Safe Harbor Presbyterian Church
Daily Devotions for April 2022
The month of April is, at its heart, a month of transitions. In colder climates,, people begin to see the buds of spring. In warmer climates the storms of March give way to a new greening of the land. Even in California, where season changes are often subtle, April brings a shift in the light. The air feels different. New flowers blossom and the wild green that follows winter rains takes over the land.
In our spiritual journeys this month we will see a shift and change as well. For the first sixteen days of April we continue in our Lenten journey of Letting Go, of emptying ourselves of that which hinders us. We walk humbly with Jesus in remembrance of his final days. On the seventeenth everything changes! The tomb is empty and we enter into a fifty day celebration of the resurrection.
This year our devotions will follow the emptying and filling pattern that is at the heart of the gospel. We die (empty) to live (fill.) Like an old fashioned water wheel, when water pours from one bucket, it fills from above. So the season of Easter we will enter into a fifty day consideration of receiving. My prayer is that this journey will become an ongoing pattern for your spiritual life every day that you live!
April 1 - Letting Go of Shadow Dancing - In Mark’s telling of Jesus’ temptation, he gives us none of the details that we find in Luke and Matthew. Mark does, however, offer us a beautiful insight. He tells us that Jesus was with the wild beasts and that the angels waited on him. Throughout the centuries, Christian writers have understood the wild beasts to symbolize his own human impulses and tendencies that might derail his mission. While Christians maintain that Jesus was sinless, he certainly had the human capacity to sin. The imminent psychologist, Carl Jung, defines sin as refusal to become conscious. Jung taught that if we do not acknowledge our capacity for sin (he called this capacity our shadow, or our destructive or denied impulses,) then these shadow impulses will automatically be projected onto others and even society. When Jesus spent time with the wild animals he was, in a sense, shadow dancing. Facing, acknowledging, and thereby declawing the human impulses that could destroy him or others if denied. When I was in seminary I had a vivid recurring dream of indigenous warriors chasing me in a forest. Their faces were painted and their spears tipped with poison. I hid in the bushes and forced myself awake. When I told my spiritual director about it, he suggested that if it happened again I come out of the bushes and introduce myself and see what happened. It did and I did. When I faced, the warriors, introduced themselves and wept. Each was a part of myself that I had rejected or feared. When I faced them, after they wept, they picked up reed instruments and played music. I never had the dream again. And I have never forgotten to acknowledge those feared tendencies in myself again either. What might it be like for you today to give up dancing around your destructive impulses? What are the parts of yourself that you most disdain or try to cover up? Are you ready to give up shadow dancing and accept your whole truth? If so, take a deep breath and acknowledge each of those things. In prayer, tell God that you are ready to see your truth saying, “I do not need to fear this part of me. I release my fear of knowing myself fully. Thank you, God.” Close your reflection by saying aloud God’s word of assurance to you, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;…because you are precious in my sight, and honored and I love you. … Do not fear, for I am with you.”
Prayer: Gracious God, I thank you that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I thank you that there is no part of me that you do not know, and I need hide nothing from you. In Jesus’ holy name I pray. Amen.
April 2 - Letting Go of Going it Alone - In Mark’s account of Jesus’ confronting of his ‘wild beasts’, Jesus is not left to his own devices to do so. While no one can face our truth for us, and it is very personal inner work, we are not left to our own devices either. Angels ministered to Jesus while he did his inner work and they will minister to you as you do yours as well. It is hard work to face ourselves with an honest and humble heart. There are inner beasts we would rather deny that confront. Still, until we do that work we will always give the Evil One easy ways to manipulate and wound us and others. In many ways, when we refuse to do our ‘shadow work’ we stay in the wilderness all of our lives and forget that we are there. When we decide to let go of our need to rewrite the story of who we are in our minds and face the truth, angels will come to help and support us. In scripture, the word angel refers to that special category of heavenly messenger that we often depict with wings and halos. It also refers to any messenger in any form that God uses to help, support and guide us. It can be a person, a sunset, a line from a movie, a flower garden, or even a sudden rush of energy. God sends us messages constantly. These messages come even more often when we are doing the hard work of emptying ourselves of our false images of ourselves and others. Angels, whether winged or more mundane, have several things in common. They always have our best interest at heart. They always point us to greater truth. They always embody love (even if confrontative love). And they always seek to further our spiritual development and understanding of oneness. Sometimes, though, in our society we are so trained in rugged individualism that we can’t see angels because we have to ‘do it ourselves.’ I recently watched the great Sidney Poitier movie, Lilies of the Field. In it he plays a traveling handy man who is lured into building a chapel for a small group of nuns who had escaped Germany. At one point he becomes depressed because so many people wanted to help. He wanted to do it all himself. It was not until he was able to receive the gifts of others that the chapel was finally built. If you feel ready to let go of your sense of having to go it alone, and accept the angels ministrations, in prayer say to God, “I do not need to do everything myself. It is not me. I release that arrogance and rest in your provision.” You might close your reflection by saying aloud God’s words of assurance to you, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;…because you are precious in my sight, and honored and I love you. … Do not fear, for I am with you.”
Prayer: Gracious God, I thank you for your many angel visitations to me. Help me today to get out of my own way and open myself to the help you send. In Jesus’ holy name I pray. Amen.
April 3 - Letting Go of Grandstanding - In Luke, the devil’s final temptation of Jesus begins with the lure to make a splashy show of his identity and power that no one could deny. Satan takes Jesus to the pinnacle of the Temple where he can see all of his people and says, as the lawyer in the wonderful musical Chicago says, ‘razzle-dazzle’ them by throwing himself off the roof and calling angels to catch him. After all, who could possibly not believe after a show stopper like that? What difference does it make if it is a little manipulative? It can certainly be a temptation to us as well to show ourselves off in the best possible light, even if that means a little manipulation of others, in order to get what we want and think we need. It is perfectly natural to desire the esteem of others. We all need a pat on the back, or for someone to tell us that something we have done was awesome. The problem comes when we start making our ethical choices in order to get the desired response from others. That easily becomes manipulation and leaves us once again hiding behind a mask or using other people and their responses as a drug to manage our own emotions. Jesus instantly saw that a manipulated faith is abusive and refused to violate the people’s personal freedom in order to get a response that would likely be shallow and short lived. Can you think of circumstances when you find yourself trying to grandstand to get a particular response from someone? Maybe it is not the flashy miracle kind of grandstanding like that with which the devil tempted Jesus. Maybe, rather, it is the more mundane kind. Like trying to be spectacularly self-sacrificing so that others with think you are more worthy of love and admiration than others. Maybe it is making a splashy show of being a Christian in order to get more people in church rather than simply walking the faith humbly with others so that they can find their own way. Maybe it is as simple as wanting to look prosperous, or successful. If you are ready to release the need to make yourself look better than you are in order to get a response from others, go to God in prayer today saying, “I don’t need that. It is not me. I release this need to you.” Close your time of reflection by reminding yourself out loud of God’s promises to you. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;…because you are precious in my sight, and honored and I love you. … Do not fear, for I am with you.”
Prayer: Gracious God, we are so grateful that you have made us adequate to face any situation just as we are. Help us today to release the desire to look spectacular, especially if that tends to manipulate others. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
April 4 - Letting Go of Testing God - When the devil tempted Jesus to a flashy display of power in order to manipulate faith or simply to short cut his mission, Jesus saw that as putting God to the test. What a natural human tendency! I remember once in college when I was trying to sort out the realities of my faith, I prayed fervently for God to kill a fly in my dorm room to prove to me that God was with me! Apart from the ethics of using another creature’s life as a litmus test for God’s presence, needing assurances, even magical assurances, of God’s power when we are struggling is very common. Like Thomas after the resurrection, we often need to see it to believe it. But faith doesn’t work like that. Neither is that how relationship with God grows.
Constantly asking another human being to demonstrate his or her fidelity and trustworthiness is a sure way to damage the relationship. Doing that with God doesn’t damage the relationship. That is a given. It can, however, keep us from growing and going deeper. Make no mistake that asking God for what we need and want is not the same thing as testing. Offering our humble prayers to God is an act of trust based on clarity about who is God and who is not in the situation. Testing is different. It is not even about relationship at all. It is a form of power struggle. It can also be a way of trying to manage fear without trust. If you find that you sometimes put God to the test, you might catch yourself thinking things like, “If you will just do me this one favor Lord, then I will…..fill in the blank.” Or you might find yourself saying, “If you heal my loved one, I will increase my tithe.” Or “If you get me this new promotion, then I will serve on that committee at the church.” Little tests like that are not fatal.
God is wonderfully generous with our smallness of mind and heart. Still, they are not neutral either. Over time they can set up a secret belief that God is required to dance on our string or we are not required to dance on God’s. That never leads us home. So if you are ready to release those little tendencies to test God, go to God in prayer saying, “I do not need that. It is not me. I release my need to test you” Close your time of reflection by reminding yourself out loud of God’s promises to you. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;…because you are precious in my sight, and honored and I love you. … Do not fear, for I am with you.”
Prayer: Gracious God, deepen my trust in you today. Help me not to put you to the test. Rather, help me to rest confidently on your promises. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
April 5 - Letting Go of Porous Boundaries - One of the really cagey things that the devil does in this last temptation is use the scriptures themselves to convince Jesus to do what he wants him to do. Part of what he wants him to do is to blur the boundaries set in place by Jesus’ human nature, his ethics and his mission. If he is not going to be bound by being fully human (even though also fully divine) during his earthly life, then what is the utter point of incarnation at all? If Jesus is only God in disguise, then how could his example have any meaning as a model for us merely human beings? At least a part of Jesus’ purpose is to show us what truly human life in all its fullness is actually intended to be. If he were to accept the devil’s short cut and use parlor tricks to prove his identity, then we would be left with little more than another exorcist to follow. In coming to earth in Jesus, Christ accepted a set of human boundaries within which to live. To abandon those boundaries for any reason could have proved disastrous. On his night of agony in the garden, Jesus asked the Father to spare him. He did not just decide to run and spare himself. He would not cross that boundary. Not even on the cross. Our boundary crossing is not nearly as consequential as that! But it is nonetheless a real temptation that can damage our lives and witness. Where are you most likely to blur boundaries in your life? Do you sometimes have difficulty telling the difference between yourself and your needs, and the needs and independent self of your child or friend? Do you find yourself leaping in to do for others what is really theirs alone to do? Do you find yourself tempted to take short cuts at work, or to sully relationships? Do you find that you have trouble keeping confidences that are shared with you? Do you find yourself getting lost and overwhelmed by other people’s problems and pains? If so, those are boundary violations that can keep you stuck in spiritual neutral at best, and grievously hurt others at worst. One thing Jesus makes clear in this story is that God cannot use those with porous boundaries in powerful ways. If you are ready to shore up your boundaries, take a moment to think of the areas of your life where you are most likely to have porous boundaries or to cross them outright. Bring each of those areas to God in prayer saying, “I do not need that. It is not me. I release these porous boundaries to you, Lord, and ask that you teach me more solid ways.” Close your time of reflection by reminding yourself out loud of God’s promises to you. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;…because you are precious in my sight, and honored and I love you. … Do not fear, for I am with you.”
Prayer: Gracious God, help us today to be clear about what is ours to do and control and what is not. Show us the clear boundaries of your call and help us to live within them. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
April 6 - Letting Go of More - One of the great lures that allows grandstanding and porous boundaries to remain such problems for us is that we think that when we bite their hook we will profit from it. In the case of porous boundaries, the profit may feel like a sense of security in a relationship or even safety for a loved one. In the case of grandstanding, it may be monetary profit that we see as a reward for being outstanding, successful or powerful. Earlier in Lent, we considered how easy it is to allow our sense of security to be tied to our finances. Today, I invite you to consider, not money itself, but the concept of ‘more’. Especially more than we need. The desire for ever more, whether it is one more slice of key lime pie, or one more new outfit, or one more bonus check, can be sneaky. Sometimes it is not even the more pie or checks that we really want. It is more of something that we can’t even name but that we secretly think will finally quiet our restlessness and give us joy and peace that feels so illusive. When we are sad or afraid or disgusted, more can be the drug of choice to numb us to what is really going on within or around us. In the New Testament the word for greed refers to excessive desire. Desire that is completely out of bounds and without justification. Perhaps when the devil tempted Jesus to grandstand, Jesus felt a moment of wondering what might happen if he agreed. Would the movement grow rapidly? Would giving increase so that money was never again a worry? What would enough be? Mercifully, he resisted as we often do not. He knew real danger when he saw it. In Luke 12:15, Jesus makes clear that we must be aware of all forms of greed He reminds us that the abundance of life does not consist in our possessions. Our things will never truly satisfy us. We may enjoy them and feel grateful for them, but if we find that enough is never enough and listen, then, to the siren call of ‘More’ we will lose touch with the intrinsic beauty of each moment and the real bounty of life itself. If you are ready to release the clutching fist of “More,” imagine some of the things that you want but do not need. Take each one of those things to God in prayer saying, “I do not need that. It is not me. I release it to you, Lord, as I release all my needs to your provision.” Close your time of reflection by reminding yourself out loud of God’s promises to you. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;…because you are precious in my sight, and honored and I love you. … Do not fear, for I am with you.”
Prayer: Gracious God, today give me a satisfied heart and gratitude for all of the blessings of this day. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
April 7 - Letting Go of Blame - The verse that I find most brilliant in Luke’s temptation narrative is the final one, verse 13. Here Luke tells us that when the devil finished every test he departed until an opportune time. What I learn from this is that there are a lot more temptations than the three that are specifically mentioned. And that they recur, both in our lives and throughout history. What might some of those temptations have been in Jesus’ time and how do they recur in our own? Could the tendency to blame others for our problems and circumstances be one of them? It would have been easy for Jesus to blame the devil for this hard spiritual battle. It would have been easy for him to blame the Samaritans, the Pharisees, Judas, Pilate.
But we don’t see that in him. We see him holding people accountable for their actions, but that is a bit different. In Luke 13 some of Jesus’ disciples ask him who is to blame in the case of two horrific national tragedies. Did people suffer because they sinned? Did they suffer worse because they were worse sinners? He told them that the tragedies did not befall people because they were worse sinners, and then he turned it all back on those who were asking him the question. Repent he says, or something worse will happen to you. Jesus often teaches that when awful things happen, our first response is not to find someone to blame. Rather it is to change the way we think. Change yourself first and then you will have the spiritual energy to address the calamities of your times with divine power and authority. He seems to be saying to them and us that if you spend too much time looking outside of yourself for someone to blame, your life will become a ruins. The one you blame will consume you. You will cease to be able to see that one as human. There will be no Oneness and you will experience the pain over and over and over again. Wow. Think for a moment about some of the times that you have been caught up in the blame game.
Didn’t that take a lot of energy? Did it actually help you or the person who was to blame? If you think that finding others to blame is keeping you stuck and robbing you of power and peace, consider just letting it go. You may have to do this many times to experience the wondrous release but why not start today? Go to God in prayer saying something like, “I don’t need the blame and anger I feel toward… It is not me. I release these feelings and the people involved to you for transformation.” Close your time of reflection by reminding yourself out loud of God’s promises to you. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;…because you are precious in my sight, and honored and I love you. … Do not fear, for I am with you.”
Prayer: Gracious God, today help me not to waste time on looking for people to blame for my problems. Instead, help me to look within for ways that I can grow in your love and peace. In Jesus’ holy name I pray. Amen.
April 8 - Letting Go of Privilege - In the devil’s last test, he tempts Jesus to fall back on his privilege as God’s son. How easy that would have been! The temptations came shortly after Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan river with its powerful spiritual revelation of his identity. It would have been so natural to want to stretch the wings of that identity for all to see. Yet he chose not to do that. Why? Perhaps because privilege is not the path to salvation. Consciously chosen servanthood is that path. Hierarchies seldom lead to peace. It was as easy in Jesus’ day as it is in our own for people to stumble over their privilege, and to use it as an excuse to hate or to exploit. It was not, and is not, uncommon to manufacture privilege where there is none in order to erect false hierarchies and advantages. It is very difficult to convince people who have lived long with those advantages to share them, dismantle them or even recognize them.
Jesus dealt with this with the Temple leadership. We deal with it today in macro and micro aggressions too many to name and number. One of the insidious things about privilege is its capacity to arise in ever adaptive ways. One of my pastoral counseling professors once told me to beware. “Old issues never die,” he said. “They just come back in different clothes.” In our day we see that sad truth in the rise of white supremacist groups and even their adherents’ elevation to power. We see it in a blind nationalism that has little to do with love of country and everything to do with wealth and power. We see this sad truth is the merging of Christian theology with specific political ideologies. We see it in the over indulgence in wealth abundance theologies to the neglect of ‘pouring out your life for others’ theologies. One key to identifying privilege is to remember that it always relies on lies or carefully selected partial truths. It always benefits some at the expense of others. If you are ready to let go of the clothes of privilege and wear instead the full armor of Christ that is truth, righteousness, peace, witness, faith and salvation, then you might begin by identifying any undue privilege that you have by virtue of your race, ethnicity, gender, education or wealth. If you are ready to let go of the privilege that comes with those things in our culture, go to God in prayer saying something like “Thank you God for all of your sustaining gifts. I release today the unfair privileges of my life….. I don’t need that. It is not me. I release their burden to you.” Remember that the things around which privilege gathers are not bad things. It is not bad to be white or male or wealthy. It is the privilege over others that society assigns to those things that must be released for our and the world’s healing. Close your time of reflection by reminding yourself out loud of God’s promises to you. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;…because you are precious in my sight, and honored and I love you. … Do not fear, for I am with you.”
Prayer: Gracious God, open our eyes today to the unfair privileges in our lives and world. Help us, once seeing them, to respond in ways that lead to justice and transformation. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
April 9 - Letting Go of Negativity - Jesus lived in a tumultuous time filled with hardship and oppression. Yet it was also the right time for light, life and salvation to come into the world. We live in a time like that too. And it is the the right time for light, life and salvation to break forth into the world as well. Perhaps one of the ‘every temptations’ that the devil brought to Jesus in the wilderness was the temptation to negativity. It is so easy succumb to despair when times are tough. Job wrestled with this to the point that he was ready to die. He had been through so much that seemed so unjust that he could no longer even imagine that the future held anything worth living. It has also been a human temptation to use negativity to stoke fear and to manipulate behavior. Just look at political ads and the demonizing of opponents. I asked a friend who was running for statewide office once if he could just focus on the positive and avoid tearing others down. He looked at me sadly and said, “My opponent will eat me for lunch if I do that.” Sometimes negativity seems like the only approach that either makes sense of circumstances, or gets the results we think we want. While Jesus certainly did go on the offensive when necessary (think of his criticism of the Pharisees hypocrisy,) it doesn’t seem, though, that he ever became immobilized by negativity. He knew grief and wept in it. He knew frustration and addressed it. He knew fear of his own suffering and hoped to be spared it. Still, he found joy in a meal with his disciples. He found a teaching lesson in the lilies of the field. He found comfort in being anointed with oil. He saw beauty and hope for the world even when he hung from the cross saying “This day you will be with me in Paradise.” I wonder how much more difficult his road would have been if he had succumbed to the negativity all around him everyday. I know how much more difficult my life becomes when I do. Jesus experienced the full range of human emotion. He experienced the worst that humanity has to offer. Yet his news was always known as good. A negative approach to life not only robs us of life’s beauty, it can literally make us sick. Negative habits of thought lower our resistance to disease. They block our capacity for creative solutions. They can also make our witness ineffective or even offensive. Still, negativity is a habit. We often form it from a lifetime of practice. Habits are not easily broken. But they can be. The fastest way to release negativity, in my experience, is to focus on gratitude. If you are ready to release the burden of negativity in your life so that you can live more powerfully and abundantly, go to God in prayer today saying something like, “I do not need this negativity. It is not me. I release it to you and fill my mind with thankfulness.” Close your time of reflection by reminding yourself out loud of God’s promises to you. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;…because you are precious in my sight, and honored and I love you. … Do not fear, for I am with you.”
Prayer: Gracious God, please remove any negativity from my heart today so that I may see your blessings and rest in your promises. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
April 10 - Letting Go of Thinking You Can Do Nothing Because You Can’t Do Everything - Even at this early stage in Jesus ministry, he must have known that his time to accomplish his mission would be short. That knowledge may even have made the temptations to take short cuts and grandstanding more alluring. Still, he did not allow himself to be ruled by what he couldn’t get done. Rather, he put his whole being toward what he could get done. In his earthly life he could not reach beyond a very few miles. Were there not sick people in need of cure in Samaria, in Egypt? Still, the enormity of human need never seemed to stop him from doing what he could when presented with it, even if meeting that need threw off his schedule as it did with the healing of Jairus’ daughter and the bleeding woman. Sometimes, the needs of the world, or even our own families, can seem so overwhelming we feel paralyzed.
We know we cannot stop a virus from mutating. We cannot make people get vaccinated. We cannot stop a war in Ukraine or quickly rebuild their cities. We cannot instantly heal the hearts of the grieving or dismantle systemic inequities. But just because we cannot to everything, or even anything big quickly, that is no excuse for throwing up our hands, getting depressed and doing nothing. I think of the story of the man on the beach tossing stranded starfish back out over the breakers for another chance at life. A passerby stopped and asked him why he was doing it.
Couldn’t he see that there were thousands of starfish stranded over miles of beach? Couldn’t he see that he couldn’t possibly make a difference? The other man bent down, picked up a star fish, and with the grace of a dancer, tossed it at far as he could. He then turned to his questioner and said, “Made a difference for that one.” If you are ready to give up the paralyzing feeling of knowing what you can’t do, and embrace what you can do, go to God in prayer, saying something like, “I don’t need this feeling of powerlessness in the presence of the world’s great need. It is not me. I release this feeling to you and ask for clarity of personal mission to replace it.” Close your time of reflection by reminding yourself out loud of God’s promises to you. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;…because you are precious in my sight, and honored and I love you. … Do not fear, for I am with you.”
Prayer: Gracious God, help us today to remember that you have a role for each of us to play in your unfolding kingdom. Help us not to become overwhelmed by the need. Show us how you need us to act today and help us trust that you have others to work with as well. In Jesus’ holy name we pray.
April 11 - Letting Go of Mind Thieves - For many of us, recurring thoughts, fears, anxieties and obsessions creep into our minds, unbidden, and take us down destructive rabbit holes. When we follow these thoughts, they magnify all out of proportion to the moment. This wastes our energy and time. It also has the capacity to keep us from being open to real solutions to real challenges. Day dreaming, on the other hand, can be a very positive thing. It can release creativity and lessen anxiety when we focus those day dreams on positive outcomes. Perhaps one of the ‘every’ temptations with which the devil assaulted Jesus in his forty day pilgrimage, was the temptation to focus on worse case scenarios. It is easy for us to fall to this temptation, although mercifully Jesus did not. We can spin out worse case scenarios and tell ourselves that we are just planning or preparing for any eventuality. If we are generals in battle that is not a bad thing. But if we are spending time spinning out the worst result from a family reunion or confrontation at work, it may leave us obsessing and hurting over things that will not happen or that we cannot control. If we find ourselves worrying about finances or the future of the church and imagining negative outcomes again and again, we may miss the opportunities put before us everyday to create and welcome the positive outcomes and healing stories that God is writing with our lives. Sometimes, we can even develop obsessions early in childhood that rob our joy over a lifetime until they are addressed. These can be simple thoughts. I am unwanted. I am unloveable. I am rejectable. I am defective. These little inner obsessions can become mind and life thieves as we live them out again and again, consciously or not. If you are ready to release some of your mind thieves, take a moment to consider anything that you give too much mental energy to that causes you pain. Imagine that thought stream as a small ball you hold in your hand. Lift your hand and release it as if releasing a bird. Watch it fly away and feel the spaciousness of its absence. That space, no matter how brief, can now be filled with joy. If you want to release a mind thief like ones I mentioned, then go to God in prayer, saying something like, “I don’t need that. That is not me. I release that wounding thought to you, Lord.” Close your time of reflection by reminding yourself out loud of God’s promises to you. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;…because you are precious in my sight, and honored and I love you. … Do not fear, for I am with you.”
Prayer: Gracious God, today we release to you all thoughts that hurt us and drain us of our energy and joy. Fill the space those thoughts occupied with love, joy and contentment. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
April 12 - Letting Go of the Way We Thought it Would Be - During this Holy Week, as we walk with Jesus in his last earthly days, the lectionary reading for this day is the story of some Greek people who have heard of Jesus and come looking for him. When it is reported to Jesus, he tells his friends that those who love their lives will lose them and those who hate their lives in the world will keep them to eternity. This is a complex teaching that I won’t try to address today. What occurs to me in reading it through our lens of Lenten releasing, is how hard it must have been for his friends to let go of the way they thought things were going to be. They expected Jesus to act as they understood prophetic predictions. He would raise an army. He would return sovereignty to the land and its people. They would all get cabinet posts and people would straighten up, fly right, and act righteously. But now, Jesus is talking about death and servanthood. It wasn’t what they signed up for. It wasn’t what they wanted. They wanted glory not ignominy. And yet, what they would get, and every word of Jesus’ mind altering truth, was just exactly what they needed. Most of the disciples in the end rejected his way, ran from the cross, hid behind locked doors.
Judas, didn’t even make it that far. He couldn’t let go of his idea of how things should be. How things must be. So he lost not only his time with Jesus, but his life as well. We, too, know what it is like to miss out on something important because it does not come to us in an expected package. We, too, know how to be so sure how things must be, that we miss the radical thing that Jesus is doing in our lives and churches. It can be painful to let go of the way we thought things would be when it becomes clear that it is not going to be like we thought. Still, if we cling to our images of the only thing that can possibly bring us joy and peace, we are almost guaranteed not to find joy and peace. God is in the change business. That means that we are constantly called to change and expand our thinking. Can you identify times or situations in which you clung fiercely to your image of how you thought things would be or should be to the point that damage occurred to a relationship or to your own wellbeing? Can you think of times when you judged whether something was good or bad based on a mental image you had of a desired outcome? How did that affect you? What did your insistence on a certain outcome cost you? If you are ready to release a particular image of how you thought something would be, in order to make room for the new thing God is doing in and with you, go to God in prayer. Imagine the thing in as much detail as you can. Then once the picture is fixed in your head, say “I don’t need that. It is not me. I release this outcome to you trusting that what comes will be perfect for me.” Close your time of reflection by reminding yourself out loud of God’s promises to you. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;…because you are precious in my sight, and honored and I love you. … Do not fear, for I am with you.”
Prayer: Gracious God, today we release our tired expectations into your grand new story. Help us to receive with joy, what you bring to us each day. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
April 13 - Letting Go of the Pain of Betrayal - On the night that changed everything, Jesus and his friends gathered together in an upper room to celebrate Passover according to their tradition and God’s instruction. Ordinarily a joyous feast celebrating freedom from bondage, this Passover was somber indeed. In John’s telling of the event, Jesus strips down, takes a basin and washes his friends feet. Much to their chagrin. In that action he shows them that being his disciple consists of lowly, humble, status free service to others. After this action he returns to the table and makes the statement that must have shaken the rafters. “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples are shocked and immediately look for someone to blame, but Jesus seems uninterested in that. He is just feeling the pain of being betrayed by someone close to him, someone with whom he has shared his life and teaching, someone he loves. We see later in the story that Jesus seems to release that painful burden of betrayal. He tells Judas to go his way and do what he has to do.
Perhaps Jesus knew that to carry the pain of Judas’ betrayal, and ultimately most of the others, with him into these hardest of days, would have done nothing but sap his strength. Perhaps he knew that to carry the pain of betrayal, to nurse it and focus on it, only allows the blow to be received again and again and again. Perhaps he knew that to face the challenge before him, he couldn’t carry old wounds with him. I don’t know. What I do know, however, is that carrying the pain of betrayal in our lives, robs us of strength, spiritual stamina and the courage to meet life on its own terms.
Carrying the pain of betrayal is simply too great a burden to bear. If you have been carrying the pain of a betrayal in your life and are ready to release that burden, take a moment to silence your heart and mind. Take just a moment to feel all that you feel around the situation. Then go to God in prayer saying seething like, “I don’t need that. It is not me. I release this betrayal to you, Lord. With your help, I will carry it no longer.” Close your time of reflection by reminding yourself out loud of God’s promises to you. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;…because you are precious in my sight, and honored and I love you. … Do not fear, for I am with you.”
Prayer: Gracious God, life is sometimes difficult and people we trust sometimes hurt us. Today we ask that you remove any bitterness from our hearts and help us to release the burden of betrayals to you. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
April 14- Maundy Thursday - Letting Go of Lazy Excuses - After the sacred meal in the upper room, Jesus and his friends go out to the Mount of Olives to pray. There is much that is deeply symbolic about this location. Hebrew prophecy held that the Mount, with its panoramic views of the city of Jerusalem would be the place where God is revealed on the Day of the Lord. Jesus realizes what is coming for him. He doesn’t want it. He prays to be spared it. In this time of anguish when Luke tells us that his sweat became like drops of blood, Jesus asks his friends to pray with him.
They go to sleep instead. At least they do until Judas comes with his kiss of betrayal and Jesus is arrested. Peter creeps in the shadows outside the meeting of the Council and then to the Palace where Jesus is interviewed by Pilate. There, Peter denies Jesus three times. I often wonder what internal excuses Peter must have made to allow him to deny Jesus that way. Fear for his own life? Fear of being arrested? Fear that he had been wrong about Jesus all along? We cannot know. The more pertinent question for us is what lame excuses we come up with for our denial of Jesus and his walk of life. When asked to forgive, what excuses do we make? He doesn’t deserve it, maybe? Not until he says he’s sorry, maybe? When asked to give a little more, what excuses do we make? When asked to make changes that are hard to make, what excuses do we make? When asked to embrace those we do not like, what excuses do we make? When asked to let go of a toxic relationship or workplace, what excuses do we make? When asked to pray with Jesus for just one hour, what excuses do we make?
Whatever excuses Peter came up with on that fateful night, led him to deny Jesus and to turn his back on the greatest love in the universe. And it made him so miserable that he cried his eyes out and couldn’t even stand by Jesus at the cross. Whatever excuses we make to justify behavior that is less than faithful, will never hold us together when hard times hit. Only our faith in the living presence of God in Christ can do that. Trying to protect ourselves from Love’s cost will never lead to Love’s treasures. If you can think of a time when you made lazy excuses that denied Jesus’ call on your life, perhaps now is a time to let go of that habit. If you are ready to start, ask the Spirit to bring to your mind one such incident. Look at it carefully. What were you afraid of? What seemed more important to you than Jesus at that moment? What were the excuses you manufactured to justify your choices? When you have some clarity about both your motives and excuses, go to God in prayer saying something like, “I do not need that. It is not me. I release it to you, Lord.” Close your time of reflection by reminding yourself out loud of God’s promises to you. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;…because you are precious in my sight, and honored and I love you. … Do not fear, for I am with you.”
Prayer: Gracious God, today we let go of our feeble excuses for not doing as you command. Replace the fears in our hearts with a pure courage born of love. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
April 15 - Good Friday - Letting Go of the Fear of Death - From the cross, even as he himself felt abandoned by God, Jesus talked of Paradise and comforted the men crucified with him. The most poignant phrase Jesus uttered, to me, is found in John’s Gospel. Jesus, at the very last, says, “It is finished.” What did he mean by that? Did he mean that his life on earth was finished? Certainly. Did he mean that the cruel sacrificial system was finished? That is my belief. Did he mean that the stranglehold of sin on human life was finished? Of course. Did he mean that his suffering was finished? I’m sure he did. I think that he may have had another thing in mind as well. Perhaps he meant that fear of death was finished, too. While the demonstration of eternal life is still to come, it cannot be separated in our minds from the crucifixion.
Still, it can be helpful to us on Good Friday to think about the death itself. What we
learn from the cross, among many other things, is that death is purposeful and its power is limited. Jesus’ death accomplished mighty things. Since Jesus came to demonstrate the fullness of human being, it is reasonable to assume that our death will have purpose and limits as well. Something will come of it. Something will come of us. Our lives have meaning and death is not the end. When we gaze at the cross, we see Jesus demonstrate that death is part of the plan. It was for him and it will be for each of us. While it is mysterious and all too often painful or unjust, death is never wasted even though we grieve what feels like the waste of future days. Many of us fear, or are at least are nervous about death. We cannot imagine it for ourselves and we cannot bear it when it comes to those we love. We grieve collectively over the deaths of strangers across the globe. Grief is natural and God given. It is ultimately healing and empowering. Fear of death, however can debilitate us. It can rob us of the joys of our days. It can douse courage. It can stoke doubt. The word for fear in scripture comes from the root ‘to run.’ There are 365 instances in the Bible where we are instructed to ‘fear not.’ When God says, fear not, it means don’t run from the God given path before you.The women who stayed by the cross must surely have felt unimaginable pain and fear. Yet they did not run. They did not run from life. They did not run from death, even though they did not welcome it. None of this, of course means that if we are facing calamity that we should not run for our lives if there is a means for escape. It simply means that we do not face the inevitability of death with hopeless fear. It is part of life. It is purposed. It will lead to good. Its power is limited. If you are afraid of dying, take a moment to just sit with that fear. Don’t go into it too deeply if it is too much for you. Try just thinking about it and not going into your emotions if it is too hard. When you are ready, let those thoughts go. Release them like birds from a cage. Go to God in prayer saying something like, “I do not need this fear. It is not me. I release the fear of dying to you, filled with all hope and confidence in that which is to come.” Close your time of reflection by reminding yourself out loud of God’s promises to you. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;…because you are precious in my sight, and honored and I love you. … Do not fear, for I am with you.”
Prayer: Gracious God, I release myself completely into your loving care, knowing that living or dying I belong to Christ. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
April 16 - Holy Saturday - Letting Go of the Inability to Wait - Holy Saturday is one of the most under appreciated sacred days in the Christian calendar. For many of us it is a day of preparing for an Easter feast, or arranging flowers at the church, or dying eggs with the kids. It is just a day to mark time, especially if we have not made the commitment to walk carefully through Holy Week, and are just skipping blithely
from palms and hosannas to lilies and alleluias. Jesus’ life and mission did not make that blissful leap and there are spiritual gifts to be received by keeping a reverent Holy Saturday. This is the day of waiting. On this day Jesus’ friends sat helplessly with their grief and fear. The couldn’t see beyond it. They didn’t even know if there was anything positive coming next. They were forced to wait for God and to abide by God’s timing. The scripture does not tell us what happened to Jesus during the time he was entombed. Tradition suggests that he goes to release the souls in hell, to tell them that no matter who they have been, God’s love is bigger and ultimately wins.
The disciples knew nothing of that, if indeed that is what happened. All they knew was that their hopes felt crushed, their grief unendurable, their fear indomitable. All they knew to do was to cling to each other and to wait to see what happened next. All they knew was that in their helplessness they had to wait for God. Waiting is not our long suit in dominant North American culture these days. We don’t want to wait for anything. Remote controls, Drive through windows. Twenty-four hour news cycles. Starvation diets. Waiting is not even a cultural value. The inability to wait has led to much destruction in society, in relationships and in the spiritual life. We pray for a miracle and if it doesn’t come immediately in a form we desire, we give up and try to ‘do it’ ourselves. We pray for a habit to change and if it doesn’t do so quickly we lose heart. And on and on it goes. We have become unaccustomed to waiting and especially unaccustomed to waiting for God’s timing to be full. Holy Saturday invites us to sit and wait. Sometimes we must sit in our grief and wait for a while. Sometimes we must sit with not knowing what to do next and wait for a while. Activity is not always a magic balm. It is just an anesthetic when that is not what we need. If you have trouble waiting, especially for God’s timing, consider releasing that tendency to God. Think about the situations in which you are most prone to leap in and fill up any time of waiting. What is the anxiety you feel about empty spaces or times when you don’t know what to do? When you are ready, go to God in prayer saying something like, “I do not need this inability to wait. It is not true to me. I release this tendency to you.” Close your time of reflection by reminding yourself out loud of God’s promises to you. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;…because you are precious in my sight, and honored and I love you. … Do not fear, for I am with you.”
Prayer: Gracious God, on this beautiful day of holy waiting, help me to settle and clear some inner space to wait for what you will do next in my life. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.
Daily Scripture and Devotions for the Season of Easter 2022
Throughout the forty days of Lent, we spent some time each day releasing attitudes, hurts and practices that hamper the fullness and joy of life. Letting go is important for its own sake. It is even more important because it frees up inner spiritual space for us to receive all of the wonders that life in Christ has to offer. In Lent we let go and create space. During the Great Fifty Days of Easter, we open our hearts to receive the grace and Presence of God with us always. So each day between now and Pentecost, we will look at a passage of Scripture associated with the Resurrection and new life in Christ. We will give thanks for the gifts of grace and welcome them more powerfully and completely into our lives. Granted, letting go is hard. Sometimes so is receiving. Still, we are ready! We have created free and open inner space. So let’s celebrate God’s amazing filling grace for the next fifty days!
April 17- The Feast of the Resurrection – Receive the Grace of Wonder - Luke 24:5 The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”
Many of us have known tragedy in our lives. For some of us the last few years have felt like a constant assault of challenges and grief. We have buried friends and family members. We’ve even, in some ways, buried hopes and dreams. And yet. On this day of all days, we remember that nothing is ever really buried. Life goes on. Dreams reform. Hope is reborn. No goodbye is final. We need not look for new life in worn out plans or broken hearts. It arises and presents itself to us when we least expect it, and suddenly we see that the tomb really is empty and all the wonders of eternity lie stretched in endless joy in front of us. It all begins today! Wonder of wonders! We will live forever! Receive today the grace of wonder. Life is bigger, finer, more beautiful and more durable than you have dreamed.
Prayer: God of grace, we thank you for the mystery and wonder of your resurrection. We thank you that the tomb could not hold you and, therefore, neither will it hold us. Fill our hearts with the joy of wonder and awe today. Alleluia! Amen.
April 18 – Receive the Grace of Hope – Luke 24:6-7 – “Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.”
The disciples were slow to comprehend all that Jesus told them when he walked with them through the dusty roads of Palestine. How could they? We are slow to comprehend ourselves and we know how the story ends. Or rather that the story does not end. It is amazing that when the worst that could happen happened to Jesus and his friends, that was the moment that new hope presented itself. The women had come to the tomb to do the ritual service required for the dead. They had come to mourn and find small traditional ways to offer their final actions of love to Jesus. Yet they were not met with hopelessness and loss. Rather, they were met with heavenly messengers who told them that what seemed lost was not lost at all. Changed maybe. But not lost. It was like a B-12 shot of hope. They were stunned and yet they did not turn and run in fear. They turned and ran with a message, a message of hope for all the ages. Over is never really over. Hope always remains and grows full, so full that no tomb can hold it ever again. Open your heart to God right now and receive the grace of Hope. Over is never over.
Prayer: God of grace, today we open our tender hearts to receive your mighty hope for our lives, for those we love and for your whole created order. Alleluia! Amen.
April 19 – Receive the Grace of Your Voice – Luke 24:8-9 – Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.
Sometimes hindsight is exquisite. As the women ran to tell the others of the message of the angels at the empty tomb, suddenly things they had heard and either forgotten, misunderstood of dismissed, flooded their minds. Did it all suddenly make sense? Probably not. Did they discuss together, as they ran, how they might share the news with the men? What words would they use? How would the men respond? I suspect that those worries may have come to mind. I also suspect that something else happened as well. They did not know the outcome of their message, but one thing they knew for sure: they had a story to tell and, come what may, they must tell it. On that dusty path back to lives that had been turned upside down, they found their voice and they claimed it. Otherwise, how would we today know what had happened? It is the same for us. Sometimes life throws us for a loop and we don’t know how to respond. We just know that we must. Sometimes we don’t know how the truth we have to share will be received by others, either. Yet we know we must find our voices and speak as well. If we do not, then what magnificent life changing stories might be lost? God uses our voices even when we are afraid or confused. God speaks grace and hope through us! Yes, even us. Yes, even you!
Open your heart to God right now and receive the grace of your own unique voice. Tell God your truth and feel the power of hope build.
Prayer: God of Grace, how is it that you entrust the mysteries of your Love to our feeble voices? Do you see in us strength and vitality that we cannot see in ourselves? How is it that you entrust the message of grace and everlasting life to us to tell? It boggles the mind. Yet you give us grace, you give us a voice. Today we ask that you also awaken us to the opportunities you place before us to speak love into the lives of those you send to us. Alleluia! Amen.
April 20 – Receive the Grace of Possibility – Matthew 28:8-9 – So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell the disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came and took hold of his feet, and worshipped him.
In Luke’s telling of the resurrection, the women do not have an encounter with Jesus himself. They run to tell on the strength of the angels’ testimony alone. That, and the absence of Jesus’ body, of course. In Matthew, they do the same thing. Only in his telling, Jesus meets them on the way with special instructions. I wonder why the angel’s word was enough for them to run and tell in the beginning. Were they terrified and needed reinforcement from the other disciples? Were they afraid that the guards who had fainted dead away when they saw the angel and the empty tomb would wake up and arrest them? Were they just so shocked that their feet took over and started running before their minds even engaged? I suspect some of all of that. I suspect something else, too. Perhaps what put them to flight was the giddy gift of possibility. If this could be possible, then, maybe anything was possible. If Jesus was raised maybe all hope was not lost after all. If that is the case, why then did Jesus stop them on the way? Perhaps Jesus knew that for hope to become firmly rooted, for it to stand the test of time and challenge, it first and foremost has to be personal. For the grace of the possibility for life becoming more than they dreamed and death far less, they needed Jesus’ personal presence with them. So do we. When the world of new possibility opens before and we are running like wild to figure it out, we too need Jesus to stop us in our tracks sometimes to remind us that it is all personal, that he is with us in our flapping around, that he can be worshipped still even when we understand nothing that is happening in our lives and world. Open your heart to God right now and receive the grace of a new possibility for your life. God will be right with you as you claim it!
Prayer: God of Grace, no matter how things look or feel, you meet us in the chaos and offer us your presence in order to embrace possibilities we never imagined. Thank you! Help us today to trust this grace and you. Alleluia! Amen.
April 21 – Receive the Grace of Taking a Chance on Amazement – Luke 24: 11-12 – But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.
When the stunned women arrived to meet the others after their experience with the empty tomb, they told their friends all that they had experienced. The men did not believe them. They thought their grief had stolen their sanity. They thought it was all a bunch of poppycock. They thought it was an eye-rolling idle tale told by people whose voices they didn’t trust that much anyway. And yet. And yet, Peter, took a chance. Did he want to settle the women down by proving they had imagined the whole thing? Did he want to salve the guilt of his own betrayal by doing something productive? Did he want to make sure that no shenanigans had taken place, that the authorities had not stolen Jesus body? Maybe. When I imagine him running to the tomb alone, I wonder if something else might not have stirred within him. Perhaps he was ready to be amazed, amazed by God. When he arrived, there were no angels to greet him. Only an empty grave with the grave cloths lying on the ground. This is the last time Peter is mentioned by name in Luke. Presumably he is with the others when Jesus arrives with his final message of comfort. Still, the last time we see Peter in this book, alone and staring into the empty tomb, he wanders home in amazement. No answers. Just amazement. We too need experiences of amazement don’t we? We need reminders that what we see and understand is not all that there is. We need moments when it all falls down and we see the confusing mystery of the durability of divine love. Some days we too need to wander home amazed at God. Take a deep breath. When was the last time you were filled with amazement at God doing something you thought could not be done? Perhaps it has been a while. Perhaps it was this morning. In either case, open your heart wide today. Take a chance on God amazing you and receive the grace that comes. Remember that, like Peter, you have to look to see.
Prayer: God of Grace, we are constantly amazed by your love and goodness. Open our eyes today to be amazed at what you are doing in our lives and world. Alleluia. Amen.
April 22 – Receive the Grace of Angel Messages – Matthew 28:2 And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.
In Matthew, the resurrection is not just personal, it is cosmic. The whole earth shakes, the angel of the Lord descends from heaven and opens the tomb in the presence of the frightened women. He appeared as dazzling as lightening and as pure as snow. The guards faint dead away. Then the angel addresses the trembling women and tells them they are looking for Jesus in the wrong place. He is not to be found among the dead any longer. Sometimes we too need the message of the angels when we are looking for Jesus in all the wrong places. Maybe we too look for him somehow locked in a finished story. Or a steady tradition that cannot change.
Sometimes we, too, look for him wistfully in the faith of childhood or tenderer times. Still today, God will send messengers to us to help us refocus our gaze, to expand our notions of what is possible, to touch our grief and restore hope, to send us out with a new message on our lips. Those angels today don’t always split the heavens and shine like lightening. Sometimes they come in more subtle ways, but come they do. Every sunrise, every child’s laugh, every flower blossom, every moment of wine poured and bread broken, brings us a message of wonder and starting over. Today, stand up for a moment. Spread your arms wide and tilt your head to the sky. Tell God that you need angels today and ask God to help you recognize and receive them.
Prayer: God of Grace, we open our lives, our very souls to you today. Help us to receive the messages that you have for us. Alleluia! Amen.
April 23 – Receive the Grace of Space to Grieve – Luke 24:13-15 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were walking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them.
The Passover celebration in Jerusalem had ended, and ended in tragedy for the disciples. Or at least they thought it had. But some strange stories had begun to circulate. Stories that Jesus had risen from the dead and some of their friends had seen him. But they were women, so one never really knew what to think of the testimony of women. So, these two disciples decided it was time to go to their home in Emmaus. After all, sometimes just getting back to familiar surroundings is all it really takes to put things in perspective. Besides, their hearts ached. They had lost their beloved rabbi and he hadn’t come to see them. Grief must have its moment, and a long enough moment, before new life can emerge, before acceptance and new purpose can rise. I wonder how long Jesus walked with them before he spoke. Did he listen to their confusion and pain? Did he just sense it in the way they held their shoulders or the heaviness of their steps? We don’t know. What we do know is that he did not rush them. He did not just leap into the painful void with answers they were not ready to hear. He walked with them, headed home with them. He gave them time to grieve without pushing them to just buck up and get back to normal. In our society, we often struggle with giving people the space they need to grieve. We wonder if we should intervene somehow, if we should nudge people to pick up the pieces or fit their feelings into a timeline we read in an article once. We can be especially impatient with ourselves in times of sorrow and disappointment. We can tell ourselves that others have it much worse and we should just buck up and be grateful. Perspective is important, of course, but sometimes we just need time. Time to wander. Time to weep. Time to return to a home that no longer really exists. Time to wait for what is coming to come. Our text reminds us that Jesus gently walks with us in times of loss and confusion. If you need some space to just be with disappointment today, without having to produce or justify or worry about others’ discomfort, go for a short walk. Let it all be, knowing that Jesus is walking silently beside you and will ask the right questions at the right time.
Prayer: God of Grace, give us spaces today to experience any losses we may be absorbing. Give us the grace of your presence and the time we need to heal. Alleluia! Amen.
April 24 – Receive the Grace of Insight into Scripture – Luke 24:27 – Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. As Jesus and the two disciples walked along the road to Emmaus, when the time was right, he asked them what was going on with them and what they were discussing. Then it all poured out. They told him about the pain of the crucifixion, of their dashed hopes, of the wild claims of the women, and the fact that the men could not corroborate their stories. Jesus did not interrupt. He listened as they poured it all out. Then he explained the scriptures to them.
Moses, the prophets, all of it. Standing on the side of the road, he just explained it to them. Granted they didn’t comprehend it all, not then anyway, but still he opened it all up to them. Sometimes we, too, need Jesus to open the scriptures to us, to make hard stories make sense in the complicated fabric of grace. What I learn from this story is that Jesus is the interpretive tool we need to understand all of the scriptures. It is through his life, teaching, death and rising, that we find meaning in the ancient words. When Jesus looks in a mirror he sees love in skin. When we look at the scriptures through him, we see love looking back at us and light dawns. Today open your heart to receive one new insight from the scriptures. Maybe it will come from today’s verse or maybe from a different passage. Tell God that you welcome the grace of new insight into the scriptures and watch what comes to you.
Prayer: God of Grace, today we ask that you will illumine us with your word that we may grow in your grace. Alleluia! Amen.
April 25 – Receive the Grace of Hospitality – Luke 24:28-29 – As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.”
In the ancient world, it was considered polite to refuse an invitation to join people for a meal or an overnight stay until the invitation was repeated. That is what is happening in this verse. The disciples have arrived at their home. They have been amazed at Jesus’ teaching of them and they hope for more. They offer him the hospitality of their home in hope, and also compassion. So he went in to stay with them. What an amazing time that must have been! In offering hospitality to Jesus, they learned more from him, they enjoyed his presence, and they offered him the gifts of their life and labor. Today Jesus doesn’t come to stay with us in exactly the same way. We have to look for different ways to entertain and spend time with him. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells us that we see him when we see the poor, the hungry, the imprisoned. When we tend to them, we tend to him. In my experience, that kind of ‘hospitality’ always brings more gifts and graces than we ever offer to those that we welcome. Today, open your heart to welcome Christ as he may come to you in many forms. Be prepared to learn things about yourself and God that you never knew before. Give hospitality without expectation of reciprocation, but filled with expectation of mutual blessing. You never know how or when Jesus will ask for your care, or what form he will take in the asking.
Prayer: God of grace, fill us today with the grace of hospitality. Help us look diligently for ways to welcome you into our homes, our hearts and to our tables. Alleluia! Amen.
April 26 – Receive the Grace of Community – Luke 24:30 – When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.
When his friends welcomed him into their home, they offered him a special meal. At it, Jesus took on the role of host. He took bread, broke it and gave it to them. This of course reminds us of the institution of the Lord’s Supper on the Thursday evening of his arrest. The repeating of this ritual in our churches in the sacrament allows us, too, to share the table with Jesus. In Presbyterian churches we do not have an altar. We have a communion table. It is a table around which we gather with others, welcomed by Jesus our host. There he gives us his own true presence as food and drink. For that reason, for us, there are no truly private sacraments. All sacraments, even if we partake alone in front of a zoom screen, are actions of community. Jesus’ real presence takes place most exquisitely and durably in community. That is not, of course, to say that private experiences of presence and guidance are illegitimate or untrustworthy. It is simply to acknowledge that God calls us and offers us grace particularly when we come together. In these days of extended pandemic, when some of us can still not come together for worship due to health or distance, we have discovered that community is not defined by location. It is possible to be in community with others from any location because it is Jesus who welcomes and makes us his family. Being a Christian on one’s own is very, very, very difficult. It is far too easy to become self-serving and allow the lens of our egos’ preferences to color our understanding. We need each other. We need each other not just for the sacraments, but so that all of life becomes sacramental. Today open your heart and receive the grace of your community!
Prayer: God of Grace, we thank you for the grace of the community of faith. We are no more perfect, or perfect in understanding, than the disciples in Emmaus. Yet we, like they, still receive your grace and welcome your blessings. Alleluia! Amen.
April 27 – Receive the Grace of Open Eyes – Luke 24:31 - Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.
It is not surprising, given the primacy of the sacrament and table fellowship in Luke, that it was when Jesus fed them that they realized who he was. The sacrament of Jesus’ feeding, as well as the graces of Bible study and prayer open our eyes still. It is experience that brings insight. And this insight is mysterious in and of itself. As soon as the disciples ate with Jesus and recognized him, he vanished. What do we make of this? Had he given them all they needed and it was time to go? Did he vanish in a puff of smoke to reinforce the mystery of his resurrection? Did he leave to give them time to come to grips with their experience? I’m not sure. What I do know is that my eyes are often clearer when I reflect on an experience than when I am in the midst of it. In the midst, I can either want to run and hide, or cling and never let go. Neither of those is helpful for integrating new insight into my life and understanding. Perhaps Jesus saw some of that in those with whom he ate that night. Perhaps he knew that they would need to carry the experience of his living presence with them in their hearts and minds long after a simple meal together. When we reflect on the experiences of our faith and lives after the fact, we often see graces we couldn’t see at the time that allow our faith to grow and deepen. Open eyes, rely on open hearts. And no small amount of courage. When new insights come, they invariably show up smelling like change. After all, Jesus was first last and middle, in the change business. That’s what repentance and transformation are all about. Today open your heart to receive the grace of open eyes and the courage to change when change is needed.
Prayer: God of grace, open our eyes that we may see you. Open our hearts that we may welcome you. Open our minds that we may understand you. Open our lives that we may serve you. Alleluia! Amen.
April 28 – Receive the Grace of a Burning Heart – Luke 24:32 – They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”
When the disciples in Emmaus realized who Jesus was and he vanished, they also saw the signs along the way that they had missed. As he walked with them on the road they had felt something and brushed it aside. As he spoke to them of scripture, they had felt something but didn’t know how to name it. It was easy for them to miss what was right in front of them because they were consumed with what was going on with them. They were hurting and confused and those two states are potent spiritual blinders. When we are stuck ruminating on hurts or misunderstandings, it can be very hard for new ideas to get into our self-destructive mind loops. Looking back though, they could see what in the moment they could not. If we develop a practice of mindfully staying in the present moment and gratefully examining the past, we often find stepping stones or markers of God’s presence that we missed before but which can deepen our faith upon reflection. Those realizations that God was with us all along can set our hearts on fire too. Today take a moment to ask God to help you see what you may have missed in the last few days. Perhaps you will find yourself leaping up in wonderment like those long ago disciples when you see how Jesus has accompanied you and you were unaware. Prayer: God of Grace, open our hearts to receive the fire of grace. Fill us with wonderment and insight as we prayerfully look at our current circumstances. Alleluia! Amen.
April 29 – Receive the Grace of Energy to Keep Going– Luke 24:33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. As soon as the disciples realized what had happened, that they had been in the presence of the risen Christ sharing supper around their own table, they leapt up and headed back to Jerusalem. This was no small journey. They had already walked the seven miles once that day and it was now after night fall. Yet, they leapt from the table and struck out to go back to Jerusalem to tell the others what had happened. How in the world did they muster the energy? How could they keep going? Were they not emotionally and physically past the point of exhaustion? They must have been. But up they got and off they went. Granted, great spiritual highs do seem to arrive with their own energy jet packs, don’t they? In our daily lives in complicated and fractious times, many of us feel exhausted just trying to juggle the many responsibilities and challenges each day brings. Our early faith ancestors often talked about life in Christ as an energy, a power, a force that moved through them allowing them to do things that would otherwise have been impossible. That energy could be focused in touch for healing, in prayer for intimate experience with God and in scripture study for personal transformation. The disciples at table in Emmaus got a mega dose of spiritual power just from spending time with Jesus. We can still do the same thing. When we set aside moments to focus on Jesus, to think about his teaching, to welcome new insights, we too can find new energy to accomplish that which most needs to be done. If you are exhausted and need a power boost to get through the day, begin with some time with Jesus. You may not find the it rolls back the years, but you will find that you have the grace and energy to do everything that is needful. Maybe not everything that YOU think is important, but certainly everything that God finds important.
Prayer: God of Grace, fill us with energy, perspective and your own priorities today so that we may do all that is needed. Alleluia! Amen!
April 30 – Receive the Grace of Peace – Luke 24:36 – While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
The excited disciples from Emmaus have run back to Jerusalem. They found the other disciples gathered together. Both groups eagerly tell their personal stories of experiencing the risen Christ. While they are sharing, Jesus himself walks in and greets them with his wish for peace for them. “Peace be with you” was a normal greeting in Jesus’ day, but never on Jesus’ lips.
When he greets them in this way, he expresses his first hope for them. The word most often translated as peace in the New Testament is similar to the word shalom in the Hebrew Scriptures. Peace is not just the absence of war or conflict, although that is certainly a part of it. The word refers to total harmony of mind, body, spirit, relationships, purpose and community. To wish us peace is to wish us whole, well, contented. It is to wish us to be open vessels for the flowing of God’s love through us into the whole world. Can you even imagine how those disciples must have felt to hear him say those simple, love filled words? Surely the events of the last few days had them feeling scattered, on an emotional see-saw and fearful about their futures once the news spread of Jesus’ resurrection. In the midst of that whirlwind, Jesus walks in and calls them to a calm centered place. Of course, it was too much for them, as it often is for us. They were terrified. They thought he was a ghost. But Jesus calms them, offers himself to them, asks for the intimacy of a meal with them, and offers teaching that helps them put the pieces together. Jesus still offers us those same things, presence, sacramental meal, calm assurance and help in putting ourselves back together whole no matter what circumstances may have spun us in all directions. Take a moment and close your eyes. Breathe deeply. Listen with the ear of your heart to Jesus standing next to you and saying, “Peace, wholeness, harmony in every area of your life is my will for you today and every day. It is yours to receive.”
Prayer: God of Grace, fill us with your peace. Alleluia! Amen.