Luke 19:28-40, 45-48
Author: Chad Hyatt
There’s something about the table-upending Jesus, the one who refuses to let us go about business as normal. Table-tossing Jesus is the one we human beings shout both ‘hosanna’ for and ‘crucify’ against. Imagine my surprise when I realized our Palm Sunday liturgy at Mercy has always included Jesus marching into the temple and toppling tables, sending coins and birds alike flying—but the lectionary doesn’t. In fact, only once in the three year cycle of readings for worship does it make an appearance: the Third Week of Lent, Year B. I don’t think there is a lectionary conspiracy afoot or anything nefarious like that. But I do think our choice to always keep these texts together and its general omission is telling. Our reading has always seen the liturgy of the palms as a street action, a protest march from the overlooked outskirts to the very center of power. It is worship, but it is a very radical and subversive kind of worship. There’s a reason the powers that be wanted to nail Jesus to a cross, after all. Flipping tables in the temple, calling out the institutional exploitation of the poor and reminding us what true worship of the liberating God ought to be, is a natural extension, even an intensifier, of the palm-waving celebration that ushered Jesus into Jerusalem. Our community Palm Sunday practice has often included marching together in the streets toward our worship space, palms moving like flags and home-made protest signs raised together, as we sing civil rights anthems and shout throaty hosannas. As we study the scriptures together and unpack their meaning for us, we inevitably see ourselves as part of the movement Jesus was leading. Isn’t that what church really is, after all—a movement for freedom that Jesus is still leading? I remember a member of our community remarking in bible study: ‘It seems to me like Jesus knew his conflict with the authorities was unavoidable, and so he’s turning himself in. I’ve had to do that before.’ Our own holy table isn’t excluded from Jesus’ indictment of the way all of our communities can turn inward upon themselves and forsake God’s call of liberation and radical welcome. Yes, we have actually overturned our own communion table as an act of worship. Because it’s important to remind ourselves that even we are not excluded from Jesus’ TFE (Table Flipping Energy). Maybe it would do all of us good to include some table-tossing in our liturgies and worship and especially in the lives of the communities we are called to lead with one another toward liberation.
Prayer Jesus, overturn our tables until we make a prayerful home for all.
Author: Matthew Hyatt
Reflection: v. 7, ‘whatever gains I had, I have come to regard as loss’
This passage talks about how Paul once considered his many titles and status from society to be high praise and worthy of note. He was proud of these accomplishments and had achieved what most folks would call success. However, he had now come to consider all of these status markers and accomplishments to be wasted effort. This is because he found his faith in Christ and realized that his faith in Christ was more important than all the titles and positions he could have gotten elsewhere in the world. This is an important lesson for us to learn and apply in our lives as well. We should all feel empowered to take our faith in Christ and find what matters to us in our life. As Paul notes, he still has a way to go on his journey and just because he found fulfillment in his faith, that does not mean that his life became measurably easier. When we find what matters to us, we will also have to put in work to keep and expand what is important to us, just as Paul had taken up the work to expand and guide the early Christian communities. I know from personal experience that working toward something that is important to me makes me feel happier and more productive working on it, even if the work is harder or more complicated. As we move forward let’s try to learn from Paul’s experience. Let us try to find what gives meaning and fulfillment in our lives. Let us then take those things and treasure and work to expand them.
Prayer Guide and empower us, God, to find fulfillment in our journeys with you.
Author: Tracey Lynn
Reflection: v.19, ‘I will make a way in the wilderness, and waters in the desert’
It was the end of the day. The end of a long day that began at 4:20 a.m. As I drove to pick up my daughter, I wondered what to make her for dinner. She got in the car and almost as if she read my mind she said, ‘Can we have Waffle House for dinner?’ In my exhaustion I was delighted at her suggestion because I knew I still needed to study and do some laundry in addition to making dinner happen. When I arrived at the Waffle House, I was greeted by a warm and lovely waitress. As I was placing our order to-go she politely paused for a moment and reached for her phone.
She said, ‘This is my song!’ while she turned up the volume on the speaker she brought from home and began singing along with Al Green, ‘For the Good Times.’ She continued to sing and sway to the music all while she rang up my order and dried the silverware. As I waited for the food, the cook, the waitress and I swayed gently and sang quietly with Al Green. In that unsuspecting, unexpected moment at the Waffle House, refreshment was offered and shared in the midst of the everyday-ness and the feeling of exhaustion.
In this scripture, Isaiah is addressing the Israelites who have been held captive and separated from their community at the hands of the Babylonians. He is attempting to offer them hope in the promises of God amid their suffering—which can often feel like a lonely wilderness or a dry desert. We can read Isaiah and know intellectually that God is where we find hope, but often it’s difficult to translate that to our everyday lives. I know I certainly struggle sometimes to see and understand what God’s hope looks like when things seem hard, especially when circumstances seem to remain unchanged. But it’s amid those circumstances when we pause, pay attention, and sway to the music of the unexpected rivers that appear before us in our deserts, that we will catch a glimpse of the hope in God that Isaiah perceives.
Prayer God, who provides waffles in the wilderness, care for our needs and give us rest and refreshment.
Author: Kent Smith
Reflection: v. 18, ‘do not remember the former things’
Memory is a tricky thing. Things we think of as ‘unforgettable’ may stay with us for a long time, but the details can get fuzzy: the time of day, the season, what we were wearing. Psychologists have shown human memory will lose traction, slip up, make mistakes. Like an old tape, the fidelity of our memory can wear out, get grainy, colors blur and fade. Our relationships are built on memories, trust or lack thereof is forged on what happened before. For many of us, that’s a tough ask to have only your past speak for you, especially an imprecise past. We make mistakes and gain perspective, and sometimes that can come too late for many people. Even if we don’t remember all the facts, the feeling of hurt remains. While Isaiah makes a case to remember the past, this passage goes a step further. God says, ‘Even though I was there for you before, okay, forget the past. You don’t need every detail. I’m making a pledge on the future. You can let go of the past. You are released from that! The new offer I make will be better than the old one you were getting. I want good and better things for you. I give you hope for the future!’ That is good news indeed! Our memories and feelings may not stay sharp, but God is not done working. There is more to hope for and good memories to be made on the horizon.
Prayer God, give us faith to trust in the bright future you want for us.
Author: Ian North
Reflection: v. 5, ‘may those who sow in tears, reap with shouts of joy’
In my last months of drinking, sobriety looked like the finish line. I dreamed of the peace of healthy guts, the clean feeling of a good night’s sleep, the presence of mind to read and write in the evenings.
When I got to the other side of detox, I realized that all kinds of problems were waiting for me there. I had to get honest about my lack of faith, face destructive relationships, and figure out what to do with my anxiety and despair.
In Psalm 126, God’s people had arrived in God’s city. They exploded in celebrations and songs, wrote the story of crossing over, then found out there was more story ahead.
They made new mistakes, got into new fights with their neighbors, faced new oppression from new empires. Here they are looking back at God’s work in the past and wondering why they’re still dealing with all the same things so many years later.
Sometimes, eternal life seems like a terrifying idea. I’d like to know what I’m aiming at, get there, and be done. But wherever we think we’re going, there’s always more after.
The good news is that today’s pain is part of a new cycle of grace. We walk along weeping now, but the seeds we plant in this season will bloom in the next. That’s how God’s world works.
Prayer Journey with us through the cycles of life, O God. Help us to feel your presence when weeping and rejoicing.
Author: Holly Reimer
Reflection: v. 3, ‘she anointed Jesus’ feet with it, then wiped his feet dry with her hair’
Mary is holding a posture of humility. Have you ever knelt before someone? Whether they are sitting or standing, allowing yourself to become lower than they are? In kneeling before Jesus, Mary communicates silently that she is yielding control to him, that he is of great importance to her in that very moment. It also allows her to communicate her focus on Jesus alone in this moment. When we kneel before one another, we take away threats of power or authority and allow ourselves to simply be present. Although the scripture doesn’t say this, I imagine she takes her time, massaging the oil into Jesus’ feet, taking care with every inch. Feet can be seen as one of the dirtiest parts of the body, and are often overlooked. Our feet get us from place to place, appointments, meetings, etc. Here is Mary, taking care of Jesus’ feet as she prepares them for his death, not worrying or listening to the critique of her use of such expensive oil. And then when she is finished, she uses what she has, her hair, to wipe Jesus’ feet dry. She takes what she has, bowing her head even lower. Mary takes this position to allow herself to submit to someone else, acknowledging the value and worth of Jesus, the person before her, and she cares for him. She cares for the one who is in front of her. Friends, I challenge us all to take such humble care of the ones who are before us. May we submit ourselves to the meek, the poor, the oppressed, and the forgotten. May we allow ourselves to become a little lower, more humble, and more kind.
Prayer Make us more humble, Lord, that we may be more attentive to those in need.
Author: Holly Reimer
Reflection: v. 12, ‘but I pursue it’
Paul is in pursuit of something greater, something everlasting that gives life. But it’s not just life in the moment, it is life everlasting. Something that will not fade away. It is so easy to engage in things that will bring us a temporary reprieve from the things that weigh us down. And it usually isn’t until we get stuck with the empty bottle, the hefty credit card bill, or wake up exhausted because we have numbed our minds binging TV that we realize that relief isn’t permanent. The everlasting life is something that allows us to feel healthy and happy for the long-term, to find new practices and ways of engaging that bring fulfillment, rather than emptiness. Paul tells his readers about all he has given up (good things, too) in pursuit of this gain. He realizes that although he was doing nothing wrong by the measure of the law, he was not truly living as one living in Christ. Paul is losing old ways and habits, and this is a message we should also take to heart. Our world is broken, as are the ways we engage one another. It is time to lose old ways in an effort to find something better, and not just better for me, but for everyone! Pursuit requires persistence and energy. There are even times when pursuing something new and different can feel isolating. It requires that we alter our thinking, become more mindful about our relationships, and create new patterns.
Prayer God, give us the the strength and endurance to pursue the kind of faithfulness that can only be found in you. Amen.
Author: Holly Reimer
Reflection: v. 18, ‘Don’t remember prior things.’
When I think about this text, it reminds me of our ‘new,’ old space. For over a year and a half our community met on the lawn of our partner church, St. John’s Lutheran. Shortly after the first of the year, we moved back to our established basement space at Druid Hills Presbyterian Church. It can be easy to think about all of the ways we used to do things, and the experiences we had in that space prior to COVID. It can (and has been) easy to get stuck in the past, feeling trapped by what used to be. And yet God is doing a new thing. Coming back to an old space in a new way has allowed us to create hospitality by warming up inside, using flushing toilets, washing up in a sink with running water, while also being mindful of the need to keep one another safe from the COVID virus. But if we had been stuck on the old ways we had always used the space before, we would not have been able to reimagine ways to create hospitality while keeping one another safe. If we get too stuck in the past, we cannot see God working in the present. God, who is beyond our full comprehension, will make new paths in the wilderness and create a way in the desert—in ways we never dreamed possible. As we think about things in our lives, and the ways of the past, let us not put God in such a box that we lose sight of what God can do now.
Prayer Lord, let us not get stuck in the past. Amen.
Author: Stephen Smith
Reflection: v. 2, ‘happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity’
The writer of this psalm is happy because his sins and iniquities have been forgiven—which has probably been a waste of his life. Feeling guilty is a heavy burden one must carry on one’s back. God doesn’t want us to feel bad all the time. We’re God’s children. It’s who we are. We’re God’s creation first, and God’s children second. Jesus came and paid the total price of all our iniquities on the cross—which is a heck of a way to die. But it saved us all. To live as a Christian in community sometimes means understanding that those who are at fault aren’t at fault totally—every once in a while we just have a bad day. All of us have had a bad day at some point. But God does not hold that against us. When asked, God does not deny you forgiveness.
Prayer Thank you, God, for never denying us forgiveness.
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
Author: Gregory Brown
Reflection: v. 20, ‘we are ambassadors for Christ’
This letter to the Corinthians is a work of art. I love the letters to the Corinthians because these words are what started my own religious search. They broke down everything for me. This passage talks about the ministry of reconciliation. To me, that describes the heart of things. Every person on earth can be reconciled, rejoined together, and made whole and made new. This passage says that from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view, though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, he goes on to say, if anyone is in Christ, we are experiencing a new creation.
When I read these words, first of all, it broke things down for me. It lets me know how my Christian walk should be, since I have been redeemed. If I have been redeemed and reconciled unto God, that’s a blessing to me. So every day that I get up, I must make that day notable. I must be thankful to God that God has redeemed and reconciled me. It is a blessing to know that I am an ambassador for Christ. Somebody might ask, ‘Well, how do I consider myself an ambassador?’ I can consider myself an ambassador for Christ because anyone can be someone who speaks on behalf of Christ. I feel like I do that everyday that I get up and I serve my community or someone in my community. I’m actually being an ambassador in doing what God wants me to do.
Prayer Make me your ambassador, O Christ, in the ways I serve my community.