Lenten Meditations

Easter Day, ApriL 8

Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.”

—John 20:18a

It’s easy to miss the point of Easter. The truth is, the lilies, trumpets, dresses and beloved hymns usually don’t help us out. And don’t get me started on eggs. Amidst all the familiar and cherished traditions, we can lose sight of the simple and startling claim at the heart of Easter: a person who was dead came back to life.

So it is today. We say that Christ is risen. We say that Christ is present when the church gathers. But what does this mean for us? What would it be like if we really, truly believed the things we say on Easter Day?

Christ’s new life means that we are free. Death is just about the worst thing that can happen to us, and if we don’t need to be afraid of death, we don’t need to be afraid of anything. We are free to live as God calls us to live.Christ’s new life means that God’s love is stronger than any evil in the world. All the forces of fear and evil lined up, and the worst they could do was crucify Jesus. But life and love got the last word. We know that God’s power is real.

Christ’s new life means that we can carry on God’s work. After Easter, Jesus dwelled with his followers for a time, and then charged them with continuing to be his hands and feet in the world. We reach out to heal the world in Christ’s name, not through our own strength, but through God’s strength. We doall these things not to get on God’s good side, but because we already are on God’s good side. We do all things not to please God, but in celebration of what God has done for us.

What does an Easter faith look like? It looks like the truth that Martin Luther King, Jr., preached. It looks like the reconciling love that began bringing justice to South Africa. It looks like the selfless love that brings mission workers to developing countries. It looks like generosity when those of us with financial riches share what we have for the good of the world.This Easter season, let us all live fearlessly, as if we believed the things we say. Let us go forth in the name of Christ! Alleluia! Alleluia!

—Scott Gunn


2012 Lenten Meditations, Episcopal Relief and Development

Holy Saturday, ApriL 7

Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?

—Psalm 77:9

The saying is familiar: “When it rains, it pours.” Our lives can sometimes feel like a sodden dishrag being squeezed and painfully twisted to extricate every last trace of moisture. We, like the disciples on the day after the Crucifixion, feel as if heaven has closed its door, shut down its communication tower, and left us alone to battle the demons that are attacking us on every side. We feel abandoned, left to tumble into the abyss from which there is no release. Relentless questions clutter and clamor inside our mind. We want to know why it has happened, why God has withdrawn care and compassion from us. We wonder why we encounter such suffering if God loves us, or why God does not unravel the knotted threads that have a hold on our life, our heart, our soul.

Our prayer is often more for answers to the questions than for freedom from our suffering. Even when no answers come, God’s ear is open to our cry. Always God sees our suffering and weeps.

God does not leave us alone and solitary to endure the painful events that randomly sweep through our lives, even when it feels to us that God has become silent. It is in those moments, when it seems heaven is deaf to our lament, that our soul is made ready to trust in the truth of, rather than the sound of, God’s voice. It is in those moments that our soul is most ready to see miracles unfolding in our lives. It is in those moments that we are closest to the gate of heaven.

—Renée Miller


2012 Lenten Meditations, Episcopal Relief and Development

Good Friday, ApriL 6

Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, or thorns compose so rich a crown?

—The Hymnal 1982, # 474

I often visit Holy Cross Monastery in upstate New York. It is a place for me to regroup and reboot. Over the portal, these words are deeply etched in stone: Crux es mundi medicina—The cross is the healing of the world. On this Friday, which we ironically call “good,” remember the cross as the place for the healing of the world.

As we reflect on the call of Episcopal Relief & Development— to heal a hurting world—take some quiet time to reflect on where that call originates. The theologian Karl Barth was once asked by another Christian if he could name the date and time that he had been saved, the implication being that if he couldn’t name that moment of conversion, it hadn’t really happened. In response to this litmus test, Dr. Barth answered: “I know when it happened. At 3:00 p.m. on that first Good Friday.”

We remember that Friday called “good” because it is the basis on which we meet the world’s sorrow with God’s love. Because the cross is the healing of the world.

—Jay Sidebotham


2012 Lenten Meditations, Episcopal Relief and Development

Maundy Thursday, ApriL 5

Stay awake and pray…the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak

—Matthew 26:41

We are accustomed to asking God for help in our lives and in the lives of those we love, and God hears and answers those cries for help. But we can begin to think that prayer is little more than a shopping trip through heaven. The more important purpose of prayer is to deepen our relationship with the Holy One. It is meant to change us—to bring us more and more into the heart of heaven, where we can find our true meaning, our true purpose, our true hope, our true passion, our true love. It is meant to shape and reshape, form and reform us, so that we actually become the prayer we pray.

But even this does not happen unless we pray for it. God does not maneuver situations in our lives or manipulate us into developing a relationship with heaven. It is always our choice, our decision to seek out that relationship. When we begin to feel a seed of discontent within ourselves, when what used to make us happy leaves us feeling as dry and empty as an ancient rotted root, when we feel our soul lunging, lurching toward what cannot even be named, it is time to pray. Not the shopping list prayer, but the prayer of watching and waiting.

When Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane on the night before he was crucified, he asked the disciples who were with him to watch and pray. “The spirit is willing,” he said, “but the flesh is weak.” He was affirming that it’s hard to watch and pray when emptiness surrounds us, when our souls feel stripped, when we just want things “fixed,” when the road ahead seems bleak. For Jesus, the road indeed was bleak that night, but he gave the disciples and us an example to follow. In those moments when we watch and pray, the Holy One pulls us close, and in the relationship of presence our life can begin anew.

—Renée Miller


2012 Lenten Meditations, Episcopal Relief and Development

Wednesday in Holy Week, ApriL 4

In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.

—Acts 2:17

During this Lenten time of reflection, we ponder the life and death of Jesus and his extraordinary sacrifice on the cross. But we know that his death is not the final answer—that he continues to pour out his Spirit upon all flesh. What shall our sons and daughters prophesy, and what dreams shall our old men dream?

When I was in Ghana this past year, a village elder stood up to address his Episcopal Relief & Development visitors and he said, “You give mosquito nets to our pregnant women and children. But even though I am old, I want to live, too. I also want to be safe from malaria.”

Since my trip, NetsforLife® has adopted the methodology of universal coverage which ensures net usage by every man, woman and child within a community.

All God’s people have dreams of freedom from oppression, poverty and disease. Remembering Christ’s death and resurrection, we ask that God’s Spirit, poured out on us, will give us the courage to live out this dream.

—Margaret Trezevant


2012 Lenten Meditations, Episcopal Relief and Development

Tuesday in Holy Week, ApriL 3

Take up your cross, then, in his strength, and calmly every danger brave: it guides you to abundant life and leads to victory o’er the grave.

—The Hymnal 1982, # 675

We know that abundant life comes from the cross, and yet we don’t always acknowledge the strength that we receive from it. Some of us have never experienced abundance, a life so full of love, joy and hope that to imagine such abundance would be overwhelming. But even more scary is to believe that an abundant life is not within reach of one’s grasp.

We all are given the grace to experience an abundant life through Jesus. As you continue this journey, keep your eye to the cross as it leads you to “victory o’er the grave.”

—Lisa C. Flores


2012 Lenten Meditations, Episcopal Relief and Development

Monday in Holy Week, ApriL 2

Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair.

—John 12:3a

In the journey of life, circumstances will often align and we find ourselves with a momentary opportunity to act in accord with the passion of Christ. Someone is sick, hurting, in pain or in the hospital, and just for one moment we get the feeling that we should do something—visit, call, send some flowers. The moment quickly passes and the rush of life takes over. What we learn from Mary is that a momentary act of love, seemingly unimportant but prompted by a gut feeling, can have enormous consequences when it taps into the will of God. It makes me wonder what acts God is calling us to do for those and with those around us.

What acts of selfless love are we being called to do in order to change others’ lives and honor God in each other?

—Shannon Ferguson Kelly


2012 Lenten Meditations, Episcopal Relief and Development

Palm Sunday, ApriL 1

For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me.

—Mark 14:7

This Sunday is the beginning of the end—suffering and death loom. In the next week, we will witness both the community of the first eucharist and also a horrible death through crucifixion.

In our world today, other deaths loom. In sub-Saharan Africa, one child under the age of five dies of malaria every minute. This is the pain, suffering, death and mourning that loom this next week as well. The lives of ten thousand innocent and precious children will end this week, along with that other innocent life we will commemorate this Good Friday.

Yet as Christians we also look toward hope, toward resurrection. Death and suffering do not have to be the end of the story. Just as we look every year to the joy of Easter Sunday, we can also look toward the hope of a world without malaria, a world of new life for those threatened by death from a preventable disease.

Every week is Holy Week—a week to be made holy by our actions. Every week is a week when we have the poor with us, and one when we can reach out to them.

—Cynthia Coe


2012 Lenten Meditations, Episcopal Relief and Development

Saturday, March 31

Jesus said to the blind man, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

—Mark 10:52

The Greek word most commonly translated as “save” in the New Testament, sozo, can also be translated as “heal.” According to Strong’s Concordance, it means to heal, preserve, save, make whole.

Nothing speaks more highly of God’s desire for healing than the incredible systems of protection and repair within our own bodies. The immune system cures most of the illnesses that attack us. Wounds heal, bones knit together, and tissue repairs itself in miraculous ways we rarely think about unless something goes wrong. At best, doctors and nurses assist God’s healing work, supporting and encouraging human wholeness in every respect.

Healing from a Christian perspective is the process of moving toward wholeness in body, soul and spirit, not just for individuals but for communities as well. Central to God’s model of health and wholeness is not medicine but reconciliation—to God, each other and creation.

—Christine Sine


2012 Lenten Meditations, Episcopal Relief and Development

Friday, March 30

Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”

—John 11:21

We know the story: already dead by the time Jesus arrives, Lazarus is raised to life at Jesus’ command. I am fascinated, however, by the oft-overlooked detail that when he first hears about his friend’s dire situation, Jesus actually waits two more days before going to him. The sister of the deceased complains that their pain could have been avoided if Jesus had shown up sooner.

For all too many, it must seem as if their cries for help go unheard: “Where is God?” Yet elsewhere, Jesus chastised his disciples because they proved themselves incapable of healing and feeding others, who therefore had to wait for him to arrive in person. Called to do “greater works than these,” too often Jesus’ followers have stood idly by as spectators, waiting for God to do something.

Let us stop waiting and instead dare to be Christ’s hands and feet, and to heal a hurting world.

—C. K. Robertson


2012 Lenten Meditations, Episcopal Relief and Development

Thursday, March 29

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.

—Philippians 2:5-7a

In his book The Wounded Healer, Henri Nouwen recounts a story that was told in the Talmud. Rabbi Yoshua ben Levi asks Elijah the prophet when the Messiah will come. Elijah tells the Rabbi to go himself and ask the Messiah, who is sitting at the gates of the city. When Rabbi ben Levi asks how he will know the Messiah in the crowd at the gates, Elijah replies, “He is sitting among the poor covered with wounds. The others unbind all their wounds at the same time and then bind them up again. But he unbinds one at a time and binds it up again, saying to himself, ‘Perhaps I shall be needed: if so I must always be ready so as not to delay for a moment.’ ”

In this story, reading Jesus as the wounded healer, we see that the Messiah is not aloof or untouched by the wounds of this world. God is not too far away to see our wounds. In fact, God sits amongst us and is wounded as we are.

This Jesus—this Messiah who is suffering with us, even in the midst of his own suffering and woundedness—is there to offer forgiveness, to offer healing, to offer restoration. This confronts us with a different reality, because we are far too concerned about being whole, about being perfect, about knowing everything, about being in just the right place at just the right time before we can offer healing to someone else.

We all have wounds. We all have wounds that are bound as the wounded healer’s are bound. And it is time for us to learn to unbind them one at a time and bind them up again, instead of unbinding them all and waiting for that time when we are whole again.

—Lisa C. Flores


2012 Lenten Meditations, Episcopal Relief and Development

Wednesday, March 28

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

—Romans 12:15

We all have vivid memories of people in our lives who have cared for us in troubled times. Perhaps it was someone who listened patiently, who sat with us as we waited fearfully for news, who held us in a loving embrace through a time of pain and struggle. We remember with gratitude someone who was particularly sensitive and caring, someone who did not wait to be called, someone who prayed with us through a long night.

We all have vivid memories of people in our lives who have cared for us in troubled times. Perhaps it was someone who listened patiently, who sat with us as we waited fearfully for news, who held us in a loving embrace through a time of pain and struggle. We remember with gratitude someone who was particularly sensitive and caring, someone who did not wait to be called, someone who prayed with us through a long night.

—Gay Clark Jennings


2012 Lenten Meditations, Episcopal Relief and Development

Monday, March 26—The Annunciation

Pray without ceasing.

—I Thessalonians 5:17

It is an attitude of the heart. It is not resting on our knees on the stone cold pavement of an ancient church from one dawn until the next. When we are in love, there is a constant gentle abiding in the presence of our beloved, even though we may not be physically together in space and time. We can feel their presence as surely as we can feel the wind brushing coolly against our face on a fresh spring day. While we go about our normal activities and responsibilities, we may find ourselves silently speaking to them from our heart, but even without words, we know our hearts are one.

To pray continually is to feel a love for God so deep that it becomes a shroud of presence in our heart. There, in our own heart, we are able to meet God in prayer no matter what events are taking place around us. In the silence of that beating place, the contents of our heart are spilled out into the heart of heaven. We may at times stop what we are doing and consciously speak words to God. At other times, we may simply ask God to read our heart. Or, unexpectedly, during an important meeting, or while changing a diaper, or while doing our grocery shopping, our heart will suddenly feel so close to God, that words of exclamation and love escape our lips unbidden. Because we are eternally entwined with God, it doesn’t take arduous effort to pray without ceasing. It only requires that our heart be full of love for God.

—Renée Miller


2012 Lenten Meditations, Episcopal Relief and Development

Tuesday March 27

Jesus welcomed them, and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed to be cured.

—Luke 9:11

I began my ministry in a congregation brimming with bright, attractive, confident people. Did I also mention slightly intimidating? As a young curate, it prompted me to post a New Yorker cartoon in my office that depicted a couple entering a cocktail party full of well-heeled folks. The bubble over the head of the couple: “Yikes! Grownups!”

But it didn’t take long for me to realize a truth about all of us, a truth that shifted my approach to work as a pastor. Scratch the surface, especially the most well-polished veneer of the most put-together people, and you’ll discover a need for healing. Talk to them, for even just a few minutes. Ask about their story, and you will hear about a need for healing. Those needs come in great variety: needs for healing of body, mind, spirit, relationship, memory. Healing of the earth. Healing of the political order. Healing reflected in the need for justice and peace, healing addressed by individuals in our church, healing addressed by our coordinated, consolidated effort through organizations like Episcopal Relief & Development.

The need for healing surrounds you today. How will you open your ears to those needs? How will you open your heart to those needs?

—Jay Sidebotham


2012 Lenten Meditations, Episcopal Relief and Development

Fifth Sunday in Lent, March 25

Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

—John 12:24

Lent is about dying to one life and beginning again anew. Despite the recent recession, many of us live in a bountiful land. Many of us enjoy small and large harvests daily, while billions of people in our world struggle to secure the basic life necessities of clean water, simple food and adequate shelter.

In every harvest, there are seeds we can reserve for new life. In every gift we are given, there is a small part that we can let fall away. By giving up the consumption of these seeds and putting them away for a new harvest, we can help others have a more abundant life.

Seeds are often best used when transported to gardens other than our own. Through small gifts of our own bounty, reserved for others, the seeds of our harvest may be planted in lands far away, to begin creating sustainable food supplies where they are most needed.

—Cynthia Coe


2012 Lenten Meditations, Episcopal Relief and Development