Posted in 2022 Lent Devotions

First thing in the morning

Bonus “Mirror of the Passion” devotion for Easter Sunday. Photo by Tim Foster on Unsplash

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. (Luke 24:1)

It’s early. It’s still dark. But I’m awake. I always wake up five minutes before my alarm. It’s how I’m wired, I guess. I might as well get up. My routine: feed Samson (my dog), start the coffee maker, walk the dog, pour a cup of coffee, grab my bible, journal and a pen. It’s time to find out what Jesus has to say today.

That’s right, he’s already up. His word is active and alive. It will easily cut through joints and marrow and speak to my heart. It might be something I’ve heard a hundred times before. It might be something I’ve never thought about before. It might be a promise I’ll need to get through the day. Or it might be one I can pass along to someone else.

Jesus is up before the women who went to the tomb. He is risen, the stone’s rolled away, the guards have fainted, and the tomb is empty (except for the linen). Maybe they can return those spices for store credit.

If you ever think you’ve go it all figured out, just remember Easter. Nothing went as expected. Yet it turned out better than anyone could have imagined! Add a bit of Easter to your daily routine and you’ll never be bored.

He is risen; he is risen, indeed! Hallelujah!

Posted in 2022 Lent Devotions

The stone

“Mirror of the Passion” devotion for April 16, 2020. Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

And Joseph rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. (Matthew 27:60)

Impressive. All the art work I’ve seen shows the stone in front of the tomb as at least a thousand pound hunk of rock. Joseph rolled it there? Whoa, this guy’s in better shape than me.

The stone was meant to keep people out, right? Or was it to keep Jesus in? All of the above? I don’t know.

All we know is that the stone was in place on Saturday. On Friday it was open, til they laid the body of Jesus there. On Sunday, when the women showed up, the stone had been rolled away. On Saturday, the stone was doing its job, sealing up the entrance to the tomb.

How do you respond to a locked door? Walk away? Look for another way in? Jiggle the doorknob, hoping it will somehow open? Check the windows? Do you accept the reality? Or look for an alternative?

Saturday is one of those days. It feels like nothing is going to happen. It’s a done deal. Your hopes and dreams aren’t going anywhere. Monday will come soon enough. Back to the routine. Same old same old.

If they only knew. If they only knew what was happening behind that stone. If they only remembered Jesus’ words about resurrection and life. If they only knew what was happening in the dark. If they only saw the scene in hell. If they only knew what the women would find on Sunday morning.

We don’t know what’s happening behind the stone walls, behind the scenes, behind what seems to be unmovable obstacles in our lives. These are places we cannot go. But these are the places where the most important things are happening.

Just wait til Sunday morning. Just wait til the sun comes up. Just wait til you wake up. The biggest, unmovable assumptions of your life won’t be a problem any more.

That’s the power of resurrection.

So maybe this is Saturday. Maybe you’re stuck. Maybe you have no place to go. There is a big rock in the way. Maybe there is nothing you can do. Just wait. The sun will set. The sun will rise. And it will be a new day. It will be Sunday. And all of those worries will fade like the morning dew.

I’ll wait, Lord. I know the new day is just a few moments away.

Posted in 2022 Lent Devotions

Take care of my mom

“Mirror of the Passion” Lent devotion for April 15, 2022. Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. (John 19:26-27)

The dying often worry about those they will be leaving behind. Those left behind have to assure them, “I’ll be fine.”

This is on Jesus’ mind as his moment of death approaches. His mother, Mary, is there at Golgotha, along with John, “disciple whom he loved.” From the cross Jesus says, “John’s going to take care of you now,” and then, “Take good care of mom for me, John.” The gospels don’t mention Joseph after he and Mary find the twelve year old Jesus in the temple. That was about twenty years ago. I guess he’s not around anymore.

Mary was entrusted with the honor and responsibility of giving birth to the Christ and taking care of him as he grew up in Nazareth. She fed him, taught him how to walk and talk, and raised him in the Jewish faith. I’m there were many moments when she told Jesus to be careful, have a good day, and be home in time for supper as he headed out the door.

How we take for granted those who spent so much time taking care of us when we were growing up. When you have kids of your own, though, you become aware of what it takes to have a little one dependent upon you. You begin to understand and appreciate those who prayed for you each night, took you all those places you needed to go, and watched to see what kind of man or woman you would become. And when you wanted to go off on your own, they struggled to let you go. They just wanted to hug you forever!

The mother of our Lord knew she couldn’t hold on to her son forever. She knew why he had come. She knew his hour had come. She knew it was time to let him go. But it wasn’t easy. Not here, at the cross, at Golgotha.

I wonder how often someone asked, “Hey, Jesus, is there anything I can help you with? Anything I can get for you?” The Jesus we get to know in the gospels is low maintenance. He didn’t need much and didn’t ask for much. Just some water at a well in Samaria. A few figs from a tree. And now, “Do me a favor. Take care of my mom.”

Thanks for everyone who has and will take care of me. Amen.

Posted in 2022 Lent Devotions

Copycat

“Mirror of the Passion” Lent devotion for April 14. 2022. Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34)

In Latin, that verse begins mandatum novum do vobis. We’d call it a “mandate.” A command. An order. Jesus gives his disciples this command on Thursday night, which we call Maundy Thursday, after he has washed their feet. This is more than “I really want you to,” or “You really should,” or “I hope you will,” or “Why don’t you give it a try.” This is mandatory.

We’ve mastered many “one anothers.” We’re jealous of one another, annoyed with one another, upset with one another, and tired of one another. We envy one another, irritate one another, ignore one another, and anger one another. Love one another? That is something new and novel.

This mandate goes beyond tolerating one another, accepting one another, and being kind to one another. Jesus’ love was sacrificial. He gave his life for us without expecting anything in return. This is his definition of love. You pour out your life. You pour yourself into someone else. It’s one way. It flows out of you. There’s nothing in it for you. You get no return on your investment. And did I mention, this is mandatory.

My definition of love is usually different than his. I tend to love those who do things for me. I love those who are attractive. I love those who give me gifts. (I really enjoy food gifts.) I love people who are nice to me. I love folks who are lovable. Bottom line: I love those who love me.

Jesus reminds us that anyone can do that. Anyone can love someone who first loves them. Anyone can do that with their eyes closed and one hand tied behind their back. If you want to stand out, you love like Jesus. If you want to love like Jesus, you have to get to know him. And when you get to know him, you are overwhelmed by his love.

So what do I do with this command, this order, this mandate? Well, if I want to imitate someone, I am going to watch them, study their every move, and do everything they do. I would go to every performance I could, watch videos, and listen to their recordings over and over again. I would practice, practice, practice. Of course, I wouldn’t get it right the first time. Or the second. Or the thirty-fifth time. I would practice in front of a mirror. I would get someone to watch and listen to me, and then tell me how I was doing. In time, I would get better and better.

I think that’s what Jesus meant when he invited a few to follow him. Watch. Listen. Learn. And imitate. Be a copycat.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, than to love like Jesus is the highest form of worship.

When I grow up Lord, I want to be like you.

Posted in 2022 Lent Devotions

Teaching Tuesday

“Mirror of the Passion” Lent devotion for April 12, 2022. Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

Jesus was teaching daily in the temple. (Luke 19:47)

Tuesday of holy week is often called teaching Tuesday or tricky-question Tuesday. The religious leaders tried to trip up Jesus with questions about taxes and marriage after the resurrection. This is the day Jesus taught about the end times, told important parables about his coming, and came down hard on the Pharisees who were in it for their own glory, not God’s. Jesus knows the timeline. He’s not pulling any punches in these last few days of his life.

Jesus was clearly into teaching. Some addressed him as “Teacher.” So that would mean we are the students. He could call us “Class” right?

That’s the way it should be. However, I’ve certainly heard a lot of tricky questions over the years. They usually go something like this:

  • So if some guy lives on a deserted island all by himself for his whole life and never gets to hear about Jesus and believe in him, does that mean that he’s going to hell?
  • If Genghis Khan, Jack the Ripper, Sam Berkowitz, Jeffrey Dahmer, or Adolf Hitler repented at the last minute before their death and believed in Jesus, would they go to heaven?
  • If your family is starving and you can’t get a job and you steal some food, is that a sin?
  • What happens if someone kills themself? They have murdered, but they can’t repent. Are they automatically condemned?

Books have been written about such questions for generations. Trust me, they are way above my pay grade. And yours. It’s not our job to distinguish the sheep from the goats. You and I don’t get to decide who gets kicked out of the banquet. Jesus said, “Don’t go and pull up all the weeds. You’ll destroy the wheat.”

A better question is, “Is he still the Teacher?” If your answer is, “Yes,” then the next question is, “Are you still learning?” If you’ve got questions, you obviously don’t know everything. Are you taking some time each day, with his word open in front of you, letting the Spirit teach you and remind you of his promises? When’t the last time you attended a bible class at your church? When’s the last time you taught a class? (Remember, the teacher always learns more than the students.) What questions (yes, even the ones I’ve mentioned) have you brought to him in prayer?

One sign of spiritual maturity is admitting there’s a lot you don’t know and you’ve got so much to learn.

If it’s been a while, start slow. Start on Tuesdays. Teaching Tuesday. The Teacher is in.

Lord, I have a question. Or two.

Posted in 2022 Lent Devotions

Get out of here!

“Mirror of the Passion” Lent devotion for April 11, 2022. Photo by Harry Gillen on Unsplash

And Jesus entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.” (Luke 19:45-46)

After Solomon built the first temple in Jerusalem, one of the highlights of the dedication was his prayer. He knew that God couldn’t be kept in a box, even one the size of the temple. But the temple reminded people that God would hear their prayers and respond with grace.

By the time of Jesus, the temple had been destroyed, rebuilt, and enhanced. Currency exchange and livestock sales drowned out the prayers of God’s people. What a zoo – literally!

It drove Jesus nuts. “Not in my house!” He tipped tables, threw chairs, and chased everyone out, both man and beast. “My house shall be a house of prayer.”

Just imagine you’ve finally gotten to Jerusalem. Just like last year, you lined up at the temple to buy a couple of pigeons to bring to the priest for your sacrifice. You’ve done this every year for as long as you can remember. Just before it’s your turn to make a purchase, a man cuts in line, starts pushing people around and throwing furniture. You say, “Hey, what’s your problem? I would have let you go first. Calm down. All you had to do was ask.”

Or, you’ve got your little table set up at the temple. You’ve only got a few goats to sell this year. They’ll go quickly. “How can I help you, sir? Hey, take it easy, you’re gonna hurt someone! Those are my goats!”

It’s crazy. Jesus must be out of his mind. But you know what? If you showed up at your house and saw a guy selling tacos from a truck in your driveway, you’d lose it too. “What’s the matter, mister? Don’t you like tacos?” That’s not the point. This is my house. Get out here! I’d be throwing chips and salsa around too!

For some reason, we allow religion to become transactional. We come to church with an offering in exchange for a rite or ceremony. It breaks my heart when someone asks, “How much would it cost to have my child baptized?”

I think that’s how Jesus felt. His heart was broken. He was in Jerusalem to pick up the tab for sin. And these folks were cutting into his business.

Not in my house.

I’m just here to pray, Lord.

Posted in 2022 Lent Devotions

Take a break

“Mirror of the Passion” Lent devotion for April 9, 2022. Photo by Adrian Swancar on Unsplash

On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment. (Luke 23:56)

So much has happened in the past week. Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, cleared out the temple, ate the Passover with the disciples, and prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. Judas betrayed him, the council condemned him, and Pilate handed him over to be crucified. Jesus died, they wrapped his body in linen, and placed in him the tomb. Whew! They (and we) could use a break. It’s like getting back from a vacation and thinking, “I need a vacation after my vacation.”

On the one hand, nothing has changed. Every seventh day was still a Sabbath, a day of rest. At sunset on Friday, Jewish families would (and still do) gather in their homes to light candles and pray. Rather than going to work on Saturday, you went to the synagogue, where the rabbi would read the scriptures and teach. After a break from routine, Sunday would be a new day and a new week.

I wonder how anyone who witnessed Jesus’ death could sit there in the synagogue and pay attention. My mind would have been filled with the images of the crucifixion. How could that happen? How could anyone do that to Jesus? Now what?

Well, life goes on. Everyone did what everyone did on the Sabbath. It’s like nothing special had happened in or outside of Jerusalem. Nothing had changed.

But it is unusually quiet. The demons aren’t running amuck in the streets. They aren’t celebrating a victory over the Christ. They are strangely silent. Do you think they knew? Do you think they knew something was up? Did they suspect it wasn’t over yet?

It’s hard to rest. What I mean is, we admire busyness and accomplishment, so we feel guilty if we don’t get something productive done. It’s always been that way. That’s why God commanded the Sabbath. He knew we wouldn’t stop unless he made us. And he made us needing rest. We need daily rest, weekly rest, seasons of rest, and most days, a nap.

Even if Jesus is dead, if he’s in the tomb, if your hopes have been shattered, you still need rest. Even if the tomb is empty, Jesus is risen (he is risen indeed!), and death has been defeated, you still need rest.

What a blessing to know that we can rest easy, knowing that our past has been redeemed, our future is secure, and today he’s ready to do more than we could ask or imagine!

Thank you for the sweet, sweet rest of your grace, Lord.

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.