Lenten reflections

lent

By KAREL REUS

Lenten reflection one

Mark 8:31-34

31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’ 34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

Take up your cross

Take up your cross.

Suffer and be rejected

like Him,

for Him,

with Him,

…for what?

I don’t know why I suffer

but I sure as hell know that I suffer;

that it’s part of the deal

and that I must handle it

as best I can.

 

But you, my Lord,

invite me to suffer more;

to seek it out,

to make the pain

a worthy thing

and offer it to you.

 

It makes no sense, dear Lord!

I would prefer a call to comfort,

fulfilment, peace, harmony and joy.

Love without anguish,

work without stress,

justice without struggle,

progress without stumbling.

But such desires earn me no reward.

For this you call me Satan?

For reflection:

  1. We do suffer, and there are many times in life that we are puzzled by it. We ask ourselves why? We ask whether suffering has a meaning. And we are seriously puzzled by the suggestion that God might require us to suffer. Isn’t our task in life to eliminate suffering, not to embrace it? How can suffering be a worthy thing?
  2. In Mark’s Gospel it seems that Jesus accuses Peter of being Satan just because Peter wanted to assure Jesus that no harm would come to him. Peter seems dismayed at the prospect of hard times to come. Peter wants to live in a dream world. Jesus, on the other hand, sees realistically that the course he has taken will lead to death. What sense do you make of this?
  3. Who, or what, is Satan? Does the idea of Satan play a role in your life?

 

Lenten reflection two

Mark 8:34-37

34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?

 

The way of the Cross

You ask me to take up my cross

and follow you.

You ask that I should suffer

and be rejected, for your sake.

 

Fair enough!

I’m here to help!

But there’s a problem…

 

We just don’t do crosses any more

in our beneficent land.

We do policies and strategies

and enquiries and working parties

and plans and projections

and graphs;

all of which makes us blind

to crosses

and inured to pain

and rejection.

 

The well-meaning blandness

of our sheltered lives

obviates the need for

sacrifice of self.

Does God really ask of us

That we share the pain of

the sick and ill at ease,

the homeless and the refugee,

the ageing and desperate,

the alienated youth.

 

Such sharing demands

a standing back

from statistics and trends

and stereotypes,

to feel the pain;

to know rejection first hand;

to turn the cheek;

to judge and yet forgive;

to call evil by its name

and yet to love

without ifs and buts and maybes

and to walk the stony path

to Golgotha

…and back

 

For reflection:

  1. What are the crosses available to you to take up (given your abilities, your passions and your circumstances)?
  2. Does our society ever ask us to make great sacrifices? Can you give some examples?
  3. Have you ever been caught up in bureaucratic processes that go on and on, but don’t seem to achieve much?
  4. Have we become afraid to confront evil (to call it by its name)?
  5. Jesus asks what can we give in return for our life? He has, of course, already answered that: we should lose that life for his sake. It seems like a paradox. Is it really the case that we must lose our life in order to gain it? Can you make any sense of this?
  6. The poet talks about the stony path to Golgotha …and back. Why does he say …”and back”? Is he suggesting that the cross can be avoided, or that there is life beyond the cross for Jesus and for us. What can this mean in our daily lives?

 

Lenten reflection three

Mark 11:1-11

11When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2and said to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.” ’ 4They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5some of the bystanders said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ 6They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
‘Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10   Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

 

Was it all necessary?

You had to set the ball rolling, didn’t you.

No going back after this!

Was it all necessary?

 

Surely you could have turned the donkey ‘round.

Did we need the stage-management;

The whole palms and hosannas thing?

 

You must have known

the money changers

and the masters of sacrifice

would return to work?

 

You must have known

the Pharisees

and other experts in authorised faith

would go on and on as before?

 

What point was there in getting people offside?

Could you not have chosen your words more carefully?

Would discretion not have been the better part of valour?

Diplomacy and a bit of spin

may well have gained more time for us,

and influence in corridors of power.

 

We could have gathered petitions,

painted slogans on walls,

hired a lawyer,

printed leaflets,

held meetings,

marched,

explained your position

and compromised.

 

We didn’t understand

what you were on about;

what you hoped to achieve

and perhaps we never will.

 

For reflection:

  1. The poet tries to place himself as a witness in the context of the event, and tries to see Jesus’ actions in contemporary terms. He asks 21st Century questions in a 1st Century context. Does it help? Can we really get into the minds of people there, and of Jesus?
  2. Jesus is sometimes characterised as a “holy fool” because he says and does things in a topsy-turvy sort of way, breaking with conventions, and surprising us. This seems to be one instance of this. Can you think of other events in Jesus’ life, or things that he said, that must have seemed very fool-hardy at the time?
  3. Jesus seems to parody the entrance displays of the conquering and occupying forces. Surely this was asking for trouble. And the next day, in the Temple (not in this reading from Mark) Jesus acts in defiance of the temple authorities. Thus, in a couple of days, Jesus manages to offend the Romans and the Jews. Why would Jesus want to do this?

 

Lenten reflection four

Mark 14: 3-9

3 While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard*, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head.4But some were there who said to one another in anger, ‘Why was the ointment wasted in this way? 5For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.’ And they scolded her. 6But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. 7For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. 8She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. 9Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.’

Anointing

How shall I anoint my Lord

when our paths cross?

 

What extravagance

can I offer to help Him on his way?

 

What valued thing, or act, or thought

will spur Him on?

 

            Perhaps my deep regret

            for stupidity and sloth

            will fit the bill?

 

            Perhaps my self-denial

            against the stream

            when comfort calls?

 

            Perhaps my turning cheek

            and word of grace

            in evil’s face?

 

            Perhaps a freely-given gift

            without reward

            or recompense?

 

            Perhaps compassion

            care and love

            for the widow, poor and all?

 

 

           Perhaps my life itself,

            in servant-hood,

            will do the trick?

 

Would I could anoint

this smitten, yet triumphant, Lord,

who comes unbid

to me each day,

 

Would that this precious oil should be

of my life’s making.

 

(If only I could find it!)

For reflection:

*Spikenard, also called nardnardin, and muskroot, is a class of aromatic amber-colored essential oil derived from Nardostachys jatamansi, a flowering plant of the valerian family which grows in the Himalayas of NepalChina, and India. The oil has been used over centuries as a perfume, a traditional medicine, or in religious ceremonies across a wide territory from India to Europe.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spikenard

  1. A woman anoints Jesus with a very expensive perfume. It is likely that she brought the perfume (nard) to the house with one purpose in mind. It is not the sort of thing you just carry around. We might wonder what this woman knew about Jesus, that brought her to him. How might she have learned that Jesus is soon to die?
  2. Jesus understands what she is doing, but nobody else does. There are many times in our lives that our offerings to those in need are misunderstood. We must be content in the assurance that Jesus understands. Can you recall one or more times when your best intentions were misunderstood and you felt obliged to go on despite criticism?
  3. “…you always have the poor with you”. Some years ago there was a campaign to “make poverty history”. The poor are still with us though. Why is that?
  4. The poet can’t work out what we can offer Jesus, whom he believes we meet each day in the guise of our neighbour in need. He decides that he should offer his regret, his self-denial, his compassion, his very life. Can these offerings compare to the extravagance of the woman’s ointment? What can you offer Jesus?

Lenten reflection five

Mark 15:33-47

The Death of Jesus

33 When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ 35When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘Listen, he is calling for Elijah.’ 36And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.’ 37Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. 38And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’ 

40 There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.

 

The Burial of Jesus

 

42 When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, 43Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.44Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had been dead for some time.45When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. 46Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb.47Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid.

 

 

Why have you forsaken me?

“Why have you forsaken me?”
The anguished cry reverberates
in nooks and crannies of this
god-forsaken world.

“Why have you forsaken me?”
From Chernobyl and Fukushima.
Irradiation eating life-force,
unseen, yet felt.

“Why have you forsaken me?”
From Syria and Africa.
Escape to nowhere,
displaced, abandoned.

“Why have you forsaken me?”
From Pacific isles.
Waves lapping,
landscape drowning.

“Why have you forsaken me?”
From London’s Grenfell Tower.
Searing flesh,
with no way out.

“Why have you forsaken me?”
From Melbourne and Sydney.
Unreasoned violence,
shattered dreams. 

“Why have you forsaken me?”
From Word-made-flesh,
double-crossed
by expedience and circumstance.
Virtue held aloft,
its strength disguised,
devalued.

“Why have you forsaken me?”
Or is it all my fault?
Perhaps an object lesson,
endlessly repeated,
to make me worthy,
or bring me to my knees.

Give me a break!
“Why have you forsaken me?”

For reflection:

  1. How often do we echo Jesus’ desperate cry from the cross: “Why have you forsaken me?” The Poet lists times when he has wondered how a loving God can allow Chernobyl, or wars and their consequences, or environmental disasters, or sheer neglect, or domestic violence. How can we deal with such a seeming contradiction?
  2. The Poet also seems to toy with the idea that we may have a role to play in the bad things that happen. The Poet also seems to play with the idea that the bad things that happen can have good effects. Is that reasonable?
  3. In the light of the Resurrection two days later, was Jesus mistaken in questioning God, or is this cry from the cross an example to us that we should submit to God’s will in obedience?

Lenten reflection six

Mark 16:1-8

The Resurrection of Jesus

16When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’4When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’ 8So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. 

Let this be clear…

Let this be clear,

this Easter time:

my faith is not made flesh

by signing on the creedal dotted line.

My faith’s not for asserting,

…but for living

…and for bearing fruit in life.

 

Your resurrection, Lord,

is affirmed when I meet you

in Eucharist

and loving, caring, sharing

worshipful moments.

 

Your resurrection, Lord,

is affirmed when you speak to me

in blesséd discourse

of collective prayer

and whispered sacred give-and-take.

 

Your resurrection, Lord,

is affirmed when I hear your word

spoken anew from Holy Book and pulpit

and in the pregnant silence

of my soul’s dark night.

 

Your resurrection, Lord,

is affirmed in my self-giving;

when acts proclaim, much more than words,

when needs of all have equal claim

upon my precious time.

 

Your resurrection, Lord,

is affirmed by the rending of the Temple veil;

enlivening with redeeming love

the space between the sacred and profane

and you and me..

 

Your resurrection, Lord,

is little more than myth

if I can’t meet you on salvation’s path,

and take your hand,

and share your cross and hold you close.

 

Let this be clear

this Easter time

that I am simply yours, my Lord,

to do with as you will;

because by grace

you live in me

and I in you.

 

For reflection:

  1. The Poet bases his faith in the risen Christ on the day-to-day experiences that he has of Jesus’ presence in his life. He accepts the witness of scripture, but what counts is his encounters with Jesus. The resurrection, therefore, is not for the Poet a matter of creed or doctrine; it is part of life itself. Do you have experiences of the living Christ in your life? If you have such experiences, what difference do they make?
  2. The Poet asserts that in Jesus’ resurrection the difference between the sacred and the profane has changed. What do you think he means by this?

 

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