Posted in 2022 Lent Devotions

Spices and ointments

“Mirror of the Passion” Lent devotion for April 8, 2022. Photo by Nikoli Afina on Unsplash

Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments. (Luke 23:56)

It seems like yesterday that my wife and I discovered Haachim Levy’s spices, teas and fruits in the heart of the Mahane Yehuda Market in the Jewish quarter of Old City Jerusalem. We traveled there three years ago, but the sounds and smells of the market are still etched into my memory. I’ll bet some of those sweet and savory spices were among those prepared by the women who would return to Jesus’ tomb early on the first day of the week.

This was a labor of love. Long before the days of funeral homes and embalming, family and friends prepared the deceased for burial with many pounds of spices to cover the smell of decomposition and honor the body of the loved one. After Jesus died, it was just about dusk and the start of the Sabbath. The rest of the ritual would have to wait until Sunday morning.

We honor our loved ones with worship services, slide shows of family photos, headstones inscribed with significant symbols, life-summarizing obituaries, and glasses lifted high. The aroma of fresh flowers fills the sanctuary as we gather to remember, mourn, and pray. After the funeral service, we will often gather in a church hall, a restaurant, or a home. The smell of catered food, sweet desserts, and brewing coffee pairs well with our tears, stories, memories, and laughter.

I remember sitting in Ramona’s room in the hospice house the day before she died. She was unresponsive, but comfortable. No one else was there when I stopped by, so I sat with her, read a few Psalms and prayed. What I remember most about that moment is the subtle scent of lavender and peppermint in the room. Someone had rubbed her hands with a fragrant ointment that both moisturized her dry skin and made the room smell amazing. It was one of the most calm and peaceful moments I’ve ever experienced. I didn’t want to leave.

I love the smell of freshly baked bread. Or a newly mown grass. A baby whose hair was washed with baby shampoo. Just-brewed coffee. Bacon! Towels right out of the dryer. Chocolate chip cookies coming out of the oven. I am so thankful for God’s gift of wonderful smells!

A few weeks ago, a woman had poured pure nard on Jesus’ feet, wiping them with her hair. The aroma filled the room. Jesus was touched. He knew. He knew they wouldn’t have time to prepare his body. So he was thankful for the scent of honor, worship, and love.

Thank you for the smell of love, Lord.

Posted in 2022 Lent Devotions

Images of death

“Mirror of the Passion” Lent devotion for April 7, 2022. Photo by Waldemar Brandt on Unsplash

The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. (Luke 23:55)

Sometimes it’s a hot, sunny afternoon. Other times a chilling rain falls. Dozens may be there to watch. Or just a few stick around. Some have laid a rose on the casket. A cemetery worker winds a crank to lower the coffin into the vault. A few will throw some ceremonial handfuls of dirt into the grave. Or they will slide the urn into its niche. On occasion, I have dropped remains into a waterway or let the wind blow the ashes across a marsh. We watch as a friend, a loved one, or a stranger is laid to rest.

How do you feel in that moment? Sad? Empty? Numb? Relieved? All of the above? Do you think the women who came with Jesus from Galilee had any idea their week would end like this? I doubt it. Jesus had never been more popular. Crowed hailed him as the next king. He restored the temple to a house of prayer. Next up: restore the kingdom to Israel!

Joseph and Nicodemus wrapped Jesus’ body in linen. They laid his corpse in Joseph’s tomb. It was over. A terrible, very bad Friday was over. How could they ever forget that sight?

We consume many images of death each day. We drive by cemeteries. News reports show us mangled car crashes, the rubble of collapsed buildings, scenes from war, storm-flattened towns, candlelight vigils, and roadside memorials. Reporters tell us about the viruses, food, pollution, safety hazards, and storms that threaten our lives.

How do you feel in these moments? The feelings only graze me; I’m too busy to dwell on it. I get annoyed; everything out there is bad for me. I look away; I don’t want to see the carnage.

So many want to watch. Traffic slows to see the overturned car surrounded by rescue vehicles. Neighbors wander to the curb when the ambulance stops in front of a house down the street. Large audiences watch live broadcasts of celebrity funerals. So many watched as Jesus’ body was laid in the tomb.

After a movie, I like to stick around to see the bonus trailer. A little sneak peak of a sequel. I want to tell the women who came from Galilee that same thing. Stick around a little longer. If you think Jesus’ death and burial were unexpected, just wait til Sunday morning!

I see so much death, Lord. Open my eyes to see life, too.

Posted in 2022 Lent Devotions

The only one

“Mirror of the Passion” Lent devotion for April 6, 2022. Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.  (Luke 23:50-52)

Talk about standing out like a sore thumb. Joseph was one of the few who didn’t rush to condemn and ship Jesus off to Pilate. His may have been the only dissenting vote. How do you think that felt? How does it feel to be the only one?

Sometimes it’s embarrassing or discouraging to be the only one. I’m the only one who cares. I’m the only one who didn’t know. I’m the only one who wore a costume. I’m the only one who doesn’t like chocolate (If you don’t like chocolate, you’re probably the only one a lot!)

On the on the other hand, there are some benefits to be the only one. You might be the only one who got a perfect score on the test. Or the only who didn’t get sick. How about the only who knew the trivia answer? The only one who showed up on time. Or the only who showed up. Sometimes you have a little bounce in your step when you’re the only one.

Adam was the only one until he took a nap after naming all the animals. Elijah felt like he was the only faithful one left in Israel. He was off by 6,999. On the road to Emmaus, Jesus must have been the only one who hadn’t heard the reports of his resurrection.

Joseph gets a mention by all four gospel writers because he was dissenter. That took guts. It took guts to vote no. It took guts to ask Pilate for Jesus’ body. It took guts to put Jesus’ corpse in your own family’s tomb. It took guts to be the one.

Maybe you’re the one. Maybe you’re the one who cares for a friend who needs support. Maybe you’re the one they come to when they need a prayer. Maybe you’re the one they can trust. Maybe you’re the one they will remember.

I’m not sure the world really needs another one of me or you. One is plenty.

Thanks for helping me do the math, Lord. One is pretty good.

Posted in 2022 Lent Devotions

Have you ever watched someone live?

“Mirror of the Passion” Lent devotion for April 5, 2022. Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

All the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things. (Luke 23:48,49)

Have you ever watched someone die? It is a powerful, moving moment. In those few seconds, the temporal and the eternal intersect. I’ve sat with many in hospice who were within a day of death, but I’ve rarely been there for someone’s final moment. Sadness, wonder, memories, labored breathing, and prayers fill the room of those on their deathbed.

According to Luke, crowds were there when Jesus died. Both those who knew him and those who had accompanied him from Galilee witnessed his final moments. All they could do was watch.

Perhaps the more important question is, “Have you ever watched someone live?”

Have you seen them in their element, almost effortlessly doing what they were created to do? Have you seen them laugh or cry without reservation, swept away by emotion? Have you seen them enjoy a delicious bite (or a whole bowl) of something? Have you seen them jump in the water, slide down the hill, been soaked with sweat, or swallow some nasty-tasting medicine?

Much of this crowd had seen Jesus live. They had seen him eat and drink, celebrate and mourn, sleep and wake, walk and talk, and teach. He worked with his hands, celebrated weddings, enjoyed a good meal, loved children, and told great stories.

They didn’t know it, but a couple of days later, some of them would get to watch Jesus live again. The resurrection forever changes the way we see life and death. Death will come, so we don’t want to take any of our days for granted. But resurrection will come, too, so we don’t want to dwell too much on death.

What’s the right balance? Focus on Jesus. He’ll show you how to live, how to die, and how to live again!

Show me how to live, Lord.

Posted in 2022 Lent Devotions

Innocent

“Mirror of the Passion” Lent devotion for April 4, 2022. Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash

Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” (Luke 23:47)

By the time the centurion speaks these words, he has experienced the darkness. He has heard Jesus’ conversations with the criminals crucified with him. He listened as Jesus prayed for those who executed him. He witnessed the last breath of Jesus. He would have a lot to share that evening when his wife asked, “So how was your day?”

So who is innocent in our world? Newborn babies. Innocent victims who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. An innocent bystander who got caught in the line of fire. Someone with a solid alibi. That person about whom the jury decides, “We find the defendant not guilty.”

This Roman commander was the first of many to worship God in front of a cross. Crosses of every shape and size grab out attention as soon as we walk into a church. A 42 foot glass cross is in the front of my church sanctuary. I’ve seen some with a crucified Christ, some mysteriously suspended in air, and small crucifixes on a pole or a stand. The cross in the front of the church where I grew up was made up of hundreds of multicolored stones. (I spend many sermons trying them all.) A small crucifix hangs on the wall of our chapel.

No matter the shape or size of the cross before us in worship, you and I profess, “He was innocent.” He was the good teacher. He was the holy one of God. He fulfilled the law. He knew no sin. He was the perfect, unblemished lamb.

But he was pierced for my transgressions. He was crushed for my iniquities. God laid all of my guilt on him.

Without fail, every time I go to a funeral, someone gets up to tell those gathered how good the deceased was. He (or she) would do anything for anyone. He would give you the shirt off his back. The departed was good, kind, generous, faithful, unselfish, and giving. Makes me feel like a slug. I can’t imagine anyone saying any of those things about me.

And I hope you don’t. Instead, talk about the one on the cross. Talk about Jesus who was good, kind, merciful, faithful, unselfish, generous, holy and innocent.

All the praise is yours, Lord.

Posted in 2022 Lent Devotions

Breathtaking

“Mirror of the Passion” Lent devotions for April 3, 2022. We will all have a moment like that, when body and soul separate.

Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. (Luke 23:46)

If you’re a fan of Martin Luther’s morning and evening prayers, you’ve often prayed, “Into your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things.” Just like Jesus. It may or not be our final prayer, but it is a reassuring way to open our eyes first thing in the morning and close them before we fall asleep at night. Our lives are in his hands.

We will all have a moment like that, when body and soul separate. We may be awake and aware like Jesus. We may be asleep when that happens. It may happen suddenly, without warning. Family and friends may be gathered around us. Or we may be alone. We don’t know how or when, but we will all breathe our last.

I don’t remember my first breath, but I probably wasn’t very happy about it. Most of us let out a nice loud healthy cry when we are born. Our lives are filled with breathing from that moment on. We’ll take big breaths to blow up balloons, play musical instruments, and swim underwater. We’ll breathe in some wonderful smells along with some stinky odors. We’ll breathe heavily when walking up a flight of stairs or running around a track. We’ll take more than 672 million breaths in our lifetime. And one of them will be our last.

That’s a sobering truth. It’s also the reason Jesus took a first and last breath. He came to suffer and die for us. But his last breath wasn’t actually his last. On the third day his lungs again filled with air and he came back to life. He rose so that we, too, would breathe again, at the resurrection. And there will never be a last breath again!

How long can you hold your breath? Long enough to make your hiccups go away? Long enough to change a messy diaper? Long enough to swim an entire length of the pool? Long enough to drive all the way though a tunnel?

That’s a crazy way to think of death, isn’t it? It’s just like holding your breath until the trumpet sounds and Christ comes in glory to raise us from the dead. The glory of that day won’t take your breath away. It will give you new, eternal breath.

Into your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things.

Posted in 2022 Lent Devotions

In the darkness

“Mirror of the Passion” Lent devotion for April 2, 2022. Photo by DerTobiSturmjagd on Pixabay

It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. (Luke 23:44-45).

There are many reasons why you might find yourself in the dark.

It might be nighttime. But you’re still awake. Something from your day is still haunting you. You dread what’s coming up tomorrow. Your body feels so tired, but your mind has gotten its second wind.

Perhaps the power is out. There’s no glow from all your digital clocks. Without AC, the room is stuffy. No rays of light sneak in through the blinds from the streetlights. It’s dark.

You’re in the dark. It seems like everyone else knows what’s going on. But no one told you. Did they forget? Or did they purposely leave you out?

It’s different in the dark. It’s harder to drive. You trip over the sleeping dog you didn’t see. No one can see you sitting there. Noises you don’t notice during the day seem so loud in the dark – a snoring dog, the thermostat click, or the ice cube maker.

Even though it’s noon, it’s dark at Golgotha. Is it an eclipse of the sun? Are ominous dark storm clouds blocking the sunlight? We don’t know. Darkness shrouds the passion, threatening the only real light in this world. It casts a powerful shadow over the one who announced, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). What will happen when he breathes his last? What will happen when that light goes out?

Yes, we think about that, too. What will happen when we shut our eyes for the last time? What will happen when they close the lid of our coffin? There is no darker darkness than the darkness of death. For Jesus, it’s just moments away. Maybe for us, too. You never know.

Small LED lights built into wall outlet plates come on when I turn off the lights at night. They safely guide my way to the bathroom in the middle of the night. They get me past the sleeping dog and into the kitchen for a glass of water.

In much the same way, God declares, “Let there be light” in the pre-creation darkness. His promises guide me safely through the gloomy news of wars, disease, disasters, and death. His words are just like the first glow of morning in the pre-dawn sky. His voice reminds me that the darkness never lasts. The clouds part, the power comes back on, the sun rises, and the son rises.

So I can close my eyes and sleep. When it’s time, I’ll close my eyes in death. And it will be OK. Because when I open them, it will be light again.

Thanks for being in the darkness, Lord.

Posted in 2022 Lent Devotions

Remember

“Mirror of the Passion” Lent devotion for April 1, 2022. Photo by Anne Nygård on Unsplash

“Remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42).

One day, I guess the conversation will go like this, “Hey, Jesus, remember me? We spent that whole day together. I was the nice criminal, the one who didn’t rail at you all morning. We talked about Paradise, remember? And here we are!”

So when you are suffering the consequences of your actions, are you going to be nasty towards Jesus or respectful? Do you challenge him or confess to him? Do you taunt him or pray to him?

Jesus met a lot of people in three-plus years of ministry. Crowds met him in every town he passed through. Do you think he remembered every encounter, every healing, every question, every face? I think he did.

He knew me before I were born. He knows where I am, what I’m thinking about, where I’m headed, and when I will get there (Psalm 119). He knows the number of hairs on my head (Luke 12:7). He knows about every sparrow that falls to the ground (Luke 12:6). He remembers. He remembers me.

I’m the one who has trouble remembering. I forget his promises and let worry and fear get a foothold in my mind. I forget his faithfulness in the past when I am concerned about the future. I forget to ask him for what I need. I forget to thank him for what I have.

I am impressed at this criminal’s faith. He knows Jesus is going places. Everyone else thinks Jesus is a poor excuse for a king. But this man knows Jesus has a kingdom. He knows he deserved his time on the cross. He knows Jesus is innocent. He knows Jesus is going to make it big one day. One day, he’ll see Jesus on the throne.

And maybe Jesus will have a few minutes for him. “Remember what it was like that day? Yeah, it was brutal. I don’t want to ever go through that again. And how about that darkness? That was creepy.” No one else could have this conversation with Jesus. Only these two experienced that day at The Skull. Only these two could sit and talk about that day over a glass of wonderful wine (Isaiah 25:6).

What unique experiences have you had with Jesus? Ponder that for a few moments. What moments, good or bad, have you two, and only you two, experienced? How about the birth of one of your children? A final moment with a loved one. Getting lost. While many experience similar moments, your life is unique to you. And he was there with you.

What memories have you created with Jesus?

I can’t wait to reminisce with you, Lord.

Posted in 2022 Lent Devotions

I didn’t even know

“Mirror of the Passion” Lent devotion for March 31, 2022. Photo by KTMD ENTERTAINMENT on Unsplash

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:39).

I don’t believe we can truly begin to understand forgiveness until we hear these words Jesus speaks from the cross. His own people have rejected him. The crowds called for his crucifixion. Spikes are driven through his hands and feet. He will not be going anywhere until he has died.

In that moment Jesus practiced what he preached. He prayed for those who were hurting him (Matthew 5:44). He interceded for those who executed him, just as Isaiah said he would (Isaiah 53:12). He forgave them.

When I hurt, forgiveness is rarely on my mind. Sometimes prayer is, but I am usually praying for myself. “Make the hurt go away!” Pain takes over my thoughts, words and actions. It blinds me to everything else.

Jesus reacts so differently. His pain shifts his attention outside of himself. His pain opens his eyes to those who have no idea what they have just done. He pleads for mercy – for those who are killing him.

I probably have no idea how many people I’ve hurt. Something I said. Something I didn’t say. Someone I laughed at. Someone I ignored. Some were friends. Some I didn’t even know. Do you think Jesus would pray for me? Or for you?

The bible says that Jesus is interceding for us at the right hand of God. He’s advocating for you and me. He’s working out a deal with God, mediating a new covenant, so that we are forgiven for unknown as well as known sins.

I’ll bet our unknown sins far outnumber the ones we’re aware of. We like to think we’re doing pretty well, while we leave behind a trail of hurt feelings. We may not have hurt anyone, but how many did we fail to help? Far too often we were the problem rather than the solution, and someone had to clean up after us. We’re a mess and most of the time we don’t even know it. Like something caught in our front teeth or a stain on the back of our shirt.

Jesus knows. He’s heard the prayers of the many we’ve hurt and comforted them. He’s had pity on the one’s we’ve ignored. He’s prayed for us. He pleads for mercy – for us.

I didn’t know, Lord. Pray for me.