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~by Pastor Mike Middaugh
Jesus gave up everything when he went to the cross for his people. John is careful to include in his gospel that the soldiers who crucified Jesus also divided his garments, and cast lots for his tunic. This point, though secondary, is important for understanding the full extent of the love of God for his people, and the complete vulnerability and selflessness of Jesus as he goes to the cross.
Why do we clothe ourselves? Early on in scripture, in the garden, clothing becomes synonymous with the needs of an imperfect people. Adam and Eve, once they experienced sin, immediately desired to hide themselves. Their earthly clothing became an imperfect cover for their shame. It also shielded them from a now-harsh world that brought danger and bitter elements. We continue to cover ourselves with many things today, not just clothing, but accomplishments, power, and position.
So what does it mean that when Jesus went to the cross, his clothing was removed?
He became vulnerable for his people, exposed to every element – the stares, the stones, and the scorn of those who mocked him even as he forgave them. Giving himself. Trading himself. For us. And yet he did it. How great a love is this?
This story has a profound ending. On Easter morning, John is again careful to note, that as the women went to the tomb, and later the disciple Peter, they found the burial cloths of Jesus laying there, “and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself.” (John 20:7)
Jesus was not there, but his burial clothing still was.
In resurrection Jesus was without need of any earthly garments. In perfection he needs no covering, he has risen to something greater. Revelation 19 paints a picture of the risen Christ as “clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses.”
We are to see that on the cross as Jesus gives up his clothes, he does so in order that we might be eternally covered. So that we might look forward to a final day, when washed in the waters of forgiveness and raised to new life, we will be covered from all shame, guilt, vulnerability and need. We will be given the finest of holy garments which never wear out and which never fade to show we have been called as his own.
As we gather on Easter morning in just a few days, many people will be wearing their best – little boys in suits and girls in new Easter dresses. Let it be a reminder that while we celebrate, and while we do have every reason to wear our best as we worship, he has gone to prepare clothing, and a place, and a feast, far greater than any we now could imagine.
In the Early Church (to the fifth century A.D.) “confirmation” did not exist as we understand it today. Confirmation was actually a part of the rite of Baptism. Adult confirmands would undergo an extensive period of catechesis (typically three years), and then at the Easter Vigil (the day before Easter) would be baptized. They were then “confirmed” in this baptismal faith by means of anointing oil, prayers, the sign of the cross, and the laying on of hands. Then on Easter morning they would partake of their first Communion. Baptisms were done by the area bishop. Because entire families would undertake this catechesis and baptism, it was also relatively common in this early period for children and infants to receive their first Communion with their parents.
Over time, as the Christian church grew and spread, it became more and more common for confirmation to be separated from baptism, with baptism happening early in a person’s life, and confirmation later. It was seen as a complement to baptism, a chance for personal study, a confession of faith, and to receive a blessing from the pastor. In the middle ages, confirmation was even raised to the level of a Sacrament in the Roman Catholic Church and considered necessary for salvation.
At the time of the Reformation, the Rite of Confirmation was examined by Luther and the other reformers who saw some benefits to confirmation but did not consider it a sacrament. Sacraments, as Lutherans then and now have understood them, are acts instituted and commanded by Jesus with promises of forgiveness and salvation attached. Under this definition, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the only two Sacraments of the Lutheran church. Confirmation, while helpful, does not offer new promises of salvation – it is merely a reminder of those already given in baptism.
Confirmation then, should be seen as a “confirmation” of the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith already poured out upon an individual in baptism. The time of study and learning leading up to the Rite of Confirmation is a chance to explore the beliefs and practices of the church and to develop one’s personal faith. Confirmation is also a wonderful opportunity for a confirmand, or group of confirmands, to give a public confession of faith, a reminder and witness to others, of the faith we hold in common.
Join us this Sunday as we observe Palm Sunday and the beginning of Jesus’ week of Passion, and as we are privileged to celebrate confirmation with one of our students.
Join us in hearing again the story of Jesus’ week of Passion.
Palm Sunday, March 20th | 10:00am
Our Palm Sunday Service moves from Jesus’ royal welcome into Jerusalem upon the back of a donkey to the more somber scene of Jesus’ eventual arrest and trial before those who wished do him harm. This year we also celebrate the Rite of Confirmation in our Palm Sunday Service.
Maundy Thursday, March 24th | 7:30pm
Our Maundy Thursday Service focuses on the events of the last supper which Jesus shared with his disciples. Communion will be shared.
Good Friday, March 25th | 7:30pm
Our Good Friday Service is a reflective and meditative service as we are reminded of what Jesus endured for the sake of his people.
Easter Sunday, March 27th | 6:30am Sunrise Service (Outdoors)
& 10:00am Celebration Service
Our Easter Services celebrate Jesus’ resurrection and all this means for his people. Breakfast will be served between services from 7:30am – 9:30am. All are welcome.
This Easter season as we are reminded of God’s grace and generosity, we also want to extend generosity to others. Starting on Easter Sunday and for the two weeks following, join us in collecting items in support of the work done by XYZ Services, a second-chance housing provider for those in recovery.
~by Pastor Mike Middaugh
About a year ago I finally made it to the National Archives building and was able to see the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence. Though faded by time, it was still a moving experience to set eyes on these documents that so altered the future of this country. Incredible in a different way, was the technology and hardware used to preserve these pieces of history from any further damage. Special, state-of-the-art titanium cases were developed several years ago to carefully control temperature, humidity, and light. Because of the fragile nature of the documents, even a small amount of time outside of this protective barrier could cause great damage. They are not able to withstand certain elements.
The Bible tells the story of another, even greater protective barrier. In the Old Testament, as God rescued his people from slavery in Egypt he also chose to set up a dwelling place among them. This way the people would be reassured of God’s presence. The only problem was, that even looking at the presence of God would cause great harm to the people. Their sinful nature, and ours, is not able to withstand the perfect, glorious nature of God. So, God instructed the people to create a curtain, a single piece of material measuring 20 meters high, 10 meters wide and 10 centimeters thick, it was created with the finest six-chord thread, dyed in scarlet, purple and blue.
This curtain was hung in the tabernacle to hide the innermost court – the Holy of Holies – which was the dwelling place of God’s glory. No one was allowed to go in, except one man, the High Priest, and even then only once a year. And so the people lived, separated from the presence of God, needing an intercessor, a priest, to go to God on their behalf.
But not now. On the day of Jesus crucifixion, after crying out in a loud voice “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani” he breathed his last, and the ground shook and the earth quaked and in the temple the curtain was torn in two from the top all the way to the bottom. No natural force this, but a clear sign of the God’s glory breaking through, from the heavens to the earth, God’s presence burst forth for all.
The barrier between the Creator and his created has been torn away. Jesus’ blood covering the sins of the people, making them righteous in the presence of God. No more priests, but now a priesthood of all believers. No more sacrifices, the lamb of God is given for many. No more temple, but now God’s dwelling is in his people. The face of God no longer hidden, but now revealed for all to see. On the cross, his love, his gift, his grace. And in the resurrection, his glory.
Jesus has come to tear down the old and establish the new. Let us give thanks for his great work.
~by Pastor Mike Middaugh
37 As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, 38 saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” 39 And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” 40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, even the stones would cry out.” Luke 22:37-40
Few things in this world are as earthy and temporal as stones. Pick one up alongside a stream and it is easy to wonder about the history you hold. Where has this stone been? How many thousands or millions of days has it seen? Who has held it before? Has anyone?
Roll it around in your hand, feel the grit, the rough edges, the rigidity. It is an experience that is often absent in the urban, technological confines of modern life. At least for me, it is a strange and wonderful connection that cuts to the root of our existence. Revelatory of both how far we have come and at the same time how carnal, imperfect, and finite we remain. From the dirt of the ground we came and to the dirt we will return.
Reflecting on these things I recently found myself at Rock Creek collecting stones on a snowy morning before Ash Wednesday. I had decided that real, physical stones would be a helpful counterpart for my church’s Midweek Lenten services, themed “Journey of Stones.” While creating this series I was surprised by the number of Biblical passages that involve stones, often used to commemorate a great event (see Joshua 4:9), or as a teaching tool (see Matthew 21:42).
At these services (we are in week 4 now) I have invited people to take a stone as they enter, explaining that the stones might be representative of the prayers in their hearts, their sins realized and unrealized, and any other weight they may be carrying. At the time in the service for Communion, I have invited the people to lay their stones before the altar, (which itself is made of stone) allowing God to take their burdens.
In last week’s service, holding my own stone – simple, rough, unadorned – I contemplated the way that little piece of nature was able to connect me to my God. That stone I realized, had been around, in one form or another, since the moment of creation.
I am reminded of the closing words from my favorite movie and one of my favorite books, A River Runs Through It:
Like many fly fishermen in western Montana where the summer days are almost Arctic in length, I often do not start fishing until the cool of the evening. Then in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise.
Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of those rocks are timeless raindrops.
Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.
I am haunted by waters.
I am not sure what exactly Norman MaClean had in mind when he wrote those words, but for me they contain a sentiment that is deep and true.
In this life we are all haunted. Haunted by things we have done, or failed to do. Haunted by the tragic and difficult places in human existence – our own inability to control many aspects of this life. We are haunted by our fallen nature and the eternal weight of death and sin.
But there is also hope. Several weeks ago, as I collected those stones by the river I also had to wash them, each individual one, to prepare them for a new purpose. They were being gathered for a place before their maker in worship.
To collect the stones I had to go to where they were, getting muddy in the process. During this season of Lent we are reminded that our God has come to us willing to be muddied by our sins, our stones placed upon his shoulders. Still, triumphant in the end, it was a stone removed that proved the hope of all.
Because of what he has done, there will be a day when God will gather up his people, unadorned, rough, gritty and rebellious, and with the waters of forgiveness and life, flowing from the throne of God and the lamb, we might finally, ultimately be cleansed.
It is hard to imagine anything more earthy or temporal than stones. Yet, scripture tells us, that if ever we should forget our God and all he’s done, even the stones will cry out.
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Silver Spring MD 20910
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9:00am - Adult Bible Study
10:00am - Worship
10:00am - KidsChurch (after the children's message)
11:30am - Fellowship