The First Sunday in Lent the parson was determined would bring a break in the busy month he’d experienced the week before. A combination of church and personal events had compounded the tension of the prior week’s schedule. As a consequence the parson found himself on Saturday in a desperate rush to get things completed.
A change of the home phone number to Ms. Parson’s new cell phone number had prompted the phone company to mistakenly disconnect the DSL connection. After an hour-and-a-half with the service rep the mistake was corrected. But now the printer was not synced with the new DSL. Finally, the parson threw up his hands in resignation, rested his head on the back of the sofa and let the Olympic curling event on TV slowly ease him into sleep.
On the First Sunday in Lent, the parson announced to his congregation that for Lent he had given up preparing bulletins.
The service had proceeded well. The needed words of the liturgy appeared on the screen, and everyone entered well into the spirit of the day. Following the benediction the parson had directed Ms. Parson and a visiting grandson toward Ruby Tuesday’s for lunch. Charlie Brown waited in the car for his expected bone.
Olympic Curling was again on the TV when they arrived at the house. The parson pulled off his shoes, tie, and coat, and dropped on the sofa where he put his head on the back. Soon Curling rocked him to sleep.
The parson awoke with a start in the afternoon. He suddenly realized he need to to one more small chore at the church to completely finish the week. He called Charlie Brown, who, with obvious distain, lifted his head from his sleeping pallet. “Come,” said the parson. Charlie Brown followed.
At the church the parson was about the completion of the chore when Chloe Bennett, a seventeen-year-old came dashing up to him.
“Oh, I’m so glad you’re here. I’ve got a crisis. Can I talk to you?”
The parson found himself a bit taken back. Chloe was the last one he felt would be experiencing “a crisis”. He studied her a moment and noted her obvious sincere expectation.
“What’s the crisis.”
“Okay,” she said, “here’s the deal: I gave up sweets for Lent, and this year I’m really going to keep my promise.”
“That’s nice, Chloe,” said the parson.
“Okay, but, like I said, I’ve got a crisis.”
“What’s the crisis?”
“Here’s the deal,” said Chloe, “Pam said you once said that Lent is the forty days from Ash Wednesday until Easter, but you don’t count Sundays.”
“I probably said that.”
“Okay, then here’s the deal. You see, it’s Sunday.”
“Yeah, it’s Sunday. So they’re going to have chocolate swirls at the youth meeting tonight. So, it’s Sunday, okay. So, I can have one, right?”
The parson stood completely still. He pondered the question, considering the pros and cons of the possible answers. And wondering not only what the question implied about the girl but the church also.
“So, Parson,” asked Chloe with impatience in her voice, “I can have a chocolate swirl tonight. Right?”
The parson smiled, “Sure,” he said, “but just one.”
“Oh, cool, Parson,” said Chloe. She reached out and hugged the parson.
As she skipped away the parson headed toward his car, with Charlie Brown, his faithful canine companion by his side. As he walked he thought: I really should have brought up that “except Sundays” thing when I was in seminary.
The parson was trimming some shrubs bordering the church. A sudden burst of spring weather had invited the activity. His concentration was interrupted.
“Hi, Parson,” called Horace James, a familiar ten-year-old at the church. The parson had learned early that Horace was not Horace. And he was not James. Horace James was Horace James.
“Hello, Horace James,” the parson called back as the boy came closer.
“I like those clippers, Parson,” Horace James observed. “They’re electric.”
“They are Horace James,” the parson responded. “I just bought them.”
“Wish we had some electric clippers at my house,” said Horace James. “Those ‘lectric things ain’t as heavy as our gas clippers.”
The parson acknowledged the wisdom of Horace James, then asked, “What brings you to the church this afternoon?”
“My Mom and Ginger’s are working on something about Peru. Do you know if Ginger is here?”
“No, she’s not.” the parson said. “I think she had a lot of homework to do.”
“Oh,” Horace James said with obvious disappointment in his voice. Following a short pause, he added, “You’re doing a really good job, Parson.’
“Thank you, Horace James; that’s a nice compliment.”
Horace James stood, hands tucked into his back pocket with his feet spread apart, watching the parson’s progress.
It was at least five minutes before Horace James made another sound. When he did it was a question.
“So, how’s Lent going for you, Parson?”
The parson was taken by this question. “My Lent is going great, Horace James. How’s yours?”
“My Lent is terrific, so far, Parson. Really great. You know how you deny yourself during lent? Well, I’m giving up Bobby Russell for Lent.”
The parson put down his clippers and gave Horace James his full attention. “You gave up Bobby Russell for Lent? Who’s Bobby Russell?”
Horace James smiled. “You know how I’m always getting in trouble? I figured out that everytime I got into trouble I was with Bobby Russell. He’s a friend of mine from school. So, I decided to give up Bobby Russell for Lent. And, you know what?”
“I haven’t gotten into trouble since that day you put that stuff on my head.”
“That terrific, Horace James. Lent really seems to be working for you.”
“Yep, it is.”
“Tell me something, Horace James. What does Bobby Russell think about you giving him up for Lent?”
“He thinks it’s a good idea. He decided to give me up for Lent. It’s working for him, too.”
was a bright day in October. It was cold, just a tiny bit chilly. I sat in the
platform swing on the deck of our cabin in the woods sipping coffee, thinking
about when I would leave for my office. I wanted to delay it as long as
possible to avoid the gridlock on the expressway. But, there were dozens of things
dog sat beside me, patiently he waited. He knew I’d leave soon. When I did he
got his dog biscuit for the day. I pulled on his ears as I watched the horse
grazing in the pasture across the street. Finally, I planted my feet. I
remember saying to the dog, “Well, I can’t put it off, beagle. I need to go to
work.” It was a code phrase he’d learned over the years. Off the swing he
leaped, over to the door, and waited.
the kitchen I pulled a biscuit from the cookie jar on the side table. I tossed
it toward him and enjoyed his leap to catch it midair. He scampered off to
enjoy his snack. I opened the dishwasher and put in my coffee cup. It was as I
was pouring the detergent into the holder my wife walked in. “Oh, I was going
to do that,” she said. “Don’t start it yet. Let me get my coffee cup.”
heard her footsteps as she bounded up the stairs. She called down to tell me
about a meeting she was going to that night. While waiting I retrieved my
briefcase, latched the back door, filled the dog’s water bowl. She still hadn’t
come down. I called. She didn’t answer. “Must be in the bathroom,” I thought. I
checked the thermostat, pulled some meat from the freezer to thaw during the
day. I called again. Still she didn’t answer.
went up the stairs calling her name. No answer. I then I saw her. The coffee
cup was in her hand. She was on the floor. She was dead.
remember the numbness. I remember the EMT’s taking her body out the door on the
gurney and the beagle stretching up to lick her face. I remember the sterile ER
room where they put her body. In deference to my calling the Chaplain had
arranged some special considerations. They wouldn’t take her body away until
all the family arrived. A lot of people came. A lot of people hugged me. A lot
of people were crying as hard as was I.
I sign papers? I think so? Maybe my kids signed them? How did I get home? I
remember my brother walking in the front door. How did he get here from Alaska?
I remember my kids forming a protective ring around me. People would express
their sympathies. When some lingered too long one of the kids' would graciously
say, “Have you met dad’s cousin?” and steer them away. Did I sleep that night?
When did that day end? When did the day after she died arrive?
know how the disciples felt on that Saturday. I suspect they’d locked
themselves in that room mostly out of fear of the future, fear of a future
without him, fear of knowing not what to do. Everything had changed. Life had
suddenly been turned wrong side up.
day after my Geri died I was lost. I was lost in a cavern of remorse. I was a
robot led by the hand from here to there by children whose faces grimaced in an
effort to take my pain upon them. I don’t remember anything about that day,
except that I was in it and I was useless.
was an empty shell. I had not yet claimed the resurrection.
me the faith, O Lord, that in the shadow of the Good Fridays and the empty Holy
Saturdays of my living I will always move toward the resurrection. Amen.
hands were tied to a post. A legionnaire swung a flagrum, a short whip of
several leather thongs with small balls of lead attached to the end. The whip
is brought down with full force. The thongs tear the skin. The balls bruise and
the bruises are broken by subsequent blows. The beating continues until the
centurion in charge determines the prisoner is almost dead.
mock him with the crown of thorns and the scepter. The cross is tied across his
torso and he’s made to carry it to the place of his execution. He’s too weak to
make it. He stumbles. A man named Simon is enlisted to carry the cross.
the Hill of Death he’s laid upon the cross with his shoulders against the wood.
The executioner feels for the depression at the front of his wrist. An iron
nail is driven through the wrist and deep into the wood. The procedure is
repeated with the other wrist. The nails are driven in such a way as to allow
flexibility in the elbows. The cross with him on it is put in place.
left foot is now pressed backward against the right. The toes are pointed
downward. The nail is driven through the arch. Jesus is now crucified.
he sags on the cross horrible pain shoots along the fingers and up the arms to
explode in the brain. As he pushes himself up to relieve the pain his weight
presses down on the nail in his feet. The nail tears through the bone and
tissue of his feet. Hanging by his arms the pectoral muscles are paralyzed. The
intercostals muscles cannot act. Carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs. Hours
of limitless pain then agony begin. The pericardium slowly fills with serum and
compresses the heart.
legionnaire drives his lance between the ribs, upward through the pericardium
into his heart. Liquid escapes from the heart sac.
facts of a crucifixion come from my notes. My notes do not indicate any
sources. My apology to any source I may have failed to cite.
remembrances that night and the Last Supper with the Lord must have come in
The dusty scent of warm bread filling the air . . . .
Jesus’ head bowed over the cup, his lips moving in reverent prayer . . . .
The flicker of candlelight, the bittersweet tang of the wine, the nervous
glances as the disciples strained to understand what was going on . . . .
Judas running from the room . . . .
Jesus looking on each of them individually . . . .
was, no doubt, a collage of images. But later, after his death, it became
them hiding away in fear of the authorities, hiding in that same upper room.
They’re filled with sorrow. Their spirits are numb. They are cold with fear.
One of them reaches into a basket and pulls out a few pieces of flat bread. He
pulls off more pieces and passes it to the other disciples. One by one, they
take a portion of the bread. Another disciple pulls out a wineskin of wine . . .
did it happen? When did they start to remember? As they passed the wine around,
did one of them suddenly catch his breath? Did his tears begin to flow? Did
another repeat in a whisper, “Take and eat . . . . Drink this . . . .”?
kind of man was this? What kind of love was this? Who would offer himself as a
living sacrifice? Oh, how sacred is the memory to that supper, that Last
Supper. Today bread and the wine have become only symbols. It is the love of
the Christ that makes the sacrament complete. It’s the unselfish, humble, agape
love that turns ordinary bread and commonplace wine into a holy sacrament.
will be the beginning of the earthly end.
no record of what happened on Wednesday, before Thursday’s Last Supper. But I
were gathered in that house with the Upper Room. Mary and Martha had prepared
the supper. Jesus had to have been remembering. Can’t you imagine the scene?
Jesus looks over at Peter and stares with a smile on his
And Jesus says, “I’m just remembering that night when you
stepped out of the boat and started walking out to me.” Jesus’ smile gets
broader, “I wish you could have seen the look on your face when you started
joins in, “Yeah, I remember that. ‘Help me, Lord, I’m sinking.’”
John, you’ve nothing to laugh about,” the Master interjects with a broader
smile. “Remember that time you put your mother up to asking for a special place
in the pecking order? Did you think you were fooling anyone?”
of the others would have responded, “That’s right, John, we were on to you.”
And that would have initiated a memory about the other one. The wicks in the
lanterns must have been getting short that night before they quit their
reminiscences. They surely talked about the Samaritan woman, the first
evangelist. And no doubt they remembered the tears of joy when Jesus proclaimed
the daughter was not dead but asleep. Who would have laughed the hardest when
they talked about Martha throwing the temper tantrum because her sister was
slacking off? Only three years had passed, but there was a lifetime of
memories. How much wine do you suppose they drank that night as they laughed
and cried their way through the experiences of being the friend of this
prophet, this teacher, this soon to be Savior.
with me, Lord, that I, too, may have a lifetime of memories of being with you.
A. Steimle speaks of the birth of Jesus as the eye of the storm:
his birth the stories of violence abound. There’s the devastation of the floor,
in which God expressed his anger at a people whose every act and action was a
reflection of evil. There was God’s anger at the golden calf the Israelites
constructed while Moses was receiving the commandments on the mountain. Then
Jerusalem is destroyed and the chosen of God are exiled to Babylon. There’s the
story of Jonah desperately trying to get away from God. There’s the oppressive
religious life brought on by the legalism of the Pharisees. And then the Romans
came and made these once proud people a subject nation.
then Jesus is born. For a night, a week, a month, we don’t know how long, but
it was seemingly momentary, there was peace. Then came the slaughter of all the
male children under two years of age because Herod was scared. There’s some
hints that as he grew up some people in his hometown and his family thought him
a little nuts. When he tried to preach his hometown elders threw him out of the
synagogue. Then there were the sinister plots to get rid of him; there’s the
angry mob which cried for his blood. And in the end there’s death, death by
crucifixion on a Roman cross.
Steimle points out, are not children’s stories. These are adult tales of the
evil in the world and the destruction evil does. But we have turned them into
children’s stories over the ages. By doing so, we do not have to deal with them
lived in a real world. Jesus taught, preached, healed, and performed the
miracles in a real world. These are stories for real people in that real world.
These are stories for you. You should read them again sometime, not in a
cratoon fashion with your children, but in the reality of his and your world.
Lord come, and make this faith I profess real in this harsh and intruding world
in which I love. Amen.
night snacks are an art. I’m a master of them. Here’s one to whip up just
before the end of the day: Put a smidgen of extra virgin olive oil in a pan.
Dice a quarter of fresh onion and sauté until lightly browned, drain and set
aside. Finely chop a large handful of stuffed olives. Finely chop a slice of
pineapple. Mix onion, olives and pineapple together. Slice thin strips from a
block of mildly sharp cheese. Place cheese over piece of bread until bread is
covered with approximately ⅛
inch of slices. Place onions, pineapple and olives over cheese. Repeat process
of slicing cheese and placing onions, pineapple and olives over cheese. Place
second piece of bread over ingredients as in constructing a sandwich. Place
creation on preheated George Foreman Grill. Close grill until bread is toasted
to taste. Remove from grill and enjoy.
there are some who will think this a strange concoction. But imagine the treat
of this creation awakening the taste buds. The sweet texture of the onions contrast
against the sour flavor of the olives which are themselves contrasted with the
delight of the pineapple, all of which are bound together by the melted
consistency of the cheese. It’s the variety of the ingredients which give this
snack character. As soon as one flavor is tasted another sneaks up on the
pallet. Each is unique. Together they are delightful.
the same with life. All the variety that surrounds us brings our living
delightful character. Our loving God would not assign us a day-to-day living of
the same way with our faith. God can be experienced in as many different ways
as there are God’s creations. God meets you at your point of need. God meets me
at my point of need. We both know God through the fiber of our need and experience.
It is in the variety of our experience we truly know our Creator.
God, help me know I am not the only unique creation. Amen.
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