Rockland Saint Andrew’s Pastoral Charge, a small but vital congregation in Eastern Ontario, just got served notice that they will be charged $55/month by the United Church of Canada for the privilege of being invoiced for their monthly Pensions and Benefits remittances.

Rockland employs one settled minister, who was recently moved from ½ salary to ¾ salary. It’s his partial pension and healthcare benefits cost (@ $790/month) that is the sole issue here.

A couple years ago, the General Council of the United Church passed a measure requiring all pastoral charges to enrol in the services of a large payroll company. The reasoning was that payroll was getting complicated and church treasurers couldn’t handle it any more.

Matthew 28

The Resurrection: When the two women, Mary and Mary, arrive at the tomb, Heaven puts on another display: an earthquake, a shining angel, and Guards stunned senseless. The Tomb is opened – not to let Jesus out “He is not here, He is Risen!” – but to let witnesses in to se that the body is gone, the Lord is alive! While the women are running to tell the others they meet the living Jesus, fall on their knees and worship him!

Jesus is Alive! The power of death is broken this new life is for all who wish to be reunited with God. Leave behind all rebellion and wickedness – all the entanglements of death. Holy Joy is your inheritance forevermore!

Matthew tidies up one detail – after failing to prevent the body from disappearing the guards are bribed to give a false report, in exchange for immunity.

The Great Commission: The disciples go to Galilee, as instructed. Even though some doubted (was this considered too good to be true?) they did worship. And Jesus commanded all of them to make disciples in all nations. Matthew has been hinting at the global reach of the Gospel all through his account of Jesus’ life, so it should be no surprise now that Jesus sends them into all the earth.  They were sent with all Jesus’ power, authority and presence, as we are today!

You’ve made it through Matthew’s account of the Gospel. Tomorrow we start Mark!

Lord, thank you for giving us your Son, for all his wisdom, compassion and help.

Matthew 27

Judas: There has been a lot of speculation about Judas through history. Here he clearly regrets his betrayal. Some have thought that he expected Jesus to resist arrest and start a revolution, or reveal himself in power as the King of Kings: If this was his plan, there’s a lesson here about trying to force God’s hand. To a Roman reader Judas’ suicide would be an honourable way out, to the Jewish reader, “Whoever is hanged on a tree is cursed” (Deuteronomy 21:23). Other Gospels make a point of showing Judas to be an unrepentant thief, doomed by prophecy or led by the Devil. Matthew just relates his actions. Matthew depicts the chief priests and elders as callous. Having achieved their goal they have no love for the traitor they hired.

Pilate: Pilate is consummate politician. Rather than declare that Jesus is innocent and ignoring his wife’s disturbing dream, he leaves the choice to the crowd, perhaps thinking that the chief priests won’t find the general population so supportive of their jealous claims against Jesus. If so he’s been out maneuvered by them. It’s early in the morning and few people even know that Jesus has been arrested. The crowd is handpicked by Jesus’ accusers.  When the crowd asks for Barabbas’ release, he makes sure to distance himself from the decision. His subjects demanded Jesus be killed, he can plausibly deny that there’ is any cause here for resentment against Rome.

Jesus: Jesus is mocked, flogged, spit upon insulted and crucified. He is beaten so badly he can’t carry the cross all the way to Golgotha. The fact that Simon of Cyrene’s name is know to Matthew suggests that he became a part of the early church; perhaps his forced role caused him to pay close attention to the developments in the coming days. On the Cross Pilate puts one more burr under the saddle of the Jewish leaders, by identifying Jesus as King of the Jews.

While Jesus is dying he cries out the opening line of Psalm 22. Much Theology has been written about how Jesus, the Son, and his heavenly Father suffered the separation of sin, as Jesus bore all the iniquity of history in that moment on the cross, and was actually forsaken in that moment. Be that as it may, Jesus is also likely meditating on God’s word, finding distraction from his pain, and comfort in God’s promises. Read Psalm 22, and see how the suffering servant is blessed by God in the end. This is a psalm written for those going through moments like these, and particularly for this moment above all others.

The sky goes dark for 3 hours. Was it an eclipse? A sinister storm cloud blowing in or a miraculous sign? When he dies, we are told that the curtain, which hides the presence of God in the Temple, is torn “from Top to Bottom” Matthew connects this event with the new reality that exists because of Jesus’ death for our sins. God will not be kept in a stone temple anymore. We are reconciled to God, He has forgiven sin, and is making his home within his people henceforth. I can’t help thinking of some priest or Levite, going about their temple business: sweeping or trimming lanterns when this dramatic event takes place. It might have been enough to make a believer out of him!

The death of Jesus is accompanied by other signs: an earthquake, the raising from death of “many holy people.” Even the Centurion overseeing the executions saw so many extraordinary things centered on this one death that he knew Jesus was no ordinary criminal.

The women see Jesus die, though most of the disciples were hiding. Joseph of Arimathea buries the body in his own new tomb. The women are there when he is buried.

Jesus’ opponents arrange to guard the tomb to prevent any shenanigans. In doing so they actually end up providing strong evidence that Jesus was raised from the dead, by ensuring that the body was not stolen!

Thank you Lord, for saving us from death, and birthing in us this new life in you. We will be filled with gratitude for all eternity.

Matthew 26

The Plot against Jesus: Jesus is aware that the time of his death is approaching rapidly. We learn that the conspirators want to avoid the Feast of Passover, because of Jesus’ popularity.

A woman anoints Jesus: Matthew reports that all the disciples objected to the waste of the valuable perfume. John’s gospel will focus on Judas’ objection as a precursor to his betrayal of Jesus, but here the objection is treated purely as a teaching opportunity:

1.     Jesus defends the woman who is trying to demonstrate love and reverence.

2.     Jesus reveals a hidden purpose to this anointing: a sign of his pending death and burial. It is implied that the Holy Spirit had a part in moving her to this act.

3.     “The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.” Jesus quote here seems to need some explanation: he is not saying we should not try to eradicate poverty. (Though I’m fairly certain the best we can do is reduce it.) He is saying that poverty is not the only thing we need to spend our resources on. True worship of the true God is logically of first importance. And since the True God actually loves the poor, worshipping Jesus and bringing people to true faith in him is the surest way to increase care for the poor (and for all people whatever their need). Although we all know of people who claim to be great believers who care only for themselves, we can see, in the previous chapter, what Jesus’ thinks of such ‘faith’.

The Plot thickens: Judas agrees to betray Jesus. We are being prepared for the crisis to come.

The Lord’s Supper: The preparation of the Passover meal is pre-arranged by God. A room is set aside. A Jewish Seder meal is the context, as Israel remembers how a lamb’s blood on their doorposts caused the last plague in Egypt, the death of the firstborn, to ‘pass over’ their houses. In the Seder meal every food and every act is scripted and filled with symbolism to remind them of how God delivered their ancestors and is with them still. Now Jesus adds new symbolism to the meal – the broken bread is his body, the wine is the blood shed to seal a divine contract – a promise to forgive sins. We take this to be symbolism, as we should. But this doesn’t mean take it lightly. It is an association God has established. When ever we eat and drink at this table, as we remember Jesus’ sacrifice, we ought to allow his Spirit to turn us from every sin, and fill us with a wondrous joy. The testimony of the church through the ages is that this meal will build faith, community, holiness and love.

Gethsemane: Jesus predicts the scattering of the disciples, Peter counters with a profession of loyalty. Jesus begs to differ. Peter disagrees. (Spoiler alert: Jesus was right this time.)

Jesus begins to pray fervently concerning his impending death. The Disciples, even the ‘best’ of them start nodding off. I can’t blame them – they’ve had a big Passover meal, with all the wine involved in that, and they are increasingly confused about the way Jesus is talking. Jesus doesn’t blame them either, but he urges them to keep praying.

Judas arrives on the scene accompanied by Guards, When Jesus is seized, Peter, suddenly wide awake strikes out with a sword cutting off a servant’s ear. (Don’t worry: Luke reports that Jesus heals the servant).

Jesus draws attention to the cowardice of his accusers who operate under the cover of darkness, and secrecy. The disciples flee, and Jesus is taken to the Sanhedrin. The trial is a sham, yet even so they can not get enough testimony, by their standards to convict Jesus. Improperly they ask him to incriminate himself, which Jesus readily does. He is the Christ, the Son of God.” But this truth is the ‘blasphemy’ they’ve been waiting for. Now the insults and beating begin.

A note about Peter’s denial: Just as Peter was the only disciple to dare to get out of the boat, he is now one of only two disciples to dare come close to the trial of Jesus. He was caught in denial only because he did not flee like the others.  Let us also remember that the Lord readily restored Peter after his sorrowful repentance.

Thank you Lord that this whole story is about your readiness, as God, to forgive and restore to new life.  Our failures have been many, and we can’t compare our faith and courage to Peter’s, yet we know that we also are forgiven, blessed and loved!

Subcategories

A quick Lenten commentary on the four Gospels, chapter by chapter.

New 2-3 chapters will be published each day through Lent 2020.