Herod’s Song

Herod’s Song

Dear Jesus,
On this, the eve of Holy Week, we pray that you create a new song to strengthen us as we walk the road with you to Jerusalem, as we climb the stairs to the upper room, as we stumble through the night to the Garden, and as we stand in desperate grief at the foot of your cross. Amen

From The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke:

The assembly of the elders of the people rose as a body and brought Jesus before Pilate. They began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king.” Then Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He answered, “You say so.” Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no basis for an accusation against this man.” But they were insistent and said, “He stirs up the people by teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to this place.”

When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him off to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been waiting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign.

He questioned him at some length, but Jesus gave him no answer. The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. Even Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then he put an elegant robe on him and sent him back to Pilate.

Herod’s Song

Perhaps there are no more despised rulers in Jesus’s lifetime than those coming out of the House of Herod. It was Herod the Great who ordered all Hebrew males under the age of two slaughtered in his attempt to kill the infant Jesus. Fast forward to the time of our reading, it was the son of Herod the Great, Herod Antipas who demanded the head of John the Baptist to reward his stepdaughter for her seductive dance. It was Herod Antipas to whom Pilate sent Jesus in an attempt to transfer responsibility for judgement on the King of the Jews.

When Jesus arrived in Herod’s court, Herod was excited. He’d heard about Jesus and the miracles he performed. Herod was looking forward to a magic show! When he did not get what he wanted, he treated Jesus with contempt and returned him to Pilate.

In the late 1960’s Andrew Lloyd Webber and Time Rice wrote the rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar. Their musical account of the meeting of the King of Galilee and the King of the Jews went like this:

King Herod’s Song

Jesus, I am overjoyed to meet you face to face.
You’ve been getting quite a name all around the place.
Healing cripples, raising from the dead.
And now I understand you’re God,
At least, that’s what you’ve said.
So, you are the Christ, you’re the great Jesus Christ.
Prove to me that you’re divine; change my water into wine.
That’s all you need do, then I’ll know it’s all true.
Come on, King of the Jews.

Jesus, you just won’t believe the hit you’ve made around here.
You are all we talk about, the wonder of the year.
Oh what a pity if it’s all a lie.
Still, I’m sure that you can rock the cynics if you tried.
So, you are the Christ, you’re the great Jesus Christ.
Prove to me that you’re no fool; walk across my swimming pool.
If you do that for me, then I’ll let you go free.
Come on, King of the Jews.
I only ask what I’d ask any superstar.

What is it that you have got that puts you where you are.
I am waiting, yes I’m a captive fan.
I’m dying to be shown that you are not just any man.
So, if you are the Christ, yes the great Jesus Christ
Feed my household with this bread.
You can do it on your head.
Or has something gone wrong. Jesus, why do you take so long?
Oh come on, King of the Jews.

Hey! Aren’t you scared of me Christ?
Mr. Wonderful Christ?
You’re a joke. You’re not the Lord.
You are nothing but a fraud.
Take him away.
He’s got nothing to say!
Oh get out you, King of the Jews!
Get out of here!
Get out of here you,
Get out of my life.

The meeting between King Herod and the King of the Jews came on the heels of Jesus’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem on the eve of Passover. Jesus and his disciples celebrated the Passover dinner in an upper room provided by a stranger. This is where Jesus washed the feet of his followers and predicted Judas’s betrayal and Peter’s denial of their friendship. This is where Jesus established the Eucharist, the infusing of bread and wine with the power of his body and blood.

After dinner, they retired to the Garden of Gethsemane where the disciples slept and Jesus prayed. In the Garden, Jesus was accosted by church leaders and Roman soldiers, arrested, and taken to the court of Pilate, which brings us to the meeting of the two kings in Herod’s Jerusalem lodging.

When I view this encounter through the eyes of the gospel writer Luke and lyricist Tim Rice, I am tempted to judge Herod as the despicable petty pawn of the Roman government that he was. I abhor him and his behavior. How dare he ridicule the King of the Jews! How dare he tempt Jesus, who could resist temptation from the King of Temptation, Satan himself! So what did Herod do when Jesus did not give him what he wanted, when he didn’t get anything out of his hour with Mr. Wonderful Christ? He rejected Jesus and sent him away.

Before we get too smug in our judgement of Herod, we might notice a familiar pattern in our own spiritual life. How often do we say or hear someone say, “I’m church shopping these days.” What does that mean? What are we shopping for? What products do we expect when we go to a free entertainment venue like a church service? What do we get for the effort it takes to get up on our only morning of the week when we could sleep in?

Herod was shopping for a magic trick or two. What magic tricks do we want? An instant spiritual charge? A rapid fire escape from all our trials and temptations, traumas and pains? Release from the guilt of our past and fear of our future? A boyfriend? A girlfriend? Meaning in life? Do we want instant answers to our prayers, instant answers that we dictate? Not your answers, thank you God; but mine!

What do we do when Jesus doesn’t give us what we want? When he lets someone get away with hurting us? Or lets a loved one be diagnosed with cancer? Or lets our child die, our brother or sister? Is that when we join Herod in his song of rejection,” You’re not the Lord. You’re nothing but a fraud?” Are we, like Herod, not content simply to push Jesus away for the moment saying something like, “I didn’t really get anything out of that service. I’ll try somewhere else.” Or do we go one step further, adding ridicule, holding Jesus and his church in contempt? Do we send him to his death; killing him in our heart, as much as Herod did when he sent Jesus back to Pilate? Do we join in singing with Herod those chilling last words, “Get out of here! Get out of here you! Get out of my life!”

Yes, Herod Antipas was a despot, a cruel and sinful ruler over Galilee. I am convinced however that in the darkness of that night, Herod must have suffered along with the disciples and all the Jews who put their faith and hope in Jesus. They saw him tortured. They saw him fall under the weight of the cross he carried on his back. They saw him die on that cross and his cold body laid in the tomb. With them we still shudder with the sound of stone against stone, as the tomb is closed and sealed.

As long as Jesus remains locked in the tomb of our hearts, we will suffer with Herod Antipas in a never ending night of despair. Only when we let the angels move away the stone, open the grave of our heart, and allow Jesus to resurrect, will we witness the greatest magic trick of all time: a relationship with God. We won’t need to go shopping. We will have a new song to open our hearts to give, listen, pray, praise, serve, and bask in the love of Jesus. We don’t need a spiritual charge. We need the gentle presence of the love of Christ. We need his warm embrace, and the knowledge that in the midst of trials and temptations, pain and trauma, he is with us through it all.

He doesn’t do magic tricks on command. He simply creates a perfect world, a perfect people, and a perfect love.

Old Dogs and New Tricks

There’s an old saying to which most of us can relate. “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” As much as I want to consider myself a rather youngish old dog, I have to admit that even I can relate. Not that I swallow it hook, line, and sinker; but I have to admit that the hesitance I see in myself and my peers when it comes to learning new things, does indeed make us look bad.

Before I go further with this line of thought, however, let’s look at the readings for today, the fifth Sunday in Lent.

Isaiah 43:16-21
Thus says the LORD, who makes a way in the sea,
a path in the mighty waters,
who brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior;
they lie down, they cannot rise,
they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:
Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
The wild animals will honour me,
the jackals and the ostriches;
for I give water in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
the people whom I formed for myself
so that they might declare my praise.

Philippians 3:4b-14
If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

John 12:1-8
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

Our Meditation for today

Now, back to teaching old dogs new tricks. . . I am not convinced that those of us in the second half of life are incapable of learning new tricks, contrary to what younger folks might think. It’s not so much that we can’t learn new tricks. It’s just that we don’t want to learn new tricks. We simply don’t want to take the time and trouble necessary, or even the risks involved. You see, what if we truly do want to learn a new trick and find that we can’t? Now, that would be a catastrophe, right? In order to avoid such a risk, we’d best not try. Hence, we give the impression that we cannot learn new things. It happens all the time, which doesn’t mean it is the right or healthy thing to do. Our readings today make that painfully evident.

Isaiah reminded his readers of old tricks God did that were a major part of their history, the escape from captivity in Egypt. Then Isaiah told them that God was getting ready to do some new tricks, and they best learn them now, rather than dwelling in the past, “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”

This week we celebrate not only the fifth week of Lent. We also celebrate the life of St. Patrick. St. Patrick was certainly an individual who had to learn new tricks. Kidnapped when he was a teenager by pirates, he was taken to Ireland and sold as a slave. He worked as a shepherd and a farm hand. These were new skills for him, as he’d been raised in a family of means. He also learned about getting along with the Irish people. He learned the ways of the land, the language, and the customs.

He also learned that if he were going to keep his connection with God, he would need to pray daily. Every day he prayed and it gave him time not only to talk to God but to listen for what new thing God would want him to learn. Every day, he heard God’s message, “The sea awaits you. The sea awaits you.” Then the day came that changed everything, “Your ship awaits you. It’s time.” Patrick perceived God’s direction. God made a path through the wilderness for young Patrick who walked it two hundred miles to the sea. There, he boarded a ship that took him back to England, where his family embraced their long lost son. Patrick re-acclimated to life in England. He went to school, continued his relationship with God, and became a cleric himself.

He never stopped praying daily. He never stopped listening for the next new thing God had in mind. It came, “It’s time to look ahead. I have a new thing for you, Patrick. Go back to Ireland.”

Patrick followed the path God made for him once again through the wilderness back to Ireland, this time not as a slave; not as a farm hand or shepherd. This time he went as a missionary. He perceived in new ways, conventional and un-conventional what God wanted him to learn. This time, it was to convert the entire country to its own unique brand of the Irish Catholic faith, a brand new trick. Patrick mastered the trick because he was not distracted with his past as a slave. He had long forgiven the pirates and his slave owners. He carried no old grudges. He put the sins of the past behind him and strained forward to do the new thing God called him to do.

God knows that if we’re not careful, we can become preoccupied with things of the old, with people we haven’t forgiven, old grudges we continue to carry. We can become preoccupied with sins we’ve committed, for which we have never forgiven ourselves. We can become preoccupied with things we no longer have. We can worry about what others think of us and worry what is to come. And so we keep ourselves in the old times. Isaiah says, don’t do that. There’s a new thing coming that is calling us to learn new tricks, new perspectives. It’s time to walk in the new way.

Paul, in his letter to the Philippians considered how people evaluate themselves and others. The old way was using standards like possessions, money, prestige, success. Or as in Paul’s case, how much money and possessions he had lost, or how many times he had been arrested, beaten and imprisoned. Paul had learned from God the new way for evaluating behavior, decisions and life. For Paul there was only goal now, one standard by which to evaluate life and that was to be called by Jesus as his own.

Before Paul, there was Jesus, the number one trickster in town, always flaunting a new way, a new perspective on life, the never ending challenge to think anew. Jesus is sitting at the table in the home of his beloved friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus of Bethany. This is same home where Mary listened at the feet of Jesus, leaving her sister to all the preparations for dinner. This is the same Lazarus Jesus had raised from the dead. Some of Jesus’s most powerful and intimate moments happened in this family home. In today’s reading, we witness it again.

His hosts have cleaned, cooked and set the table so that when Jesus and his disciples arrive, all is in readiness. As they sit for dinner, Mary quietly slips into another room and brings back a flask of an exquisite expensive essential oil from the flower of the Nard.

You may not be familiar with Nard. Nard is a flower of the valerian family. Valerian is an ancient herbal healing remedy still used today in many ointments, supplements, oils and pharmacology. It is an herbal ointment used to sooth the body, heart and mind, and as Jesus reminded them, to anoint the dead at burial.

I doubt that Mary thought about the essential oil of Nard as a burial anointment. I am confident that when she bought the perfume, she made her decision to spend a year’s wage out of love. Not money, prestige, or status. It was love. She’d learned a new way of making decisions. Her new standard for behavior and decisions was a loving commitment to Jesus, to be called by him to be his own.

In the moment she opened the flask and generously poured the priceless potion over his feet, the aroma of love filled the room. She gently cleaned the dust and dirt from his feet, massaging the healing soothing essential oil into the dried and cracked skin. Then she loosened her hair to wipe the excess oil from his feet, so that now her hair gleamed and carried the scent of the perfume. All sat in silence, stunned and moved by the ritual of love.

Then the spell was broken. Judas with his old way of evaluating life decisions harshly criticized Mary. He could not comprehend her perspective. He had not turned his face forward to the new way.

Immediately, Jesus corrected him, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” Jesus had called Mary to be his own, and out of that love, Mary of Bethany had attained the goal by which she would be known through the ages. She had learned the new way; she perceived it, indeed.

We have one more week of lent to turn our face to Jerusalem, to witness and experience the way through the wilderness that God prepared for Jesus and for us to walk.

Once we arrive in Jerusalem one week from today, Palm Sunday, it will be time with Jesus to turn our face to Golgotha. He will want us to strain forward just a bit, to find a new way through the wilderness of our life and death to the cross. He will want us to perceive something new this time around.

Walk in prayer. Listen. Smell the oil of the Nard. Drink the living waters that God has prepared. Forget the old ways, what lies behind; instead strain forward to the goal for the only prize of any value: the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

Trust this, and you can learn any new trick God has up his sleeve.

Water Water Everywhere

2012PhotoShootwithErica_003-92x136What exactly is Jesus suggesting in John 37 and 38 when he says “If anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.’”

Let’s put the verse into context. Jesus had slipped quietly into Jerusalem hoping to enjoy some of the Festival of Tabernacles excitement. Not surprisingly, he couldn’t pull off anything resembling anonymity. He found himself instead in the Temple teaching, and saying things like, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me.” That certainly got the attention of the very people plotting his death! That is also when he identified his own heart as the source of rivers of living waters. Which brings me back to my question, what is Jesus suggesting here?

I have tried to visualize what Jesus is asking of us. I understand the symbolism of water. Water was the primal ingredient of our existence over which the Holy Spirit moved at the beginning of creation. It was the medium through which Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit. It is how in baptism we share in the burial and resurrection of Christ, and how we are reborn, cleansed, and made precious in the sight of God.

It is the same water Jesus offered to believers in our scripture for today. When they came to him thirsty for the water pouring from his heart, they would be filled with it. They would become rivers of living waters from which the next generation of thirsty believers quenched their thirst, generation after generation of rivers and tributaries weaving their way through mountains and valleys of centuries even now to this time, to this place.

A beautiful image, is it not? Well, actually, from the perspective of this Texas woman, maybe not so much. It is why I have trouble visualizing what Jesus is asking of us. We know rivers here in Texas. They are moody and unpredictable. Their water levels go up and down with equally moody weather and rain patterns. We are familiar with long periods of drought followed by torrential downpours that turn dry creek beds into rampaging, swollen rivers of destruction.

So while I am inspired to be a vessel, a conduit for the living waters of Christ, I am not particularly comfortable with the analogy of the river. Like Texas rivers that run dry during drought, so can our lives. Pain, illness, loss, and fear leave us parched, feeling too tired, too sick to be there for others. Our rivers slow to a trickle as they dry into dusty creek beds. Sometimes our rivers flood out of their banks, and we find ourselves pushy, intolerant, disrespectful of others’ boundaries, hurting instead of quenching the world’s thirst for understanding, love and compassion.

As I think about Jesus’ invitation and admonition in this season of Lent, I hope it will be all right if, instead of a river, He might let me be a golden jar like the ones in our scripture. As part of the Feast of the Tabernacle rite, golden jars were filled with healing waters from the Pool of Siloam and carried to the temple on the last day of the Feast. The rite symbolized appreciation for the miraculous life-saving water gushing from the stone in the wilderness and a yearning for the coming of the Messiah. Yes, I want to be a golden jar like one of those, carrying just the right amount of water to quench thirst, cleanse wounds, and soothe the despair of drought.

I like the idea of being one of Jesus’ prized and costly golden jars. When we are a jar, we don’t have to worry about unpredictable river waters. Jesus keeps us filled to just the right level, the droughts and storms of our life, notwithstanding. He never makes the jar so heavy that we fall under its weight. And even when we think it is empty, and we are dried away, Jesus touches us with a drop of that living water as a reminder to look to Him where we will find more of the same, where there is plenty for us and for others.

Yes, a golden jar is more my speed these days. Besides, I do love gold and the way it sparkles in the light of the Son.