The problem with prayer is that it is too easy. And too hard.
God is great. God is good.
Let us thank him for our food.
By his hands we all are fed.
Give us, Lord, our daily bread.
Too easy because any adult can say it and have his mind wander to think only of his childhood when he learned the prayer, or the plate in front of him getting cold. Is this prayer?
Almighty Father, who hast given thine only Son to die for our
sins and to rise again for our justification: Grant us so to put
away the leaven of malice and wickedness, that we may always
serve thee in pureness of living and truth; through the same
thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with
thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
— Book of Common Prayer, Friday in Easter Week
Too hard because “hast” and “thine” don’t roll off the tongue, and who uses the word “leaven”? And we hardly ever think of malice or justification except to justify our own malice. “She was hateful to me. I thought you ought to know.” This prayer is too hard for most of us because the language is not contemporary, but even more so because the compactness of its thought is more work than we expect to have to do when we pray.
But the hardest thing about praying may be the waiting. We pray. We wait. We pray. We wait.
They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. (Acts 1:14)
Jesus had told his disciples to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the gift promised from the Father. Jesus ascended and disappeared from their sight, so they gathered and began to pray. We know what they did not: that they would be gathered, praying for 10 days.
Is 10 days a long time? What were you doing 10 days ago? Where will you be in 10 days?
What if the gift that came after 10 days made the waiting seem like nothing at all? What if the answer to your praying made the work of praying inconsequential?
Do you need the answer before you begin praying?
How can we have peace when everything is changing?
While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” (Luke 24:36)
The disciples were gathered together discussing the various reports of the empty tomb and the mysterious appearances and disappearances of Jesus. Then he stood there among them.
The previous few days had been full of things the disciples would not have chosen: conflict with the Jewish leaders, betrayal, arrest, cowardly reactions to that arrest, the humiliation and death of their beloved Jesus. How overwhelming!
Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem did not bring in a military kingdom to subdue the Roman sword. Jesus’ resurrection did not banish trouble from the disciples’ lives. In some ways, their circumstances got more difficult. And yet every one of the disciples (except Judas) would tell you it was worth it.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27)
Jesus himself was their peace. When he stood there among them, they knew all was not lost. At the end of the 40 days they learned that his physical presence would not always be with them, but God would be with them in a new way. The events that unfold in the book of Acts show that the presence of God in their lives was even more powerful after the coming Holy Spirit.
Did things settle down after the resurrection? After Jesus’ ascension into heaven? After the coming of the Holy Spirit? No, no, and no.
Over the next several days let’s look at how the lives of the early Christians unfolded after Jesus sent the Holy Spirit.
Was it peaceful? Hold on to your hat!
What do you think Jesus was up to when twice on resurrection day he used food to show himself to be risen and real?
He had walked the seven miles with Cleopas and his companion to Emmaus, concealing his identity along the way, and then revealed himself as they sat to eat.
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. (Luke 24:30–31)
Why not while they were walking along?
Later that same day, after the two had gone all the way back to Jerusalem to report what they had seen, Jesus appeared to the eleven remaining disciples and others gathered with them. After having startled them by his sudden appearance, Jesus reassured them that he was risen.
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence. (Luke 24:40–43)
How ordinary is that?
It’s both ordinary and extraordinary, isn’t it? Extraordinary — unique even — that someone should rise from the dead. Ordinary that a live person would want something to eat.
And of course food is so often more than just nourishment, and more than pleasurable taste. Food brings us together. Table fellowship in Emmaus and in Jerusalem begins to set the new normal.
When you eat today, ponder this: How close is Jesus? How normal to the rhythm of your day, your work? As normal as food?
As we continue to luxuriate through Psalm 23, let’s pause at the “table”.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
The “you” of course is the same LORD who is David’s shepherd. The LORD prepares a banquet table and invites David to be the honored guest. The table is set, fit for king and queen, overflowing with food to delight the senses. The table is beautiful and bountiful not because David is impressive, but because the LORD is.
The great host provides the grand banquet table. And we are invited to feast! What poor manners it would be if we were to fail to show up. The host is providing not just refreshment but his company!
In Luke 14 Jesus tells a parable of a man who plans a great banquet, inviting many. When the time comes and the banquet is ready, those who at first agreed make excuses saying they cannot come. Business, family life, and ordinary transactions get in the way.
The offer for a place at the table remains open for a time, both in that parable and in our days: God offers the pleasures and refreshment of his presence. But how hard it is to just sit!
What is it you’re off to do today?
The table is set. What would it take to get you to sit with our Host?
Today is the third Sunday in Lent, a time to gather and celebrate the security we experience in the care of God our shepherd.
An important part of following Jesus is that he gives us to each other as companions along the way. Sheep follow the shepherd not "single file" nor somehow all alone, but as sheep in a flock.
Come along! We’ll make room. And our Shepherd is always worth following.
Pastor Mark loves his wife and grown children, the Word of God, and words. And coffee, chocolate chip cookies, Apple products, small video projects, and the New England Patriots.