Lenten Meditations 2013

The clergy of the diocese have contributed to a booklet of Lenten reflections for each day of Lent 2013.

Holy Saturday, March 30, 2013

Matthew 27:57-66 or John 19:38-42

In my “minds-eye” I see my place of worship stripped bare of the colors that traditionally adorn the Sanctuary. No paraments, no flowers, no books, no brass, only bare wood. Wood bearing the marks of its age and reminding me of my own advancing years and finitude. My eye travels to the darkened sanctuary light and drifts below to see the open door and the vacant space within the tabernacle. In the pit of my stomach I feel an aching and my eyes well up as I hold back a tear. I wonder, “Has my Lord really left the building? “

The Gospel reading for today describes Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus imploring Pilate to release Jesus’ body to them. They take Jesus’ bodily remains and tend them according to Jewish custom. They wash His naked body and as they wrap Him in the burial cloth the room is filled with the reminder of death as they inhale the scent coming from the herbs they place within the shroud. I wonder if they too had thoughts of their own finitude? Pressed by time, they lay Jesus in an unused tomb quickly so as not to be about this work on the Day of Preparation.

We do not know much about the personal relationship Jesus had with these two men. Much of what has been preserved in scripture is centered on Jesus’ interaction with the Apostles. Their absence from this most intimate scene raises the questions, “Is there a way for us, on this Holy Saturday to empathize with their sense of loss, their sense of defeat, their inability to make meaning of all they have just experienced? Would we be in hiding or would we be brave enough to go to Pilate?”

Today, as a post -resurrection people, I think that it is important to take time to contemplate, and to try and empathize as much as we are able, with the affective response that likely was felt by Jesus’ closet followers. Contemplating Jesus being absent from our community will serve to point to the importance of His real presence. Let this be our day of preparation for the coming celebration of Jesus’ victory.

The Rev. Peter W. Nielsen, III
Deacon, Northeast Mission Area Council
Executive Director, Cedar Hills Camp and Conference Center

Good Friday, March 29, 2013

O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction. (Hosea 13:14)

My brother said, “No one knows what it’s like to be dead.”
I was puzzled; “Grandpa knows.”
My brother was unconvinced. “No one knows what it’s like to be dead, because no one can ever tell them.”
I persisted, “Grandpa’s dead, so he knows what it’s like.” Reaching for some heavier emotional clout, “George the fifth knows.”
George was the fifth in a series of short-lived hamsters. My brother had sat up with him into the night. Now, he hit me.
“I’m telling,” I cried, as usual.
“If you do,” he threatened, “I’ll tell them what you said about Grandpa.”

It was my first introduction to the idea that death was scandalous, that to die was a betrayal, a shame.
I began to notice how people whispered around death, not using its name but a variety of euphemisms, how they looked off in the distance and let their words trail after their gaze. Death was not fit for polite company. It was indelicate and indiscreet and occasionally downright rude.

And here, in church on Good Friday, was Jesus, doing it right in front of everybody, shameless and scandalous, indiscreet and indifferent to the spectacle he made, forgiving people left and right and crying out to God, with his mother looking on, as though dying were nothing to be ashamed of.

“Jesus knows,” I told my brother. “That’s different,” he said, but I didn’t think it was.

The Rev. Rosalind Hughes
Priest-in-Charge, Church of the Epiphany, Euclid

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Living as a Christian in the midst of the world is perceived by some as a political statement. The trouble is, there is no consensus in the culture or in the church, frankly, about what statement we’re making by outing ourselves as Christians on the street. I know folks who define themselves as “followers of Christ” outside of church rather than “Christians” in order to avoid being labeled a bigot, racist, homophobe, or worse. It’s sad but true that the word “Christian” and the related term “Christian values” means different things to different people, sometimes bearing little resemblance to the teachings of Christ as chronicled in the Gospels.

The fact is, we are a diverse lot. Wherever we find ourselves on the cultural spectrum, whatever soapbox we frequent, we can count on offending someone by publicly disclosing that we are a church-going Christian. So how do we cope with all the communication disconnects that occur when we proclaim who we are? The readings appointed for today point the way.

First, we must ground ourselves in Christian community. Worship with other Christians and enter into spiritual conversation so that we can bear one another’s burdens. Second, we need to remember who we belong to! Christ is our refuge and our guide for living in the midst of the world. Our Lord knew who he was and he met people where they were. If we listen to the life stories of other and honor their experiences we will build relationships that last. Jesus taught us that love is an active verb, so, in the words of St. Francis “preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.”

The Rev. Lisa O’Rear-Lassen
Deacon-in-Charge, St. Patrick’s, Brunswick

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The writer Anne Lamott has an earthy style to her prose.  She has written about her family and friends, and faith.  As a single mom, she raised her little boy named Sam.  She commented once that he was born without any instructions, so she set out to write a book, called, aptly, Operating Instructions.
 
In the book, Lamott told of a story when Sam was only two-years-old.  He had gone into her bedroom and locked the door.  Despite her attempts and directions, he couldn’t unlock the door.  Frantic, she called the fire department.  Before they arrived, Sam became near hysterical, alone and locked in the room.  Anne dropped to the floor and poked two of her fingers underneath the door.  In a moment their fingers touched. He became calm.
 
On this Holy Wednesday, we read from John 13:21-32.  Jesus had just revealed Judas Iscariot – the one that would betray him.  As he sat with the other disciples he said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.”  The days ahead would be filled with pain and ridicule and death.  But at this moment, Jesus reminded them that God had sealed a lasting bond throughout all that was to come.
 
It’s important that the Son of Man – Jesus the Christ – modeled for us all the presence of God throughout times of trouble and pain.  The real power of healing is opening up our hearts to an awareness of that immanence of God.
 
The Rev. Dr. Michael A. Petrochuk
 
Deacon-in-Charge, St. Andrew’s Barberton 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Do you ever wonder what Jesus did in these first few weekdays of Holy Week following Palm Sunday? Our faith tradition focuses almost exclusively on Jesus triumphant entry into Jerusalem and than fast-forwards to Maundy Thursday, Jesus Passion and death on the cross and his resurrection on Easter. But what happened on those intervening days of Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday?

According to the Gospel of Mark one notable event during this period is the famous over-turning of the moneychangers tables and the scattering of all the livestock sold for sacrifice in the Temple. Jesus is borderline apoplectic as he yells,“ Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations? But you have made it a den of robbers.”

In this event we see Jesus at his angriest, filled with righteous indignation at a system that took advantage and harmed vulnerable people in the name of God. Jesus also made himself vulnerable by disrupting the commerce of Temple life as he speaks truth to power. In this vulnerability he becomes the target of the powers in their desire to eliminate him.

Yesterday (2/1/13) Neil Heslin, the father of Jesse Heslin, one of the six-year old boys murdered in Newtown, Connecticut last December, testified at the Gun Violence Prevention Working Group at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford, Connecticut. With over 1,000 people in attendance, Heslin held a framed photo of himself and his late child and pleaded with lawmakers to improve mental health options and to ban assault weapons. “I still can’t see why any civilian, anybody in this room in fact, needs weapons of that sort,” Heslin said. “You’re not going to use them for hunting, even for home protection.”

During Heslin’s testimony, on-lookers wearing NRA shirts and paraphernalia heckled him with taunts of “Second Amendment.”

Like Jesus, Neil Heslin made himself vulnerable as he spoke truth to power on the issue of uncontrolled guns and the violence they cause in our society. Like Jesus, his righteous indignation empowered him to confront a system that takes advantage of and harms vulnerable and innocent people.

When will the mindless gun violence that is a cancer in our society move us to express Jesus’ righteous indignation and anger?

When will we take the risk to be vulnerable in a hate-filled world and join Neil Heslin in speaking truth to power?

On this Holy Tuesday may Jesus’ and Neil Heslin’s witness inspire us to do these things in the name of the weak and vulnerable, so that the resurrection of the Prince of Peace may bring peace for all.

The Rev. Peter Faass
Rector, Christ Church, Shaker Heights

Monday, March 25, 2013

Preaching to the Choir

Yesterday was Palm Sunday and now we are into and moving through the events of Holy Week. Truly this is the most awesome and sacred time of our liturgical year. In the history of the church this week has evolved into a week of pilgrimage. True it helps to have on one’s running shoes in order to keep up the pace but each year it gives us pause to contemplate salvation history as part of our Christian story. The events started yesterday but there are “extra” faith fulfilling opportunities to be observed here even on Monday and Tuesday–simple celebrations of the Eucharist, the Way of the Cross, Tenebrae, morning and or evening prayer are but a few of the options. And all this before Thursday when as devout persons we observe the great “mandate” of Jesus to the disciples (again usually done in the context of a Eucharist); followed by the stripping of the altar; an all night prayer vigil leading through the ecumenical (often three hour) gathering to the Good Friday liturgy; the Holy Saturday observance with those blessed altar guild members who pause from their Easter preparations long enough to hear the readings and say the prayers appointed for this “in between time” from Good Friday until the time of the Great Vigil of Easter (check it out on page 283 of the prayer book!)….and finally, the Great Vigil of Easter and Easter morning. Whew! What a week! What a week, indeed!

Each year I wonder, “How many people will walk the way of this pilgrimage week?” Oh sure, Jerusalem is full of pilgrims this week and every Holy Week but most of us don’t have the luxury of spending Holy Week in Jerusalem. So the church in her wisdom orchestrated a portable pilgrimage that could be held anywhere and everywhere. Yet how many of the faithful will participate? It is such a powerful time of spiritual formation.

Because I am a liturgical geek and church history buff, I will remind us that the 1979 Book of Common Prayer committee made a huge change in the observance of Holy Week. In the midst of resurrecting the importance of the catechumenate and establishing the rhythm of Holy Week a change was made to the Sunday leading into this sacred time. Palm Sunday became Palm/Passion Sunday. Why? Because in part the framers of our Prayerbook understood even then, almost 40 years ago, the changing culture in which we live and move and having our being. Many if not most people were attending services on Palm Sunday and then not returning to church again until Easter morning–never having heard the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. All the pomp and celebration without any of that messy suffering and dying. Now at least if people come on the two Sundays which frame Holy Week they will be exposed to pretty much the whole story–triumphal entry followed by betrayal, trial, death and then resurrection.

Again I wonder, how many companions on the Way will be present this week? My experience has been that the same 20% who do 80% of the mission and ministry of the parish are those most likely to involve themselves in taking the time and/or making the time to observe the events of this week we call holy. And I don’t know about your parish but here in Oberlin those faithful 20% are more and more feeling like the faithful remnant.

I suspect I may be preaching to the choir here…but thank God…thank God for the choir, and the acolytes, lectors, intercessors, music ministers, ushers/greeters, and any one else for whom this is indeed a week of pilgrimage. Because of all weeks this is the time for us to focus on the spiritual care and formation our own souls soaking in the story and the experience so that we can “press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14).

The Rev. Dr. Brian K. Wilbert
Rector, Christ Church, Oberlin

Saturday March 23, 2013

The other day, I heard our bishop say that all Christians are leaders.  A few days earlier a Pentecostal pastor of more than 50 years said that the world really needs the church to be the church, now more than ever.

What if our Lenten spirit-work were devoted to finding out what it takes to be courageous Christians? Brave leaders? Followers of Jesus in his fearless reaching out to the overlooked and wounded with healing love and life-changing words?  What if we sought to be true imitators of Christ in his fierce advocacy for the poor and his courageous alignment with the disdained?  

What if our Lenten work were not so much about what it takes for ME to be more faithful but for US to be more just?  Not so much for ME to be cleansed, but for US to be more connected?  Not so much for ME to be better at my prayers, but for US to be clearer about our policies?  Not so much for ME to live a simpler life by fasting, but for US to live more significant lives by measuring that which really matters (hint: the GDP doesn’t do it)?  What if cosmic change toward God’s future merely awaits the realignment of insignificant jesus-people like me and you?

What if God’s love and liberation can never be experienced by ME alone, but only by US together?  

“Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation”.  Psalm 85:7 

The Rev. Jan Smith Wood
Priest-in-Charge, Grace Church, Sandusky

Friday, March 22, 2013

With so much talk about gun violence right now, we struggle to find where the violence begins. While we can blame many other factors, we must look at our words. All too often, we use language that is life taking, disconnecting:
I just want to kill him!
She doesn’t deserve to live.
He’s dead to me.
She’s nothin’
Go to hell!
Drop dead!

We’ve all muttered such words, usually in the howl of being hurt by another or in the throes of jealousy or anger. After we have heard them too much or used then too much, we get numb to their true meaning and power. To deny the life force of someone is to deny their createdness, to say that God’s image does not matter.
And so, for just one day, can we stop the killing language, both out loud and in our heads?
Can we pay attention to what we say and think, and ask God into our very anger?

God, you know I want ________ to fall off the face of the earth. What do you think?

One ex-nun that I used to know had an especially rough time with her internal verbal violence. Years of prayer around this taught her that everyone, even the person she claimed she wanted to drop dead, had at one point been someone’s beloved child. More prayer led her to know that, here and now, all of us are still God’s beloved children.

We can blame many factors outside of ourselves for increasing gun violence. But if we really want the violence to stop, we must stop speaking it into being. 
 
The Rev. Elizabeth M. Hoster

Rector, Trinity, Toledo


Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Priest and Penitent begin as follows
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness;
in your great compassion blot out my offenses.
Wash me through and through from my wickedness,
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions only too well,
and my sin is ever before me. (Reconciliation of a Penitent, BCP p.449)

With only a week left before Maundy Thursday there is still time to make an appointment with a priest for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  This little used sacramental rite is often a great blessing to those brave enough to use it.  As is said about this rite in the Episcopal Church:  “All may, none must, some should, few do.”  There is certainly nothing wrong with confessing our sins in the midst of our sisters and brothers on a Sunday morning.  Nor is a private confession that we pray alone in our home, any less worthy.  No priest is required for us to be forgiven. 

There are many times, however, when the gentle comfort of another human being assuring us that God forgives us is something we need.   People sometimes carry around guilt for years for something that they’ve never dared tell another soul.  They have asked God’s forgiveness and do not feel forgiven.  They need to ask for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Even if our sins have not haunted us for years we may fine this rite a deep well of refreshment.  It takes courage to say our sins out loud to another person.  It forces us to admit them to ourselves first:  and that is a big part of what Lent is for.  It is not self-indulgent; it is self attentive.  Confessing our sins, however we do it, is part of the stewardship of ourselves that we are called to, and the awareness of forgiveness often makes us more generous to and forgiving of others. 

The Rev. David Bargetzi
Rector, St. Luke’s, Cleveland

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)

Focusing on the abundance God has provided in our lives is a good spiritual exercise for this point in Lent. Emotionally healthy people in the face of death, whether their own or that of a loved one, focus on the abundance of the life that has been lived. As the death of Jesus on Good Friday approaches, today’s Gospel provides an opportunity to consider what we hope to say was good about our life when death draws near.

Mary Oliver in her poem The Summer Day asks, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” It’s another way of asking what abundant life looks like for you. Do you have it now? Are you living out of a sense of abundance or a sense of scarcity? What would it take for you to experience more abundance today or every day? And what about your congregation? Is it living an abundant life?

We can take risks to experience life more abundantly in our individual lives and in our congregations because of the assurance we have that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, always ready to seek us out if we get lost or are struggling. We can always be embraced in the arms of that Shepherd even as Jesus stretches out those same arms on the cross that all might come within the reach of his saving embrace. (Book of Common Prayer, p. 101)

The Rev. Mary Carson
Priest-in-Charge, Redeemer, Lorain

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

In today’s Gospel passage we hear the ongoing story about Jesus restoring the sight of a man born blind. This isn’t one of those clean, clear stories of healing when Jesus tells him to show the priest and be restored to his community. No, this story has the religious authorities questioning the man born blind, his parents, and Jesus. The result is that they drove out the healed man. But before he leaves, he says to the authorities, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he (Jesus) comes from, and yet he opened my eyes… If this man, where not from God, he could do nothing.” The now seeing man speaks with Jesus and comes to see him for who he is, the Son of Man, and he worships him.

Healing isn’t always easy. Being changed by God’s healing, forgiveness, or however else you experience how God is moving in your life can be messy. It can complicate your relationships with others who cannot or do not see what you do. Sometimes it’s between parents who desperately want their children to be a part of a faith community. Sometimes it’s between partners when one grows into knowing and loving God and the other does not. It can even be messy between friends. But can you go back to not seeing, not following, when you have seen and known Jesus? It is life changing to see and worship Jesus, even if you’ve been doing it for years.

The Rev. Evelyn N. Manzella
Rector, St. James’, Wooster

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Gospel reading for the day is John 8:1-11—a great reading for Lenten contemplation. This is the passage about the woman caught in adultery. There are many things to reflect on in the passage (like where is her partner???). But I don’t want to get distracted from the question that haunts me every time I read this. While most of us reflexively identify with the people with the stones in their hands, or even with Jesus, I think we should spend equal time as the woman caught.

Because we are all sinners. Sin hurts people. And so all sin is grievous. All sin is serious. We are all sinners. Daily.

And we continue to sin even though the consequence is separation from God. Maybe we don’t have to face down those people holding stones. But we do have to face our Creator, who created us in love, who created us to love. And whose heart we break whenever we sin—not just when we are caught.

Maybe we can’t imagine being “that woman” or committing “that sin”. That kind of thinking is a distraction from looking at ourselves honestly and facing the sins we do commit, the ways we turn away from love, our own self-righteousness. That kind of ranking side steps the humility that is necessary for real transformation.
Every day we should look up to Jesus as if our life depended on his mercy and compassion. Every day we should honestly acknowledge that we are not all that God has created us to be. Every day we need to offer ourselves and our sins for healing and reconciliation. Let us pray for the courage to do that.

The Rev. Gayle Catinella
Rector, St. Thomas, Berea

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise…

The words above are from the Collect for the Day we will pray together in church tomorrow. In preparation for that, let’s take some time and pray with it ourselves today.

It begins with a simple statement: we humans are all over the place in what we want and like, and only God can realign us. Take a silent moment now and open yourself to the presence of God in and around you. Acknowledge God’s Spirit. Give your silence a little time.

Now imagine how wonderful it would be to really love all that God commands and to truly desire all that God promises. How our lives would change! In your silence, ask the Spirit of God to reorder your will and your affections; to change you such that you actually do love what God loves and desire what God desires. In your prayer, ask God to help you imagine what that would be like for you. Sit with God another moment or two as God answers your prayer.

Writing this, I wonder how I might be changed if I prayed this prayer every day. I suppose to do that I would have to love what God commands and desire what God promises. Maybe this prayer really is for me. Maybe it really is for us all.

The Rev. A. Bradford Purdom III
Canon for Congregations, Diocese of Ohio

Friday, March 15, 2013

Romans 8:28-39

I recently received a phone call from a stranger who asked, “Do you believe G_D answers prayers?”  My immediate and very flip response with a chuckle was, “I’m in the wrong business if I don’t believe that.”  The caller pressed on.  “How do you know G_D answers prayers?  The answer to that was not quite as immediate and certainly not as flippant.

Over the next several minutes, the voice on the other end of the phone explained that some “very bad luck” had recently befallen him.  He didn’t offer many details but just enough to help me understand that it was financial in nature.  He shared that it “could end-up taking my life” if things were not soon resolved.

How indeed do we know if our prayers are answered?  The stranger called again a few days later to ask if the congregation and I had been praying for him.  I assured him that we were.  “Nothing has changed!” he stated, his voice sounding more and more agitated.  I was at a loss as to what to say.

The only answer I could muster was that it is through faith that I believe G_D hears and answers our prayers.  “G_D,” I said, “is on our side and only wants the very best for us.”  I shared that sometimes I can feel like only G_D is on my side when everything and everybody else seem to be against me.

“That’s what I needed to hear!” my new friend said.  Yeah…me too!

 

The Rev. Canon Will H. Mebane, Jr.
Canon, Trinity Cathedral

 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
–Romans 8:15-17

As I write this reflection, calling together the Diocesan Task Force on Gun Violence stands at the top of my “To Do” list. Day after day we see pictures and hear stories of innocent victims – in schools, on our streets, and around the world. The causes are many – proliferation of weapons, culture of violence, inadequate mental health care, struggles for power and more.

Fear, desperation, and a sense of powerlessness swirl around us and oppress us. But we cannot allow them to paralyze us. We, and those who stand in danger of becoming future victims of gun violence, have been adopted as children of God.

Some of the questions that we need to ask ourselves are:

  • What do I fear?
  • How do I actually give witness to those around me that I am an adopted child of God?
  • How is my response, in words and actions, to this growing wave of gun violence giving witness to the truth that others are adopted children of God as well?
  • Is there anything I ought to do differently, and if so, what?

The Rev. Alan C. James
Canon to the Ordinary, Diocese of Ohio