Monday Muse: Thirty Pieces of Silver

Barely into the season of Epiphany, it’s a little difficult to believe that Lent is just around the corner — but just around the corner it is, which puts Lenten preparations squarely on the “to do” list for many ministers these days.

If you’re looking for small group resources for Lent, I encourage you to check out the free small group discussion guide that I’ve written for Writing to God; it’s available for download on the Paraclete Press website (below the image of the book cover). There’s also a helpful tip sheet available if you’re using my new book Sacred Pause with a small group, and I’m currently completing a Lenten Sunday School curriculum for Writing to God: Kids’ Edition.

If you’re eager for ideas and conversation to inspire your plans for a Lenten sermon series, join me on Thursday, February 5th at 1:00pm (Eastern) for a webinar on preaching in Lent, through the Center for Progressive Renewal. I’ll post the link for registration as soon as it’s available!

In the meantime, I’m perusing the Revised Common Lectionary readings for Lent in preparation for the above, and the story of the woman who anoints Jesus with perfumed oil (much to the chagrin of Judas) reminds me of a dramatic script that I wrote for a Lenten worship service last year. I share it here for your Lenten preparation, for your personal reflection, and/or for your worship use for Maundy Thursday or Good Friday.

Two Who Loved Jesus
John 12:1-8 with Matthew 26:14-16

Judas (disciple of Jesus): Jesus, I love you.

Mary (sister of Martha & Lazarus): Jesus, I love you.

I have watched you and followed you over these years.

I have watched you and followed you over these years.

I have called you Teacher. You have called me Friend.

I have called you Teacher. You have called me Friend.

You have revolutionized my worldview, exposed me to the subtle ways of death amidst life, called me to proclaim good news in unexpected ways.

You have revolutionized my worldview, exposed me to the ways of life amidst death, called me to welcome good news walking out from a tomb.

You taught me to name demons and diseases of the soul to heal the body.

You knew my name, recognized me, valued me even amidst a crowd of men.

You multiplied a meal for the thousands and conjured a calm out of a terrifying storm. What power!

You wept when I was in mourning. You unbound Lazarus from the grasp of death. What mercy!

But you eluded me when you spoke with the Samaritan woman and showed consideration to a soldier. You were soft, too easily distracted by people’s needs. Why didn’t you ride into Jerusalem on a stallion instead of a donkey?

You borrowed a donkey from my hometown to ride into Jerusalem. Whenever you visited us, you let me sit quietly at your feet. And then you soothed my soul as I anointed your body with perfume.

You called me into a ministry of finances, granted me authority to use the offerings of our wealthier patrons to clothe and feed the poor (with the occasional new robe as a perk for myself). We lived off the land and the generosity of others. We were building a movement of the least of these — the 99% against the system!

How could I offer you any less than 100%

We were going to be the ones in power someday!

I knew that you would not be with us one day.

But you betrayed me, and you betrayed our cause when you accepted the gift of perfume. I could do better — instead of three hundred denarii, I could earn thirty pieces of silver to start our revolution.

I could do no better than to bless you, with perfume and prayers pouring from my hands.

Suggested interlude: verses 1 & 2 of the hymn
“From the Crush of Wealth and Power”

Judas: Jesus, you are the Christ.

Mary: Jesus, you are the Christ.

The strong Messiah.

The beautiful Covenant.

The most expensive Treasure.

The most life-giving Supply.

But your life is only one life…

Your life is the only life…

…and there are many lives to be concerned about in this world, including mine.

…and all lives for all time will be blessed by you, including mine.

It’s time for you to take on the world.

It’s time for you to leave this world.

Turn the tables and claim your place as God’s Chosen Treasure.

Open your arms and claim your place as God’s Chosen Treasure.

But if you do not…

And as you do…

…may God use me instead…

…may God use me in this stead…

…to bring a new order into being…

…to anoint and bless the fullness of your being…

…at whatever cost. [Judas pours silver coins.]

…at whatever cost. [Mary pours oil.]

Suggested closure: verses 3 & 4 of
“From the Crush of Wealth and Power”

Ecclesiastes 12

Can we talk about your world, God?

Can we talk about its duplicitous love of
fellowship and division,
peace and violence,
adoration and rejection?

Can we talk about how vainly and violently
humanity continues to strive
against
this dust
of which we are made,

how severely we scrub and sanitize
bleach and sanctify
invalidate and terrorize
ourselves and the world around us
in an life-consuming effort

to
discover/create
a sterile image of beauty
that we do not know how to see
in the dust —
an image of porcelain, perhaps,
or of diamonds;
of perfection or of holiness;
of knowledge or of righteousness?

Can we talk about
how pathologically we hate
this dust,

and how much
we take our hate-filled disappointment
out on one another?

If you had made us from gold,
I wonder if we would be satisfied.
From emerald, if we would then see
one another’s beauty.
From oceans,
if we would sigh in awe
upon meeting.

O God, redeem us
to dust.

Monday Muse: Thursday is Advent, Friday is Christmas

Yesterday, on June 1, my soul gasped and took a breath of fresh air. On June 1, I remembered that life is full of possibility and hope for renewal. On June 1, I knew that I could revel in joy with every minute of the day.

Why? Because June 1 — and not only June 1, but also May 1 and April 1 and the start of every month — is a resurrection day. It’s pay day!

I love the liturgical year, the cycle of seasons and stories of faith, with each Sunday’s worship marking the progression toward and through the holy days, retelling with each year the plot of God’s love affair with the world. Yet over the past year of my new job, I confess I’ve been paying less attention to the liturgical seasons and more attention to the daily seasons of the American work week: the reluctance of Monday, the almost-there-eagerness of Thursday, the rush of the weekend … and the pure relief of payday.

While the Church marks the liturgical year in fifty-two weeks, the corporate work week gives us its own liturgical cycle in seven days! It’s prompted me to look creatively at how the Christian liturgical year might be expressed within the span of a work week.

Though liturgical purists may decry the following rearrangement of holy seasons and holidays, I wonder how an awareness of the seven-day “liturgical” work cycle might inform and encourage our faith with its new perspective on the seasons of our sacred lives.

  • Monday is Lent, the day when humanity feels hard, the season when we confess what has been done and what has been left undone. Monday reminds us that the world is incessant, that God is demanding, and that we are finite. In Lent as on Mondays, we recommit to the work (or we wrestle with guilt for slacking).
  • Tuesday and Wednesday are Ordinary Time, the longest and frankly least dramatic liturgical season (and days). The Gospel readings in Ordinary Time chart the stories of Jesus’ earthly ministry: healing here, teaching there, walking from town to city, doing the dusty everyday work of God, checking emails, writing reports, meeting people, staffing conference calls, chit-chatting in the copier room, and more. Ordinary Time, ordinary days, ordinary work…and the importance of God within it all, no matter how mundane or uneventful.
  • Thursday is Advent. (Stay with me, purists. I know that I’m bucking every fiber of fondness that you hold for these time-honored, sacred rhythms.) Thursday holds all of Advent’s suspense, the anticipation of coming joy, the hope that surges within us while waiting for The Hope, the rekindling of awareness that time is moving toward something promising.

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  • Ah, Friday! Friday is Christmas. Friday is the day when Joy wakes us up in the morning and sustains us even beyond that first cup of coffee. Friday is the day when the flesh feels redeemed and revived, like the beauty of God in the flesh of an infant. Because it is still a work day, Friday is fleeting and like Christmas Day it refuses to linger, yet still it overflows…
  • …into the luxurious surprise of Saturday, the day of Epiphany, the space in the work week when we have the opportunity to be revealed for who we are in God beyond our paychecks: our gifts, our creativities, our passions, our recreations, our families, even our stillness. Every Saturday is an opportunity for new paths of discovery and new stars of revelation that will shape how we live in the work week to come.
  • Sunday is a complicated holy day in the seven-day liturgical cycle, because the usual activity of worship invites us to engage the community spirit of Pentecost … but the impending work week hovers to crush that very spirit. So I would speculate that Sunday is our weekly Ascension Day: that obscure (to some of us Protestants) holiday when we are awed by heaven yet called to tear our eyes away from glory in order to return to work.
  • And as I hinted above, Easter is payday — be it monthly or semi-monthly or weekly. Easter/Payday jumpstarts our weary spirits, inspires a fresh burst of life, and catches our breath with the promise that Life is greater and more powerful than our workweek lives.

Of the major liturgical holidays that I’ve not managed to adapt to this seven-day cycle, Pentecost stands out in its absence: that holy moment of witnessing the Spirit’s whirling rush, of experiencing the unexpected, of participating in community without barriers or fear. It also makes complete sense to me that Pentecost doesn’t fit the schedule: the spiritual experiences of Pentecost are precisely the spiritual needs that lack space in our work weeks. People long for authentic community; we long for a change of pace; we long for inspiration — and we haven’t figured out how to meet those needs within our usual weekly schedules. Thus Pentecost is found in vacation — those days away from work when community and change and inspiration can be experienced fully.

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Blessings to you, as the Church liturgical calendar turns toward Pentecost … and as this weekly liturgical cycle begins again with Lent.

Easter Sunday: Transformation

On this Easter Sunday, praying with Jesus in the last of his seven words … marking a beginning with words from the end: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke 23:46)

My life in your hands.
My life, I daresay, out of hand
in the wake of this crazy, joyful twist:
the release of the spirit
out of itself,
unlike itself,
committed to you;
Ready to be
wildly different
wholly exhilarant
delightfully inventive
by the slight of your hand
as it holds my spirit, my life
gently before the blinding power
of Easter resurrection.

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Part of the 2013 exhibit, “NE6: Kingdom Come,” at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas

 

Lent 40 (Holy Saturday): Death

In the final hours of Holy Week, we pray and reflect on the 6th of Jesus’ 7 last words: “It is finished.” (John 19:30)

How late did they stay awake that night, counting the stars, recounting the stories? Were there long spaces of silence between them? Did they laugh, too, just once in a while, remembering the wedding wine … the outrageous catch of fish … the donkey? Surely they wondered what was next (although you can’t really think too far ahead when grief is here and now). The end of one life forces a pause upon surrounding lives: what is finished for one is finished for all. You can never go back.