Wednesday, April 08, 2009

[Note: i have the honor of preaching the Maundy Thursday service at Centenary Church in Granville tomorrow, 7:30 pm with, of course, communion!]

Maundy Thursday 9 April 2009 CUMC

Opening Call to Worship
(adapted from Psalm 116)

Leader: We love the Lord, because our voice and our pleas are heard.
People: Because our prayers have a listener, we will call on the Lord as long as we live.

L: In distress and anguish, we felt death and darkness overwhelm us;
P: Then we called out: “O Lord, I pray, deliver my soul!”

L: Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; our God is merciful.
P: The Lord preserves the simple; when we were brought low, God saved us.

L: What shall we render to the Lord, with all the blessings we have received?
P: We will lift up the cup of salvation, and call on the name of the Lord!

L: Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.
P: O Lord, we are your servants; you have loosed our bonds.

Unison: We will offer our sacrifice of thanksgiving, and call on the name of the Lord.
We will pay our vows to the Lord in the presence of all God’s people, in the courts of the house of the Lord,
in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise the Lord! Amen.

* * *

Unison prayer of confession and redemption

Lord of every banquet and buffet, God of creation and cafeterias, we call on you this evening. You tend to the fields and the harvest, the grinding and the cooking, and your hand rests gently on all who clean up after. Almighty God, we barely understand how bread rises, or how sunlight fills the grapes with sweet life. Our hands are far from the effort of reaping and kneading; our feet do not stomp in the vineyard, or tread out a path around the olive press. Here, O Lord, we would break bread we have not baked, pour out fruit from vines we did not pick. Help us, God, to take from this holy meal a greater awareness of how we depend on one another, and how such true community can only be born in love and forgiveness. And lift our hearts, Father of farmers and loving Lord of all who cook, to celebrate the Son who called Martha from the kitchen, who surprised Mary in the garden, and who offered, even to Judas, the choice to come to his table, and eat of his freely offered salvation. For it is in Christ’s name that we pray, Amen.
Faith Works 4-11-09
Jeff Gill

Traveling on a Saturday, Heading Towards Sunday

Just on down the road, a dust devil swirled into mad, manic life, and skittering across the dusty pathway, spun out into nothing among the rocks beyond.

He stepped cautiously forward, walking steadily but with hesitations, almost as one with a lame ankle or a sore toe. It was a fact that going up to Jerusalem necessarily meant going down as you left, whether to the east and down the rocky defiles leading to Jericho, or the longer and less steep decline to the west, on towards the Roman’s Mare Nostrum, the Great Sea, the Mother of Storms.

There had been great storms yesterday, and a shaking of the earth, but the western sky had not foreshadowed with “a cloud the size of a man’s hand” on the horizon. It came up suddenly, full of lightning and wind, but who had really been watching the skies off to one side?

Shaking his head, he banished the vision of Friday’s events from his mind, and went back to watching the ground closely, for loose rocks that could make his already shaky legs twist right out from beneath him. One sandal was already mended with cordage, where the leather had torn as he ran up the side of the olive tree covered slope, stepping on a rock in the late Thursday darkness. He’d been able to find the lost sandal and keep running, hopping, ludicrous in his fear mixed with anxiety over having to purchase a new sandal.

Even with Roman soldiers at his back, imagined in pursuit, poverty squeezed his thoughts into their mold. It was a puzzle still that they had not followed anyone, but the teacher, their leader, was apparently all they wanted.

A scrap of cord in a gardener’s shed near the top of the mount let him find his footing and his dignity of a sort. Back to their Passover throng’s campsite among the olive oil presses, the “gethsemane” workshop busy during the fall harvest, but where springtime visitors to the Holy City were welcome as out of season guests.

Among the rattled, confused followers of the Galilean rabbi whom he had recently joined, all that he could make out was that an arrest had happened, spurred by the betrayal of one of the core followers, the students, the “discipuli” who came to Jerusalem from the north.

Some said the soldiers had taken their captive to the main fortress overlooking the Temple Mount, the Antonia, others said it was to the Chief Priest’s palatial home at the other end of the city walls. Most went back to a troubled sleep.

By noon the next day there was no question where the focus of attention had turned, to the Romans’ preferred killing ground just west of the city’s exit to the west, the main road of commerce and travel, where most of the visitors for this sacred week would leave and have to choose to turn away, or to glance up, cringe, and keep moving.

He had stayed far away, but his wife joined a group of women who stood near the condemned man’s mother – odd how it was hard to think of him as a teacher, having been refuted and rejected and tormented to such a shameful death. He was the condemned man, innocent though he might be, but if Rome said he was guilty, then who . . .

Stumbling forward, starting at any sudden movement in the brush or stony slopes on either side, he kept his unsteady route to Ein Kerem. His wife had family there, and when they met near the city gate, after the dead body had been removed from the cross and carried to a nearby tomb, she told him they would meet at Ein Kerem tomorrow, and then Sunday walk on down to Emmaus, and from there back to Joppa. The women would grieve together, while the men scattered.

Cleopas thought about the hope for God’s active working in the world that he had felt so strongly just days before, and how hopeless he felt now, fearful again of bad luck, dust devils in his path, the weight of Roman rule hard across his shoulders.

He was glad the two of them were walking, not paying to rent a mule, but just taking one step at a time, quietly letting the miles wear the sadness down. There was an inn at Emmaus where he had known comfort before, and hoped to enjoy again; there they might find a measure of peace.

That was his prayer, as he walked away from Jerusalem on a Saturday afternoon.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him a story at or follow on Twitter at “Knapsack.”

Monday, April 06, 2009

Notes From My Knapsack 4-9-09
Jeff Gill

Who Do You Say Is Lord?

“Dominus Caesar est.”

Three words, and a pinch of incense on a sacrificial altar.

“Caesar is Lord.”

Statements like that, and statues and inscriptions on public buildings proclaiming the “King of Kings” and “Prince of Peace” all were common almost 2000 years ago. They referred, of course, to the ruler of Rome, whether Julius Caesar who made his family name a title, his adopted son Octavian, soon known as Augustus Caesar, the first Emperor, or the Roman rulers who followed – Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero.

Julius was born in the month that was known as Quintilis, but after his death, famously on the Ides of March, became known as July, named for the man who was believed to have become a god upon his death. Octavian saw with all of Rome a daytime comet in the sky, and declared his father “Divus Iulius,” or the “God Julius” – which conveniently made the August one “divi filius,” “God’s son.”

The month he died, Sextilis, became August as part of the proclamation that the “Son of God” was now a member of the Roman pantheon himself. Worship of at least the “divine spirit” of the ruling emperor began with Augustus, but it was Caligula who began to insist that he be considered a god while alive, and in person.

So all around the Roman Empire, it became a part of simple transactions and legal business, already taking place in the basilicas, or law courts, of the imperial authority, that participants would step to the altar on the elevated platform before all witnesses, and say “Caesar is Lord,” dropping a pinch on incense into the perpetual vestal flame.

John Dominic Crossan is a controversial Biblical scholar, but one I hope Denison or some other local effort could bring to town. He is a charming and brilliant fellow, who is not at all afraid of controversy while trying to provoke careful and consistent thought about the claims of the New Testament, particularly about Jesus of Nazareth.

One of the debts I feel that I owe this scholar is a greater awareness of the very personal, yet extremely social tension in the earliest days of the Roman Empire, and for the birth of the Christian Church.

To say “Caesar is Lord” is to make a much broader statement than those three words appear to say. “Caesar is Lord” is to say that the methods and approach of Julius and Augustus and even crazy old Caligula were divinely ordered, the expression of an ultimate nature about how human creatures were to relate to each other.

“Caesar is Lord” is saying that the crushing grip of military conquest is the best way to reach a “Pax Romanum,” a peace that is easily understood as the absence of war, under the authority of emperors and consuls and prefects and procurators. You know, procurators, like that sharp-edged tool of empire, Pontius Pilate.

Or you could say something else, a different statement that not only cut you off from the protection of empire, but left you open to the punishment, the ‘poena,’ the penalties of the amphitheater and Colosseum. You could claim a peace that passes all understanding, but one that grows far beyond even the reach of a Caesar.

You could say instead “Dominus Iesus est,” but God help you if you did.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him a story at or follow on Twitter at “Knapsack.”