Reflections on Easter 2020: Continued

The Easter season began as in other years with fasting and Mass on Ash Wednesday; however, in April churches were closed and Masses celebrated by the priests were designated private Masses. In our diocese the churches were open and hours of Adoration permitted. Soon the norm became only private Mass allowed. Blessings came to us when our parish and many others set up live streaming of Mass every day of the week. Our pastor also set up Flocknotes where he informed us of news and written homilies and spiritual food for thought through email.

Palm Sunday drew near and we felt an urgency to do something to acknowledge we were about to celebrate Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. There would be no palms. A friend emailed us photos of decorations using greens and flowers for Palm Sunday. I used Yucca plant spears and a couple of branches of an indoor plant for the palms and silk flowers all tied together with a purple waterproof ribbon. It looked great on our door but who would see it? So I made another similar piece for a metal post near the road, added some purple streamers and a bow for the mail box. I placed the sign given to us by another friend from church that said One Nation Under God.

Holy week came and we watched the streaming of the Tridium; Holy Thursday, Good Friday. and Easter Sunday as well as the weekday Masses. We received the grace of spiritual Communion. We happened to have a black wrought iron cross in our garden and my husband had an idea to paint it white, decorate and place it down by the road near the post. He bought a solar spotlight and we put it out on Holy Saturday night. It gave us consolation when we walked down in the darkness and viewed the lighted cross. Our Christmas tree refused to drop it’s needles and we placed it, still in its stand, by our front door. We adorned it with white lights for all to see through the nights of the Easter season.

I had baked a traditional Easter cake, cranberry bread, and cinnamon buns on Good Friday. On Saturday afternoon our son and daughter-in-law came with homemade Italian cookies and a pot of yellow tulips. We sent a bag with the baked goods and a box of chocolates home with them. We missed seeing the grandchildren but were thankful all were well! Another friend dropped off a bouquet and another stopped by with hand made masks we ordered plus a basket of daisy mum plants.

On Easter Sunday we watched Mass streaming on our parish website and enjoyed a pasta lunch. We usually gave baked goods to people on Easter and later in the afternoon brought some of those to our neighbors. We had a plate of the pasta left and brought that to a friend who made our masks along with a box of chocolates. We observed the rules of social distancing and wearing masks.

Although we were not able to be together with our family or invite friends over, we knew the spirit of Easter was present and Jesus dwelt with us in spite of everything. Perhaps the circumstances made us find our way to see God’s love through sharing with each other and seeing Him in others.

All is well. He lives!

Reflections on Easter 2020

In 2014 an idea for a novel came to me. I don’t remember the exact day or time. After many self edits over five years, the 87,000 word Historical Christian novel, Daybreak from on High, now remains stored in micro soft word in my computer, as well as, in a box from Staples. The book is about a young Jewish man named Jonathan who sells doves with his father in the Court of the Gentiles in the Great Temple in Jerusalem. The story begins with the announcement of the birth of a prophet, John the Baptist, on the Feast of the Atonement.

In writing this work of fiction I learned that Jewish life centered around the feast days of their faith, the three major ones being the feasts of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. Our Christian feast of Easter is in proximity to Passover. Jesus celebrated these feasts with his family as he grew up and He celebrated the Passover with His disciples the Thursday before He was crucified.

In reflecting on the life of a Jew I realized our lives as Christians also center around the Holy Days on our calendar. We observe the forty day period of lent leading up to the  Feast of the Resurrection of Jesus. Like the Jews we follow certain customs in the form of fasting, worship, and festivities. This year churches were closed because of the corona virus pandemic. The usual observance of Palm Sunday through Holy Week and Easter in our churches was not possible. In Chapter thirteen of my novel Passover was cancelled one year because of a massive loss of life, not caused not by a virus, but by the Roman Ethnark Herod Archelaus. The Temple was closed and the people celebrated the feast at home.

I will describe how my husband and I celebrated the 2020 Easter in my next post.

The Resurrection: From Daybreak

Nothing could stop me from going to the tomb. The Lord guided my footsteps. Finally,  I entered the garden through a narrow gate and walked along a well trodden path. It was appropriate He rested in a garden. That was His Father’s original intention for all of creation __ to live in the garden of Eden. There were sounds of earth’s awakening all around. Birds singing, a small brook splashing over rocks, a gentle breeze rustling through the trees.

I saw the place where we hid yesterday and then the tomb. The entrance was open, the specially made stone rolled to one side. There were no guards or mourners. I hesitated but could not resist entering. The slab was empty where a dead man should have been. Only the burial cloth and the costly scent of myrrh and aloe remained. The appealing fragrance filled the tomb. It felt sacred. In one corner on a small ledge, I noticed the face cloth of Yeshua folded neatly. The light from the entrance lit up the whole area. He had risen as He said!

Trembling I knelt on the stone floor uttering a prayer of gratitude. The Messiah had come. Born like every man and He died so men might live forever. He conquered death by dying and rising. Who could understand the mind of the Lord?

I left the tomb and walked outside into the light. Everything appeared more intense and vivid. Something made me look down and I saw a patch of tiny white flowers, the kind I picked for Sarai the night we met on the roof of my uncle’s home.

I had to tell my dearest relatives: Yeshua had risen! I had to tell everyone.

Crucifixion: from Daybreak

One of the soldiers used a ladder to nail the sign near the top of the cross which read The King of the Jews, written in Aramaic and below it what must have been Latin and Greek. Josephus, Columba, and I were staring up at Him. We could not look away.

Would Yeshua’s Father intervene? Something was happening. The sky grew even darker than it had been. A terrible storm was coming upon us and the wind caused the executioner’s horses to rise on their front legs. A group of soldiers were laughing and casting lots. One of them took Yeshua’s garment. He must have won it. Yeshua hung between the two thieves. Slowly we made our way closer.

The criminals on each side were taunting Him. The pharisees challenged Him to come down from the cross if He was the Son of God. The ones who performed the crucifixion blasphemed Him obnoxiously. This had been going on for some time.

After a short-lived silence as the three on their crosses suffered the pains of the inhumane crucifixion, the Messiah said of those responsible for His suffering, Father forgive them for they know not what they do.

Hearing this, the criminal on His right who had previously also mocked Him, looked toward Yeshua, groaned, and pleaded loudly, Lord remember me when you come into your kingdom.

Yeshua looked at him and said, Amen, today you will be with me in paradise.

But the one on His left spat at Him and swore.

I had to lower my eyes from the sight of His intense suffering. Columba stood next to me. His legs buckled and he knelt on the rocky ground. His face turned ashen and his lips quivered. I dropped to my knees beside him putting my arm around his shoulders.

Coumba cried out: “Jon, will your God rescue His Son? Why must He suffer such pain?”

I knew why and needed to tell my friend the reason. “He suffers for our sins and for those of all men. He pays the price for justice. We know that God is just, as well as, merciful. The mystery is one of God’s love for us. Yeshua is like a lamb led to slaughter, a sacrifice offered like the lambs that are being slain for the Passover Feast.”

Yet it was even difficult for me, raised a Jew, to accept this. How much more beyond the understanding of a Roman. If God allowed this for His own Son, what would become of the friends of Yeshua?

“He is trying to speak. Listen,” Josephus said.

Woman, behold, your son! Son, behold your mother! He said, looking down at His mother and John who stood close to the foot of the cross.

In His agony the Son of God expressed concern for His mother. It was a human quality, love for one’s mother. This man hanging on the cross was both human and divine.

Yeshua said, I thirst.

One of the guards took a sponge, dipped it in a vessel of wine, and stuck it on a sprig of hyssop. Lifting the sponge to His mouth, they tried to make Him drink, but He refused. The guard removed it from Him.

Yeshua spoke saying, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

He felt abandoned by our Lord just as I had at times. I knew He was God’s Son yet also human. We never saw His Father. Now we had seen the Son face to face.

Minutes later he said, It is Finished.

We realized Yeshua would not be rescued by His Father. He spoke from the cross one last time.

Into Your hands I commend My Spirit.

The wind swept over Golgotha. The earth shook, and a chasm in the solid rock surface separated us from our friends. Columba and I were nearer the cross on one side of the fissure and Josephus and Simon on the other. Darkness unlike any I had seen in daytime covered Golgotha and the Temple area beyond.

Excerpt from Daybreak

(Jonathan. the main character in my novel Daybreak from on High. returned to his home after celebrating Passover with a group of friends including a Roman Soldier. During the Seder he felt the presence of his deceased wife, Sarai.)”

When I came to the arbor of my outdoor area, something inside me refused to open the door. Once inside, I felt Sarai would leave and loneliness overcome me. I sat down on a crate and placed the lantern on the table. Despite the wine and food I’d consumed, my mind was clear and alert.

I recounted times spent with her, from the first moment we were alone in my home when she dropped the pottery in the kitchen, and her attraction to me was revealed. Finally after some hours, I grew weary and rose to enter my dwelling.

Distant voices echoed through the Kidron Valley. Was it my imagination? I strained to hear them, but thought it might just be the wind. There were lights barely visible near a garden called Gethsemane at the bottom of the Mount of Olives. By then my eyes were heavy. Entering the dwelling, I stumbled to my cot as the lantern ran out of oil. I fell into a deep sleep and awoke near dawn, but rolled over and fell asleep once more.

During this early morning lapse, a nightmare invaded my rest. Columba was striking a Roman soldier pounding a nail into the wrist of a bruised and bleeding man about to be crucified. The blade of a sword severed my friend’s arm and blood splattered over everything. I must have cried out and suddenly someone was shaking me.

“Jonathan, it’s all right. You’re dreaming,” Columba shouted, embracing me with one arm.

The shock of seeing him brought on hysteria, and I could not stop screaming. Finally, exhausted I fell back on my cot sobbing.

“You scared me Jon. Let me get you some water. What frightened you so?”

“I’m fine now. But I can’t talk about it.”

“Let’s get some fresh air out under the arbor.”

We sat for a while, and Columba brought me water from the well nearby. Then he told me why he came. “I am sorry to be the bearer of some disturbing news. How are you feeling now?”

“I’m fine. Go on, tell me.”

“Simon came back to the apartment of Josephus late last night. I had decided to sleep there and was awakened from a peaceful slumber. In fact, everyone was roused by a pounding on the door. It seems Simon heard from a servant in the Palace of Ananias that Yeshua had been seized in Gethsemane, the garden near the Kidron Valley. A contingent of Roman soldiers and Temple Guards brought Him forcibly to the palace. They struck His head and spat on Him accusing Him of blasphemy. Ananias sent Him to Caiaphas. That’s all Simon could tell us.”

“They will kill Him, Columba. By crucifixion,” I said immediately regretting my words.

“I cannot bear it. I’ve seen it once. How could they do that to one so innocent? I know He is the Messiah.”

The Third Anointing

The third anointing of Jesus took place two days before the Passover which would be Tuesday of Holy Week. The accounts are found in Matthew 26:6-12 and Mark 14:3-9. There are minor differences in these two gospels while basically presenting identical versions of the same event. Both versions tell us they took place in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper.

To illustrate this point compare: “Now when Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the Leper, a woman came up to Him with an alabaster jar of costly perfumed oil and poured it on His head while He was reclining.” Mathew 26:7 and “While He was in Bethany reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of perfumed oil, costly genuine spikenard. She broke the alabaster jar and poured it on His head.” Mark 14:3

The same objection arose in both accounts: the amount spent should have been given to the poor. In Matthew the complaint came from the disciples while in Mark it was from unknown persons at the dinner. Jesus countered with the woman did this in anticipation of His burial. He went further saying  in Matthew 26:13 … wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be spoken of, in memory of her.  and in Mark 14:9, …wherever the gospel is proclaimed to the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.

In the first anointing, Jesus defended the sinful woman, when the Pharisee who hosted the dinner objected to the type of woman who did the anointing, saying: …your sins are forgiven…Your faith has saved you; go in peace. Luke 7:48-50. In the second anointing the complaint came from Judas Iscariot that the money should have been given to the poor. John’s gospel plainly gives Judas another motive that he was a thief; he held the money bag for the disciples. Finally in John 12:7 Jesus said, …leave her alone. Let her keep it for my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.

This seems to indicate there was a fourth anointing of Jesus body at the tomb. and also that he desired it be done. Our Lord Jesus was truly human and divine!

Excerpt from Daybreak:Monday of Holy Week

“We heard about the glorious procession from the Mount of Olives. We didn’t see you but some who followed Him told us they were amazed Yeshua just looked around and left. Their disappointment was evident,” Simon said.                                                                          ”I just could not understand what happened, Jon,” Abraham added sadly.“                  Mother would have said, wait and see. I wonder what Nicodemus would make of it?”         “I don’t know, Jon. Some Pharisees were disturbed by the adulation Yeshua received. Many think they and the scribes would like to kill Him. And worse Ananias the Chief Priest feels threatened. I know this for a fact,” Simon whispered.                                              “Will your father never change, Abraham?” I asked, knowing the answer.                          “Of course not, Jon. He’s worse than ever, but we still listen to his every word. I have not known him to find news that was invalid. Yet, even my father cannot tell us why nothing came of the Messiah’s entrance into the city in the joyous and glorious procession.”           A commotion at the entrance of the Court drew our attention in that direction. A man came through the throngs of pilgrims and sellers turning over the tables of the money changers.                                                                                                                                          “Look at that. He’s doing it again,” Abraham said.

Yeshua headed toward the dove sellers flinging their seats aside. They proceeded to gather their carts of doves and head out of the Court, just as I had done the first time he came to condemn the merchants in the Court.                                                                       “They do what he says,” Abraham said. “He did not bother to release the birds or disturb the creatures. The sellers must fear that he would. No one is preventing Him from causing such a disruption. Where are the Temple guards? It is as if He is totally in charge.”                                                                                                                                              “Oh but He is! This is the house of His Father. Yeshua is the Messiah,” Simon said.          “He said it Himself in the Portico of Solomon. He is the Son of God and they are one,” I said in agreement.

Yashua came closer. He paused in front of us and shouted:                                                          “Is it not written: My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. But you have made it a den of thieves.”                                                                                                                      His eyes met mine for an instant. He left without another word and faded into the crowd.“He’s gone,” Abraham said. “You must know the authorities will certainly hear of this. I fear for Him. They are ruthless and powerful.”                                                       “Unless He uses mighty powers of another kind,” I added.

Palm Sunday: Then and Now

One year ago on Palm Sunday, I have a vivid memory of  standing in front of our church with numbers of people holding palms in bright sunshine as our priest joyfully and generously sent streams of abundant blessed water on each and everyone of his flock. Children giggled, adults smiled and our exuberant shepherd exuded happiness. We processed into the church for Mass.

It was a reenactment of the procession begun at Bethsaida, down the Mount of Olives, through the Sheep gate into the streets of Jerusalem and finally entering the Great Temple in Jerusalem. They sang Hosanna to the King of David, the Messiah. Their king rode a donkey, just as He was carried thirty some years before in the womb of His Blessed Mother Mary into Bethlehem.

Just six days after the exuberant procession, their King was brutally nailed to a cross on Golgotha. That is why Palm Sunday is also called Passion Sunday and the Gospel of the Passion of Christ is read at Mass. Jesus experienced jubilation shadowed by the Cross. Today amid a devastating epidemic, with churches closed, we also celebrate the triumphant entry of Jesus into the Holy City knowing not only the reality of the Cross but also the end of the story, Resurrection.

We are a people of hope. Most of us are watching Mass via the internet. We pray for the end of this confinement and separation from the Sacraments. The Lord is still in control and He knows what He is about. I believe He will use this evil for good.

It is not mentioned where Jesus had supper on the night of Palm Sunday. Perhaps he went to the home of Lazarus in Bethany. The Gospel of Mark says the next day when He was coming from Bethany, He was hungry; He saw a fig tree and found no fruit on it and made it wither. It makes me wonder: Had he eaten the night before? My daughter in law told me of a custom to set a place at your supper table for Jesus on Palm Sunday, and we will be doing that tonight. This is an especially good custom at this time with most people not inviting guests.

The Second Anointing

John 12:1-8

The second anointing is recorded in the Gospel of John. It came six days before the Passover, the day before Jesus entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. (Some say this was the same anointing that is found in Mark 14 and Mathew 26 but it is clear that those gospel accounts occurred at a different time than this one in John and the facts also differ substantially.)

Jesus was invited to dine at the home of Lazarus, Martha and Mary in Bethany, a town on the Mount of Olives a couple of miles from Jerusalem. The raising of Lazarus is found in John 11. It seems this was given as a celebration for that miracle. Martha was serving and Jesus and Lazarus sat together.

Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair; the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.
Judas Iscariot objected saying the money should have been given to the poor etc. But Jesus said, Leave her alone. Let her keep this for the day of my burial.
       Did Mary keep some of this oil for that day just seven days later?

Jesus continued: You always have the poor with you but you do not always have me.
This last remark shows the human side of Jesus. Just as, at the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus wept, reveals the human emotions He experienced.
We know though destined for heaven, He would be leaving behind on earth those He had grown to love. Not that He would leave them or us as orphans, but would always be with His friends in Spirit.
In the end it is all about love

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday and I will write about that Holy Day and will pick up with the Third Anointing on Tuesday, two days before Jesus last Passover with His disciples.

{If anyone has different views or evidence about this subject on the number, times or anything pertaining to the anointing of Jesus., please send a comment. I am certainly no biblical scholar or theologian.}

The first of Three Anointings

Luke 7:36-50

There are three different times Jesus was anointed by a woman in the gospels. The first is recorded in Luke. This occurs in Chapter 7 after the healing of the centurion’s servant in Capharnaum and the raising of the widow’s son in Nain, and also after the messengers came sent by John the Baptist to ask Jesus: Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?

The last section titled The Pardon of the Sinful Woman gives the first account of an anointing of Jesus chronologically. He was invited to a pharisee’s house for dinner. While Jesus reclined at table a sinful woman stood behind him and then at his feet she bathed them with her tears, wiped them with her hair and kissed them and anointed them with ointment from an alabaster jar. Jesus’ host rebuked Him but Jesus told the pharisee he did not even wash Jesus’ feet or kiss Him in greeting etc.

 Jesus went on to teach those present that evening a lesson through a parable about a debtor. This woman had much to be forgiven and therefore loved Him more than those with less to be forgiven. Her act of love would not be forgotten. St. Luke made sure of that.

Tomorrow, Nisan 8 on the calendar of Jesus time in Israel and six days before Passover, we’ll visit the second anointing of Jesus the day before Palm Sunday.