Please use this time of devotion as a chance to pray silently, reflecting on the scripture at least three times. Find a rock or some other kind of heavy weight, and carry it around with you today, as a reminder of the weight of the tomb, as a weight of that which denies us life.
Friday - Mark 15:6 - 41
How can I put into words that which is indescribable?
Love incarnate crucified on a cross.
Forgive me, my friends, because many try to celebrate this day. I’ve never felt comfortable with that. Folks venerate the cross and celebrate the crucifixion. This may be controversial, but I cannot see it like that. I cannot talk about it like that.
It is hard to see something beautiful on this day when it is so full of violence.
Because infantilizing the reality of the crucifixion—a brutal execution—takes away the truth and power of what it represents.
Christ, our Lord, who lived a life of love, who stood alongside the needy, who invited everyone to take a seat at the table, was killed. Not only was he killed, he was sentenced to death by those who were threatened by the power of his message. Killed by those whose power was too fragile, who idolized that power, and sentenced an innocent man to death.
It makes me sad, angry, and disgusted.
But my friends, it would be a mistake for me to look in the mirror and not see those same tendencies in myself. Perhaps that is why this day makes me so uncomfortable. Perhaps that is why these words are so hard to read. Because I know how often I fall short, sin, and let darkness plague my own heart.
If I was a betting man, I’d be willing to bet that you know the same things about yourself too.
But even as the darkness falls, and Christ is faced with the indescribable, Christ went anyway. Christ remained committed to love no matter where it took Him. Christ’s life showed that there was nowhere God would not go to reach us, even to the cross, even to death itself.
I will admit that there is beauty in that. But it is a beauty that is difficult to look at.
I invite you today to reflect on the words of scripture multiple times.
Please pray with me:
Lord God, hear our prayers.
Please take a moment of silent prayer.
Thursday - Mark 14:32-50
“Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.”
These words, prayed by Jesus multiple times in the garden, are some of the most haunting words in the entire gospels.
Because we know the rest of the story, right? We know what comes next. So when we read these words, we have to wonder, “Did Jesus fully know?”
A lot of ink has been spilled on how much Jesus knew before the crucifixion. But I have to believe that Jesus knew exactly what was about to happen. Because you can’t go around the countryside, preaching truth to power, standing up to the powerless, and take on ingrained authorities and expect it not to cost you something. Jesus preached love, but I feel like Jesus also knew what that love would be answered with.
One of the parts of this scripture that gets glazed over by many is in verse 47: “But one of those who stood near drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to them, “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But let the scriptures be fulfilled.”
Now, it isn’t mentioned in Mark, but other gospels talk of this moment where Jesus healed the slave whose ear had been cut off. Jesus questioned why his arrestors and the disciples thought that violence would be necessary. He was going to go without a fuss.
The amount of strength that must have taken is immeasurable. The amount of courage that would have taken is unfathomable. Yet here he is, Christ himself, believed to be fully human and fully divine, rejecting that violence. Living out his life of love, even when he knew exactly what would happen.
We like to think that we know exactly how we would act when we are challenged or threatened. I’d like to think that I would meet violence with love. But I can’t say that I’d be strong enough. Many make the argument that a sign of strength is meeting violence for violence. However, that is not the case. As modeled by Jesus, the strongest act one can take in the face of violence is to meet that violence with love.
How can you meet that challenge today?
Pray with me:
Eternal God, we know we often lack the strength. Strength for the day. Strength for the challenges ahead. Strength to live the life of love that you have called us to. So when we no longer have strength, renew us. Remind us of the saving acts of Christ, and may we be encouraged for the road ahead. Though we are but human, remind us that, through you, your will can be done. Guide us always. Amen.
Wednesday - Mark 14:3-9
There is a lot of debate with this scripture because the words that Jesus speaks here seem out of place: “For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me.”
I will admit my own perplexion with these verses. I wrestle with them myself. Of course, to narrow down the entire sequence of events at Bethany to this statement (as many do) would be ignoring the context surrounding the verses.
Bethany was a place of refuge for Jesus and his disciples, and this was going to be the last time he was there with them. It was a moment of significance. It was a moment that recognized the seriousness of the situation in front of them. As Christ says: “She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”
I do not believe that Jesus’ instruction here is to forget about the poor, an interpretation that is counter to everything else Christ taught. However, I think Christ is calling us to recognize the importance of the moment we are in. To be present and recognize where we are at in the world.
Too often, we let ourselves get distracted. We live our lives, never recognizing the importance of the moment we are in. We forget to take time, and show our gratitude toward God. We forget to take time and remember that God has created us. We forget we are covered with a blanket of grace from Jesus Christ.
And we start to take those things for granted.
So let us be intentional. Let us notice that which is around us. Let us be with Christ, and let us bring our best to Christ.
What may be our “perfume” that we can bring to Christ? How might we intentionally recognize God’s presence in this place?
Please pray with me:
Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer God, we give you thanks for your love. Though we often take it for granted, remind us to dwell in your presence. Let us always cast our eyes towards you, and let us bring our best in service of Your kingdom. In Christ’s holy name, amen.
Tuesday - Mark 13:1-8, 32-37
Jesus talks in a way in Mark 13 that we aren’t used to hearing from Jesus.
Starting in verse 7, “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.”
I think anyone who looks at this statement without any concern might be missing the point.
But aren’t these statements true? They were certainly true not long after Jesus’ resurrection, as there were many revolts around Judea, even leading to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. But is it not also true that nation rises against nation today? Is it not true that there are earthquakes and famines? Is chaos and this constant seemingly unwinding of the order of the universe not the story of the day? Are we not, even now, in the midst of a global pandemic?
This chapter in Mark is often referred to as “Mark’s Little Apocalypse.” And at first read, it seems right. Because Jesus’ words make it seem like the end of the world is here.
The problem is, “the end of the world” is not what “apocalypse” originally meant. Sure, if you look up the Merriam-Webster definition, then yes, that is what you’ll see. But only because that has what the word has become.
Instead, the word “apocalypse” in Greek meant “revealing” or “revelation.” So an “apocalyptic event” is really one that reveals the true nature or reveals something about the true order of the universe. It reveals something we may not know about ourselves, and sometimes even reveals peoples’ true natures.
War can be an “apocalyptic event.” A natural disaster can be an “apocalyptic event.” Even this pandemic, to me, is an “apocalyptic event.” Not the end of the world, but instead a “revealing” of the world. That is why, when Jesus says, “This is but the beginning of the birth pangs,” my ears perk up a bit.
Because what Jesus is describing here is that the new is often preceded by pain. Birth is a painful process. New life, change, rebirth, all of it is a chaotic process that is painful, uncomfortable, and sometimes devastating to go through. So when Jesus is on the path to the cross and takes time to share this teaching with His disciples, He is reminding them that the days ahead are not going to be easy. They are going to hurt. But also, as Jesus says in verse 26: “Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”
God wins in the end. Not just at the end of the world, but at the end of every “apocalypse.”
But we never know when one of these events is going to happen. So, as Jesus says, “Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”
We must watch, stay aware, and keep awake for the work of God in the world.
Where might God be working in your world today?
Please pray with me:
God of the universe, we know that you are with us. Keep us close, and remind us of your ever-loving presence in the world. Though we may not understand all that surrounds us, we can take comfort that you are the source of life. Help us live into that life today. Although we do not know what tomorrow brings, we know that you will be there. Give us strength and peace for the days ahead. Remind us of your love. Help us to “keep awake.” In Christ’s holy name, amen.
Monday - Mark 11:15-19
This scripture is a hard one for us to look at because so often we expect Jesus to be a gentler presence. After all, Jesus is our best friend, right?! Jesus loves the little children, right?! Jesus wouldn’t be destructive, right?!
Some folks look at this text and say, “Look how tough Jesus was! Jesus was willing to trash the temple and be bold and brash!” That kind of behavior then excuses our own bold and brash behavior. But that thought misreads the scripture, and misses the entire point of why Jesus did this.
The temple was a sacred space. The temple was a place where all were to be welcomed. After all, that was one of the most important aspects of Jesus’ teachings: that all are loved by God. Jesus also talked a lot about the defense of the poor.
While scholars have many disagreements about what exactly made Jesus so upset, there are many that suggest that the changing of money was used to exploit people. Folks would often be charged exorbitant amounts to convert money. Others have suggested that the money gained from the selling of goods was then used by the wealthy folks that ran the temple as loans to poor people, and often came with harsh terms for that debt.
However, there is no doubt that this event served as a “trigger” event that led the chief priests to put their plot to kill Jesus into action. This action of cleansing the temple, sticking up for the poor, and calling out those that use the temple as a way to exploit others was seen as a step too far.
For me, this text has always sparked the question of, “What are you willing to stick up for?” We have our causes or movements that we like to represent, give money to, or even slap a sticker on the back of our car for. But what do those movements and causes represent? Is it the greater good? Is it to help others? Is it to improve our world? Or is it just for our own personal satisfaction or well-being? Or maybe is it so that “we” will be winners, and “they” will be losers?
What is it that we hold dear? What do we get a righteous indignation for?
Is it what Jesus would get a righteous indignation for?
Ask yourself that question today, and then pray with me:
Holy God, as we journey this day during Holy Week, keep us centered on what truly matters. Help us have an eye and an ear for the hurting in your world. Burn our hearts for what burns yours. Let us not be complacent with our own self-comfort, but let us seek for the betterment of all. In Christ’s name, amen.