Psalm 118: 1-2, 19-29
Matthew 26:14 – 27:66
John 18:1 – 19:42
Within the Body of Christ are many persons who bring diverse voices.
Over these past several Sundays in worship at Bethel, as in churches around the world which use the Revised Common Lectionary, our gospel readings have been lengthy passages from John: the conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus, the conversation between Jesus and the “woman at the well” in Samaria, the episode involving the man who was born blind, and, most recently, the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from death.
Each of those stories is unique to the gospel according to St. John.
Each of those stories is a goldmine of wonderful verses that we like to single out to memorize:
“You must be born again....”
“For God so loved the world....”
“The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”
“I was blind but now I see....”
“I am the resurrection and the life....”
Yes, I appreciate the value of a short, pithy verse.
But without its context, without its distinctive setting, a lone verse loses important meanings. Each of the famous quotes above comes rooted in conversations about who Jesus is relative to the ancient Jewish faith, to sub-groups of the Jews such as the Pharisees, to gentiles, and to the ethnic group called Samaritans.
Two examples: “You must be born again” is a response to the Jewish notion of being blood-descendants of Father Abraham. A major part of what Jesus was trying to convey was that Jews must surrender their interest in their natural, human pedigree in favor of the spiritual birth into the Holy Spirit. Likewise, when we see, “For God so loved the world,” we are to understand that God’s love and the call to follow Jesus is for every kind of people, far beyond just Hebrews whose ancestors wandered the wilderness with Moses.
So that’s my brief explanation of why we have heard such lengthy gospel lessons in recent weeks. I pray that you will be blessed this Sunday as we follow the entire Passion according to St. John. If you go ahead and read it yourself, in advance, it might have an effect similar to reading the novel just before you see the movie. It’s worth a try.
Have you ever noticed how much space the Passion story takes up, in each of the gospel books ? The apostles must have believed that it was very important to bequeath to us all of those peculiar details. You might try reading the St. Matthew Passion and also the St. John Passion, noting the similarities and differences.
Our Elkton community Lenten series wrapped up this past Sunday evening at Holy Infant Catholic Church with another wonderful meal and continued great fellowship, followed by a program of Scripture, music, and preaching.
If you haven’t experienced the Catholic “folk Mass” style of worship music as their delightful guitarist-songleader Ellie Cox practices it, you have missed a really beautiful thing.
Father Michael Mugomba’s thoughtful reflection on “sacrifice,” given in his rich Ugandan accent, he graciously provided in a written copy for everyone to take home. He told the sad and poignant story of the girls’-school dormitory in Uganda that burned, killing many of the girls, and of brave eleven-year-old Betty, who kept going back into the building and bringing out other girls before she herself died. “Betty was laid to rest as a hero.” “Sacrifice leads to death or giving up life in order to attain new and abundant life. This is what Jesus maintains: “I solemnly assure you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. But when it dies, it produces much fruit.” (John 12:24) The entire Suffering, Passion, and Death of Jesus lead to the Resurrection-Victory and the cause of the Easter joy.”
Palm Sunday is upon us, which we observe at Bethel along with the Passion of Christ. I hope you will all come out and take part together in the sacred conclusion to this time called Lent.
Be gracious to me, O LORD,
for I am in distress;
my eye wastes away from grief,
my soul and body also.
I trust in You, O LORD;
I say, “You are my God.”
My times are in Your hand;
deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.
Let Your face shine upon Your servant;
save me in Your steadfast love.
Psalm 31:9, 14 – 16