Even Resurrection Pauses For Sabbath Rest

Photo by Monette Chilson

Photo by Monette Chilson

It is Holy Saturday, that day between death and resurrection when most of us pause to draw breath. What did not occur to me until I read these words Even resurrection pauses for Sabbath rest, in the Episcopal Relief and Development Lenten guide this morning, that today, for the Jews is indeed the sabbath day. This full day of Jesus time in the grave is the day into which all their hope and longing for the future is poured. A day to look forward with anticipation to the day when God does indeed make all things news.

The last words that Jesus cried before his death are It is finished. The work that God has sent me to do is done. It is indeed time to pause for rest, but what is God’s sabbath rest all about? Sabbath rest is not a rest of exhaustion, a pause before we get going with the next busy thing. Sabbath rest is a rest of fulfillment, of satisfaction for a job well done and as I sit here this morning I can well imagine God resting in the satisfaction of the amazing job that Jesus had just completed.

For the Jews Sabbath also carries with it a sense of longing and promise. It is the culmination of their week, that day on which they hoped to glimpse God’s eternal world and on this Sabbath rest 2,000 years ago they did glimpse it, though they did not know it. As Jesus entered Hades and released those who had died, the first signs of God’s resurrection world emerged in expectation of the fullness of God coming into the world on Easter morning.

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Prayer for the Fourth Sunday of Lent 2013

Prayer for 4th Sunday of Lent.001

Remember You Are Dust

Today’s reflection in the series Return to Our Senses in Lent, comes from Andy Wade, the communications guy at Mustard Seed Associates. Andy also runs the homeless shelter in Hood River Oregon, is a keen gardener and preaches on the side. This reflection comes from his sermon for Ash Wednesday.

ash.wed

Return to our Senses in Lent What does that mean for you? For me, it’s a reminder that I’m not God. To return to my senses is to return to the person God created me to be and to stop trying to orchestrate God’s mission in my life and the world. Let be back up a bit…

For the Western Church, Wednesday marked the beginning of Lent, 40 days of self-examination, of deep reflection, of humility.

One thing that bothers me about Ash Wednesday is the smearing of ashes thing. While there is good, biblical support for acts of repentance marked by ashes, I wrestle with those words, “From dust you were created, to dust you shall return.” Words from the curse after “The Fall” of Adam and Eve in the garden. But haven’t we been redeemed from the curse in Christ Jesus, our Lord!

As I reflected on this, I remembered my own experience of deliverance. For four years I suffered with pretty serious panic attacks. I ended up at the hospital more than once and was actually to the point of not wanting to go out and do things if it meant I would be any distance from emergency help. All that ended one afternoon when a good friend laid hands on me and prayed for my healing. In an instant, the panic attacks were gone – that was over 20 years ago! But that’s not the end of the story. God took away the debilitating panic attacks but did not heal me of generalized anxiety and mild depression. Why was that?

It was also about this time that I heard God’s call into pastoral ministry. I loved studying scripture and even more, discovering all the many threads that tie it all together and reach out to weave us into God’s story. And as I began this new journey I realized why I was not fully healed. It was because I trust too much in myself, my own abilities and my intellect. If God had chosen to fully heal me I would have wandered off into the ministry filled with pride and self-sufficiency. The only way God could use me for his purposes is if I had to trust in God, not in myself.

I believe there’s truth in that story for all of us. The Apostle Paul seemed to see it too, speaking of his “thorn in the flesh”. And whether we like it or not, the effects of sin, that big “S” sin we all participate in all the way back to Adam and Eve, still clings to us like flypaper.

We are redeemed. We are “saved” in Christ Jesus. There’s no doubt about it. But women still suffer in childbirth, we still work by the sweat of our brow, and we all, ultimately, return to dust as death catches up to us. If we’re listening, we are reminded daily of our weaknesses. We are reminded that God never intended us to live lives of self-sufficiency, of pride, of independence – especially from God. We were created for community. We were created for one-another and for God. And the remnants of the curse remind us just how dependent we are.

Shall we wallow in the curse, fearing death and doing whatever we can to hold on to life? Jesus not only teaches us, but lived into, a completely different reality; the reality that in order to truly live, we must die. We must take up our cross daily and follow him. To overcome the sting of death we must embrace it on the cross.

The cross, that symbol of redemption from the curse. That which was meant to take life in the most horrifying and humiliating manner has become for us the symbol of life. And Jesus calls us to not just embrace the cross as a symbol of life, but a way of life. A life of living, loving, sacrifice. A life devoted to God and the purposes of God – which naturally implies a life devoted to loving others even when it appears to cost us everything.

And so we arrive at Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. Ultimately the sin of Adam and Eve, and really of all of us, is that we attempt to usurp the place of God. We forget that We are not in charge, God is. Lent is a time to remember that God is God and without that sweat breath of the Holy Spirit, we are but dust and to dust we shall return.

Lent is also a time to remember how often we get it wrong. Like Jesus’ followers who shout Hosanna in the Highest heaven” as Jesus rides the lowly donkey into Jerusalem – fully expecting some kind of military coup that will restore Israel to its former glory, we often miss what God is really up to. We have our big ideas. But God can and will do even more than we can ask or even imagine!

Lent is a time to remember that Jesus came not for his own glory, but for the life of the world. And when we follow him in life, taking up our crosses daily, we too are to live lives of sacrificial love for one another.

You can be sure that whatever it is that God is up to, it will involve expanding God’s Kingdom purposes – extending the joy of healing, hope, and reconciliation to our friends, neighbors and even the strangers in our community. But the only way we’ll see it is if we embrace our weaknesses, recognize that we are but dust – dust infused with the life-giving breath of God, and walk humbly into the future, trusting fully in our Creator.

So how am I “returning to my senses in Lent”? My new discipline this season it to be keenly aware of my motivations, especially those that usurp the place of God in my life. Part of this discipline will be to intentionally ask for help more often. When I choose not to ask for help, to ask God to reveal to me the underlying motivation behind my “independence”. Sometimes we do need to “go it alone”, but often we don’t. So a follow-up question this season will be, “how does my choice to go it alone affect not just my spiritual well-being, but the spiritual well-being of those around me, my family, friends, and community.

What new, or old, spiritual discipline are you engaging as you walk through these 40 days? We’d love to hear from you!

Ash Wednesday Prayer

Yes I know that Ash Wednesday is over, but Odyssey Networks has just adapted one of my Ash Wednesday prayers for meditation. It appears on their mobile app Call On Faith and I thought that some of you might appreciate it.

Putting prayers like this to music with photos is a practice that I find very faith building. I am currently working on another Lenten video which I hope to share later in Lent. Perhaps it is a practice you would like to enter into during this Lenten season.

Return to Our Senses in Lent – Accept the Challenge and Download Free Study Guide

Return to Our Senses - cover

Return to Our Senses

What are the experiences of everyday life that make you feel close to God or that make you want to respond to our broken world with compassion and love? For most of us it is not pipe organs, pulpits and churches. It is simple things like breathing, drinking a glass of water, running, or taking a photo. Our world is alive with the presence of God, beckoning to us in every moment and through every encounter. We just need help to recognize this.

Lent is a time to reflect on our faith and the practices that sustain it and I want to challenge all of us to consider the experiential practices we can incorporate during the season to increase intimacy with God and concern for God’s world. Is it gardening or painting pictures? Is walking the labyrinth or providing hospitality for those at the margins?  Is it participating in something like the $2 challenge or using public transport rather than driving the car? How does this connect you to God and what are you doing to nurture this practice?

Please consider contributing a post about practices you plan to use during Lent and beyond that transform your everyday activities and encounters into prayer and spiritual practices. Posts should be no more than 800 words long and accompanied by a short bio and photos you wish to include. (Please don’t forget to include credits for photos.)

The emphasis for this series comes from my new book Return to Our Senses: Reimagining How We Pray which was written out of my own hunger for experiential forms of prayer that open my eyes and ears and in fact all my senses to new ways to interact with God in every moment. We have just published a study guide that many of our friends and associates plan to use during Lent. I hope that the blog series will provide additional resources for those who want to integrate their faith and their everyday life.

So get ready to join us for Lent.

  1. Join us for a time of retreat of reflection and refocusing.  Establish new spiritual disciplines for the season: February 16th at the Mustard Seed House.
  2. Join us in the study of Return to Our Senses and challenge your friends to participate too. The study guide can be downloaded free from the MSA website. The book itself is available at a special discount price ($15 for a single copy; $12 for 5 or more) until Easter.  
  3. Share with us the experiential prayer practices you plan to incorporate in your life during this season
  4. Contribute a post to the series Return to Our Senses in Lent. 

Prayers for the Journey

Prayers to light the way

Prayers for the journey - Daily thoughts to light the way

It is a couple of weeks since I posted a summary of my facebook prayers. Speaking commitments and the travels they entail have kept me busier than usual. As well as that I am working on a new book that has come out of my blog series on Tools for Prayer. I plan to incorporate a number of the facebook prayers in it as well. The title is Return to Our Senses: Reimagining How We Pray. I will keep you updated on progress over the next couple of months.

Anyhow – enough of excuses. Here are the prayers from the last couple of weeks with links to posts with prayers from other authors.

God may I give up my life to you,

So that you can fill me with your life.

May I let go of my expectations,

So that your promises can be fulfilled.

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God lead us home to your heart of love,

May we practice love in all we do,

And become your broken bread and poured out wine,

To prepare ourselves for your eternal world.

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God may your grace and mercy rest on us,

Your peace and righteousness surround us,

Your compassion and love fills,

May we practice love in all circumstances,

And prepare ourselves for your eternal world.

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God we are yours forever,

Your grace and mercy are poured on us,

You faithfully fulfill promises made long ago,

Your covenant of love and peace stands firm forever,

And we worship you.

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God you have claimed us as a special possession

The God of rich compassion and abundant mercy

You are slow to anger, tender hearted and filled with love

Forgiving all our faults and sins

You have extended your kindness through all generations

And we praise you

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May we take up our cross and follow,

Toward the inner work of love.

May we see the miracle of redemption,

And embrace the wonder of salvation.

______________________________

Lord of life, touch and transfigure us,

Let your love grow strong and deep within us.

Let your compassion bloom in us,

Your righteousness bear fruit,

Your generosity encourage us to share.

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God you are a covenant making God,

who gives assurance of salvation and faithfulness,

Who unveils compassion and love.

May we see your signs in the wilderness,

Believe your promises in the midst of temptation ,

And follow your call into the kingdom.

__________________________

 

And in case you missed some of the prayers that I have posted this week here are the links:

Lenten Prayers by St Augustine of Hippo

Fall In Love – A Prayer by Father Pedro Arrupe

A Franciscan Prayer for International Women’s Day

A Prayer by Thomas A Kempis

Disturb Us O Lord – A Prayer by Desmond Tutu

Do It Anyway – A Prayer by Mother Teresa

And from previous years:

A Lenten Prayer by Caesar Chavez: Show Me the Suffering of the Most Miserable

A Lenten Prayer by Ignatius Loyola

 

Where are We Following Jesus To?

Prayer cave

Prayer cave - photo by Mark Pierson

The invitation of the second week of Lent is the call to take up our crosses and follow Jesus. The question is where are we following him to?

This week’s Lenten readings remind us of the toughest part of responding to the call of Jesus. In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “When Jesus calls a person to follow him, he calls that person to come and die.” The paradox of the Gospel that is highlighted this week, though, is that it is in dying that we find life. (from Sacredise.com)

It is easy for us to focus on death during the season of Lent and to see the end of our cross carrying journey as the crucifixion. Not surprisingly at the moment, many worship leaders are focused on getting ready for Good Friday services and the Stations of the Cross and this tends to intensify this feeling. It seems to me that our thirsting after righteousness and hungering after justice have dissolved (if they ever existed at all). Most of us want to escape the desert before our time but that doesn’t mean that we want to hang on the cross either.

But the crucifixion really isn’t the goal of our cross carrying, it is the pathway. Our journey with Jesus at this season is, as Bonhoeffer recognized, a journey beyond death to new life. It is a journey that takes us deep into the loving heart of God. The dying we must do is to those things that separate us from God. Jesus travelled to the cross to break down the barriers that separated all of us from God. Our own individual journeys should break down our own personal barriers.

Journeying beyond death to resurrection was not easy for Jesus and it will not be easy for us either. That after all was one of the reasons the children of Israel wandered so long in the desert – they focused on the giants they needed to conquer rather than the abundance of the promised land. That is why we, like Jesus, also need constantly to remind ourselves of “the joy that is set before us”, the wonder of a transformed life that lives now and forever in God’s kingdom.