My sermon will reflect on Mary Magdalene’s trip to the tomb in the early morning darkness–the literal darkness as well as the darkness of her grief–recorded in John 20: 1-18.
I took some video from Easter morning before the service:
Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem happened at a time when the city was full of families who had gathered for the Jewish Passover. Some scholars have suggested that even as Jesus entered Jerusalem, the Roman occupying force was having its own parade of centurions coming into the city by another gate, a show of force to remind residents and visitors who was in charge and that resistance to Rome’s power was futile.
Jerusalem was indeed a busy and somewhat chaotic place that first Palm Sunday. Looking back on Palm Sundays from my childhood and youth in a Presbyterian Church, I remember much more orderly celebrations and then receiving a palm after the worship service was over! A few years back I decided to capture some of the original chaos by having children come forward at the beginning of worship, and inviting them to distribute the palms. A little more chaotic, but I also think it’s a lot more biblical!
So, to our families with children: make sure you get to church this Sunday to catch the beginning of the service, when our children will distribute palms and lead the congregation in the call to worship. Remember to bring the “fish banks”, too, as we will dedicate the One Great Hour of Sharing gifts of the children early in the service, too.
For a number of years now Palm Sunday has been called Palm/Passion Sunday in order to recognize that while Jesus was welcomed by joyous crowds, he was also entering the time of his Passion. The Rev. Dr. Peter Gomes (the late Minister of the Memorial Chapel at Harvard) wrote, “This is what the Passion is, not simply to see suffering as in a play or a Greek tragedy, but to share in suffering, to weep as Jesus wept at the brokenness of what is meant to be whole, to see a thing as it is meant to be and to experience it broken, fractured, and shattered, not just the Savior’s body but the body of the world; to suffer with indignity and humanity, to weep at injustice and crime and violence and deprivation and depravity, to enter into the sorrows of another as if they were our own, because they are our own.”
Our observance of Holy Week begins with Palm/Passion Sunday worship at 10:30 a.m. on March 29. It’s a day of many emotions, as we join the Jerusalem crowds in praising Jesus’ arrival, but then remember what happens as the week continues. The Word for Children will take place at the beginning of worship, as the children will distribute the palms and then lead the congregation in the call to worship. (Parents and children, remember to bring the Fish Banks with you, as we will dedicate the children’s gifts during the Word for Children.) The children will remain in worship until after the scripture lesson, and then go to Church School for a special Palm Sunday activity. The One Great Hour of Sharing offering will be dedicated later in the service.
On Maundy Thursday, April 2, we gather for worship at 7:30 p.m. to remember Jesus’ Last Supper with the disciples, and we will receive the communion elements as we stand around the table.
On Good Friday, April 3 at 7:30 p.m. we’ll remember the events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion, from Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane to his “trial”, torture, suffering on the cross, death, and burial. Scripture, contemporary readings, music and prayer will guide our reflections on Jesus’ passionate love for us.
A new week then begins Sunday, April 5 as we celebrate Easter/The Resurrection of the Lord by enjoying the annual Easter Breakfast at 9:00 a.m. in Fellowship Hall. At 10:30, we’ll celebrate Christ’s victory over death with a joyful worship service, concluding with an opportunity for members of the congregation to join the Choir in singing the Hallelujah Chorus at the end of worship. (Be sure to let Nancy Timmerman know that you plan to sing so she can provide you with the music.)
Pastor Mike and the Christian Education Committee will be offering communion education for families in April and May. On the Sunday after Easter, April 12, parents and children are invited to meet after worship for pizza and salad and some learning activities about the meaning of communion and Presbyterian beliefs about who may receive the sacrament. On Sunday May 3, children will be invited to participate in worship by asking Pastor Mike questions about communion as he leads the celebration of the sacrament that day.
Although the idea of warmer weather and less snow on the ground doesn’t seem to exist right now, it’s always nice to look to the future and the hope it can bring. At the food pantry, we are looking towards the month of May (Saturday, May 2nd to be exact) and the Health Fair put on by the Burlington Board of Health. By its own definition, this fair is looking to promote healthy living across all stages of life. We believe the idea of “all stages of life” should be inclusive of everyone’s journey and it should not correlate with age alone, which is why it is so important for the food pantry to host a table.
While donating food to a food pantry is a pretty simple concept, our table will hopefully educate the people of Burlington on the best way to add items for donation to their shopping lists. We will hopefully achieve this goal by presenting a display on what to donate and what not to donate when you are thinking about items a pantry could use; all donations should be to date, and containers should never be dented or damaged. In addition to our board, we will also give concrete examples of what people can buy and donate to the pantry for $10 compared to what we can buy from the Greater Boston Food Bank with the same amount. This display will hopefully show that donating to a food pantry doesn’t always have to be about food. When people donate the money they were going to spend on food for the pantry, we can often stretch the dollars to buy more.
One last activity we are hoping to complete with audiences at the Health Fair is to begin our Wall of Support. We will have paper plates available for people to decorate and sign. Eventually these plates will end up on display somewhere in the pantry to show clients and volunteers alike how many people support the Burlington Food Pantry, and how many people are willing to help out a neighbor in need.
Project Bread brings a fresh approach to ending hunger. These are its goals: to promote sustainable and reliable access to healthy food for all, to invest in the strength and resiliency of local communities, and to collaborate with others in building a robust regional food system.
With the support of donors, corporate sponsors, individuals—and tens of thousands of Walkers—Project Bread works to break the cycle of hunger and poverty by devising, funding, advocating for, and facilitating solutions that change lives across the Commonwealth. It is the only statewide anti-hunger organization.
Hunger exists all across our state, but because it is concentrated in specific areas it is not always apparent. By reframing how hunger is perceived, by putting it within a larger economic and social context, and by empowering those who are served to take part in solutions, Project Bread removes the stigma, connects more people with the support they need, and, ultimately, enables those in need to give back to their own communities.
In 2014 Project Bread supported over 400 community food programs – soup kitchens, food pantries (including Burlington’s), food vouchers at health centers, summer meals for kids, subsidized CSA shares, community gardens, double-value farmers market coupons, food rescue programs, etc. – in 130 communities in Massachusetts.
How is BPC involved?
The annual Walk for Hunger is the largest fundraiser for Project Bread. For more than 28 years BPC has sent a team of walkers and raised thousands of dollars. In 2014 our team ten raised more than $4,000. This year we hope to do as well, and we can, with your help!!
There is a rolling start on May 3rd at the Boston Common between 7:00 A.M. and 9:00 a.m. You can start there, or at any point along the route and register at any checkpoint. If you want to return early, there are free buses available from each checkpoint to shuttle you back to the Boston Common finish line.
If you’d like to walk this year – anywhere from 3.5 miles to all 20, you can register online for our team, or speak to Linda Roscoe, our team captain.
If you need more information, please contact the church office at 781-272-9190 or email@example.com.
How can I donate?
• Sign the team’s pledge sheet on the bulletin board outside the front classroom. Give cash or checks (made payable to Project Bread) to Linda Roscoe.
• Online at http://support.projectbread.org/goto/BurlingtonPresbyterianChurch
• Donations will be accepted after the walk on May 3rd.
Anything else we can do?
Pray for good weather on Sunday, May 3, for the folks who work to alleviate hunger, for a successful fundraising effort and for the thousands of folks who will be served by Project Bread.
Dine for a Cause
Sunday April 19 @ 6:00 PM
at the Morrison’s Residence, Bedford, MA
Hello BPC Family and Friends,
Project Bread funds most community food programs in Massachusetts and Walk for Hunger is their biggest fund raiser. Project Bread’s Walk for Hunger happens every first Sunday of May and May is just around the corner. Our church in Burlington has a team of walkers. Although I am not walking this year, I am helping them to raise money. So, on Sunday April 19 at 6 pm, the Morrison’s are hosting a fundraising dinner for Walk for Hunger. We hope that you can join us to help this good cause. Please do not bring anything but your checkbook or cash and your empty stomach. Please make your check payable to “Project Bread”.
Please RSVP to Sally Morrison at firstname.lastname@example.org. Even if you cannot make it to dinner, but still would like to contribute, please mail checks to Sally.
ONE GREAT HOUR OF SHARING – 2015
Beth Denier, Co-chair – Stewardship committee
“I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.”
One Great Hour of Sharing offering for the Presbyterian Church, USA goes to support water and hunger projects, disaster relief and empowerment programs. Thanks to our gifts, people affected by disaster are helped to rebuild their lives and their communities. The ministries of the Presbyterian Hunger Program and Self-Development of People help individuals and communities to battle hunger, disease, unemployment and environmental problems.
The One Great Hour of Sharing offering will be received on Palm Sunday, March 29. Our offering for 2014 was $1879.00. We would like to do better this year. The need is great both here in the United States and throughout the world. It is more blessed to give than to receive.
From the Pastor:
In a Lenten devotion for Sojourners Magazine, Kari Jo Verhurst shared this story: “A friend from college, soon after arriving at Notre Dame for graduate school, removed the corpus (Christ’s body) from the crucifix that hung in his dorm room. Unsure of what to do with that body, he put it in his bureau drawer. Raised a good Protestant, he was used to crosses that symbolize resurrection, not crucifixion.”
A disclaimer: Don’t do this at home, kids! I’m not recommending or condoning the graduate student’s behavior. If you choose to attend Notre Dame, you don’t have to give up your Protestant heritage, but you probably ought to respect the Roman Catholic beliefs of your hosts. But the student’s action does identify a clear difference between two major streams of Christianity. The empty cross of Protestantism represents victory over death while the crucifix of Catholicism emphasizes the depths of his suffering. For those of us who follow Christ, is it an either/or decision? I don’t think so.
I’m a lifelong Presbyterian. I was confirmed at a Maundy Thursday service, where the focus was on the Last Supper. Looking back, I think my experience was very much like most Presbyterians: historically, we Presbyterians have moved too easily from Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem to the joy of Easter, without entering deeply into the mystery of his suffering and death. Growing up, I attended only one Maundy Thursday service, and that was primarily because I was being confirmed and receiving communion for the first time. Growing up, I never experienced any focus on the depths of Jesus’ suffering.
My arrival at Princeton Seminary coincided with a liturgical renewal movement in the Presbyterian Church. At seminary, I experienced worship services on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday along with a Saturday night Easter vigil that touched my heart and soul very deeply and gave me a much richer understanding of the meaning of Holy Week.
Don’t worry; I’m still an empty cross kind of guy. We worship a risen Lord. For communion, we gather around a table—a symbol of fellowship—rather than around an altar—a symbol of sacrifice. Still, we need to remember and honor the suffering that Jesus Christ endured for us. The empty cross vs. the crucifix is not simply an either/or decision—it is a “both/and” decision. A complete understanding of the events of Holy Week requires both: meditation on Christ’s suffering as well as the incredible joy of Jesus’ victory over death.
That’s why what we used to call Palm Sunday is now called Palm/Passion Sunday. In our service on March 29, our children are going to help us raise the roof with “Hosannas” at the beginning of worship, but as the service continues, the focus will shift to the meaning of Christ’s passion for us. I hope you can be there not only on Palm/Passion Sunday but also on Maundy Thursday (7:30 p.m.) and Good Friday (7:30 p.m.) On Good Friday, we will leave the sanctuary in darkness, with only the Christ Candle lighted, symbolizing that “the light shines in the darkness” as we anticipate the joy of Resurrection. This Holy Week and Easter, I hope that each one of us can, to borrow a phrase from the late scholar Marcus Borg, “hear the Story again for the first time”.
The Peace of the Lord be with you,
Poet Donna Swanson posed these questions in one of her poems:
Did you ever cry, Jesus? Did the world ever pile up on you ’til you wanted to quit?
Did you ever cry, Jesus? Did you ever get so tired of humanity that you wished you’d never come?
Did the blind eyes, the twisted bodies, the warped minds and the maimed souls ever get to you? Were you ever just plain mad?
Did you ever cry, Jesus? I think you must have, for you know me so well. So well. I think you must have cried a little.
Sunday’s scripture lesson–Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead–answers the question. Of course he did. I still remember my fifth grade teacher, Mr. Phillips, teaching us about nouns and verbs and illustrating his point by quoting “the shortest sentence ever written”: John 11:34 –“Jesus wept”. And if we look at the verse before that, we learn that Jesus “was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.” If you check various Bible translations, that verse is translated in a variety of ways: Jesus was “deeply moved, greatly disturbed, his heart was touched, he was deeply moved and troubled, he was visibly distressed, he became angry in spirit and very agitated, he gave a sigh that came straight from the heart”, or, in the King James Version, “He groaned in his spirit.” The word for “groaned” is one that can also be used for the snorting of an animal. It’s as if the emotions are wrenched from Jesus, and the tears flow.
As Kathleen Stegall and I were searching for a bulletin cover, one possibility was a picture of a statue that perhaps you’ve seen: Jesus standing tall but placing his face into his opened palm. We decided against it because it actually looks more like the reaction he might have to some of the outrageous things his followers do and say in his name–but that’s the subject for another week’s sermon. And you’ll be happy to know that we picked a more traditional picture.
Of course Jesus wept. He was with a family he loved and among a community of deeply grieving people. His humanity demanded nothing less than his participation in their grief.
On Sunday, we’ll reflect on John 11:1-6, 17-44. In John’s gospel, the raising of Lazarus takes place a short time before Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. John makes it clear that Jesus’ miracle and the perceived threat it provides against the religious leaders of the day sets into motion the drama of Holy Week, which begins next Sunday, Palm/Passion Sunday.
This Sunday we’ll be thinking about the story of Nicodemus’ encounter with Jesus as reported in John’s gospel, Chapter 3. It is most well known for Jesus’ declaration, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above” and John 3:16–“For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Either one of those passages can provide enough material for a several week Bible study, so I’m going to focus on the context of Nicodemus’ night time visit with Jesus. What was a prominent leader from the religious establishment doing sneaking–and that’s not too strong a word–in the darkness of night to see an itinerant rabbi from Galilee who had just a few verses before cleansed the Temple of the money changers and sacrificial animals?
In my preparation for this week’s sermon, I came across this thought from Professor Gail R. O’Day’s commentary on John 3 in the New Interpreter’s Bible. She writes, “The seriousness of this text’s invitation was grasped by African American slaves. Nicodemus’ nighttime visit to Jesus offered an important biblical precedent for their own worship gatherings. Slaves were allowed to participate in formal Christian worship only at their masters’ discretion; they were not allowed to have their own worship and rarely were allowed access to the Bible. Therefore, they held clandestine religious gatherings at night, a practice that continued after emancipation. The slaves saw in Nicodemus’ night visit roof that it was possible to come to Jesus even when those in power forbade it. Nicodemus was a model, someone who was willing to act on his own against the will of the authorities.”