upper room daily devotions

Monday, March 31, 2008

Seeds of Compassion Welcomes the Dalai Lama to Seattle

I am so excited that my church has 65 tickets to the InterSpiritual Day on April 15. Joining His Holiness the Dalai Lama will be Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Sister Joan Chittister, Doug Pagitt, Dr. Ingrid Mattson (Pres. of the Islamic Society of North America), Rabbi David Rosen (Chairman of the Intl. Jewish Committee on Interreligious Dialogue), Roshi Joan Halifax (Zen Buddist Master), Rob Bell (Pastor Mars Hill Bible Church, Grandville, MI), Pravrajika Vrajaprana (Hindu philosopher, teacher, writer), Bishop Steven Charleston (Pres. and Dean of Episcopal Divinity School, Linda Kavelin-Popov (co-founder, Virtues Project), the Rev. Samual B. McKinney (civil rights leader, pastor emeritus of Mt. Zion Baptist Church, Seattle), Fr. William Treacy (founder of Camp Brotherhood), Ahmed Tijani Ben Omar (Muslim scholar and spiritual leader), Guru Singh (Sikh philosopher and leader), and Steven Shankman (UNESC( Chair in Transcultural Studies).

This at-capacity event (10,000 people) is a panel discussion about the core value of compassion in all religious traditions and how children need to learn compassion from an early age.

I am looking forward to this event, along with several others that I will be attending during the Seeds of Compassion week long event in Seattle.

For more info, go to Seeds of Compassion's website. There you will learn about the various fora and learning opportunities available during the week.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Ah, Welcome to Holy Week

Holy Week, for most people (which, unfortunately includes a lot of Christians), is a week to skip so that we can move smoothly and without obstacle from Christmas to Easter. It's too bad that so many people miss the powerful impact of the days from Palm Sunday through Holy Saturday. If you haven't taken the time and allowed yourself the full experience of Holy Week, I especially invite you to this sacred journey.

Over the course of the weeks leading to Palm Sunday, our church utilized dramatic presentations of the gospel messages in John. Victoria M. Tufana and David Haas composed "The Gospel Proclamation of the Scrutinies" in 1982, which breaks up the long readings into four voices interspersed with congregational singing. These gospel proclamations are part of the church's intention for those preparing for baptism to be scrutinized by God's word and for them, in return, to scrutinize their own hearts. Is baptism what they truly desire? Are there any obstacles in their lives that keep them from dying with Christ and being raised with him on Easter? While the "scrutinies" are prayers not used in my tradition, the practice of inviting the initiate to serious reflection about this life change is important. And the gospels from John do just this.

We move from this time of discernment or "scrutiny" to a point of crisis as we reach Palm Sunday. The question for both initiates and baptized Christians is, "Do we want to enter Jerusalem's East Gate with Jesus?" I refer people to the chapter on Palm Sunday in John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg's "The Last Week" for more reading on this. During Holy Week God's realm and the powers and principalities of this world collide. Where do we want to be during this cosmic collision? Where is our heart?

On Maundy Thursday, we are invited to participate in remembering Jesus' last meal with his friends before suffering at the hands of the state. They share a Passover meal celebrating and remembering God's mighty acts of deliverance for God's chosen people. This meal is filled with both irony and foreshadowing. Even as Jesus celebrates the passing over of the Angel of Death and the deliverance of the Jews from Egypt, people are conspiring for his death. He will not be passed by; he will suffer a horrible and agonizing death. And yet, his resurrection will show that in some way death cannot hold him. Maundy Thursday is a wonderful observance. At the church I serve, we spend time during a soup dinner sharing thoughts on how God delivers the world, we share in a brief service of Holy Communion, and then we move in silence to the sanctuary where we strip it bare for the observance of Good Friday.

When people think about skipping Holy Week, typically it's Good Friday that they are really wanting to avoid. It is, after all, a real downer! I, however, don't experience Good Friday in that way. It is emotional for me, but not depressing. Good Friday marks the day when Jesus dies on the cross. There are many ways to mark this occasion. Churches I serve typically hold a tenebrae service - a service of shadows or darkness. This year we will turn to the seven last things Jesus has to say as he dies on the cross. This is called "The Seven Last Words of Christ." This service is often done during the daytime hours between noon and three, but we will be having the service in the evening. Good Friday invites us into Christ's suffering and death. It also invites us into the suffering of the world. This invitation is overwhelming if we go alone, but we don't. We go as a community in the presence of God. We are confronted with the ways in which we live outside of alignment with the Holy One. And we are challenged to see how we continue to crucify God even to this day. This is a moment of great importance for Christians. Without this moment of deep crisis the miracle of Easter is an empty ritual. As scary as it may be for you, I invite you to find a church that you trust and enter into their worship on this day.

Holy Saturday is often passed over altogether, but it is also an important day on the calendar. Jesus is gone. Truly gone. It is traditional to pray for him, the world, and for Christ's resurrection. After dusk, it is proper to hold a vigil waiting for the rays of Easter morn to bring new life from the trauma of Good Friday.

During Holy Week we live out our whole faith. Our faith story calls us not to simply assent intellectually, but to participate in death and resurrection, to find the necessary strength to be in solidarity with the crucified Christ among us today, to hold hope for God's heavenly feast which will mark the end of the powers and principalities of this world. Holy Week is the experience of God's reign coming to pass; it isn't easy and it isn't without pain - great pain. But resurrection is worth it. If you have been raised with Christ, you will know that life in God is a wonderful and wild thing. At least that is my testimony.

Welcome to Holy Week. I hope that you find time to explore it with vulnerability, openness, and honesty.

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