Holy Thursday

Mark 14:12-15

In recent years I've often begun Holy Week petulantly, grudgingly. And each time I wonder, will this be the year when I decide not to do it at all? It's such a chore. And what would be so wrong, for a woman who has pondered the Passion for over forty years, with just, once, making the glib jump from Palm Sunday to Easter? No washing feet. No Holy Thursday communion. No stripping of the altar. No trying to stay awake in the middle of the night. No stations of the cross. No contemplation of cruel and taunting guards, nails tearing flesh, terrified disciples, devastated women. It's the central week of our liturgical year – and it's all about suffering, torture, being tested and failing, losing everything, being scared witless, being alone and without God. Why do we do this to ourselves? No other religion does. Even among Christian denominations it's not so very common.

But something in the story always ambushes my heart. Some new understanding always lays me low and then opens me to the incredible love of God.

Today it is this tale of the last Passover Jesus celebrates with his disciples. His betrayer is with him. His betrayer is with him, and them, eating and drinking, integral to the little gathering. When Jesus says, “this is my body,” the betrayer, right along with everyone else, takes it into himself. When Jesus says, “this is my blood of the covenant,” the betrayer drinks with the rest of them. He has not been abandoned or excluded, despite what is in his heart. Nor will he ever be, except by his own choice.

If Judas Iscariot had repented his betrayal, if he had asked for forgiveness, if he had lived on into being the sort of guy who commits terrible wrongs and turns back, he would have been forgiven. He would have been accepted once again into the community of Jesus-followers. I am certain of it.

This convinces me that participating fully in Holy Week is important. In fact, it's all I can do. The Body of Christ transcends suffering not through blissful spiritual practices that help people detach or ignore it, but instead through the slog of accepting, embracing and transcending. There is nothing in following Jesus that encourages us to rise above human experience into some happy state where brokenness and violence no longer exist. No, we carry our betrayers along with us – in our communities and within ourselves. We carry them, as God does, with the desperate hope and longing that they will turn around and see, that we will turn around and see. We suffer them, we suffer for them, and we are ourselves suffered, always in the hope of God's love.

God makes us an Easter people not by removing the Passion but by living into it completely. God suffers even unto death – and beyond. And then God offers God's hand to each one of us, saying, “turn around, turn away, turn back. Be in this reality where I AM. Be loved and be loving. Be mine.”

Laurie Gudim is a religious iconographer and liturgical artist, a writer and lay preacher living in Fort Collins, CO. See her work online at Everyday Mysteries.

The Full Backstory

Wednesday, April 16, 2014 – Holy Week, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today's scripture readings.]

Today's Readings for the Daily Office:
Psalms 55 (morning) // 74 (evening)
Lamentations 2:1-9
2 Corinthians 1:23-2:11
Mark 11:12-25

When a politician resigns, when an executive steps down, when a church leader departs, or when a personal relationship disintegrates, the rest of us are often itching to hear the fully backstory. Perhaps we're partially motivated by a taste for drama and gossip. But we're probably also led by a deep desire to understand the forces that can break human beings and human relationships that once seemed so strong and stable. Usually, we're left without a satisfying explanation, let alone a true one.

Unfortunately for our curious minds, the backstory of Paul's conflict with the Christians at Corinth has probably been lost forever. Apparently, Paul had returned to visit the community he'd founded, but someone there insulted him or caused him pain. Paul had also planned a subsequent visit, but after his very painful visit, he decided to cancel his next trip and to send in his place a letter written "out of much distress and anguish of heart and with many tears." Paul worried that a further visit would only cause more pain and misunderstanding.

We don't know exactly what the offender did to hurt Paul so badly. Also, Paul's tearful letter has not survived, so we don't know how he expressed his sadness. All we know is that Paul was susceptible to being hurt deeply, and that he was not afraid to pour out his heart.

From today's second reading, we also see how sensitive Paul is to the pain of others. He's aware of the ways that his personal presence might increase the community's pain. He understands his mission as the shared pursuit of joy, not as the increase of pain. He and his fellow missionaries should be "workers with you for your joy," not people who "lord it over your faith."

Further, this reading shows that Paul has a deep concern for the person who insulted him, and who now seems to be ostracized by the community. Paul urges the Corinthians to suspend their punishment of the offender and to instead forgive and console him, "so that he may not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow." What an extraordinary heart Paul has--to infer from his own experience of pain and separation that he should make an appeal to spare someone else from overwhelming sadness and isolation.

When it comes to the collapse of institutions, communities, families, and friendships, we almost never get the full backstory. Instead, we get bits and pieces of surviving documents, of allegations, and of gossip. The Scripture also doesn't give us all the details of the conflict or the private correspondence between Paul and the Corinthians. However, the Scripture gives us what matters: a glimpse into a heart that is woundable, expressive, and concerned not just for its own pain but for the healing of others.

May all such hearts be all that survives from the conflicts, controversies, and scandals that we consign to the rubble of history and the compost of daily life.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul's in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Easter Greetings

Matthew 28: 1-11

“Know that you are risen with Christ.” That text from Colossians is the way Christians said hello for centuries… not just at Easter, but year round. Kind of makes the whole Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays kerfuffle sound pretty tame. Imagine living in a world where we greeted each other with the plain truth of the Resurrection and our salvation in it. Jesus did more than imagine such a world, he gave his life for it.

Scientific instruments have recently captured the echo of the first trillionth of a second of creation. From that moment to this, the dividing line between what went before and all that followed, is that first Easter dawn in Jerusalem. Christ is risen and all is changed. Death, the one unbeatable absolute, is beaten. Our fate is no longer a life of flight from the inevitable clutches of death. In the risen Christ we live in the here and now… crossing over seamlessly to the there and then… in the certainty of our own resurrection. In the risen Christ we are safe from sin… knowing that beyond our falls lies the resurrection of forgiveness. Beyond our betrayals, divine mercy awaits the penitent.

Kariye_ic.jpgChrist’s Easter greeting to his followers is a clear indication of the transformative nature of the Resurrection. Significantly, the women in Christ’s life now emerge from supporting roles to become principle witnesses and messengers of the Resurrection. The fact that women are the medium of the good news is integral to the message of the good news. The word “apostle” from the Greek “apostolos” literally means messenger. Christ’s first messengers of the Resurrection are the holy women who stood by him when others went into hiding. They are the first apostles of the risen Christ.

Jesus tells them not to announce his Resurrection to his “disciples”, but to his “brethren.” In the risen Christ, clearly our relationship to him and to each other has changed. We are sisters and brothers in a bond stronger than the blood of ancestors. We are sisters and brothers in the saving blood of Jesus, shed freely for our salvation.

If this is all true… and it is… if the Resurrection is the turning point of the ages… and it is… what are we supposed to do about it? Go to church and sing a few Alleluias? Stay home and eat some jelly beans? We’ll probably say a few mandatory “Happy Easters” to family and friends, have a good dinner and then raid the kids’ baskets for a bite of chocolate bunny. But it’s unlikely that we’ll run around the neighborhood like the apostles shouting and sharing the good news of the Resurrection. We’re too cool for that… too inhibited… too sophisticated. So do we just call it a day and get back to work tomorrow.

No. Here’s a better idea. Let this feast of the Resurrection mark a turning point in our lives. Christ is risen and he wants us to be risen, too. Greet this Easter in the certainty of the Resurrection. Live this day in the risen Christ. Believe with renewed confidence. Pray with renewed conviction. Love with renewed fervor. Serve with renewed energy. Make every morning a resurrection. And God will give us the ultimate Easter greeting:

Well done, thou good and faithful servant… enter into the joy of the Lord.

The Reverend David Sellery, Author, Resource Creator and Retreat Leader. Committed to a vocation that focuses on encountering God in the midst of everyday life, I serve as an Episcopal priest who seeks to proclaim the good news of God in Christ in worship, pastoral care, education, stewardship, congregational development and community outreach, while continually engaging our wider culture with dynamism and hope.

Remembrance of Things Past

Monday, April 14, 2014 – Holy Week, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today's scripture readings.]

Today's Readings for the Daily Office:
Psalms 51:1-18(19-20) (morning) // 69:1-23 (evening)
Lamentations 1:1-2, 6-12
1 Corinthians 1:1-7
Mark 11:12-25

As is my usual practice, I read every word of all three Scripture passages this morning. This approach was probably a spiritual mistake, though. Sometimes, I believe that the most effective way of letting the Word speak is by reading until something pierces the heart and then simply stopping there.

Today, I really shouldn't have read any further than these words from our first reading: "Jerusalem remembers, in the days of her affliction and wandering, all the precious things that were hers in days of old." As overwhelmed as I feel from day to day, I also realize that I am a woman who is incredibly rich in precious things that won't always be mine. That awareness alone is enough to push me into a kind of preemptive grief for the inevitable course of life.

What words or images from the Scriptures pierce your own heart today? The book of Lamentations is full of them. Is it the image of Jerusalem as a city that used to be full and vibrant, but that is now deserted and lonely? Or Jerusalem as a woman weeping "bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks," among many lovers but with no one to comfort her? Or is it Jerusalem whose nakedness has been exposed to the whole world, and who groans in shame and can't show her face? Or is it the people who desperately need bread, and who sell off all of their treasures for just enough food to sustain them in the short run?

If not today, then perhaps some other time during this holiest of weeks something will break our hearts. The purpose of this exposure to heartbreak is not simply to feel sorry for ourselves. Rather, it is to connect the pain that our hearts feel to the grief and loss of all God's people. The book of Lamentations is not about personal pain, but about the destruction of Jerusalem. It's about the loss of something precious, the loss of identity, the loss of homeland, the loss of a sense of God's presence and protection.

One of the most stunning ways that God works through our lives, and especially through Holy Week, is to prepare our hearts for the losses that will touch our lives—the loss of those we love, the loss of our own strength and control, and even the loss of God's clear presence. Like Jesus' disciples and friends, and like Jesus himself on the cross, we will one day need to live without those things.

God will walk with us to this place of loss. And yet, he won't leave us there: God will open our eyes and our hearts to each day, to each companion, to each thrill of joy and moment of peace, as a pure gift . . . as those "precious things" that are ours not just in days of old, but today. May God begin this work in our hearts during the week ahead.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul's in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

A wormhole of disillusionment

Psalm 24, 29; Zech. 9:9-12; 1 Tim. 6:12-16 (Morning)
Psalm 103; Zech. 12:9-11,13:1,7-9; Luke 19:41-48 (Evening)

Although the Daily Office readings for Palm Sunday seem somewhat out of kilter to the Sunday Eucharistic readings we've come to expect on Palm Sunday, our morning reading from Zechariah 9 certainly sets a prelude to what we have come to expect during the Liturgy of the Palms.

It's important to remember, as we wave our little palm slivers and holler "Hosanna!" during the Sunday Eucharistic service, that a lot of those folks in the crowd were familiar with the notion that the ruler of the Hebrew people would be "triumphant, victorious, humble, riding in on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey."

Woo hoo! Let the good times roll, right?passion-sunday-posted-by-anne.jpg

Ehhh...well...not so much, as it turned out.

It speaks to those times we have expectations, and those expectations don't get fulfilled, whether that "non-fulfillment" is a slow fadeout or a cataclysmic jolt.

The problem is, it's not wrong to have reasonable expectations. Experience, by and large, is an effective teacher. I remember going to see the movie "Snakes on a Plane" a few years back, and as the passengers boarded the plane, I realized I'd seen enough movies of this type to be able to effectively predict who the snakes were going to dispatch (for instance, I knew within 10 nanoseconds that the chihuahua in the carry-on was going to be toast.)

Most of the time, our expectations are reasonably accurate--but not always, because life has a way of dealing twists and turns and emotional earthquakes. When it does, we can very easily become palpably disillusioned. So, it's not hard to imagine the absolute disillusionment of the people of Jesus' day. They had heard it proclaimed in the temple that this would be how the Messiah would appear. They expected the Messiah to be a mighty king, and I suspect they were hoping there was going to be some serious Roman butt-kicking when that happened. It must have really knocked a lot of folks off-kilter. How could they possibly believe anything after all that? How does one move forward from it?

When we are knocked off-kilter, a side effect of it is that many things that would feel at least "workable" in our more emotionally healthy times, can become crises under stress. We lose our barometer for what to expect; we find ourselves in the middle of an unfamiliar place but our GPS says "Cannot acquire satellites."

Yet time and time again, the stories of the Bible--and particularly the stories we proclaim in that time from Holy Week to Easter Day--remind us to remain grounded in an expectant hope, despite our being burned on a set of our own expectations. Howard Thurman says it better than I possibly can, in an excerpt from a commencement speech in 1943 (Keep in mind his words are from a time the word "men" was used for "humankind," and adjust your hearing accordingly:)

Curious indeed is the fact that at a time of crisis men must be constantly reminded that the crisis does not mark the end of all things. It is of the nature of crisis so to dominate the horizon of men's thoughts that everything that is not directly related to the crisis situation seems irrelevant and without significance. At such times men seem to accept the contradictions of experience as being in themselves ultimate. The crisis throws everything out of proportion, out of balance, and the balance seems always superficially to be on the side of disaster, on the side of negation...If the contradictions of experience are ultimate, then the conflict between right and wrong, good and evil, order and chaos can never be resolved and human life is caught eternally in the agonizing grip of a firm and eternal struggle between the two forces. But such a dualism has never been able to satisfy the deepest searchings of the mind and the heart of man. The human spirit at long last is not willing to accept the contradiction of life as being ultimate. There continues ever a margin on the side of the good--yes, the ultimate destiny of man is good--this affirmation becomes the ground of optimism and inspiration in the bitterest crisis when times are "out of joint," when men have lost their reason and sitting in the "sepulchers of gloom watch their dreams go silently to dust."

When is a time your expectations sucked you into the wormhole of disillusionment? How did you feel your way to a quiet place where you could avoid the dualism of those expectations and begin to regain the expectant hope that leads to a surprising resurrection?

Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid

Chosen silence

They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’ So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘My teacher,* let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way. -- Mark 10:46-52

What is it like to be blind? I think about times when I've been in the dark and I realize that after a few minutes my eyes seek out a tiny glow somewhere, anywhere, that will give me some idea of where I am in relation to things like furniture, trees or people. But what if I didn't have that glow? What if there was never any light anywhere?

It's hard to imagine a totally dark world because it seems that no matter where I am, there's always a light source somewhere to give me some illumination, even if only a pinpoint. The hallway to my house is dark when I turn off the light but the light in my neighbor's front yard peeps through the slats of the bedroom blinds creating enough light that I can walk with some confidence of not running into the bookcase or the bed. But what would it be like if even in broad daylight my whole world was totally dark?

I think of the world of Bartimaeus, the blind man from Jericho. Even with the hot bright sun, his world was dark. His only occupation was that of a beggar and perhaps a friend to sit and talk to pass the hours. I wonder what he thought when he first heard the oncoming crowd speak about Jesus. Had he heard of him before? Did he ask his friend or perhaps a passerby who was coming that caused such a stir? However he came to know it, he wasn't shy about calling out of his darkness, asking for Jesus' help. Some in the crowd tried to shut him up, probably considering that he had was paying for his sins by his blindness but he wouldn't be quiet and Jesus heard his cries for help.

I always wonder what silence is like. Even in the quietest of places I have a ringing in my ears that won't go away. I wonder, if I were deaf would I still have that ringing? If I had been born deaf, would I have any concept of what sound was? At least in my mind I can "hear" symphonies and hymns and the like despite the ringing, but what if I had never heard the music in the first place? Would it just be --- nothingness?

I think of blindness as a kind of silence of the eyes; there are no visual cues to distract and the mind creates its own world based on the remaining senses. Often when one sense is damaged, missing or even voluntarily put aside for a time, the others become more acute, but probably no one would miss the opportunity to have that missing or damaged sense restored and a voluntary absence can always be recanted.

Everyone has a blindness of some sort even if it does not extend to seeing nothing but blackness or even indistinct shades of gray in front of their eyes. There's a physical blindness where the eyes do not function but there is another kind where something can be right in front of a person with totally normal vision and they simply do not see it. Remember the last time the car keys got mislaid? Chances are they were somewhere that had already been searched and were just overlooked. What about the guy at the bottom of the freeway off ramp near the stoplight holding a sign asking for help? Easy to overlook, wasn’t he? How about the kid with who had been bullied whose eyes are dull and lifeless? Or the woman with the really heavy layer of makeup who may be trying to cover bruises she doesn’t want to have to explain? Were they invisible, cloaked in darkness or just overlooked because of the silence of the eyes made them so?

We often go through life at least partially blind. We are concerned with our own lives and problems and don't always recognize anyone else's. In our culture of noise and distractions, we’ve learned to selectively tune out things we don’t want to hear but we’re totally uncomfortable with silence. Same with our vision; We see what we need to and can selectively ignore those things we don’t feel are necessary or attractive but take away our sight entirely and we’re as rudderless as a leaf in a whirlpool. We shield ourselves from things that disturb us and thus set up a third kind of blindness – the silence of the heart.

I wonder, who really was blind in Bartimaeus’s story, Bartimaeus himself of those who couldn’t see what Jesus was and was offering to them much less their duty and service to those around them. I have to consider what I’m not seeing and where I’m tossing a coin in a begging bowl when what I needed to do was reach out a hand to help. When was I deaf or blind or heartless to the needs of others around me?

Jesus passes by us many times a day and we don’t see or hear him. When will we wake up, open our ears and eyes and realize that? A bigger question is what difference will it make to and in us if we do notice? I wonder, what would it mean if Jesus were present in the Bartimaeuses of our modern life, not necessarily begging for help but offering us the opportunity to do some kingdom work right here and now?

I think I’ll have to open my eyes a bit wider and practice seeing a bit more clearly. There is a time for the silence of the eyes and ears, but only for short periods. The world has too many needs for us to linger long silence.

Linda Ryan co-mentors 2 EfM Online groups and keeps the blog Jericho's Daughter . She lives in the Diocese of Arizona and is proud to be part of the Church of the Nativity in North Scottsdale.

The Same Light

Friday, April 11, 2014 – Week of 5 Lent, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today's scripture readings.]

Today's Readings for the Daily Office:
Psalms 22 (morning) // 141, 143:1-11(12) (evening)
Exodus 9:13-35
2 Corinthians 4:1-12
Mark 10:32-45

Even though my time zone switched to Daylight Savings Time over a month ago, it seems like only now are the sun's patterns finally aligned with my sleeping and waking. My son's schedule in particular matches the rising and setting of the sun almost perfectly at that moment. The sun sets right when he eats his supper, the daylight fades while he takes his bath, and the windows are dark by the time we rock him to sleep. Lately, he's been fast asleep until light starts peeking around his curtains at about seven. Lucky us!

I really think that I'm at my happiest when my life, like the earth itself, revolves around the sun. The hours of prayer are a precious resource for keeping us in harmony with the natural patterns and changes of light that organize our universe.

In particular, one verse from today's second reading strengthens this spirituality of alignment with the sun: "For it is the God who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." This verse shows us the seamless continuity between the created light around us and the revelation of God's grace and love in Christ.

I usually encounter this cherished verse as part of the devotion for early evening, found in the Book of Common Prayer (p. 139). When I read this verse in the evening, I imagine the indwelling light of Christ picking up where the sun leaves off. Just as the sun sets, we can begin to search for the light of Christ that shines through the darkness in our lives.

Reading this verse in the morning is a somewhat different experience. In the early hours of the day, Paul's words invite us to recognize that the warmth, energy, and radiance that unfailingly greet us each day are one and the same with the love, inspiration, and beauty that God wants to offer us in Christ.

Whenever we encounter these brilliant words from Paul, they can teach us to connect the light in our hearts to the rhythms of light that surround us. Whether we orient our lives around the ups and downs of the sun or around the face of Christ, it is the same God who brings us peace and joy.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul's in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Celebrating the Edgy

Feast Day of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

When I was in high school I took classes in field ecology. Since this was in Jackson, the town bordering Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone, we had opportunities for many marvelous field trips. We went into the Gros Ventre Wilderness to see first hand how moose had overgrazed the willows, visited the Park dump at Moran, where we watched the grizzly bears foraging, heard lectures and raided the library of the research center next to Jackson Lake, studied the micro-climates of the hot pools in Yellowstone, took soil samples and water samples from the far side of the National Elk Refuge, learned about banding elk, watched beaver working and otters playing in the side channels of the Snake River and learned about the diseases of trout and the mating behavior of bison. I loved it so much that for awhile I thought I would become an ecologist.

In the summer after the first year of this gorgeous exploration, my grandfather came to visit us. He was a retired Missouri Synod Lutheran pastor, very staid. He had served small congregations in Wisconsin and Minnesota, in some of which they still recited the Lord's Prayer in German. He, of course, did not believe in evolution.

I had been reading Darwin. We would argue the concepts, me with the fervor of a young woman defending her newly found first passion and he with the unchangeable beliefs of immigrants trying to preserve their traditions and beliefs in a new and confusing world. We never got much of anywhere, of course.

Though he probably worried about my soul, he never told me that God would turn away from me because of my beliefs. He never closed that door. And because of that I found a way to reconcile the stories of my religious tradition with my understanding of how old the world is, how it cooled from a burning mass of liquid rock, acquired an atmosphere that eventually became what it is today, and then eventually was able to host a burgeoning mass of living things that grew ever more complex over billions of years.

Because, truth be told, though the old Biblical stories never could explain the complexity of living things on the planet, especially the ones now extinct, and how they had changed and adapted one to another and to their environment, the study of ecology could never explain how life had come to be in the first place. And it could also not explain the huge jump that was the evolution of human consciousness.

Teilhard_de_Chardin%281%29.jpgImagine my delight when, the very next year, I discovered Teilhard de Chardin. I read his The Phenomenon of Man. Though I didn't understand it very well, I saw that here was a man who had given his life to his faith and who at the same time believed that Christianity and the study of evolution could be reconciled. This opened the way for my own personal, deep and satisfying life-long relationship with God.

We need our scientific religious, our explorers and questioners. We need to support their edginess, their ability to think around the corners. We need to celebrate them. Especially these days they are bridges over which many of our young people can cross to find God. Remembering my personal indebtedness, on this feast day of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, I offer a prayer of thanks for his hard-headed willingness to create a theory and stick to it, and to follow his heart into bold scientific exploration, knowing that no matter how far out we go we will always find more of our Creator.

Laurie Gudim is a religious iconographer and liturgical artist, a writer and lay preacher living in Fort Collins, CO. See her work online at Everyday Mysteries.

What's that Smell?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014 – Week of 5 Lent, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today's scripture readings.]

Today's Readings for the Daily Office:
Psalms 119:145-176 (morning) // 128, 129, 130 (evening)
Exodus 7:8-24
2 Corinthians 2:14-3:6
Mark 10:1-16

I've never been a smoker, but I do remember bringing home the distinct smell of cigarette smoke from back when most bars and restaurants allowed smoking on the premises. The smell of second-hand smoke clung especially closely to the fibers of my clothing, and my hair seemed to soak the odor right up and refuse to release it until I showered.

Fortunately, it's not only unpleasant smells that cling to and penetrate our every pore and fiber in such a tenacious way. In today's second reading, Paul describes the knowledge of God as a powerful fragrance that clings to us and that we exude throughout our day. He writes that "we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing."

According to Paul, those who know God and who are the aroma of Christ spread their presence indiscriminately, among those who seek the transcendent and eternal life of God's kingdom, and among those whose choices and circumstances are leading them toward destruction. As Paul puts it, we are "a fragrance from life to life" or "a fragrance from death to death." We might find ourselves beckoning others to a more abundant life, or accompanying them in the severe suffering and enslavements that can captivate human beings.

Today, can we imagine ourselves as bearers of an enticing perfume, of a soothing aroma, that comes from dwelling in God's presence and that subtly influences people around us? As Paul says, "through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him"—that is, from knowing God in Christ.

If your church uses incense, then the imaginative leap might be easy to make. When I was a seminarian, I served as a thurifer (incense-bearer) at the congregation where I did my internship. Just like cigarette smoke, the smoke of the incense often found its way into my clothes and hair and wouldn't let go. When I got home, my husband would observe, "Ah, you smell like church today."

I wonder if people noticed that smell on my hour-long train ride home, amidst the smells of alcohol and urine that usually filled the train cars after Saturday night. I hope that someone wondered what on earth that smell of incense was, and that the presence of Christ was with them. May people notice the fragrance of your fellowship with God as palpably today as well.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul's in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

The Passion Play

Matthew 26:14-27:66

This week’s gospel is a drama played out in multiple acts of betrayal against one grand, overarching act of love. It is a tragedy transformed into triumph by the greatest curtain call that ever was or ever will be. It is Matthew’s epic account of the Passion of Jesus in which we are not just spectators, but participants and beneficiaries of the greatest story ever told.

600px-Giotto_-_Scrovegni_-_-31-_-_Kiss_of_Judas.jpgThe crucifixion of Jesus is no surprise turn of events in the narrative we have been following since the Nativity. Jesus has known where his life was heading and he has freely shared his insight with us. Now the time has come for him to face up to the forces of evil that have stalked him for so long… plotting his destruction in response to his message of love.

Does he fight or does he flee? He has run before, why not now? He will not fight and he will not run, because his time has come. This is why he came. He has preached the new covenant based on love of God and neighbor. He has demonstrated his power over evil, over illness, over death. Now is the time to show he is not just about inspiring words or even signs and wonders. Now is the time for Jesus to take our betrayals to the cross, to banish sin and give us eternal life.

He will not simply lay down his life. It will be torn from him in the most fiendish form his enemies can conceive. But even more painful that the nails, the lash and the thorns will be the path of betrayal he must travel to the cross. In Gethsemane, Jesus asks his apostles to stay and watch with him while he prays. They respond by snoring through his agony of anticipation. Theirs is a betrayal of indifference followed by a betrayal of cowardice in their flight from Jesus when he is arrested. Judas, whose name has become synonymous with betrayal, adds a flourish to his treachery by betraying Jesus with a kiss. Then in total contempt for Christ’s message of divine mercy, he throws away God’s gift of life on a homemade gallows.

Peter is a multiple betrayer on that night. Three times he denies Christ. But, unlike Judas, in his despair Peter reaches out for forgiveness and God hears him. Then there is the fickle mob of casual betrayers. A week ago they greeted Jesus with: Hosanna. Now their cry is: Crucify him. They’re shallow. They’re erratic. They’re bored and easily distracted. They want to be with the in-crowd. They’ll only root for the winning team. Sound familiar?

Most of the world’s sins are banal acts or slothful omissions. They are the work of casual betrayers, like us. You know how it is: We don’t set out to do evil. We probably even have a high opinion of ourselves. But some sins look just too good to pass up. Besides, it can really be a lot of trouble doing the right thing all the time. What difference does it make? That Sunday school stuff is alright for kids, but business is business. Who could blame us for an office flirtation that simply gets out of hand? Nobody knows; so nobody’s hurt. Sure, everybody cheats on their taxes. Just don’t get caught. Did you hear what she said to me? No wonder I lost it. Just a few bruises, she’ll be OK. So I pop a few pills and then I pop some more; you would too, if you had my problems. All this stuff about the poor is really overdone. They don’t have it so bad. What am I supposed to do about it?

And on and on… our betrayals just keep piling up. But Jesus takes them all… your sins and mine… every one of them go with him to the cross. Then our betrayals get nailed right onto that cross. They are raised up to die with him and get thrown into the tomb. It turns out that all along we’ve had a starring role in the Passion of Jesus. You might say that it’s always been all about us. Our sins brought him to the cross. But it doesn’t end there. By God’s saving grace, this play has the happiest ending of all time. In Christ our sins are dead and buried… while the risen Jesus takes a miraculous Easter curtain call. And from the cross and from the tomb, we arise with him… triumphant to the ovation of eternal life.

Thank you, Jesus. By your life, death and Resurrection, you have set us free.

*Image Attribution: Kiss of Judas (1304–06), fresco by Giotto,Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, Italy

The Reverend David Sellery, Author, Resource Creator and Retreat Leader. Committed to a vocation that focuses on encountering God in the midst of everyday life, I serve as an Episcopal priest who seeks to proclaim the good news of God in Christ in worship, pastoral care, education, stewardship, congregational development and community outreach, while continually engaging our wider culture with dynamism and hope.

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