By the Hand (April 19, 2013)

…Opening To…

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can… (J.R.R. Tolkein, The Lord of the Rings)

…Listening In…

During the journey, as he approached Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven encircled him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice asking him, “Saul, Saul, why are you harassing me?” (Acts 9:3-4; context)

…Filling Up…

When I began writing this week’s devotions, I didn’t realize how much of a link there is between blindness and stories that take place on roads. Here’s another one! Saul – who later becomes Paul – has been no friend to persons who “belonged to the Way.” (At this point, “Christianity” wasn’t a word yet, so Jesus’ followers were identified as those belonging to the “Way.” Remember, “way” and “road” are the same word.)

But while he is following the road to Damascus, Saul suddenly finds himself flat on his back. A blinding light flashes around him and he hears Jesus’ voice say, “Saul, Saul, why are you harassing me?” When Saul’s companions, who are completely unaware of the light show, pick him, Saul opens his eyes and realizes he can’t see. After this, according to Acts, “they led him by the hand to Damascus.”

This detail is truly amazing. Saul had been so certain of the rightness of his cause of persecuting those who followed the Way of Jesus. Saul had been so certain. But when he encounters Christ, his certainty vanishes. He is unable to walk for himself and needs others to guide him. And so they take him by the hand and bring him to his destination.

Sometimes, we can be so certain of where we are going that we forget to look for Christ on the road. It’s a good thing, then, that, when we fall victim to spiritual blindness, there are others around us who can take our hands and guide us on the way.

…Praying For…

Dear God, your encounter with Saul left him forever changed. Help me to recognize the changes that you have caused to happen in my life and be thankful for them. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, strengthened by your love and able to walk another day on weary feet

Hearts on Fire (April 18, 2013)

…Opening To…

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can… (J.R.R. Tolkein, The Lord of the Rings)

…Listening In…

They said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?” (Luke 24:32; context)

…Filling Up…

Yesterday, we talked about Bartimaeus, a blind man who doesn’t start making his way down the road until Jesus restores his sight. Now, most of us persist in our spiritual blindness even as we grope along looking for the road, so it’s a good thing that you don’t actually need to be able to see to start making your way down the road.

In fact, there’s a story that deals with just that. On the day of the resurrection, two of Jesus’ followers, Cleopas and another unnamed person, travel home from Jerusalem to Emmaus (half a day’s walk, give or take). These two fairly unimportant folks are walking down the road when they meet another traveler. We know this newcomer is Jesus, but they don’t see him for who he is. While they are walking along the road, they are blind to the reality of the Risen Christ in their midst.

When they sit down at table later on and Jesus breaks the bread, they recognize him with their eyes. Then they say something peculiar: “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road…” While we are traveling along the way of Jesus Christ, we rely on more than just our sight to guide us. It is not until they see Jesus with their eyes that these two disciples realize something inside of them told them what was going on hours earlier on the road. Call it intuition. Call it instinct. Call it the presence of God pulling each of them and each of us into closer relationship.

This pull happens while we are traveling down the road with Jesus – we don’t need to see it to feel the pull tugging us back to God.

…Praying For…

Dear God, your son’s presence made the travelers’ hearts burn within them. Help me to recognize that same fire within me whenever I start to doubt your presence in my life. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, strengthened by your love and able to walk another day on weary feet

Beside the Road (April 17, 2013)

…Opening To…

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can… (J.R.R. Tolkein, The Lord of the Rings)

…Listening In…

Jesus and his followers came into Jericho. As Jesus was leaving Jericho, together with his disciples and a sizable crowd, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus, Timaeus’ son, was sitting beside the road. (Mark 10:46; context)

…Filling Up…

This week we are talking about roads. Before we start walking down the road, we first have to get on it. There’s a wonderful story in the Gospel according to Mark featuring a man named Bartimaeus, who is blind. Now, Mark chooses his words economically, usually narrating scene with quick, urgent sentences and then moving on to the next story. But during the short interchange between Jesus and Bartimaeus, Mark gives us an unusual level of detail that is quite fascinating.

First, as Mark sets the scene, Bartimaeus is sitting “beside the road.” This is only natural, considering he is a beggar. When he hears that Jesus is coming along, he starts shouting out, “Son of David, show me mercy!” This catches Jesus’ attention and he calls Bartimaeus over. Mark tells us that the beggar “throws” his coat aside and “jumps up,” probably scattering the coins he had received that day. He goes over to Jesus, asks for the ability to see, and Jesus says, “Go, your faith has healed you.”

Bartimaeus interprets this “Go” as an invitation. Perhaps, he reaches into the recesses of his mind and remembers God telling Abram simply to “Go.” And Abram, who later becomes Abraham, “went,” thus launching the relationship between God and the people of Israel. Bartimaeus receives his sight and then “goes” by following Jesus on the “way.” No longer is Bartimaeus a passive sitter “beside” the road; rather, he is an active walker on the road.

Too often in my life, I find myself sitting beside the road instead of walking along it. Bartimaeus waited until he received his sight to follow. What are we waiting for?

…Praying For…

Dear God, you instill in me the desire to follow and grant me the tools to do so. Help me jump up from my reclining position and walk with you down the road. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, strengthened by your love and able to walk another day on weary feet

On the Road Again (April 15, 2013)

…Opening To…

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can… (J.R.R. Tolkein, The Lord of the Rings)

…Listening In…

Jesus said, “…You know the way to the place I’m going.” Thomas asked, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life…” (John 14:4-6; context)

…Filling Up…

Jesus has been talking for a bit when Thomas interrupts him with a question: “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?” In response to this, Jesus says his oft-quoted line: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” What gets a little lost in the translation is the possibility that Jesus is making a bit of a joke – a pun really – in the midst of a fairly serious discussion.

You see, the word that is translated “way” is also the word for “road.” So when Thomas asks Jesus his question, he may very well be wondering about the literal “road” they should be taking. After all, they’ve been walking all over the place. The disciples often take Jesus too literally, and then Jesus spends a few moments trying to inject some imagination into their understanding. Whether or not Thomas is wondering about a literal road, Jesus doesn’t dwell on the literal. With the full weight of his divinely oriented “I am” statements behind it, he says that he himself is the Road.

Of course, Jesus isn’t cobblestones or asphalt, so he is taking Thomas’ perhaps literal question and bringing it into a metaphorical space. Jesus is the road in the sense of “the thing that guides your feet from here to there.”

This week, we are talking about roads, specifically about Jesus meeting people on roads and about what happens next. So stay tuned.

…Praying For…

Dear God, you are always to be found no matter where my feet take me. Help me to recognize your presence while walking down whatever road is ahead of me. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, strengthened by your love and able to walk another day on weary feet

Breathing In (April 12, 2013)

…Opening To…

For a second after Aslan breathed upon him the stone lion looked just the same. Then a tiny streak of gold began to run along his white marble back — then it spread — then the colour seemed to lick all over him as the flame licked all over a bit of paper — then, while his hind-quarters were still obviously stone the lion shook his mane and all the heavy, stony folds rippled into living hair. (C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe)

…Listening In…

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:21-22; context)

…Filling Up…

…Day five with the Apostle Peter (click here for day one, two, three, four)

“As the Father sent me, so I am sending you,” he continued. With these words, we, who had been as still as statues mere minutes before, all leaned in, like trees bending toward the sunlight. And he exhaled a deep, cleansing breath, then another and another. As he breathed out, I breathed in. I breathed in his breath, the wind of his life. I breathed in the words he had spoken twice since his arrival, the very peace that he proclaimed, that he radiated. This was Jesus, and he was alive, and he was breathing life back into us, into the ones who had entombed ourselves in that locked house.

As we leaned closer, Jesus said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” And his breath washed over me, into me, through me. His Spirit brought peace to the war raging within. His breath blew across the faint glow of hope, turning the glow into a spark, and the spark into a flame, and the flame into a fire. And the fire set my heart alight with all the fervor of rekindled belief in this Jesus, this risen Lord, this one who would not abandon me to the grave even after I had abandoned him to die.

I tell you, friend, that in the years since that day, my daydreams have often brought me back to that moment when Jesus breathed his Spirit into me. When I am in distress, when I am in grief, when I forget that I believe that I am with God, I can take a breath. And I will remember that I am breathing in the peace that our Lord has given to each of us, the peace that passes all my ability to understand and lodges where I need that peace the most – in the secret places within where the war still rages from time to time. You see, every time I take a breath, and, for that matter, every time you take a breath, we are not only filling up our lungs with air. We are filling up our souls with the Holy Spirit of God, who continues to breathe into us the new life of the Risen Christ.

…Praying For…

Dear God, you are the life-breath of all things. Thank you for the Holy Spirit that you breathe into my soul, so that I can know on a level beyond knowing that you are sustaining me with your life. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, feeling you breathe the peace that passes all understanding into my heart and soul.

Not Full Enough (April 11, 2013)

…Opening To…

For a second after Aslan breathed upon him the stone lion looked just the same. Then a tiny streak of gold began to run along his white marble back — then it spread — then the colour seemed to lick all over him as the flame licked all over a bit of paper — then, while his hind-quarters were still obviously stone the lion shook his mane and all the heavy, stony folds rippled into living hair. (C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe)

…Listening In…

He said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. (John 20:19-20; context)

…Filling Up…

…Day four with the Apostle Peter (click here for day one, two, three)

I leapt up and stared at the man in the center of the room. He was slowly spinning in a circle, studying each statue in turn. I looked where he was looking: at the hollow eyes, at the sunken cheeks, at the dried up streams of tears that had washed clean lines on dirty faces.

As far as I could tell, I was the only one who had noticed his presence. Since my rational mind was still turned off, I didn’t even wonder how someone else had entered the room while I was sitting against the locked door. I just stared at him, uncomprehending, but the sliver of hope that lay dormant in me since the tomb was beginning to glow. Then he said, “Peace be with you.”

They were the first words spoken since Philip’s one-word response to my question hours earlier. The words rang out, and the others began to stir. They raised their heads. Some stood up. The man walked over to me, gripped my arm in a firm grasp, and I noticed fresh wounds that cut through both of his wrists. He went around the room clasping the others’ shoulders and lifting their chins with his fingers. “He can’t be,” I said, as the war of guilt and pain and loss continued to rage within me, stronger now that the faint glow of hope was illuminating the battlefield.

The man heard me and turned to face my direction. “Peace be with you,” he said again. We were all standing now. The room, so empty a moment before, seemed full now, but not full enough for him. He gestured to me. I turned, unbolted the lock, and opened the door. Mary, still slumped against the other side, fell into the room. I helped her to her feet. “Is he?” I whispered to her. She looked from the man to me, and she beamed at me through brimming eyes.

…to be concluded tomorrow.

…Praying For…

Dear God, you are the life-breath of all things. Help me feel the peace you are speaking into my heart, so that I may show that peace forth to others. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, feeling you breathe the peace that passes all understanding into my heart and soul.

We Might Have Been Statues (April 10, 2013)

…Opening To…

For a second after Aslan breathed upon him the stone lion looked just the same. Then a tiny streak of gold began to run along his white marble back — then it spread — then the colour seemed to lick all over him as the flame licked all over a bit of paper — then, while his hind-quarters were still obviously stone the lion shook his mane and all the heavy, stony folds rippled into living hair. (C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe)

…Listening In…

It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. (John 20:19; context)

…Filling Up…

…Day three with the Apostle Peter (click here for day one, two)

I shut the door with Mary on the other side. Sliding the bolt home, I slumped against the door and slid to the ground. Oblivious to Mary’s pounding on the door, I looked around the room. Judas was gone, of course, but everyone else was there, I was sure. We had escaped the mob and the authorities. Would they be content with the death of our leader or would they be coming after us, too? I counted the others. Nine, and I made ten. Someone else was missing. “Where’s Thomas,” I called out.

Philip looked up for a moment and managed a one-word response. “Gone,” he said, and he put his head back into his hands. I sat with my back to the locked door. Eventually Mary gave up her pounding. I could hear her sobbing, her breath coming in great heaves. She was, no doubt, sitting against the other side of the door. Three inches of wood separated us: three inches of wood and my disbelief and the war raging within me.

Inside the room, we might have been statues. I couldn’t even hear the others breathing. Hours passed and no one noticed. No one spoke. No one ate or drank. We were entombed in the locked house, alive but acting like dead men. And all the while the war raged on while numbness froze my body against the bolted door.

The ten of us were still frozen in place when evening fell. I had been staring at nothing in particular when I began unconsciously counting the others again. “Eight. Nine. Ten.” I counted aloud, and then I put my finger to my own chest. “Eleven.” I counted again. Eleven again. I leapt up and stared at the man in the center of the room.

…to be continued tomorrow.

…Praying For…

Dear God, you are the life-breath of all things. Help me to invite you into the locked rooms within myself, all the places I don’t want you to see, but where you are needed most. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, feeling you breathe the peace that passes all understanding into my heart and soul.

Shutting the Door (April 9, 2013)

…Opening To…

For a second after Aslan breathed upon him the stone lion looked just the same. Then a tiny streak of gold began to run along his white marble back — then it spread — then the colour seemed to lick all over him as the flame licked all over a bit of paper — then, while his hind-quarters were still obviously stone the lion shook his mane and all the heavy, stony folds rippled into living hair. (C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe)

…Listening In…

Mary Magdalene left and announced to the disciples, “I’ve seen the Lord.” Then she told them what he said to her. (John 20:18; context)

…Filling Up…

…Day two with the Apostle Peter (click here for day one)

I was at war within myself, and I could not access a single crumb of the peace that Jesus had always radiated.

I saw the empty tomb, but the conflict within kept me blind to what the emptiness might mean. The war inside of me – with fresh reinforcements of guilt – was still raging when I returned to the house we had used a few nights before, on the night when I didn’t want Jesus to wash my feet. Nine of the others were there; they had been locked in the room since the mob had formed three days before. As I was shutting the door, Mary Magdalene rushed up and squeezed her way into the room. “I have seen the Lord,” she shouted.

She was breathing hard. I had left her standing outside the tomb, so she must have raced all the way to the house to catch up with me. I looked at Mary: her face glistened with sweat, her eyes were bright. If the conflict within had not been blinding me, I might have identified the brightness in her eyes as “joy,” but how could there ever be joy again after what had happened? The other disciples barely looked up when she burst in shouting. She looked around the room, then back at me. “He has risen from the dead,” she said, defiantly.

I took a step toward her. “Just because the tomb was empty,” I began, but my voice trailed off. She backed away, and now her voice was very small, small and wounded. “But I did see him,” she said. And I shut the door with Mary on the other side.

…to be continued tomorrow.

…Praying For…

Dear God, you are the life-breath of all things. Help me not to shut out possibilities that seem impossible; grant me the imagination and the elbow grease needed to remove the “im” from the word impossible. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, feeling you breathe the peace that passes all understanding into my heart and soul.

At War Within (April 8, 2013)

…Opening To…

For a second after Aslan breathed upon him the stone lion looked just the same. Then a tiny streak of gold began to run along his white marble back — then it spread — then the colour seemed to lick all over him as the flame licked all over a bit of paper — then, while his hind-quarters were still obviously stone the lion shook his mane and all the heavy, stony folds rippled into living hair. (C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe)

…Listening In…

Peter and the other disciple left to go to the tomb. They were running together, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and was the first to arrive at the tomb. Bending down to take a look, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he didn’t go in. (John 20:3-5; context)

…Filling Up…

We’re going to change it up a little bit on devotiONEighty this week with five days of narrative. Every once in a while at my church, I preach sermons as a character from the text of the Bible. Likewise, this week on devo180, imagine with me the Apostle Peter, who is in Rome near the end of his life, talking to a friend about the day when Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to the disciples in the locked house (John 20).

I wish I could tell you that seeing the empty tomb was enough. I went inside the tomb and saw the linen cloths lying there and the cloth that had covered Jesus’ face folded up in a corner. Thinking back now, surely grave robbers would not have folded his ceremonial burial garments while stealing his body! But in the semi-darkness of that early morning, I wasn’t thinking rationally. I wasn’t thinking at all. I was numb on the outside, immune to the sliver of hope that the empty tomb brought.

I was numb on the outside, but on the inside, I was at war. I always thought of myself as his most faithful disciple, but at the time of his greatest need, I abandoned him, I lied about knowing him to save my own skin. In the garden, I had been ready to fight to the death for Jesus. But the moment he took away my sword, I crumbled. I wasn’t strong enough to remain by his side without a weapon in my hand. I wasn’t strong enough to trust him, to trust that his plan included death without fighting. I was at war within myself, and I could not access a single crumb of the peace that Jesus had always radiated.

…to be continued tomorrow.

…Praying For…

Dear God, you are the life-breath of all things. Help me to believe even when I can’t see and help me to proclaim your love even when I am afraid. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, feeling you breathe the peace that passes all understanding into my heart and soul.

Way of the Cross: Stations 13-14 (March 29, 2013)

…Opening To…

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you;
Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

…Listening In…

Now there was a man named Joseph who was a member of the council. He was a good and righteous man. He hadn’t agreed with the plan and actions of the council. He was from the Jewish city of Arimathea and eagerly anticipated God’s kingdom. This man went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Taking it down, he wrapped it in a linen cloth and laid it in a tomb carved out of the rock, in which no one had ever been buried. It was the Preparation Day for the Sabbath, and the Sabbath was quickly approaching.The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph. They saw the tomb and how Jesus’ body was laid in it, then they went away and prepared fragrant spices and perfumed oils. (Luke 23:50-56; context)

…Filling Up…

This Holy Week we are be meditating on the fourteen “Stations of the Cross.” The Opening and Sending sections of this week’s Devos, as well as the italicized verses at the end of each station come from the Episcopal “Way of the Cross” service found in the Book of Occasional Services. (If you’d like to hear the complete work, check out the music page.)

Station 13: The body of Jesus is placed in the arms of his mother
Daughter of Jerusalem,
Cradle your Son.
“My heart is poured out in grief,
My eyes are spent, but my sorrow’s just begun.
My name shall be ‘Mara.’
Bitter I have become.
O Death, I feel your sting,
But is it true that the grave’s
Power will be undone?”

Her tears run down her cheek:
And she has none to comfort her.

Station 14: Jesus is laid in the tomb
Grieving,
They pull the thorns from Jesus’ head;
Not quite believing
Their way, their truth, their live is dead.
The future looming:
A void where light is never shed.
Now they’re entombing
The bridegroom who will never wed.

You will not abandon me to the grave:
Nor let your Holy One see corruption.

Closing Antiphon

…Praying For…

Dear God, your holy Son relinquished his life to destroy death, and he died so I might live. Help me to die to self each day and live for him he rose again on the third day. As I wait and watch by the tomb, grant me the grace to remember his presence in my life, in whose name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, glorying in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom is our salvation, our life, and resurrection.