Lent Daily Devotional: Mark 16

Reading: Mark 16
“The Empty Tomb on Good Friday” by Jeff Christian

We go to the cross knowing how this is going to turn out, knowing that the empty tomb is only days away. No one anymore feels the disappointment and shock of the cross that they felt on that original Good Friday. And that is where Mark 16:1-8 gives us a clear sense of direction, a story about the resurrection of Jesus, even on Good Friday.

Mark originally ended at 16:8 with visitors to the tomb running away, bewildered at what they can only imagine happened to the body of Jesus. Little did they know that the living Jesus would soon give them a brand new mission. But with Mark ending his Gospel with such open-ended uncertainty, it reminds us that both the cross and empty tomb shape our lives of good news in Christ.

We are not mere spectators at the cross. Jesus did not die “for us” in the sense that we are uninvolved recipients. No, Jesus at the cross modeled how we take up our own crosses and die to ourselves. This visit to the empty tomb in Mark 16:1-8 on Good Friday links the death and resurrection of Jesus to that model, not only showing us how to die to ourselves, but how to live the full and abundant life Jesus promised in so many of his teachings, healings, and his very life that continues to this day.

And immediately, we run with the women today from the empty tomb, even on Good Friday, to once again begin this good life in Jesus.

Daily Lent Devotional: Mark 15

Reading: Mark 15
“A Prayer of Lament based on Mark 15” by Lindsay Marolf

Where are you, oh God?
Why does it feel so dark here?
Don’t you remember when triumphal shouts filled the streets?
Don’t you remember when healings happened?
Don’t you remember when sharing a meal together was meaningful?

Well, where are you now, Father?
Where have you gone?
Hour by hour my pain increases.
Hour by hour my strength decreases.
Hour by hour…until at last I am completely drained.

Oh God, where are you?
What wrong have I done?
Nothing seems good anymore.
Food isn’t even an option-
And drink tastes like vinegar.

So where are you, God?
Why have you forsaken me?
Please come back- please don’t leave me hanging.
I feel insulted, laughed at.
I have nothing left to say.

Are you gone now, God?
Did the darkness drive you away?
God… my body can’t take it anymore.
My lips are full of helpless cries.
I have to let go.

And yet…

As I feel torn into two- from top to bottom,
I realize that you are in fact who you said you are.

As I come down from the heights of pain,
I realize it is you who wraps me tightly and lays me down to rest.

As I curl up and am placed in my dark hole,
I realize that you see where I am hidden.

And I realize…

Maybe you yourself were present in the darkness.
Maybe you yourself were also left hanging.

Maybe as I was torn apart,
you were too.

Maybe as I let go,
you let me fall into you – darkness and all.

Maybe as I yelled in anguish about your absence, you heard.
And you stayed near me.

Maybe as I remain and wait in the darkness,
you remain and wait with me.

And maybe, just maybe, you are setting me up for resurrection after all.

Lent Daily Devotional: Mark 14

Reading: Mark 14
Thoughts on Mark 14 by Rachel Held Evans

I’ve always felt the strongest connection to Jesus’ first disciples when I read about their various responses to the events of Passion Week—the confidence following Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, the fear after his arrest, the doubt and despair in the shadow of the cross, the surprising joy of meeting the resurrected Lord.

Little details remind me of the ups and downs of my own faith journey, like how Peter, James, and John slept through their rabbi’s agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, how Peter tried to take matters into his own hands by cutting off the Roman soldier’s ear, how the men didn’t believe Mary, Joanna, and Mary when they first reported the resurrection, how Thomas needed more proof.

I think Mark’s description of the Apostle Peter after the arrest of Jesus best summarizes my own experience of doubt. As Jesus faced trial, and as the disciples began to fear that Jesus was just another man and their ministry with him just a waste of time, the Gospel reports that Peter “followed Him at a distance.” (Mark 14:54)

Most Christ-followers have experienced some form of Good Friday doubt—that overwhelming fear that maybe we’ve gotten it all wrong, maybe we’ve wasted our time, maybe all we’ve worked for and believed in is meaningless. Most have been through a time or two when we’ve cautiously followed Jesus at a distance.

The good news is that Easter is just a few days away. The good news is that, like Peter, we are always given another chance to tell Jesus that we love him.

Lent Daily Devotional: Mark 13

Reading: Mark 13
“Be Faithful, Endure, and Keep Awake” by Paul Riddle

I have heard integrity defined as “doing the right thing when no one is looking.” That phrase comes to mind as I consider Jesus’ words to his disciples in Mark 13.

Tensions were high in Jerusalem. The conflict between Jesus and the Jewish authorities was accelerating toward its climax. Jesus was doing his best to prepare his disciples for his impending betrayal, death, and resurrection, and to prepare them for the persecution they themselves would face because of their association with him.

Their training was just about complete, and their commitment to Jesus would soon be tested in the crucible of extreme adversity. The foundations of all they had known would be shaken. How would they respond?

Jesus left the disciples with three charges: 1) Keep the faith. Be the people I have formed you to be. Live the way I have taught you to live. Be people of mercy and compassion; stand with those who have no one to stand with them. 2) Endure. Whatever hardships may come, for however long they may last. Remember I have gone before you. Follow my lead. 3) Be alert. Don’t get caught napping. Be ready for What Comes Next.

These three charges sustained the first disciples through the trials that soon confronted them; they sustained the first readers and hearers of Mark’s gospel, facing persecution later in the first century, and they have sustained followers of Jesus through good times and bad for over two millennia, down to our own time.

And now it’s our turn. How will we respond? It is up to us.

Lent Daily Devotional: Mark 12

Reading: Mark 12
Thoughts from Lent for Everyone by N.T. Wright

Mark Twain is reputed to have said that history never repeats itself, but that it often rhymes. In other words, although every event is unique, many events re­semble others.

Jesus is still explaining why he has done what he has done in the Temple. The Temple will be destroyed, but his kingdom-work will go on and be vindicated by events. This time the echo is of Psalm 118:22-23, which speaks of a ‘stone’, lying perhaps in the builders’ yard, but of the wrong shape to fit anywhere in the wall. Only when the builders get to the very top, and look around for a stone which will do to finish off the top corner, will they realize that the stone they have ignored up to that point is the very one they now need. In the same way, Jesus is saying, he has come to Jerusalem with the message of God’s kingdom, but this message simply won’t fit into the ‘building’ of Judaism the way the present builders (the chief priests, Herod, the Pharisees) have been constructing it. They will realize too late that he belongs at the very top of the true building. But by then the vineyard owner will have come to ‘destroy those tenants, and give the vine­yard to others’.

This story is as shocking today as it was to Jesus’ first hearers. That can’t be avoided. We are on a Lenten journey, after all, which we know will end at the foot of the cross; and the cross, as Paul said, is foolishness to pagans and a scandal to Jews. All those other sayings about selling everything to buy the one great pearl, or giving everything you’ve got to get the field with the buried treasure, come to mind. The story, in other words, ‘rhymes’ with so much else in Jesus’ teaching.

But what does it rhyme with in our own lives? Has God been sending one mes­sage after another to us, corporately or individually, which we’ve been steadfastly ignoring? Which prophetic words has our proud modern culture refused to hear, pouring scorn on the messengers and making fun of those who listen to them? Which voices have you done your best not to hear? Listen for the rhymes. When push comes to shove, are we going to celebrate Jesus’ enthronement at the top of the new ‘Temple’, or are we going to treat him as simply a misshapen piece of stone for which we can see no purpose?

Lent Daily Devotional: Mark 11

Reading: Mark 11
An Invocation to the Holy Spirit by Saint Symeon

Come, true light.
Come, life eternal.
Come, hidden mystery.
Come, treasure without name.
Come, reality beyond all words.
Come, person beyond all understanding.
Come, rejoicing without end.
Come, light that knows no evening.
Come, unfailing expectation of the saved.
Come, raising of the fallen.
Come, resurrection of the dead.
Come, all-powerful, for unceasingly you create, refashion and change all things by your will alone.
Come, invisible whom none may touch and handle.
Come, for you continue always unmoved, yet at every instant you are wholly in movement; you draw near to us who lie in hell, yet you remain higher than the heavens.
Come, for your name fills our hearts with longing and is ever on our lips; yet who you are and what your nature is, we cannot say or know.
Come, Alone to the alone.
Come, for you are yourself the desire that is within me.
Come, my breath and my life.
Come, the consolation of my humble soul.
Come, my joy, my glory, my endless delight.

Lent Daily Devotional: Mark 10

Reading: Mark 10
“Help Us See” by Sara Pybus

 “As the cool stream gushed over one hand she spelled into the other the word water, first slowly, then rapidly. I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten–-a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that ‘w-a-t-e-r’ meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free!”   – Helen Keller

In reading this passage, I was struck by Jesus’ efforts to change points of view. Jesus is questioned by the Pharisees about divorce. They look for a loophole; Jesus answers, “they are no longer two but one flesh.” Women aren’t to be sent away; they are part of the union to be taken care of. See the women.

The next story is about the children being brought for a blessing. They are rebuked by the disciples and Jesus is indignant. “Let the little children come to me”. He blesses the children. See the children.

Next, a rich man asks about inheriting eternal life. The passage says, “Jesus loved him” and told him “go, sell everything you have and give to the poor.” See the poor.

Then Jesus talks to the disciples about entering the Kingdom of God. How can anyone be saved if even a rich man can’t enter the kingdom of heaven? Jesus answers, “all things are possible with God.” But this is a different way where “many who are first will be last, and the last first.” God sees you and will take care of you.

Then James and John ask to sit next to him in glory. And Jesus tells them they don’t understand. He says he “did not come to be served, but to serve”. See each other and serve one another.

And finally we get to the story where Jesus is asked to give sight. The blind man asks to see. Jesus says, “your faith has healed you.” And with his seeing eyes, Bartimaeus follows Jesus.

We come to Jesus so often with an agenda of what we hope to accomplish, the answer we want to hear. Listen as Jesus asks you to look at the world a different way.

Lent Daily Devotional: Mark 9

Reading: Mark 9
Thoughts from Lent for Everyone by N.T. Wright

Jesus was trying to explain to his disciples that the kingdom would come through his own death (verses 31–32). But they didn’t get it; and the sign that they didn’t get it was that they were arguing on the road as to, yes, which of them was ‘the greatest’. If they don’t understand plain speech (‘the “son of man” is to be given over into human hands’, and so on), maybe they’ll understand a symbol.

Here is a child. Utterly present in the moment; utterly unconcerned about tomorrow, about status, about hierarchy. What, after all, would ‘greatness’ in God’s kingdom look like? Wouldn’t it mean being the sort of person through whom God’s powerful presence would become real? Wasn’t that what had happened back at the start of chapter 6 when they went out and healed people and announced that God was becoming king? Well, yes. But if you want to know how God’s powerful presence comes most easily into the world, go and welcome a child in Jesus’ name. You will be welcoming Jesus himself – and, by doing so, you will be welcoming ‘the one who sent me’ (verse 37).

Here is, as it were, the hot line into the powerful presence of God. It isn’t a matter of senior, seasoned leaders going off with their noses in the air and making it all happen. It’s a matter of the least of all, the servant of all, being the greatest.

This passage is a vital warning now, as it was then, about the danger of imagining that God can and will only work through the people ‘we know about’. This isn’t just a matter of modern denominations. Here we are talking about the disciples trying to rank themselves, both one against another and, as a group, against ‘outsiders’. How can that embody the childlike humility of a group who follow a Master who is going to the cross?

Lent Daily Devotional: Mark 8

Reading: Mark 8
“Who Do You Say I Am?” by Cynthia Ownby

Just because you know who someone is does not mean that you know them.

I can imagine what it would be like to be Peter on this day. He has just witnessed Jesus feeding four thousand people and healing a blind man. As the disciples are walking through Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asks, “Who do people say I am?” The question seems simple enough; after all, they have heard the rumblings of the crowds for weeks. Perhaps this is John the Baptist, or Elijah, or some prophet.

But then Jesus turns to the disciples and says, “Who do you say I am?” I can imagine darting eyes. No one wants to answer the question, because what does one say? But Peter, speaks up, fully confident, and says, “You are the Messiah.”

Messiah. The Anointed One. The One God would send to gather the Jews back to Israel and bring a time of peace.

Peter has the right answer, and Jesus affirms this response. Yet next – as Jesus begins to teach that the Son of Man will suffer, be rejected, killed, and rise after three days – Peter stops Jesus and pulls him aside. “You are the Messiah! What are you talking about – suffering, death, resurrection? This isn’t possible.” And Jesus turns and rebukes Peter.

Knowing who Jesus is and knowing Jesus are two different things. Peter got the name right, but he missed the meaning. If you want to know who Jesus is, you only need to read the Bible. But if you want to know Jesus, you must follow him.

Who do you say Jesus is?

Lent Daily Devotional: Mark 7

Reading: Mark 7
Call to Confession by Blair Gilmer Meeks

God of grace, you call on us to repent, to endure, and to hope: strengthen us that we may work always for the common good.

We confess that though we look for sin in others, we are reluctant to examine ourselves; we are caught up in worldy wisdom and forget your words; we complain about troubles and fail to see your good gifts.

Have patience with us and nurture us hat we may grow in love, for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ.