Archive for April, 2019

Baruch 1: Meeting in Babylon

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Prisoners going into Exile

Why is it that we do not pay attention to what is important until we have lost it?

The answer that I share laughingly is that we are all so stubborn that this is the only way that God can get our attention!

We read here in this first chapter about a public day of atonement, such as the Feast of Booths, and the notes tell us that this would not have been possible in Baruch’s time as the Jewish nation was living in exile – and they were prohibited from holding and participating in their traditional rites.

They wept and fasted and prayed before the Lord . . .

We easily fall into the rhythm of forgetting, of wasting, of procrastinating, of avoiding the doing of something we know must be done.

 . . . and collected such funds as each could furnish . . .

We gather ourselves after a shattering experience and try to find our way home.

The shame and remorse which the people in Chapter 1 of Baruch feel come from a suffering which is deep and cutting.  They anticipate God’s wrath and anger.  They expect further punishment.  But the New Testament message is this: There is a New Idea, a New Way, a New Life.  When we stray, when we bump into thick walls, when we feel ourselves becoming stiff-necked . . . there is only one remedy for our recovery, only one place to go.  We heard this in today’s Gospel:  The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”  Jesus said to them:  “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you . . . my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink”.  (John 6)

When we are thick-headed and fall, we recover best when we return to the source from which we came.  We must return to the one place where we are totally understood and where there can be no dissembling.  We must return to the one place of complete and total comfort where we can truly feel at peace.  And if we allow ourselves to rest on God . . . we will feel the serenity for which we long.

When we meet in Babylon . . . in the camp of our exile . . . we must sustain ourselves daily on the Living and Written Word . . . Eucharist and Scripture.  That is where we meet ourselves.  That is where we meet our God.

A re-post from April 15, 2012.

Image from: http://www.flavinscorner.com/wretched.htm

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Baruch 4:30-5:9: Captivity Ended

Monday, April 29, 2019

We continue with the theme of Captivity today – but here we see the epiphany of understanding.  We experience the surprise which always springs upon the faithful when they are low.  We live the promise of our God who loves us relentlessly, persistently yet gently.  God loves us to the extent that he is willing to wait and abide infinitely . . . while we find our way to his mercy, justice and joy.

5:7 –  God makes all things level.  He straightens all paths.  He awaits us at every turning of the road.

5:2 – God creates us, names us, calls us his own.  He yearns for the intimacy he has foreseen with us.

5:5 – God sends out the universal call.  He will not leave a single sheep unbidden.

5:7 – God has in mind for us a place of beauty.  He has brought forth life from the desert.  He also brings forth life from the desert of our lives.

Look to the east, Jerusalem!  Behold the joy that comes to you from God.

God has not forgotten a single hair on our heads.

God has felt each agonizing and joyful step of our journey.

And when we arrive . . . it is God who welcomes us home.

Even with its times of Captivity . . . the journey is joy.  The journey is our most intimate encounter with God.

May Christ’s presence and peace dwell within you.

May God’s Spirit and love abide with you forever.

And may you continue to celebrate your return from Captivity as one of God’s own, as one of God’s called, as one of God’s well-loved Easter Children.


A re-post from April 14, 2012.

Image from: http://kneverkneverland.com/tag/destruction/

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2 Maccabees 1 and 2: The Ark Hidden During Captivity

Second Sunday of Easter, April 28, 2019

The Ark of the Covenant

Written on July 19, 2008 and posted today as a Favorite . . .

The HARPERCOLLINS COMMENTARY gives a wonderful exegesis of all four books of the Maccabees, but today we look at just these first 2 chapters of 2 Maccabees which the Douay Version refers to as the incident of the hidden temple fire or as “The Hidden Ark during the Captivity”.  All of this sets me to thinking about the wonder of our creation, about the mystery of our personal and collective evolution, and about how and when we go into captivity . . . how and when we return from exile.

We all experience captivity.  Some say that life here on earth is nothing more than that – an exile, a place of suffering and pain.  Optimists see life as a series of experiences, gifts, blessings and celebrations.  Still others see life as a combination of many opposites, dichotomies, bifurcations and amalgamations.  From any of these perspectives, when we look honestly and carefully, we see that each life has its own Captivity with its own Ark in which reposes the Fire of the Spirit.  This fire is the very breath of God at our creation, the mission for which we are destined, the karma for which we are to live, the potential gift God offers to the world as an act of love.  And when we are led away into captivity, all of this is held hidden for a time to be called forth at a precise moment.

Recently I have come to understand that Captivity is not all bad.  It can be a time of suffering and separateness, and it can also be a time of forced retreat, a time of letting go and giving over to God, a time of healing and restoration.  Taken this way, we understand that exile is a time to be hidden, to be held confined for a time away from something we have thought we desired, to be held safely just long enough that we reach the precise point in our pilgrimage where we see something clearly for the first time.  Captivity of the Spirit endures long enough for us to cease thrashing against the world and against ourselves.  It lasts to the precise tipping point at which we jettison all that has pained us . . . because there is nothing else to do.

And all the while that we have been apart and away, the spark of our creation has burned as brightly as ever even though it appears – as we read today in Maccabees – to be mud and water.  Nothing has diminished; rather, all has been clarified, magnified.  All that was captive and hidden now glorifies God more than before.  Imagine our surprise when we, like the Jews who rededicated their temple, lay the tinder to offer holocausts to our God and we realize that we have ignited the offering with the mud from the hidden place of our exile.  Suddenly we see our captivity as gift rather than punishment.

There is a need from time to time to go into exile, to find the place that is to remain unknown and to hide away in this secret place the tent and tabernacle, the altar of incense and fire, and the ark.  We are meant to block this place off and to seal it up so that the hidden spirit and temple fire might be rediscovered when God calls it forth.  And this tabernacle, with its sacred fire appearing as mud, is meant to be reopened and rededicated.

We have learned to fear captivity and the restriction it symbolizes.  How much better we will be when we come to see it as a quiet time in which the living fire of our soul learns to rekindle in God.  Like the people in today’s reading, once we begin to look for resurrection in loss, we will be amazed that the fire of our spirit comes forth from the mud and we will see as gift what we thought to be punishment.  We will marvel that God again resides in the Ark of our lives and we will finally come to understand . . . that he was never truly gone.

A re-post from Easter Week 2012.

Image from: http://www.mishkanministries.org/theark.php

Mays, James L., ed.  HARPERCOLLINS BIBLE COMMENTARY. New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988. Print.

Tomorrow we will reflect on Captivity Ended

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Jeremiah 25:1-14: Captivity

Easter Saturday, April 27, 2019

Here Jeremiah foretells the continuing conflict between warring nations in the Middle East.  As we have observed before, the political environment has not changed much over the millennia despite the changing of political systems and figures, and the names of sovereign nations and their leaders. Cultures, religions, and peoples continue to clash.  And Jeremiah uses the round number of 70 to say that the present generation may not return – they must die and a newer, perhaps more faithful generation, will renew Hebrew history. Notes from the ARCHAEOLOGICAL STUDY BIBLE tell us more (Zondervan 1234).

  • Since the numeric systems in this region of the world at this time were often based on ascending groups of six, the logical maximum number of measurement would be 60.  The amount of 70 indicates a number of major proportion – and importance.  In this case it represents the fact that the present generation must die out before the exile will end.
  • Jeremiah foresees a time when Judah will serve Babylon, and that following this time Babylon herself will serve another nation.  This history plays out as Jeremiah predicted.  Judah became a vassal state of Babylon in 604 B.C.E. and although the arithmetic is inexact, almost 70 years later Babylon was taken over by Persia.  The people of Israel will return home from exile under the Persian king Cyrus as recorded in Ezra and Nehemiah.
  • Another calculation that may be seen as predicted from this prophecy is the span of time between the physical destruction of the temple in 586 B.C.E. and its re-dedication in 515 B.C.E.
  • In either case, Jeremiah predicts an exile which outlasts the present generation and thus serves as a punishment for the wayward Israelites.  The exile Jeremiah describes does take place.  And exile will occur in each of our lives in some way at some time.

This we can also predict.

I have come to understand that periods of separation and loss in our lives cannot be avoided.  No amount of planning or good behavior exempts us from the sort of exile that Jeremiah forecasts for his people.  The prestige of nations will rise and fall almost whimsically; power will ebb and flow.  This is something we cannot avoid.  Our personal influence and authority will likewise rise and fall.  We may even be held captive for a time by invader ideas; new policies and procedures, new fads and crazes will overtake us.  We have only to stand still for a day in our fast-paced world and the advances of technology fly past us to leave us feeling disconnected.  Some of us self-impose this kind of exile while others are forced into it by economics and talent.

We can never have control over the cataclysmic changes that happen around and to us.  In reality we seldom control much more than the small details of our lives and for some of us even that is a reach.  We have fooled ourselves into thinking that we have made the most of life by choosing the proper career and the proper life partner when our personal and economic status is often chosen for us; our political destiny is driven by many whom we do not even know exist.

So is there anything we can do about who we are and how we live?  Absolutely.  Is there any way we can control nature?  Not much.  What are our options when it comes to our political and civic lives?  Depending on our nation of origin we have various degrees of input.  Some of us live in flourishing democracies while others live in closed societies that stifle any cry for freedom.  What do we do about improving our status and making a difference in the world?  When we join in the struggle to build God’s kingdom . . . all the rest falls into place.

Jeremiah speaks to an ancient nation but he also speaks to us when he describes the coming whirlwind that threatens on the horizon. When we see the impending peril and sense the advent of our own bitter captivity, what are we to do?

We will spend some time during the rest of this Easter Week reflecting on our options.

A re-post from Easter Week 2012.

Image from: http://thephotoexchange.wordpress.com/

“The 70 Years of Captivity.” ARCHAEOLOGICAL STUDY BIBLE (NIV). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2005. Print.

For more on the gifts that come out of captivity, go to Ultimate Fulfillment at: https://thenoontimes.com/2011/08/09/ultimate-fulfillment/

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Judges 10 & 11: Jepthah’s Vow

Easter Friday, April 26, 2019

John Everett Millais: Jepthah

A re-post from Easter Week 2012.

We have sinned against you; we have forsaken our God and have served the Baals.

Did not the Egyptians, the Amorites, the Ammonites, the Philistines, the Sidonians, the Amalekites, and the Midianites oppress you?  I saved you from their grasp and still you forsook me and worshiped other gods.  I will save you no more.  Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen; let them save you now that you are in distress.

We have sinned.  Do to us whatever you please.  Only save us this day.

The Lord grieved over the misery of Israel. 

This dialog between the Creator and the created takes place countless times not only in scripture but in our contemporary lives.  We stray from God’s goodness and protection, we become enslaved to some small and ugly god, we cry out for help, and God rescues us.  We know this cycle and we wait for the predictable sequence to take place in today’s story but something different happens here.  “For the first time, Israel actually repents (10:10, 15-16), but God does not, as at other times, raise up a deliverer in response to Israel’s cry for help.  The Gileadite elders appoint Jepthah their leader (11:4-11) and only later does God confirm their choice (11:29)”.   (Mays 233)

A number of circumstances make Jepthah’ story memorable.  He had lived in exile from his tribe having been cast out by jealous half-brothers but he is called forward because of his military acumen and success in battles.  As the Gileadite leader he tries diplomacy before war but is unsuccessful.  Full of God’s spirit he leads his soldiers into combat, vowing that if they are victorious he will sacrifice the first person who comes to greet him on his return home.  When his young daughter, his only child, runs out to meet him he is desolate but follows through with his vow.  We cringe at the tragic ending and we search for meaning.  Human sacrifice was not an accepted Hebrew custom and was, in fact, condemned (Leviticus 18:21 and Deuteronomy 12:31); yet here is this story that goes against all custom, and we are given no context.  We grieve along with this long-ago family and we wonder how and why they and we will manage.  And so we remember . . .

The Lord grieved over the misery.

Too many times we sink below what we thought to be our limit, and so we remember in our sorrow . . . The Lord grieved over the misery.

Too many schemes take us further than we had intended to go, and so we remember in our disbelief . . . The Lord grieved over the misery.

Too many friends betray us even as Judas betrayed Jesus, and so we remember in our heartache . . . The Lord grieved over the misery.

Too many good intentions lived for our own satisfaction drive us past blatant warning signs, and so we remember in our incomprehension . . . The Lord grieved over the misery.

Too many well-meant promises lead us down a path we had not meant to trod, and so we remember in our mourning . . . The Lord grieved over the misery.

In yesterday’s Gospel from John (20:11-18) we hear again that Mary Magdalene did not recognize Christ who sought to console her . . . she turned around, saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus.  When he speaks, she suddenly comprehends that he was with her during her grief.  He had never really disappeared. It is her own perception that had fails her.

We will struggle with today’s story just as we struggle with the heartbreaking events of our lives.  We must remember that when we feel the most bereft we are closest to God.  When we feel the most empty we are vessels waiting to be filled by the Spirit.  And when it seems that all have deserted us and that everything we hold dear is lost, Christ draws us forward away from the horror.  We have only to take the offered hand and follow.

Mays, James L., ed.  HARPERCOLLINS BIBLE COMMENTARY. New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988. 233. Print.

Image from: http://hoocher.com/John_Everett_Millais/John_Everett_Millais.htm 

For more on the meaning of these stories, see the Judges – The Cycle page on this blog at: https://thenoontimes.com/the-book-of-our-life/judges-the-cycle/

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Psalm 96: God of the Universe

Easter Thursday, April 25, 2019

A re-post from Easter Week 2012.

From commentary: “A hymn inviting all humanity to praise the glories of Israel’s God (1-3), who is the sole God (4-6).  To the just ruler of all belongs worship (7-10), even inanimate creation is to offer praise (11-13).  This psalm has numerous verbal and thematic contacts with Isaiah 44-55, as does Psalm 98.  Another version of the Psalm is 1 Chronicles 16, 23-33”. (Senior 712)

During the Easter Octave the entire universe confirms that God is great, God is good.  On this third day of Easter we will want to join our voice with all other voices in creation.   The Psalms give us a special way to praise God and from the earliest days of the Church this pattern of public, daily prayer was established. We read the Book of Acts frequently during Eastertide as it tells us of the passion and awe the disciples felt as they began to understand the inversions in the resurrection story and the implications it had for God’s entire creation.  In these verses we frequently hear that the disciples, inculcated in Jewish life, moved in a cycle of prayer.  For example, we read: Now Peter and John were going up to the temple area for the three o’clock prayer. (Acts 3:1

The Psalms played an important part in these prayers and centuries later the Christian Liturgy of the Hours continues to call both clergy and lay with these old patterns.  Today, as we move through the Easter Octave celebrating the miracle of Easter, let us investigate these Psalms from a long-ago time that still have very modern application.  These hymns of sorrow, praise, thanksgiving and petition are formed by ancient people but embody modern hope.  They are songs of acclaim and appeal, great sadness and un-bounding joy.  They are sacred poems traveling through time that together tell the marvelous story of our deliverance at God’s hand, and the limitless love that this God of the Universe has for us.

You may want to take some time today to read more about The Psalms on this blog at: www.thenoontimes.com/the-book-of-our-life/psalms-the-praises/, or Acts at:

Image from: http://tourinord.com/

Senior, Donald, ed. THE CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE. New York, Oxford University Press, 1990.712. Print.   

For a wonderfully accessible explanation of the Liturgy of the Hours and for a version that has universal appeal, look for the series by Tickle, Phyllis published by Doubleday. 

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Exodus 21:1-11: Freedom

Easter Wednesday, April 24, 2019

A re-post from Easter Monday, April 9, 2012.

When we read portions of scripture like this one today we can see why it is fool’s work to believe in sacred texts in a black-and-white, off-on way.  As we read these Laws Regarding Slaves we see that they made sense in the context of their time.  It is my hope that we can also see that they are out of step with 21st Century living.  Anyone reading these statutes as absolutes will have difficulty explaining them away.  How, for example, do we make sense of these phrases? When you purchase a Hebrew slave . . . if his master gives him a wife . . . the woman and her children remain his property . . . when a man sells his daughter . . . if her master dislikes her . . . Any of us who knows true freedom will cherish and defend it for others.  Any of us who enjoy controlling others will find these rules to be liberal and kind.  Any of us who understands that Christ has come to liberate us from all kinds of slavery will see these decrees for what they are: laws that kept social order thousands of years ago, not laws that we will want to enforce today.  Why is it, I wonder, as we struggle with one another do we treat one another as slaves who must comply with our whims?  And why is it that we often live our lives in full denial of the fact that when we live as we like without considering the far-reaching effects of our whims we enslave others?  We want cheaper electronics made in factories where workers toil in a poisonous environment.  We want clothes that cost less because they are put together in sweat shops where children work long hours under horrible conditions; we do not mind that the diamonds we wear so easily are brought to light by child slaves.  Has Jesus taught us anything?

If we learn anything from the Easter story it is that we are free.  In today’s Gospel Matthew tells us that the structure which tried to extinguish Jesus bribed guards and implicated Jesus’ disciples.  The chief priests and elders took counsel; then they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, telling them, “You are to say, “His disciples came by night and stole him while we were asleep”.  And if this gets to the ears of the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble”.  The soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed.  We can only presume that the plot was unsuccessful.  I often wonder how the elders, priests, and soldiers quieted the small voice of truth that must have niggled at their consciousness.  Perhaps they had hardened their hearts.  We will never know.

On this first day after the resurrection of Jesus we might want to spend some time examining our lives to see where we pay small and big bribes to silence truth.  We may want to think about how and where we turn blind eyes and deaf ears to realities that insist on nagging at us when our guard is down.  How much easier it is to admit these certainties and conform ourselves to the greatest law there is, the law that supersedes all laws: The Law of Love.

Jesus died, Jesus was buried.  And behold, there was an earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, approached, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it . . . The guards were shaken with fear of him and became like dead men.  These guards later accepted a sum of money to forego the truth.  Jesus comes to rescue them, the elders and priests, just as he also rescues his friends.  We may try to enslave one another with our whims and our fears.  We may allow ourselves to be enslaved for a time or forever to a person, an idea, or an addiction.  In the end, Jesus stands ready to rescue each of us.  When he calls outside the door of our enslavement which we have shut tightly against the darkness of our fears, will we be willing to open it to the truth and the light and the freedom beyond?

Image from: http://www.designzzz.com/freedom-concept-photography/

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Luke 17:1-4: Temptation

Easter Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Jesus is well aware of how difficult it is to live in this world.  Jesus understands the human tendency to take the comfortable route.  Jesus knows all about temptationAnd he also knows about union and resurrection.

Matthew records Jesus as saying that if our right eye offends we are to pluck it out (5:29).  This is a harsh saying but Jesus gives us more advice to help our understanding.  He gives us a prescription for mending walls and building bridges; it is advice that we often ignore. On this day of celebration in new life, let us take a moment to pause and ponder the goodness of God’s word to us, the compassion Jesus shows to us, the love the Spirit bestows on us.

Things that cause sin will inevitably occur, Jesus tells us today.  And when they do, here is a path to follow.

If a brother sins [against you] go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.  If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.  (Matthew 18:15)  It is so difficult to take this first step.  Our pride and our fear of rejection get in the way; yet it is what Jesus suggests to us.

If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that “every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses”.  (Matthew 18:16)  Jesus enacts the old Mosaic Law spelled out in Deuteronomy 19:15 that witnesses are needed to establish guilt.   He understands how our refusal to accept a truth that others see is common; yet he asks us to remove the beam from our own eyes before we point out splinters in others.

If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church.  If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.  (Matthew 18:17)  We must use caution in taking this final step and it is one with which I struggle.  We must be certain not to allow our own ego to take over and we must not step over the mark into gossip, libel and slander.  Social dynamics are difficult and we must exercise patience and kindness more than stir up scandal.  Jesus understands our inability to see the big picture and for that reason he also tells us to turn the other check when we are offended. (Matthew 5:39 and Luke 6:29)  He knows too well the slippery slope of false accusation; he has seen the crowds whipped up in frenzy.  He shows us how to stand as truth against falsehood.

During this Holy Week we have heard the Passion read out to us several times.  We have journeyed from Genesis to Revelation and what we hear is a single message: There is only one Law; it is the Law of Love.

The apostle Paul describes to the Ephesians – and to us – how to bridge gaps and forgive offenses: All bitterness, fury, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice.  [And] be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.  (4:31-32)

Paul tells the Colossians – and us – the mindset we must have in order to build these bridges: Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.   (3:13)

On this Easter Day we celebrate the gift of newness that we receive through no goodness of our own, but solely through the goodness and generosity of God.  What a fitting gift is might be if on this day we ask the Creator for the strength to follow his Word, and for the determination to enact his Law of Love.  Let us become Easter People who acknowledge that even when we walk away from solutions we are not so lost that Jesus cannot find us; our sins are not so great that God does not forgive them; and we are never so alone that the Holy Spirit does not accompany us on our journey home.

A re-post from Easter Sunday, April 8, 2012.

For more on building bridges and reconciliation, see The Jesus Bridge page on this blog. 

For a reflection on Jesus’ temptations, see the Temptations page on this blog.

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Acts 20:7-12: Absolute Claim
Easter Monday, April 22, 2019

Paul raises Eutychus

On Saturday we reflected on Christ making an absolute claim on his audience at the synagogue of Capernaum on the Sabbath as he combined teaching and miraculous actions of exorcism and healing.  Today we see the Apostle Paul give over to this absolute claim that Christ places on him when we read about the energy, the passion and determination with which Paul preaches the good news of liberation.  He is so much in the Spirit that he goes on for hours about The Word, and then is able to revive Eutychus from death.

I love this story.  We can picture Paul talking well into the night.  All the lamps are lit; everyone has shown up and packed into the upstairs room.  The crowd is so dense that Eutychus perches on a window sill, all the better to see and hear.  But as midnight approaches, this young man dozes off and tumbles to the ground three stories below.  This young man who fallen asleep while listening to Paul speak!

We can continue to imagine how everyone must have hurdled down the stairs to find Eutychus dead on the ground.  But just as Christ has made absolute claim on Paul to ask him to speak fully the Gospel, so too does he make this claim of Eutychus . . . whom he returns to life through the Apostle Paul.

And they took the boy away alive and were immeasurably comforted. 

I have always thought that Eutychus was changed irreparably from that day onward.  I like to think that he told and retold the story continually, each time realizing with more depth the importance of the event: Christ has absolute claim on each of us.  Christ calls . . . Eutychus answers this call to return to life to tell the wonderful story of the good news he has experienced.

This is a truth.  We are made.  We are loved.  We are sent forth to bear fruit, no matter our circumstances.  We are always the children of God, the sisters and brothers of Christ.

Have we dozed off listening to the Word being preached well into the night?  Have we perched ourselves dangerously on the windowsill where we tell ourselves we will be better able to see and hear?  When we tumble to hit the hard ground, will we respond to the absolute claim Christ has on us?  When we hear his Voice, will we answer the Call?  Will we gather round those who live again in the life to move back into this world immeasurably comforted . . . and immeasurably changed?

Lent is a time for tumbling, recovering and reviving.  It is a time for measuring, asking and hoping.  As we move through these last cold days of winter in anticipation of a warm breeze and clear skies, let us stand again as Eutychus did, and give over to Christ’s absolute claim on us.  Let us allow our friends to gather us up, let us allow ourselves to be touched by the healing hand of Christ, and let us give ourselves over to the one who has the only legitimate absolute claim on our body, mind and soul.

Let us be immeasurably comforted by the Christ.

A re-post written on March 4, 2009 and posted on March 7, 2012 as a Favorite . . .

Image from: http://www.mythfolklore.net/lahaye/239/index.html

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