized who Jesus was.

We stand on the shoulders of Abraham and all of God’s faithful servant who have gone before us. But especially in this day we are called to give a testimony of who Jesus is. Do we claim to be children of Abraham? If so, who do we say Jesus is?

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