Unexpectedly Tangible Presence — Hope of Advent

Scripture Focus: 2 Chronicles 5.13
13 The trumpeters and musicians joined in unison to give praise and thanks to the Lord. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, the singers raised their voices in praise to the Lord and sang: 

“He is good; 
his love endures forever.” 

Then the temple of the Lord was filled with the cloud, 14 and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the temple of God.

Luke 2.6-11
6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. 
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.

Reflection: Unexpectedly Tangible Presence — Hope of Advent
By John Tillman

David remembered God’s faithfulness. God had inspired him as he slept under the stars as a shepherd, protected him from wicked leaders as a fugitive in his own country, and gone with him into foreign lands as an exile. Now David’s throne was in a palace, and God’s throne, the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant, was in a centuries-old tent. David thought God’s presence should be housed more grandly. Solomon made sure of it, following David’s preparations. 

When the days were completed for the Ark to be delivered, Solomon brought forth the presence of the Lord to take up residence in the Temple.

Every priest, no matter their job description, was consecrated. Countless sacrifices were made in worship. The entire nation gathered. Under the spreading wings of cherubim, the Ark was set in place. Choirs of singers and bands of musicians made music of praise and thanks. 

Then, the unexpectedly tangible presence of God, a cloud that filled the Temple, prevented the performance of the priests’ duties. God took over the space as his own. Then, Solomon prayed a priestly prayer over the Temple and kingdom.

When the days were completed for Jesus to be delivered, different preparations had been made. No consecrated priests were there to minister, but Mary, full of the Holy Spirit, prophesied and gave him life. No choir of Levites in fine linen celebrated him, but shepherds, sleeping on the ground, were inspired to seek him by music from the heavens. No dignitaries from his nation visited or brought sacrifices, but foreigners came from afar to worship, bringing sacrificial gifts. No king prayed to or worshiped him, but Herod’s killers pursued him, and Jesus became a fugitive and an exile, leaving behind comfort and familiarity.

In order for us to be with him in a house grander than David could imagine or Solomon could build, God became unexpectedly tangible. Rather than a non-corporeal cloud, he became a poor, unhoused, itinerant carpenter and died as a slandered, tortured rebel.

Jesus, with no place to lay his head, is the same God who inspired David’s songs in the night. Jesus, whose parents could not afford to sacrifice a lamb, is the Lamb of God. Jesus, hung on a cross with a crown of thorns, is the same God enthroned on the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant.

Come, thou unexpectedly tangible Jesus.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Show us the light of your countenance, O God, and come to us. — Psalm 67.1

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 5-6.11 (Listen 9:47)
Psalms 110-111 (Listen 1:57)

Read more about O Come, O Come, Emmanuel — Carols of Advent Hope
Our true hope…Messiah King soothes doubts, heals afflictions, wipes sorrowful tears, and rescues us from captivity to sin.

Read more about Supporting Our Work
Approximately half of our funding comes from monthly and half from once-a-year donors. Please consider joining one of these groups and supporting our work.

Our Hearts Burn Within

Scripture Focus: Luke 24.31-32
31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

From John: As we prepare for Student Writers to take us through the book of Acts, we continue through the last three chapters of Luke’s gospel. Don’t forget that, beginning tomorrow, July 15, and continuing through August 10th, approximately 90% of donations to The Park Forum will be directed to scholarships/stipends for these talented students. Give during this time to support our ministry and theirs.

Reflection: Our Hearts Burn Within
By Erin Newton

Rembrandt painted the scene from Luke 24 on two separate occasions. The 1629 version of “The Supper at Emmaus’‘ depicts the reaction of the two men upon the revelation of Jesus’ identity. One man responds in astonishment, face illumined by the divine glow of Jesus. The other has fallen to Jesus’ feet. This version seems to capture the wonderment, “were not our hearts burning within us…?”

After the women had visited the tomb of Jesus on the third day, Luke 24 describes the meeting of Jesus with two other disciples on the road to Emmaus. While traveling, the men had not recognized Jesus and treated him as a stranger. Yet as they talked about the recent crucifixion, this “stranger” began to educate them about the cohesive message of the Old Testament with the recent events.

Once they entered Emmaus and convinced him to stay for dinner, only then were they able to see the man as Jesus himself.

A small miracle had taken place on the road to Emmaus that day. Jesus, truly present in physical form with the signs of the crucifixion scarring his body, could not be recognized. The man these two disciples had spent years following was obscured in their minds.

The journey together likely lasted for hours. The mind-boggling, incomprehensive death of Jesus was now explained as part of the larger story of God’s work in history. All the questions they had were being answered by the man they did not really know.

For many of us, we might hear the words of Christ without seeing him as the divine Savior. We read about Jesus but remain convinced he’s a stranger to our lives. There is a difference between hearing Jesus answer questions about life and seeing Jesus as the answer to questions of life.

When that moment comes, he’s no longer “just a good teacher.” He’s Jesus, our Savior.

When Moses had spent time upon the mountain in the presence of God, his face glowed intensely. The baby in Elizabeth’s womb leapt at the presence of Jesus in the womb of Mary. Like the men on the road, our hearts burn when we are in the presence of God.

Jesus disappeared the moment the men recognized who he was. They would wait for the Spirit to come and dwell within their burning hearts. For us, we recognize Jesus and receive the Helper instantaneously. 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
O God of hosts, show us the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved. — Psalm 80.7

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 42 (Listen -4:11)
Luke 24 (Listen -6:16)

Read more about Jesus Concealed and Revealed
Disciples don’t always seem to recognize the resurrected Jesus. Do we?

Read more about In the Face of Grief
The resurrected Christ seems to have a special preference for appearing to the grieving.

Prepared to Meet God

Scripture Focus: Amos 4.12
“Therefore this is what I will do to you, Israel,
    and because I will do this to you, Israel,
    prepare to meet your God.”

Luke 24.32, 36
They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.”

Reflection: Prepared to Meet God
By Erin Newton

We have entered into another prophetic book, Amos. Considered one of the first writing prophets, his prophetic period overlaps the ministries of Hosea, Isaiah, and Micah. Amos opens with a list of Israel’s, and various nations’ sins: social injustice, inequality, idolatry, and every form of corruption possible. 

God let the people suffer through hardships with hopes of their repentance. Instead the people trusted in their own success. Their hearts lusted after other gods. They saw the poor and abused their weakness. 

Their hard hearts refused to be swayed by pain and discomfort to call out to God. In return, God declares the coming force of his presence. The ominous phrase, “Prepare to meet your God,” is meant to strike fear. The omnipotent God of creation is ready to meet humanity face to face. But humanity isn’t ready.  The proximity of humanity to the presence of God could result in death.  Soldiers died with a mere touch of the Ark of the Covenant (2 Sam 6.6). Priests were in immediate danger by their access to the Holy of Holies (Ex 28.35). Now God warns the people to prepare themselves for this fateful encounter. 

Only God could protect the lives of those who asked to see him face to face. 

Yet, this changed with the incarnation of Jesus. Just as it was in the beginning, God and humanity could walk together, talk together, and break bread together without the imminent threat of death. Death was conquered through the crucifixion. Peace came through the death and resurrection of Jesus. In the days following the resurrection, God the Son continued to meet with the disciples. 

Instead of the threat of God coming in full force to judge the sins of the people, the people marvel at their experience with Jesus. Their hearts burn within them feeling the vibrancy of life and excitement of connection with Spirit. Jesus comes not riding upon the clouds as a warrior of wrath. He speaks words to calm their hearts. They see the face of God and he tells them, Peace. 

Amos records the warning from God for the people to prepare to meet him. It is still a message to us today. Through the mediation of Jesus, we can prepare to meet God with confidence. Our sins have been atoned and the wrath of God has been paid.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, and your faithfulness to the clouds. — Psalm 36.5

Today’s Readings
Amos 4 (Listen – 2:21)
John 6 (Listen – 8:27)

Read more about Prayer, Our Tent of Meeting
When we pray as Jesus taught, we enter into God’s presence through the torn curtain of the Tent of Meeting, and hear his voice because of his atoning sacrifice.

Read more about The Last Shall be First—Resurrection Appearances
Paul describes himself as the “last” to see the risen Jesus and the least of the apostles but he became much more than that.

The Interruptions of Easter


Scripture Focus: John 20.15
15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

John 21.5
5 He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
“No,” they answered.

Luke 24.17
17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

Reflection: The Interruptions of Easter
By John Tillman

Some of my favorite words about Easter were written by N.T. Wright in Surprised by Hope and we return to them frequently. 

I regard it as absurd and unjustifiable that we should spend forty days keeping Lent, pondering what it means, preaching about self-denial, being at least a little gloomy, and then bringing it all to a peak with Holy Week, which in turn climaxes in Maundy Thursday and Good Friday…and then, after a rather odd Holy Saturday, we have a single day of celebration.

… Is it any wonder people find it hard to believe in the resurrection of Jesus if we don’t throw our hats in the air? Is it any wonder we find it hard to live the resurrection if we don’t do it exuberantly in our liturgies? Is it any wonder the world doesn’t take much notice if Easter is celebrated as simply the one-day happy ending tacked on to forty days of fasting and gloom? It’s long overdue that we took a hard look at how we keep Easter in church, at home, in our personal lives, right through the system. And if it means rethinking some cherished habits, well, maybe it’s time to wake up.

Eastertide is a season of the church calendar that celebrates Christ’s resurrection over 50 days leading up to Pentecost.

We don’t go back to “normal” after Easter. Normal would mean Mary Magdalene mourning and searching for Jesus’ body. Normal would mean Cleopas walking back home to Emmaus. Normal would mean Peter and his friends going back to fishing. Jesus interrupted all of that. (John 20.1-18; Luke 24.17-25; John 21.4-7)

The resurrection interrupts normal. Normal died. Jesus lives. And in him, so do we. Let Jesus continue to interrupt your normal. Let Jesus interrupt your sorrow as he did for Mary. Let him interrupt your disillusionment as he did for Cleopas. Let him interrupt your guilt as he did for Peter. 

Respond to Jesus right in the middle of your fears, sorrows, doubts, and guilt. Joyfully run to preach the gospel, turn back to encourage others, leap out of your boat to swim to Christ, and learn to feed his lambs and care for his sheep.

If we are to live in Christ, it must be a new kind of living but often we trudge back into our old ways. The risen Christ has something to say to you today. Let him interrupt you.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Cry of the Church
Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again!

Today’s Readings
Amos 2 (Listen – 2:12)
John 4 (Listen -6:37)

Read more about Easter—The Happy Beginning
Easter is a season in the church calendar, not a day. But in our lives, it can be an evergreen season that blooms throughout the year

Read more about Who is this King of glory?
Jesus was not the king they were expecting. And Jesus is not the king we often wish for either.

Jesus Concealed and Revealed — Readers’ Choice

Readers’ Choice Month:
In August, The Park Forum looks back on our readers’ selections of our most meaningful and helpful devotionals from the past 12 months. Thank you for your readership. This month is all about hearing from you. Submit a Readers’ Choice post today.

Today’s post was originally published, March 10, 2021, based on readings from Luke 24.
It was selected by reader, Jon Polk from Hong Kong
“The Emmaus Road account is one of my favorite gospel stories. I wonder, “How did they not even recognize Jesus?” And then I’m reminded of all the times in my life when Jesus has been right alongside me and I didn’t recognize or acknowledge him. Keep your eyes open and you will see Jesus all through your day, often in places that you wouldn’t expect him to be.”

Scripture Focus: Luke 24.27
27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

Reflection: Jesus Concealed and Revealed — Readers’ Choice
By John Tillman

Disciples don’t always seem to recognize the resurrected Jesus. Do we? 

In younger years, I thought this was part of the miracle of the resurrection, but now I think the explanations are far more likely to be practical than out of the ordinary. 

I used to think that Mary mistaking Jesus for the gardener was a miracle, but with age comes experience and wisdom. After living through intense times of mourning in my life, my own tear-blurred vision has made clear to me that probably Mary’s tears were what obscured Jesus, and not a heavenly veil.

I used to think that Jesus blinded Cleopas and his wife on the road to Emmaus, but with grief comes understanding. After walking away from many funerals and deaths of friends and walking through other deep, emotional losses, I know that physical senses are dulled by grief. After what they experienced, it would have been a miracle if their eyes had risen from trudging the road to see the face of the stranger. Even if they had looked up, the shadows of grief in their minds and the shadows of the setting sun on the path could easily have concealed him from them.

However, I do think Jesus helped them miss him—perhaps only by looking away when they looked at him or by wearing a hood or head covering that partly concealed his face. I also believe he did so for a purpose. He was preparing them for his absence and revealing to them his eternal presence. 

Jesus walked along the Emmaus road simultaneously concealing his physical presence and revealing his presence throughout the scripture. He made himself unrecognizable to them on the road so that he could make himself recognizable to them in the Torah. He hid his face from their eyes but burned his features within their hearts. The couple confessed to each other later, “Were not our hearts burning within us?” 

This same Jesus is with us. He sidles up to us and asks, “What are you discussing? What things weigh you down? What are you grieving?”

As we trudge along a path of grief may we listen to his Spirit. He will reveal to us the joy of his presence. 
His presence with us can make our hearts burn, even when they are weighed down with grief.
His love can make us run back, through the darkness of night, to tell others that light and joy have come.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “The Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me; I lay it down of my own free will, and as I have power to lay it down, so I have power to take it up again; and this is the command I have received from my Father.” — John 10.17-18

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
1 Samuel 16 (Listen – 3:45)
Romans 14 (Listen – 3:28)

Read More about Readers’ Choice 2021
Have we heard from you yet? Tell us about posts from the past year (September 2020 – July 2021) that have helped you in your faith.

Read more about In the Face of Grief
The resurrected Christ seems to have a special preference for appearing to the grieving. Why then do we seem to assume that this stopped when he ascended?