Holy Week 2015 - Psalm 22: 8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24 - The Psalm of the Cross

The Psalm of the Cross 
Here we are at Holy Week nearing the end of our Lenten Journey. Jesus has been our guide throughout the weeks as we read, studied and learned how to write a prayer based on the Sunday Psalm each week of Lent. On this last Sunday of Lent known as Passion or Palm Sunday, we, the followers of Jesus, will take a step back as Jesus steps forward to become front and centre leading us to Good Friday, where the Lenten Journey will end. He accompanied us when we began the journey on Ash Wednesday and now we accompany him during Holy Week. If you have the opportunity to read the gospel accounts of Holy Week, you might discover the three-chord threads of watch, wait and pray.

This is how Charles Spurgeon, one of England’s greatest preachers of the 19th Century,  speaks of the Psalm for this week, Psalm 22.

“This is beyond all others THE PSALM OF THE CROSS. It may have been actually repeated word by word by our Lord when hanging on the tree; it would be too bold to say that it was so, but even a casual reader may see that it might have been. It begins with, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" and ends, according to some, in the original with "It is finished." For plaintive expressions uprising from unutterable depths of woe we may say of this psalm, "there is none like it." It is the photograph of our Lord's saddest hours, the record of his dying words, the lachrymatory (A small vessel found in ancient tombs, thought to hold tears)  of his last tears, the memorial of his expiring joys. David and his afflictions may be here in a very modified sense, but, as the star is concealed by the light of the sun, he who sees Jesus will probably neither see nor care to see David. Before us we have a description both of the darkness and of the glory of the cross, the sufferings of Christ and the glory which shall follow. Oh for grace to draw near and see this great sight! We should read reverently, putting off our shoes from off our feet, as Moses did at the burning bush, for if there be holy ground anywhere in Scripture it is in this psalm.”

Our focus this week will be on Psalm 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, & 23-24, but I think it would give us greater insight is we had a brief overview of the complete Psalm. This Psalm was written by David. Jesus, in his humanity, will breathe new life into these words as he is nailed to the Cross on Good Friday, and as he utters the words penned by David many years before, we get a glimpse of the immensity of his suffering and how he relied heavily on the words of this Psalm throughout this ordeal.

There are five divisions of this personal Psalm of David that was written after a very difficult time in his life. He wrote the words and entrusted the chief musician to compose the music named the “Morning Hind.” A hind is a female deer.

Psalm 22:1-5 - David experiences excruciating suffering, whether from an illness or from an injury is not known.
Psalm 22:6-12 - In the midst of his suffering people are wondering why Yahweh is not delivering him and there is this unspoken judgment that he might have hidden sins and this is his punishment. This is similar to how Job felt when he lost all his possessions. His friends accused him of hidden sins. These accusations affected his emotional health.
Psalm 22:12-21 - David’s life deteriorates and it seems like he is going from bad to worse. In these helpless moments he is surrounded by powerful sources who want to destroy him while he is at his lowest.
Psalm 22:22-25 - These verses reflect how Yahweh will bring him through to the other side of his time of suffering. Yahweh will heed his cry for help and will deliver him out of all his troubles and defeat his enemies.
Psalm 22:26-31 - He is now back on his feet, so to speak, and he shares a testimony in the presence of the congregation telling them all that Yahweh has done for him, assuring them that Yahweh will be there for them as well.

This Psalm can be summarized in two sentences: Suffering is part of everyone’s life at some point but we can know that Yahweh is near. Call to Yahweh and he will answer and bring you though. Please remember to praise Yahweh with a song of thanksgiving in private and in the congregation of the Beloved.

Psalm 22:8-9 
In Matthew 27:39-44, we learned that Jesus experience taunting from the crowd of people that witnessed his crucifixion. The religious leaders were most vocal as they questioned his declaration that he was God’s Son. If Jesus was truly God’s Son, why was he suffering? Passers-by sarcastically responded that if he was truly God’s Son, then where was God? Psalm 22:1 opens with the cry of David in the moment he felt forsaken and abandoned by God. Now Jesus, in his humanity, and in this helpless state, will focus his mind not on the rhetorical questions hurled at him by the crowd, but on David’s response found in Psalm 22:9, my emphasis: “But Yahweh you brought me out of the womb when I was most helpless. You cared for me then, you can care for me now.” Focusing his mind on the words of this verse helped him to endure the taunting. 

Psalm 22:17-18
What a sight to behold when David looked at his emaciated body as his skin was so loose that he could count his bones. Now, watch as Jesus is on the cross that first Good Friday. Death on a cross was a slow and painful death. The victim was nailed to a wooden cross, stripped naked and left to hang there, humiliated. Frequently, the legs of the victim were broken or shattered in order to hasten their death.

In John 19:31-37, the author states that none of Jesus’ bones were broken because by the time the Roman soldiers came to check on Jesus, he had already died and it caused John to remind us that when Moses was giving the instructions to the Children of Israel about how to prepare the Passover Lamb, they were told specifically not to break any of the bones on the lamb. (See Exodus 12:46) Years later the writers of the New Testament will see that David’s words were prophetically spoken about Jesus who is our Passover Lamb.

Crucifixion stripped the victim of all clothing and when the Roman soldiers saw Jesus’ expensive, seamless garment they had a lottery draw to determine the new owner. The rest of his clothing they shared among themselves. Having lost weight and looking gaunt, David also had experienced people stealing his expensive clothes and sharing them amongst themselves. 

I would like us to pause and look at what is taking place in front of us as we accompany Jesus on Good Friday. Where are your eyes at this moment? Are you admiring the beautiful seamless garment wishing you could put a bid in for it? Or have you joined the crowd staring at Jesus’ naked body hanging on the cross and then quickly looking away because the sight is horrible to behold? What are you feeling for Jesus at this moment as you pause to imagine that day? This is Holy Week and we do have the opportunity to accompany Jesus and stay with him to the end. 

This week, Holy Week, was really why Jesus came, born as a helpless baby in human flesh, schooled in the words of the Old Testament and hung upon cross. He is able to use the words of David’s Psalm to help him in his suffering. We often want God to take away suffering from our lives and from the lives of the people we love, but Yahweh will not. Yahweh is present with us in the suffering and will bring us through the suffering to the other side of healing. As Jesus hangs naked on the cross, not for his own sins,  but for the sins of all of humanity the question to be answered is, “Why is he there?” He is there because the first family, Adam and Eve, created in the Divine Family’s image and place in a beautiful home, were distracted from meeting the Divine Family for fellowship and instead found themselves listening to an Intruder in their home. By the time the Intruder left, they were confused, disoriented and naked far away from the Divine Family not knowing how to find them. Thankfully, it is the Divine Family that went looking for them calling out their names till they were found.

At that very moment the Divine Family promised that one day a son born of humanity would pay the price to redeem humanity, so that humanity could again be in sweet fellowship with the them. The Roman soldiers gambled for Jesus’ prized possession of a seamless coat and he was left naked. But with our eyes wide open we can see that Jesus is dying in our place and our stead so that we can be clothed with the Divine Family’s righteousness.

Psalm 22:19-20
“But don’t be far off, Yahweh. You are my help. Hurry to help me. Deliver my soul from the sword my precious life from the power of the dogs.”  When David looked around at all that was happening to him, his skin and boney body, his expensive clothing stolen from right under his nose, he made the choice that he would turn his attention to Yahweh and call out in prayer asking that Yahweh not be far away and to hasten to his rescue. He is now surrounded by enemies on every side and he cannot see a way out nor how he can escape without the help of Yahweh. When we think of the musical title given to this Psalm of morning hind, and a hind being a female deer, we might use our imagination to see a deer running for her life across the hills and then stopping to look around finding herself surrounded by enemies ready to devour her with no way of escape. 

Psalm 22:23-24
Much warfare took place in the silence of Good Friday evening, all day on Holy Saturday till early on Easter Sunday morning. David lived to proclaim victory over his suffering and over his enemies and reassured the Congregation of the Beloved that Yahweh never hides his face or closes his ear from us, and when we cry out for help, he always comes to our aid. Psalm 22 began with the somber words that Jesus cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This Psalm ends with the assurance that we will have suffering, we will at times feel forsaken by God and our enemies will take that as an opportunity to destroy us, but we need not fear. Just call out to Yahweh and he will come and rescue us because we are his Beloved.

St. Ephrem’s Prayer
O Lord and Master of my life
remove from me the spirit of sadness, despair, 
thirst for power and vain talk.
Instead, grant me, Your servant,
the spirit of prudence, humility, patience and love.
Indeed, O Lord and King,
grant that I see my own sins and not judge my sister and brother,
for You are blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.

Fifth Sunday of Lent, March 22, 2015 - Psalm 51: 3-4, 12-13, 14-15

Here we pause at the Fifth Week of our Lenten Journey. Next Sunday is Palm Sunday and then we are in Holy Week. It is as if we are on the road of no return. What looms ahead is the empty cross, the empty tomb and Resurrection Day! You may find that this week you seem more tired, wishing that Lent was over and St. Ephrem’s Prayer packed away for another year. The Gospel writers tell us that this is the week when many people decided to turn back and no longer wanted to follow Jesus. 

I encourage you to stay the course. Transformation is coming! Let this week be preparation for Palm Sunday and Holy Week. We began the Lenten journey on Ash Wednesday with Psalm 51 and here on the Fifth Sunday of Lent we are revisiting six specific verses with the theme of Lost Joy (verse 3-4), Restored Joy (verses 12-13), and Celebrate Joy (verses 14-15).  Let us just refresh our memory about why the Psalm was written. 

King David decided not to lead his army in battle as military chief of the army of Israel, but instead to send the next-in-command. With nothing to do, or maybe with a secret plan in mind, he looked down on a newly married woman named Bathsheba having a purifying bath on the roof of her home. Without delay he sent for her, satisfied his sexual desires and then sent her home. She sent word back to him that she was pregnant from the afternoon encounter. Bathsheba’s husband was named Uriah and David immediately devised a plan to have her husband be seen to be responsible for the pregnancy. David called Uriah home from the battlefield, wined and dined him and then sent him home that night to be with Bathsheba, his wife. This young man was bewildered and refused to go home. Instead he slept outside the palace.

The king was infuriated that his plan was not working out, so in a fit of anger, he wrote a letter to his military head with instructions on how to place Uriah in the heat of the battle and to make sure that he died there. Moreover, he devised a secret code that a messenger from the battlefield would convey the message that Uriah was dead. Once Uriah was confirmed dead, he then sent for Bathsheba to be his wife. King David was so sure that he got away with his plan, but in Psalm 32, he wrote about how the act of rape, adultery, murder and deceit affected him physically, emotionally and spiritually. 

Psalm 51:3-4 - Lost Joy
David had devised a plan that was sweet to his ears, his eyes and to his sexual urges, but he was blind to the consequences that would result from his actions. Thankfully, God sent David’s Spiritual Director, Nathan the prophet to confront him. He carefully crafted the story of a rich man stealing the only lamb of a poor man with the excuse that he needed to feed a visitor to his home. Before Nathan would finish talking, David was ready to seek justice for the poor man and punishment for the rich man. Nathan stated that he was speaking about David’s action towards Uriah. Immediately, he recognized that all of his actions, devised in secret, were recorded under the watchful, all-seeing eye of Yahweh who was present at every step.

In Psalm 32:3-4, King David talked about how his secrecy caused his bones to waste away, he could not sleep day or night and he had no energy. He felt remorse for his sins but was unsure what to do about it. Thankfully, when Nathan, his Spiritual Director confronted him he immediately acknowledged his sin and acknowledged that it was his sin that caused him the loss of joy in his relationship with Yahweh.

Psalm 51:12-13 - Restored Joy
Unconfessed sin will rob you of the joy of your relationship with Yahweh. King David longed to be back in relationship with Yahweh and so when Nathan, his Spiritual Director confronted him, he quickly threw himself wholly on God’s mercy, asking that the relationship be restored. That relationship was restored because David recognized that he was able to hide from the Subjects of his Kingdom, and he could manipulate the second-in-command of the army to carry out his evil devices, but he could not hide from Yahweh. He also realized that unconfessed sin affected him physically, spiritually and emotionally.

Our relationship with Yahweh is a relationship of Unequals. Yahweh is always pursuing us, wanting us to know our sin, to acknowledge our sin and when confronted by a Nathan, to confess our sin and not rationalize our actions. There is always a Nathan willing to help us recognize our sin and willing to teach us that Yahweh is ready and willing to forgive our sin and iniquity. In Psalm 32:7-10 we learn that once sin is confessed we are surrounded with songs of deliverance. We are instructed and taught how to live life a new way, and the watchful eye of Yahweh directs our path. The alternative to restored joy is to make excuses for our sin and then walk away from Yahweh in stubbornness and rebellion.  

Psalm 51:14-15 - Celebrate Joy
Under the leadership of Moses, God set out laws to govern the people in their relationship with each other. Each law had a consequence that was to be administered. The punishment for murder was death unless the murder was accidental. In that case, the murderer would seek refuge in one of the designated cities and the elders of that city would decide, based on the evidence of the murderer and the family of the deceased, if it was accidental or not. Some times the family of the deceased would agree on compensation and then the murderer would be free. In the case of adultery, both the man and the woman were to be taken outside of the city and stoned to death.

King David’s punishment was death on both counts. Bathsheba had not willingly committed adultery. David could technically say that he did not kill Uriah. But when Nathan confronted David he asked him the hard question, “Why have you despised Yahweh’s word, to do that which is evil in his sight?” On the surface, it could have been easy for David to defend his actions, but the words of Nathan exposed the secret motives of David’s heart. David responded, “I have sinned against Yahweh.”  (You may want to read the full story in II Samuel 12:1-13) 

The gavel was just about to drop as David waited for the public sentencing of death for adultery and murder. Nathan speaking as the bearer of God’s judgment said, “Yahweh has put away your sin. You will not die.” Can you hear those words? Yahweh chose not to impose the mandatory death penalty on King David, but offered him the opportunity to live. David jumped at the opportunity to exchange his death sentence for the privilege to celebrate joy and to declare the praises of Yahweh.

In that very moment, King David saw himself, not as King but as a servant waiting for a  King to invite him to speak. Bathsheba’s family had the right to seek revenge, and Uriah’s blood cried out from the ground for his death to be avenged. But King David had the promise of protection from Yahweh. His only response was to asked to be delivered emotionally and spiritually from the guilt of bloodshed, and he would use his words to tell of Yahweh’s loving-kindness to all humanity.

Responding…
During this Fifth Week of Lent, take the opportunity to bring into the open the secret sins that you may be harbouring. You may feel like you have lost the joy of your relationship with Yahweh and you are not sure what will happen if you admit them. Take a lesson from King David. Yahweh will send someone with a Nathan heart to help you bring your secret sins into the open. Acknowledge the sin is first and foremost against Yahweh and it is because you despise Yahweh’s word. Do not try to rationalize your actions by convincing yourself that no one will find out.  When you are confronted, be sure to not deny it and do not pass the blame around to others. Feeling remorseful that your secret sins are discovered means that you are not ready to take full responsibility. 

Unconfessed sin will rob you of the joy in your relationship with Yahweh yet Yahweh longs for the relationship to be healed. So go ahead, confess your sin and receive absolution, the assurance that you are pardoned. Claim Yahweh’s promise from Romans 8:1-2 (WEB): “So right now there is no condemnation to you who belong to Christ Jesus. For the power of the Life-Giving Spirit has freed you through Christ Jesus from the power of sin that leads to death.” Yahweh wants you to learn a new way of thinking and living and only Yahweh can re-create or make new the parts of you that are damaged by sin. In time you will be able to help others to know that Yahweh is a forgiving God.

Our journey towards the empty cross and the empty tomb is because Yahweh commuted the punishment of death for our sins onto His Son Jesus Christ when he died on the cross that first Good Friday. He took the punishment for our sin on the cross so that we might be free to live lives that are pleasing to Yahweh. We may be reminded about our past sins, but like King David, we can ask Yahweh to deliver us from the penalty of our sin and from the power of sin over us. And one day, Yahweh will even deliver us from the presence of sin. Hallelujah! The words then flowing from our lips will celebrate the joy of sins forgiven and restored joy as we share with others the good news of Yahweh!

At the end of this Fifth Week of Lent, please take time to offer a prayer based on these six verses of Psalm 51.

St. Ephrem’s Prayer
O Lord and Master of my life,
remove from me the spirit of sadness, despair, 
thirst for power and vain talk.
Instead, grant me, Your servant,
the spirit of prudence, humility, patience and love.
Indeed, O Lord and King,
grant that I see my own sins and not judge my sister and brother,
for You are blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.

Fourth Sunday of Lent, March 15, 2015 - Psalm 137: 1-2,3, 4-5, 6

From Confusion to Peace

We are now at the Fourth Week of the Lenten journey and today we will pause at Psalm 137. This Fourth Sunday of Lent is called, Rejoice Sunday with the focus on Isaiah 66:10: “Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her, all you who mourn over her.”  We rejoice that we are on the home stretch to Easter Sunday since passing the halfway point last week. This Sunday is also celebrated in some parts of Europe as Mothering Sunday. It began when children and young people who were household servants had the day off to visit with families or to return to their “mother” church.

Introduction to Psalm 137
So far the Psalms that we have looked at were from the perspective of an individual. Now this Psalm features a nation in exile, living in the diaspora (means “spread around”) of Babylonian empire. 
There are some questions that we need to ask before we begin exploring this Psalm. It opens with a group of people sitting by the rivers of Babylon. Who are these people and how did they arrive here in Babylon? I hope not to bore you with this background information, but I think it will be helpful in understanding the Psalm at hand as well as the history of the Jews.  After the death of King Solomon, King David’s son, the 12 tribes were divided into two kingdoms.  The ten northern tribes were called Israel under their kings and the two remaining southern tribes, Judah and Benjamin remained loyal to King David’s House which was centred in Jerusalem, and they became known as Judea with their own kings.
Within 160 years the northern kingdom, even with a strong army, was defeated by the invading Assyrians and was sent into exile never to return home. The southern kingdom was ruled by a number of kings some who listened to the warnings of the prophets sent to remind them to be faithful to God, but sadly within another 160 years, the Babylonians conquered them and drove them into exile as well.

Psalm 137:1-2:  The captives cannot enjoy themselves
So here we are with these Jews from the southern kingdom of Judea, sitting on the banks of the rivers of Babylon. It is their disobedience to God that has driven them out of the homeland. When the kingdom was divided, the ten northern tribes controlled 75% of the land and the southern kingdom owned a few square miles of hilly, infertile land. Their greatest asset was that they had possession of the City of Jerusalem. They are now far from Jerusalem, known as the City of Peace. These people are tormented on the inside because there is no peace within themselves. Here they sit in agony because of all that has happened to them, weeping aloud. It is indeed a pitiful sight watching them remember life in Jerusalem against this stark background of emptiness and bitterness here in Babylon.

Psalm 137:3-4:  The captives cannot honour their oppressors
I hope that I am not wrong, but I see some of the captors trying to cheer them up by asking them to take down their instruments and sing some cheery songs. But that does not work for these people and it will not work if we offer someone in such deep sorrow a solution like that. On the contrary, it will ignite the fire of anger and hate within and may result in the use of weapons of war. These captives can only fight back with the weapons of words.

Psalm 137:5-6:  The captives cannot forget Jerusalem
Over and over these people will share about what was lost when they left Jerusalem. They long to turn the clock back and we hear them making threats and oaths to harm themselves if they ever forget Jerusalem in their memory. Let us take a look at what the word Babylon means in the bible. Babylon is a place of emptiness. When we feel empty, we fill the space with bitter feelings, we find it difficult to keep things together and before long, we live in a place of confusion. Yes, Babylon means confusion. Here they are living in Confusion, but their minds are longing for the City of Peace.

Psalm 137:7-9:  Remember Yahweh
Is it possible to find peace in the midst of confusion? I think that the invitation of Rejoice Sunday can take us down that pathway during this Fourth Week of Lent and Psalm 137 can point us in the right direction. The captives have no way of leaving Babylon and returning to Jerusalem, but here in these verses someone in the crowd of weepers will turn his back on the noise, and will turn his eyes towards remembering Yahweh, not just remembering Jerusalem. The text does not say who the writer of this Psalm is, but we know that when these people were being taken into captivity, the Prophet Jeremiah spoke words of instructions from Yahweh to them and he also sent letters to the elders, the priests, the prophets, and to all the people. 
“Build houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them. Take wives, and father sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there, and don't be diminished. Seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to Yahweh for it; for in its peace you shall have peace.” (Jeremiah 29:5-7)
This is an invitation to stop weeping and get on with living life to the fullest. So in the footsteps of King David the Psalmist, and with the language of the Prophet Jeremiah, this person will compose a song, without instruments, and will voice his concerns to Yahweh and Yahweh alone. What is causing him the most pain is the betrayal of the Edomites who are “cousins,” family. That torment seemed to be worse than being captives of the Babylonians. Then his voice will turn to the destruction of Babylon hoping that the daughters of Babylon will not be able to carry babies full-term or if they do, that the children would not live, thereby diminishing the strength of the Babylonian army.

From peace to confusion and back to peace
Here is a paradox. Living in Jerusalem meant that they were always in the presence of God and the Temple was accessible, reminding them of the visible presence of God. In reality, their hearts were often dwelling in Babylon, sometimes serving the gods of their neighbours. Now that they are living in Babylon they longed for the physical City of Jerusalem. We can spend all our time weeping for the past blessings or we can choose to follow the Psalmist’s example here in Psalm 137. 
Sometimes it is the family near us that betrays us, but all is not lost. Yahweh has already gone ahead of us and established the way to live in Babylon while rejoicing with Jerusalem. Express your words of pain to Yahweh and do not spend your time sitting around the river of Babylon weeping. Do not be afraid to tell Yahweh how much pain you feel from those who hurt you. Use the musical instrument of your voice and Yahweh will bend the ear to hear you. Please do not threaten yourself with oaths that might be difficult to carry out. Stop playing the victim or you may find yourself seeking uncontrollable revenge.
Yahweh has promised to never leave you nor forsake you. Yahweh is just a call away. “Yahweh is loving and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Psalm 103:8).  Yahweh is good to all including the captors!
Yahweh had a better plan for his people. He promised to bring them back into the land after 70 years in exile, and this he fulfilled through another pagan ruler. And Yahweh made the greatest promise to Himself. He sent His One and only Son, Jesus, as a baby born of a woman to grow into a man who taught us to use the weapon of words to cry out to Yahweh whenever we are in trouble, knowing that Yahweh will hear our voice and come to our aid. 

In this Fourth Week of the Lenten journey, when you find yourself exiled from Jerusalem, the City of Peace by some circumstance, and you find yourself floundering in Babylon, the City of Confusion, may I suggest that you follow the Psalmist’s example. Turn away from seeking revenge and instead express your feelings to Yahweh and Yahweh alone. And may you, “Rejoice in the Lord always! Again I will say, Rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all people. The Lord is at hand. In nothing be anxious, but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:4-7).

At the end of this week, why not compose your own Psalm using the outline of Psalm 137?

St. Ephrem’s Prayer
O Lord and Master of my life
remove from me the spirit of sadness, despair, 
thirst for power and vain talk.
Instead, grant me, Your servant,
the spirit of prudence, humility, patience and love.
Indeed, O Lord and King,
grant that I see my own sins and not judge my sister and brother,
for You are blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.
 

Third Sunday of Lent, March 8, 2015 - Psalm 19: 8, 9, 10, 11

A Contemplative Prayer

This week we mark the middle of the Lenten Journey as we pause to consider the words of Psalm 19. Our journey began with Psalm 51 on Ash Wednesday as the Psalmist was crying out to God for mercy after he recognized that the act of sin he committed, though hidden from Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba, had been committed against God and only God. The Psalmist’s experience assures each of us that all that is required is for each one to have a broken and contrite heart and God’s forgiveness will flow freely.

We next paused on the Lenten Journey at Psalm 25 and here the Psalmist loved Yahweh because his cry for help was not ignored. His enemies were closing in on him, and the shame of his own life was overwhelming him, as we see him hastening to the Place of Refuge. It was in the Place of Refuge that the Psalmist had time to listen to the chatter between his ears. It was his own sin and shame that was his greatest enemy so he asked Yahweh for mercy and lovingkindness. The word ‘mercy’ can be translated ‘womb’ and we watched as the Psalmist crawled into the womb of Yahweh and he waited for Yahweh to show and guide him on the paths of truth. We can never wait too long for Yahweh to come.

Psalm 116 last week challenged us to write our own review of Yahweh and what we thought of Him. This Psalmist posted an impressive five-star rating. He is in love with Yahweh because Yahweh bends his ear and is always listening for the cries of his children. No matter where we are, or no matter how much danger we are in, Yahweh will come to the rescue. This Psalm is also sung at the Passover Celebration even today and it seems that Jesus used words from this Psalm to comfort himself during the last hours of his life. His disciples, who had promised prayer support, were just too tired to stay awake with him. I can just see Jesus walking away from them as he mumbled, “these men are just a bunch of liars.” The only way to deal with his pain was to respond again to this Psalm and he willingly took the cup of salvation and called on Yahweh for help (vs11,13).

Today, as we enter the half-way mark in the Lenten Journey, Psalm 19 is very different from the previous Psalms. This can be considered a Contemplative prayer. This form of prayer is distinct from vocal prayer where we recite words, and is different from meditation, which is a form of mental prayer. In meditation we continuously think over and reflect on a particular subject. 

Contemplation is a noun. It means “the act of looking thoughtfully at something for a long time. It is  a spontaneous activity without the exertion of effort.” Contemplative prayer has sometimes been called ‘a gaze of faith’.  This beautiful Contemplative Psalm can be divided  into three distinct sections:
Vs. 1-6 - Look Upward
Vs, 7-11 - Look Downward
Vs. 12-14 - Look Inward

Psalm 19:1-6 - Look Upward

There is nothing more beautiful on a wintery day in Saskatchewan than to look upward into the sky and see sun dogs sitting on either side of the sun in blazing brightness.  In that moment, it is easy to forget how cold it really is. When I am driving in the morning east of the University of Regina, I can hardly see because it is so bright.  

Psalm19 begins with the extravaganza of proclaiming God’s handiwork in creation and telling the whole world of his glory. These first six verses are a pictorial display directed at our eyes and our heart if we will just look upward. These are the works of God. They describe the canopy of the sky, sun, moon, stars and clouds which gush out wordless words, speechless speech, voiceless voice day after day throughout the world. We see the majestic awakening of the sun as it rises daily in the morning sky to begin its journey of joy till the setting of the evening sun. The Psalmist compares it to a bridegroom going out of his tent ready to meet his bride. As I am writing this Blog, the sun is shining into my room and its radiance fills my heart with joy. The sun can be described as the bridegroom of God’s creation. 

In the Summer of 2007, I climbed Mt. Sinai and arrived at the top in time to see the sun rise. One begins the climb around 1:00 in the morning under the canopy of the moon and the stars. Of course the Bedouins are there in the dark with their camels inviting you to ride one of them rather than take the four hour walk up to the top. I confess, I enjoyed the camel ride up most of the climb. I can assure you that the sun rises full of playful energy, ready to strut across the sky till it sets in the evening. It is a sight to behold. 

Take some time during the day to step out of your home and look thoughtfully upwards at the sky or take a walk in nature as you contemplate these six verses. 

Psalm 19:7-11 - Look Downward

These next verses are the Sunday Lenten Readings for this week and they draw our attention to look downward, to where we live. In these verses, we see a change in the name of God from Creator, a formal name, to Yahweh, the personal name of God on this journey with us. A simple way to explain the difference in names is if you know me formally as Mrs. Daum, and on a personal level, you know me as Gloria.

We have encountered the Works of God, now we will encounter the Words of Yahweh. These verses form a litany, which is a liturgical form of prayer consisting of a list of invocations, each followed by an unvarying response.

  • Six descriptive titles of the Words of Yahweh - these words are all nouns.
  • Six characteristic qualities of the Words of Yahweh - these words are all adjectives.
  • Six divine effects declared by the Words of Yahweh - these words are all verbs or action words.

          Nouns                        Adjectives                Verbs

V7.     Law                            Perfect                     Restoring us

V7.    Testimony                   Sure                          Make us wise

V8.     Precepts                    Right                         Let us rejoice

V8.    Commandment           Pure                          Enlighten us

V9.    Fear                             Clean                         Enduring forever

V9.    Rules                           True & Righteous      Enduring forever

The Psalmist here invites us to note that the prepositional phrase, ‘of Yahweh’ connects the descriptive titles, the characteristic qualities and the divine effects. For example in Verse 7, the Law of Yahweh is perfect. It is restoring us. The God of Creation desires that we have a relationship with his personal name, Yahweh, and there is no need for us to be afraid of the Words of Yahweh. Verse 10 describes the Words of Yahweh as fine gold. The metaphor is of spiritual treasure to be protected. Another way to see the Words of Yahweh is that they are sweeter than honey, which has powerful healing properties from the crown of the head to the sole of the feet. Yes, the Words of Yahweh can warn us of impending danger ahead and if we listen, we can experience great reward (Verse 11).

Psalm 19:12-14 - Look Inwardly

We began by encountering the God of creation who reveals his glory through speechless words everyday, no matter where you live in this world, showing us the Works of Yahweh. He reveals his character through Scripture by sharing with us a Litany of the Words of Yahweh inviting us to allow these words to shape our relationship with Him. God is at the very heart of this Psalm because He is the source of both Creation and Scripture. Now, there needs to be a response to what God shows us and says to us. A rhetorical question is posed: “Who can understand his errors?” (vs 12). The Psalmist takes a personal look inward. It is not always easy to recognize our sins and like David in Psalm 51, sometimes we need others to confront us about deep seated sins. We can often be blind to the consequences of a sinful action.  It is important to examine your attitude and not to try to cover over your sins. Otherwise, you may find that your sins now become deliberate acts of defiance because you refused to heed correction. The Psalmist prayed for the grace to not let his sins control him.

Lastly, in v.14, after a time of contemplating the Psalmist will respond and pray that the words spoken outwardly from his mouth and the unspoken words inwardly in his heart would match and be pleasing to God.

Please take time at the end of this week to write a prayer reflecting this Psalm.
 

 

St. Ephrem’s Prayer

O Lord and Master of my life

remove from me the spirit of sadness, despair, 

thirst for power and vain talk.

Instead, grant me, Your servant,

the spirit of prudence, humility, patience and love.

Indeed, O Lord and King,

grant that I see my own sins and not judge my sister and brother,

for You are blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.

Second Sunday of Lent, March 1, 2015 - Psalm 116: 10, 15, 16-17, 18-19

A Personal Testimony
Mention to anyone that you would like to take a holiday or book a hotel and the first step suggested will be to do your due diligence and read the ratings on TripAdvisor. I just spent a few minutes learning about TripAdvisor. It operates 25 different travel brands such as Cruise Critic, Seat Guru, and the parent company is Expedia. It is the most widely recognized, used, and trusted travel website in the world. Travellers spend many hours reading reviews before making a decision, and I know people who will make a decision based on the rating of TripAdvisor rather than the personal testimony of someone who has been there.

During the Second Week of Lent, let us explore Psalm 116. First and foremost this psalm is one person’s testimony of why he loves Yahweh (1-2); verses 16 and 17 are the public declaration of his gratitude; verses 18 and 19 are the invitation for you and me to personally join in and share our own journey. The Psalmist will make over 35 personal references to himself in 19 verses. Note that in verses 3, 5,15, and 19 there are no personal pronouns used.

Psalm 116 is part of a collection of psalms from 113-118 that are sung, and continue to be sung, as part of the Passover Meal every year. These Psalms are known as the “Egyptian Hallel” (Egyptian praise) songs. They tell the story of the Children of Israel leaving Egypt during the Exodus. It is interesting to note that Psalm 113-114 are sung before the Passover Meal and Psalm 115-118 are sung after. This was probably one of the songs that Jesus sang after the Last Supper (see Matthew 26:30). Let’s stay with that thought for just a moment. In Psalm 116:10-11, we hear the Psalmist gasping for breath, and feeling greatly afflicted within. Can you see the humanity of Jesus as he is singing this song, feeling powerless and weak, without family or friends, pacing back and forth in the Garden that Maundy Thursday evening? What is he to do with his sleeping disciples? There is nothing else to do but yell out the words of the Psalmist,  “They are just a bunch of liars, everyone of them!”

Psalm 116:1-2: These verses are not a part of our reading, but I think they help us in understanding the psalm. The Psalmist opens by giving Yahweh a Five-Star rating! He is excited, positive and confident:  “I Love Yahweh!” This is not the same way that we use the word, “I love chocolates.” He clearly states that he is totally committed to a relationship with Yahweh. This is his personal testimony. TripAdvisor always wants to know, why you liked the holiday. Look out for the active words he uses: 

  • Yahweh heard someone crying and recognized that it was my voice
  • Yahweh turned his ear and Yahweh listened to my cry for help.
  • I can call out to Yahweh now and for the rest of my whole life, and Yahweh will hear me.

What do you think about this personal testimony? Would you like to know the Yahweh the Psalmist is talking about? I sense this person has had time to look back over his life and reflect on this near-death experience as he desperately yelled out for help. He is here to tell all of us that he stared death in the face and Yahweh saved him! Yahweh answers the prayers of desperate people today, just like he answered the prayers of the Children of Israel as they left Egypt that Passover night thousands of years ago. 

Now, let us look at the suggested text, Psalm 116:10: “I believe, therefore have I spoken.” The Psalmist declares that he has a belief system that sustained him even at his most difficult time. Here are the components of that belief system:

  • He believed that Yahweh listened to his prayers and so he was not afraid to call out to Yahweh. 
  • He believed that Yahweh not only listened, but Yahweh had the power to answer his prayers.
  • Yahweh promised to hear and answer prayer, so this gave him hope in the midst of a hopeless situation.
  • No one else offered help but Yahweh.

Psalm 116:15: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” To be human is to be born and to die. The Psalmist here does not use a personal pronoun, for he has no experience with death, but he is sure that whether in life or in death, we are precious to Yahweh. Just a week or so ago, a three-year old child wandered away from his grandmother’s apartment in the middle of the night with only a diaper, a t-shirt and boots. The next day he was found in a neighbours’ backyard. It was interesting to listen to his mother share how independent he was as a three-year old, wanting to dress himself. Even the policemen cried when they found his body. How precious he was to his mother and family. How precious he is to Yahweh.

Psalm 116:16-17: “Yahweh, truly I am your servant. I am your servant, the son of your servant. You have freed me from my chains. I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call on Yahweh’s name.” Now the Psalmist is standing in front of the congregation sharing his testimony. He wants them to know that he is no fly-by-night servant, this relationship with Yahweh has been passed down to him from his mother. He saw her turn to Yahweh when she was in trouble, and now he has done the same thing. In his darkest hour, he made a vow to Yahweh that he would offer a personal testimony in the presence of others, once free. 

Psalm 116:18-19: “I will pay my vows to Yahweh. Yes, in the presence of all his people, in the courts of Yahweh’s house, in the middle of you, Jerusalem. Praise Yahweh! (Hallelujah)” This Psalm ends on a high note of exuberance. The Psalmist cannot contain his joy and wants everyone to know about Yahweh’s faithfulness. Praise the Lord! Hallelujah!

You too can share your own personal testimony: 

  • During this Second Week of Lent why not take some time and write a personal testimony why you love Yahweh. Here is a start: Yahweh is forgiving, Yahweh hears my cry. 
  • The Psalmist spent time offering thanks for all that Yahweh had done for him. Can you make a thanksgiving list that you can share with your Lenten partner or on the Blog?
  • Do you have a Godly inheritance that was passed down to you by your mom and dad?
  • At the end of the week, write a personal prayer based on Psalm 116.

St. Ephrem’s Prayer
O Lord and Master of my life
remove from me the spirit of sadness, despair, 
thirst for power and vain talk.
Instead, grant me, Your servant,
the spirit of prudence, humility, patience and love.
Indeed, O Lord and King,
grant that I see my own sins and not judge my sister and brother
for You are blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.

Here are the four negative obstacles that can be removed with this Prayer:

  • Remove from me the spirit of sadness or laziness:
    We are convinced that change is not possible.
  • Remove from me the spirit of despair or faintheartedness:
    We see nothing that is good or positive.
  • Remove from me the spirit of thirst or lust for power:
    We want to become lord of our own lives.
  • Remove from me the spirit of vain or idle talk:
    Our words become the agent of sin.

Here are the four positive gifts this Prayer offers you:

  • Grant me the spirit of prudence or whole-mindedness:
    Restore the true scale of values that lead us back to God.
  • Grant me the spirit of humility:
    See God’s majesty and goodness and love in everything.
  • Grant me the spirit of patience:
    Reflect infinite respect for all things.
  • Grant me the spirit of love:
    The sum total of all our quests.

First Sunday of Lent, February 22, 2015 - Psalm 25: 4-9

Psalm 25: 1-9 - The MMI Factor

I think I say this every year, and I trust that by now you will agree with me: Lent is an opportunity, not an obligation. It is an opportunity to come away on a 40-day retreat as we retrace the steps that Jesus took when he lived here on earth as the son of humanity. We already know the end of the story, and therefore, we should not be afraid. We began the journey knowing that we are already forgiven for our sins past, present and future. We affirmed that belief by making the sign of the cross in our hand or on our forehead. 

The journey that began on Ash Wednesday will end at the foot of the Cross on Good Friday. When we arrive there, that wooden Cross will have no body hanging on it, because Jesus is alive and is the Guide for the journey. The purpose of the Cross is to remind us that at the same time Jesus died, a divine act took place in the Temple. The curtain that separated the people from the priest was destroyed from top to bottom. This symbolized that Jesus’ act on the Cross replaced the yearly ritual of the High Priest presenting the blood of a lamb for the forgiveness of sins. This ritual was no longer necessary. Now the way was made wide open for each of us to enter into God’s presence without fear of death. 

This year we have narrowed our Lenten Guide to the Sunday Psalm Readings from the Lectionary. The Psalms are the writings in the Bible that give expression to the ordering of our inner life as we listen in on personal and private conversations between the writer and God. We observe as the writer verbalizes times of deep despair and at other times heights of great joy. The example I shared from Matthew was Jesus standing before Pilate being interrogated, yet he kept silent as he focused —inside of himself — on the words of Psalm 22. 

So we can say, the Psalms give us the language to have a conversation with God on an individual basis. In this conversation our souls come face to face with God. On the other hand, when we read the books of the Law, such as Exodus, Leviticus and so on, or the books written by the prophets, such as Jeremiah and Isaiah, it is God who is speaking collectively to the people in public.

The opening Psalm on Ash Wednesday for the beginning of Lent was Psalm 51:1-17. Here we were introduced to King David in conversation with God about his own sin. He openly admits his sin without passing the blame around. He pleads for God’s mercy and God’s loving kindness. He asked to be cleansed from his sin because it was destroying his personal relationship with God. He longed to be back in fellowship with God and desired the restoration of his salvation with joy. We can draw great encouragement from David as we see him nurture his inner life expressing himself to God directly.

Psalm 25
I have titled the Psalm for this first week of Lent as the MMI Factor. As I said earlier, the Psalms give us a voice to have a personal conversation with God, and in this Psalm I find the conversation is about Me, Myself and I, the MMI Factor.

Psalm 25 is one of the acrostic Psalms. That means that the first letters of consecutive verses make up a word, or the Hebrew alphabet, which consists of 22 letters. (Some other well-known acrostic Psalms are Psalm 37 and Psalm 119). People were able to use the acrostic method to help them memorize the verses.

Me and my memories
Vs 1-3 Opens with the psalmist coming into the presence of Yahweh and addressing Yahweh with no reservations. Notice the posture with which Yahweh is approached.  Both the hands and the soul are lifted up and this posture speaks of total surrender not out of fear or obligation, but as an opportunity for a weary soul to find a place of refuge. A request is made immediately to not be put to shame or let the enemies triumph. This individual has memories of waiting on Yahweh at other times in the past and remembered that running ahead of Yahweh only lead to being put to shame.

Myself and my mind
Vs 4-5 Here is a plea from the heart. The psalmist is in need of direction and will repeatedly ask Yahweh to take the lead, direct and guide the way because Yahweh’s paths all lead to truth. It is important to not run ahead. Waiting all day might seem like a long time, but there are things that can be done while you are waiting. It looks like the psalmist had enemies on the outside who were trying to inflict shame and harm and there is nothing to do but wait for God. But I suspect that the greater enemies lie within his own heart and in his own mind.

I - Interior living
Vs 6-7 Now the psalmist will turn the attention from what is happening on the outside to having a heart to heart and intimate conversation with Yahweh. He calls Yahweh to remembrance of his tender mercies and remembrance of Yahweh’s lovingkindness, for they are from old times.  Here the psalmist invites us to discover how to move from the exterior to the interior home and to appeal to Yahweh’s character whenever we are in trouble. 

Let’s find out the meaning of these words that describe the character of Yahweh.  C.H. Surgeon describes the words, “tender mercies” as the most exquisite form of music, especially to a broken heart. To one who is despondent and despairing, these words are life-giving. Mercy lies in the heart of God and with his mercy he forgives and redeems us willingly. Jesus is the visible expression of God’s mercy when he lived and died amongst us as a son of humanity.
The word “mercy” or “compassion” in Hebrew means “womb.” This is an intimate image of a woman pregnant with a baby and the baby’s total reliance on the mother for its very existence. Here the Psalmist is at home in the womb of God’s love, safe and hidden from the enemies. 

It really does not matter how close we are to the heart of Yahweh. Our thoughts can quickly distract us by reminding us of past failures and past sins. The psalmist here tells us to turn again to our interior voice and to ask Yahweh to remember us according to Yahweh’s loving-kindness. Biblical scholars have had difficulty translating the word “loving-kindness” because there really is no English equivalent. It means a covenant love relationship between two parties, God and His people. The undergirding structure is not just haphazard kindness but a relationship built on intentional love and loyalty.

The Factor is Yahweh
Vs 8-9 The psalmist declares that Yahweh is both good and upright and he is convinced that Yahweh Himself desires a close and intimate relationship with him. The mercy and loving-kindness is shared in a relationship of unequals. Yahweh is the deciding factor in that no matter how wayward we may be, Yahweh’s unfailing love and his mercy is greater than all our sin. Yahweh is ready and waiting to forgive us and to restore the relationship.

May your be encouraged during this First Week of Lent that Yahweh’s mercy and lovingkindness is available to you.

Lenten Prayer of St. Ephrem
O Lord and Master of my life
Remove from me the spirit of sadness
despair, thirst for power and vain talk.
Instead, grant me, Your servant,
the spirit of prudence, humility, patience and love.
Indeed, O Lord and King,
grant that I see my own sins and not judge my sister or brother,
for You are blessed unto ages of ages. Amen

Here are the four negative obstacles that can be removed with this Prayer:
Remove from me the spirit of sadness or laziness:
We are convinced that change is not possible.
Remove from me the spirit of despair or faintheartedness:
We see nothing that is good or positive.
Remove from me the spirit of thirst or lust for power:
We want to become lord of our own lives.
Remove from me the spirit of vain or idle talk:
Our words become the agent of sin.

Here are the four positive gifts this Prayer offers you:
Grant me the spirit of prudence or whole-mindedness:
Restore the true scale of values that lead us back to God.
Grant me the spirit of humility:
See God’s majesty and goodness and love in everything.
Grant me the spirit of patience:
Reflect infinite respect for all things.
Grant me the spirit of love:
The sum total of all our quests.

A Song for the journey this week:  Near The Heart of God
There is a place of quiet rest,
Near to the heart of God.
A place where sin cannot molest,
Near to the heart of God.

There is a place of comfort sweet
Near to the heart of God.
A place where we our Saviour meet,
Near to the heart of God.

There is a place of full release,
Near to the heart of God.
A place where all is joy and peace,
Near to the heart of God.

Refrain
O Jesus, blest Redeemer,
Sent from the heart of God,
Hold us who wait before Thee
Near to the heart.
(Words and music written by Cleland B. McAfee, 1903. He wrote these words after two of his nieces died from diphtheria. The Park College Choir sang the new hymn outside the quarantined house).

Lenten Guidelines for Lenten Conversation 2015

Lenten Guidelines For Lenten Conversations 2015

Lent is a 40-day journey that begins on Ash Wednesday, February 18, 2015 and ends on Good Friday, April 3, 2015 this year. The Sundays during Lent are to be celebrated because they remind us of the resurrection that took place three days after the death of Jesus. Christians in the early church would use the Lenten Season to prepare for public baptism on Easter Sunday morning and thereafter became members of the church. The preparation signified their desire to die to the old ways of thinking and living and to be transformed by the renewing of their minds into the resurrected life of Christ.

Lent can be described as an invitation to lay down all the inner burdens that plague us, and the indifference and greed that distracts us from a whole-hearted commitment to God. In Lent we come to the Cross exposing all our sin. We will receive forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration. Then, and only then, can we experience the full joy of Easter Sunday morning.

The Sunday Psalm Readings from the Liturgy will be our Lenten Guide this year. Our webinar will be held on the Monday morning following the Sunday of Lent.

Week of Lent                                      Date                                    Psalm
Ash Wednesday                                  February 18, 2015               Psalm 51:1-17
First Sunday of Lent                           February 22, 2015               Psalm 25: 4-5, 6-7, 8-9
Second Sunday of Lent                      March 1, 2015                      Psalm 116: 10,15, 16-17, 18-19
Third Sunday of Lent                          March 8, 2015                     Psalm 19: 8, 9, 10, 11
Fourth Sunday of Lent                        March 15, 2015                    Psalm 137: 1-2, 3, 4-5, 6
Fifth Sunday of Lent                           March 22, 2015                   Psalm 51: 3-4, 12-13, 14-15
Passion (Palm) Sunday                       March 29, 2015                   Psalm 22: 8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24

Fasting
Lent is an opportunity not an obligation. It can be a time to “Fast From and Feast On.” Here are some suggestions by William Arthur Ward, American author, teacher and pastor, 1921-1994. You might want to choose one for each week of Lent to focus on.

Fast from judging others; Feast on the Christ dwelling in them.
ast from emphasis on differences; Feast on the unity of life.
Fast from apparent darkness; Feast on the reality of light.
Fast from thoughts of illness; Feast on the healing power of God.
Fast from words that pollute; Feast on phrases that purify.
Fast from discontent; Feast on gratitude.
Fast from anger; Feast on patience.
Fast from pessimism; Feast on optimism.
Fast from worry; Feast on divine order.
Fast from complaining; Feast on appreciation.
Fast from negatives; Feast on affirmatives.
Fast from unrelenting pressures; Feast on unceasing prayer.
Fast from hostility; Feast on non-resistance.
Fast from bitterness; Feast on forgiveness.
Fast from personal anxiety; Feast on eternal truth.
Fast from discouragements; Feast on hope.
Fast from facts that depress; Feast on verities that uplift.
Fast from lethargy; Feast on enthusiasm.
Fast from thoughts that weaken; Feast on promises that inspire.
Fast from shadows of sorrow; Feast on the sunlight of serenity.
Fast from idle gossip; Feast on purposeful silence>
Fast from problems that overwhelm; Feast on prayer that [strengthens].

Prayer
Prayer is another important part of the Lenten Journey. Ever since the Fourth Century, The Prayer of St. Ephrem The Syrian has been a Guide for the Church.

                                O Lord and Master of my life
remove from me the spirit of sadness, despair, thirst for power and vain talk.
                                     Instead, grant me, Your servant,
                         the spirit of prudence, humility, patience and love.
                                               Indeed, O Lord and King,
                   grant that I see my own sins and not judge my brother or sister,
                                    for You are blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.

Here are the four negative obstacles that can be removed with this Prayer:
Remove from me the spirit of sadness or laziness:
We are convinced that change is not possible.
Remove from me the spirit of despair or faintheartedness:
We see nothing that is good or positive.
Remove from me the spirit of thirst or lust for power:
We want to become lord of our own lives.
Remove from me the spirit of vain or idle talk:
Our words become the agent of sin.

Here are the four positive gifts this Prayer offers you:
Grant me the spirit of prudence or whole-mindedness:
Restore the true scale of values that lead us back to God.
Grant me the spirit of humility:
See God’s majesty and goodness and love in everything.
Grant me the spirit of patience:
Reflect infinite respect for all things.
Grant me the spirit of love:
The sum total of all our quests.

Companions on the Journey
Find a companion or two to travel with on the journey.  
Read the Psalm daily and you might even want to write it out using one or two other bible translations, such as The Message, The Web, NLT.
Use a notebook to jot down your thoughts and feelings about what the Psalm is saying to you. 
Share your insights with your companion on the journey, whenever you commit to meet.
Write a personal prayer based on the Psalm each week.
Daily begin and end your personal devotional time with the Prayer of St. Ephrem.

Ash Wednesday: Matthew 28:16-20 & Psalm51:1-17

We have reached the end of the journey through the Gospel of Matthew with the help of our guidebook, Matthew for Everyone, along with its author, Tom Wright. He has made the journey fruitful because many of you have sojourned with us from the beginning to the end. Matthew intentionally wove an unbroken thread into the tapestry of his book: Jesus was a son of humanity. 

We were introduced to Jesus through his Family Tree at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel. Then we met him at the banks of the Jordan River as he entered his public ministry, initiated through his baptism by his cousin, John the Baptist. He loved being out in nature and immediately after his baptism, he takes a silent personally directed retreat for 40 days in the wilderness. 

This young itinerant Rabbi left the cloistered walls of the local synagogues for the hillsides of Judea where crowds of ordinary men, women and children almost daily flocked to hear him. He fed them, healed them physically, mentally and emotionally, as he breathed life into the promises of God found in the Hebrew Scriptures that many of them had only heard and were unable to read for themselves.

He confronted the Religious Leaders and they were infuriated because of the changes that were happening amongst the common people. They thought that he was just another itinerant Rabbi passing through. Maybe he would be gone just as quickly as his cousin, John the Baptist. But he proclaimed that he was the fulfillment of the prophesies of the Hebrew Text, and they responded that he was a fraud and a blasphemer.

So here we complete the book of Matthew as Jesus is on his final journey to Jerusalem. His focus is no longer on the crowds, but instead it is on himself as he completes the journey to the cross. Again, we see him end his ministry as he began it, on a private retreat. This time with 11 of his 12 disciples. They found the all night vigil too much. Their eyes were heavy with sleep. At his greatest moment of need, they abandoned him and all that was left were the words of the Hebrew Text written deeply on his heart. 

On that first day of the Passover, his ministry came to an end as he died on a cross between two criminals. The only disciples that had the courage to be nearby were two women, Mary Magdelene and the other Mary. They had purchased spices and wanted to perform the last funeral rites for their leader. The Sabbath was drawing nigh and no work was permitted, and so they had to just be content that another woman had anointed his body while he was still alive.

As soon as Sabbath was over, these two women wanted to complete the job of the funeral rites, hoping that the body of Jesus would not have decayed too much. But an angel greeted them at the tomb and gave them this directive: “Do not be afraid. Come and see for yourself. Jesus is no longer in the tomb. Your job as funeral embalmers is redundant. Jesus has offered you a new position in his kingdom. He is risen and he wants you to be the carriers of that good news to his scattered disciples. Tell them that he will meet them in Galilee.”

The women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, running to tell the disciples. But Jesus called to them, they came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus re-affirmed the instructions of the angel: “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my disciples to gather in Galilee, I will see them there!” Matthew 28:8-10

What profound affirmation of the role of women in God’s kingdom. These two women who sat helplessly as Jesus was laid in a tomb have now been personally commissioned by Jesus himself to “Come and See. Go and Tell.” Matthew then added proof that they had fulfilled the commission as we see the scattered disciples now gathered at the base of the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. They saw him, they too worshiped him, but some doubted. He told them nevertheless, “As you go about your day to day living, teach others what you have learned from me. But most of all, remember, I am with you every single day right to end of the age.” Matthew 28:16-20

Final Summary of Jesus’ instructions: How do we teach others? 

We must first and foremost be learners. As we learn about Jesus, through the Community of the Beloved, they will commission us on behalf of Jesus to teach others as we continue to learn. We learn how to worship Jesus as we bow at his feet, indicating that we want to be his servant and that we want him to be master of our lives. In thankful worship we will work for him, sharing in his word and in his work.

“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” Isaiah 52:7
Ash Wednesday, February 18, 2015
We have come to the end of the short Season of Ordinary Time and now we embark on a 40-day Lenten Journey. It harkens back to the same 40 day retreat that Jesus took just before he started his public ministry and just after his baptism in the Jordan by his cousin, John The Baptist (See Matthew 3:13-17).  Our Lenten Journey reminds us of the climax of Matthew’s Gospel: Jesus is the Passover Lamb who died for the sins of all the people. They no longer had to bring a lamb each year to the Temple where it was slain, and the blood given to the priest to take into the Holy of Holies, behind a curtain that symbolized that our sins separated us from God. That ended while Jesus was on the cross. Darkness engulfed the sky and in the Temple, the silence was shattered as the physical curtain was torn in two, ripping from the top to the bottom. Jesus in the same moment died. 

His death was not the end but the new beginning, the resurrection of new life. This is the transformation that has taken place so that we can have the confidence to approach God’s throne of grace without fear of condemnation. I can come boldly to God’s throne and receive mercy and find grace in my moments of greatest need (Hebrews 4:16 ). I am empowered with this new lease on life to be a disciple, to learn and to worship at his feet, and to teach others what I have learned.

The Season of Lent is a 40-day retreat that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends Good Friday, April 3, 2015 this year. During this time we want to be intentional about journeying with Jesus through his suffering, death and resurrection as we grow in our own personal relationship with him. There are three main components that help us on this retreat: Fasting, repentance and sharing alms.  

Fasting is often associated with not eating particular foods during the season, but we may want to consider a “Fast and Feast”  for each week of Lent as suggested by William Arthur Ward (1921-1994):

  • Fast from judging others; Feast on the Christ dwelling within.
  • Fast from anger; Feast on patience.
  • Fast from complaining; Feast on appreciation.
  • Fast from bitterness; Feast on forgiveness 
  • Fast from worry; Feast on trust
  • Fast from idle gossip; Feast on purposeful silence.

Repentance is an important component of the Season of Lent. And this year we will use the Sunday Psalm Reading from the Liturgy as our guide. The Sundays of Lent, are very special because we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, therefore it is a Feast Day and not a day for Fasting. The Psalm Readings help us to see our sin and invite us to admit our sin. Then we receive the forgiveness of our sins and fellowship again with God. Here are the Readings:

Week of Lent                                      Date                                    Psalm
Ash Wednesday                                  February 18, 2015               Psalm 51:1-17
First Sunday of Lent                           February 22, 2015               Psalm 25: 4-5, 6-7, 8-9
Second Sunday of Lent                       March 1, 2015                      Psalm 116: 10,15, 16-17, 18-19
Third Sunday of Lent                           March 8, 2015                     Psalm 19: 8, 9, 10, 11
Fourth Sunday of Lent                         March 15, 2015                    Psalm 137: 1-2, 3, 4-5, 6
Fifth Sunday of Lent                             March 22, 2015                   Psalm 51: 3-4, 12-13, 14-15
Passion (Palm) Sunday                         March 29, 2015                   Psalm 22: 8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24

The 
other component of the Season of Lent is sharing alms with the poor and needy among us. Isaiah 58: 7-9 tells us how to do this: “Share your bread with the hungry; shelter the oppressed and homeless; cloth the naked when you see them. And in response to you helping the poor and needy, when you call in your time of need, the Lord will answer your cry for help, and he will say: ‘Here am I.’”

Psalm 51: 1-17
The Psalm that opens the Season of Lent on Ash Wednesday is Psalm 51. It is rooted in a story about King David and his behaviour towards a newly-wed bride and her husband. You may want to read the story for yourself in II Samuel 11-12. David was feeling lazy and decided not to go to war as leader of his army and sent his army general named, Joab in his place. Lounging around with seemingly nothing to do, he looks out his hilltop window and sees what he has been waiting for. A beautiful young woman performing the ritual of bathing after her menstrual cycle. 

He knew her grandfather and her father, because they were part of his inner circle, and he also knew Uriah, her new husband because this young man just adored David and willingly went to fight with the army. David knew the law of Israel regarding newly-wed couples if the husband is in the army. The husband must not go out to war for one year so that he could enjoy his wife! But David sent her husband to war even before they could consummate their marriage.

David sent for this young woman named Bathsheba to come and see him and she went, having no idea what David had in mind. He slept with her and then sent her away. She reported back that she was pregnant. So David devised a plan with his army general, Joab to have her husband, Uriah come home hoping that he would consummate the marriage, and then would have to be declared father of the unborn child. But this young man could not go home to see his wife because he felt his loyalty was to David and the army.  So he just slept with David’s servants at the door of the palace. 

Finally, David entertained him and then sent him back to see Joab carrying a letter outlining how he should die. Once the evil deed was done, Joab sent back a report to David detailing that Uriah was dead. Bathsheba mourned for her dead husband and then David sent for her to be his wife, giving the appearance that he was a kind and caring man. 

David had a spiritual director named Nathan and he came to David and related a story about two men, one a rich man having lots of lambs and deliberately coveting the one and only lamb of the other man, who was poor, to feed a traveler that came to visit the rich man. David was angry at the rich man in the story and pronounced severe judgement on him. He should die, pay for the lamb four times over and no one should have pity on him! Nathan could not contain himself. He shouted, “David, that is you. You are that man! Look what you just did to Uriah.”

David responded, “I have sinned against the Lord.” This Psalm, Psalm 51, is the prayer of David’s heart as he deal with his sin. He realized that as King of Israel he had placed himself above reproof and no one had the courage to confront him of his sin, yet he had the power to judge and condemn another. But Nathan helped David to see that we can hide our sins from others, but we cannot hide them from God, and God is the final judge. The consequence was that the baby died a week after Bathsheba gave birth.

Just a reminder to all of us. When we devise sinful plans and are blinded to the consequences that will ensue as our plans come to fruition, let us remember that innocent people will be hurt. Bathsheba never enjoyed a life with her newly-wed husband, her grandfather and father were betrayed by David’s behaviour and she mourned the death of a child that was conceived through rape. 

This story has a redemptive component. Bathsheba would have other children with David and even though he had older children and under the law they had the right to be King of Israel after the passing of David, Bathsheba extracted a promise from David that her son, Solomon would succeed him to the throne upon his death. This son, Solomon is the wise man that wrote and compiled the many thousands of proverbs that you read to order your public life.  As for Bathsheba, every time you see her name mentioned in the Bible it is always coupled as Bathsheba and her husband Uriah. The greatest redemptive component is that her and her husband Uriah’s names can be found in both the Family Tree of Mary, recorded in St. Luke’s Gospel and in the Family Tree of Joseph, recorded in Matthew’s Gospel.

As you read through Psalm 51:1-17 note that as David recognized and admitted his sin, there is no mention of the other people in the story. David admits that his sin is against God and God alone. He was able to get away with his own laws, but he had violated the laws of God on several levels. It is easy for us to make excuses for our sins believing that no one will find out. And when our sins are uncovered, it is often the case that we deny them and name and blame others. There is a Scripture that we might want to become familiar with: “Be sure that your sin will find you out” (Number 32:23). 

David recognized that the consequences of his sin were beyond that fleeting moment of pleasure of intercourse with a virgin. Saying sorry would never bring back her husband or heal the broken relationships. In fact, Nathan, David’s spiritual director, told him that this would actually destroy his other children and there would be lots of in-fighting among them. The consequences ran both deep and wide beyond the pale of David’s ability to handle it.

All David could do was to ask God to be generous in love, grace and mercy. To scrub away the guilt that he felt, to soak him in the laundry till he came out clean. This would give him a clean heart, a new lease on life, and he could have joy in his heart again. Now he would sing aloud God’s praises because he delighted in God’s laws and not in his own. 

David has set out the guidelines for how we can deal with our sins. Here it is: Recognize and admit your sin. Admit them to yourself in private and in a public setting to one who will not judge you so that you can receive absolution. Allow God to re-create in you a clean heart as you let go of old ways of thinking and living. Immerse yourself in the forgiveness that only God can give. Do not dwell on the consequences of your sin. God has a hold on them as well. He will bring all the broken pieces of your life together for good in his slow work of grace in your life

Suggestions on how to take this Lenten Journey:

  • Have a Lenten partner or two so that you can share together about what the Psalm is saying to you.
  • Read the Psalm daily and you might even want to write it out using one or two other bible translations, such as The Message, The WEB, NLT.
  • Use a notebook to jot down your thoughts and feelings about what the Psalm is saying to you. Remember, David did not talk about the details of his sin, but about the details of his heart. He recognized the patterns of deceit and betrayal.
  • Share your insights with your Lenten Partner, whenever you commit to meet.
  • Write a personal prayer based on the Psalm each week.
  • Daily begin and end your personal devotional time by saying St. Ephrem’s Prayer.

O Lord and Master of my life
remove from me the spirit of sadness, despair, thirst for power and vain talk.
Instead, grant me, Your servant,
the spirit of prudence, humility, patience and love.

Indeed, O Lord and King,
grant that I see my own sins and not judge my brother or sister,
for You are blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.