Archive for the ‘St. Mary of Bethany’ Tag

Devotion for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday Before the Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Christ Pantocrator

Above:  Christ Pantocrator

Image in the Public Domain

Fleeing from Grace

MARCH 18-20, 2021


The Collect:

O God, rich in mercy, by the humiliation of your Son

you lifted up this fallen world and rescued us from the hopelessness of death.

Lead us into your light, that all our deeds may reflect your love,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 28


The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 30:15-18 (Thursday)

Exodus 30:1-10 (Friday)

Habakkuk 3:2-13 (Saturday)

Psalm 107:1-16 (All Days)

Hebrews 4:1-13 (Thursday)

Hebrews 4:14-5:4 (Friday)

John 12:1-11 (Saturday)


Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness;

in your great compassion blot out my offenses.

Wash me through and through from my wickedness

and cleanse me from my sin.

–Psalm 51:1-2, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


Through all generations you have made yourself known,

and in your wrath you did not forget mercy.

–Habakkuk 3:2b, The Revised English Bible (1989)


For thus said my Lord GOD,

The Holy One of Israel,

“You shall triumph by stillness and quiet;

Your victory shall come about

Through calm and confidence.”

But you refused.

“No,” you declared.

“We shall flee on our steeds”–

Therefore you shall flee!

“We shall ride on swift mounts”–

Therefore your pursuers shall prove swift!

One thousand before the shout of one–

You shall flee at the shout of five;

Till what is left of you

Is like a mast on a hilltop,

Like a pole upon a mountain.


Truly, the LORD is waiting to show you grace,

Truly, He will arise to pardon you.

For the LORD is a God of justice;

Happy are all who wait for Him.

–Isaiah 30:15-18, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)


The concept of God changes between the covers of the Bible.  God is physically immediate to Abraham, for example, yet proximity to God is fatal in much of the Hebrew Scriptures.    Even touching the Ark of the Covenant accidentally proved fatal, according to the texts.  There was no fatal holiness in Jesus, however; St. Mary of Bethany anointed him in John 12:1-11, shortly before the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.

So we can draw near to God, who has drawn close to us and become incarnate (however that worked) as one of us.  The theological point of the full humanity and divinity of Jesus is one of those difficult knots great minds have tried to understand.  (For details, consult a history of Christian theology.)  I will not tread in their steps here except to assert that one ought to seek a balance between the humanity and the divinity of Jesus; one should not emphasize one at the expense of the other.  My experience in congregations (especially during my formative years) has been that people have usually been more comfortable with the divinity of Christ than with his humanity.  They have committed the heresy of Apollinarianism, or acknowledging his humanity while giving short shrift to it.

If attempting to untangle the mysteries of the Incarnation and of the nature(s) and will(s) of Christ proves insufficiently challenging, what about the balance between divine judgment and mercy?  I can provide a partial answer; the rest I am content to leave as a mystery.  Some things we do to ourselves, so we suffer the consequences of our actions.  Forgiveness of sins does not remove those consequences in this realm of existence, however.  Also, sometimes good news for the oppressed is catastrophic news for oppressors who refuse to change their ways.  That is the way life works.  In addition, some divine judgment is discipline meant to prompt repentance.  In such cases the metaphor of God as parent works well.  In some circumstances (especially from the Hebrew Scriptures) I refuse to affirm the argument that God has commanded people to commit genocide and other atrocities.  Maybe those who committed those deeds thought they were fulfilling a divine mandate, but they were wrong.  Against which population would Jesus commit or condone genocide?

Often we seek to use theology to justify our sins when we ought to confess and repent of those offenses.  Frequently we seek not God–in the context of whose holiness our sinfulness becomes evident–but confirmation of our imagined righteousness.  We flee from God, so we doom ourselves to face certain consequences.  We run away from God, who waits to show us mercy.  Maybe doing that is easier than facing the reality of our spiritual lives.  If that is true, this statement is a sad one.








Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year C   12 comments

Above:  Statue of Reconciliation, Ruins of Old Coventry Cathedral, Coventry, England, United Kingdom

Image Source = Rebecca Kennison

Forgiveness and the Future

APRIL 3, 2022


Isaiah 43:16-21 (New Revised Standard Version):

Thus says the LORD,

who makes a way in the sea,

a path in the mighty waters,

who brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior;

they lie down, they cannot rise,

they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:

Do not remember the former things,

or consider the things of old.

I am about to do a new thing;

now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

I will make a way in the wilderness

and rivers in the desert.

The wild animals will honor me,

the jackals and the ostriches;

for I give water in the wilderness,

rivers in the desert,

to give drink to my chosen people,

the people whom I formed for myself

so that they might declare my praise.

Psalm 126 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,

then were we like those who dream.

2 Then was our mouth filled with laughter,

and our tongue with shouts of joy.

3 Then they said among the nations,

“The LORD has done great things for them.”

The LORD has done great things for us,

and we are glad indeed.

5 Restore our fortunes, O LORD,

like the watercourses of the Negev.

6 Those who sowed with tears

will reap with songs of joy.

7 Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed,

will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.

Philippians 3:4b-14 (New Revised Standard Version):

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

John 12:1-8 (New Revised Standard Version):

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom had raised from the dead.  They gave a dinner for him.  Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at table with him.  Mary took a pound of costly perfume made from pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair.  The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.  But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said,

Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?

(He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; the kept the common purse and used to steal what was put in it.)  Jesus said,

Leave her alone.  She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.  You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.

The Collect:

Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Some Related Posts:

A Prayer Not To Live in the Past:

Prayer of Praise and Adoration:

Prayer of Confession:

Prayer of Dedication:



Sometimes I read Sunday lectionary texts and realize that I can tie all but one together.  Today, however, all of them fit together nicely.

Isaiah 43 has God promising restoration to the exiled Jews, descendants of subjects of the former Kingdom of Judah.  God says,

Do not remember the former things,

or consider the things of old.

I am about to do a new thing;

now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

–Isaiah 43:18-19, New Revised Standard Version

Psalm 126 echoes that reading:

When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,

then we were like those who dream.

Then was our mouth filled with laughter,

and our tongue with shouts of joy.

–Psalm 126:1-2, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

Meanwhile, in Philippians, Paul of Tarsus, once a persecutor of Christians, now an occasionally persecuted Christian, wrote

…forgetting what lies behind, and straining on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

–3:13b-14, New Revised Standard Version


I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

–3:10-11, New Revised Standard Version

That resurrection followed his death, after which people anointed his corpse.  Mary of Bethany’s anointing of Jesus in John 12:1-8 prefigured that pre-Resurrection anointing.

(Aside:  Shortly before I drafted this post I published one, which also brought me around to John 12:1-8 by means of another lectionary.  It is interesting how lectionaries intersect that way.)

As a student of history I grasp the value of knowing what happened in the past.  I also recognize the danger of getting lost back there.  My studies have uncovered examples of people reaching back a thousand years or so, speaking of those events as if they occurred last week, and inciting violence.  On the other extreme, I live in the United States of America, which Gore Vidal, novelist and essayist, has called the United States of Amnesia.  Twenty years ago seems like ancient history to many people.  There is a happy medium between the two.

The main idea is that we ought not live in the past, for the future lies ahead.  It is our destination.  God forgives us, and we ought to extend the same courtesy to ourselves and each other.  Paul had to focus on his goal, not his past.  The exiles of Judah needed to focus on rebuilding, not why they had to rebuild.  While acknowledging their past they needed not to become mired in it.

The same is true of each of us.  I have never had a sordid life or a dramatic conversion experience.  I cannot say truthfully that I became a Christian at 2:00 P.M. on a certain date, for example.  No, God entered my life subtly and gradually.  Yet I can identify moments when God broke through more dramatically and obviously than others.  And I have had to forgive myself for certain failings before I could pres on toward my goal.

We humans are social creatures, some of us more so than others.  We ought not only forgive ourselves but each other for each other’s failings.  Then we should help each other on toward each other’s goals in God.  We are here on the planet for each other; may we act accordingly.