from Midweek Lenten Services 2018 (St Olaf – Zion Lutheran Parish, Odin, MN)
Take up Your Cross: Forgiven & Sent (2/21)
Soliloquys: Matthew/Levi the tax collector (M) & the woman accused of adultery
M/L: He stopped them. I can’t believe it! They were ready to dole out justice and he stopped them. She deserved to die. The law is clear. She violated the marriage vows. She committed adultery! She deserves nothing but punishment. They say it is to protect us all – to keep us righteous. The punishments are harsh to discourage us from sinning. Albeit, I do find it a little gruesome to watch a mob take justice into their own hands. But still, they were following the law. He actually stopped them.
W: Did I faint? Am I already dead? Why didn’t I feel the stones? I saw the people. The rocks were already raised and aimed. I shut my eyes to hide my tears. I felt their anger. I sensed their hatred radiating from them. I felt my own shame consuming my tortured soul. I am an awful person. I am a sinner. Why didn’t I feel the blows of the stones?
M: He forgave her. He forgave me too. Because He forgave me, I realized what a sinner I was. I used to think it was all justifiable. The kickbacks, the ‘accidental’ overcharging, the threats, the manipulations, the fear tactics – all part of being good at my job. You know – – everyone was doing it, why shouldn’t I? Those things are just what it meant to be a tax-collector. It never even occurred to me that I might be hurting other people. Then I met Jesus. And He forgave me.
W: I’m not dead. I am still standing in the street, but everyone left. There are a just a few men standing here. I don’t recognize them. I’ve never seen them before. They aren’t from here. One seems to be their teacher. The others keep looking at him expectantly, like he’s about to impart some major insight or revelation. Did He stop my execution? Or did He just delay it. Maybe he wants to punish me himself. Where did the crowd go? They won’t allow let me to stay in this town. I am a sinner. No one will want me in their town. No one will want me in their lives. Why didn’t he let me die?
M: One of the Psalms sings, “Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.” It’s true. Jesus showed me my sin. He showed how misguided my life really was. I was hurting other people. I was being dishonest. God’s ways are good and upright. My ways were bad and immoral. Jesus showed me that truth.
W: He is talking to me. He seems like a good man, a righteous man. Why is he talking to me, a sinful woman, an adulteress of all things? Good men don’t speak to strange woman to begin with, let alone address condemned women. Who is he? Why is he talking to me? Why is he speaking kindly to me? I deserve nothing but shame and hatred. I deserve death. Why is he speaking to me? Why isn’t he throwing stones?
M: Being forgiven was kind of like when a bright light shines onto the dirtiest and dingiest corners of your house. Or when your mother checks behind your ears. As long as you don’t look too closely, it looks fine. It seems clean. But if you take a closer look – – gross!
W: He says he forgives me. How can I be forgiven? I have sinned. There is no excuse for my sins. I have sinned against God and neighbor. I am a home-wrecker! I don’t deserve compassion. I deserve judgement and condemnation. How can he forgive me? Doesn’t he understand how wicked I have been? Doesn’t he see what I am?
M: We have all sinned and fallen short of God’s standards. That’s why the crowd put down their stones. They saw their own sinfulness. Did you know that King David wrote Psalm 51? He prayed it after impregnating Bathsheba. That in and of itself wouldn’t have been so bad had it not been for the circumstances. She happened to be married to one of his soldiers, Uriah. Then David arranged for her husband to be killed in battle. This great king whom we all admired – he sinned too. Yet King David prayed to God, “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.” He asked for forgiveness. We pray those words as well. Jesus forgives us. He shines his light into our lives and cleanses us from all unrighteousness.
W: This man – He says I am forgiven. He says that I am now clean. I have a new spirit. This man is giving me a new life. What will I do now? What does this mean? I never expected such compassion or love from anyone. No one has ever shown me such great mercy. My life is no longer my own. I owe him everything. I can never repay him for this kindness. Where do I go from here?
M: Jesus shined His light into the dark corners of my life and revealed my sins to me. He forgave me. He swept out those corners and made me clean again. Maybe I should have warned you, I am a big fan of the Psalms. Last week I heard you reciting Psalm 51, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.” Jesus does that. He cleaned my heart and gave me a new spirit. Jesus gives me the strength to take up my cross. I am forgiven and sent.
W: I will follow him. I will sin no more. I will serve the Lord. Jesus loves me. I will try to be worthy of this amazing love and grace. No matter what happens, His spirit will guide me. He goes with me. He gives me the strength to take up my cross. I am forgiven and sent.
M: Jesus creates in you a clean heart and renews a right spirit within you. Jesus gives you the strength to take up your cross. You are forgiven and sent. Go in peace. Serve the Lord.
Take up Your Cross: Fighting the cares of this world (2/28)
Soliloquys: Pilate (P) & his wife
W: I wish we never came to this awful place. I should have listened to my mother. She warned me not to marry a soldier. My father was convinced he would rise through the ranks and be a good match – an asset to the family. Well guess what, Papa? He did. He was best in his garrison. He found favor with his superiors. He advanced into politics. He rose to be the esteemed governor of this place – this remote, unbearable place. The people follow all these strange rules. The markets are closed every Saturday. Yes Papa, the husband you chose for me rose through the ranks and landed us in a place where you can’t even get a good pork chop!
P: What am I going to do? If I listen to my wife, the chief priests and other Jewish leaders will lose respect for me. I am the emperor’s governor. I represent the Roman Empire – the most powerful and feared empire in the world. We rule the world. There is nothing greater than us. I can’t show weakness to anyone, especially not these people. I can’t let them know I take counsel from my wife! No one would ever respect me again! Granted, I’m sure lots of leaders listen to their wives, but none admit it in public!
W: Stubborn man! I told him pawn this mess off onto someone else. He’s playing with fire. Anyone can see these so-called leaders are just jealous, petty men. They don’t want what is best for their people. They are threatened by this Jesus. The common folk like him more than them. Oh, boo-hoo! Poor little Scribes and Pharisees, nobody loves you anymore! Newsflash – it’s time to grow up. Their campaign against this Jesus is going to bring about destruction for a lot of people – including my husband if he doesn’t start listening to me!
P: If I don’t listen to her, something terrible will happen. I know these dreams of hers. They are never wrong. I’m not sure where she gets this ‘gift’, but it never fails. If she was troubled all last night because of this Jesus character, I should walk away. How can I walk away? How can I avoid the travesty that is playing out before my very eyes?
W: For once, couldn’t he listen to me? After all these years of marriage, he should know enough to pray attention to my dreams. They are never wrong! Something terrible is going to happen! I begged him to listen. I pleaded with him to let this Jesus go. He knows he is innocent. He admits that the chief priests are acting out of jealousy. The man I married could never condemn an innocent man. Granted, my father chose him, but my husband is a good man. He’s a good soldier. He’s a good governor. I don’t understand why he is still holding this Jesus.
P: How can I get out of this? How can I oppose the local leaders without causing a civil war? I was given the responsibility for all these people. I have to think about what is best for all of them, as well as the wishes of my emperor. What am I going to do? Can I somehow trick the leaders into letting Jesus go free?
W: If he lets the Jews kill Jesus, we will all suffer. That husband of mine thinks he’s in control. He’s not. He is being held hostage by those pathetic men. They are playing games with him, trying to manipulate him into doing their dirty work. If they want to kill someone, let the blood be on their own hands!
P: Passover is coming. Maybe I can get Jesus released on a technicality. Each year, I release a prisoner for the Jews. I know Jesus is innocent of the charges against him. The people must know too. They’ve known their leaders much longer than I have. There’s no way they will take the side of the chief priests over Jesus. I seen the crowds following Jesus around the city and the countryside. The people love him. If I offer them a choice. I can release Jesus or … hmm… let’s see, who’s the worst criminal we have at the moment? Ooh, here’s one – murderer and insurgent. He’ll do. Easy choice – will the people want to welcome back a murderer or a healer? Obviously, they’ll chose Jesus of Nazareth. I can clean up this mess and hopefully retire in a few years – preferably back in Rome.
W: Why is he smiling? There is nothing to smile about! He probably thinks he can outwit these guys. I don’t think my dearest husband realizes the evil he is facing. These men will stop at nothing to have Jesus crucified. They know the command has to come from Pilate. They are not permitted to have anyone executed. They are using my husband for their own evil intent! How dare they! I hope Jesus is their God’s Son like the people claim. That’ll serve them.
P: I failed. I failed as a leader. I failed as a Roman. I failed as a human being. I let them win. I bent to their demands. I walked away and let them take him. I failed to save an innocent man. I let him die. I let the demands of a mob sway my judgement. I let evil win. Instead of doing what was right and just, I did what was easiest at the time. Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
W: We all failed. None of us stopped the injustice. It was easier at the time to go along with the flow. We all nailed Jesus to that cross. Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
Take up Your Cross: Confessing the Faith (3/7)
Soliloquys: Peter (P) & his wife
P: I left everything to follow Jesus. My family…my job…my old friends…my village. I walked away from everything I knew. I walked away from who I was. I became a new man. I became a follower of Jesus. And, quite honestly, I was one of the best. Jesus even admitted it.
W: We let him go. We saw just what an incredible impact Jesus had on Peter’s life. We understood the consequences of his discipleship. I’ve managed okay with help of friends and other family. We see Peter occasionally when the Rabbi and the disciples are passing through. Peter brought Jesus to us when my mother was on her deathbed. It was amazing. Jesus came into the room, prayed, and the next thing we knew, she was up and about in the kitchen. I know my husband loves me. I also understand the love he has for Jesus. Just because I understand, doesn’t mean I don’t still worry. I’m scared.
P: The other disciples look to me for guidance whenever Jesus goes off by himself to pray. In my former life, no one looked to me for anything other than my wife. In some ways, it is an honor. Some days, however, the weight feels unbearable. Today is one of those days.
W: I heard the news in the market place. Jesus has been arrested by the Romans. No one seems to know what has happened to the rest of the disciples. How could this have happened?! What will become of Peter? What will befall all of us?
P: Last night, Jesus once again predicted his death. He’s done this several times already. The first few times, we all panicked, by now we’ve gotten used to it. I’ve tried to tell Him to be more upbeat. That kind of talk was ruining morale. We all hear it, but I don’t think any of us really listen anymore. It’s almost as though we tune Him out whenever He starts to get morbid. Last night, He added a new twist – one that definitely got our attention. On top of His usual ‘I have to die’ speech, Jesus threw in a little bomb. Rather than being His loyal followers, we would all run away like cowards when the time comes. He flat out told us, we would drop Him like a hot potato as soon as things got rough.
W: It’s even worse than I imagined. One of the disciples betrayed Jesus. Someone accepted money in exchange for leading a mob to Jesus! The disciples were like family. They loved one another. They depended upon one another. They trusted one another. How could one of Jesus’ dearest loved ones betray Him? How could one of their own betray them all?
P: We all vowed not to abandon Jesus. No matter what possibly would happen, we would stand by Him. We are His closest friends, of course, we’ll stand by Him. I was the loudest and most insistent. I can’t imagine anything that could possibly make me turn my back on Jesus. He trusted me. I loved Him. There was no way I would leave Him. Have you ever seen a parent looking at a stubborn child indulgently? Like they are just waiting for the child to realize how ridiculous he or she is acting? Yeah, that look. That was the look Jesus gave me.
W: Everyone says Jesus alone was arrested.
P: What Jesus said to me? “Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.” I was in shock. Seriously?! He should know me better by now. We’ve been traveling together for a few years. How could He think so poorly of me? I was so offended. That is not the kind of man I am.
W: Peter’s smart. He’s strong. He can take care of himself. He’ll take care of the other disciples. He’ll know what to do. He’ll make me proud to be his wife.
P: Turns out, that is exactly the kind of man I am. I denied knowing Him. Not once. Not twice. I denied Him three times before dawn even broke. I am weak. Judas may have betrayed Him first, but I am no better. Judas fell into the temptation of silver. I fell into temptation of self-preservation. I chose myself over choosing Jesus. Despite my best intentions, despite my confidence and arrogance, I failed to keep my word. I failed to confess the truth I know. I lied about who I was. I lied about my relationship with Jesus. It was a fairly easy question, “are you with Him?” I manage to answer incorrectly three times! Jesus renamed me Cephas, or the Rock. I was called to be a rock for the other disciples. Today, I proved that I am indeed a rock, a rock that shatters and crumbles under the slightest pressure.
W: I heard they plan to crucify Jesus. I pray that Peter stays strong. The other disciples need him to be strong. I pray his faith can withstand the persecution he now faces.
P: I got that look again. He knew. He saw how weak I was. Yet, He still asked me to help the others. He told me He prayed that I could be strong for them. I am so weak. I am so worn. How can I lead the others? How can I report what happened here this morning? When Mary His mother asks if heard anything, what can I say? Sorry, I pretended to have never met your son while they beat him, mocked him, and spat at him? He knew I was weaker than weak, even when I thought I was strong. How could He expect me to help the others? How do I continue to follow when I am so inept?
W: Please Lord, keep my husband strong. Protect him from temptation. Lead him in your ways. Banish his doubts and fill him with your perfect faith. Hold him up by your power as he and the other disciples face these uncertain days. Your Will be done, O Lord. Deal graciously with your followers and send us your spirit.
P: Lord, forgive me my weakness. Strengthen my faith and witness. Guide me to lead your people. Make me worthy of Your mission. Your Will be done, O Lord. Deal graciously with your followers and send us your spirit.
Take up Your Cross: Carrying Burdens (3/14)
Soliloquys: Favorite disciple (J) & Mary (M)
M: Little did I know. The angel Gabriel told me I would bear God’s Son. I rejoiced. I knew it would be difficult. I knew Joseph might break the engagement and send me away. I still rejoiced. It was a privilege. I was overjoyed. God was giving me a gift beyond my imagination. God was blessing me with His own self.
J: Poor Mary. I realize Jesus says it has to happen this way to fulfill Scripture, but part of me wants to scream and yell at Him for doing this to his mother. Part of me agrees with all the chants to come down off that cross. I don’t need Him to not to prove He is the Son of God, but I am having a difficult time understanding how the Son of God lets His mother this suffer like this. She carried Him. She raised Him. She and Joseph uprooted their lives and fled to Egypt to protect Him from Herod. She has followed Him around the countryside these past few years. She spent all those years protecting Him, nurturing Him, loving Him – for this?
M: I pondered the words of the shepherds in my heart. I treasured the gifts of the magi. These men came to honor my baby. I remember fondly the kind prayer of this elderly man named Simeon after the baby was dedicated. He thanked God for allowing him to see God’s salvation as he held my little boy. And I heard the prophet Anna telling anyone who would listen how special my baby boy was. She too praised God for giving my son to Israel. I treasured all these words in my heart. I treasured my special baby, God’s special baby.
M: It was never easy. I remember how relieved I was when I went into labor with my second child. I got to give birth at home – no cross-country donkey ride, no scrambling for somewhere to give birth, no cacophony of barnyard noises accompanying my grunting, no cleaning out a food trough in order to have a spot to put the baby. I got to be home, near our family, in a house.
J: She’s been through so much already. Most mothers get to enjoy the children growing older, learn a trade, get married, have grandchildren. She has spent her whole life putting Him first. She has worked so hard to make sure He fulfilled God’s Will. I wonder how she feels now – watching God’s Will here at Golgotha.
M: I admit I’ve also known fear over the years. When the angel told Joseph that Herod wanted to kill Jesus, I was terrified every time I heard a noise outside. I wouldn’t let that boy out of my sight the entire time we lived in Egypt. When Jesus decided to hang out at the Temple instead of joining the family caravan back to Nazareth – a few gray hairs from that one. When He started teaching and preaching, I was proud. I was also scared. I heard what people in our hometown of Nazareth said. I heard the mumblings behind my back – everything from a prophet to a demon king. I’ve seen how people get when they get that mob mentality. They stop listening to reason. They stop thinking for themselves. They stop caring about other people. Mobs are scary. They are especially scary when they direct their anger and hatred at my little boy. This, watching my baby hang on a cross taking his last breaths. This is all my worst fears not only realized, by magnified.
J: He’s not coming down. He’s not saving Himself. He’s letting her watch Him die. How can He let her watch Him suffer like this? How can He do this to His own mother?
M: God’s Will. It was God’s Will that I gave birth to the Messiah. As much as I don’t understand it, Jesus says this is God’s Will too. I am trying so hard to trust God right now. He gave me His Son, now He’s taking Him away. God, give me the strength to trust you in the midst of things I don’t understand. I don’t understand why this has to happen. I don’t understand how people can do this to an innocent man. These very people were throwing down palm branches and cloaks earlier this week. They shouted ‘Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.’ How do those people turn into these people within a few days? I don’t understand why my Son, your Son, has to die for the sake of the world. I don’t understand why You can’t find an easier, less painful way to accomplish Your Will. I don’t understand, Lord.
J: She can barely stand. Her tears are breaking my heart. It’s almost easier to watch the life seep out Jesus, than watch her witness it. The grief is overwhelming. Her pain radiates from her. The other women are trying to comfort her, but I don’t think there is anything that can comfort her now. Jesus told me to take care of her. She is my mother now. I will provide for her. I will give her a home and a family. I will watch over her and protect her. I will comfort her. My children will be her grandchildren. And we will share our grief. We will carry it together.
M: I cannot face this alone. No one can face this alone. I am not alone. Jesus left me with a son. He gave me his disciple to be my son. I will not be alone. I will be his mother. I will live out my life as part of his family. I will love him as my own. I will grieve with him. We will share our burden. He understands my grief. He knows my anguish. He loves Jesus, too. We will comfort one another and bear our burdens together. He will grieve alone. I will not bear my grief alone. We will carry our pain together as God wills.
J: It is finished. Perhaps this is finished. Maybe this part of God’s kingdom coming is finished, but our new journey is just beginning. It is time for Mary, me, and the rest of the disciples to put the pieces back together. God called us to be His body in the world. Now that His earthly body has been destroyed, we wait. We wait together. We grieve together. We may even have to hide together. One thing is certain, Jesus wanted us to stay together. He called us together.
M: I will go with the other women and see where they lay Him. Then I will go to my new home with my new son. We will break bread. We will weep. We will pray. We will wait for the promised advocate to help us bear our burdens. We will do it together.
Take up Your Cross: Showing the Faith (3/21)
Soliloquys: Joseph of Arimathea (J) & Nicodemus (N)
J: I let this happen. I should have stood up to the Sanhedrin. I am a coward. I believed, but I hid my faith in Jesus for fear of my peers. I was worried about my reputation. I was concerned about what the other Jewish leaders would think of me. I was wrapped up in maintaining my status in the community. I was too scared to speak up. I was too spineless to admit my faith. Then again, what kind of faith is it, if you hide it? Is it really faith if you are too cowardly too share it?
N: I am a coward. I recognized something was special about Jesus. I saw the amazing deeds He did. I watched Him heal the sick. I saw Him banish demons. I wanted to meet Him. I wanted to know Him. I wanted to know if He was the Messiah – the One for whom we have been waiting. I had a deep desire to know Him. I hoped and prayed that He was the Christ, God’s Anointed.
J: I knew He was innocent. Even Pilate had more courage than me. He at least washed his hands and voiced his opinion. He told us, “Let his blood be upon your hands.” It is. An innocent man’s blood is on my hands. I am so ashamed. I am not worthy of my standing in the community. Or perhaps I am. If we are truly a people condemned, maybe I am worthy of being a leader of this lost and vile generation. His blood is on our hands, and the hands of our children. I am tainted by my sins. I cannot be made clean.
N: I was afraid my friends might see me. When He first came to town, I snuck out to try to see Him. I skulked around the city look a thief in the night trying to determine where He was staying. I found Him. I woke Him and His host in the middle of the night. Despite my prowling and cunning methods of locating Him, He still welcomed me. I deceived my own family and friends. I outright lied to my peers. That is how much I wanted to meet Him. And that is how scared I was of the people I claimed to love and trust. I hid my visit from everyone.
J: What could I possibly do to assuage my guilt? I could have stopped His crucifixion. How can I look His mother in the eye? I took away her son. I let her watch him be beaten and mocked for no good reason. I stood by and let jealous men get their way – get their vengeance. An innocent man id dead. I could have stopped it. I should have stopped it. My fears cost a man his life. My cowardice cost a family a son and brother. My selfishness robbed disciples their teacher and friend. How do I live with myself, knowing I allowed this to happen?
N: I secretly followed all the news about Jesus’ travels. I hungered for each tidbit of information concerning the miracles and the healings. I yearned for happenstance meetings with travelers who would recollect His many teachings and parables. I craved the peace that came from hearing His voice.
J: I can at least make sure He has a proper burial. It’s not enough to offset role in these horrific events, but it is something. There isn’t anything that will be enough to cleanse me of my sin. I own a new tomb. No one has ever been laid there. I will buy the proper oils and spices. I will procure the traditional burial shroud. He was innocent. He deserves more than a pauper’s grave. His family and friends deserve a place to go to mourn their loss. It doesn’t make up for my cowardice, but it is something, not much, but something.
N: I led a double-life. In public, I was a pillar of my community. I was greatly admired as a teacher of the Law. In secret, I was a follower of Jesus. I did believe He was the Messiah. I knew He was the One sent by God to save us. I was too attached to my status as a Pharisee to admit it though. Jesus saw right through me. He knew I was a coward. I was a little jealous of how much easier those fishermen had it. Yes, they left everything to follow Him, but quite frankly, they had less to leave. I figured it was okay to believe in Jesus without changing my life. I was too weak to walk away from my privileged life. I realize now, they didn’t have less to leave – they had a better view of what they were leaving for. They were stronger than I was. They had a firmer understanding of how valuable Jesus really was. They had more faith. They followed. I watched from afar, too scared to disrupt my well-ordered life. I was so emmeshed in my own world, I failed to see true life was right there in front of me. I was so worried about what I might have to give up, that I missed out on what I would gain.
J: I cannot move the body by myself. I’m too ashamed to ask any of Jesus’ friends of family for help. How they must hate me. They will probably see this as an empty gesture from a guilt-ridden man. I suppose it is. They are most likely terrified of what will now happen to them. They should probably hide until things calm down a bit. None of them have the funds to give Jesus a proper burial. For that matter, none of them have the connections to ask for the body. It is unlikely that Pilate would grant any of Jesus’ disciples the body. The other Jewish leaders would never allow it. I noticed a look of dismay cross Nicodemus’s face. I suspect he has some of the same feelings of regret and shame I do. I will ask Pilate for the body of Jesus. I will ask Nicodemus to help me. We will accomplish this gesture for Mary and the others. He may have died as a common criminal, but Jesus will not be buried as one. It may be too little too late, but it will be done. Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
N: Lord, you called me to follow. I ran the other way. I neglected your word. You offered me new life and I hid my faith in the darkness of my old life. Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.