Tag Archives: Passover

Saint James, Apostle

Guido_Reni_-_Saint_James_the_Greater_-_Google_Art_ProjectAble to Drink the Cup

Today we look at one of the “Sons of Thunder.” He was quite ambiguous, or was it his mother?

The mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favor of him. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”  (Matthew 20:20-23)

James and John were among the first disciples called by Jesus. They were with their father Zebedee by the seashore when Jesus called them and they immediately followed Him. Along with Peter they were chosen by Jesus to bear witness to his Transfiguration. Thus, they were significant to Jesus’ ministry.

Their mother thought they were significant enough to request a special place for them in Jesus’ kingdom, but she did not understand what this might mean. James was chosen for greatness in ways his mother did not expect, nor did James.

What was the cup to which Jesus referred in answering the mother? It was the cup that Jesus understood too well. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed this prayer:

“My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”  (Matthew 26:39)

James, indeed, drank the cup that Jesus drank. James is traditionally believed to be the first of the twelve apostles who was martyred for the faith. We read about it in the Book of Acts:

Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread.  (Acts 12:1-3)

The Festival of Unleavened Bread was the Jewish Passover. Jesus has become the Passover for those who believe in Him. Because James was faithful in preaching the Passover of Christ he was privileged to join his Lord in laying down his life for the Church. James went from being a big-shot to a hero of the faith by following in the footsteps of Jesus.

Where would the Christian Church be today without the faith and testimonies of the martyrs? If the Early Church were preaching today’s “Gospel” message the Church would probably not even exist. So many today are seeking a higher place and a greater prosperity for themselves. Such seeking only causes envy and division within the Church. Jesus attempted to put a stop to it with His disciples:

When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”  (Matthew 20:24-28)

Having just celebrated Mary Magdalene as a true servant leader of God, we now celebrate James, the first apostle martyred for the sake of the Gospel. He was able to drink the cup. Let us pray for the grace and courage that more Church servant leaders will step forward in our day. Perhaps we may be included among them.

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The Season of Pentecost

The Jewish festival of Shavuot (Hebrew: שבועות‎, lit. “Weeks”) is one of three main annual pilgrimage festivals in the Judaism. It commemorates God giving the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai and it also celebrates the conclusion of the grain harvest in Israel. The date of Shavuot is directly linked to the celebration of the Jewish Passover. The grain harvest began with the harvesting of the barley during Passover and ended with the harvesting of the wheat at Shavuot. The time in between was seven weeks or fifty days. This time frame also represents the time between Israel’s Exodus from Egypt until the giving of the Law at Sinai.

Pentecost is a major feast day of the Christian liturgical year. It roughly coincides with the Jewish festival of Shavuot. This is not coincidental. Just as Easter is the prophetic fulfillment of Passover, Pentecost is the prophetic fulfillment of Shavuot. The two feasts, Shavuot and Pentecost, have much in common, both historically and spiritually.

During the celebration of Shavuot the Jewish people were reminded of God’s Law:

Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.   (Deuteronomy. 8:3-4)

Often Jewish participants would spend all night during Shavuot studying the Torah. They would read significant portions of the Torah aloud.

Pentecost has to do with God’s Law as well. The Prophet Jeremiah wrote of a time that the Law would come in a new way:

But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.  (Jeremiah 31:33)

This is what happens to us when the Holy Spirit comes upon us as it did on the Day of Pentecost for the early disciples. Jesus said that He came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). It is the action of the Holy Spirit to bring us more into alignment with God’s Law. We cannot keep the Law by our own efforts, but we can yield to the Holy Spirit whom Jesus said would lead us into all truth and make alive His teachings.

Pentecost is not simply a static day of celebration of the historical birth of the Christian Church. Surely it marked the beginning of the Church. As with Shavuot for the Jewish people, Pentecost is a time for us to reflect upon God’s Word, allowing the Spirit to renew our zeal for both the Law and the Gospel.

The Season of Pentecost is the longest season of the liturgical year. The Sundays following Pentecost and extending up to the beginning of the new liturgical year in Advent are filled with readings concerning Christian growth. To live in Christ one must grow in the Faith. Spiritual stagnation could ultimately lead to spiritual death and a forsaking of God’s Holy Law.

During the season after Pentecost, there are two tracks each week for Old Testament readings. Within each track, there is a Psalm chosen to accompany the particular lesson.

Track 1 of Old Testament readings  follows major stories and themes, read mostly continuously from week to week. In Year A we begin with Genesis, in Year B we hear some of the great monarchy narratives, and in Year C we read from the later prophets.

Track 2 follows the Roman Catholic tradition of thematically pairing the Old Testament reading with the Gospel reading.

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Holy Saturday

8940635-largeO Grave Where Is Thy Victory?

Job was a good man, but he was aware of his sins. He realized that God had every reason to pass judgment on him:

“I wish you would hide me in a grave!
    I wish you would cover me up until your anger passes by!
I wish you would set the time for me to spend in the grave
    and then bring me back up!
If someone dies, will they live again?
    All the days of my hard work
    I will wait for the time when you give me new life.   (Job 14:13-14)

Jesus died and hid in a grave for us:

At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden. A new tomb was there. No one had ever been put in it before. That day was the Jewish Preparation Day, and the tomb was nearby. So they placed Jesus there.   (John 19:41-42)

Jesus bore our shame. He suffered the consequences of our sins, even to the extent of descending into Hell. His ministry did not stop there. His mission remained the same: “To seek and to save those who are lost.” The Apostle Peter makes it clear that the Gospel was proclaimed even to the dead:

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same intention (for whoever has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin), so as to live for the rest of your earthly life no longer by human desires but by the will of God. You have already spent enough time in doing what the Gentiles like to do, living in licentiousness, passions, drunkenness, revels, carousing, and lawless idolatry. They are surprised that you no longer join them in the same excesses of dissipation, and so they blaspheme. But they will have to give an accounting to him who stands ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that, though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the spirit as God does.  (1 Peter 4:1-6)

We must be judged in the flesh in order to live in the Spirit. The good news is that Jesus has been judged for us. Jesus does not leave us in our flesh, but lifts us high into the Kingdom of God. The Apostle Paul writes:

Therefore it says,

“WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH,
HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES,
AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN.”

(Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.)   (Ephesians 4:8-10)

Are we ready to come out of the grave? Are we ready to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit? Are we ready to become citizens, no longer of this earth, but in heaven? If so, we must embrace him. Job said:

For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he[c] will stand upon the earth;
and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see on my side,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.   (Job 19:25-27)

We look forward to the resurrection of the dead. Jesus’ resurrection has become our resurrection.

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.   (1 Corinthians 15:55-57 KJV)

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Maundy Thursday

The Lord’s Supper

On the night before he suffered, our Lord Jesus Christ instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood. It is referred to as the Lord’s Supper, the Last Supper, the Holy Communion, the Eucharist, and the Mass, depending upon which branch of the Church is observing it. The forerunner of this service is found in the Book of Exodus.

Through Moses, God gave the children specific instructions concerning their last supper in Egypt, before he led them out of their bondage there. They were to prepare a lamb for the meal in this manner:

Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it.   (Exodus 12:5-17)

What was the purpose of the blood? It was God’s protection from the destruction that was coming:

It is the passover of the Lord. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.   (Exodus 12:11-14)

Jesus is the prophetic fulfillment of the Jewish Passover. Jesus’ last supper with His disciples was not the Seder or Passover Meal, howeverto be . Rather, it was a preparation for the Passover. The Passover meal could not be served until the slaughtering of the lambs outside the city which would occur the next day, the same day Jesus would be slaughtered on the cross.

Jesus was doing something new with His disciples. He was proclaiming His death before it actually happened. He said that His body was broken and that His blood was to be shed. He was saying that he was the last Passover lamb sacrificed for the sins of the people. He was the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world once and for all.

The Apostle Paul writes about this special meal in today’s Epistle Lesson:

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.  (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

Jesus was asking His disciples to anticipate in his crucifixion, participate in His suffering, and keep His sacrifice always in their memory. They would not just be remembering with their minds what had happened, but they would actually be partaking in the event themselves in a spiritual way. John’s Gospel speaks of both the power and the necessity of the Communion service.

Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”   (John 6:53-58)

Today, we are invited by our Lord to anticipate his power entering into our lives more and more as we participate his Holy Communion. We are asked to do more than just remember an historical event. We are asked to come to his Holy table with great expectation. In order to fully experience the resurrection we must be willing to enter into Jesus’ passion and death. This is our opportunity once more to die to our sins that we might be empowered by his Spirit to live a resurrected life on this earth and in the age to come, life eternal.

After Communion Jesus gave His disciples a new commandment. Jesus said that by this commandment His disciples would demonstrate the resurrected life:

“Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”   (John 13:31-35).

As we empty ourselves and take on more of Him, we become a living witness of His resurrection. Let us declare as did the Apostle Paul:

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.    (Galatians 2:19-20)

Can we imagine what Jesus had to face on our behalf? His gift was beyond price. It rings down through the ages. What are we prepared to give him today?

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