Thursday, March 20, 2008

Despite death’s grip, see God embrace His precious Child.

imageOrder: Holy Communion & Stripping the Altar of Maundy Thursday
Hymns: 617-608,613-624 st. 1-3,4-7;436,456
Exodus 24:3-11
Psalm 116:12-19
Hebrews 9:11-22
Matthew 26:17-30

[Finished singing first three stanzas of “The Infant Priest.”]

Do my eyes betray me: Lent is coming to a close? So, how was your lent? Your children's', your parents' Lent? After the highs of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany and the Transfiguration… I trust Lent has lent you a gift. Or did it take something away from you. Maybe to give it back. Nowadays it’s Lent that has been cast aside in many churches, replaced with a program, like the 40 days of purpose, where one replaces God's purpose for our own. I'd rather spend 40 days with Jesus; even if it's in a desert, it IS with Jesus. Made right, Lent is where the ancient traditional is contemporary, in the place where old things never die.

The 40-day period of penitential discipline before Easter was called quarantine, meaning "forty". Of course, our common use of the word quarantine refers to the need of isolating and treating people who have been infected with a highly communicable disease. Did God use Lent to help you see your disease?

imageA silver-haired man lies in bed, and begins to pray softly, "Now I lay me, down to sleep, I pray the Lord, my soul to keep. If I should die, before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take." But he doesn't finish the prayer. His time has come. Little children, learn your prayers; limageearn your catechism: the time comes quickly.

Photographer Sandy Puc began the organization named, "Now I lay Me Down to Sleep,” that provides maternity and infant bereavement by way of portraits. 4 years ago the nonprofit started when Mike and Cheryl Haggard called Sandy's studio, about their failing newborn, Maddux. Sandy entered to see Cheryl holding Maddux to her chest, skin to skin, grieving, but at peace. Focusing through eyes blurred with tears, Sandy took frame after frame. "Do you know what you've given me?" Cheryl asked her later, when she'd seen the portraits. "You've given me my son."

image Hear the words of another Mom: “My husband Danny and I just lost our son Jace Micheal Lawrence. He was our first baby and he was an angel. I don't know what I would do without the services of ‘Now I lay me down to sleep.’ I told the photographer, "I feel like there is nothing I can do to repay you," and he said "that we are the ones to thank." I want you to know that when I found out that my son was dying, the last thing on my mind was to take pictures of the most depressing moment of my life. Looking back at the split second when the hospital told me about Now I Limageay Me Down to Sleep, I am so glad for the small part of me that made me say "yes," because without that small part I would not have these beautiful pictures and paintings that will last a lifetime. They are all that I have of my precious angel. They will remind me that he was real. Thank you for all that you do and have done for my husband and myself.” -Natalie Lawrence

Death does meet both the old and the young, the in-between, every one.
So also, just minutes ago, we have sung how death met with our Christmas Child, the eternal one.

The infant Priest was holy born, for us unholy and forlorn; from fleshly temple forth came He, Anointed from eternity.

This great High Priest in human flesh was icon of God's righteousness. His hallowed touch brought sanctity; His hand removed impurity.

imageThis year we've heard how God in the flesh heals with His Word everything: the man born blind, Lazarus, Nicodemus, simple fishermen, the prodigal Son, his elder brother, and the shame of the Samaritan woman at the well. He washes us pure as His new babes… more than conquerors …because he has conquered.

The holy Lamb undaunted came to God's own altar lit with flame; while weeping angels hid their eyes, this Priest became a sacrifice.

At the table, the Lamb of God eats with them, filling them with forgiveness, by both the mouth and ear. They are eating peace everlasting, as real as Christ on a cross that both archeology professes and public records report. Besides, Jesus does say it is. And if he says it is His Body and Blood given for the forgiveness of sins, yours and mine… it's going to be real hard for anyone to convince me otherwise, that it isn’t, when He says it is.image

Because God's Word speaks for himself, we have the certain promise of God's presence in his presents. Despite His gifts... betrayal is in the air. And death is never far from betrayal.

There has been a lot of pity in thimagee news lately about Judas. Well, no one likes betrayal. The Gospel of Judas interprets Judas's act not as a betrayal but as obedience to the instruction of Jesus. These Gnostics assert further that only Judas really learned the true Gospel that the human form is a spiritual prison, and Judas helped set Jesus free. VM_004This reminds me of what Zachary Kevorkian said about his father Jack, Dr. Death Kevorkian, "I don't like to think of him as the 'doctor of death'. I think of him as a liberator."

But what Zach prefers to think doesn't change what Dr. Jack Death did. While God can use the wrong of man to carry out His written purpose, that does not excuse man's wrong. (Romans 3:5-8) There is no forgiveness in blame-shifting like Adam did in the garden. Self-justification is not forgiveness. You are justified-forgiven outside yourself.

Forgiveness is outside ourselves. Then how does it get in here? Forgiveness is found at the table where God welcomes and feeds sinners. Even Judas. Jesus invites even Judas to eat, to come stay in the flock, not betray the shepherd. Dipping his hand in the dish underscores the outrageous betrayal by Judas, violating the sacred bond of table fellowship. Judas wanted something else, not what God gave and gives to receive.

You want something new? Ok, God will bless you with something "new."
A new command, to love one another, (as if the original commandments were about hate); a new work, to believe in the one whom God sent (which really isn't a work); a new way to make disciples, sprinkle them with forgiveness, by baptizing them in the name of the Holy Trinity… something Moses knew about.image It isn't really new, it's old, since it has been given from the beginning, the word that you have heard. Although we would bury old things, God raises from the dead old things new again. It is new because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. (1 John 2)

As we have heard, God is faithful and gives you new eyes to see the light. Listen, the light that shines in our darkness speaks:

image21And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”
22And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?”
And Jesus is patiently hesitant to pass judgment on Judas, or on anyone.

23He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. 24The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that imageman if he had not been born.”
25Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.”

There is a mysterious reticence in the way Jesus speaks His Yes to the questions of the disciple who betrayed Him, the Jewish council which condemned Him, and the Roman governor who executed Him. “You have said so.”

Jesus speaks the bad news that we have worked to hear, that (John 3:18b) whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. Instead, do we dare image believe in the name of children of wrath…? Taking our eyes off Jesus? Like Peter, who we almost lost... if not for Jesus in the water… we'd all drown in our sin. Perhaps like Judas, who ran away from the table fellowship into the dark night.

image Deforest Police Chief Bob Henze told me what his father use to say to him, "Nothing much good happens after midnight." While not on oxy-10 or heroin, this child of wrath Judas quarantines himself into the shadow, drinking his own judgment.

19And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3)

When you walk to the altar and kneel at the table, eat and drink God's bimageody and blood, receiving His forgiveness, God's face shines on you. The good that Christ worked is yours. That evil you did has been nailed to the cross to be buried in a watery grave forever. So that you may rise anointed with the cross, where God meets man. (John 3:18a) Whoever believes in Him is not condemned.

Instead of replacing God's gifts such as Lent, let Him renew it for us. You want stronger Christians, let them see their failed flesh and love them despite it. The Quarantine of Lent is meant for renewal of faith and life and for the making of new Christians. It is for the diagnosis and treatment of sin. And though the reality is that we're never quite done with sin in this life, the point is that it need no longer be contagious. Rather, it is as new and renewed people of Christ that we become the bearers of the infection of holiness-salt and light in the world today.

Even if we our beyond our years, with failing flesh unable to come to Him,image Jesus comes to us. Like Sandy catching on film the fleeting life of baby Maddux in the arms of his mother Cheryl. Christ holds to His chest His failing newborns. It’s not picture perfect, but it’s good. “Do you know what” he has given you here at the water and the altar? He has given you the sun, the moon, the stars: He has given you the Son of Man, the Son of God, the Son who descends into the horizon only for a little while.

So we children do pray, returning to our youth, to God's strength given. We go through one season again, after the other, once again. For it's better to repeat and see the good inside the flock, then to deny and be denied by the good shepherd.

Today the Lenten discipline culminates in the Triduum, the three-day-long service of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and the Vigil of Holy Saturday. image We'll have our Good Friday service tomorrow, and for Holy Saturday a viewing of the Passion of Christ, 11am downstairs, which you are all invited to watch on our projector.

Tonight, the altar is stripped like the Infant Priest once was. Ritual may speak more eloquently and deeper than words as our time is sanctified by walking through the reconciliation of the Upper Room, to the foot of the Cross at Calvary, through the font of the Vigil to the mystery of our Lord's resurrection.

Listen to the elders’ voice. Regarding the darkness, will you heed the imagewarning of the Chief'? Will children make excuses for their parents, as Kevorkian had? Will your eyes capture the final, precious moments, like Sandy’s portraits of Cheryl embracing the child? There God’s face is, merciful, mild. Despite death’s grip, see God embrace His precious Child. Amen.

The peace of God which surpass all understanding guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus onto life everlasting. Amen.

[Psalm 22 is read while the altar is stripped. Leave in silence.],0,3934852.story?coll=la-home-center