The Fifth Sunday of Lent: Year A

Freed from the tomb of sinfulness

  • Ezekiel 37:1-14
  • Psalm 130
  • Romans 8:6-11
  • John 11:1-45

Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy Spirit you have bestowed upon these your servants the forgiveness of sin, and raised them to the new life of grace. (BCP 308)

In baptism, the Christian is freed from the tomb of sinfulness. Dry bones take on flesh and those who were dead are filled with the breath of God. Paul writes to the Romans, explaining that God’s life-giving Spirit is unleashed in Christ. It replaces the Mosaic law that sin uses to produce death.

According to Christopher R. Seitz (Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology 46), “Exile is death. It is a valley where all the prophet can see are bones, where he alone has eyes to see and hear the question too horrible to be answered except by God, “Can these bones live?” “[God], you know.” The place of exile is not just the north country, or a new Egypt, or the regions around the earth’s boundaries, north, south, east, and west. It is as cold and final as the tomb, where no breath is drawn. . . . Yes, Israel is totally dead. . . . The valley is full of bones, and all are very dry. Not one shows any sign of stirring by its own effort. The prophet sees a wasteland, still, lifeless, and all encompassing. His words of judgment have reached as far as they can, until he alone is left – or, better, he alone with God who hand first sent him on this grim mission.” Continue reading

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The Fourth Sunday in Lent: Year A

Mud and Oil, Light and Understanding

  • 1 Samuel 16:1-13
  • Psalm 23
  • Ephesians 5:8-14
  • John 9:1-14

Come, Spirit of blessing, anoint me with your oil of promise. Do not look upon my appearance, but look at my heart, and choose me into courage for the future you have planned. (A Gift of Improbable Blessing by Maren Tirabassi, United Church Press, 1998).

Today’s readings are full of meaning and action: As David was being anointed by Samuel, he was empowered to speak for God as Israel’s king. In the story of the man born blind, Jesus spat on the ground to make a paste with his spittle, which he anointed the man’s eyes. Through this anointing, the blind man could see to follow Jesus. We are anointed by the Holy Spirit at Baptism, with the invitation to see anew and follow Jesus. The early church saw the healing of the man born blind as a metaphor for enlightenment: the Christian is called to see things differently. Continue reading

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The Third Sunday in Lent: Year A

Baptismal waters

  • Exodus 17:1-7
  • Psalm 95
  • Romans 5:1-11
  • John 4:5-42

Now sanctify this water, we pray you, by the power of your Holy Spirit, that those who here are cleansed from sin and born again may continue for ever in the risen life of Jesus Christ our Savior. (BCP 307)

Water is a theme running through our lessons today. Literally and figuratively. Despite our complaining and non-comprehension, God continues to provide us “a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” (John 4:14)

Water does give life. Water can also cause death. In recent years we have seen the power of water – melting snow, torrential rains, swollen rivers, and of course, the power of hurricanes and tsunamis. How can we see the life that water can bring when we have been overwhelmed by images of destruction that have been caused by natural events? Continue reading

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The Second Sunday in Lent: Year A

Conversion

  • Genesis 12:1-4a
  • Psalm 121
  • Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
  • John 3:1-17

Since baptism and Lent are all about conversion, the themes for the five Sundays of Lent also provide us with a process of “conversion therapy,” a term used by Aidan Kavanagh to describe the purpose behind the catechumenate. As we move through the season and Holy Week, we first turn away from evil and toward Jesus Christ (Lent 1 and 2). This week’s lessons continue the conversion process as we recognize those who put their trust in God (which also resonates in today’s Psalm).

A reflection from H. King Oehmig (Understanding the Sunday Scriptures, Year A. 2007: ReadMark Press):

He stood for respectable religion at its best. His behavior must have been above reproach. His reputation must have been built around an array of theological degrees that were the envy of many. He was a man who knew the importance of the position he held, and did not want to jeopardize it. Perhaps that is why Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night – the only person in the Gospels to have done so.

Continue reading

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Ash Wednesday: Fast, Pray, Act

We are but dust

  • Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 OR
  • Isaiah 58:1-12
  • Psalm 103
  • 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
  • Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

The season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. Vestiges of the early church’s experience of public penance still exist in the ceremony of ashes placed on the foreheads of penitents with the remonstrance: “Remember you are dust and unto you dust you shall return.” The weeks that followed were a time of intense reflection, self-scrutiny, and preparation for reincorporation into the community from which one was estranged by sin. For us, where public penance is not so common, Lent may provide a time for community and individual preparation for following Jesus on the most difficult paths, the path of self-sacrificing love. Continue reading

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The First Sunday in Lent: Year A

Renunciation

  • Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7
  • Psalm 32
  • Romans 5:12-19
  • Matthew 4:1-11

During Lent in Year A, the readings provide a primer in Christianity as outlined in Paul’s letters to the Romans and Ephesians. These epistle readings pick up the theme from the Hebrew Scripture readings and the gospel.

The second story of the Creation and Fall of man and woman in the Garden of Eden opens our readings today. It tells how God has given us the choice of disobedience and awareness of good and evil so that we may come to recognition of our need for God’s saving grace. Paul contrasts human sin from the time of Adam (and Eve) with God’s gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. Jesus’ response to temptation is the opposite of Adam and Eve’s. Being led by the Spirit into the wilderness after his baptism, and hungry after a long fast, Jesus is tempted to prove that he is indeed the Son of God with supernatural powers. Jesus’ response to the devil is “no.” Continue reading

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The Last Sunday after the Epiphany: Year A

The Transfiguration of our Lord

  • Exodus 24:12-18
  • Psalm 2 or Psalm 99
  • 2 Peter 1:16-21
  • Matthew 17:1-9

Like Moses, Elijah, and Jesus, it is in those mountaintop, seeing-the-light experiences that we begin to understand what the Lord is calling us to do in our covenant relationship. Each of our readings today speak of light and the sign of God’s presence.

In Matthew’s account of the Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John see Jesus, shining with brilliant light, talking with Moses and Elijah. They hear the affirmation of the voice from the cloud, and are cautioned after the experience to tell no one what they have seen until the Son of Man is raised from the dead. Continue reading

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