Christ’s Passion, Enough, God’s sacrifice, Good Friday, Hope, I am enough!, Lent, Lenten reflection, Pádraig Ó Tuama

Enough

Mama, 2020
By Artist/Iconographer, Kelly Latimore
See more of Kelly’s icon artwork here: https://kellylatimoreicons.com/gallery/

For me, there is never enough mourning and grieving for Good Friday — never enough remembering, never enough weeping. There is never enough time to reflect on Jesus in the tomb after being betrayed, arrested, tortured, mocked, crowned with a braid of thorns that pierced his flesh and nailed to a rough-hewn cross. What could possibly be enough for me on this day that we spend remembering a tragic murder of an innocent Christ? How do I embrace the comforting presence of ENOUGH?

As a part of my contemplation today, I read an essay on observing the days of Lent written by Pádraig Ó Tuama. These words begin the essay entitled, A Is for Alleluia:

We make space to contemplate what it is that we will celebrate in 40 days’ time. We make space to recognise our faults. We pray a little more. We allow our emptier stomachs to remind us of the pithiness of our observations in comparison with real hunger. We give more money. We confess. We reconcile. We listen to emptiness for a while. We do not say Alleluia.

He’s right, of course, in writing that we do not utter a single Alleluia during Lent’s forty days. Still, I thought, not saying Alleluia is just not enough. What else must we do or not do? So many words came to mind, interestingly, the words I remembered were songs. 

What language shall I borrow to thank thee dearest friend? So I’ll cling to the old, rugged cross… Just to think of the cross moves me now; It should have been me, it should have been me, instead I am free, I am free… Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Yes, I was there when Jesus was crucified. I was there looking up at his anguished face, every year. Every year on Good Friday, I was there, looking for a glimmer of hope in the darkness. But it seemed not enough, not at all enough. I heard from a friend last night who told me something about her life. When she wrote all the words and all of her thoughts, it all boiled down to this: “I am not enough.” And I thought, in response, “I am not enough either! Never enough!”

What a common belief for all of us. In whatever circumstances, relationships, friendships and any other area of our lives, why do we believe that we are not enough? I won’t go into the reasons here, for they are legion But what I must say is that, if Christ endured the terrible days we remember on this Good Friday for any reason at all, it was so that each of us would know beyond any doubt: “I am enough!

Again, the words of Pádraig Ó Tuama teach me and comfort me, when he writes about the meaning he finds in the darkness of Good Friday.

We attend the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday, reminding ourselves of the emptying of God by God. We remember the descent of our tortured and abandoned brother into Hell. We allow emptiness to create hope.

How poignant are his words, “emptying of God by God” and “the descent of our tortured and abandoned brother into Hell.” The act of God was a selfless, redeeming act. The willingness to die by our “tortured and abandoned brother” was a selfless, redeeming and loving act. For all that Christ endured was for you and for me, so that we might accept our sacred worth as daughters and sons, beloved children who always believe they are enough.

Christ’s sacrifice — made so that we would believe we are enough. The walk to Golgotha bearing the weight of the heavy cross, bearing the weight of the world — he carried the weight so that we would believe we are enough. His cries from the cross, “It is finished. My God, why have you forsaken me?”  — he spoke so that we would believe we are enough.

When I think of the cross, I am moved, moved in my deepest place. I am deeply grateful for the sacrifice Jesus made for me. I remember the words of a song we sang in the 70s from the youth musical, “Natural High” . . . 

Just to think of the cross moves me now;
the nails in his hands, his bleeding brow;
to think of the cross moves me now;
It should have been me, it should have been me!
Instead I am free! I am free! I am free!
— Kurt Kaiser and Ralph Carmichael —

Thanks be to God, that giving God’s Son was sending us a critical, loving and life-giving message: 
           
                   “You, my beloved children, are always enough!”

I want to leave you with the song, “When I Think of the Cross,” recalling the words as well as my memory allows.

Long, long ago in a faraway place;
Rough, rugged timbers were raised to the sky.
There stood a man suspended in space,
And though he was blameless, they left him to die.

Just to think of the cross moves me now;
The nails in his hands, his bleeding brow;
To think of the cross moves me now;
It should have been me. It should have been me;
Instead I am free, I am free. I am free!

He put an end to my guilt and despair;
Turned bitter hating to sweet peace and love.
Even the men who put him up there,
Were offered forgiveness and life from above.

Just to think of the cross moves me now;
It should have been me. It should have been me.
Instead I am free, I am free, I am free! I am free!

Covenant, Jeremiah 31, Joy, Lent, Lenten reflection, Psalm 51, Psalms, Repentance, Restoration, Sin

The Days Are Coming

THE LECTIONARY TEXTS FOR
THE FIFTH SUNDAY IN LENT

A Reflection on Scripture

The Word of God for the People of God

JEREMIAH 31:31-34 (NIV)
31 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
    and with the people of Judah.

32 It will not be like the covenant
    I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
    to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
    though I was a husband to them,”
declares the Lord.

33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
    after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
    and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.

34 No longer will they teach their neighbor,
    or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
    and will remember their sins no more.”

PSALM 51:1-12 (NIV)
Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
    and justified when you judge.

Surely I was sinful at birth,
    sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
    you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
    wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
    and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
    or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

We are the faithful daughters and sons of God who wait. We are God’s people who wait for the promised days that are coming. For in those days the Prophet Jeremiah tells us that God will invite us into a covenant relationship. Like the people of Israel, we believe we are in covenant with God already. But this Lenten scripture speaks of a new covenant, a deeper covenant, a covenant not like the previous one. This covenant will be different, a new covenant.

As for me, well I desperately need a new covenant, because for this covenant, God will write God’s law upon my heart, where I need it most, when I need it most. For me, the season of need is right now — in the middle of a pandemic of isolation, in the midst of isolation due to acute kidney rejection, in the isolation caused by immunosuppressant medications, in the throes of worry and confusion. For me, these days promised need to come now — these days that affirm that we are God’s people and that, indeed, God is our God. God will remember our sin no more.

But we remember do our sin. Indeed, our sin is ever before us. As our teachers and preachers and parents used to say, we sin by both commission and omission. I know immediately, in my soul, when I have willfully committed a sin. That kind of sin is clear to me, and I quickly cry out to God, “Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me.” But sins of omission get me every time. What have I left undone that endangers my spirit? What have I left undone that harms another person? What have I done to sin against God?

These twelve verses of Psalm 51 are arguably the most heartfelt and poignant words of prayer and confession in the whole of scripture. The Psalmist’s words fully reveal his heart, open his spirit to God and speak fully and clearly of sin and of his deep longing to put his sin away. The Psalmist does not want his sin to be ever before him. Instead, he beseeches God . . . 

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

I have no words to illuminate today’s scripture, no words of reflection that would enhance the message of this beautiful Psalm. I have no thoughts to add to its essence. But from the depths of my disconsolate soul, I pray, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”  Amen.

Create in Me a Clean Heart, O God, arr. Victor Johnson
Sanctuary Choir, First United Methodist, Downtown, Houston Texas
Dr. Terry Morris, Director of Traditional Music
John Gearhart, Organist
Jonathon Saint-Thomas, Pianist

Home, Lent, Lenten reflection, Searching for God, Weariness

Tenderly Calling

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I find I am very still during this Lenten season, as if my heart wants to wait and my soul wants to become fully open to something holier than my normal days. Like many people, I am conditioned to productivity. Sometimes I believe I’m fixated on work — mundane work, hard work, busywork, creative work. Any kind of work that produces something tangible.

All the while, I wonder why I am not more devoted to soul work, for that is the kind of work that transforms me and creates a tender space in me. Soul work is much harder than “regular” work, because it requires a Lenten kind of spirituality. For me, soul work calls me to find silent spaces, to breathe slowly and deeply, to reflect, to contemplate, to pray, to hear music, to listen to the sighs of my soul and to find within myself that gentle, tender place that longs for the brush of Spirit wings.

Soul work brings me to holy places and sacred moments. During Lent, I usually hear the call for penitence and forgiveness. I hear God’s voice calling out to me, “ . . .return to me with all your heart.” (Joel 2:12)  Over many Lenten seasons, I have heard, again and again, a similar call.

You will seek me and find me
when you search for me with all your heart
.
Lamentations 3:22-23

It sounds hard — these calls to seek, search, find, return — and I’m not too sure I can do “hard” right now. Standing here, in the center of this Lent, I just want to say, “Not this time, God. I’m tired.” Instead of working on returning to God, this Lent I am working through serious health concerns that include being infused with massive steroid medications meant to further weaken my immune system. It seems that my body’s autoimmune response is trying to reject the kidney I received on November 12, 2019.

My brother is still recovering from an extremely dangerous case of Covid-19 that was literally life-threatening. Like so many others, I am continuing to struggle through the pandemic and all the losses it has brought. The truth is that all of it together has depleted my energy.

At this point, as I think of returning to God with all my heart, I respond with, “I can’t. I’m too exhausted to find the way back, God. The search for you is just too complicated.” Then all of a sudden in the long, dark hours before dawn on my third night without sleep, I remember that “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning . . . ” (Lamentations 3:22-23)

Sometimes, any of us can become deep-down weary. Life can be hard. Circumstances might be changing around us, or we might find ourselves facing debilitating challenges we never saw coming. Perhaps we’re walking through a difficult illness or a dark season, and no matter how much we’ve prayed, the difficulty seems to linger on for far too long. Like in these days. Right now in fact, God reminds us of the tender mercy that still brings peace to our hearts in seasons like this one. Mercies that never end, new every morning — a message written for God’s people when times were very difficult. Like our times, now!

God’s tender mercies really do hold us close as we face long days and hard nights. So just maybe we would do well during this Lenten season to remember, not God’s call to us to return, but rather the tenderness of Jesus as he waits for our weary souls and calls us to come home.

Thanks be to God.

FOR YOUR MOMENTS OF LENTEN REFLECTION: Sit quietly and let your soul rest for a few moments. Breathe slowly and deeply, releasing from within you what you need to let go of. Breathe in the tenderness that heals your soul and breathe out your exhaustion.

Imagine that Jesus is watching for you, waiting for you. Imagine that you do not have to do anything, but that Jesus is tenderly calling out to you, “Come home, my beloved child. I’ve been waiting. If you have become too weary on this journey, just come home.”

For so many years, I listened and sang this beautiful hymn without really understanding much about its message: “Ye who are weary, come home.” I think I get it now.

“Softly and Tenderly”
Lyrics and Music: Will Lamartine Thompson (1847-1909)
Arranged by Bill Pursell
Conducted by Buryl Red
Concertmaster:  Sheldon Kurland
Background vocal:  Cynthia Clawson