Palm Sunday and the Copts

“In that day there will be an altar to the LORD in the midst of the land of Egypt,
and a pillar to the LORD at its border.

Isaiah 19:19


(a Coptic Cross…it reads, Jesus Christ, the son of God)

While Christians gathered around the world to pray, worship and celebrate the
beginning of the most revered and holiest season’s of the Church’s calendar,
two Coptic Churches and their members in Egypt were attacked.

Despite being outfitted with metal detectors, two suicide bombers joined the Palm Sunday
worshipers detonating their explosive packs near the altars of the two crowded churches.
In their wake two holy and sacred places were transformed into grisly crime scenes comprised
of splintered woods, crumbled stone, blood and body parts while lives and families were
transformed forever.

Coptic Christianity is regarded as the oldest sect of the Christian Church.
It is a church that was established by the apostle and evangelist St Mark in Egypt during the
reign of the Roman emperor Nero in the 1st century.

Egypt and the Coptic Church is also home to the inception of Christian monasticism.
History notes that it was in Egypt that both the Desert Fathers and later, the Desert Mothers,
sought the solitude of the desert to pray and in turn build monasteries that have been
in continuous operation for the past 1900 years.

And since 2010, the Islamic State has made the life of Coptic Christians a
living nightmare.

The latest two murderous attacks taking place yesterday during Palm Sunday.
Egypt’s Copts, who have suffered repeated deadly jihadist attacks,
say they feel abandoned and discriminated against by the authorities in the
predominantly Muslim country.

But despite their fears, the Christians of Tanta said they are determined to defend
their faith.

“We’re Christian and we will stay Christian,” one woman said in a defiant tone.
AFP News

As we solemnly enter this holiest of weeks of our Christian faith,
may those of us who are privileged to worship openly and free,
be mindful of our brothers and sisters across the globe who continue to worship
under the black cloud of persecution and terrorism.

Let us pray for the victims, the wounded and the collective Christian families of these two
Egyptian churches.
Knowing that what we take for granted, that of our freedom to worship in relative
safety and security, is not the standard for many worshipers around this fractured world.
May we stand in solidarity as the family of Believers as we continue to
proclaim that Jesus Christ is the Risen Lord…

Alleluia….

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.

Isaiah 61:1-3

am I content?

“Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold your King is coming to you,
Gentle, and mounted on a donkey,
Even on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.”

Matthew 21:5

“Happiness can only be achieved by looking inward and
learning to enjoy whatever life has and this requires
transforming greed into gratitude.”

― John Chrysostom


(tree frog basking in the warm sun of a cool spring morning /Julie Cook / 2017)

The crowds were so excited…
with each man woman and child being caught up in the moment.

Hailing and shouting exultations.
He was everything they thought they wanted.
Welcoming, inviting and enthusiastically waving…
each person was so very delighted, happy and pleased.

Finally…it was him…it was the One everyone had waited for….
yes, finally…all would now be well
They were all so certain that things were to be different, better…
and finally…as they should be…

There was a general sense of satisfaction radiating from the crowd…
a sense that all things were right with the world…

As a sense of contentment settled over the crowd.
Today was to be their day…
because He had finally come…

Yet there was something in the shifting winds that signaled an impending
sense of change…
and He was the only one who felt it….

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.
I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation,
whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.
I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Philippians 4:12-13

Lambs and palms

“In the divine Scriptures, there are shallows and there are deeps; shallows where the lamb may wade, and deeps where the elephant may swim.”
― John Owen

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(a little woolen black faced sheep holding an old palm cross from a long ago Palm Sunday / Julie Cook / 2015)

Palm Sunday.
A Spring day associated with newness, freshness and arrivals.
A day Christians remember as a day of holy joy and triumph.
The marking of a celebration–as proclaimed by the ancient prophets, the remembrance of Jesus riding into Jerusalem. He rides on the bare back of a young colt as the masses enthusiastically greet him, laying giant palm branches before his retinue.

He is welcomed, honored and proclaimed as King, Messiah, Savior.
A miracle worker whose benevolent and kindhearted ways were oddly unfamiliar and foreign.
A liberator who had finally come into the impoverished lives of those living in the dry,
barren and forsaken Roman outpost, as Jews were still living under siege and occupation.
For this man Jesus, had come to set the captives free. . .
Or so both wise and misguided solely believed–for each,
their idea of freedom was to be a double edged sword. . .

As the palms waved. . .

Sheep and lambs–
Is there anything seemingly more simple or docile?
The epitome of blessed peacefulness.
Nothing like a beautiful green field dotted idyllically with a flock of such easy going grazing animals bahhing and bleating til their heart’s content.

For some odd reason, I had always proclaimed that I would one day be a sheep farmer,
a shepherd of sorts.
A bucket list since I was a wee lass.
Tending and caring for the sheep and lambs.
The black faced ones, in particularly, seemed to call out to me much more so than
their all white or black counterparts
What do I know about raising sheep?
Absolutely nothing.
I was raised in a city with the closest sheep being at the zoo.
There was no 4H in my urban school affording this would-be shepherd any opportunity at the whole herding dream.
It was to the way out, miles out, another life out, out to the fleeting countryside where there were only cows upon cows with nary a sheep to be seen.

Yet sheep called.

Bach’s pastoral cantata, Sheep may Safely Graze was and continues to be a favorite.
Melodic, light, lulling, soothing. . .
Visions of an ancestral home in either Ireland or Scotland, depending on the side of
the family I was currently fantasizing about,
sweetly beckoned as I knew there were fields full of sheep each awaiting my care.

As the sheep called.

Yet as sweet as sheep and lambs appear, age has taught me that sheep are no pushovers. They can be a stubborn lot. Refusing to be guided yet needing constant direction.
Left unto their own devices, sheep can quickly wander into trouble.
They need to be coxed, prodded, and herded. They need to be watched as being almost entirely defenseless, they fall easy victim to any and all cunning predators. Running is about their only means of defense. They need shearing, feeding, protecting and lots and lots of space as they are voracious grazers.

Yet sheep called.

Maybe because I always saw myself as the 1 out of 99.
Maybe because I love the Little Drummer Boy, who had nothing to lay at the feet of a king but his tender lamb.
Maybe because I understood all too well the whole not being the brightest of the animal kingdom and needing lots of oversight and protecting as wandering lost was very real. . .because all of that hit too close to home.

And the lambs called

Maybe it was because I saw Abraham with his hand held high balancing his heart between love and obedience, as a single knife reflected the light from the heavens above. Obedience was set to slit the throat of his young son Isaac, love being almost crushed and silenced.
Tears flowed, a heart was breaking, young questioning eyes, frightened, stare into his fathers, as obedience was set to act. . .
When mercifully a substitute was graciously found.

And the lambs called

Maybe it is because of the words of Isaiah. . .

He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.

(Isaiah 53:3-9)

Still the sheep called.

As the sheep continue to call.
As a lone woolen sheep magnet triumphantly clutches a long ago discarded palm cross, worn on a long forgotten Palm Sunday. . .

And the sheep calls as the palms wave

Yet it is to the Shepherd who tends His flock that my ear is attuned. As the sheep whose shepherd calls their name and they respond, I too respond to the call of my own name being called.
Misguided
Lost
Wandering
Stubbron
and even defiant
The Shepherd patiently calls,
as the sheep knowingly responds. . .

as the sheep continue to call, the palms continue to wave. . .

Change is in the air

Life belongs to the living, and he who lives must be prepared for changes.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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(these “wood” eaters seem to enjoy nectar as well / Julie Cook / 2014)

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(a seasonal carpenter bee has returned for “spring work” / Julie Cook / 2015)

They’reeeeee baaaaacckkkk. . .
Those pesky seasonal hungry wood rats, I mean carpenter bees, those true harbingers, I mean heralders of Spring.
I caught this one in mid bore, hanging upside down on a post out on the back deck.
They eat right into the wood of decks, porches, siding, eves. . .anything wooden that’s a part of a house. . .be it painted or not, stained or not. . .they eat, chew, drill, bore. . .
creating nesting sites.

They can sting but usually don’t as they prefer the art of intimidation. They will “buzz” toward anyone who enters their “space” or territory, usually hovering in place until you swat at them, only to quickly return to bother you some more. It is the males who tend to be a bit more aggressive then the females with regard to the whole dance of intimidation. You can recognize them by the yellow dot on their head—right between the eyes.

The only way I know that they sting is when my cat finds it fun and adventuresome to jump on the hovering pests, grabbing said bee up in his mouth while attempting to run inside with his “catch” in order to “gift” me with his latest accomplishment. Most of the time he won’t make it inside as the bee will have stung the inside of his mouth, forcing him to open and drop as he begins swatting frantically at his mouth. One would think that one experience, maybe two, with the bees would be incentive enough to leave them alone—sadly the idea of a prize seems greater than the pain. . .

All of this talk of bees and of this busy time of newness and growth naturally brings the whole concept of being ready, being prepared, being mindful front and center to my thought process.

Spring is a time of great transition.
Not only are things greening up, budding, blooming, buzzing, pollinating. . .
Spring becomes a time of doing. . .renovations, cleaning, planting, tiling, changing. . .
It’s time to discard the old and bring in the new. . .as in clean, fresh, bright. . .

Spring is also a time when there is literally change in the air, or more precisely, the winds.
Winter’s cold winds are pushed aside for the warming lilt of Spring. Jet streams lift and revert.
Yet it is this very pushing of winds, the time of warm meeting cold, which becomes most problematic.

Our incoming warmer days and nights can exact a heavy price producing tumultuous Springtime storms. Skies can grow angry quickly, as air masses fight for dominance. Thunderstorms with their wicked lightening strikes and spawned tornadoes make Spring one of the deadliest times of year as far as Mother Nature is concerned.

Living in the proverbial tornado alley swarth, which cuts through the mid and southern tier of our United States, dictates caution while keeping one eye directed to the sky at all times.
Joining with the rest of humanity as we transition from a wicked winter that overstayed its welcome to a feisty new tempestuous Spring, with giddy exuberance and joy, I do so not with reckless abandon but rather with a bit of cautious yet hopeful optimism.

As we journey now, a bit worse for the wear, toward the end of Lent. . .with Palm Sunday, Passover and Easter all knocking on the door—may we rejoice in this new birthing of Nature as well as the birth of renewal within our spiritual selves. May we marvel in the busyness of the bees, the jittery darting and dashing of the myriad of birds who are hurriedly toiling building their nests. May those of us who suffer grievously from seasonal allergies find relief, and may we all remain vigilant when the warming skies decide to turn ominous and dark . . .

Here’s to Spring,
Here’s to life,
Here’s to new,
Here’s to change. . .

For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the LORD and serve him with one accord.”
Zephaniah 3:9

Ash Wednesday

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
(taken from the Book of Common Prayer)

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(ash / Julie Cook / 2015)

Ash Wednesday, in the Christian faith, marks the start of the Lent—the season the Church recalls the 40 days Jesus spent fasting, praying and being tempted by Satan in the wilds of the desert. It was the time just prior to marking the beginning of His earthly ministry.

Today the Christian faithful mark the 40 days prior to Easter with devout self reflection, prayer and fasting beginning with today’s Ash Wednesday Service. Lent is a time of spiritual house cleaning and cleansing.

The use of ashes in the Ash Wednesday service has been a part of the Christian Lenten service since the Middle Ages as ashes have long been associated as a sign of penitence. The ashes used during the service are the blessed and later burnt palm leaves from the prior year’s Palm Sunday Service and are used to mark the foreheads of the faithful as a remembrance that we are all dust and to dust we shall return–a phrase also used during the service for the Burial of the Dead.

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(image courtesy the Daily Herald)

The imposition of ashes was actually removed from the Anglican Ash Wednesday service in the mid 16th century as the Church (rather kingly leadership) felt it more important to focus on the Biblical curses God poured out upon sinners—As we remember this was the time of the English Reformation which had begun under the rule of Henry VIII—
All of which was further advanced under the short reign of his young son Edward.

Workshop_of_Hans_Holbein_the_Younger_-_Portrait_of_Henry_VIII_-_Google_Art_Project

220px-Portrait_of_Edward_VI_of_England

Eventually customs and “faith” swung back with a vengeance to the Catholic Mass with the installment of Henry’s eldest daughter Mary to the throne. Throughout the English Protestant Reformation the Church preferred to further examine and focus upon the grave sinfulness and unworthiness of man eschewing many of the traditional parts and observations of the Catholic Mass.

Maria_Tudor1

The practice of imposing ashes was officially added back into the service in the 18th century.

One part of the Lenten service which has withstood the test of time and the changing whims of King and Church and is also prominent in the Eastern Orthodox Service has been the reciting of the Miserere, better known as Psalm 51 (or known as Psalm 50 in the numbering of the Greek Septuagint)– One of the penitential psalms of David

In finem. Psalmus David, cum venit ad eum Nathan propheta, quando intravit ad Bethsabee. Miserere mei, Deus, secundum magnam misericordiam tuam; et secundum multitudinem miserationum tuarum, dele iniquitatem meam. Amplius lava me ab iniquitate mea, et a peccato meo munda me. Quoniam iniquitatem meam ego cognosco, et peccatum meum contra me est semper.

Tibi soli peccavi, et malum coram te feci; ut justificeris in sermonibus tuis, et vincas cum judicaris. Ecce enim in iniquitatibus conceptus sum, et in peccatis concepit me mater mea. Ecce enim veritatem dilexisti; incerta et occulta sapientiae tuae manifestasti mihi. Asperges me hyssopo, et mundabor; lavabis me, et super nivem dealbabor. Auditui meo dabis gaudium et laetitiam, et exsultabunt ossa humiliata.

Averte faciem tuam a peccatis meis, et omnes iniquitates meas dele. Cor mundum crea in me, Deus, et spiritum rectum innova in visceribus meis. Ne projicias me a facie tua, et spiritum sanctum tuum ne auferas a me. [14] Redde mihi laetitiam salutaris tui, et spiritu principali confirma me. Docebo iniquos vias tuas, et impii ad te convertentur.

Libera me de sanguinibus, Deus, Deus salutis meae, et exsultabit lingua mea justitiam tuam. Domine, labia mea aperies, et os meum annuntiabit laudem tuam. Quoniam si voluisses sacrificium, dedissem utique; holocaustis non delectaberis. Sacrificium Deo spiritus contribulatus; cor contritum et humiliatum, Deus, non despicies. Benigne fac, Domine, in bona voluntate tua Sion, ut aedificentur muri Jerusalem.

Tunc acceptabis sacrificium justitiae, oblationes et holocausta; tunc imponent super altare tuum vitulos.

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
so that sinners will turn back to you.
Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
you who are God my Savior,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
Open my lips, Lord,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.
May it please you to prosper Zion,
to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,
in burnt offerings offered whole;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.

The recitation of the Psalm would be followed with these final prayers. . .

MOST mightie God and mercifull father, which hast compassion of all menne, and hateste nothyng that thou haste made: whiche wouldeste not the deathe of a sinner, but that he shoulde rather turne from sinne and bee saved: mercifully forgeve us oure trespasses, receyve and coumforte us, whiche bee grieved and weried with the burden of our sinne: Thy propertie is to have mercie, to thee onely it apperteineth to forgeve sinnes: spare us therfore, good Lorde, spare thy people whome thou hast redemed. Enter not into judgemente with thy servants, which be vile year the, and miserable sinners: But so turne thy ire from us, which meekly knowlage our vilenes, and truely repent us of our fautes: so make hast to helpe us in this worlde: that wee may ever live with thee in the worlde to come: through Jesus Christe our Lorde.
Amen

TURNE thou us, good Lord, and so shall we be turned: bee favourable (O Lorde) he favourable to thy people, whiche turne to thee in wepyng, fasting and praying: for thou art a mercifull God, full of compassion, long sufferyng, and of a great pietie*. Thou sparest when we deserve punishement, and in thy wrathe thynkest upon mercy. Spare thy people, good Lorde, spare them, and lette not thy heritage bee brought to confusion: Heare us (O Lorde) for thy mercy is great, and after the multitude of thy mercies looke upon us.
(pity in some printings)

Prayers from the Ash Wednesday Lenten Service, Book of Common Prayer 1689

Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord

“We are on pilgrimage with the Lord to the heights. We are striving for pure hearts and clean hands, we are seeking truth, we are seeking the face of God. Let us show the Lord that we desire to be righteous, and let us ask him: Draw us upwards! Make us pure! Grant that the words which we sang in the processional psalm may also hold true for us; grant that we may be part of the generation which seeks God, “which seeks your face, O God of Jacob” (cf. Ps 24:6). Amen.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Sermon, Palm Sunday 2011)

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Hosanna is a liturgical word used in both Judaism and Christianity. In Judaism, it is always used in its original Hebrew form, Hoshana.
“Hoshana” (הושענא) is a Hebrew word meaning “please save or save now.”
In the Old Testament the word Hosanna often is used in the form of asking for God’s help–as in–Save us–now.

I pulled this mini word origin lesson from last year’s Palm Sunday post as I often think it is important to understand the history of our language and of the words we use. So often we carelessly use and speak our words with little to no regard of meaning or regard. On the other hand, we may use our words with specific malice and the intent of causing hurtful pain.

Whoever said “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me” was never a young child who was the victim of the hurtful things children often say to one another. Nor were they the child who was on the receiving end of a verbal assault by an abusive parent—being told repeatedly that they were no good, worthless, unwanted, etc. Those words have devastating and lasting results.

Today’s words we hear being used echo a proclamation of majesty and that of a triumphal entry. Little did those who sang of the triumphal proclamation almost 2000 years ago, of that regal entry, realize that the moment they were hailing their would-be king, they were actually marking the beginning of a world changing event. Theirs were the words which proclaimed the presence of a king.
A game changer.
A Messiah.
A Savior.

It was but a few short days following those regal proclamations, fit only for a king, that the words changed. Words such a “fool,” “traitor,” “guilty,” “blasphemer,” rang from their lips. Those previous majestic words were quickly replaced with vehemence, mockery and anger.
Previous words of praise quickly transformed to words of hatred and denial.
“I do not know him”
“Crucify him”
“Free Barabas”
“Traitor”
“He is not our king”

Amazing how quickly we can change our words. We may not be able to literally “take back” words which are spoken, but we can recant them, change them, no longer claim them as our own. . .as in the expression “talking out of both sides of our mouth”

The question to you today is what word do you choose?
Words of praise or words of ridicule and denial?
“Please save us now”
or
“I do not know him.”
“Crucify him!”

Word choices on a palm Sunday.
May we choice our words wisely. . .

Hosanna in the Highest

Hosanna!!

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Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel!
Hosanna is a liturgical word in Judaism and Christianity. In Judaism, it is always used in its original Hebrew form, Hoshana.
“Hoshana” (הושענא) is a Hebrew word meaning please save or save now.
In the Old Testament the word Hosanna often is used in the form of asking for God’s help–Save us–now.

However, as we read in today’s passage taken from John (12:13), the word is being used as a form of exclaiming joy or triumph–a word injected with hope.

The following is taken from a David Piper Ministries website (http://www.desiringgod.org/)
And “Hosanna to the Son of David!” means, “The Son of David is our salvation! Hooray for the king! Salvation belongs to the king!”

And “Hosanna in the highest!” means, “Let all the angels in heaven join the song of praise. Salvation! Salvation! Let the highest heaven sing the song!”

Let us all shout HOSANNA!! Hosanna! For hope, for praise, for salvation! Hosanna in the highest!!