Ladies First—Resurrection Appearances

Scripture Focus: Mark 16.9
He appeared first to Mary Magdalene…

Luke 24.22-25
In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken!”

John 20.19
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

*This Easter week as we shelter in our homes due to COVID-19, we may feel more like the fearful gathered disciples than we ever have before. We will look this week at the appearances of Jesus, who comes to stand in our troubled midst and say, “Peace be with you.”

Reflection: Ladies First—Resurrection Appearances
By John Tillman

“Firsts” are important in the scriptures. So we cannot imagine that it is a coincidence or a mistake that Jesus appears first to the women. 

One reason Jesus may have done this is that they, along with John, were with him to the end. They were the last faces he saw as he gave up his spirit. It makes sense that he would honor them to be the first to behold his now glorified face, raised by the Spirit’s power.

Jesus did this despite knowing that no one would believe them. A woman’s testimony was considered invalid in court. Today, a woman’s testimony counts according to the technicalities of the law, but still counts for less in the general culture. All these centuries later, we still have problems in our society taking a woman at her word.

If the gospel accounts had been written late, with intentional warping of the facts to make plausible an extraordinary claim, the women’s testimony, which not even Jesus’ closest followers believed, would have been deleted and replaced with that of Nicodemus or someone else with moral standing. (See more on the trustworthiness of the Resurrection accounts here.)

Instead, Jesus not only appeared to women first, but gave his most personal resurrection greeting to a woman shamed by her culture for having been demon-possessed. Mary Magdalene is also (probably falsely) accused by history of having been a prostitute. 

Jesus was intentionally exalting the humbled, by placing the women, and scorned outcasts, at the center of the narrative in an irreplaceable and immovable way.

He also was intentionally confronting the disciples with their cultural blindness and propensity to doubt. This was not to pile shame on them, but to build faith in them. He was weaning them off of faith by sight, knowing that soon they too must believe in him without seeing him.

Faith by sight, is faith limping along on a crutch. Faith by sight dies in the dark. Faith by sight is blind to the Spirit, for it never looks beyond the physical. But the worst thing about faith by sight is that even it still fails.

What is extraordinary about humanity is not that we are capable of believing without seeing. It is that we are capable of seeing, and still refusing to believe.

Like the women, we will be doubted. But let us still run and tell, “I have seen the Lord!”

He is risen! He is risen, indeed!

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

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

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 31 (Listen -2:50)
1 Timothy 2 (Listen -1:38)

Read more about Easter—The Happy Beginning
Easter is not a happy ending. It is a happy beginning.

Read more about A New Day :: Worldwide Prayer
May we follow the example of the first witnesses: the women who were more faithful than the betrayers, braver than the soldiers, and the first to believe in and spread the gospel.

Cry, Creator, Cry!

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 53.10
Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
    and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
    and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.

Proverbs 28.13-14
Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper,
    but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.
Blessed is the one who always trembles before God,
    but whoever hardens their heart falls into trouble.

Luke 29.41-43
We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Reflection: Cry, Creator, Cry!
By John Tillman

The cross is not necessarily the only way Jesus might have died. As an exercise of theological hypothesis, one can entertain the question, “What if Jesus had died another way?” 

In his moving epic poem, The Singer, author, pastor, and professor, Dr. Calvin Miller reimagined Jesus as The Singer, who sang the song of Earthmaker, the Father-Spirit. During his trial, The Singer’s lyre and his hands with which he played Earthmaker’s song are crushed by a mallet. Then, with his musical hands crushed into inoperability and unrecognizable form, he is stretched by a machine of death built into the wall of the city.

The people of the city toss into a hopper great stones representing the sins and crimes The Singer is accused of and the weight of them turns the great, geared, machine which, through cogs and levers, tightens the cables, stretching The Singer’s body until he dies.

The World Hater, Miller’s analogue for Satan, dances on the cables of the machine, crying out to the Creator with mockery:

“Look how he dies. Cry, Creator, Cry!
This is my day to stand upon the 
breast of God and claim my victory 
over love. You lost the gamble. In 
but an hour your lover will be pulp 
upon the gallows. Did you tell him 
when his fingers formed the world, 
that he would die on Terra, groaning 
with his hands crushed and whimpering 
in my great machine?”

Today on Good Friday, the crosshairs of the cross seemed to be centered on Jesus. Sin’s weight is heavy upon him as the hammer of God’s wrath comes down. But the target of God’s wrath is Sin. Sin dies in the crosshairs of the cross. Yes, Jesus dies, too. But for Jesus and for us, Sunday is coming. Resurrection Day. The Eighth Day. The first day of the New Creation.

But until that day comes, we sit mourning in the chaos and darkness. What we mourn, if we do so with proper understanding, is not a man’s death or a failed rebellion. What we mourn is our own participation in his trial. We mourn our own sin upon his back. We mourn our hands upon the nails and the hammer and our hands forcing bitter drink into his mouth.

What is coming is the most important morning since God first said, “let there be light.”
So, let us mourn tonight. For joy comes in the morning.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? And are so far from my cry and from the words of my distress? — Psalm 22.1

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

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 28 (Listen 3:07) 
2 Thessalonians 2 (Listen -2:32)

This Weekend’s Readings
Proverbs 29 (Listen 2:44), 2 Thessalonians 3 (Listen -2:16)
Proverbs 30 (Listen 3:51), 1 Timothy 1 (Listen -2:59)

Read more about The Prayer From the Cross
So, on this Good Friday, we will join Christ in his suffering, praying excerpts from this psalm prayed on the cross.

Read more about Choose to Hope in the Cross
The two thieves represent two choices…These choices stand as constant reminders that the cross of Christ demands a response.

The Context of The Widow’s Mite

Luke 20.47; 21.2-4, 6
They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely…
He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.””…
“As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”…

Reflection: The Context of The Widow’s Mite
By John Tillman

Many lessons about the widow’s mite focus on how beautiful her faith is. 

The widow’s faith is beautiful because it is centered on God, not on an institution that is corrupted by sinful leadership. Her gift is beautiful because it shows how deep her faith goes—all the way down to her last pennies. Her gift is beautiful because it shows where her treasure truly lies.

We should praise the widow’s faith, as Jesus did, but taken in context, this scripture has more to say about unscrupulous religious leaders than about generous poor people. It tells us that judgment is coming on leaders who take advantage of the poor. 

In Luke and in Mark, the widow enters in the middle of a scene where Christ is confronting the religious leaders’ materialism and hypocrisy and, just afterward, tells his disciples that the Temple they value so much will be torn down and destroyed.

Luke includes the detail that Jesus “looked up” and saw the widow’s deed in the midst of his teaching. The words just off of his lips are ones of judgement on religious leaders who “devour widows’ houses.” When Jesus points out the widow, he is showing us that his meaning is not metaphorical. The widow’s story gives us someone to emulate in faith, but also points out someone we should serve with action.

Scripture doesn’t tell us what happened to the widow. Some propose that God would miraculously provide for her. If forced to conjecture, I pray that one of Christ’s disciples, being as concerned about the destruction of the widow’s life as about the destruction of the Temple, would take her in. Sometimes miracles are simply disciples taking practical action. (I like to imagine that perhaps it was Mark.)

The bright light of the widow’s faith shines within the darkness of hypocrisy and abuse. What does the Spirit of Christ speak to you in the light of her faith? 

Are we like the religious leaders? Are we projecting piety while living extravagantly?

Are we like the rich? Are we giving because it looks good or until we feel good?

Are we like the disciples? Are we over impressed with wealth and success, equating it with God’s favor?

Can we learn to live like the widow? Are we able to live in faith, despite our systematic victimization, despite our poverty, and despite the existence of corruption? 

Prayer: The Request for Presence
Let your loving-kindness be my comfort, as you have promised to your servant. Let your compassion come to me, that I may live, for your law is my delight. — Psalm 119.76-77

Today’s Readings
Exodus 19 (Listen – 4:04)
Luke 22 (Listen – 7:58)

This Weekend’s Readings
Exodus 20 (Listen – 3:21), Luke 23 (Listen – 6:39)
Exodus 21 (Listen – 4:44), Luke 24 (Listen – 6:16)

Thank You!
Thank you for reading and a huge thank you to those who donate to our ministry, keeping The Park Forum ad-free and enabling us to continue to produce fresh content. Every year our donors help us produce over 100,000 words of free devotionals. Follow this link to support our readers.

Read more from A Cry to God for the Poor from Zimbabwe :: Worldwide Prayer
It grieves us and must grieve you that so many defenseless people live without shelter, clean water, primary healthcare, education, food. Help us, Lord Jesus, to care and share with the less privileged the material resources you have graciously blessed us with.

Read more about Good News to the Poor
Our manifestation of Christ will be in direct proportion to our acknowledgement of needing him more than we need our comforts, our possessions, our luxuries, or even our daily bread.

Fasting Uncovers Our Hearts

Luke 21.34-36
“Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

Reflection: Fasting Uncovers Our Hearts
By John Tillman

As we continue through Lent we will focus often on the fasting component of the season. 

Our fasting in Lent is often compared to Christ’s fasting in the wilderness prior to his testing by the Devil. One of the chief temptations involved in public fasts such as Lent is to defend them publically or engage in them privately by citing supposed worldly benefits. 

We can focus too much on how we might lose weight by constraining our consumption of certain foods or gain time by constraining our consumption of digital content or entertainment. But our physical gains and losses are of little spiritual consequence. If all we get from fasting is a measurable, earthly ROI, we will be unlikely to reap a spiritual benefit.

Richard Foster, in his devotional classic, Celebration of Discipline makes it clear that we must engage in fasting only with our eyes focused on heavenly, not worldly benefits:

“God questioned the people in Zechariah’s day, “when ye fasted…did ye at all fast unto me, even to me?” 

If our fasting is not unto God, we have failed. Physical benefits, success in prayer, the enduing with power, spiritual insights —these must never replace God as the center of our fasting. John Wesley declares, “First, let it [fasting] be done unto the Lord with our eye singly fixed on Him. Let our intention herein be this, and this alone, to glorify our Father which is in heaven…” That is the only way we will be saved from loving the blessing more than the Blesser.

Once the primary purpose of fasting is firmly fixed in our hearts, we are at liberty to understand that there are also secondary purposes in fasting. 

More than any other discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us. this is a wonderful benefit to the true disciple who longs to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. We cover up what is inside us with food and other good things, but in fasting these things surface. If pride controls us, it will be revealed almost immediately. David writes, ‘I humbled my soul with fasting” 9ps. 69.10).

Anger, bitterness, jealousy, strife, fear—if they are within us, that will surface during fasting. At first we will rationalize that our anger is due to our hunger; then we will realize that we are angry because the spirit of anger is within us. We can rejoice in this knowledge because we know that healing is available through the power of Christ.”

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Send forth your strength, O God; establish, O God, what you have wrought for us. — Psalm 68.28

Today’s Readings
Exodus 18 (Listen – 3:54)
Luke 21 (Listen – 4:18)

Thank You!
Thank you for reading and a huge thank you to those who donate to our ministry, keeping The Park Forum ad-free and enabling us to continue to produce fresh content. Every year our donors help us produce over 100,000 words of free devotionals. Follow this link to support our readers.

Read more about Rend Your Hearts
It is our heart that we must rend in mourning and confession, because God looks at the heart, not our outward appearance. When we rend our heart in community with others, we invite God’s power to work in us for redemption and restoration.

Read more about Fasting According to our Lusts :: Throwback Thursday
There are, alas! many blind men, who practise their castigation, whether it be fasting, watching or labor, only because they think these are good works, intending by them to gain much merit.

Beauty from Ashes :: Guided Prayer

Luke 20.37-38
But in the account of the burning bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”

Reflection: Beauty from Ashes :: Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

Ashes used in Ash Wednesday services are often made from palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebrations. This is one of the beautiful synchronicities of the liturgical year—reminding us that the cycles of sin, repentance, mercy, resurrection, and commission are ever-ongoing.

Today, whether you are a part of a faith tradition that observes Ash Wednesday services or not, follow this guided prayer experience.

Meditate on the visual pictures and the scriptures and pray in your own words.

Ashes symbolize sorrow.
We are probably most familiar with ashes as a symbol of sorrow. They can symbolize our sorrow over our personal sins or a personal loss, or sorrow over the sins or loss suffered by our community or nation.

In ashes we mourn both the catastrophes that naturally happen in our broken world and the ones we, ourselves, orchestrate through our lusts and misguided selfishness.

What is planted in your life that is not of God? Are you watering and fertilizing weeds instead of the good seed of the gospel? Lent is a time to gather up the tares among your wheat—gather them to be burned to ash.

“Repent and believe the gospel” (The Roman Missal: Chapel Edition)

Ashes symbolize destruction and death.
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (The Roman Missal: Chapel Edition)

In cultivating our faith, we must go through seasons of destruction. Our fields must be burned. The ashes tilled under.

What is God tilling under the soil in your life? What is he burning down? Let it go. Let it burn.

“Fire will test the quality of each person’s work.” (1 Corinthians 3.13)

Ashes symbolize rebirth.
In worship at the temple, some ashes were used in ceremonies of cleansing and purification.

Burning leads to purification, restoration, renewal. The soil that is burned and turned is fertilized for replanting.

Lent can be a time of burning, in which God prepares us for new growth.

Ask the Holy Spirit to walk with you through the burnt field of your life, through the burnt field of your work. Ask the Spirit, during the time of burning, to reveal to you what He will plant next.

God will bring us…”a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning”… (Isaiah 61.1-3)

Prayer: The Request for Presence
Let your loving-kindness, O Lord, be upon us, as we have put our trust in you — Psalm 33.22

Today’s Readings
Exodus 17 (Listen – 2:30)
Luke 20 (Listen – 5:07)

Thank You!
Thank you for reading and a huge thank you to those who donate to our ministry, keeping The Park Forum ad-free and enabling us to continue to produce fresh content. Every year our donors help us produce over 100,000 words of free devotionals. Follow this link to support our readers.

Read more about Recalling the Failures
The failures of the past year, or any year, are not our end, but our beginning. Jesus brings hope to our aftermath.

Read more about Called to Unmovable Joy :: Readers’ Choice :: TBT
Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Such a Way, as gives us breath:
Such a Truth, as ends all strife:
Such a Life, as killeth death
— George Herbert

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