While it seemed far off at the start, Lent is nearly over and Easter’s nearly here! That said, this next and final series of exercises will focus on the early life (briefly), death and resurrection of Jesus, mostly from the perspective of Jesus’s mother Mary. Even if you haven’t been using these devotionals and meditative “exercises”, with this one may you notice how God lived and worked in the world – with confidence and peace, simply and quietly, turning the world upside down, and inside out!
And just some reminders if needed:
Time allowed for the Exercises: 30 minutes a day through Easter Vigil if possible! Simply use them as it works for you this week. This post concludes the 30 day Lenten series!
Freedom to follow God’s prompting: Trust the ways you’re prompted to respond.
Have a notebook and pen handy! AND your Bible: Read the entire passage, not just what I’ve highlighted. Notice any words or phrases that standout for you. Write down what you experience each day, review and share it with another.
Now on to Jerusalem ~
Luke 2: 1-7 The birth of Jesus.
“He went to be registered with Mary . . . While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”
I was drawn into the story of Jesus’s birth through verses 6 and 7 especially, remembering the birth of my own son, and the lead-up to that. At home in Rochester, with good and regular prenatal care, and good hospital care, in a very pleasant birthing room. I wrote: “Here’s Mary and Joseph, she’s nine months pregnant, traveling by donkey, open road, to a registration center in a town that’s overwhelmed with others coming to register. There’s no place to shelter when they get there, and Mary’s in labor! I think of the hardship of refugees, and those immigrating now. Unimaginable suffering it seems to me. And yet, de-spite the circumstances Mary finds herself in, there is this simple, common moment – in a private stable. The book emphasizes the symbolism of these humble circumstances, and the hard life and death ahead for Jesus, as well as Jesus’s royalty. Thinking about all this, I pray like Mary, and “My souls rests confidently in the animal warmth, and the lantern light of this simple place, Beloved Creator, and my spirit rejoices in the privacy of this time of birthing we share with you, O God of Creation, for you come alive again tonight in the bone and flesh of your people. Yes, this is the time we have waited for. This is the moment of blessing. Holy is birth, and you shall show yourself from age to age in those who enter into creation with you. You have shown the power of a dream enfleshed and we are hum-bled. Amen.”
This is what I resonated most deeply with as I pondered the birth of Jesus.
How about you? Maybe thinking about the circumstances of your own birth, or the birth of your children, what resonates for you in this passage from Luke?
Luke 2: 8-20 The Magnificat of the Shepherds.
“Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the Glory of God shone around them . . . I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born . . . a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
At this point in the exercises, I stayed close to Mary and her perspective on things, so I supplemented a lot with other Scripture and writings, especially Ann Johnson’s book of prayers and devotionals, patterned upon the Magnificat (Miryam of Nazareth, Woman of Strength and Wisdom, https://www.amazon.com/Miryam-Nazareth-Strength-Wisdom-Revised/dp/0870612336). This was the point where the birth of Jesus is announced publicly – Luke 2: 15-20. In the book it said, “I yearn to encounter Jesus with the simplicity and the directness of the shepherds.” And so here is what I wrote, “My soul too delights in the greatness of the people summoned by angels, and my spirit embraces each puzzled face – my own at times too! Yes, from this day forward all generations shall raise their voices to proclaim those who gathered at the stable blessed, for the Almighty has done great things for us. God’s mercy reaches from age to age for those who would join hands and follow a holy calling. Shepherd me, O God, in this calling of mine, beyond my wants, beyond my fears, deeper with joy into the life you have made for me. Let there be Peace in the longing, Peace in the leaving, Peace in the letting go. Peace in every step, on solid ground, with you Jesus. Amen. Amen.”
And so – once again, what’s your experience? How do these words to the shepherds speak to you? . . .
Matthew 2:1-12 The Magnificat of the Magi.
“. . . wise men from the East came . . . On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”
I varied from the official exercises again, because I wanted to spend some time from Mary’s perspective with the wealthy elite that came to the stable, “summoned” by the ancient prophecy of the birth of a king, and led there by a star. There was a lot of focus on Jesus throwing his lot in with the poor and disenfranchised in these exercises, given the circumstances of his birth – something I easily embrace. But I was, and still am challenged by the notion of “good news of great joy for all people.” These wise men from the East were anything but simple and direct like the shepherds. And in so many ways, more like I am – depending mostly on human wisdom – knowledge, what makes sense, the expertise of others, etc. And, led by tangible “evidence” assurance I’m on the right track with things. And so once again, in the words Mary might have prayed, I wrote: “I am immersed in peaceful silence in the presence of those you lead to [you], my God. With quiet awe my spirit listens to the story of the star-led quest for this newly born one. Yes, this day of recognition, affirmed by wise people, shall be remembered as long as stars shine, for in this time the Almighty has become a simple child through us, the ones who have united with you to claim your promised presence. Holy is this child’s name – Jesus – and caring shall flow from age to age among those who touch our lives. He lifts his tiny hand to these mighty rulers, and they understand pure power. Their prideful eyes are washed clean with tears. These Magi have disregarded T———p and bow before our little child. You have come Beloved Creator, mindful of our trust, and your love for your people – all of them – from the ancient ones and their descendants, to us! as numerous and eternal as the stars. In these days of CoVID, showing clear social and economic disparity and abiding injustice, make me remember to hold my judgement regarding who is and isn’t a child of yours. That I may say, “here’s one who God loves” then be, and do what’s necessary for love. Amen.” As I recall all this now, it’s very much progress not perfection!
What’s your experience with this little detour from the official exercises?
Luke 2:19-38 Jesus is presented in the temple.
“. . . and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.”
I simply wrote, “Simeon, and Anna – preaching, blessing, proclaiming who Jesus is, to awed parents Mary and Joseph and all those assembled there. Just thinking here, how Mary pondered all these things in her heart. I ponder them too, and I pray: Like Simeon and Anna, we give you thanks and praise heavenly Father and Mother God for your son Jesus! For coming to us, you – being with us, even being one of us. O God, thank you. Amen. Amen.”
I still ponder this, some in terms of my own name, and the names of others – what we’re called by – how about you?
Matthew 3:13-17; Mark1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John1:18-39
The Baptism of Jesus. “. . . This is the Son of God.”
The exercises provide a couple of weeks to ponder the hidden life of Jesus, with deeper reflections on the events in his young life known in Scripture, and how those may relate to our lives. This exercise fast forwards to the beginning of the public life of Jesus – his baptism, and the clear declaration by John the Baptist of who Jesus is. All four of the Gospels report this event in different ways, with different emphasis because the importance of it simply can’t be told in a single story. This begins Jesus mission, and his ministry, as it (baptism) does everyone who seeks to follow Jesus. Thinking about my own infant baptism, and my experience of Jesus through the exercises so far, I wrote, “Help Jesus – Holy Spirit, I pray. You set the pattern here, before I can remember. What is my part of your “mission” – your reason for being, and doing what you’re doing here? I think I’m on track with you, but I’m sorry, I’m just kind of confused. Please – encompass me in your love and protection. I’m weak, you’re strong – with this blessing, this anointing by the Holy Spirit comes everything good, and suffering. You know I don’t like the suffering part of your anointing and blessings. And I do trust you in this to hold me tight, in your Love and Loving Presence, with your Peace. That I may be blessing! Maranatha! And for the people of Afghanistan, especially the girls and women there – there’s just so much to do and to pray about . . . Amen.”
No questions – simply read these passages, slowly, prayerfully and notice what comes to mind for you.
John 2:1-11 Magnificat of Now.
“His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you’.”
The exercise in the book focused on Jesus saying to his mother that his hour has not yet come, alluding to his passion and death. It also spoke to becoming, discovering who we are, and who we are to become in the Kingdom of God through our own passion and death. As I read and reread this passage though, I thought about now – my life now, and doing whatever Jesus tells me now, as Mary instructs. I wrote, “Yes, collar me please – like RBG, and her beautiful collars – a reminder of who she was and what she was here to do, and for whom. The tab collar, simple and powerful is a reminder of who and whose I am, and am still becoming. With other women, duly ordained ministers in your church – what I’m here to do, and for whom. You know my insecurities, this reticence to wear the darn thing, and the longing to wear it too. I think about that Sunday afternoon in Target, when a young man stopped and said to me, “What, am I supposed to call you mother?! Then laughed with his friends. Wish I’d said, “Just reverend will do” but I just looked at him, a little stunned by his meanness then walked away. Yep, it’s things like that hold me back sometimes from sticking up for myself, for You! Do forgive me, and collar me please in those moments! For My spirit watches for the potent moment, Eternal One. In the midst you are a throbbing presence. I’m here, I’m ready. You are here now, the Available One, for the work of these times, mindful of your continuing newness . . . according to the traditions of all searching people . . . mindful of the continuing newness of each one of us, I come with an open mind, to accomplish the work of this day. Amen.”
This series of exercises on the life of Jesus closed with this poem by George Herbert, put to music by Ralph Vaughn Williams (there are many recordings of this!)
Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Such a Way, as gives us breath:
Such a Truth, as ends all strife;
Such a Life, as killeth death.
Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength;
Such a Light, as shows a feast:
Such a Feast, as mends in length:
Such a Strength, as makes his guest.
Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
Such a Joy, as none can move:
Such a Love, as none can part:
Such a Heart, as joys in Love.
Psalm 70 Review, revisit, reflect with God’s help.
“O God, come to my assistance. Lord make haste to help me! . . . I am poor and needy; hasten to help me, O God!”
Before going on to the last two days in this series, prayerfully look back over the previous days, knowing what you know about the life of Jesus before moving on to his death, and his resurrection. There’s a lot that’s not been covered here as you can see. Perhaps review stories, parables, Gospel passages, etc., that have been especially meaningful to you over the years. How have you come to know and experience Jesus at this point in your life? What are some things you might like to talk with Jesus about? Perhaps talk about with others? . . .
Luke 23:1-49 Magnificat of Terror.
“Why, what evil has he done? . . . But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts the he should be crucified . . . and he handed Jesus over as they wished.”
From Phase 2 in the Exercises, we jump now to Phase 3 – Jesus is betrayed and crucified. I was dreading this – it’s always been a very difficult part of the incarnation for me. So sad, and horrific. I have struggled with the belief that blood sacrifice was required to atone for my sins; that a father would require the brutal execution of his son to satisfy my debt; that my sins alone were enough to estrange me from God, and that my repentance for them was required to make me worthy to be in relationship with God, myself and everyone else. The sadness and guilt just weighed me down because I could never repent enough. Additionally, I empathize deeply with Mary, a mother whose son is executed – and with mothers and families of those executed today. So once again, supplementing the book I was using with Scripture and other thoughts on the crucifixion of Jesus, I was especially helped by Roberta Bondi, and her book “Memories of God, Theological Reflections on a Life.” I wrote, “Oh yes, the hour has come, I’ll not be afraid because you are with me always Jesus. Re-member, re-mind me through this week with you. You’re prepared, willing – okay, me too . . . And you dear Jesus, Teacher, Friend, Son, Brother – knowing the hour has come, this is your last meal with these you love deeply. Trusting and accepting this hour, with confidence in those you so love. Knowing this will be devastating for them but it won’t destroy them. And then later in the week . . . The Romans dragged him here and lashed him brutally. We, a few women friends and I, we waited silent in the courtyard, as waited other families of prisoners. . . Now the Legionnaire’s game begins. They strut before the crowd. “You choose” they mock, “You choose which one dies” . . . come now. Choose or both die.” Again, silence. “Once more,” the Roman shouts. “Last time. Decide or both die.” At last one of Bar Abbas’s family murmurs and then screams as the staff is held over my son’s head. “That one. Crucify him.” Others of Bar Abbas’s family join in to save their loved one. “Crucify him,” pointing to my only son.” I didn’t know it was like this, the brutishness and cruelty, depravity of this “game.” They, the “crowd,” were not against Jesus but for their own family member. It kind of sickens me – what can I make of this, where’s the good?!” I turned once again to Bondi’s experience and understanding of the crucifixion and will share a good portion of that here. She writes, “Suddenly, the meaning of the Gospel narratives, Jesus’s actions and his teaching, presented itself clearly to me in a way it never had before. God had never wanted, and certainly never needed, Jesus’s death. Jesus himself was no passively obedient, selflessly suffering deflector of God’s wrath at human imperfection. . . It was Jesus who had made the choices leading to the cross. . . I had been taken in by a picture of an all-powerful, angry parent God whose love somehow demanded the blood payment of God’s own child. . . The pain of the father, [as Jesus him-self tells in the story of the prodigal son] is terrible as he stands there every day squinting down the road into the setting sun for an unlikely glimpse of the child he loves. . . For parents there can be no more awful words to hear than: “Mama, Daddy, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And, because out of love, God did not intervene at the cross, but let Jesus choose his own way, these are the words God heard. . . As for Jesus . . . what had he chosen? Certainly not a love that requires suffering as it’s proof; certainly not death to pay the price of anybody’s real or imagined sins. . . though I had sinned and sinned again, my fundamental problem . . . had come from shame from my own perceived badness . . . at not living up to harmful and typical family standards, shame at being female in a world that curled it’s lip at women, over my unworthiness of the sacrifices made for me . . . I did not need to repent, I needed to be rescued from my shame! And that was exactly what Jesus as the privileged one of God, as God’s own self, had chosen to do by casting his lot not only with me but with all women and men the world would shame and reduce to nothing for simply being who they are. . . To all of these Jesus speaks: . . yes, you have sinned, and you have repented in abundance . . . it is your suffering shame that consumes you with anger, that renders you passive, that swallows you in depression, that keeps you from loving and knowing yourself to be loved. . . I hate the shame that binds and destroys you, and I will prove it to you and the world by casting in my lot with you even so far as to die a death the world finds shameful. . . This is what I, Jesus, a human being in the image of God, and as God’s own self, chose with great joy.”
I certainly agree that there are many ways of understanding Jesus’s crucifixion, however as I write this, my understanding is it’s Jesus’s gift on and by the cross – that rescued me – healed and restored me, and my ability to love and be loved.
And it’s progress, not perfection . . .
How about you?
John 20: 1-21 Magnificat of Resurrection.
“Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” . . . Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.”
Fast forward again, to Phase 4 of the Exercises, Christ the Lord Conquers Death was the title in the book I was using. I agreed, yes, Christus Victor! however I was in need of something more than the militaristic perspective and language that dominates traditional interpretation of Jesus’s Resurrection, and the typecasting of women in a supportive and secondary role. When the truth is, by many accounts – such as this one! – Scripture features women prominently, emphasizing their Apostolic and special roles as missionaries, their autonomy, and their unbroken loyalty in following Jesus. This was my aim and my deep-est desire with the exercises – God placing me with Jesus in my priestly vocation, as I described on Day 27. Turning once again to Ann Johnson’s Miryam of Nazareth, I wrote this, “O yes! my soul sings and my spirit delights and rejoices, O Faithful God, because you have removed the stone which was rolled over our hearts – my heart – and we are ris-en! Yes, from this day forward all generations will call us blessed for the Almighty has called us forth from death – by name!-and we have responded. You have enfeebled those who would rule by their own might and empowered simple people – a people not ranked and rated as the world does – who trust in you, O God who creates and companions. A people that God intended and intends to use to further Your work in the redemption of humanity, even the whole world. You are the Forever Living One, the Shatterer of Death.”
What more need be said?
Happy, Joyous Easter! Peace be with you ~
Know that you are in my heart, with prayer from here.