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Lenten Daily Reflection 2020-04-11

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Psalm 27  

1 The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom then shall I fear? *
the Lord is the strength of my life;
of whom then shall I be afraid?

2 When evildoers came upon me to eat up my flesh, *
it was they, my foes and my adversaries, who
stumbled and fell.

3 Though an army should encamp against me, *
yet my heart shall not be afraid;

4 And though war should rise up against me, *
yet will I put my trust in him.

5 One thing have I asked of the Lord;
one thing I seek; *
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life;

6 To behold the fair beauty of the Lord *
and to seek him in his temple.
7 For in the day of trouble he shall keep me safe in his shelter; *
he shall hide me in the secrecy of his dwelling
and set me high upon a rock.

8 Even now he lifts up my head *
above my enemies round about me.

9 Therefore I will offer in his dwelling an oblation
with sounds of great gladness; *
I will sing and make music to the Lord.

10 Hearken to my voice, O Lord, when I call; *
have mercy on me and answer me.

11 You speak in my heart and say, "Seek my face." *
Your face, Lord, will I seek.

12 Hide not your face from me, *
nor turn away your servant in displeasure.

13 You have been my helper;
cast me not away; *
do not forsake me, O God of my salvation.

14 Though my father and my mother forsake me, *
the Lord will sustain me.

15 Show me your way, O Lord; *
lead me on a level path, because of my enemies.

16 Deliver me not into the hand of my adversaries, *
for false witnesses have risen up against me,
and also those who speak malice.

17 What if I had not believed
that I should see the goodness of the Lord *
in the land of the living!
18 O tarry and await the Lord's pleasure;
be strong, and he shall comfort your heart; *
wait patiently for the Lord.

I might be the only idiot rereading Stephen King's The Stand right now. Often hailed as one of his best novels, it's about a plague with 100% mortality that wipes out 99% of humanity, only to have the survivors divided in an epic battle of good and evil. The good are called to Boulder, CO, and the bad commune in - where else - Vegas. Strangely, this complete fiction is soothing against current realities.

This Psalm says so much At This Time. It's not difficult to latch onto the military wording, given the parallel language we're hearing each day - the 'war' against coronavirus, our healthcare workers on the 'front lines', and the 'enemies' lurking on every surface yet visible only with an electron microscope. Only, we can't leave our houses and gather together to find strength in numbers, like the good guys in The Stand.   

The phrase that's playing on loop for me is '... he shall keep me safe in his shelter'. What a cosmic flipping of the script that we're called to use our homes to safeguard ourselves, friends, family and people we've never even met - by NOT welcoming them in. It's strange to think that our battle is fought through stillness and distance. But then I remember we're all living within God's shelter - just with separate rooms for a little while. 

Living on Ocean Parkway, the wailing of ambulances had been a constant reminder of the gravity of this situation and that so little is in our control. Fortunately, the sirens have been fewer the past few days - and that has comforted my heart.

Posted by Janet Turley

Lenten Daily Reflection 2020-04-10

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Lamentations 3:1-9, 19-33

3 I am one who has seen affliction
   under the rod of God’s * wrath; 

2 he has driven and brought me
   into darkness without any light; 

3 against me alone he turns his hand,
   again and again, all day long. 

4 He has made my flesh and my skin waste away,
   and broken my bones; 

5 he has besieged and enveloped me
   with bitterness and tribulation; 

6 he has made me sit in darkness
   like the dead of long ago. 

7 He has walled me about so that I cannot escape;
   he has put heavy chains on me; 

8 though I call and cry for help,
   he shuts out my prayer; 

9 he has blocked my ways with hewn stones,
   he has made my paths crooked. 

19 The thought of my affliction and my homelessness
   is wormwood and gall! 

20 My soul continually thinks of it
   and is bowed down within me. 

21 But this I call to mind,
   and therefore I have hope: 

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,*
   his mercies never come to an end; 

23 they are new every morning;
   great is your faithfulness. 

24 ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul,
   ‘therefore I will hope in him.’ 

25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
   to the soul that seeks him. 

26 It is good that one should wait quietly
   for the salvation of the Lord. 

27 It is good for one to bear
   the yoke in youth, 

28 to sit alone in silence
   when the Lord has imposed it, 

29 to put one’s mouth to the dust
   (there may yet be hope), 

30 to give one’s cheek to the smiter,
   and be filled with insults. 

31 For the Lord will not
   reject for ever. 

32 Although he causes grief, he will have compassion
   according to the abundance of his steadfast love; 

33 for he does not willingly afflict
   or grieve anyone. 
There is nothing like Lamentations to express the depths of our human emotions.  I, like you, have been witness to the unfolding catastrophe of the Covid-19 pandemic.  Helpless, I have seen the numbers increase, the desperate measures taken, my own isolation.  I am one who has seen affliction,… he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light.”  Yet, I was one of the fortunate ones.  I was retired, I didn’t have to brave the subway and go to work.  My husband Martin was with me in my isolation, I am blessed with friends and family who love me.
And then we both got sick—fever, aches and queasiness.  My temperature went up and down.  All I could do was sleep.  “He has walled me about so that I cannot escape; he has put heavy chains on me.”  For over a week I was sick—it is only in the last few days that I have felt more myself.
Even with recovery, sadness closes in: we discover today that our next-door neighbor has died due to Covid-19.  The angel of death has descended so close to us. 
Still, life in its goodness carries on.  We keep our religious traditions.  We have a tiny Passover Seder, we observe Maundy Thursday. “It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”  Waiting quietly is what we are called to do.  It is sufficient-dayenu.


Lenten Daily Reflection 2020-04-09

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Mark 14:12-25

12 On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, ‘Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?’ 13 So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, 14 and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, “The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?” 15 He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.’ 16 So the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.

17 When it was evening, he came with the twelve. 18 And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.’ 19 They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, ‘Surely, not I?’ 20 He said to them, ‘It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread* into the bowl*with me. 21 For 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.’

22 While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body.’ 23 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. 24 He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the* covenant, which is poured out for many. 25 Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.’

I have a soft spot for the grail scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, a film based (very) loosely on a medieval legend, about the supposed miraculous powers of the cup Jesus used at the first Eucharist. The characters in a climax scene face a trial to choose the true grail among dozens of perilous false possibilities. Everyone brings to the selection process a decision that reveals their own vices. A pro-Nazi villain chooses a chalice plated with gold and adorned with jewels, and has his poor choice result in an unfortunate end. But the true grail, only accessible to "the penitent one," ends up being a simple, plain, wooden cup, not adorned or plated at all.

In the text we have today, an account of the Last Supper, I am especially struck by the ordinariness of the whole interaction. In history, much ritual has been built up around the Eucharist. And much care has been taken in defending theological arguments over what Jesus' words actually mean. But at the end of the day, Jesus' actions and words in Mark are plain and bare. He took, blessed, broke, and gave. This account, like much of the Gospel of Mark, defies complexity and ornamentation. We might want to find gold and jewels here, but we are given a simple wooden cup.

It seems the Twelve in the Upper Room also wanted to find things here, but instead are given something else. They bring their own interpretive frameworks, dust from the road. They are asked to leave these at the door. Peter brought to the table his desire to be in control, wanting to be the one washing dust off other people's feet -- not to be the one whose dusty feet are washed (though that story is from John's Gospel, not Mark's). And Judas brought with him the baggage of his betrayal. There's a painting by Lucas Cranach the Younger in the City Church in Wittenberg depicting Judas at the table, receiving bread from the very hands of Jesus. In this painting Judas -- at the same time he receives communion -- clutches the money bags he has been paid to betray Jesus, which he grips intently. Judas the Betrayer is the only one of the Twelve in this painting, it seems, who comes to the table with extra baggage.

How should we react to the invitation to the Feast? And this is, as much as it was 2,000 years ago, a personal invitation. What should we bring? Christ does not ask us to bring anything at all. If anything, he asks us to leave our baggage behind. Even the Upper Room in the text is found "furnished and ready" by the Twelve, mysteriously pre-prepared. Like the original disciples, to respond to the invitation, we just need to go.

Encountering this text again today, and placing ourselves at the table with Jesus and the Twelve, we should remember there is only one thing necessary to bring here: our selves, which Jesus will make a fit offering by his own actions. From the Rite I liturgy: “And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee; humbly beseeching thee that we, and all others who shall be partakers of this Holy Communion ... be filled with thy grace and heavenly benediction, and made one body with him, that he may dwell in us, and we in him.”


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