April 11, 2020
Easter Vigil Saturday
April 10, 2020
- Isaiah 52:13 - 53:12
- Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9
- John 19:16b-42
"Christ's Cross and Adam's Skull"
In ancient Christian art you occasionally come across a curious portrayal of Jesus’ crucifixion. Like most depictions, it shows the cross of Jesus in the middle of the picture. But the artist allows us to look with x-ray vision into the ground beneath the cross. And there, buried in the dirt, is a skull. It is the skull of Adam—the first human being. This old tradition claims that Paradise—the Garden of Eden—was situated on the hill that became Golgotha. And, the story goes, when Adam died, his son, Seth, wandered back to the place where the Garden had once been. Eden was gone now, dissolved by sin and the brokenness that human rebellion had introduced into the world. But Seth buried his father on the hill that used to be in the center of the garden, and he planted a tree to mark the grave. The tree and its descendants, it was said, eventually provided the wood that made Jesus’ cross. And the cross, eventually, was planted in the very spot above the skull of Jesus’ great-great-great-great-on-and-on-and-on grandfather. And that is where Jesus died, so that his blood pouring into the ground, could save Adam.
The Apostle Paul liked to link Adam with Jesus. He calls Jesus the Second Adam. Paul says that the First Adam brought death into the world by sin, and so all humans were infected by that one man’s sin. The Second Adam, Jesus, died so that there might be life for humankind. Through the Second Adam’s death, the first Adam’s death can be undone.
In the seventeenth century, the English priest and poet, John Donne, reflected on all of this. He wrote a poem six days before he died, while he was racked in fever. The poem was called, “Hymn to God, My God, in My Sickness.” And this is part of what he wrote:
We think that Paradise and Calvary,
Christ’s cross, and Adam’s tree, stood in one place;
Look, Lord, and find both Adams met in me;
As the first Adam’s sweat surrounds my face,
May the last Adam’s blood my soul embrace.
“Both Adams met in me.” That is a dimension of the “holy communion” we talked about last night. In Jesus, God has entered fully into our own humanity. God has come to be truly human as one of us. In Jesus, God takes no shortcuts but completely experiences the heights and depths of what it means to be one of us. He dreams like us, hopes like us, experiences despair like us. He struggles like us and has to learn obedience through suffering, the same way we do. God becomes deeply invested in what our life is like. In Jesus, God does this so completely and profoundly that he even undergoes death—and not just any death, but perhaps the cruelest, most violent and painful death any human has ever had to experience. This fusion of God with us is so complete that what-God-is and who-we-are cannot be undone. And so, when you look at the cross of Jesus what you are seeing is the death of God. God dies for us. God dies so that we may live, for if God has so tightly bound the divine self to our humanity, then it must be also true that Jesus’ resurrection means life for all.
The cross of Jesus is a place of deep mystery. It is the place where our deepest despair and our deepest hope meet each other. The cross of Jesus is the best place we can come to in a time of pandemic. The suffering of God’s servant can heal us. Because God has bound the divine self to us, we know that no matter what happens here and now to us and those we love, in the end we will be secure and loved.
Our final hymn tonight speaks eloquently about Jesus’ cross and the tree of life. If it’s unfamiliar, just follow along with the words until you’re ready to sing. Between each verse we will have time to reflect on images of the cross. How many of those images are hidden in the cross you have in your home? During the meditation, you can mark yourself with the sign of the cross, even as you were marked in your baptism. When the meditation is over, we will leave in silence. But we will return tomorrow night so that God can surprise us with what is hidden in the darkness!
Sermon by Pastor Ron Roschke
April 9, 2020
Two Readings, Two Homilies
FIRST READING - Matthew 26: 20-30
20 When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve; 21 and while they were eating, he said, "Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me." 22 And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, "Surely not I, Lord?" 23 He answered, "The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born." 25 Judas, who betrayed him, said, "Surely not I, Rabbi?" He replied, "You have said so." 26 While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body." 27 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom." 30 When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
I mentioned in today’s Check-in that this is the first time in my memory that the Sacrament of the Altar is suspended on Maundy Thursday. We are in strange, chartless, territory. But even here, Holy Communion can offer us a map to understand where we happen to find ourselves in this pandemic.
Holy Communion. Please think with me for a minute about that phrase. What is “the Holy Communion.” When we talk about it, it means several things all at once. Communion is what we eat when we share the Sacrament. We’ll say to each other, “Have you taken Communion lately? Have you taken the food Jesus offers?” Communion is the stuff we put into our mouths when we’re at church: bread and wine. But it’s not just bread and wine, is it? We believe that along with the bread and wine we also receive Jesus. We believe that because that is what Jesus said nearly two-thousand years ago, when he shared this meal for the first time with his disciples, the night before his crucifixion. “Take, eat. This is my body. Drink of this, all of you. This cup is the new salvation in my blood.” Bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ—that is what Holy Communion is.
And that means it is Holy Communion in a double sense. It’s not just the food we eat and drink. It is Christ himself, joined by his promise to be present in this food. Luther says over and over that Jesus gives himself to us “in, with, and under” the forms of bread and wine. And so, it really is a Holy Communion! Daily bread is fused with Jesus’ own promise to be present with us—a Holy Communion for sure! Earthly, earthy food becomes the way we take into ourselves the God through whom all things were made. We are infused into the life of God, because God weaves this nourishment into our very cells and makes a home here, inside us!
But this is Holy Communion in a third sense. That word communion means “coming together.” Jesus comes into bread and wine and fuses himself there. But in Holy Communion, we come together. “Communion” is “community.” We don’t just sit at a table by ourselves and eat bread and wine. We do it in community. We do it together. “Drink of this, all of you.” Jesus puts us together to receive this gift in all the entanglements of our life that make us a community.
There is another phrase we use that is almost identical to “Holy Communion.” It is “Body of Christ.” What is the Body of Christ? It is the food that we receive in the Sacrament. But it is also us! Paul says, “Now, you are the body of Christ individually and members of it.” We are Body of Christ together. When it comes to the Sacrament, there are always two things that cannot be separated: what we eat and who we are. They go together. They belong together.
But there’s something that Jesus says about his body. “It is broken for you.” This body is broken. And this, too, happens on different levels. Jesus has to break the bread to feed us from the loaf. But he’s also telling his disciples that it is his body that is broken for us. He’s hinting at what will happen to him the very next day as he dies on a cross—body broken. I think this image of the broken body can help name for us what we are experiencing right now. We too, as a community, are “body broken.” Our community is broken now by this disease. We cannot be together. We are scattered and locked in our homes. We can’t even share the Sacrament the way we usually do because we cannot be together.
By breaking his body for us, Jesus makes a promise. He says, “When you are broken, I will be there. When things come apart in your life, I will never turn my back on you. When a pandemic shatters your communion and holds you apart, I will hold you together. My arms, outstretched on a cross, are wide enough to embrace you all. You are not alone. You are loved together. My love will always connect you to each other.” The Apostle Paul rephrases Jesus’ commitment in what may be the best words he ever wrote:
I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
While we are separated and cannot share the feast, this can be the Holy Communion that holds us together!
SECOND READING - John 13:2b-17
1Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” 11For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
12After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”
31b“Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
"Body Washed, Restored"
Among the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell us the story of Jesus instituting the Lord’s Supper on the night he is betrayed. But John’s gospel is different. John tells us that Jesus eats with his disciples the night before he dies. But rather than sharing the bread and cup with them, he does something else: he washes their feet. And after washing their feet, he gives them a “new commandment”: “that you love one another as I have loved you.” It’s that commandment that gives this day its name. The Latin word for command is mandatum—“Maundy Thursday,” the day of the new command.
Quite a few churches on this day practice foot washing, to obey Jesus’ command. People wash each other’s feet. Maybe you’ve done this at St. Stephen’s. It’s a very strange, uncomfortable liturgical action. Most of the time quite a few of us hide our feet from each other. I’m so envious when I see someone at the beach walking around with beautiful bare feet. Mine are a mess, and I’m usually hurrying to try to bury my toes in the sand as quickly as I can. And if the idea of having someone wash your feet sounds…well…odd, at least you’re in good company. Peter feels it, too! He says to Jesus, “You shall never wash my feet.” But Peter’s reaction is not exactly the same as ours. Let me explain….
Washing feet was far more common in the ancient world than it is in ours. In fact, it was a necessity. In their world, you used your feet to take you wherever you needed to go. No cars, no paved roads—just dusty paths and lots of dirt. If you had been out for the day, by the time you got home, your feet were a stinking mess. The very first thing you would do as you come in the door to your dwelling is make sure your feet got clean. But here’s the important point: if your family had any money at all, you probably had a house servant, and it is that servant—maybe even a slave—that would do the dirty work of washing your feet. It was what was expected. Respectable people didn’t wash their own feet. Servants and slaves did that work.
Jesus’ world was shaped by hierarchy: masters and slaves, free citizens and serfs, rich and poor, men and women, privileged and burdened, overlords and captives, powerful and weak, valued and scorned. Peter is offended by Jesus’ action because Peter sees that Jesus, his Teacher, is overturning the hierarchy, just as Jesus overturned the tables in the Temple. Jesus is bringing a wrecking ball through all the social structures that define people and give them a place in the culture—the structures that make people feel safe and that create order. If we dismantle all the structures that make us feel safe, where will that leave us?
It’s easy for us, twenty-first century Christians living in America, to convince ourselves that that was their problem, not ours. After all, we live in a democracy and we are convinced that all men are created equal—oops, excuse me—all people are created equal. But I’d like to invite you to look at the bowl and towel you have placed near your devotional space, and stare at them as you think about these things:
- What do you think motivated the last check-out person you encountered at the grocery store. Why does this person stay on the job and continue working to get you food even though it puts that person and his or her family at risk? Is it just their high ideals, or could it be necessity?
- Do the nurses and fireman and police officers who continue working during the pandemic get paid a wage that compensates them for the risks they are taking?
- What about the hospital staff that cleans the floors and carts out the garbage?
- Why is it that African-Americans are dying in this pandemic at a rate far higher than the rest of us? What does that reveal about the structure of our world and the uneven distribution of resources among us shaped merely by the color of our skin?
- Why do men consistently get paid more than women for doing the same work?
- Who are all the people in your life that serve you? Who does the jobs you don’t like to do? And who are the people that are easily overlooked, who get taken for granted?
Jesus’ solution to these issues of inequality is not to declare that all people are created equal. He takes it even one step further: he takes the water basin into his own hands and picks up the towel and begins to wash the feet of his disciples. And then he suggests that we should do the same. So please look at your own towel and basin there beside you and think with me about these ideas:
- Whom do you need to thank that you haven’t thanked recently?
- Who are the people who serve you, and how might you serve them?
- Who needs a kind word from you?
- What can you do to let the people around you know how much they mean to you?
- What kind word can you give to someone that would surprise them?
- How can you express your thanks to the person you take for granted? What will you do the next time you see a nurse or a custodian or the check-out clerk at the store?
- How can you value the people whom others despise and dismiss?
These may seem like insignificant kindnesses or random acts of generosity. Jesus has something else in mind. He intends to undo our world and create another simply by washing our feet. He places before us the vision of a world built on a revolutionary idea: “You have been loved by me,” he says. “Don’t waste that gift! Take it deep down inside you—like bread and wine you eat. Digest it and let it seep into all your cells. Be filled with what I have done for you. Be shaped by my love for you—love that is unconditional. Let me fill you. Let me be your life. Let me speak and do—through your mouth, your imagination, your acts of kindness—to make all things new. Let me, living through you—heal and restore this broken world. And let us begin this work—here, now….”
Yes. Let us do it—here, now—in the name of Jesus.
Sermon by Pastor Ron Roschke
Sunday, April 5, 2020
Palm Sunday / Sunday of the Passion
The Word for This Day
FIRST READING - ISAIAH 50:4-9a
4The Lord God has given me
the tongue of a teacher,
that I may know how to sustain
the weary with a word.
Morning by morning he wakens—
wakens my ear
to listen as those who are taught.
5The Lord God has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious,
I did not turn backward.
6I gave my back to those who struck me,
and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;
I did not hide my face
from insult and spitting.
7The Lord God helps me;
therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame;
8he who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me?
Let us stand up together.
Who are my adversaries?
Let them confront me.
9aIt is the Lord God who helps me;
who will declare me guilty?
SECOND READING - PHILIPPIANS 2:5-11
5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
9Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
GOSPEL - MATTHEW 26:14 - 27:66
Today's Gospel is the entire story of Jesus' suffering and death as told by Matthew. You are invited to read it from your Bible and reflect upon it. Today's sermon (below) is a brief introduction to guide your reading and reflection.
"Introduction to the Passion According to Matthew"
We are about to hear a painful story. That is what a “Passion” is. Passio is Latin for “suffer.” And there is plenty of suffering in this story. Matthew describes a grizzly execution. There is raw and naked anger—a crowd gone frantic. There is torture and cruelty. There are two betrayals and a suicide and a great unmasking of pretension. By the end of the story is seems everyone has been undone—Jesus, the disciples, the leaders, the crowd, Judas, and Peter.
In a time of pandemic, why should we put ourselves through such a horrendous tale? One answer is simple and honest: “It happened.” And if it happened it could happen again. It could happen to you or me. And so we have an obligation to remember. As Matthew tells the story, however, he gives it a twist—uses a phrase he loves to use throughout his gospel: “Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet....” This story of pain is not an accident or mistake. It was plotted beforehand, and the author of this tale is no one less than God.
In this story there is one character who stays in control. It is the one for whom the story seems most certainly to go spinning of control. It is Jesus. He sets a course for Jerusalem and the hill called The Skull and he will not be swerved from it. Even more, he has determined that he will not travel this path alone. He brings everyone else in the story with him. It’s not a trick or a deception. He told them from the beginning this is how it would have to be: “If you would follow, take up your cross.”
None of the other characters end up on crosses with Jesus, but one way or another, everyone in this story dies. They cease to be what they had been. The crowd that once cheered Jesus now calls for his death; they offer their own children as a sacrifice to their rage. Judas thinks he will make the world better but discovers he’s made a terrible mistake. Peter must confront the reality that he is not the hot-shot disciple he pretends to be. A Roman governor executes a man he knows is innocent. Religious authorities become transfixed in their jealousy and orthodox convictions and it leads them to murder. Interestingly, only the women fare well in this story. Pilate’s wife tries to call her husband back from disaster. The women from Galilee will watch the proceedings while the men run away. The women fare well because in Matthew’s world they are “the little ones”—the ideal disciples of whom Jesus has been speaking throughout the story. Relegated to second-class citizenship in a patriarchal society, these women are closest to the kingdom of which Jesus has been speaking. They understand what it means to empty oneself for the sake of others.
And if Jesus walks this path and brings his disciples with him, it is only so that they can be undone, too—so that they can also be raised from the dead like him and assume his new life in the world. This most certainly is risky business. Jesus says so and he shows it. Everyone loses their lives. Some like Judas never come back. Other like Peter and the disciples will need to die to what they were. But the story does not end here—today. There is an open tomb and a resurrection. Jesus is going there, and he wants us to follow.
Let us hear the Passion of Our Lord According to Saint Matthew....
Sermon by Pastor Ron Roschke