Lenten Devotions 2015: Revisiting the past, hoping for the future.

8598545928_986be6e792_zThe Jewish religious authorities, Sadducees, and Pharisees of Jesus’ time often accused him of breaking away from the orthodox Jewish teachings and practices. He was hated for creating trouble or confusing people, because of his unorthodox approach to the Mosaic Law, to the extent that fearing the consequences of his actions, Jews had him crucified. Nevertheless, the night before his crucifixion, Jesus Christ celebrated the Passover in Jerusalem with his disciples in a very traditional manner. No, he did not even leave it for the last moment, but had it planned in advance with the help of his friends and disciples (Matthew 26: 17-19).

Jesus observed the Passover because he fully believed in the past and also in the hope it provided for the future. However, unlike many Jewish authorities, he refused to be stuck in the past and its traditions. Jesus knew that the Passover was significant not only for its historicity but also for what it promised for the future of the people of God. The Passover not only reminded people who they were and where they had come from but also filled them with the hope of a coming Messiah who would establish God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Therefore, in that “Upper Room” in Jerusalem, Jesus kept the Passover for remembering the slavery and the sufferings of the Israelites and the salvific story of the Exodus. Jesus remembered with his disciples the wanderings, failures, and the victories of his people in the past and the amazing story of holding onto the hope of their own home in the peaceful Promised Land. On the other hand, as was Jesus’ custom, he made a significant departure from the traditional Passover meal. Jesus took the ritual bread, dedicated it and declared it as his own body. Jesus also took the traditional cup of wine, which promised the return of the Prophet Elijah, and declared it as his own blood that signifies forgiveness and the ultimate promise of his own return along with the hope of His Kingdom.

“While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the[d] covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom. When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives” (Matthew 26: 26-29 NRSV).

Notice that after the Passover meal, Jesus left the house with his disciples in a symbolic action as most Jews would leave Jerusalem where they had come to observe the Passover. Similarly, you and I, who are abundantly fed by the Lord’s life, must leave the place of our fellowships, our conveniences, our comforts, and go out to do what Jesus has taught us in his last Passover observance. Let us go out to love and serve our fellow believers even to the extent of kneeling before them and washing their dirty/smelly feet. Let us go out of our rituals and traditions that bind us and restrict us to the past; instead, let us look and work for the future, freedom, and hope that Christ brings by establishing His Kingdom. Amen.

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Advent: Waiting for the Light to shine through

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Advent: Waiting for the Light to shine through

Please read: Psalm 130

Advent is a time of anticipation and waiting patiently. The anticipation and waiting in the original Advent was an exercise in the dark times in the history of Israel. Not only due to their political bondage to the Romans, but also due to spiritual darkness caused by the lack of proper guidance. For about four centuries preceding the birth of Jesus Christ, there were no prophets in Israel. The Word of God was rare among the people of God. People groped in the darkness desperately seeking the night to be over so that the light could shine through.

Today, we live in a world not very different from the first century Israelites. Of course, human beings have taken giant steps in terms of technology. We are certainly in a far better situation and live far better lives than the first century Middle Eastern people. However, nothing has changed at the level of our sinful humanity. I’m sure you are aware of the unfortunate events resulting in the death of unarmed Black men by the police in Ferguson and in New York, USA. You may have followed stories about the Ebola crisis in some parts of western Africa. What you may not have heard is that it is a pretty dark time for Christians in India under the new Hindu nationalistic party’s regime. Several cases of forced conversion and re-conversion to Hinduism are being reported from all across India. Recently, the Hindu fundamentalist parties and their local outfits announced the conversion of more than 15000 Christians and Muslims to Hinduism, in Aligarh, North India, on Christmas Day. This will be followed in other parts of India. What is even worse, these so-called “Ghar Vapasi” or re-conversion to Hindu fold events are not only led and attended by democratically elected Members of the Parliament of a nation whose Constitution declares it as a secular nation! Not only are these events widely publicized, but they are unabashedly asking for donations from people setting a price for each conversion! In such a world, I’m reminded of Psalm 130, where the psalmist, giving us a sense of the prevailing darkness, cries:

“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.

Lord, hear my voice!

Let your ears be attentive

to the voice of my supplications!” (Psalm 130: 1-2).

Desperately waiting for the Messiah to come, the psalmist actually closes the song with an exhortation that’s relevant for us today:

“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,

and in his word I hope;

my soul waits for the Lord

more than those who watch for the morning,

more than those who watch for the morning” (Psalm 130: 5-6).

Yes, believers need to watch for the coming Messiah as those who watch for the morning to break through the clouds of darkness and see the bright and morning Star, even Jesus Christ our Lord!

May you find encouragement in your dark hour. May you find Jesus Christ, the hope of glory!

Advent brings hope, justice, and righteousness

hope1Advent brings hope, justice, and righteousness
Please read Isaiah 61.

In the above passage, the one whom God has anointed and sent is not identified. Yes, it’s primarily the prophet’s voice and it is Prophet Isiah’s mission that is described in these verses; however, since these are prophetic words, they have more than one fulfillment. Jesus Christ applied them to himself in his Nazareth Manifesto at the inauguration of his earthly ministry (Luke 4: 14-21). In this powerful manifesto Jesus outlines his mission as the long expected Messiah.

Jesus Christ has the required anointing of the Holy Spirit, power, and authority of God to accomplish this mission on which he has been sent to this earth. As a matter of fact, there has been no one else in the history who has either claimed this manifesto to be his/her mission or who had what it takes to accomplish this divine task. Only God’s appointed and God’s anointed can complete it.

Next, we notice that that the Anointed One is sent to bring hope. To a people in Israel who lived in hopelessness and in ruins both physical and spiritual, Jesus Christ brings the good news instead of condemnation. Noteworthy is the fact that this good news of hope is for the oppressed, to the ones whose hearts are crushed, to the captives, the imprisoned and to all who mourn. Contrary to the common belief, these people were in this state not because of their own fault. Rather, they were made to live in this situation because of historic and systematic exploitation and oppression. It’s not stated in the above verses, however, in order to reach those persons and deliver them, the Messiah must, of necessity, confront the perpetrators and sources of repression, marginalization, hopelessness and despair. In fact, the message of good news is actually bad news for the oppressors. The mission of the Messiah is to actually reverse the circumstances and effect a transformation in the identity and activity of the oppressed. In bringing the good news to the oppressed, the Anointed One also brings healing to the broken hearts, liberty for the captives, or release to those who are imprisoned by the system. If you observe closely, Jesus Christ was using the terminology of the Jubilee Year (see Leviticus 25). In doing so, the Messiah makes it clear that the liberty proclaimed is intended to be made permanent in new social and economic order and relationships that he has come to establish in and through the Kingdom of God. God’s anointed is also “to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God.” This is assurance that God has chosen to act with abundant “favor” and mercy towards those who are oppressed and marginalized and to judge and defeat those who would harm them. So, this Advent, we’re reminded that the coming of the Messiah will replace the dull spirits with mantles of praise. We’re reminded that the Messiah is for the humiliated, fragmented, dispirited and exploited people and he’s working to rebuild the world as a city where righteousness and justice flourish. We’re reminded that a new future is possible because God promises to be in “everlasting covenant with them” (Isaiah 61: 8). He’ll cloth us with the robes of righteousness (Isaiah 61: 9-10) and the city where hopelessness had taken root will, by God’s spirit and by God’s blessing, sprout righteousness and praise!
Amen. Come Lord Jesus!