Thursday, March 28, 2013

Borrowed Tombs

                                               Borrowed Tombs

Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was disciple of Jesus , but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate's permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus' body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.   John 19:38-42   ( see also Matt. 27:57-61 & Luke 23:50-56)

Joseph arrived back at Golgotha with a centurion. Nicodemus met them there, having already placed the sacks of spices by the tomb. The guards had already taken the three bodies down from their crosses. The two who had been crucified beside Jesus had not been claimed by family or anyone else for that matter. They were being tossed on a cart when Joseph came from Pilate. The centurion accompanying Joseph told the soldiers to release Jesus' body to these men. They replied with a somewhat surprised, "Yes sir!"

The guards took their pry bar and pulled the spikes from Jesus' wrists and ankles. They lifted him and placed him on the litter Nicodemus had brought. One of his arms flopped out as they walked along. He and Joseph moved as quickly as they could to the nearby garden. It was a strange juxtaposition to have the garbage dump, the Skull hill of execution, and a quiet cemetery in close approximation. But Nicodemus and Joseph had seen many strange things in the past few days. To anyone watching, they would have seemed no stranger than the sight of two members of the Sanhedrin carrying a corpse away from Golgotha just before Sh'abbot was to begin.

Nicodemus and Joseph arrived at the tomb and laid Jesus' body down on a level spot just a few yards from the mouth of the cave. Now, for the first time they got a good look at Jesus. Dried blood, some not so dry, dried sweat and grime were everywhere. Joseph began to tear the linen cloths they had into strips. Nicodemus took a few of the strips and poured some water on them. Dropping to his knees, he began to wash the Master's body. He began at the head. The wounds from the crown of thorns had graveled his head. His hair was matted with blood and sweat. His eyes, now closed in death were nonetheless swollen. His face more resembled a bruise than a face.  As gently as possible he washed, scrubbing little as any pressure pulled flesh from around the wounds. He worked his way down Jesus' nearly naked body.

Joseph joined Nicodemus on the other side of Jesus' body now and began to wash. They didn't have much time. They concentrated on the wounds. Around the wrists, ankles, and side they cleaned as best they could. They worked silently, sadly, resolutely. They rolled Jesus over to clean his back. There was hardly a back left to clean. Joseph blotted at his back a little while Nicodemus held Jesus. Nicodemus folded some linen and filled the wound in his side. Tears welled in their eyes making the task a bit more difficult.

"We need to hurry, Nick. The sun is getting low. The Sabbath soon begins."
"Joseph, it hardly matters. We can't observe it.  Look at us. Official members of the Council and we are covered with the blood of a convicted criminal. We are handling very intimately a corpse. We have shown favor to a man condemned as a blasphemer by the Council. We can't observe Sh'abbot. We've broken so many laws they may throw us out. We are unclean, unfit, rejected."

"Just like him...Still, Nick, I'm glad we did this. We needed to do this. He deserved this at least. Let them throw us out. I'm done with their politics. Somehow Torah and all the wisdom and prophets were nailed to the cross with him."

"We'll talk of that later, Joseph. Thank-you for letting me come. Let's finish us as best we can."

"There wasn't enough time to do this right. Let's just sprinkle the spices and wrap him. We can come back Sunday and do a better job."

Nicodemus and Joseph took the wrapped body and placed a burial shroud around it.  As gently as possible, as reverently as they could, they laid Jesus on the ledge in the tomb. Joseph patted Jesus' hands folded over his stomach under the shroud. "Rest well, Rabbi.  I only hope these nail-pierced hands that cannot now move will in their bondage break the chains of fear and oppression. I hope these wounded feet that traveled so far that can now go nowhere, have made it possible to walk in freedom and justice to the throne of God. As the spear of Rome has pierced your heart, I hope you have launched an arrow of righteousness to pierce the blackened heart of sin. I am so sorry sorry...take your rest, take your rest, it is the Sabbath."

The last shafts of daylight illumined the shroud as they rolled the stone in it's track. It fell in place with a thud.

So Jesus rested in death in a borrowed tomb and no one realized at that moment, but he made it possible for all tombs to be that way-- merely borrowed.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Troubled Angel

                                                 The Troubled Angel

He hadn't been to earth for a little over 33 years now. This new assignment would be quite different from joining the chorus to sing of Jesus' birth. He loved that assignment but this one was different. No choirs, no joyful singing but a sense of solemnity. The Father was sending him across the divide to be with the Son for a few moments. "What will I say, Father? How can I help?" asked the angel. "Just be with him, your presence will remind him of truths we discussed. Now hurry, his agony is beginning."

The angel donned the appearance of humanity. If was hard for him to believe and harder to understand that the Son had actually become flesh and not just used it as a disguise. This human appearance didn't fit him well. but for the Son he gladly put it on and left. He found Jesus in the garden, praying hard, sweating, in agony. It broke the angel's spirit to see Him in such pain. He moved quietly to His side but said nothing. It was Jesus who spoke.

"Hello, Chamille. It's good to see you. Thanks for coming."
They shared the silence of the olive grove for a few minutes.  "Is there anything I can do, Jesus?"
"You have done all you can, Chamille. It is enough."
"Jesus, I've done nothing except hear you pray to Father. What is the cup you asked permission to let pass? I'll take it for you."
"I'm not sure if you can understand this yet, Chamille, but it is the cup of suffering filled with all the pain, bitterness, and death of the world's sin. It is mine to drink. But I've grown to love this life and these my friends and family. To fill my lungs with air; to smell bread baking; to taste grilled fish; to see the light in a child's eye with a new discovery; to feel the embrace of a friend; to hear wisdom from an old man; to hear one of Philip's funny stories; to see the joy of a healed leper or a woman freed from disease; to pry Satan's claws off a life; I love this life, these people. I could do this forever."
"Then why don't you, Jesus?
"Because they can't, Chamille. Do you know why Father chose to send you to me, Chamille? You came from the other realm untouched by sin. Your presence reminds me of the more that this world of sin and these men and women broken by sin can never see unless I bridge the divide. And also your face, Chamille. Father created you to be able to see humanity in your face. You angels have never seen mirrors. You don't need them. Here on earth, humans like to see their reflections for grooming and vanity. Father made you to reflect the faces of all those I fed, healed, laughed with, cried with, ate with, walked with, taught and love. You remind me why I will take my cup and drink it. This world won't take my life. I will give it. Now you must go. It is time. My hour is fast approaching. I want to spend a few more moments in prayer. Tell Father, thank-you and I'll be home soon."

The angel left the garden slowly, reluctantly. He was used to traveling at the speed of thought but didn't want to move away from Jesus that quickly. He changed his appearance on the edge of the garden. He turned and saw the mob approaching Jesus. He reached for his sword and saw His Lord look his way and with kindness, shake His head. The angel couldn't drink the cup. He couldn't stop the cross. He turned and walked back to heaven dragging his wings through the stars.

Luke 22:41-44

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Lent and the Woman Who gave Up Thirst

This is the fifth in a series of Lenten devotions. The theme is not so much what is given up for lent, but what is taken up in the living of the Kingdom life.      Back story is John 4...

Word reached the little Samaritan village of Sychar by Sunday evening. Most of Saturday was observed as Sabbath and the messengers had no real  incentive to announce another Roman crucifixion to an obscure village, especially a Samaritan one. It was thirty miles from Jerusalem, a good day and a half's journey. But these travelers had been there and brought word about the one many thought was the messiah, a man named Jesus, who had been executed in Jerusalem. They knew many details, but didn't know of Jesus' relationship with this village. The village fathers filled them in as they filled the fathers in on the details of the trial and crucifixion. The mood grew grim. Questions, doubts..wasn't he...maybe he wasn't?  But look at what he said and did. Who else could have...but messiah doesn't get killed, does he....The questions hung in air around the little council. No one had answers, just other questions.

It was noted that Photini should be told. The Elder said he would have his daughter go over the Photini's house and have her come to the meeting. Photini had first met Jesus out by Jacob's well and brought him to the village. Her story was one of grace and the power to change but it wasn't her story but his presence and teaching with the rest of the village that won their allegiance. This news would be met with a mixture of grief, anger, confusion, and indignation. It was news that might very well break Photini's heart.

Photini came to the meeting and came with some fear. Why were they summoning her? Her concern was founded on her past. Had another skeleton arisen? Would something she had said or done in the past upset her new life of faith in Jesus?  Had not she now known true love? Had not she now known what a real family, husband and contentment truly meant? She shuddered a bit as she entered the meeting room but the peace she had long felt in her heart felt unshakable. The elders and the messengers broke the news to her. Her reaction surprised them. Photini cried a little. She remained quiet and prayed a moment. Then she asked for a jug of water. It was brought to her. She drank from it, slowly at first and then turned the jug straight up and let the water run down her chin, neck, and the front of her robe in a little river. She was drenched.

Photini spoke. "Gentlemen, dear elders, don't despair. If you remember, Jesus told us many things the two days he was with us. Remember, we later discussed the teachings but were confused and wondered about his teaching about his own death. Now that it has happened, just remember, it is as it has to be. But I do not believe we have heard the rest of the story quite yet."

"Photini, how can you be so sure? Jesus is dead. He can't be the messiah if he is dead, can he?''
"All I know is that he promised I if drank of the water of life, I would never be thirsty again. When my mouth and throat are parched and even when I am confused or fearful, I always take a drink of water to remember that I need never thirst in my heart again. I don't know everything the news of his crucifixion means. I know I hurt for his pain. But I know in my heart, whose thirst is still quenched, that we have not heard the end of this story. That river of life that has brought contentment and peace to my heart is still flowing. I feel it. I know it. There is more to come."

The elders were silent. What could be said? Some agreed in silence. Some doubted in silence. They went home in silence.

Monday morning came. Photini, though now welcomed to join the other women going out to the well to draw the day's water, stayed behind. She waited until noon, remembering her previous days of loneliness and isolation, even to the point of drawing water at an odd time to not face the stares of other women. It was at this time, at this well, she met the savior. It was here she began to share Jesus and not just her bed with a series of men. It was here she gave up thirsting after those things that never quench her greatest needs and received the Living Water. She found a deep well in her own heart. The news from Jerusalem about last Friday was troubling, hard, sad. And yet the River was still flowing in her heart. She just knew.

Looking down the Jerusalem road, she saw a traveler coming. He was walking fast, almost running. He walked as one on a mission-relentless, excited. Photini  asked out loud to no one in particular, "I wonder what makes him so eager, so driven? What has he got to tell?''

Do you have the same story to tell? Are the springs of living water flowing?


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Lent and the Man Who Gave Up Self

Peter had never seemed more sure and bold and that was saying something for those who knew Peter well. Boldness, even at times to the point of imprudence was a hallmark of his. But a risen Savior has a way of tempering that. Still, that ugly scene with the rooster crowing and the look Jesus gave him that night he betrayed the Lord haunted him. Yes, he knew Jesus forgave him. Yes, he knew the Lord had renewed the call and purpose for his life with the 'do you love me?' questions. Yes, had preached boldly for Jesus proclaiming him to the the Messiah risen from the dead. He had even faced charges and prison from the Sanhedrin and would not waver. Yet,  his heart was still haunted on some days, his heart didn't always feel as sure as his actions seemed to show.

Peter needed to talk to someone, to let the words flow out and hear another human voice affirm or correct or encourage. But he is seen as the leader now. Where does the leader go when he needs to be led? He first thought of the other disciples. They certainly knew how he felt. They had experienced all the joy and all the tragedy as he had. They were close and could be trusted. Best friends, a brother, connections of heart and mind with the other apostles left no cause to worry about talking to them about anything. Except, except his heart didn't feel quite right about talking to them. Too close? Maybe...they knew him too well, maybe...his own pride? Probably a combination of reasons. But quite possibly it was a prompting by the Holy Spirit to speak to another because this other person had the words Peter not only needed to hear but that they, for their own reasons, needed to say. The Holy Spirit had been doing a lot of that prompting lately. So Peter held his thoughts and waited and hoped the wait wouldn't be too long.

It wasn't. Late that afternoon, while reading, thinking, and meditating in the breeze on the rooftop, Joanna's voice broke the quietness. "Peter?'' Peter hadn't expected this visit. It was dangerous for Joanna. Her husband, Cuza, was a manager of Herod's household. The implications were pretty obvious for an official who was complicit in Jesus' death to have staff loyal to Jesus. Yet, here she was--Joanna, faithful, quiet, and brave. She had followed and supported Jesus' ministry, even traveling some with the little troup, from early on. Her faith and love for Jesus were not secret. Still, there was much fear and unrest among the officials as there was gladness and boldness from Jesus' followers. And there were the social mores, customs and Jewish traditions Peter had always held. It still seemed a bit awkward talking to a woman not in his family. Yet, the believers in Christ were family. "Welcome, Joanna, but are you sure you should be here?" "I can only say, Peter, that I believe the Spirit directed me here today. I'm not sure why yet.''

For a moment Peter hesitated, then he spoke. "I believe you may be here in answer to a prayer. I've been needing to talk with someone but was unsure who. I have prayed for days, and again this morning. This afternoon you show up saying you were led here by the Spirit."  "Still,'' Joanna interrupted, "how can this involve me?" So Peter told Joanna the questions he had. The haunting his betrayal still caused even after the resurrection and Pentecost. The fear he had that his boldness would run ahead of the Spirit as it did on the mountain with Moses and Elijah, walking on the water, at the supper when he rebuked the Savior, and that mess with the sword and the servant's ear in the garden. Time after time his boldness got him in trouble, but the one time he wished he had been brave, he melted and ran in fear.

"Peter, I have a few thoughts and one message the Spirit gave me even before I came here today. In fact, that message was why I was sent here. I didn't know for who or why, now I know. Peter, I am around people in Herod's staff and see people in charge of so many things and other people. In these respects, they are like you. You have worked hard, become a success with the fishing business. You lead your family and now the church in so many ways. You are used to getting things done and you are the boss. People with money, a title, and responsibilities are used to having their way. You determine so much for your family, your business and now the church and that one moment when you failed haunts you. Our Lord doesn't want you to be troubled, haunted by your betrayal. He wants you to be humbled, as we all were by what we did or thought, and do the one thing that can cure you of self-determination which will lead to arrogance and anger. I do believe Jesus wants you bold, but not in arrogance and anger, but bold in love."
"What is that one thing, Joanna?"
"That is the message I was sent to give you: 'Follow me!' That was all, just 'follow me'."

Peter's eyes filled up with tears as the words sank into his soul. Like a drink of warm wine after coming in from a cold night's fishing, the warmth seemed to spread to his whole being. "Follow me!"  "Joanna, those were the words our Lord had spoken to me when he forgave me and brought me into fellowship and service by the lake that morning. Thank-you, Joanna. Now go, go quickly and go in peace. The Lord bless you."

It sounds so simple, thought Peter:  "follow me!" But in that one statement is love, grace, mercy, humility, obedience, faith, bravery, purpose and servanthood. "Lord, may the only thing I ever determine on my own is this: to follow you."

So Peter determines to no longer be self-determining. It is ironic. Our world and culture tell us to be independent, free thinking, and do what makes us happy. So everyone gets tattoos to celebrate their new found independence, and gets a god who agrees with them and lets them do anything they determine will fulfill their lives. Hey world, how's that working for you? Want to try something radically different? Then give up self-determination with one exception: determine by faith to follow Him.