The 40-day season of Lent began on February 26 and Bishop Laurie, clergy, and friends of The Iowa Annual Conference have written short devotionals for each day to help us journey through this season together.
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Six days before Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, home of Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Lazarus and his sisters hosted a dinner for him. Martha served and Lazarus was among those who joined him at the table. Then Mary took an extraordinary amount, almost three-quarters of a pound, of very expensive perfume made of pure nard. She anointed Jesus’ feet with it, then wiped his feet dry with her hair. The house was filled with the aroma of the perfume. Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), complained, “This perfume was worth a year’s wages! Why wasn’t it sold and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief. He carried the money bag and would take what was in it.)
Then Jesus said, “Leave her alone. This perfume was to be used in preparation for my burial, and this is how she has used it. You will always have the poor among you, but you won’t always have me.”
Many Jews learned that he was there. They came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. The chief priests decided that they would kill Lazarus too. It was because of Lazarus that many of the Jews had deserted them and come to believe in Jesus.
—John 12:1-11 (CEB)
It is more than coincidence that Jesus is hosted at a dinner at the home of Lazarus six days before the Passover. The Passover meal is rich with food which carries signs of God’s eternal faithfulness and deliverance of God’s people from death into life.
Here is Lazarus who is now known for being raised from the dead into life by Jesus. They are in his home, a home that was once filled with mourning, crying, and pain, and is now filled with laughter, joy, and new life.
Here, too, is Mary. She recognizes the signs around her and anoints Jesus for his burial, a reminder and a foreshadowing of God’s eternal faithfulness and deliverance of God’s people from death to life.
As it was in the exodus from Egypt, there are people here at this meal who use Mary’s gift to criticize her offering for their own gain. In John’s gospel, Judas Iscariot was named along the chief priests who were plotting to kill Jesus and Lazarus. They are like the pharaohs of Egypt who held the Hebrew people in slavery and bondage for their own gain.
Yet, there is plenty room in our full and busy lives to care for the poor. Mary’s offering of costly perfume and the dinner given in Jesus’ honor does not supplant caring for the poor. Likewise, the offering of ourselves to God for God’s love and grace in the world does not set aside the commandment to love our neighbors including the poor. God’s perfect love and our comparably imperfect love of God in Jesus Christ has plenty room and resource for us to care for our neighbors. How will we, then, care for the poor?
Gracious and loving God, count us, we pray, among those who will both love you with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and love our neighbors, caring for the poor as your and our beloved. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.
By: Rev. Dr. Harlan Gillespie, Assistant to the Bishop for The Iowa Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church
Based on Isaiah: 49:1-7; Psalm 71:1-14 and John 12:20-36 (UMC - modern lectionary) Matthew 25:1-7 - Oil in our lamps passage - from the Eastern Orthodox Holy Tuesday reading.
I am writing this reflection for “Tuesday of Holy Week” on Saturday, February 22, which is actually the eve of the Transfiguration with Ash Wednesday on the horizon. This morning I have spent time catching up on world news and am dismayed as I read the United Nations’ report on the escalating bloodbath in Syria that is nothing shy of a catastrophic humanitarian crisis. Suffice to say, as I write this, my soul is troubled by what is happening in Syria.
For some, I recognize Syria may seem another world away, yet I know it is also home to a diverse people under persecution by extremists; people created in the image of God living lives that matter to God. From the perspective of my faith tradition, I also know Syria to be home to many Eastern Orthodox Christians.
Syria matters in the Christian story. It was within a few years of that first Holy Week that Saul was on his way to Syria when he had his conversion experience on the road to Damascus. Saul having now become Paul, returned to Damascus after spending time in Arabia, and remained in Syria for three years. Jesus’ followers were first called Christians in Damascus, Syria and we can see how the message and mission of Jesus changed this region. Syria is where we got our name; Syria matters to our story.
As was the experience in the Holy Land for early Christians, with the spread of faith in Syria came persecution. In his work, Church History, Christian historian Eusebius described how around 300 CE “prisons, hitherto reserved for murderers and riflers of graves, were now packed everywhere with bishops, priests, [and] deacons.” In the face of this adversity, new voices arose to spread the message of Jesus.
One of these voices that rose above the sounds of persecution in that ancient humanitarian crisis was Ephrem the Syrian; he is remembered as both an evangelist and composer. The lyrics of his hymns helped to tell the story of our faith, speak to what John Wesley would one day call the means of grace and bring good news and words of hope in troubled times. In the midst of the oppression and violence of that time, his Hymn to the Light both offered hope and assurance to believers of the coming kingdom of God, even as they found themselves as, “the saints awaiting Him in weariness and sorrow.” This hymn is returned to each Holy Tuesday by our Eastern Orhthodox Syrian siblings.
It is in the words of this ancient hymn that is still sung on Holy Tuesday in Syria the Spirit of God whispers to a tortured people and my troubled soul today. My prayer is that my deep concern for those suffering in Syria today would prompt me to action for this land and these people who do indeed matter.
I invite you to reflect on the lyrics of this hymn as your prayer today. If so moved and in the justice tradition of our faith, I invite you to connect with our legislators and also support organizations who respond to humanitarian crises (like UMCOR) - and do something.
Hymn to the Light
The Light of the just and joy of the upright is Christ Jesus our Lord.
Begotten of the Father, He manifested himself to us.
He came to rescue us from darkness and to fill us with the radiance of His light.
Day is dawning upon us; the power of darkness is fading away.
From the true Light there arises for us the light which illumines our darkened eyes.
His glory shines upon the world and enlightens the very depths of the abyss.
Death is annihilated, night has vanished, and the gates of Sheol are broken.
Creatures lying in darkness from ancient times are clothed in light.
The dead arise from the dust and sing because they have a Savior.
He brings salvation and grants us life. He ascends to his Father on high.
He will return in glorious splendor and shed His light on those gazing upon Him.
Our King comes in majestic glory.
Let us light our lamps and go forth to meet Him.
Let us find our joy in Him, for He has found joy in us.
He will indeed rejoice us with His marvelous light.
Let us glorify the majesty of the Son and give thanks to the almighty Father
Who, in an outpouring of love, sent Him to us, to fill us with hope and salvation.
When He manifests Himself, the saints awaiting Him in weariness and sorrow,
will go forth to meet Him with lighted lamps.
The angels and guardians of heaven will rejoice
in the glory of the just and upright people of earth;
Together crowned with victory,
they will sing hymns and psalms.
Stand up then and be ready!
Give thanks to our King and Savior,
Who will come in great glory to gladden us
with His marvelous light in His kingdom.
By: Rev. Dr. Lanette Plambeck, Director of Clergy and Leadership Excellence for The Iowa Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church
Before the Festival of Passover, Jesus knew that his time had come to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them fully.
Jesus and his disciples were sharing the evening meal. The devil had already provoked Judas, Simon Iscariot’s son, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew the Father had given everything into his hands and that he had come from God and was returning to God. So he got up from the table and took off his robes. Picking up a linen towel, he tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he was wearing. When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You don’t understand what I’m doing now, but you will understand later.”
“No!” Peter said. “You will never wash my feet!”
Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t have a place with me.”
Simon Peter said, “Lord, not only my feet but also my hands and my head!”
Jesus responded, “Those who have bathed need only to have their feet washed, because they are completely clean. You disciples are clean, but not every one of you.” He knew who would betray him. That’s why he said, “Not every one of you is clean.”
After he washed the disciples’ feet, he put on his robes and returned to his place at the table. He said to them, “Do you know what I’ve done for you? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you speak correctly, because I am. If I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you too must wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example: Just as I have done, you also must do. I assure you, servants aren’t greater than their master, nor are those who are sent greater than the one who sent them. Since you know these things, you will be happy if you do them.
When Judas was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Human One has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify the Human One in himself and will glorify him immediately. Little children, I’m with you for a little while longer. You will look for me—but, just as I told the Jewish leaders, I also tell you now—‘Where I’m going, you can’t come.’
“I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. 35 This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.”
—John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Foot washing was a common courtesy in Jesus’ time. The streets were dusty and the sandals were open. Everyone’s feet were pretty dirty when they arrived for dinner. Normally a servant would wash the feet of guests as they arrived. No one else would stoop that low. No one, that is, but Jesus. Apparently, Jesus and his disciples did not retain servants. We don’t know if anyone noticed the lapse until Jesus picked up the basin and towel. In effect, Jesus said to his disciples, “I will be a servant for you.”
Jesus taught his followers to love one another, but at his last meal with them he demonstrated the power of loving one’s enemies. When Judas kissed Jesus in the garden as a sign to the soldiers regarding who to arrest, Matthew’s gospel has Jesus say, “Friend, do what you are here to do.” If anyone could be called an enemy of Jesus that night, it would be Judas, yet Jesus called him “friend.” When Peter swore to Jesus that he would never deny him, Jesus knew the truth, yet Jesus did not withdraw his promise that on Peter he would build his church.
We have been given a difficult example to follow: become the servant of all, love and forgive our enemies. On this day we remember Jesus’ great love, and we are challenged to continue to follow him. Our Savior has been arrested and will soon be tried and beaten. Tomorrow he will be hung on a cross until he dies. For today, we must all wrestle with the many ways we have betrayed and denied the one who died for us. And, as we wrestle in guilt and remorse, Jesus has already forgiven us and is begging us to love and forgive our enemies.
Precious Jesus, you loved your disciples enough to humble yourself by washing their feet. Teach us to commit ourselves to humble service in your name. Amen.
By: Rev. Beverly Marshall-Goodell, Smyrna First UMC, Smyrna, GA
Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his saints.
Today, I testify that this word of God is true. Married in1987, Elizabeth and I figured in a war encounter between rebels and military in Samar, Philippines. Believing God had a plan for sparing our lives we left our promising careers as Geodetic Engineers. We dedicated our lives to the service of the Lord and went to seminary.
Elizabeth had a congenital heart disease that resurfaced in 2000. After several death-threatening episodes we found ourselves in the US with better treatment for Elizabeth. For twenty years she and I served the Iowa churches assigned to us. 2014, cancer occurred and the churches and families that we knew were in prayer for her. For five years I was full of hope that my wife will be healed by chemotheraphy and prayer.
Then our world plunged into a Forty Days of Wilderness. After I served an Ash Wednesday Service my wife was vomiting blood. Day and night at the hospital I felt wrestling with the devil as my wife faced death. My faith underwent the worst struggle. My wife kept her faith and got us singing her favorite hymn daily, “I stand amazed in the Presence of Jesus the Nazarene.”
Rev Bernie Colorado brought her last Communion, DS Lilian Seagren prayed, Bishop Laurie Haller also prayed. But it was heartbreaking to see my most beloved succumbing to death very slowly.
I decided to call everyone that I knew that owed her personal loans and I erased their debts telling them that Elizabeth needed to be presented as a gift at the altar of God with all debts forgiven that she may also be forgiven.
My tears flooded my wife's deathbed. At the moment of her death I felt the release of freedom. The burial started the loneliest Holy Week I endured. Driving aimlessly in Iowa City on Easter morning, I found myself in a church that had five brass band, choir and baptisms. We sang my favorite Easter Hymns and my spirit began to energize and I sang on top of my voice as we sang the closing hymn, The Hallelujah Chorus.
I was celebrating the resurrection of the Lord and my wife. I called my son in Omaha and he said he just sang the same. My Forty days of wilderness is over, I am ready to work as a District Superintendent.
We knew that death will come but God did it in the most amazing way for us, his servants. Sickness, pain and suffering are part of it, but the ultimate will of God is the Resurrection. Our prayers for healing was answered with the Final Permanent Healing which can only be understood by his saints who keep their eyes upon the day of the Resurrection. Amen.
Dear God, we pray for the healing of everyone battling cancer. Through Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord, Amen.
By: Rev. Dr. Moody Colorado, Superintendent of the South Central District of The Iowa Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church
Who can believe what we have heard,
and for whose sake has the Lord’s arm been revealed?
He grew up like a young plant before us,
like a root from dry ground.
He possessed no splendid form for us to see,
no desirable appearance.
He was despised and avoided by others;
a man who suffered, who knew sickness well.
Like someone from whom people hid their faces,
he was despised, and we didn’t think about him.
It was certainly our sickness that he carried,
and our sufferings that he bore,
but we thought him afflicted,
struck down by God and tormented.
He was pierced because of our rebellions
and crushed because of our crimes.
He bore the punishment that made us whole;
by his wounds we are healed.
Like sheep we had all wandered away,
each going its own way,
but the Lord let fall on him all our crimes.
He was oppressed and tormented,
but didn’t open his mouth.
Like a lamb being brought to slaughter,
like a ewe silent before her shearers,
he didn’t open his mouth.
Due to an unjust ruling he was taken away,
and his fate—who will think about it?
He was eliminated from the land of the living,
struck dead because of my people’s rebellion.
His grave was among the wicked,
his tomb with evildoers,
though he had done no violence,
and had spoken nothing false.
But the Lord wanted to crush him
and to make him suffer.
If his life is offered as restitution,
he will see his offspring; he will enjoy long life.
The Lord’s plans will come to fruition through him.
After his deep anguish he will see light, and he will be satisfied.
Through his knowledge, the righteous one, my servant,
will make many righteous,
and will bear their guilt.
Therefore, I will give him a share with the great,
and he will divide the spoil with the strong,
in return for exposing his life to death
and being numbered with rebels,
though he carried the sin of many
and pleaded on behalf of those who rebelled.
This is the covenant that I will make with them.
After these days, says the Lord,
I will place my laws in their hearts
and write them on their minds.
And I won’t remember their sins
and their lawless behavior anymore.
When there is forgiveness for these things, there is no longer an offering for sin.
Brothers and sisters, we have confidence that we can enter the holy of holies by means of Jesus’ blood, through a new and living way that he opened up for us through the curtain, which is his body, and we have a great high priest over God’s house.
Therefore, let’s draw near with a genuine heart with the certainty that our faith gives us, since our hearts are sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies are washed with pure water.
Let’s hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, because the one who made the promises is reliable.
And let us consider each other carefully for the purpose of sparking love and good deeds. Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing. Instead, encourage each other, especially as you see the day drawing near.
Many people feel comfortable ranging Jesus alongside other famous teachers and preachers of history, including the ancient Greeks, the Buddha, Mohammed, and the teachers found in the Hindu Scriptures. Jesus did, of course, do a lot of teaching, such as found in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapters five, six and seven, or in His many teachings about the kingdom of God, which He often expressed through parables. His unmistakable message throughout his time on earth was “repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.”
However, sometimes people overlook the fact that Christians worship the God revealed through Jesus because they see Jesus as much more then a teacher or preacher. He did offer life-changing wisdom, but he is in a different category from someone like Plato or Aristotle. This can be seen when one looks at all four of the Gospels in overview.
Of the 89 chapters in the four Gospels, 30 of them are devoted to the last week of the life of Jesus—Holy week, as we are celebrating it now.
If Jesus was primarily just a teacher you would expect all the Gospels to be overflowing with all of his teachings. But the Gospel writers knew that something earth-changingly important happened in that last week of his life, and so they devoted more than a third of the chapters to those events.
It’s on that last week that we see the connection between the sacrifice of the lamb at the time of the Passover and Jesus’ own sacrificial death. The blood of the lamb that saved the people of Passover is identified with Jesus when he says “this is my body and this is my blood.” When the curtain in the temple is torn in half at his death as we see in Matthew 27:51, the separation between God and humanity—which is sin—has been taken away. John the gospel writer also makes clear Jesus death connection to the day of atonement sacrifice where in chapter one of his Gospel he addresses Jesus as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Later, Paul calls Jesus “our Passover.”
It is the various parts of these powerful Old Testament stories that come together and detonates on this day—Good Friday.
May we take seriously our own sinful nature and the cost that Jesus paid for it. Good Friday should engender a deep humility and thankfulness and a renewed desire to sin no more. May it be so.
Increase in us, Lord, our faith in the work of Jesus, and our dependence on Him. Help us to look to Jesus not just as a source of wisdom but as the One who delivered us from sin.
By: Rev. Greg Clapper, University of Indianapolis, Indianapolis, IN
In that day you will say:
“I will praise you, Lord.
Although you were angry with me,
your anger has turned away
and you have comforted me.
Surely God is my salvation;
I will trust and not be afraid.
The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense[a];
he has become my salvation.”
With joy you will draw water
from the wells of salvation.
In that day you will say:
“Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
make known among the nations what he has done,
and proclaim that his name is exalted.
Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things;
let this be known to all the world.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion,
for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.”
—Isaiah 12:1-6 (NIV)
All the churches that I have been affiliated with (as member or as pastor), have many things in common. Let us today, in this Holy Saturday “Easter Vigil” consider one of them in particular – The Church Bell. I contend that ALL churches should have bells – Big Bronze Bells – to be sounded loudly on all kinds of occasions (Sundays, certainly, and for weddings, funerals, Christmas, Easter, and particularly on Good Friday).
Some church bells are set in a tower feature of a church building, and others are prominently mounted upon an outdoor stand (that way, they can be both seen and heard). One place I served had a tower bell that could not be heard because of some kind of unseen brokenness way up high in the building. Years do tend to take their “Toll” – on church bells (and on people of the church, too). That bell remained as silent as a prayer vigil until there was a “Fix” – and for that bell “The Fix Was In” one particular Friday named “Good”. A repair crew was called in so that when Easter came the clarion call could be heard once again.
Hours later the rope was readied for its first functional tug in a long time. Yet first heard was this statement: “Before we try let’s first check the time – for history’s sake.”
Yup, you guessed it – Hour Three of the afternoon that fine Friday – the same hour and weekday two thousand years earlier – when “The Fix Was In” – when Jesus Christ, crucified on the cross for the sake and fix of our brokenness, gave up his spirit. That fine Friday became known as “Good” because of that Third Day when neither the grave nor death itself could restrain Him any longer – “He Is Risen! He Is Risen, Indeed!”
So after “the Fix was in” and the repaired rope got tugged – the church bell tolled – 3 p.m. on that Good Friday – “Clang! Clang! Clang! ….” – a total of Twelve times (for completeness) for “It is Finished” is what our Lord and Savior said upon the cross.
Then the bell was left to be at rest and silent again – until the Third Day – ready once more to share its news with the neighbors – the Good News of the Gospel of Grace in Jesus Christ – for weddings, funerals, Christmas, and of course for all Sundays, especially for those with Easter in their title.
Let this prayer be both personal and communal – O Lord, your Holy Word tells me to
“Fix my eyes upon Jesus who … endured the cross, scorning its shame …” (Hebrews 12:2).
In all my ways of preparation for the Easter Sunday Celebration, whenever I set about a “Fix” for this or that, help me first attend to my own self, help me comprehend and personally claim for myself your power of salvation from “The Fix that Was In” on the cross and in the tomb – now open and empty.
Help me, O Lord, “fix the rope” in my life, so that I can be that bell that proclaims its clarion call, both of the Good News on that Friday, and of the glorious Third Day News on this Easter Sunday, and forevermore.
Alleluia and Amen!
By: Rev. Jim Roth, Eagle Grove United Methodist Church, Eagle Grove, IA
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the tomb. Look, there was a great earthquake, for an angel from the Lord came down from heaven. Coming to the stone, he rolled it away and sat on it. Now his face was like lightning and his clothes as white as snow. The guards were so terrified of him that they shook with fear and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Don’t be afraid. I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He isn’t here, because he’s been raised from the dead, just as he said. Come, see the place where they laid him. Now hurry, go and tell his disciples, ‘He’s been raised from the dead. He’s going on ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there.’ I’ve given the message to you.”
With great fear and excitement, they hurried away from the tomb and ran to tell his disciples. But Jesus met them and greeted them. They came and grabbed his feet and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Go and tell my brothers that I am going into Galilee. They will see me there.”
—Matthew 28:1-10 (CEB)
Billy Sunday was the first great traveling evangelist of the twentieth century. He traveled the country with his flamboyant revival showmanship, which attracted enormous crowds. A consummate showman, Sunday he would invite his listeners at the end of the sermon to come forward by walking down the sawdust trail of the temporary wooden structure to give their lives to Christ. “Hitting the sawdust trail” became a synonym for repentance and conversion.
The first people to ever hit the sawdust trail, however, were the women, weren’t they? Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to the tomb, where they encountered an angel sitting on a stone who said, “Don’t be afraid. Jesus has been raised from the dead. Now, hurry and go, tell his disciples.”
The phrase, “hitting the sawdust trail,” actually predates Billy Sunday, originating in the forests of Oregon, where lumber jacks would get lost deep in the woods. Needing find their way out, they would lay a trail of sawdust along the way so they could follow it out to a place where they could get their bearings.
Like the lumberjacks, we, too, are totally lost and have to rely on God’s grace to lead us to and then along the sawdust trail. We cannot control resurrection because resurrection is God’s work of grace. Do you, too, want to hit the sawdust trail? Then practice resurrection by welcoming and walking beside all kinds of people traveling the way of spiritual formation.
In his poem, Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front, Wendell Berry captures the unpredictability of resurrection. He says, “So, friends, every day do something that won’t compute. Love the Lord. Love the world. Work for nothing. Take all that you have and be poor. Love someone who does not deserve it.... Practice resurrection.”
God of new birth, this is the day of resurrection, and we are ready to hit the sawdust trail, a trail that leads right back into everyday life where we commit ourselves to practice resurrection. With your grace leading the way, we will welcome all people to journey with us, so that one day the kingdom of this world will become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ. And he shall reign forever and ever, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah! Amen.
By: Bishop Laurie Haller, Resident Bishop, Iowa Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church