By: Ivan Cooley
Reflection—v. 9 ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’
When the people saw the king coming, they spread cloaks on the ground and broke off palm branches and laid them on the ground. They also waved the palm branches in the air to symbolize victory. The people were greeting the king in homage and shouted Hosanna. Hosanna is another way of saying savior, rescue me, or save me. On the king’s advent into town there was bedlam. The whole city was asking “who is this?” This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee. That my friends, is the only humanitarian king I can think of. He lived a sinless life. He gave his sinless, blemish free life, so that we can be forgiven. He lived his life with love for humankind. A living, breathing human example of what we should strive for in our spiritual lives. I can tell people a king died so that I can live. In this way he conquered sin. He rose from the dead conquering sine and death. He demanded nothing and compassionately asked us to remember, follow, and believe in him. I certainly do, unquestionably. I wasn’t alarmed because the youth pastors and the youth group knew the same thing I knew. He is the only king worthy to be worshiped in prayer, and it sure is not a human one unless his name is Jesus Christ for he is truly the King of Kings—he has the victory over the enemies of our soul. He wants to see us all flourish like a palm tree in victory.
Prayer Hosanna, Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!
By: Ivan Cooley
Reflection—v. 5 ‘Look, your king is coming to you, humble’
A youth group attended Mercy one day. I was asked to pray at the conclusion of the phenomenal time we had spent together. I ended the prayer with the words “All praise and glory and honor to our King” then I hesitated. In two seconds of hesitation, closed eyes opened, bowed heads raised, trusting eyes became dubious gazes. When I clarified myself by naming Jesus Christ, happiness and good cheer were restored. I found no reason to be alarmed. In all my discussions concerning emperors and kings, about the only thing that can be said that’s satisfactory about them is that some may have been refined in the art of war. In other words, they are excellent at disturbing the peace and balance of humankind through violence and oppression. Real quick! Name one czar, emperor, or king who is remembered for being a humanitarian. I can name only one. He lived roughly two thousand years ago. He traveled all through the land preparing people for life not death. He preached, he taught, he blessed, he healed, he fed, and he clothed- -and these acts were considered miracles. The people of Israel were eagerly awaiting their king. The one who would free them from tyranny and oppression from the Roman Empire. He told two of his lieutenants to go into the village and find him a donkey. The donkey symbolizes serving, suffering, peace, and humility. The king lived his life serving and suffering with the peace and humility of a man who knew his destiny. Befitting a king, the lieutenants covered the donkey with their cloaks. When the King arrived in town, prophecy was fulfilled. “Look, your king is coming to you humble and mounted on a donkey.”
By: James King
Reflection—v.1 ‘out of the depth I cry to you, O Lord’
In Psalm 130 it sounds like the people are asking for forgiveness for all the wrong-doings that they’ve done, and they’re waiting on the Lord to answer their prayer. The people have been living their life in sin, and now it’s catching up with them. Now they’re asking the Lord for forgiveness. They’re hoping and they’re looking for him, and they’re just waiting and waiting for the Lord to answer their prayer because they want to change the way they live. That is what the psalmist is saying: ‘Lord, forgive me for all my sins, and help me to change the way I’m living, and give me a new beginning. I put my hope in you, and I’ll keep my hope in you until you answer my prayers.’ Only the Lord can do that. Sometimes I feel like this too. I feel this way all the time. Sometimes it weighs heavy on me. Sometimes I think about it at night when I’m trying to sleep, and it’ll all be on my mind. ‘Why do I live like this? I don’t have to live like this. Why don’t I just change the way I live?’ It seems like I’m helpless. Sometimes it weighs heavy on me and it hurts. The writer of psalm 130 is like me, asking for forgiveness, asking God to take me from all of this madness and change the way I live.
Prayer Lord, forgive us for all our sins, and help us to change the ways we’re living, and give us new beginnings. We put our hope in you, and we’ll keep our hope in you until you answer our prayers.
By: Isaiah Lewis
Reflection—v. 5 ‘I hope, LORD. My whole being hopes, and I wait for God’s promise.’
I have to admit, I have a contentious relationship with hope. There have been some points in my life when hope felt naïve at best and dangerous at worst. I assumed that anyone who was hopeful about the future simply wasn’t paying attention to the suffering of the human beings all around them. But I also worried that my feelings of hopelessness meant that I didn’t trust God, that I wasn’t faithful, and that maybe that meant God loved me less as a result. This psalm comforts me because its writer begins with not one, but two direct calls for God’s attention to their suffering. They invoke God by name—the LORD, the liberator and life-bringer and system disruptor—and say, ‘Hey, listen up. I need you!’ The psalmist knows all about trouble and knows God sees the mess that they’re in, including the ways in which they may have contributed to it. But they still trust God to listen to them, have mercy on them, and forgive them. And this is a pilgrimage song, which means that while they’re singing about needing God, they’re literally getting closer and closer to the holy place. I know that I need the loving attention of God to save me from the oppression I inflict on myself and other people. Most people do, I think. And my whole being hopes for God’s promise to us all.
Prayer Lord, come meet us in our hope
By: Steve Smith
Reflection—v. 6 ‘to set the mind on the spirit is life and peace.’
The spirit is the way you feel like God is with you in your heart. The spirit guides you to be more heart-full–not harmful, but heart-full. Being spiritual is a very healthy way, I believe, to live. If God is working through you, you’re doing God’s work. For me personally, God working through me looks like God not letting me get into physical conflicts. I stay out of jail. I haven’t been to jail in seven years now, and that’s because I changed my point of view on a lot of things. I used to fight in Little Five Points every day. What changed is that I quit getting into fights. When I left the navy, I was a control freak—I always wanted to fight the meanest person around and I did. I went to jail several times. I had to change that. I worked to clear the garbage out—it was a trashy way of thinking. It was a dark spell, but with Christ you get that little light, and then the Holy Spirit grabs you, and you think ‘Whoa! That’s never happened before!’ But it happens a lot now. It’s almost like a 6th sense–where most people have five senses, God becomes your sixth sense. It’s not perfect perception, but the spirit is a kind of perception from God and it helps you to understand and get right in your life instead of walking and thinking in shadows. I think it’s good for our community to study this type of scripture because we can relate to what we might need to change. That way it’s not erroneous, and we’re more intelligent–it makes us a stronger community to be bonded in scripture.
Prayer God, guide us by your spirit to walk in your light!
By: Maggie Leonard
Reflection—v. 10 ‘the breath entered them, they came to life and stood’
Breath prayer was an ancient spiritual practice of the church. One of the earliest of these prayers was known as the ‘Jesus Prayer,’ wherein early practitioners would repeat ‘Jesus, son of God, have Mercy on me’ in rhythm with their breath. At Mercy, Chad turned this phrase into a beautiful sung prayer. I typically think of breath prayers as shorter prayers, one or two words in length, thought in concert with each inhalation and exhalation. I find that praying in this way slows me down, helping me to focus and find calm. Interestingly enough, research has shown that changing our breath can also affect our nervous system. When we are stressed out, the sympathetic part of the nervous system is activated (think, the flight, fright, or freeze response) and we get stuck in this space with a faster heart rate and more elevated blood pressure. It is difficult for the brain to switch back to calm after experiencing stress. However, it has been shown that by taking long slow exhales, we can convince the brain that things are calm and peaceful, even in the midst of stressful circumstances. Long slow exhales can literally bring us calm and clarity. This is the place from which we can make good decisions. This is the place where it can become clear what we should stand for. God’s Holy Spirit fills us with breath and brings us clarity. Through prayer, may we discern this Lenten season where and with whom God’s infusion of love calls us to stand.
Prayer (take a deep breath and slowly exhale) Loving God, give us calm and clarity.
By: Maggie Leonard
Reflection-v. 14 “I will plant you on fertile land, and you will know that I am the Lord’
As I think about this verse in the Lenten context, I am reminded of a poem by my favorite poet, Hafiz. Daniel Ladinsky translates it from Persian as follows – ‘What plant can grow if you keep lifting it from the soil? Let your roots expand unchecked into a forest, a river, a song, or some verse you hold tenderly. You need to become quiet for this, as roots work in silence beneath the earth’s silhouettes. Draw from souls all you ever could want above, below, and to the side, and within us, within us just love.’ Having the gifts of nutrients available isn’t enough, we have to do our part to receive them. This call to silence is probably the most difficult part for many of us. Last year for one of my classes, I had to devise an experiment on myself to change a habit. I decided that I wanted to walk my dog more often. I failed miserably. I realized that I failed because while I wanted to change my habit, I had not really done the work of changing my attitude and heart. Post-experiment, I worked to make these deeper changes and my dog walking habits did indeed shift as well. For many of us, we will have to actively seek to change our attitudes about taking time for silence – to really prioritize that time in our hearts. It is there that we will grow in depth, nurtured by God’s gifts of love – drawing it in from every direction. It’s in receiving this goodness that we truly start to understand and know who God is.
Prayer God of life, nurture us that we may ever grow deeper roots in love.
By: Maggie Leonard
Reflection—v. 2 ‘they were very dry’
I have a confession for y’all. I kill plants. Especially house plants. I’ve even killed rosemary, which is basically impossible to kill. I don’t do it on purpose, it just comes naturally to me. I suspect they die because they are deprived of sunlight or water or new soil or a bigger pot… I’m never really sure. It’s probably mostly the watering though. I always know that it’s a bad sign when I try to water the plant and all the water trickles straight through the dry dirt. It’s like the dirt has been dry for so long that it has forgotten how to absorb water. At that point, it’s not necessarily a lost cause yet, but immediate attention is needed. It takes time, consistency, and patience to get the dirt to absorb water again. Pouring lots of water on it never works, on those occasions I end up with water all over the table. Instead, I have to drop ice cubes in the pot. As they melt slowly, the dirt has more time to soften and absorb. I think we can get like that too. If we deprive ourselves of God’s presence in the world, it doesn’t matter how much grace and mercy is poured upon us, we don’t absorb it. We can’t–not yet anyway. It takes time, consistency, and patience. Slowly but surely, as we attend to God we start to feel that love fill us again. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why Lent is 40 days – if we haven’t been attentive to God’s presence, it will take some time to soften, absorb, and feel. It will happen though, have faith.
Prayer Patient and attentive God, soften our hearts that we may absorb your grace.
By: Maggie Leonard
Reflection—v. 9 ‘dead bodies’
Have you ever found yourself so busy that you forgot to eat? I am not one to forget to eat often–but every now and then, the momentum will carry me and I won’t know what time it is, much less that I haven’t eaten. Once I finally do slow down, or look at a clock, exhaustion and hunger hit. I’m tired, dead tired. Through the scriptures featured for this week, there is a theme of death. Real, full, smelly, dry death. I wonder if Ezekiel’s valley of bones knew that they weren’t living, even when the sinews and flesh appeared. Or if the Romans knew that selfishness was killing them and separating them from God. Or Lazarus? That one’s a doozy to begin with, I can’t even imagine what he was thinking. What seems clear, is that without God, without the Spirit, we aren’t truly living. A friend of mine recently took Benedictine vows. He lives at a little house of prayer in middle Georgia where the weary can find respite, prayer, and reflection on silent retreat. As we celebrated his decision, a fellow well-wisher reflected on the space that he, and his companions, hold for others. It is because they live a slow, prayer-filled, countercultural life that others can enter more deeply into the presence of God. Visitors take up the invitation to ‘be’ with God and are given the time and space to reset and reconnect with God. This Lenten season, may we have the awareness to see how weary we have become and have the courage to allow God to bring us to new life.
Prayer Living God, give us rest, give us nourishment, and bring us new life.
By: David Swank
Reflection—v .4 ‘I fear no evil, for you are with me’
I was in good health for a 61 year old man, or so I thought until 3 months ago when I suddenly became ill. I was forced to see a doctor at Grady where I was checked in as a patient. The doctors there had to run a bunch of tests for them to determine how sick I was. After the tests were done and the results were in, I had Pastor Chad with me, and the doctor informed us that I have colon cancer. It was Stage 4–which it doesn’t go any higher than that. I have three pastors who have been a real rock and salvation for me. I’m high on personal confidence–I truly feel that with God’s love and guidance, along with three loving pastors standing behind me, I truly do feel that I can overcome any life- threatening disease that Satan will throw at me. I also think my current armor of God is me, Pastor Holly, Pastor Brittany, and my helmet is my Senior Pastor Chad–he has helped me more than I could ever repay. Whatever happens in the end, I feel ready to meet my God, if that is God’s plan for me.
Prayer God, our rock and our salvation, protect us from all harm and surround us with your love and guidance when we need it the most.