Palm Sunday: Long ago, songs and praises were offered to a young man riding into the holy city onl the back of a donkey. It is only appropriate that my Hebrew devotional today centered on the differences between Psalms and songs….hmmm…I didn’t even know there was a difference – but in Hebrew tradition there is quite a difference: “The Hebrew word for song is shira (which is also a popular girl’s name), but like all biblical words, there is a deeper significance as well. Shir doesn’t only mean song; it signifies a connection and, interestingly enough, is the same word for both a domesticated animal and a leash. With this understanding, shirah means a song connecting the singer with God above.
Psalm, or mizmor, on the other hand, has nearly the opposite connotation. Mizmor comes from the Hebrew word zamoor which means to cut or prune as in Leviticus (25:4), during the Sabbatical year, “Do not prune (tizmor) your vineyard.”
The message here is that before offering a psalm to the Lord, we must first cut out any inappropriate forces or desires that may interfere with our devotion.
The challenge for us then becomes to live each day as the psalmist suggests — by offering “a song” and “a psalm,” connecting ourselves to God, while cutting away those things that keep us from Him.”
When the crowd sang Our Lord’s praises on that long ago day, I guess they forgot to prune away the things that remained in their way – keeping them from knowing Him and Our Father.
“May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face shine on us” —Psalm 67:1
MAUNDY THURSDAY: Long ago in a far away land, a man knelt and washed the feet of his friends. Later, his best friend, John, sat to his right. The man looked up and offered the seat at his left to another friend; his name was Judas. His birth place had been in a stable – his last meal in a guest room and he gave “thanks” as he shared his cup of wine.
Did you know that in early Jewish weddings the young man would say to his bride: “This cup is a new covenant in my blood which I offer to you.” When she takes his cup, she drinks from the cup as a sign of her acceptance.
Do all those references that you have heard in the Bible about blood and the church being the “bride of Christ” begin to make sense? Slowly, it started to make sense to me.
Eucharisteo in Greek means Thanksgiving. The root word of eucharisteo is charis or “grace.” The Greek word chara, is also there which means “joy.” He gave thanks for being chosen as the Passover lamb on Sunday. He gave thanks for the cup of wine-filled wrath that he was being asked to drink from.
“The height of joy isn’t simply to be blessed — but to become the blessing.
The height of joy isn’t to have blessings actualized — but to become the actual blessing.
Not to be blessed with stuff — but to become the blessing in service.” Anne Voscamp
That is what Jesus did on a night long ago in a far away land.
GOOD FRIDAY: In the early morning hours of a long ago today, He was alone in a garden. Most people would think that is ironic, since all of this started in a lost garden. But as always, He was following where His Father led Him. Passover. This God/Man knelt in the darkness of a full moon and felt the garden breezes stir His hair. This garden, where the fruit was pressed and bounty extracted, was where He, too, was pressed, so that the bounty could be extracted.
Tears of blood, desertion of friends, betrayal by another, family??? Alone. Born in a stable…alone in a garden…from beginning to end – He had no place to lay His head. The God/Man warred within one body to the ultimate choice – His choice…His Father’s choice…the choice of grace.
What followed – the unendurable – was fore-told by the prophets – disfigured beyond belief as He took on the sins of all eternity . The choice had been made – the gift given – the waiting had begun.
Holy Saturday: Waiting is never easy. Time slows – eyelids droop – pieces of song drift through – tears fall… People are people. Despite a few executions, a sky darkening storm and minor earthquake, life went on in the holy city.
Soldiers patrolled the area. Pilate listened to more petitions. The Sanhedrin tried to figure out how to repair a broken altar or mend the curtains that hid the Holiest of Holies. And I’m sure, the main populace of the holy city worked at cleaning up after the natural disasters. That’s what we do – right?
However, there were some that were lost on that day long ago. Tears mingled with pain and produced confusion. Did they huddle together, hidden from the authorities – just in case, someone wanted more blood?? Or did they mourn in silence, seeking the places that they had last seen Him? Was it over? What now?
I like to think that they went to find His mother. Somehow, I like to think she knew more than they. The Bible doesn’t say much about His mother, Mary, but what is there has always fascinated me. She didn’t scream and run when an angel visited her in darkest hour before the dawn. She didn’t blink when Joseph hesitated. She asked for miracles before any had been accomplished. She stood at the foot of the cross and wept at the sight of her baby boy. Could I have done any of those things?
When they came, I see her holding His prayer shawl and —- waiting. She knew her son was no longer in pain and even better – she knew there was more to His story. Did she know exactly what was to come? Did she understand the parable of the temple before the disciples? I don’t know; I do know that she was still the woman who had answered: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word… My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.” If she answered this once upon a time…then she was probably: fasting…preparing…praying…waiting…
EASTER SUNDAY: In the early hours of the third day, His mother waited. In a room full of people, she was alone with her thoughts…her prayers…her faith. At some point, when her eyes became too heavy, her head fell upon the arm that rested on the small window sill and the light of the full moon covered her head like a blanket as His well-worn prayer shawl covered her shoulders. It was then the music awakened her. Familiar – words without words – music. The waiting was over.
She rose easily to her feet and picked her way through those sleeping on the floor around her. She smiled. They had come offering comfort, but had found instead, comfort. Her strength…wisdom had served as their ballast over the turbulent, stormy days. Disciples – their families – all crowded into the house of a gracious benefactor. Dawn was not far away and Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary, the mother of James would soon be rising. His mother opened the door and joined her two angelic companions. Friends that had traveled this road with her since the beginning. Together, they made their way to her son’s tomb.
Of all the things that she had held tight to her heart, today would be the holiest. The Roman soldiers slept by the tomb; their spears and swords useless against the music that gave them peaceful dreams and offered a miracle to the waiting world.
Darkness banished. Power unleashed. A tomb unsealed. “Behold, my daughter,” the music sang as Mary, His earthly mother, sank to her knees on holy ground.
He stood…released…renewed…reborn…radiant within the light of His heavenly father. “Mother.”
Can you imagine? Can you hear the music? Do you feel the joy?
The wrath was gone. The rough places made straight. A tiny human baby had been forged under the purifying fire of temptation and sin and was now refined into the most precious gift Our Father could give his children – Grace.
A way back.
I can’t begin to imagine what mother and son talked about that first Easter morning, but I’m sure they did. How she must have ached to touch and smooth His hair back from His face. But it was not time…He had not yet ascended to His Father. As she welcomed Him into the world from her body, so she ushered Him back into the world with her faith. A different form…a different path…a different world because Christ had overcomed the world…overcomed sin…overcomed death.
Easter lives. Cloaked with power from on high. we are waiting again. The birth pangs are increasing. Wars and rumors of wars roil around us. And… when He returns? The gates of the garden will be unlocked and we will walk – once again – with Our Father and know Him … face-to-face…Grace filled…Grace blessed.