Friday, April 29

Psalm 145:13-17

A famous rabbinic interpretation of the Torah imagines how Adam experiences the end of his first day on earth. Adam had never seen the sun go down. When he sees sunset at the end of the sixth day of creation, Adam grew frightened. What if it never comes up again?! What if the world will now be dark and cold? Adam began to weep and mourn. Then the sun came up the next day, and Adam said, “Surely this is the way of nature, and I did not realize it.” Adam then offered a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God. Adam worshiped and learned, just as we must, that,

• There is no sunrise without sunset
• There is no wonder of spring without a gray cold of winter
• There is no promised land without a journey through wilderness
• There is no homecoming without exile, and
• There is no resurrection without dying.

Adam learned what Thomas does. It is the way of God that there will be another day, another spring, another homecoming, another season of life in God’s presence. God is in charge of this old world and God keeps God’s promises.

Psalm 145 praises God’s faithfulness and compassion. God’s people sing these lyrics even as they remember defeat and exile. They sing “Thanks be to God!” for what God has done and will do. No matter the current situation they are assured of the steadfast love of their Creator. We can sing this praise as well. Thanks be to God.

Consider

When I think about the troubles of my life and our world, how likely am I to fret and complain? How likely am I to trust and praise God for what truly shall be?

Pray

God, give me a heart for praise and a voice for gratitude, that I might learn to sing in love for you all my days. Amen.

Thursday, April 28

John 20:30-31

Thomas’ encounter with the Risen Christ teaches us what it means to be the Church today. Like Thomas, we are disciples who have not yet seen but are called on to believe. We are called to live by faith, which comes to us through the witness of Scripture. This week that witness is telling us something special about Jesus through Thomas, one particular human being who loved Jesus and who Jesus loved.

The interplay between Jesus and Thomas makes me want to know more about this God of grace and mercy who refused to reject Thomas for questioning and struggling with the reality of faith. 

Christians worship a God who inhabited humanity and carries the scars of being human, who knows what it is to be like you and me. Being human means dealing with ups and downs, with disappointments, griefs, and trauma as well as joys. We carry our wounds, but thanks be to God, we do not carry them alone. In Christ, God has come, bringing redemption and ultimate meaning to our lives. God comes that we might live God’s way of peace, forgiveness, and grace.

In her commentary on John’s Gospel, Gail R. O’Day notes: 

John’s story names the disciples’ fears, and in the face of those fears, Jesus’ grace increases.… He never lectured the disciples for hiding behind closed doors even after they had received the Spirit, nor did he censure Thomas for wanting a tactile experience of the risen Lord. The stories are parables of Grace. The centrality of grace—even for ‘those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’”

God gives us grace. Thanks be to God.

Consider

What wounds and scars do I carry? How does my pain affect my relationship with God? When have I failed to offer grace to others who are hurt?

Pray

O Lord, help me be more like Thomas, more in touch with my need for you and more accepting of your lordship and grace. Amen.

Wednesday, April 27

John 20:26-29

For many Christians, doubt is a word that reflects failure, especially when it comes to their faith. I know many who have questioned their own sincerity in faith when challenged by Jesus’ words to Thomas— “Do not doubt but believe” (v. 27).

For Thomas, though, doubt is not unfaithfulness. Doubt is to ponder in one’s heart, to carry on an inner dialog, struggle, or an honest embrace with how we are doing and what we are feeling. It may be brought about by anxiety, pain, or fear. Pain and suffering reflect a depth of love and connectedness to others. For Thomas, the absence of Jesus in his life has brought tremendous pain and suffering. His doubt was not about doctrines or statements of belief, but a relationship seemingly broken by death. His doubt speaks of love. And the love of Jesus works to heal Thomas’ heart and bring him the peace he lacks.

It is the same for you and me. The peace we seek and need is the peace of life with Christ, made real in our lives through the presence of the Spirit. Pain makes room for doubt, and facing our doubt and pain can be the first steps toward healing and a new kind of wholeness. 

When Thomas finally sees Jesus, he seems to understand Jesus in a new way that reaches deep down in his soul and responds: “My Lord and my God!” (v. 28). He responds in words of love and trust, which, as far as we know, become the posture of his life for the rest of his days.

Consider

When have I traded certainty in place of a meaningful relationship with someone for whom I have cared? When have I avoided letting God know me or avoided getting to know God because I was afraid of not measuring up or being hurt or disappointed?

Pray

O God, how would you have me love you now? In this current time and circumstance, how can I live in faith and by faith, in love with you and seeking your best intentions for your world? Amen.

Tuesday, April 26

John 20:24-25

It took a while for me to get to know Thomas. For years, I knew of him by the wholly inappropriate nickname, Doubting Thomas. Growing up in church, I was told that a good disciple wasn’t a Doubting Thomas. A good disciple didn’t doubt, but accepted what they were told on “blind” faith. I’m so glad to have learned that these old understandings are not so. In truth, Thomas only wanted what the others had already experienced. He wanted to see Jesus. 

Where had Thomas been that he missed Jesus’ first appearing to the disciples? We don’t know where he was geographically, but we can probably picture where he may have been emotionally and spiritually. Perhaps the pain of what had happened to Jesus caused his absence. Perhaps he was overwhelmed, crushed between the trauma of Passover expectations and the deadly reality of Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, crucifixion, and death. Perhaps, just like what might have happened to any one of us, he was stunned and exhausted by events and experiences too difficult to process or understand. Perhaps he needed to retreat before returning to the others and engaging such difficult realities. Can you imagine what that might be like?

When Thomas exclaims, “Unless I see… I will not believe” (v. 25), he speaks from a deeply wounded heart. Thomas wants to know that the impossible is true, that Jesus is alive in some new way that the disciples will struggle to fully grasp for most of their lives.

Consider 

When life overwhelms me, how do I respond? How can a community of faith be helpful in such times? 

Pray

O Lord, help me to find the grace in my life not to judge how others respond to hard times. Help me be patient with myself, too, when I feel like I cannot cope. Amen.

Monday, April 25

John 20:21-23

“Who is this Christ, who interferes with everything?” These words were written by the Austrian poet and novelist, Rainer Maria Rilke, who lived during the last quarter of the 19th century and the first quarter of the 20th. “Who is this Christ, who interferes with everything?” I love the truth and power of these words. I feel a kinship to them. Do you know what I mean? Accepting Christ’s invitation to “Follow me” can lead us on adventures we’d never dreamed of taking—and some for which we’d never have volunteered. For disciples in the 1st century or the 21st, Christ’s call to follow eventually means the transformation of our assumptions, intentions, motivations, and just how far in life we’ll be willing to go because of love.

When the Lord Jesus appears post-resurrection to the disciples who are in hiding, he shatters their ideas of how life works. Jesus has been dead, but now is alive and capable of things beyond what they have known of him before. 

Jesus returns to them, announcing peace—wholeness, shalom—and commissioning them to lives of being Christ to the world. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” These shocking words, empowered by the Holy Spirit, call them to ministries of forgiveness and reconciliation. He breathes into them a new way of experiencing the world. It’s like Jesus is saying “School’s out! Time to get your marching orders as witnesses and workers in God’s Reign.” It’s time to admit that without the inner work of God in our lives we can’t do much. But with God at work in us? Well, God might just use us to overturn the world’s notions of what life is all about, too.

Consider

How do I resist hearing God’s calling? What notions of mine might God want to overturn? What new thing is God trying to awaken in me?

Pray

God, help me resist the temptation to only want a tame and comfortable gospel. Let your Holy Spirit work in me that I will be able to embrace your call and claim on my life, whatever and wherever that may be. Amen.

Sunday, April 24

John 20:19-20

I love the joyful celebration that is Easter Sunday and I’ve come to love the Sunday that follows it, too. Easter shines as the pinnacle of our faith, pointing to what only God would do. Only God would come as Emmanuel—God with us! The cross and the resurrection show us how far God will go to redeem God’s creation. The depth of God’s love reaches out in unimaginable ways. God turns death back to life, despair to hope, meaninglessness to sacred vocation.

How fitting that the height of Easter Sunday is tempered by the text on the Sunday after. Today’s verses tell how it really was for the disciples after Jesus died. We need to consider these real people whose loss, fear, and grief blinded them to an unexpected reality.

That reality? Based on the force of the biblical narrative, to say that Jesus came and stood among them (v. 19) is not so much to say that Jesus was able to walk through doors and walls, but that he had been in the room all the while. In their pain, fear, grief, and anxiety, they could not see him. They do not recognize him until he utters four powerful words: “Peace be with you!” (v. 19).

On the one hand, I find great comfort in their inability to see the Lord. I can trust that God is always present, though sometimes silent. When I am struggling with painful, unimaginable realities, I want to remember the reaction of the disciples, who hang on and keep going. Like these who loved Jesus dearly, I want to know the power of the Resurrection that transforms bewildered, fearful disciples into a community who will become like Christ to the world.

Consider

When have I felt great loss and needed God’s presence and peace? When have I been too anxious to see God is always with me, though sometimes silent?

Pray

God, give me courage and insight to know you are with me and that you are the only source of peace I need. Amen.

Saturday, April 23

Psalm 118:26-29

I wish you could meet my Hebrew professor. Toni Craven changed my life nearly 30 years ago by teaching me the depth and beauty of the Hebrew language. From her I learned that words often have more than one meaning. Hesed is a prime example. It looks like this in Hebrew: חםד. Its meaning is multi-faceted and deep. Depending on its use, it can mean “mercy, kindness, goodness, favor, and love.” 

It can also mean all of those things together. My professor would translate it as “God’s loving kindness.” It forgives, it heals, and it sustains. It encompasses us like a warm blanket, holding us when we feel our most alone.

I’ve been talking with a young friend who is struggling to believe that anyone loves him, even God. He doesn’t feel worthy of attention and believes that there will always be someone who deserves love more than him.

What would you say to my young friend?

None of us are loved because we deserve it, I want to say. If “deserving” is part of the equation, it isn’t love we’re talking about. Love is what is extended to us on our most unlovable days, when we should have stayed in bed instead of stomping through the world. Love comes and sits beside us and says, “Even today—especially today—you are loved. I’m not going anywhere. You are mine.”

Consider

I hope you’re thinking about someone in your life who has loved you with God’s loving kindness. Who has been a form of hesed to you?

Pray

God, we don’t deserve your love. And yet you pour your hesed upon us like a cleansing shower, forgiving us, healing us, and sustaining us through life’s most difficult times. We give thanks, indeed. Amen.

Friday, April 22

Psalm 118:21-25

“Can you get her a smaller stuffed animal? She only has the use of one hand; she’ll never be able to hold a big one.”

The psalmist declares that God has done a miraculous thing. God has made something wonderful out of something that others rejected. Other builders declare the stone useless; God picks it up and said, “This is exactly what I need.” The psalmist says that, by doing this thing, God has become his salvation.

I return to the room with a small pink bear and the mother approves. I watch as she moves around her 25-year-old daughter’s bed with skill, concern, and gentle care. We talk as she repositions pillows, smooths sheets, and makes sure her daughter is completely comfortable. She adopted her child as a baby, fully knowing that she has extensive disabilities. She has been the only caregiver for her daughter throughout her life. “We just have each other,” she says, and her smile conveys her unwavering love for this child of God that others rejected. 

Every day I see miracles, and very often the miracles come from the hands of the parents I meet. They are the greatest heroes I know, for they have chosen to love in ways that few of us are brave enough to do. Let us give thanks. Let us rejoice and be glad.

Consider

Think of someone you know who life has cast aside, rejected as unusable and unimportant. How could you be brave in that person’s life?

Pray

There are many days, dear Lord, when I think it would have been wiser if you had chosen someone else, a better stone than me. Thank you for keeping me, rough edges and all. Amen.

Thursday, April 21

John 20:14-18

Just ask anyone who is a regular substitute teacher in elementary school. The quickest way to effectively manage a classroom is to learn the ornery kid’s name. 

Names are powerful things. We will pretend to like the most ridiculous name simply because our friends have proudly chosen it for their new baby. We will turn our heads when we hear our name called, even if we’re in an unfamiliar town.

Names are powerful. 

Mary thought he was just the gardener. She thought he was a person who might help her, who would tell her where to find the body of Jesus.

She didn’t know it was him until he said her name, “Mary” (v. 16).

When he said her name…oh, my goodness! She awoke from her fog. Her pulse raced. Her heart pounded as her mind filled with a jumble of disbelief and hope! 

And then she said his name back. She knew who he was because she recognized his voice when he said her name. He was her person, the one she longed for the most.

When someone says our name with love, they are saying, “I see you. I know you. You matter.” When the One who gives us life calls to us, we know who we are once again. Praise God that we are known by name by our Creator and Savior.

Consider

Who do you long to hear speak your name just one more time?

Pray

We know you by so many names, Holy One, but you know us by only one. You say we are your beloved, the ones in whom you are well pleased. Oh, how loved we are! Amen.

Wednesday, April 20

John 20:11-13

“Chaplain, we need you to come to the welcome desk. There’s someone crying.”

I arrived to find a woman in tears. As I looked in her face, her eyes stared at the space between us. She was unsteady on her feet, so I led her to a nearby bench. As we sat, I asked, “What is wrong?”

Grief stuns us. The woman sat beside me, seeming to not really know where she was or what was happening. I asked again, trying to measure if her silence was a language barrier or her grief. It was both. In broken English, she replied, “My son is dying.”

I suddenly realized that I had heard her story from another chaplain. The day before, her 16-year-old son was completely healthy. Today, the doctors told his mother there was no hope for recovery. 

Grief stuns us.

Mary stood outside the tomb. That she is seeing two angels sitting inside doesn’t even register in her mind. She answers their question, just looking for answers, just hoping for understanding.

I’ve come to understand that the fog that envelopes us in the early moments of grief is a gift. We walk through the hours in a stupor, not really hearing conversations or thinking through our actions. “I’m just on autopilot,” is what we say. To fully feel the weight of grief in those first moments? I don’t think any of us could survive it.

Consider

Who was beside you in your first moments of grief? What were they doing as they moved around you? Who received your grace-filled presence in the early moments of their grief?

Pray

God, it is not a trite thing to say that you send us angels in the first hours of our grief. They sit beside us, they answer the phone, and they make sure we know we are not alone. You are with us through them, and we are forever thankful. Amen.