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Pulpit Notes.

Meditations for Believers.

Copyright © By Rev. Paul Gould

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"Our Setbacks are God's Shortcuts."

We are currently in the Season of Lent, an Old English word for "Spring."  It hasn't quite arrived here in the northern mid-west, the leaden winter bares down with a biting wind. But soon the cold will be gone, sprouts will appear and life returns. The earth is not dead, only sleeping. The season is Ash Wednesday to Good Friday- forty days.

If you knew you had only forty days to live, how would you spend that time? Differently! That's one way of looking at Lent, the most solemn period of the Church Year. The altar is stripped bare, all ornamentation removed from the front of the church. In John 11, as the religious leaders in Jerusalem were plotting his death, Christ and his disciples departed into the wilderness. "Come apart and rest for awhile." After that he walked no more among Jewry.  Only the Lord knew what was coming, how horrible. His utter loneliness and sheer fright. But the disciples dismissed the idea, assuring the Lord they would shield their master from harm. After all, his loss would be a tragic setback.

The idea is that we walk as he did during this time of introspection and prayer. Examining ourselves, getting away for a awhile from the noise to find rest for our souls. A time to think about your life, and prepare for the triduum, or three days at the end of the Lenten season. Good Friday night the altar cloths are black for this one occasion. Often a tenebrae service is done. Latin for "shadows." Candles snuffed out one at a time during the service until everyone sits in darkness, finally leaving the church in silence: Recalling the life ebbing from his body. You are attending a funeral as it were.

But on Sunday the Lord reappears, very much alive! You see, he took a short-cut for us. He parted the Red Sea so we could cross over. In the exodus story, the Children of Israel hit a set-back: Water. No retreat and outflanked by Pharaoh's army. "Why did you bring us here, Moses? To die?"

Circumstances looked very bad as the disciples ran for cover on Friday. Passover was beginning and Jerusalem was packed with those making the pilgrimage for the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Jesus died at 3 pm, the hour of the evening sacrifice, as hundreds if not thousands of lambs were being slaughtered in the temple. The awful sounds of death could be heard, rivers of blood draining in troughs. But nobody made the obvious connection! Just another crucifixion of an agitator. So scary did things appear that Peter denied he even knew the Man from Galilee: Three times. Unforgivable! But Jesus witnessed this denial as he was led past under arrest, and had already forgiven the scared and confused Peter. To him it all looked like a set-back. The end of the world! Peter's world.

Little did he understand the great role he would later play! He wasn't out of a job after all, because a much better one was around the bend in the road- that unknown which makes us worry. Like the ancient Israelites we are forgetful. If God made you, He is responsible for the care of your soul, bringing you this far.

Thank you Lord, for this life. For the set-backs too. When I don't understand what is happening, lead me apart to rest for awhile while you take care of it.  

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For July, 2020.

Your Personal Word:

(also called a mantra).

Any sacred word, whatever one you may choose, is sacred not because of its meaning, but because of its intent. It expresses your intention to open yourself to God, the Ultimate Mystery, who dwells within you. It is a focal point to return to when you notice you are becoming interested in the thoughts that are going by. Be fully present in whatever you are doing. The mind will wander off. No matter, it can't be helped. When you are fully aware again, just be that way.…The chief thing that separates us from God is the thought that we are separated from Him. If we get rid of that thought, our troubles will be greatly reduced.

"The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel," by Thomas Keating.