Empty Cross, Empty Tomb, Risen Lord: Alleluia!

Our parents tell us many things, and my parents often told stories about their growing up, their families and friends, the things that were important to them.  Both of my parents were good at telling stories, and I loved to listen.

My Mom’s father was a Lutheran Pastor.  There were 13 children in his family, eight of them were boys, and four of those boys grew up to become Lutheran Pastors.  Her Dad taught her the Catechism of the church — the Ten Commandments, the creeds,  and raised her, along with her sister, to commit to memory many texts of scripture, hymns, and prayers.  As a wedding gift to his wife, my mom’s father gave her mother a gold cross necklace.  On my wedding day my mother gave that cross to me. 

The expression to cut one’s teeth on something means to begin to learn about something.  It is sometimes literally true.  My mother cut her baby teeth on that empty gold cross.  The tiny dents all over the back of the cross bear witness to that fact.  She didn’t know it yet, but it was the beginning of her education that the crucified Christ was no longer on the cross.  That he had, in fact, Risen from the tomb.

We have many things for which to give thanks.  I am thankful for that gold necklace which serves as a reminder of my grandparents and my mom, but more than that, tells a larger tale.  It is an empty cross, and for that, we give thanks to God.  Our Lord has conquered death:  Neither Crucifixion nor the grave could hold Him.  Alleluia, Alleluia!

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Entry Into Jerusalem: Thus Begins the Week

01A1 Giotto De Bondone--Entry-Into-Jerusalem-1304-1306Giotto De Bondone, Entry into Jerusalem, 1304-1306

Thus it begins. Palm branches and cloaks are scattered on the ground for Jesus of Nazareth. He comes to Jerusalem with his twelve disciples. They are come to celebrate the Passover.

The Gospel of Mark 14:12-15
12 On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”
13 So he sent two of his disciples, telling them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him.
14 Say to the owner of the house he enters, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’
15 He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.”

The disciples do as Jesus commands. They prepare that upstairs room for the celebration of the Passover. There will be thirteen of them. Jesus and the twelve disciples. They share the meal together.

01A2 Da Vinci Last Supper 1495-98 Leonardo Da Vinci, The Last Supper, 1495-1498

The Gospel of Mark 14:17-25
17 When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve.
18 While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me.”
19 They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, “Surely you don’t mean me?”
20 “It is one of the Twelve,” he replied, “one who dips bread into the bowl with me.
21 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”
22 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”
23 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it.
24 “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them.
25 “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

 

The words that Jesus uses during the meal are new.  But betrayal is old.  Who have we betrayed?  The disciples ask that same question.  Which of us is the one who betrays Him?  It is Judas Iscariot.  His betrayal is done with a kiss.  All this for thirty pieces of silver.

Duccio di Buoninsegna Betrayal 1255–1260 – c. 1318–1319Duccio di Buoninsegna, Betrayal, from back of Maesta, 1308-11

Then follow the trials of Jesus.  First, he was taken to the religious leaders: Annas, then to Caiaphas, the high priest.  Finally he was bound over and sent to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea.

0A Michael Munkacsy-christ-before-pilate-1881Michael Munkácsy, Christ before Pilate, 1881

Against his better judgement, and the pleading of his wife, Pontious Pilate condemns Jesus to death by crucifixion.

01A3 Durer-woodcut-the-crucifixion-the-small-passion 1509Albrecht Dürer, Woodcut of the Crucifixion, 1509

01A3 Anthony van Dyck Crucifixion 1629-1630Anthony van Dyck, Crucifixion, 1629-1630

While on the Cross, Jesus Christ, is reported to have spoken seven times.   They are reported in a variety of different places in scripture.

  • “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
  • When the criminal on the cross next to Jesus spoke to him saying: “Jesus remember me when you come into your Kingdom” Jesus replied “Truly I say to you this day will you be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:42-43)
  • Jesus saw his mother standing beside a disciple and spoke to them both: “Woman, behold thy son!  Behold thy mother!” (John 19:26-27)
  • “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46 )
  • “I thirst.”  (John 19:28)
  • “Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46)
  • “It is finished.” (John 19:30)
opnamedatum: 2006-04-18

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, The Descent From the Cross, 1633

 

Jesus’ lifeless body was lowered to the ground.  Many have attempted to depict what the mother of Jesus felt at that time.

0A Michelangelo Buonarroti, Pieta, 1498-99Michelangelo Buonarroti, Pieta, 1498-99

 

But there was much to be done and time was limited.

The Gospel of John, chapter 19: 38-42
38 And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus.

39 And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight.

40 Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury.

41 Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid.

42 There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews’ preparation day; for the sepulchre was nigh at hand.

01A5 Sisto_Badalocchio_-_The_Entombment_of_Christ,_1610
Sisto Badalocchio, The Entombment of Christ, 1610

The Agnus Dei is part of the liturgy of the church, used during the celebration of Holy Communion which is also called the Eucharist.

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world,
have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world,
grant us peace.

It is based on scripture.  Agnus Dei are the Latin words for Lamb of God which is a title for Jesus (John 1:29), where John the Baptist sees Jesus and exclaims, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

01A4 Francisco de Zurbaran Agnus Dei 1635 -- 1640                                      Francisco de Zurbarán, Agnus Dei, 1635-1640;                                                                (note, Latin text to the Agnus Dei has been added to the painting)

 

If you have gotten this far you have travelled from Passion or Palm Sunday, through the last week of Lent to Maundy Thursday, which is the night that the Last Supper is commemorated, and Good Friday, which is the day on which Christ was crucified.  Now he laid in that tomb, provided by Joseph of Arimathaea, for two nights, Friday and Saturday.  But strangely enough, when women came to the tomb on Sunday, the stone had been rolled away, and he was not there.   Should you want to learn more, you can read about it here:  The Gospel of John, chapter 20.

Sao Paolo Museum of Art tourism destinations

Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, known as Raphael,
Resurrection of Christ,1499-1502

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Learning to Keep My Mouth Shut – Asking Your Advice

My confession: I am a reformed horrible speller and still struggle with grammar and syntax. I have improved a great deal, but I am still very conscious of those liabilities. I have worked hard over the years to overcome those shortcomings. At one point I was even hired as an adjunct to teach several semesters of English Composition to Associate Degree students.

Occasionally I would ask my students what their education goals were. It always gave me a great deal of distress to hear the ones who were in their thirties to mid-fifties who believed that they could succeed in gaining entrance to a law school when they were unable to construct a simple sentence. It came up repeatedly. More than my distress with them, I was angry at the school staff who had encouraged them to believe that and the school systems that had failed them as children.text on writing

Now I am faced with a related problem and would like your suggestions. I have not been asked for advice. The situation is complicated because the aspirant to the lofty profession is no longer a child, nor has been for many years. Good manners suggest that the proper response is to keep my mouth firmly shut. But I ache for my friend who seems totally unaware of that pathway ahead. What would you do if someone you cared about dreams of a lofty professional career yet possesses none of the skills required to get there?

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Lost in Stalingrad

A short preface to my poem.  This morning I was contacted by my seminary friend Mindy H,  asking me if I would share a poem I wrote many years ago.  This was originally published in 1981 in The Wittenberg Review of Literature & Art,  Wittenberg University, Springfield, Ohio.   My name, at that time was Ann E. C. Rinderknecht.

 

Lost in Stalingrad

Your last letter came months ago;
the censor’s shears had edited
all mention of location.
Like a crippled shadow
Your letter found its way into my hands —
gaping with holes,
pointing nowhere,
a fragment only —
a shadow of your life.

The trains return weekly
saluting War as Omnipotent Editor.
Conspicuously absent
are so many of the faces that are
known to us as fathers, sons,
brothers, lovers, husbands.
They bring to us a maimed testimonial to War
a shattered fragment alive for peace —
a shadow of winter in Russia.

Others have erected stones
of defeat or resignation,
but until I have found you
I cannot. I cannot.

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Career Counseling, Our Passions, and Some Surprises

Weird things sometimes happen in life. We start out on one path and then realize that the things that make us tick are in a different direction. One of the many blessings of living in America is that our futures aren’t decided for us by the time we reach sixth grade. We can change course, reinvent ourselves, strike out on a different path.

When I was in sixth grade, I had gotten very excited by architecture. I thought I wanted to study architecture and design houses. Probably a very good thing that I didn’t pursue that. In sixth grade, I was wowed by the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, but by the time I was a little older what got me excited was Victorian exuberance – towers, turrets, front & back stairways, wrap-around porches, tons of bedrooms, formal entrance ways, formal dining rooms. One of my favorite seminary professors lived in just such a house – decked out in ways that were very lively, and certainly not Victorian.

I entered college as a pre-law student, thinking that I wanted to follow in my father’s, older brother’s, and grandfather’s footsteps. That notion didn’t last long. I realized very early that studying the law was not a dream of mine. So, I spent some time reading and thinking and studying English Literature, and decided I wanted to become a Lutheran Pastor. Like my other grandfather, favorite uncle, and youngest brother.

I reached out to my Bishop to find out what the Synod’s requirements might be prior to applying to seminary. One of their requirements was to go to a Career Counseling Service and go through a battery of testing to see whether ministry was a good direction for my skill sets and interests. The answer was surprising.

When all the testing was done, the Career Counselor said that my testing showed that I was best suited to be a Priest. Did you get that? A Roman Catholic Priest! I thought that was a bit rich since I was female. Soooo, I asked the guy why the testing would tell me that I should be a Priest when I was a female and, even if I had been a Catholic, obviously couldn’t be a Priest. The answer was surprising.

He told me that the questions about the Priesthood were weighted toward caring about the liturgy of the church and about the way the services were conducted. I countered by saying that surely Lutherans and Episcopalians and many other liturgical churches had pastors who cared about the liturgy and the way the Eucharist was celebrated and the holiness of the services. He agreed. At that point, I pushed a little harder asking why the testing didn’t say that I was best suited to be a pastor?

He looked a little sheepish when he answered. He said that the questions regarding (non-Catholic) liturgical churches were weighted higher in wanting to hang out with the parishioners, over coffee, spaghetti suppers, and the like. Suddenly a light came on for me. While I can certainly do those things and enjoy them, they weren’t the priority items on my list. Good preaching and faithful liturgy weighed in much higher for me. If those things aren’t right, no spaghetti supper is going to hold the church together.

All too often when I was a young person in church, the classes, and youth group events were clumsily trying to be relevant and real and talked about stupid things like “will God still love me if I come to church wearing jeans?” Check out this related blog post I wrote about making church relevant by preaching about the issue of the day: https://aecrm.wordpress.com/2017/07/02/kumbaya/

What I have always craved is worship that is thoughtful and follows the liturgy, which done right, is continually pointing us to scripture and through scripture and the Ecumenical Creeds to the Triune God. I don’t go to church because I want someone to tell me how to think, how to vote, what to care about. I go to church to be fed. I go to church to hear the word of scripture. I go to church to eat the body and drink the blood of my Lord and Savior, who died for my sins – which are many.

I decided, along the way, that I belonged in the pew, not in the pulpit. I was approved for ordination, but I decided that there were better ways for me to serve the Lord. But one issue that has never abated for me is my impatience with people who want to waste time touting the current issue du jour. Quit trying to be relevant for today! Instead of trying to be relevant – work on being faithful! Wrestle with the appointed lessons of the day and assist your congregation with seeing them more clearly. That will do more to create disciples who have stopped, and are turning around to look at their Lord, than anything else you can do.

My husband and I are constantly thankful that we have just such a pastor – a pastor whose preaching provides nurturing food for our lives, to take to heart, think and talk about during the week. The liturgy does that as well as it is packed with prayers, admonitions and songs that come directly from scripture.

I have some friends who go to big, non-liturgical Christian churches, who think that liturgy is all made up stuff. Nothing could be further from the truth! It is a retelling, from many parts of the old and new testaments, of words that point us in the direction of our God. I still find myself singing the haunting words from the Psalmody of an Evening Prayer liturgy:  

Let my prayer rise before you as incense; the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice. O Lord, I call to you; come to me quickly; hear my voice, when I cry to you. . .

We need Pastors and Priests who are faithful to their calling. We need them to wrestle with the words of scripture and use them to preach, teach, and, just like all the saints of the church, point us to the Lord of Life.

I’ve talked about some surprising answers that I have found in my life. What are some of the questions and issues in your life?

Right now the Christian church is knee deep in the season of Lent. This is the season from Ash Wednesday to Easter, when we take stock of our lives, look to the Lord, and walk with Him on his way to the cross for our sakes.

If you haven’t come to church, please stop, turn around and come. If you don’t have a church to go to, this is the perfect time to start – so go on your own or tag along with a friend. If you are a church member, invite your neighbor. If you don’t know who you could go with – ask around. Ask your friends on Facebook. Ask God. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and it will be opened.

No matter what your life looks like, no matter how many times you’ve fallen or screwed up, know that you are in good company. So has every single person on the planet. Instead, remember who and whose you are. Take a deep breath. Stop what you are doing. Turn around. Look to the Lord of Life – He is right there. He is walking before you

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A Delightful Interruption

Like many people, my husband and I have had a lot on our plates lately. Tax papers to get in order, our freezer’s ice maker going on the fritz and turning our kitchen floor into a puddle, a painful tooth that requires examination to see if the existing root canal can be retreated. Beyond those tiny issues we have the larger stressful issues regarding the prospect of moving 2000 miles across country into a house (we have and) haven’t yet found. (Yes, we have found it, but it would take several miracles to pull it off.) That means we get to look at house ads long distance every day while preparing our existing home for sale.

Our situation may all seem quite minuscule to someone else – but it is worrisome enough for us.  Thankfully, we have had a delightful interruption which has taken our minds off these concerns.

For the first time since January of 2015, we have had the pleasure this last week, of a visit by my husband’s two daughters. The two of them took a vacation together to attend a horse show up near Phoenix. One flew from California, one flew from South Dakota, and after the show, they drove down to our place southeast of Tucson.

Despite the craziness of life at present, I am very fortunate. In addition to having a terrific daughter, I am blessed with two amazing step-daughters. They are smart and funny, beautiful and caring, and apparently, have reconciled themselves to the fact that I am in their lives for the duration.

While they were here, we took a picnic lunch to Saguaro National Park East – a favorite spot for their Dad and me. “Our” table was free, and we had a fun time despite the slightly nippy breeze. Another day we took a trek down to Tubac and enjoyed wandering through some of the galleries and shops. We warmed up with delicious from-scratch-pies & brownies,  and meandered home via some fascinating twists and turns improvised by their Dad.

In the midst of all that is going on around us, I am very thankful for my husband’s loving daughters. Their visit lit up their father’s eyes and gave us both a wonderful respite from the craziness of this season in our lives.

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2018 February 14 Romantic Love and a Cross of Ashes

I am loved and adored by a remarkable man who delights in me; never tires of my interruptions; gives the best hugs on the planet; and whose eyes light up when he looks at me. Despite all the roadblocks and frustrations of underemployment, we remain, optimists, cheerful, and willing to see the good around us, whatever that may be. When I turned to him and asked him what he would think if I quit my job to work on a book given to me to publish, he never skipped a beat before saying yes. He had faith in me, believed I could do it, and remains as convinced now and as willing to help as he was then when I first talked to him about the project. We are both all in on the love bit. We are best friends, co-conspirators, and hopelessly in love. We don’t need a date on the calendar to remind us to pay attention to each other!

But this particular February 14th is not just Valentine’s Day. It is also Ash Wednesday in the Christian Church. Ash Wednesday is the day that begins the journey of Lent. The closest that many people get to noticing Ash Wednesday is because they like to celebrate Mardi Gras. The words Mardi Gras are just the French for Shrove Tuesday, also known as Fat Tuesday, which is the day that church people traditionally ate all of the goodies in the pantry that they were giving up for the season of Lent. All of my young life we had pancake suppers (complete with sausage links dripping in delicious syrup) in the church hall on the day before Ash Wednesday.

But oh my, what a weird combination of days! Valentine’s Day when we celebrate romantic love and try to do things to make it a beautiful day for our sweetheart and Ash Wednesday when we begin the Lenten season. It is on Ash Wednesday that we start the Lenten walk toward that hill called Calvary or Golgotha where Jesus was crucified, just outside the city walls. At an Ash Wednesday worship service, we will receive ashes in the sign of a cross on our forehead and hear the words: You are dust, and to dust, you shall return. There are other words which might be happier to hear. But for a Christian, they are the recognition of truth. One day our earthly lives will end in death.

As believing Christians, we know that neither those words nor that reality, constitute the end of the story, either for us or for those we love. But the journey of Lent offers us another chance to refocus on the one whose coming changed everything for each of us. Even for those who aren’t sure if they believe.

Just lately I seem to be a magnet for conversations about faith. Recently I have been corresponding with an old friend whom I met years ago when he was a student who attended the Lutheran Parish at Penn State where I was serving my seminary internship. Just lately he and I have been discussing world religions and how Christianity fits into that puzzle. I have quite a large number of Jewish friends as well, mostly from my high school years, and frequently I find myself having conversations regarding Christianity with them as well. I welcome such discussions even when I wonder whether I am making any sense to my friends.

Sometimes I wonder whether something I say might flip on a light switch that starts making sense of the things they were thinking. All I can try to do is be faithful and explain, as best I can, why I believe in the Triune God that the Ecumenical Creeds confess. Whether anything comes of what I say may not be mine to know

But I will say this: if I were wondering about the weird thing called Christianity, I might want to attend an Ash Wednesday service and begin the historical walk through Lent to see what it is all about, (even if Ash Wednesday is also on Valentine’s Day). In fact, if I were wondering about God, or the weird thing called Christianity, I just might have the chutzpah to invite my sweetheart to accompany me to an Ash Wednesday service.

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