1 Lord, I have so many enemies!
So many are standing against me.
2 So many are talking about me:
“Even God won’t help him.” Selah[a]
3 But you, Lord, are my shield!
You are my glory!
You are the one who restores me.
4 I cry out loud to the Lord,
and he answers me from his holy mountain. Selah
5 I lie down, sleep, and wake up
because the Lord helps me.
6 I won’t be afraid of thousands of people
surrounding me on all sides.
7 Stand up, Lord!
Save me, my God!
In fact, hit all my enemies on the jaw;
shatter the teeth of the wicked!
8 Rescue comes from the Lord!
May your blessing be on your people! Selah
Psalm 3:1-8 CEB
-Rev Melissa Fain-
(Soft trigger warning for depression.)
Being able to read the whole story, and having read the whole story year after year, we forget how spiritually dark today really is.
As a camper I enjoy the predawn night. The campfires are out, the stars seem to glow in ways I couldn't see before going to bed. At that point I'm used to the dark. I've lived a whole night with it. Holy Saturday, in contrast is a quick and deepening darkness.
Now depression? That's a feeling and a darkeness I am not comfortable with, nor do I want to re-experience. It does trick the mind into thinking happiness and hope will never return. All appears lost.
I think many Americans can connect with the Disciples this Saturday before Easter. Their hope is dead. Jesus, the one they thought was going to take down the system and become the warrior king of scripture, didn't lift a finger to fight and died on a cross. On Saturday, not only could none of them understand what was coming, they were completely lost in the darkness. What do we do with that today?
The Disciples, the ones who saw Jesus face to face, and witnessed his ministry were scared. We, as biblical readers, know there is a blinding light on the other side of their darkness, but they did not. This day is here to remind us the truth about darkness: The darkness does not take away or destroy the things that give us hope and love, it simply hides it from view. God is always there, and always present. Just because you can't see it, doesn't make it any less true.
If this particular message seems to be speaking directly to you, I'm so sorry you are dealing with the weight of depression. My personal experience lasted about two years, and part of my journey was being honest about it. Please seek out people with spiritual flashlights to help you see what has always been there. You are not alone, and the light is right around the corner.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
The first Communion. It is a meal that has been discussed, explored, shared, acted and pantomimed out trillions of times over the centuries. The symbolism is easy enough for a child to understand, while complex enough for sages to write books upon books of what it means. The rich cultural understandings of Communion are all rooted in Maundy Thursday.
What is Maundy Thursday? (I just assumed some of the readers would be asking.) Maundy Thursday always takes place the Thursday before Easter. If we put the timeline together from Palm Sunday to the Resurrection, the first Communion takes place on that Thursday before Jesus is crucified. Maundy is one of those Latin holdovers. The closest word we English speakers have is "mandate." Since this is also the day Jesus washed the Disciple's feet, we are given a mandate to serve the world as Christ has served us.
Like I wrote so many years ago, there are tensions we should keep at the Communion table. Our experience should sing, so to speak. I compared these tensions to guitar strings. Both sides have to pull against one another or it is all mess. While there are many tensions I can discuss, here's the one I want you to take with you today.
We are called to be served, and to serve others.
Maundy Thursday should be a reminder that one of our focuses should be on being served and serving others. We are called to the table while we are also purposefully repelled from it. Being pushed from the table should lead us to service to others. Both of these actions create a beautiful tension that will help us through Holy Week. How are you letting Christ serve you this week? How are you serving others in return?
-Rev Melissa Fain-
That evening a man named Joseph came. He was a rich man from Arimathea who had become a disciple of Jesus. He came to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate gave him permission to take it. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had carved out of the rock. After he rolled a large stone at the door of the tomb, he went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting in front of the tomb.
The next day, which was the day after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate. They said, “Sir, we remember that while that deceiver was still alive he said, ‘After three days I will arise.’ Therefore, order the grave to be sealed until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people, ‘He’s been raised from the dead.’ This last deception will be worse than the first.”
Pilate replied, “You have soldiers for guard duty. Go and make it as secure as you know how.” Then they went and secured the tomb by sealing the stone and posting the guard.
Matthew 27:57-66 CEB
I fully believe the bravest people in the world are the ones who have the most to lose, and they risk it all for the sake of others. That’s what I think of when I read Joseph of Arimathea asked for the body of Jesus and placed him in his tomb. Two important bits of context.
First, Jesus’ closest disciples were currently hiding. They were fearful for their lives. Second, during this time there were tons of really poor people, and a few very rich people. Forget middle class, that just didn’t exist back then.
For Joseph, there was nothing to be gained from admitting you were a disciple of Jesus, but there was everything to lose. That’s a kind of bravery I doubt many in America would understand. We know the ending to this story. We know what happens in act three. Joseph didn’t know.
Tomorrow we celebrate new life after death. Today we celebrate those who risk it all for the sake of others. Human or Divine, we should look on both with awe and respect.
- - -
We know the night is darkest before the dawn.
Before the sun rises on this Easter morn, show us the stars that still shine in the darkness.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
From noon until three in the afternoon the whole earth was dark. At three, Jesus cried out with a loud shout, “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani,” which means, “My God, my God, why have you left me?”
After hearing him, some standing there said, “Look! He’s calling Elijah!” Someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, and put it on a pole. He offered it to Jesus to drink, saying, “Let’s see if Elijah will come to take him down.” But Jesus let out a loud cry and died.
Mark 15:33-37 CEB
“Follow me, and I will make your fishers of people.”
By itself, what a ludicrous statement! This was a time when any sort of stable employment was looked on as incredibly lucky. Jesus wanted people to just walk away from it! Now, to be fair, it is very likely any of these fishers also continued to fish for fish in their journey to people fish. But, then they began to see something more. They began to understand; this was the savior written about in scripture. Their eyes were opened and they became willing to do almost anything for Jesus. This, in a world where Rome willingly and easily crucified anyone who appeared even slightly confrontational. Not many were willing to rock that boat. (See what I did there, with fishermen and boats… never mind. Moving on.)
I think we need to understand the fear that would have emanated from the Disciples at the moment Jesus died. In their mind, this guy was not supposed to die! This guy was supposed to raze the Romans, and give power back to the “good guys.” That’s not at all what happened. They didn’t understand what Jesus was trying to do, so when he died they did two things: They ran, and they hid.
When Jesus died everything pointed to them being next. That’s a very scary place to be. The darkness was doubly dark. When things are that dark perspective is lost. One can forget that light will ever exist again, but it will. Today is good because what needed to be done, was done. It is also good because as scary and dark as it is, it is not the end of the story. When you lose perspective remember this moment. There is light.
- - -
To The Light,
Please shine in our darkness, so the darkness can no longer hide.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take and eat. This is my body.” He took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from this, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many so that their sins may be forgiven. I tell you, I won’t drink wine again until that day when I drink it in a new way with you in my Father’s kingdom.” Then, after singing songs of praise, they went to the Mount of Olives.
Matthew 26:26-30 CEB
People who create icons are practicing an art form and living into a spiritual discipline. Icons follow a set of rules. Icons are always painted on a solid wooden board. The wood grain must run vertical to connect heaven and earth. Specific biblical characters hold or wear specific clothes or items. Not everyone has a painted halo. The gesso is painted in layers, from the darkest color to the lightest.
Lent is the wooden board that connects us humans to the divine. Maundy Thursday through Holy Saturday are the first few layers of paint. The final painting will be a glorious image of redemption and light, but we must paint those dark colors first.
You might wonder what could be dark about the first communion. As part of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), we denominationally partake of communion on a weekly basis. Sometimes, it is an uplifting and happy event. This first communion might have started that way, but the moment Jesus compared the cup and bread to blood and body that joy was gone. This is the meal where friends were called out as being deniers and betrayers. Maybe they ended with songs of praise, but for a bit, it was a dark meal indeed.
I know it’s difficult to accept the darkness in a world where companies are painting easy answers and guaranteed happiness. These next few days are the darkest in the Lenten season. We might want to put this devotional aside and just wait it out until Easter Sunday.
Don’t. The new life of Easter cannot happen without the crucifixion and death of Christ. The bright colors and gold will be meaningless without the darkness. This is the path we must walk to truly understand the glory and light of Easter. Let’s paint those colors and find the glory of the finished picture in just a few days.
- - -
As we take the bread and break it, help us understand the brokenness of your body.
As we take the cup, help us see the sacrifice of your blood.
-Rev Jamie Brame-
Don’t you know that all the runners in the stadium run, but only one gets the prize? So run to win. Everyone who competes practices self-discipline in everything. The runners do this to get a crown of leaves that shrivel up and die, but we do it to receive a crown that never dies. So now this is how I run—not without a clear goal in sight. I fight like a boxer in the ring, not like someone who is shadowboxing. Rather, I’m landing punches on my own body and subduing it like a slave. I do this to be sure that I myself won’t be disqualified after preaching to others.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 CEB
I spent my college years visiting a small monastery and soaking up the wisdom of the monks. These monks looked like anyone else: flannel or work shirts, jeans, sneakers; some had hair to their shoulders, others wore short hair. The only time they wore robes was when we went to church for the prayer times. Not stereotypical monks!
Because of their influence, I would go to the church I served as a student minister and talk to the youth about prayer and what the monks were teaching me. “Can we go to the monastery?” I asked the monks, they said yes, so 20 of us went there one afternoon.
After a tour, Brother Jim walked us to the big field, and sat cross-legged on the ground. My group saw him getting into a meditation position and did likewise, closing their eyes and sitting quietly for 15 minutes. Then Jim opened his eyes and said, “Any questions?”
“Brother Jim, how long should I pray each day?” I was so proud of the questioner (my similar question to Jim earlier drew the answer about 20 minutes a day three times a day). Jim answered, “Three minutes a day.” I could see the relief as it registered to my youth that a disciplined prayer life was in reach! But I was shocked.
Talking to Jim later, I asked him why the difference between his answer to me and to them. “Well, you’re planning on being a professional, aren’t you? Takes more work!”
Disciplined spirituality takes practice. We don’t run five miles the first time we run, and we don’t pray for hours on end at the beginning. We don’t become Christian and do all things correctly. Like an athlete, we practice, we set our goals, and we move towards them. Some will do more, some less, but all of us have the goal of being close to God and living a meaningful life.
- - -
God, give us strength to keep going, to keep trying, in Jesus’ name, amen.
Rev Jamie Brame is the Program Director at Christmount Conference and Retreat Center, located in Black Mountain, NC. He has served there for over 27 years, working with both youth and adults. His interests include the study of spirituality and prayer, with an emphasis on eastern spirituality and its application in a Christian context. In addition to his ministerial vocation, he is also a musician who performs with his wife, Renae. He holds an M. Div. from Duke Divinity School and B.A. from Atlantic Christian College (now Barton College.)
-Rev Sarah Renfro-
Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I'm gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves. My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light."
Matthew 11:29-30 CEB
"Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest,” Jesus tells those who have been bearing the burdens of living under an oppressive regime, a nation at war, and religious leaders who impose a strict interpretation of scripture. Their lives were hard, and Jesus offers them another way to live.
So many around the world suffer under such cruelty, poverty, and unrest, that they are willing to sacrifice everything they have in order to escape the abuse. They have been treated like captives for too long, and they wish for a better life.
These are the people Jesus is speaking to in our time. He exchanges the yoke of oppression for one of education and calling. He promises to lead with a gentle hand, not an iron fist. Those who have been unable to get a good night’s sleep for years due to insecurity will be allowed to close their eyes in the presence of the Lord.
Following Jesus’ teachings does not lead to an easy life, but it is easier to bear, because we share each other’s burdens. The weak are lifted up by the strong. When life’s experiences way us down, physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, Jesus will help us lighten our load.
The way of discipleship is not burdensome, but life-giving. Our hearts may be heavy, but only because we are yoked to the heart of God, full of justice, mercy, and compassion. When our souls ache, we may find comfort that we rest in the grace of God, who took on flesh in the form of Jesus, who frees us from conformity and sin.
Jesus is firm, yet gentle, in his humble way. He doesn’t pretend that the world is all rainbows and unicorns. It isn’t. But for those whose mountain is too steep to climb with such heavy packs on their backs, Jesus allows others to shoulder the suffering, for respite and relief.
- - -
Gentle God, some of us are suffering under the weight of the world. Others of us feel like we can move mountains. Invite us to share one another’s burdens, lessen each other’s loads, and rest in the One who guides us. Amen.
Rev Sarah Renfro is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Geist Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Fishers, Indiana. Born and raised in Lexington, Kentucky, Sarah formerly modeled internationally, was ordained into ministry in 2010, is married to Rev. Kyle Brown, mother to Miriam, March Madness fanatic (Go Big Blue!), and writer at m-bodied.com. Her ministry includes leading body image workshops and preaching on embodiment and faith.
-Rev Evan Dolive-
Faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we don’t see.
Hebrews 11:1 CEB
Faith is a tenet of Christianity that can take on many different forms. If you were raised in the church or even if you became a follower of Christ later in life, the notion of your faith or having faith was more than likely a topic of conversation. In a world filled with facts, figures and needing proof before we believe a YouTube video has the notion of faith been lost?
This notion of faith is showed when Christ teaches the disciples that faith of a child is needed to enter the realm of God. This one simple teaching of Christ has turned into just taking things at face value but by subscribing to this mentality I believe we are selling ourselves short.
Children’s faiths are alive and strong, and the church needs to recognize this instead of repeating corny “children’s sermons” that are usually well intentioned but often developmentally inappropriate. The church’s story is being heard and lived out in front of our eyes through the hands and feet of some of the smallest members of the church. Why are we amazed that more children are asking to give money or toys to others instead of receiving for themselves? This is something that should be an extension of our own faith; sometimes it takes the innocence of a child to reorient our thinking about what truly matters.
We don’t give children enough credit. They are infinitely smarter than we think. Children figure out things that most adults have trouble comprehending. I truly believe that my daughter came out of the womb knowing how to operate an iPad. She gets that finger swiping and she can navigate the world of apps and photos with more precision and understanding that people 20 times her age.
Having faith like a child does not mean that we take everything at face value, but it does mean that we have the ‘go-get-em’ attitude. Children’s faiths are constantly being shaped and formed by the people around them and by the answers they get to important questions. If we cannot articulate our faith in a way that a child can understand, then we have a failure in communication.
I want to have a child’s faith; I want the stories of the Bible to be more than just words on a page or the same old story. I want to be emboldened in my faith to step out and be the hands and feet of Christ in the world around me. And if I can do that, I know that I will have a partner in ministry with me. This Lent let us hold to our faith and examine it; may this time of contemplate and prayer allow us to experience God anew as well as deepen and strengthen our faith in God and Christ.
- - -
Help me O God to have faith like a child, innocent and wondering. May your spirit dwell within me in Lenten Season. Through Christ I pray, Amen.
Rev Evan M. Dolive is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). He currently serves as the Associate Minister for Family Life at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Longview, Texas. He is the author of "Seeking Imperfection: Body Image, Marketing and God," a theological examination of marketing and body images propagated in the world today and the Christian response. He also writes for various online publications and at evandolive.com
He is currently working on his Doctorate at Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, TX. He is married to his high school sweetheart and has three children ages 6,4 and 2.
“Since you cannot do good to all, you are to pay special attention to those who, by the accidents of time, or place, or circumstances, are brought into closer connection with you.”
-Rev Melissa Fain-
So then, let’s work for the good of all whenever we have an opportunity, and especially for those in the household of faith.
Galatians 6:10 CEB
I did not get “work” when I was a child. It all seemed the same to me. If you had to do something you didn’t want to do, that was “work.” If you enjoyed it, it was “play.” In fact, sometimes I made “work” just way too hard for my own good. I can remember in first or second grade my dad told me to clean my room. For whatever reason, I thought it was a great idea to completely empty the toy box so my sister and myself could take turns shooting toys like basketballs into the toy box. Dad was not amused to walk into our room and see a bigger mess than when he asked us to start cleaning in the first place.
Work is always towards something. For many it’s a paycheck. How many would do their job if they were told they were not going to be paid? In church, right or wrong, it happens all the time. People willingly volunteer their time and talents to reach the world beyond their doors. The writers for this very devotion volunteered their time to make this happen.
This is because the Body of Christ isn’t working towards a paycheck, they are working towards God’s Kingdom on Earth, and God’s Kingdom on Earth is good. It’s not always easy. Sometimes we argue and we don’t always get along. That’s part of being human, but when the work is good it adds to God’s created and creative order and that’s always very good.
- - -
Creative Creator of Heaven and Earth,
Help us as we work towards goodness in the world!
Rev Melissa Fain is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ.) She currently serves as the Senior Minister at Fig Tree Christian. Her passion is new church planting and revitalization. Fig Tree is the second big church plant she has been part of. Melissa enjoys all forms of the arts, having a degree in vocal music from Kennesaw State University. She also graduated from Candler School of Theology in the Fall of 2010, and has worked in Christian settings since 1999. Melissa is a mother of two wonderful children, and the wife to a very talented illustrator.