Zoom Book Study. I am thinking about organizing a Zoom Book Study for Wednesday evenings. The one I am considering is a new study by Adam Hamilton called “Unafraid”. Because we are meeting virtually, I will need to adapt the materials for this to work, but I think I can do that. Zoom video conferencing is free and easy. You download the ap on your computer. Each week I would send out an email invitation. The invitation has a link. At the scheduled time, you press the link and Zoom! Anyone who has the link can join, so this can be folks with the church or just in the community. Are you interested? If so, send me an e-mail. If I can get 10 folks to sign up, I can work this up. We would start sometime in August. Remember, we are opening this to anyone who is interested.
Lenten Home Bible Study, 2020
The first lesson is for March 29, the Anointing of Jesus at Bethany. Please read Mark 14:1-9. Here are some comments and questions.
- The parallel gospel accounts are found in Matthew 26:6-13, Luke 7:36-50 and John 12:1-8. How are these accounts different? How are they alike?
- Was the anointing wasteful, as the those present claimed?
- Jesus said, “She did what she could”. Are we doing what we can for Christ during this time of challenge?
The second lesson is for March 31, the Lord’s Supper, Mark 14:12-26. Please read and consider these comments and questions.
- Our inability to celebrate the Lord’s Supper per our tradition has been especially troublesome to me. I am sure you feel the same way. During our Pastors and Professionals Zoom meeting, we talked a great deal about the sacrament and what it means. Consider your experience of the sacrament. What does it mean to you? How are you missing it and what can we do to deeply remember Jesus?
- The parallel gospels are found at Matthew 26:26-29 and Luke 22:15-20. How are these accounts different? How are they alike?
- Paul writes of the sacrament in 1 Corinthians 10:14-17; 11:17-34. How do Paul’s words help us understand the sacrament?
The third lesson is for April 1, Judas and his Betrayal and Peter and his Denial. Please read Mark 14:10-11 and Mark 14:27-31. Some comments and questions:
- Judas actively denied Christ. Some say he was disillusioned when Jesus would not lead a rebellion. Others say he was simply playing a role that was preset. Peter was a stanch believer in Christ and his foremost disciple, yet he would also deny Christ. Consider the difference between these two disciples.
- We often focus on Peter’s denial. But all the disciples said the same. Consider our Lent. To what degree have we fallen away?
- And consider the promise that even should we fall away, we are still subject to G-d’s redemption.
The fourth lesson is for April 3, Gethsemane. Our reading is Mark 14:32-41. Some comments and questions:
- The same three disciples who went up with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration are now called to go with Jesus to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane. Their job was simple. Stay awake and keep watch. In Mark 13:37, Jesus has warned them “And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake”. As we examine our own lives, do we find it hard to “keep awake “when we are called to serve?
- “Thy will be done” is our prayer as well. How good are we at discerning G-d’s will and then being obedient to what He wants from us?
- This passage helps us to know that the suffering and death of Jesus was not a victory that his enemies anticipated. It was G-d’s plan of salvation at work, even as his disciples faltered. How does this give us assurance as we consider G-d’s salvific plan?
The fifth lesson is for April 5, Palm Sunday, and we will think back to Mark 11:1-11 and Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The Gospel of John, 12:17 adds that the reason the people were so excited is because word had spread that Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. Read Mark’s account of the first Palm Sunday. Some comments and questions:
- It seems so strange not to be in church this morning waving the palms and watching the children place them at the cross. And we wonder about this Holy Week and how our observance will be so different this year. Among our family and friends, how will we work through Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday this Lent?
- In our tradition, we gather to observe the Paschal Triduum beginning on the evening of Maundy Thursday, again on Good Friday and certainly on Easter Sunday. We might consider how we do so in a year during which we cannot gather. I was inspired by Jerusalem Greer’s “Holy Week at Home: Family Practices for the Triduum” https://buildfaith.org/holy-week-at-home-family-practices-for-the-triduum/. If we gathered at church, we would wash each other’s hands and celebrate Holy Communion by serving each other. Families can settle in for an evening meal, wash each other’s hands and serve one another. You remember that we strip the altar in preparation for Good Friday. If we have prepared a home altar this Lenten season, we can bring it back to its basics. Leave it bare until Easter morning. On Good Friday, we would have gathered for a Tenebrae service, when the church is darkened as we read the scriptures of Jesus arrest and crucifixion. In our home, we can read the same scripture as we darken the room. Holy Saturday is a day of waiting. Sure, we color the eggs and prepare the baskets. But we also consider what has happened and will happen. So, perhaps we prepare a Paschal Candle. Place it unlit on our altar space as a symbol our waiting. On Easter, we arise and greet the day with joy. We light the Paschal candle, drape our crosses in white and read the story of the empty tomb.
The sixth lesson is for April 6. Please read Mark 14:43-50, the Arrest of Jesus. Some comments and questions:
- The betrayal was complete. The Holy Kiss was perverted into a means of identifying Jesus to those arresting him. No matter how many times we read this verse, we are shocked by the violence and the promise of more violence to come. And perhaps like Peter, we want to grab a sword and exchange blow for blow. How did Jesus prepare his disciples for this time? How are we prepared for this time in isolation?
- We are, from time to time, confronted by situations for which we would like to respond with harsh words or actions. How did Jesus prepare us to respond with love?
The seventh lesson is for April 7 and is about the Trial of Jesus. Our Scripture is Mark 14:53-65. Some comments and questions:
- Jesus was tried before the Sanhedrin or the Jewish high court. By tradition, there would have been 71 members with the high priest presiding. Witnesses acted as the prosecution and obviously they could not get their stories straight as they accused Jesus. Read the parallel Gospels for more insight (Matthew 26:57-68, Luke 2:54-71; John 18:13-34). We would like to believe that a trial results in justice. In this case, the trial only resulted in an injustice. Why?
- All four Gospels agree that Peter followed Jesus and the arresting soldiers to the place of trial. Then he sat with the guards and was obviously fairly close to the proceedings. If Peter had testified, what do you think he would have said to the Sanhedrin?
- “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” they asked. Otherwise, “Are you the Messiah?” The only testimony Jesus offered was to confirm that he was the Messiah. I wonder. Who was really on trial here?
The eighth lesson is for April the 8th. It is Wednesday of Holy Week and the focus is on Peter’s Denial of Christ as we read Mark 14:66-72. Some comments and questions:
- Peter could have taken the witness stand and supported Jesus with his testimony. That likely would have resulted in another cross. Instead, Peter denied Christ three times, cursing and swearing in the process. This is the same Peter who confessed Jesus as Messiah just a short time before (Mark 8:27-30). But when such a confession would have dire consequences, Peter’s faith failed him. When have we had a chance to speak up for Christ, yet failed?
- When Peter remembered that Jesus had said Peter would disown him, Peter broke down and wept. He was sorry for what he had done. Mark leaves Peter weeping. The only other mention is that after the resurrection, Jesus told the women to go and tell Peter and the other disciples that he had risen. (Mark 16:7). How have we experienced G-d’s mercy when we have failed Jesus?
The ninth lesson is for April the 9th. It is Maundy Thursday of Holy Week. Our scripture for today is Mark 15:1-15 and Jesus appears before Pilate. Some comments and questions:
- All the Gospels carry a similar account (Matthew 27: 1-2;11-14; 15-23, Luke 23:1-23, John 18:28-40). Pilate almost seems a sympathetic figure as he finds no grounds for a crime. Pilate was ready to let Jesus go with a whipping. But would a whipping have fulfilled the epic prophecy of Messiah? How do we perceive Pilate’s role in this?
- All the Gospels tell the story of Barabbas, the criminal who was set free by will of the mob. By tradition, the people could request the release of one criminal during the Passover feast. When Pilate suggested they use this request to free Jesus, the mob instead called for Barabbas. For Jesus, they had just one request, “Crucify him!”. How does grace figure into what happened here?
- Maundy Thursday is typically celebrated in the church by washing each other’s hands and then celebrating an intimate form of Holy Communion. For our evening meal, can we have a time of such remembrance?
The 10th lesson is for April 10th. It is Good Friday and a time to remember the crucifixion of Jesus. The scripture is Mark 15:16-40. Some comments and questions:
- On the way to the crucifixion, Jesus is beaten and mocked. No matter which Gospel account we read (Matthew 27:24-56; Luke 23:24-49; John 19:1-30), it is a hard and cruel reading. It is difficult to read without weeping. Yet, we must because there can be no resurrection without a death. But still, we wonder. Could there have been another way for G-d to save us from our sin?
- Mark’s Gospel contains an account of Simon of Cyrene who was conscripted to carry Jesus’ cross. In Mark 8:34, Jesus told the disciples and crowd “If any would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” In this age, and during this challenging time, how are we called to take up the cross and even someone else’s cross to follow Jesus?
- The words of Jesus at his death are haunting “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthami” –“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” These remind us of the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 22. In these times, do we feel forsaken? Can we get past the opening verses of Psalm 22 and get to verse 19? “But you, O Lord, be not far off; O my strength, come quickly to help me.” Can we arrive at verse 31, “They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn-for he has done it”?
- In the tradition of the church, the altar is stripped and the paraments are removed from the sanctuary. We were going to have a Tenebrae Service (Service of Darkness) this evening. The choir was going to read the Passion Narrative, even as we would softly reflect with our voices as the candles were extinguished one by one. How can we capture this at home? Perhaps put aside our usual television and Net Flicks and contemplate what G-d is teaching us this day.
The 11th lesson is for April 11th, or Holy Saturday. The Scripture is Mark 15: 42-47 and the Burial of Jesus. Some comments and questions:
- “It was Preparation Day…”. That is how the Scripture begins. For the Jews, this would have been the day before the Sabbath. Because the Jews could not attend a body on the Sabbath, there was some urgency to put Jesus’ body into the tomb. It is also our day of preparation. Normally, we would be dying Easter Eggs, planning the celebration, preparing Sunday’s feast and looking forward to the Sunrise service. This year may be very different. We may be celebrating Easter morning in our isolation, rather than at a gathering. How can we prepare for such an Easter?
- The remarkable kindness and tenderness of Joseph of Arimathea is instructive. What can we do this day for someone else?
The 12th lesson is for April 12. It is Easter Sunday. The Scripture is Mark 16:1-8 and it is the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Some comments and questions:
- Usually, we would joyfully gather and exchange the traditional words, “He is Risen! He is Risen indeed!” Around the house, exchange that greeting. Can we pick up the phone and call someone with the greeting? Can we answer the phone and say “He is risen!” might we Text, Facebook and E-mail this message to those whom we love?
- Compare Mark’s Gospel of the Empty Tomb to Matthew 28:1-8; Luke 24:1-12 and John 20:1-18. What are the differences? The Similarities? In our hindsight, the Empty Tomb is a matter of celebration because we know the story. It is our heritage as Christians. We have the post resurrection appearances, Acts and other Scripture to develop what happened. The disciples only had hope. And a little fear and confusion as the angels told them that Jesus had risen. On this Easter Sunday, we may have a little fear and confusion hanging over us. Trying to ruin our celebration. But can we hold this account dear and close, and allow it to give us hope?
- Folks, this may seem the strangest of Easters as we cannot gather in the traditional way. But it also may be an opportunity to understand the Easter story in a more personal way and perhaps establish new family traditions. The eggs might contain much more than candy. The dinner might have a longer prayer. The morning might be filled with Scripture reading, with each person offering a word. Let us make this an Easter to remember.
We will restart these studies when things settle.
I am so excited to facilitate this six-week Lenten book study based on Victor Hugo’s classic work, Les Misérables. The characters in the book are so much like us. Complex, trying to sort right from wrong, just trying to make a life in a difficult world. I fell in love with this book many years ago and perceived it as an illustration of G-d’s grace at work in people. No, we will not read the original 1,500 page work. Matt Rawe’s book is much shorter and there is a film segment to help us along. I will have a few of the books, but you can buy them from Cokesbury or Amazon if you like. Folks, this should be a good one. Invite friends and neighbors to share this book study. We will start on Wednesday March 4 at 5:00 p.m. in the Fellowship Hall.