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Come and See: An Invitation to Holy Week at Plymouth Church

2018-03-19

 

This week’s blog post is simply an invitation: come and see.

Holy Week is better experienced than explained.

First, a little autobiography: I discovered Holy Week as a college student. My Low Church evangelical upbringing treated Easter as a one-off. The notion of commemorating, for example, Maundy Thursday seemed exotic and strange to me. But as a college student—mostly as a favor to my girlfriend—I attended a Maundy Thursday service on the campus that included Tenebrae. I was deeply moved.

I realized I had been missing out.

And then, in seminary, I saw just how rich Holy Week can be. One experience stands out in my memory: On a warm Maundy Thursday evening, wandering around Princeton University, I came to the enormous gothic chapel at the heart of the campus. I hoped to simply slip in and pray, but found a service in progress. A small congregation huddled in the huge candlelit space while a choir sang Allegri’s Miserere Mei.

I have been hooked on Holy Week ever since.

Here is wat I have discovered: Sunday is not sufficient. If you only go to church on Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, there is something cheap about the experience –hosannas and hallelujahs without the abandonment, without the agony, without the cross. Easter without Holy Week is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called chap grace. And it is deeply inauthentic; it fails to ring true to our own experience.

So here is my invitation and plea: this year, show up for Holy Week at Plymouth Church. Make the journey. Easter will mean so much more.

How can you do that? Here is a guide to Holy Week at Plymouth Church:

PALM SATURDAY/PALM SUNDAY. Join us at 5:30 on Saturday the 24th, 9 and 11 on Sunday the 25th as we remember Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.

PALM SUNDAY PROCESSION FOR PEACE. It’s a parade with a purpose, as Christians from across our city gather to demonstrate for peace. This year’s procession departs Westminster Presbyterian Church (4114 Allison Ave), and concludes with a worship service at Holy Trinity Catholic Church.

MAUNDY THURSDAY. The all-church dinner begins at 6 pm. (Register here). Then join us at 7:30 in the sanctuary for a moving service of Communion and Tenebrae, featuring the music of the Chancel Choir.

GOOD FRIDAY worship is also in the sanctuary at 7:30. A service of preaching and music, featuring the Matins Choir.

WALK THE LABYRINTH in Waveland Hall from 4-7 on Good Friday and on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The 32-foot by 32-foot canvass labyrinth offers a unique opportunity for mediation and prayer.

EASTER VIGIL begins when the Good Friday Service concludes, and continues until sunrise Sunday morning. Keep watch and pray as we wait for Easter to come. (Signs up are on a chart in the hallway outside of the sanctuary).

HOLY SATURDAY worship is at 5:30 in Waveland Hall. On the quietest day of the Christian year—when we remember that Jesus, in solidarity with us, has gone down to the dead—we sit with our grief and wait for what God has promised.

EASTER SUNDAY brings three opportunities for worship: At 6:30, our sunrise service in Waveland Hall is led by the 7th grade confirmation class. Then we gather in the sanctuary at 9:00 (with the Matins Choir) and 11:00 (with the Chancel Choir) and brass for festival worship.

After that, you’re on your own.

It is such a privilege, each year, to make this journey together. I hope you will come along!

 

 

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Who Is In Charge Around Here?

2018-03-12

 

Who is really in charge here? As the trial of Jesus comes to its terrible climax, the question hangs in the air: who is responsible for these events? Who can we blame?

The answer, unfortunately, is: us.

John 19:1-16a

Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. 2And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. 3They kept coming up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and striking him on the face. 4Pilate went out again and said to them, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.” 5So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” 6When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.” 7The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.”8Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. 9He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. 10Pilate therefore said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” 11Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” 12From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.” 13When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha. 14Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, “Here is your King!” 15They cried out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but the emperor.”

16Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.

It has all been leading up to this. Week by week, John has walked us through the failures of every interested party. The disciples failed to understand Jesus washing their feet. Peter denied he even knew him. The religious authorities revealed their own corruption when they arrested and interrogated him. And then, last week’s story showed us the futility and ineptitude of the Roman bureaucracy in the face of Jesus. To hear John tell it, Pilate does not really want to condemn Jesus to die. But he is not strong enough to stop it.

Everyone involved in these events will fail. Everyone is responsible. And this week’s text drives the point home.

John clearly has his own spin on this story. Some scholars speculate that he is trying to curry favor with the Roman Empire, insisting that the fledgling Christian movement poses no threat to the powers that be. So he bends over backwards to portray Pilate as unwilling to crucify Jesus; mob violence carries the day.

But despite John’s intentions, it is hard to see how this story flatters Rome. If Pilate really believes that Jesus is innocent, he allows himself to be railroaded by a mob. It’s not a good look.

And then there is the crowd, which speaks those chilling words: We have no king but the emperor.

Just a quick thought as we get ready for worship this weekend: Many scholars believe that the earliest Christian creed was three words in Greek (four words when translated into English): Jesus Christ is Lord. The word “Lord” was a title reserved for the Roman Emperor. To say that Jesus is Lord is to say that Caesar is not.

Of course the crowd is doing the opposite.

In the United Church of Christ, we have never been big on the language of lordship. Many of us came to Plymouth from more authoritarian traditions and relish the freedom that comes from belonging to a non-creedal, non-belief imposing kind of a church.

But there may be a shadow side to this. As the great theologian Bob Dylan once said, “You gotta serve somebody.” And I wonder if our shunning of lordship language might leave us open to other allegiances.

Think of it: “We have no king but ________.”

How might Plymouth people fill in that blank?

Do we need a little lordship to keep our allegiances in line?

Something to ponder as we get ready for the weekend.

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Leave Your Box at Home

2018-03-05

Are we ready? Are we really ready for God to come to us? Are we ready for the transformation that will entail? Are we ready for what will be required of us?

John’s Gospel suggests that we are not. Over the last two weeks, we have learned how, at the moment that mattered most, the disciples were not ready. First, Peter was completely baffled by Jesus insistence on washing his feet; then Peter denied he even knew Jesus.

The disciples are not ready. But neither is anybody else.

John 18:28-40

28Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover. 29So Pilate went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” 30They answered, “If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.” 31Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.” The Jews replied, “We are not permitted to put anyone to death.” 32(This was to fulfill what Jesus had said when he indicated the kind of death he was to die.)33Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” 38Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no case against him. 39But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” 40They shouted in reply, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a bandit.

The trial of Jesus is a bit of a ping pong match. He is initially arrested by the religious leaders –but they do not have the authority to put him to death. So this week we hear how they shuffled him off to Pilate, the Roman Governor.

What follows is an odd exchange—recorded only in John’s Gospel—between Pilate and Jesus. They seem to speak past one another. Pilate tries to locate Jesus in the categories he understands (“Are you King of the Jews?”). But Jesus insists that my kingdom is not of this world. And Pilate ends the conversation with his famous question: What is truth?

Truth, of course, is exactly what stands before him. Truth will suffer and die. And Pilate won’t do anything to stop it.

The religious leaders aren’t ready. The political leaders aren’t ready. And, as the end of the story reveals, the crowd is not ready. Instead of Jesus, they ask for Barabbas –a “bandit,” a known quantity, someone they can understand.

The crowd prefers a bandit they can comprehend to Truth that refuses to fit in their boxes.

Two quick thoughts, as we get ready for worship this week.

First, John shows some very sophisticated insight into the nature of evil. Pilate is not a mustache-twirling bad guy; he is a harried and overworked state employee. Sometimes the worst deeds do not happen because of anyone actively willing them but because of the casual indifference of bureaucracy.

Second, I despise the cliché “outside of the box.” But I don’t know how else to characterize the conversation between Pilate and Jesus. We all have a tendency to try to fit Jesus into familiar categories. (Among mainline Protestant Christians, politics and self-help seem to be the most popular boxes). But in Jesus Christ, the fullness of God’s truth stands before us and refused reduction to our categories.

God’s truth is breaking into our world, sometimes standing right in front of us. If we want to be ready, this much is clear:

We need to leave our boxes at home.