The 40 days leading up to Easter have historically been a special time to focus on our relationship to God. In some traditions, people "give things" up. In other traditions, folks are encouraged to add special times of prayer and refleciton. At BG Presbyterian, Lent will be filled a variety of activities for worship, study and reflection. In addition to the activities listed below, we will be reading together through the Gospel of Matthew. Each day, a reading and reflection will be posted here. We will archive all the reflections on the Pastors' Page.
Today's scripture and reflection are below.
LENTEN READING AND REFLECTION -
Day 40 - Matthew 28:1-20 - Saturday, April 19
We’ve come to the end of our journey, and the beginning of a new one. The 40 days of Lent end on Holy Saturday, and here is Matthew’s version of Easter for our final reflection. We hope this on-line Lenten pilgrimage through a gospel has enriched your Easter preparations as much as it has ours.
The Final Verdict comes in. Despite the events of the recent days, God shows that Jesus was/is the true King of life, not the cultural/political/religious powers. This decision comes from on high, and Matthew gives us a wonderful, cosmic picture. An earthquake, an angel with the appearance “of lightning”, the stone rolled away. Fittingly, the (Roman) guards who had been placed at the tomb to ensure the dead Jesus stayed there “became like dead men.” Their god was dead as God validates Jesus, and all he taught and stood for, by raising him from death. He stands astride the Kingdom of God, which he had so constantly demonstrated.
There were doubters in Matthew’s day (remember he wrote 2 generations after the fact), both within (v. 17) and beyond (vv. 11-15) the early Christian community. Matthew names both, but leaves the magnificent closing scene to the resurrected Christ. Verses 18-20 should be underlined in every Bible. Jesus, the true King raised in power, claims his authority and gives his followers through the ages our marching orders: “Go everywhere…make disciples… baptize… teach. I am with you always.”
Note that Matthew leaves things open ended. Jesus doesn’t leave, and hasn’t. The ongoing Lordship of Jesus was clearly felt in Matthew’s early Christian community, as it is today. And this is the final vindication by God of the man of Nazareth – he reigns in our hearts, and in our collective hearts, while Rome is long gone. May we all experience that vindication, that Final Verdict, that resurrection in our hearts and spirits as Easter dawn breaks tomorrow, and never ends.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Happy Easter.
The Revs. Mary Jane and Gary Saunders
First Presbyterian Church of Bowling Green OH
28 After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” 8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
11 While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 telling them, “You must say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story is still told among the Jews to this day.
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Day 39 - Matthew 27:38-66 - Friday, April 18
So here we are. The great controversy of Matthew has come to a climax. When all is said and done, and when we step back and think deeply – who really is the King? Who is the Son of God…the King of the Jews, and by extension, the true King of Life?
The Roman Empire absolutely ruled the whole Mediterranean world – the emperor in all his power was called the “son of God” - and who could argue? Matthew drives home the “who is king?” issue as the crowd mocks Jesus but also wonders about him.
At crunch time, not only was Jesus crushed by Roman power, but also his own followers – the crowd – and his disciples had deserted him. Yet through the darkness of the day (v. 45) we see light filtering through. As Jesus dies, seemingly deserted by his God, the whole world starts to change. Earthquakes; emptied tombs; and the shredding of the temple curtain that “protected” God from the grunge of impure people. And more…some faithful women have stuck it out and are staring the catastrophe face-on. And more…the Roman centurion and his crew – the very ones who had killed him - size up the drama and proclaim, “Truly this man was the son of God.”
In that moment they become the seed of the church of Jesus Christ. We are people who have no business in the presence of God – we spent way too much of our lives proclaiming that Caesar (money, power, prestige, comfort) is the “son of God,” not Jesus. Yet our weak spines and dark shadows never over-match the power of God to speak “life!” in the midst of death. As unlikely as it seems, we are transformed by God to teach what Jesus taught, live as Jesus lived, and love as Jesus loved. It’s crazy, as crazy as the idea of Roman centurions’ proclaiming Jesus as the TRUE “son of God.”
And God looks over us all, with all our weaknesses and failings on this Good Friday, and says “No matter what you’ve done; no matter what you do; I have no other plan than to use you, and people just like you, to transform this world into my kingdom. It makes no sense – you people know it, and I know it. BUT I HAVE NO OTHER PLAN.”
Day 38 Matthew 27:1-38 - Thursday, April 17
Who is the King? This is very much the question as we come to this core passage of the story of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel.
Matthew says there are two choices, and puts them on display as Jesus moves toward crucifixion. Now, we’re not “king” people in this culture, but we sure know about two fundamental, foundational choices of how we think and feel and live our lives. Nothing has actually changed from Matthew’s day. We bow before the powers of our culture - our world, or we bow before the One who displays God’s realm to us, and invites us in.
Just look at the ways that the King issue is opened up. The action shifts here from the Jewish leaders to the Roman governor. Pilate represents the Roman emperor, the god of the world. So two kings and two kingdoms are lined up side by side. The Romans mock Jesus as a king, with the robe, the reed scepter and the crown of thorns. Yet the audience (and we) know that this story has a different ending. We were tipped off back in Matthew’s birth story. Remember the wise men who came looking for “the king of the Jews?” They found him, and gave royal presents. Herod panicked back then, and the contrast of kingdoms was underway, running through the whole gospel.
And here we are, with Jesus looking powerless and in fact not mustering any worldly power to defend himself. Injustice, treachery, deceit, manipulation, violence and brutality all seem to be carrying the day. These are tools of Rome, but more broadly they are tools of The World. We know about these – we deal with them in our daily lives, though not in such dramatic form. And don’t they always seem to win?
But a different King is coming into his own in this scene. He is King not through worldly ways but through the design of God. Matthew says to us – “Hang in there, Easter people. This story is not over yet.” And he’s referring to not only his gospel, but to all our stories, in which the worldly king and his/her tools seems so powerful. Here in Holy Week, on Maundy Thursday, we can feel the depths of the conflict of kingdoms. A Jewish community center is attacked by gunfire..a good worker is fired…a child eats nothing for breakfast – or supper. In the midst of these shadows, the gospel voice comes to us through the ages, “Hang in there, Easter people. From your shattered lives and world, the true King rises.”