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Daily Encouragement - April 7

Matthew 27:55-56 

Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him. 56 Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

Mark 15:40-41

There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.

Luke 23:48-49

(And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten pounds!’) 26 ‘I tell you, to all those who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 27 But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and slaughter them in my presence.’”

John 19:25-27

And that is what the soldiers did.

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

Yesterday, I participated in the Good Friday service of St. Francis by the Sea Episcopal Church. (Yes, I know; that’s not exactly staying at home, but the rector there issued his invitation, and I accepted, long before the Governor’s order; furthermore, the Episcopalians informed me, providing virtual worship is every bit as essential as going out for groceries...with which I can only heartily agree.) The service was one that’s traditional in many Episcopal churches, focusing on the “Seven Last Words” of Jesus from the Cross. I had been assigned the first word, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) No need for me to repeat here the meditation I offered yesterday; Centenary will have its own Good Friday Facebook Post to bless that holy day....and, if you really want to know, you can always go to the website of St. Francis By The Sea, and see/hear the whole thing. In some ways, it felt a bit odd to be there, where the denominational and congregational traditions and customs - and, yes,quirks! - are somewhat different from what’s familiar to me; but in other ways, I felt right at home. 

At about a quarter past 3pm, as a lay speaker was giving the meditation on the second word from the Cross, I felt my heart “strangely warmed,” as John Wesley once said, as it struck me, all over again, that “Christ died for me” - not only for all sinners in all times and all places, but also for a sinner named Susan - for me. (If you’re not familiar with Wesley’s “Aldersgate experience,” Google it - it’s worth the read.) It’s hard not to be moved by the plaintive words of the repentant thief, who cried out from his own cross, “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your Kingdom,” and surely only the hardest of hearts can resist Jesus’s reassuring reply “Truly I say to you, Today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:42-43). It was at that moment that I realized why I was feeling so at home in an unfamiliar place: for the first time in what seems like forever, but has only been a few weeks, I was doing something totally “normal” for me; I was worshipping our Lord during this holiest of weeks with other Christians.  Of course, there were only 10 of us, including the Baptist who was filming the service - so it was truly an ecumenical affair!  Yes, we were carefully observing the “no more than 10 people in a group” regulation, and we were staying six feet apart as best we could in a small chancel, and we were filming the service 5 days ahead of the actual day; but none of that mattered. What mattered was that, for at least one hour, the dark shadow of COVID19 was eclipsed by a far greater shadow, the shadow of the Cross (#297, vs 1, United Methodists Hymnal). It was good to be reminded that no matter how overbearing our current circumstances may be (or seem), the vast, profound love of Jesus still flows deep and wide, a fountain of mercy that nothing and no one can stem. 

Most of us will not be able to worship with other Christians this Holy Week, and that’s tough for a lot of us. All four Gospels (see the brief scripture passages above) include a report of groups of disciples standing within eye view of the Cross; given the gut wrenching experience of watching the execution of Jesus, it must have provided at least some comfort for them to be together in their grief.  It’s not easy to be cut off from our Christian community!  Some of us who live alone may have “only“ the Lord for company this week, and others will have “only” their families to journey with them through the week; but no one and nothing can take the power of Holy Week away from us. Many of us will have far more time at our disposal this Holy Week than we have ever had before. What a wonderful opportunity to avail ourselves of time enough and space to honor the Cross of Christ with devotional reading, with pouring over the the Passion stories in the four gospels, with time spent in prayer, with sharing the love of Christ with others who need it as badly as we do. We may never have such an opportunity again; let’s not waste it.

“Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross”

Jesus, keep me near the cross;

there a precious fountain free to all,

a healing stream, flows from Calvary's mountain

Near the cross! O Lamb of God,

bring its scenes before me,

help me walk from day to day

with its shadow o'er me.

In the cross, in the cross,

be my glory ever,

till my raptured soul shall find rest

beyond the river

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the Cross, so that everyone might come within your saving embrace: so clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you, for the honor of your name. Amen.

(St. Stephen’s Prayer, The Book of Common Prayer, 1979)

Pastor Susan PG

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