Category Archives: Psalms

Maundy Thursday

The Readings for the Day
found at http://www.io.com/~kellywp/YearABC_RCL/HolyWk/MaundyTh_RCL.html

Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Psalm 116:1, 10-17

Final Instructions

by Marjorie George

We are down to the last hours now. Jesus has only a little more time to instruct his disciples. Soon they will be going it alone without his earthly presence. Christ speaks to them as a mother on her daughter’s wedding day, trying to cram in a lifetime of advice before the young woman leaves home for the last time. 

On these 12 disciples, Christ’s church will be built. If they fail, the entire mission fails. And what does Jesus choose to leave with them? “Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (Jn 13:34). Not the Ten Commandments, not the several hundred laws from Leviticus, not even the Great Commission (go and make disciples . . . Matthew 28:16-20)  No. The most important thing Christ wants to say is, “love each other.” The very name of this day – Maundy Thursday – comes from that verse. The word “maundy” derives from the Latin mandatum meaning mandate or commandment.  

A family member of mine is active in an organization that seeks to end the death penalty in Texas. Members of the organization frequently testify before the Texas legislature. The testimonies that have the most impact are not the political argument, not the moral argument, not even the religious argument. The testimonies that resound are those given by family members whose loved ones have been killed: the young man whose father was murdered in a robbery, the mother whose daughter was raped and killed, the father of an abducted child. Those witnesses are unassailable; they tell of what they know.

So it is with the Church; we are Christ’s witnesses. Why was Christ so concerned that his disciples, and we, love each other? Because, “By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35). That is the church’s mission statement, the core value, the secret to evangelism, the way to “grow” the church. Just love each other; everything else follows.

So what does the world see when it looks at us as a church and as individual Christians? The Episcopal Church is imploding in divisiveness — what is the witness we are making? Our families are falling apart. Do our children see that we love one another? Children in Honduras and dozens of other third-world countries die regularly of dysentery because their water is not potable. Do we respond in mercy and love? What witness do we give as we live out love for others?

Soon the disciples will be in charge; they must love each other to survive. Even when they disagree. Even when they have to deal with a contentious one like Thomas. Even when they are frightened. The legacy with which the new church is to be imbued is a legacy of love.

Twice the writer of Psalm 116 vows to “fulfill [his] vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people” (vs 12 and 16 in the lectionary version; vs 14 and 18 in the NRSV).  The disciples vowed to carry on the work of Christ, and that is our vow also. We owe it him to be faithful to his final admonition and love one another.

Questions for reflection:

 1. Think of the people you find it most difficult to love. Ask God to help you love them anyway.

 2. Read again Paul’s great treatise on love, I Corinthians 13 (Find it at http://bible.oremus.org/)

 3. What one thing can you do today to express your love to someone?

 4. What one thing can you do today to express God’s love to someone?

As you continue to live out Holy Week, plan to attend a Good Friday service tomorrow. For a list of services in Episcopal churches, go here.

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday of Holy Week

The Readings for the Day
found at http://www.io.com/~kellywp/YearABC/Easter/EasWed.html

Isaiah 50:4-9a
Hebrews 12:1-3
John 13:21-32
Psalm 70

The Problem of Judas

by Marjorie George

I didn’t mean for it to come to this. I thought I was doing the right thing. But I pushed too hard, I demanded too much, I was oblivious to the effect my actions were having on you, on us. I got stubborn.

Is that the confession of Judas? Was Judas a scoundrel, a traitor, ambitious for only himself, the pawn of the devil? Was Judas willing to sell Jesus out for 30 pieces of silver because he was just plain greedy? Or was Judas pushing a plan that went dreadfully awry?

In today’s gospel reading, John implies that Jesus knew all along what Judas would do. Jesus identifies the traitor by giving him a special tidbit, a piece of bread dipped in sauce. John says that it was at that point that Satan entered Judas; this was the moment when Judas succumbed to his own misguided strategy. 

Some biblical scholars believe that Judas did not want Jesus to die at all. Judas was a fanatical nationalist and wanted an earthly king, someone who would ride in on a great steed with power to wipe out the Romans and free the Jews from their oppression. But Jesus didn’t do it that way. Judas must have grown increasingly distressed at Jesus’ slow and ambiguous way, those silly parables, all that time being spent with people who had no power or money to contribute to the revolution. Judas never did understand the way of Christ.

So in a last-ditch effort, Judas forced Jesus’ hand by delivering him to the authorities. Surely Jesus would save himself and his people. Surely he would not go meekly to a disgraceful death on a cross. But Judas underestimated the lengths to which God was willing to go to bring his people – all his people, not just the Jews – to himself. God was willing to take the harder route, the longer route, the route that may take millennia to fulfill.

Judas was wrong. When he saw clearly his part in the tragedy, he tried to redeem himself by taking the blood money back to the authorities. They had no patience for Judas and told him it was his problem, not theirs. Matthew says that Judas then threw the money on the ground and went out and hanged himself (Matt 27:3-5).

Most of us can say that we have made messes such as this. At times we have been so assured of our own rightness that we were unwilling to dig for – or wait for – the deeper truth. We have been oblivious to our sharp words and insistent manner. We have thought we knew the best way to do it. We were wrong.

I pray, Lord, that when I make a mess because I have insisted on my own way, I will have the grace to seek your forgiveness and ask for your help.  In the words of Psalm 70:

Be pleased, O God, to deliver me;
O LORD make haste to help me (vs 1).

You are my helper and deliverer;
O LORD do not tarry (vs 6).

Questions for reflection:

1. If you had been one of the disciples, what would you have thought about the way Jesus undertook his ministry?

2. When have you been tempted to take the situation into your own hands without waiting for God’s plan to unfold? How did that work out?

3. When you have made a mess of things, how do you make amends to those you may have hurt?

4. What stands out for you in the story of Judas’ betrayal?

 

 

Tuesday in Holy Week

The Readings for the Day
found at
http://www.io.com/~kellywp/CalndrsIndexes/Calendar2011.html

Isaiah 49:1-7
1 Corinthians 1:18-31
John 12:20-36
Psalm 71:1-14

How Do We Hear?

by Marjorie George

John’s gospel for today begins with some Greeks coming to Philip seeking an introduction to Jesus. One might think it strange to find Greeks in Jerusalem at the time of Passover. But the Greeks were seekers of truth. They were wanderers, driven by their desire to learn new things. Perhaps some of them had been at the temple’s Court of the Gentiles and witnessed Jesus’ overturning the tables of the money changers and sellers of doves. Perhaps they wished to meet this strange man who acted with unexplainable authority.

In response to the Greeks’ inquisitiveness, Jesus launches into a monologue about the reality of the situation. His hour has come, and those who would follow him must also be willing to “die” so that something new can be born.  It seems a peculiar response to the Greeks’ questioning, more than they wanted to know, but that is the way of Christ. There is nothing simple about the path he has chosen.

It is no secret, nor shame, that Jesus was anxious about what lay ahead. He tells us that his soul “is troubled” (Jn 12:27), even as he realizes that what he has come to do he must do. He is committed; he will go through with it to glorify God’s name. He announces this to his listeners. And then God himself confirms it – a voice comes from heaven, saying “I have glorified [my name] and will glorify it again.” This is not a voice for Jesus alone; the surrounding crowd hears it too. In fact, Jesus says the voice has come for the crowd, not for him.

God had spoken aloud to his son twice before — at his baptism (Mark 1:11) and at the Transfiguration (Mark 9:7). All three instances came just after Jesus had made a momentous decision about the direction of his ministry. God’s confirmation of those decisions was dramatic.

We long to hear the voice of God today. “Just tell me what to do, Lord,” we plead. We look for signs in Scripture, in sermons, in the words of friends who so freely lend their advice in the dilemma that faces us. And sometimes God is silent. We agonize, we pray, we implore God for direction. But even after all the searching, we seem to be left to figure it out for ourselves and make the best decision we can. And God honors that. God understands the human condition of fear and confusion. And God asks us to follow him even when we can’t hear his voice aloud. He asks us to trust him even when we are not assured of the outcome. Years later we realize that God was with us, directing us, all along. We heard his voice even when we didn’t know it.

The psalmist also appeals to God for intervention. “Be not far from me; come quickly to help me, O my God,” says Psalm 71 (vs 13). “I have always trusted you,” (vs 1). “You are my hope; don’t fail me now” (vs 5, 9). The psalmist has been through this before. “I was sustained by you ever since I was born” (vs 6) he proclaims. “You are my hope . . . my confidence since I was young” (vs 5). Therefore, “I shall always wait in patience” (vs 14).

The Greeks sought, Christ committed, the psalmist waits in patience. Each in his own way hears the voice of God. Speak, Lord; your servant listens.

Questions for reflection:

1. God often speaks to us through that with which we are most comfortable – a book, scripture, words of others, nature. Through what medium does God usually speak to you?

2. Have you ever been told by someone that something you said or did long ago, of which you were not even aware at the time, was very meaningful to that person? Does it make you realize how important your words and actions are?

3. Hearing God speak requires that we listen for his voice. Do you take time to be still and listen for God? When and how?

4. On this Tuesday of Holy Week, Christ draws nearer to the anguish of the cross and the triumph of his resurrection. Take five minutes today to meditate on that.

 

Palm Sunday

April 17, 2011 

The Readings for the Day
found at http://www.io.com/~kellywp/YearA_RCL/HolyWk/APalmSun_RCL.html

During the Palm Sunday Procession
Matthew 21:1-11
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
(For the entire psalm, click on
http://bible.oremus.org/ and search Psalm 118.)

During the Eucharist service
Isaiah 50:4-9a
Philippians 2:5-11
Matthew 26:14- 27:66 or Matthew 27-11-54
Psalm 31:9-16

by Marjorie George

It was the Passover time, and Jerusalem and the whole surrounding area was crowded with pilgrims. Some of the crowd, certainly not including the Roman government nor the Jewish hierarchy, met Jesus on the road as He entered the city on a donkey colt. They recognized Him as the King, the Messiah, even if they were not sure what that meant. They waved palm branches and spread their cloaks on the road so that the king might be properly welcomed. They shouted “Hosanna! – blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” This day had been foretold by the prophets, and now it was here. God’s reign on earth had finally arrived, and all would live happily ever after.

And then things began to fall apart. We can conjecture that few of those in that procession of praise had any inkling of what lay ahead. And we can imagine that as the week unraveled into abject horror, many threw up their arms and gave up the losing cause. They quit too soon.

Psalm 118, which is one of the choices for use on Palm Sunday, was also written on the occasion of God’s evidenced triumph. The psalm was likely composed for the dedication of the restored walls and gates of Jerusalem around 445 B.C. The building of the second temple in Jerusalem had been completed in about 515 B.C., after the Jews returned from their Babylonian exile. Nearly 75 years later, Nehemiah directed the work of rebuilding the walls and restoring the gates. The rebuilding project took a mere 52 days, and this nearly-miraculous feat was attributed to the intervention of God. Psalm 118 became a public-worship psalm as the king, speaking for the people, gave thanks and acknowledged the saving power of God.

Note that Psalm 118 does not dwell on all the misery the Hebrews have suffered. For the psalmist  never quits too soon. We have seen during our Lenten journey that no matter the current reality, the psalmist almost always continues to trust in the providence of Almighty God. The psalmist is sure that eventually God will reign over the entire world and in each of our individual lives. Psalm 118 is one of those occasions when this confidence is justified, when things turn out right after all.

Palm Sunday lifts us to a place of hope and expectation. The stout and courageous are able to maintain that posture even when the days of Holy Week, or the days of our lives, look bleak. Remember that Easter wins. Don’t quit too soon.

Questions for reflection:

1. What are the gates through which God might be calling you to enter just now? What do you expect to find if you take that step?

2. Psalm 118 begins and ends with thanksgiving (vss 1, 29). What can you be thankful for this day?

3. The psalm recognizes that God’s love endures forever (vss 2-4, 29). Where in your life have you found this to be true?

4. Psalm 118 recounts (vss 5-14) several instances of triumph. Think of the triumphs that God has been gracious enough to allow you to see.

Take-with thought for the day: Don’t quit too soon.

 

 

 

What I See in Worship

 by the Rev. Jay George 

One of the great blessings of being a priest in God’s church is the seat I have in worship. I am privileged to look out on the faces of God’s people as they come to Him in praise. Not that priests alone have this opportunity; but week in and week out, through Lent and Easter and the long days of summer, I get to watch you worship.

What I see when I look out on the assembly of the Body of Christ is simply amazing. If you could see what I see it would take your breath away. Because what I see is beautiful and powerful and glorious. I see the presence of the Living God, the Almighty Creator of the Universe, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords gathered in the breath and heart beat of a hundred ordinary people.

I see sinners come to the hospital. Beat down, worn out, tired, oh so tired, dragging a screaming kid by one arm. They need help, these broken ones, so overwhelmed by the changes and chances of this life. They come for the medicine, the shot, the IV, the jolt like electricity bringing them back to life. They come to be healed with the body and blood of Christ.

I see the saints, those followers of Christ. Fired up and excited, eyes wide and shiny with enthusiasm, clutching their Bibles or prayer books with almost manic glee. They come hungry and want to be fed. They come for the Word, to be shaped and formed, to be challenged and commissioned and sent back into the world. They come to hear the Word of God. 

I see the ordinary, the bedraggled, the broken and the lost. I see the winners, the losers and those who have never quite figured out how the game is played.  

I see the special, the unique, the precious. I see those who have been convinced by a merciless world that they alone are none of the above.

I see the angry, the desperate, the lonely and the hard. I see the happy, the joyful, the oblivious.

I see husbands dragged in by wives, children guilted by parents, single people looking for connection and families sometimes wishing they had less.

When I stand in the pulpit, behind the altar, at the foot of the cross, I look out and I see the people of God. Woven together like a quilt. No longer separate, scattered, good for nothing pieces. Now worthy and worthwhile and warm.

In each of us I see all of us. The alcoholic. The banker. The soccer mom. In worship we come together as we do at no other time. And each of us fits into the larger whole.

My voice alone is a source of embarrassment, never sounding quite as good as I think it does. Together, though, raised in songs of praise, our voices must sound like a choir of angels to the heavenly realm.

This is what we were made for. This is who we are. We are the children of God. We worship the One who formed us in the womb and give thanks for his mighty power. We are the sinners redeemed, reclaimed and remade. We are chosen and holy and new.

And we are a mess. A great, glorious, holy mess before the Lord. Not you and you and you. Not even me and me and me. But us and us and us. Yours and yours and yours, oh Lord. We come to you in worship, and we are yours.

This is the beauty of the Psalms to me. That God captures us in all of our guises, in our high points and low, poised and candid. We speak to God of who we are, from where we are, as we are, naked and unashamed. And in the speaking we are spoken to. We hear God speaking in the voice of the Psalmist precisely because it is our voice and not God’s own. He speaks to us through each other. For each other. With each other. Because we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. And in worship we are home.

Psalm 100 (NIV)
 6 Come, let us bow down in worship,
   let us kneel before the LORD our Maker;
7 for he is our God
   and we are the people of his pasture,
   the flock under his care.

The Rev. Jay George is vicar of Grace Church in San Antonio, Texas.

Come, Let Us Worship

Fifth Sunday of Lent 

by Marjorie George

On my way to church every Sunday morning, I pass a high-end shopping mall and note the hundreds of cars in the parking lot. On Sunday morning! At 10:15! A friend says that as she drives along a highway to her church she passes soccer field after soccer field filled with kids and families. We have the same reaction: we want to stop and run up and down with a bullhorn shouting, “People, go to church. You don’t know what you’re missing.”  

How do I tell them what they are missing? A community gathered, come together to worship God; a hungry people, come to be fed; a broken people, come to be restored; a joyful people, come to sing praises. Yes, but more than that – a community come to be transformed. That’s what happens in worship.

The psalms, of course, were the bedrock of the worshipping community of Hebrews. In Out of the Depths, the Psalms Speak for us Today, Bernhard Anderson observes that sometimes the Psalter is called “the hymnbook of the Second Temple,” chiefly because of its final composition during this time period (around 500 B.C.). Every psalm, regardless of its classification as lament or praise or something else, extols and glorifies God; it is fitting that they were and are an integral component of worship.  

For the Hebrews, the psalms of worship were a connection point with God. Many psalms express longing to “behold the face of God,” that is, to ascend the holy hill and visit the temple where God is “enthroned on the praises of Israel.” They express a yeaning to be with God and God’s people.

Send forth your light and your truth, that they may lead me,
And bring me to your holy hill

And to your dwelling;
That I may go to the altar of God,

To the God of my joy and gladness;
And on the harp I will give thanks to you, O God my God. (43:3-4)

In various ways, the interpreters of Israel’s faith sought to explain the paradox that the Holy God, who is not part of our human world, becomes present to the people in worship.

And in that presence, we are transformed. St. Athanasius believed the psalms to be sacramental in nature because of their ability to effect change. Walter Brueggemann notes that “liturgical use of the psalms is more than hope . . . it is making the future momentarily present now.”  In the liturgy, the reality of God’s rule is brought into the present and dramatically actualized. The thin line – the Celtic veil – is pierced, and we have a glimpse of the Kingdom in its fullness.  

The Hebrew cry of “Ywhw reigns” carries a dynamic, eventful ring, echoed in the Easter acclamation of “Christ is risen; Alleluia.”  When this unalterable truth is incorporated into the worship by the community gathered, the community is changed and individuals are transformed.

Oh, silly people, put down your shopping bags and your soccer balls. The Holy One, the Almighty God wants to give you the Kingdom. Dress rehearsals are showing at a community gathered in worship near you today.

 Going Deeper

The great Alleluia reverberates on the earth and through the heavens on Easter Sunday, April 24. The drama, the whole story of the redemption of God’s people, is enacted in the seven days preceding Easter, beginning on Palm Sunday, April 17. Clear some part of every day on your calendar now and commit to participating fully in Holy Week. You can find a church near you on the Diocese of West Texas website at www.dwtx.org.

 

 

Notes on the Psalms

The idea of making pilgrimages to God dates from before the time of David. Even when Israel was a loose federation of tribes, there was an expectation that people would gather periodically at the central sanctuary, first at Shechem, then at Shiloh. There were three “required” annual pilgrimages, all of which probably had been adapted from the Canaanite calendar, that coincided with the agricultural seasons and were an occasion for renewing the Israelite covenant with God. While the psalms were certainly used by families and individuals as well as in worship, there was an understanding that one’s relationship with God was as part of the worshipping community. The individual was related to God as a member of the covenant community and was expected to participate in corporate worship. (From Out of the Depths, The Psalms Speak for Us Today, Bernhard Anderson with Steve Bishop.)