With great joy

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File:Anak-anak riang bermain air (28236060041).gifHoly Saturday / The Great Vigil of Easter

1 Chronicles 29:22

And they ate and drank before the LORD on that day with great joy.

Family gatherings on my Father’s side of the family were often raucous. They involved great food and not a little akvavit. We toasted. We sang. We told stories. We laughed. There is even one dinner that ended in an hilarious softball game and another that had my grandmother wrestling on the floor with my young cousins. On Christmas eve we danced around the tree.

Family gatherings on my mother’s side, while not so raucous, were also always full of joy.

Joy and food belong together.

Joy brings out food. Food brings out joy. They belong together.

The passage above speaks of the feast that followed the enthronement of Solomon as king. Sacrifices were offered and the food of the sacrifices was shared with the whole city. “They ate and drank before the Lord on that day with great joy.”

For all of the depth and breadth of our experience of holy communion, the experience of grace, the encounter with the divine, the presence of the holy, the delight of the ordinary, the solemn remembrance of a body broken and blood shed – for all the breath and depth of our experience of Holy Communion, we cannot forget joy. This bread and wine is full of promise. It is a foretaste of the feast to come. It is the joy of the eternal wedding banquet. It is the joining of the heavens and the earth. It is Easter dawn. It is the new birth of the world.

We should dance. We should sing. We should leave worship twirling with arms wide and faces lifted to the sky. The heart of God is revealed and it is full of love and faithfulness. Christ is risen. Death cannot hold. Heaven’s doors are thrown wide open.

There was an elderly Norwegian woman who attended the parish I served in the city of Detroit. Her English was still broken. We used a pouring chalice in that place, and when I filled her little glass she would look me in the eye, raise her glass, and nod as if making a toast. I like to think she understood that this is the family feast – and it is full of joy.

Almighty God, creator and redeemer of the world,
before whom the grave lies shattered
and the gates of hell torn down;
Grant us joy in the message that Christ is risen,
and faithfulness to live our lives in him for the sake of the world

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Anak-anak_riang_bermain_air_(28236060041).gif USAID Indonesia [Public domain]

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In this is faithfulness

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File:Darkness (1670488216).jpgGood Friday

1 John 4:10

In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Because the word ‘love’ in the scriptures refers to the bonds of allegiance that shape a household or kinship group, we could reword this passage in this way:

In this is faithfulness, not that we were faithful to God, but that God was faithful to us and sent his son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

The word used in the Hebrew Scriptures refers to covenant faithfulness and is commonly translated as steadfast love. What we encounter in God is more than affection; it is faithfulness.

The heart of the universe is not cold and distant; it beats with compassion for the world. It asks the question of us, as it asked it of our first parents, “Where are you?” not because it does not know, but because we need to acknowledge we are hiding in the bushes. It asks the question of Cain, “Where is your brother,” not because it does not know, but because we need to acknowledge that we are our brother’s keeper. Our humanity is found in community, in mutual care, in harmony with one another and the world given into our care. Our humanity is found in faithfulness.

In the aftermath of his brother’s murder, God asks Cain, “What have you done?” It is the question God asks us when the hammers fall and the nails pierce. God asks not because God does not know, but because we must see and acknowledge our brokenness. We have not shown ourselves faithful to God or to one another.

The cross stands as witness against us. But it also stands as testimony to God’s faithfulness. God does not turn away from us. God does not abandon us. God does not destroy us. God vindicates Jesus and calls us again to listen to him, to learn from him, to follow him, to breathe his Spirit, to walk in newness of life.

In this is faithfulness, not that we were faithful to God, but that God was faithful to us and sent his son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

There is judgment on this day. But there is also a divine faithfulness, a wondrous grace, the perfection of love, and the possibility to begin anew.

In the desolation of the Cross, O God,
you watched over Jesus,
and he kept faith with you.
Watch over us,
renewing our lives and our world
that, by the mercy of Christ,
we may prove faithful to you and to all.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Darkness_(1670488216).jpg Helgi Halldórsson from Reykjavík, Iceland [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D

Hearing the nails

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File:Clou sortant d'un mur.jpgDay 40: Thursday in the Sixth Week of Lent

DEUTERONOMY 5:3

Not with our ancestors did the LORD make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today.

When Moses speaks these words, Israel has been in the wilderness forty years. They had come to the edge of Canaan once before, just after their wondrous deliverance from Egypt, but their fear made them turn away. They did not believe God could give them victory over the inhabitants there. Now it is forty years later. None but Joshua and Caleb remain of that faithless generation. It is a new people who stand before the River Jordan. But as Moses rises to remind the people of all that God has said and done to bring them to this moment in time, he says, “Not with our ancestors did the Lord make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today.”

Time collapses. It was not their ancestors to whom all these things happened; this people walked through the waters. This people stood at Sinai and heard God’s voice. This people saw God’s faithfulness and pledged their own.

When we come to these three days beginning on Maundy Thursday evening, we are not watching the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection from afar. This is not a history lesson about another people in another time and place. This is our story. We are the ones at the table.

Some years ago, on Good Friday when the liturgy calls for carrying a cross into the assembly, a colleague of mine suddenly realized that no one had assembled the wooden planks for the cross they planned to use. Before carrying it in, he had to nail it together. The sound of the hammer echoed with brutal force through the congregation.

During these days, we are meant to hear the nails. We are meant to feel the water on our feet. We are meant to see Jesus break the bread and tell us he will be broken. We are meant to see his honor stripped away. We are meant to hear the jeers of the crowd. We are meant to see the lifeless body pierced. We are meant to feel the weight as it is carried to the tomb. “Not with our ancestors did the Lord make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today.” This is our story. This is the human story. We betray. We deny. We crucify.

And we are met by Christ risen. We feel the breath of the eternal. We share the bread of the new creation.

Almighty God,
we walk with joy among the crowds who welcomed Jesus to the city of Jerusalem,
not understanding his destiny there.
Help us to receive him with joy,
not only as he rides upon the royal road,
but as he bears the cross and thorns
and meets us at the empty tomb;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

– A prayer for the sixth week of Lent

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Clou_sortant_d%27un_mur.jpg CrushedUnicorn [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D

Come to the waters

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File:Leather bucket of a well.jpgDay 39: Wednesday in the Sixth Week of Lent

Isaiah 55:1

Ho, everyone who thirsts,
….come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
….come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
….without money and without price.

We live in a world now that sells water in bottles. We sell it with flavors, with caffeine, with juices, with fake sugars and fake bubbles. There is money to be made.

The prophet, however, stands in the market offering his goods for free. Water, wine, milk – what is needful for life and joy – is offered “without money and without price.”

Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
….and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
….listen, so that you may live.

“Incline your ear,” for the voice of God is a rich banquet.

There is an offer of forgiveness in the verses to come. God’s ways are not our ways. We hold grudges. We hope for revenge. God’s way is to forgive, to release us from our debt. There is mercy to be tasted.

And in this chapter God declares that God’s word is like the rain and snow that water the earth, bringing forth life. God’s word will work its work in us. God’s word of mercy shall do mercy. God’s word of compassion shall create compassion. God’s word of life shall give life.

God’s word is the true banquet, the ultimate nourishment to sustain the human heart. God’s message is the abundant feast that gathers the world to one table. God’s voice is embodied in a bowl with water and a towel tied around his waist. God’s message is embodied in the prayer “Not my will but yours be done.” God’s message is embodied in the boldness to stand unbroken before power. God’s message is embodied in a word of forgiveness spoken to those who have finished with the nails and tossed the hammer to the side to amuse themselves with dice.

To the end Jesus remains faithful. And God remains faithful. Jesus is vindicated. The sentence of death is revoked. The judgment that he is “deceiving the people” is reversed. The taunts of his tormentors are silenced. No catharsis of rotting flesh is needed to purge Jesus of his sin. He is true. His word abides. His banquet table is set. He lives, and the world is invited to feast.

And the banquet requires no fee.

Almighty God,
we walk with joy among the crowds who welcomed Jesus to the city of Jerusalem,
not understanding his destiny there.
Help us to receive him with joy,
not only as he rides upon the royal road,
but as he bears the cross and thorns
and meets us at the empty tomb;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

– A prayer for the sixth week of Lent

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Leather_bucket_of_a_well.jpg Neogeolegend [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D

A knocking at the door

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File:Guest. A. Mironov.jpgDay 38: Tuesday in the Sixth Week of Lent

Revelation 3:20

Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.

The water supply in Laodicea came from nearby hot springs, thus the accusation by the prophet that the believers there were “lukewarm”. It is apparently a community of some prosperity: “You say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” They are materially rich, but spiritually poor. It is one of the challenges of wealth. It is why Jesus says you cannot serve both God and wealth. The reign of God is a table shared rather than a table full. There is a bounty at God’s table, but it is a bounty for all. The door is open, not closed. Hearts are open, not closed.

Jesus invites us to his table – but he also invites himself to our table, to the places we live, to the places we work. He would be the guest at every table. He would make every table his own. Grace should happen there. Kindness. Mercy. Truth. Love. Joy.

We draw near to Maundy Thursday when the disciples will argue over who is greatest and Jesus will rise from the table to wash feet. We draw near to the day when we will hear the crack of the lash and the sound of nails. We draw near to the day when Sabbath is over and Christ comes again to break bread. The breath of heaven comes to join our table.

There is a knocking at the door. There is a voice asking to be heard.

Almighty God,
we walk with joy among the crowds who welcomed Jesus to the city of Jerusalem,
not understanding his destiny there.
Help us to receive him with joy,
not only as he rides upon the royal road,
but as he bears the cross and thorns
and meets us at the empty tomb;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

– A prayer for the sixth week of Lent

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Guest._A._Mironov.jpg Андрей Николаевич Миронов (A.N. Mironov) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D

A mighty arm

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File:Mains d'amants by Auguste Rodin, Musée Rodin, Paris 2007.jpgDay 37: Monday in the Sixth Week of Lent

ISAIAH 52:10

The LORD has bared his holy arm
….before the eyes of all the nations;
and all the ends of the earth shall see
….the salvation of our God.

“Was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces?” asks the prophet in the preceding chapter, in a word that begins, Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord! The prophet cries out for the God who slew the primordial chaos to come and deliver God’s people from the political chaos of their time. Now, in this chapter we hear the cry for the people to wake: “Awake, awake, put on your strength, O Zion!” for God is coming to redeem Jerusalem.

The Lord is going to take Jerusalem back from the nations that have taken it captive. God is coming in strength and power to wage war on behalf of God’s people. God has rolled up God’s sleeves, so to speak. Now is the time of action. God is returning to the city that still lies in ruins. God will dwell again in their midst, and all the nations shall see God’s victory.

Presumably these are the days when work began on rebuilding the temple. The victory here is not the overthrow of Babylon – it has already fallen – but the vindication of Jerusalem. The broken city is rebuilt. The desolate city is alive again. Those who thought the God of Israel had been defeated are wrong. God is returning to this place and this nation. The dry bones rise. Out of death comes life.

It is a theme throughout the scriptures: when all hope seems lost, God does a new thing. God creates a way when there is no way. God rescues the world at the time of Noah. God gives a son, Isaac, when there is no chance of a child. God opens a path through the sea when the people flee Egypt. God raises up Samuel when the world has crumbled into chaos and fidelity is forgotten. God brings Judah back from Babylon. God is a god who opens the grave, who raises the dead. God’s salvation is there for the world to see.

In its song and prophecy, ancient Israel used the imagery of a warrior god, a god of power and might, who hurls lightnings and shakes the wilderness, who scatters God’s enemies and gives victory in battle. God was mighty, but God was not might. God was faithfulness. God was redeemer. God was teacher, leading the people to justice and mercy, leading the world to justice and mercy.

God’s mighty arm bears not a sword, but an open hand to heal, to guide, to gather, to build. God’s mighty arm kneels to wash feet.  God’s mighty arm stretches wide upon the cross to embrace a fallen world. God’s mighty arm walks out of the tomb to break bread with us again and walk with us into the new creation where love is lived and all people see the healing, restoring, resurrecting, work of God.

Almighty God,
we walk with joy among the crowds who welcomed Jesus to the city of Jerusalem,
not understanding his destiny there.
Help us to receive him with joy,
not only as he rides upon the royal road,
but as he bears the cross and thorns
and meets us at the empty tomb;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

– A prayer for the sixth week of Lent

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mains_d%27amants_by_Auguste_Rodin,_Mus%C3%A9e_Rodin,_Paris_2007.jpg Daniela Ziebell at German Wikipedia [GFDL 1.2 (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html)%5D

Koinonia

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File:Belajar sambil bermain (25677567752).jpgDay 36: Sunday in the Sixth Week of Lent

1 Corinthians 10:16

Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? NIV

The word Paul uses that is here translated as “participation” is transliterated into English as ‘koinonia’. It is the word translated as ‘fellowship’ in Acts 2:42 when Luke describes the ideal community life among the first believers:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Paul uses it to describe the offering he is collecting for the believers in need during a famine in Judea, an offering that symbolized they were one body in Christ. He uses it as a “sharing in the Spirit” in his letter to his beloved Philippians:

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.

Being “of one mind” means sharing the mind, the heart, the way of seeing and being that is Christ.

The bread and wine are a ‘koinonia’ in Christ, a fellowship, a communion, a sharing of mind and heart with Christ and one another. The bread and wine are a communion. We breathe together with Christ. We breathe his Holy Spirit. Our hearts beat in rhythm to one another. Jesus, in John’s Gospel, speaks of this as Jesus abiding in us and we in him – like the branches to the vine.

Paul is writing to people who are joining themselves not only to Christ, but participating in the cultic feasts of other gods. You can’t, says Paul. You can’t breathe peace and cheer war. You can’t breathe forgiveness and harbor bitterness.   You can’t breathe the Spirit of God and the false and deceptive spirits of the world. You can’t breathe generosity and treasure wealth. You can’t breathe compassion and live hardness of heart. God’s people try to do it all the time, but it doesn’t work. Ananias and Sapphira tried to walk both sides of the fence and perished.

It’s not that God is petty and vindictive; it’s that you can’t ride the train to New York and San Francisco at the same time. The bread and wine commit us to one journey, the journey into an ever greater compassion, even as we have been met by a boundless compassion. We are met at the table by the Good Shepherd who lays down his life, by the chosen of God who stretches wide his arms upon the cross, by the voice and hands of perfect love. It is there in the bread. It is there in the cup: Christ for us, Christ for the world.

Almighty God,
we walk with joy among the crowds who welcomed Jesus to the city of Jerusalem,
not understanding his destiny there.
Help us to receive him with joy,
not only as he rides upon the royal road,
but as he bears the cross and thorns
and meets us at the empty tomb;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

– A prayer for the sixth week of Lent

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First Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Belajar_sambil_bermain_(25677567752).jpg USAID Indonesia [Public domain]

Second Image: Carl S. Gutekunst, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Kickball

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File:Lillis–Albina Park.jpgDay 35: Saturday in the Fifth Week of Lent

Matthew 18:20

‘Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’

This quote from Jesus doesn’t stand alone; Matthew places it inside a collection of Jesus’ teaching about the community of the church. I hesitate to use the word ‘church’ because it has gathered a lot of baggage through the last two thousand years, but we have to use some word to describe not the various institutions that use the name of Jesus, but the community of those who have heard Jesus’ word, seen his deeds, and try to learn from him.

What is the community of disciples supposed to be like? The first thing in Jesus’ discourse concerns greatness: you have to be like a child, you have to renounce the desire to be first. I never imagined I would get picked first when captains chose their teams for kickball in fourth grade; I just didn’t want to be picked last. I wanted to be chosen before that bottom third when you know they’re forced to pick and trying to decide who will do the least damage to their team.

We are very conscious of status, of honor, of ranking. Honor was the governing value in the ancient world. But when Jesus begins to talk about our life together, he talks first about giving up claims to status. Then he says it would be better to cut off your hand than to do anything to diminish another. Then he talks about forgiving one another – not taking satisfaction, not holding anyone in your debt if they should insult you in some way. Everything Jesus says is geared towards reconciliation, towards the formation of a new human community.

Christ comes to us in the least member of the community. Christ is present to us in the vulnerable one. The power of heaven is present in our relationship with one another. The crucified and risen one occupies the space between and around any two of us who come together.  The teacher is present among his students.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the first kids chosen for kickball where the ones we least expect? Wouldn’t it be a new and very different world?

Wouldn’t it be Christ?

Almighty God, Holy and wondrous,
the death and resurrection of your son
is the sweet perfume that fills all the earth with the aroma of grace and life.
Grant us wisdom like Mary, who anointed Jesus,
to recognize his work of redemption and proclaim it to all;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

– A prayer for the fifth week of Lent

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lillis%E2%80%93Albina_Park.jpg spinnerin [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D

Shelter

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File:Mother shelters goslings.jpgDay 34: Friday in the Fifth Week of Lent

Psalm 91:1-2

You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
….who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress;
….my God, in whom I trust.”

The images of refugees housed in tents, under overpasses, and in cages, are painful to see – especially the frightened, tired eyes of children. How desperate must life be to risk crossing the sea in frail, overcrowded boats? How desperate must life be to risk a family’s life savings to the mendacity of a coyote and the hostile desert? Shoes worn to nothing and without possessions, they look for refuge; they hope for shelter. The Lord is “my refuge and my fortress” writes the author of our psalm, and those images convey something of the power of those words.

Life is more fragile than we want to believe. Sorrow comes too often and too randomly. Again and again we see those disposed by floods and fires, hurricanes and poverty. Again and again we hear the prayers of others for friends and family faced with illnesses and tragedies. Again and again we offer our own prayers. We are all in need of shelter.

The Lord is “my refuge and my fortress” sings the poet, but the author is not naïve – nor are we who continue to pray this psalm and enjoy its comfort. There is no promise that we will be saved from every sorrow; there is a promise that God will be our shelter. God will be mercy in times of shame. God will be grace in times of guilt. God will be light in the darkness, and truth when lies engulf.

God is our refuge. God is our home when home is lost. God is our hope when hope fails. God is our tears when tears run dry. There is a ground beneath us, an unseen shelter above us, an empty tomb behind us, and a new day before us. There is a steadfast love that never ceases and a table where we are ever welcome.

Almighty God, Holy and wondrous,
the death and resurrection of your son
is the sweet perfume that fills all the earth with the aroma of grace and life.
Grant us wisdom like Mary, who anointed Jesus,
to recognize his work of redemption and proclaim it to all;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

– A prayer for the fifth week of Lent

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mother_shelters_goslings.jpg Lucy from manchester, uk [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D

Your everlasting light

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File:Bad Rappenau - Bonfeld - Baumreihe nördlich vom Dorf im März 2.jpgDay 33: Thursday in the Fifth Week of Lent

Isaiah 60:19

The sun shall no longer be
,,,,your light by day,
nor for brightness shall the moon
,,,,give light to you by night;
but the LORD will be your everlasting light,
,,,,and your God will be your glory.

I remember a cold, stiff night in the Sierra’s waiting for the sun to rise. I had a good sleeping bag, but the ground was hard and the chill crept into my bones. By about 4:00 a.m. I desperately wanted the sun to rise. I wanted a reason to be up and moving around. And I wanted the promise of warmth. The night sky at high altitude is glorious when you are comfortable, but provides no comfort when you are not.

We turn on porch lights at night. Cities provide streetlights. If they did not, if we had only the light of the moon and stars, if we had no indoor lighting, we would lock doors, huddle for warmth, and hope for dawn.

The sun is everything. There is a reason ancient peoples set up sightlines to mark the spot where the sun in winter would start back up the sky. The sun is warmth and safety and growing things. The sun is life and freedom and every wellbeing.

It is a timeless truth that God is the source of our every wellbeing. But the prophet’s word is spoken in troubled times, when the people have known too much sorrow and struggle. This word is not a pat on the back and a kindly “cheer up”; this word is a promise that a morning comes – a morning when the sun rises with healing in its wings. Israel’s scattered children will be gathered, the captives in foreign lands will come home, the refugees of war and hunger will ride home on spice laden camels. The scourge of war will be forgotten, the tears of sorrow wiped away. The gnawing hungers of hard times will become tables of abundance. We are created for goodness and goodness awaits.

The table of the Lord is full of promise. It contains not just the mystery of Christ broken for us, but the radiance of dawn and the warmth of spring. It tastes of the world’s first morning and that day when every tear is wiped away. It tastes of joy and song and dance.   It tastes of reconciliation and community and the eternal wedding banquet. It tastes of healing and wholeness and enduring peace. It tastes of Christ.

Almighty God, Holy and wondrous,
the death and resurrection of your son
is the sweet perfume that fills all the earth with the aroma of grace and life.
Grant us wisdom like Mary, who anointed Jesus,
to recognize his work of redemption and proclaim it to all;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

– A prayer for the fifth week of Lent

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bad_Rappenau_-_Bonfeld_-_Baumreihe_n%C3%B6rdlich_vom_Dorf_im_M%C3%A4rz_2.jpg Roman Eisele [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D