We are a small Episcopal Church on the banks of the Rappahannock in Port Royal, Virginia. We acknowledge that we gather on the traditional land of the first people of Port Royal, the Nandtaughtacund, and we respect and honor with gratitude the land itself, the legacy of the ancestors, and the life of the Rappahannock Tribe. Our mission statement is to do God’s Will in all that we do.

Voices this week on the Lectionary and Lent

1. Lawrence – from "Disclosing New Worlds" – "A New Call"

Now Jesus is changing direction and focus. He is beginning a new journey whose destination is Jerusalem. The journey towards Jerusalem is the narrative symbol for the new emphasis – the Way of the Cross.

This narrative journey will disclose increasingly who Jesus is (the one who must suffer) and intensifying conflict and direct confrontation with the powers ranged against him. Yet the focus is on the disciples. How will they react to “The Way”? Will they understand? Will they “see” and “hear” what Jesus is telling them? Most importantly, will they follow, or will the Way of the Cross prove (literally) a step too far?

There is a clear narrative pattern to “the way”. It occurs again in 9:31 and 10: 32-34, and in each case – as here – the pattern is repeated: Jesus tells the disciples that “the way” is the way of suffering and death; the disciples resist this; Jesus then teaches them further about discipleship and what it means to follow him.

That is why the change of direction results immediately in Jesus’ question: “Who do you say that I am?” This is not only the midpoint of the story, but also the narrative fulcrum around which the whole gospel pivots. Who do you believe Jesus is? Which Jesus will you follow – the Jesus who travels the Way of the Cross, or the glorious, triumphant Jesus whom the disciples desperately want him to be? Or will it be a Jesus of your own making?

Jesus goes on to spell out what the Way of the Cross means for any would-be followers. It requires three things: denying self, taking up the cross, and following. There is no other way. If the Lenten journey means anything, it means discovering what this entails – just as it did for the disciples. It is not about giving up something that we like, or coping with a difficult situation at work, home or at church. That is to spiritualise and trivialise Jesus’s address and Kings’ call. The gospel was written for a community that understood at first hand what persecution meant. It meant being hauled up before the courts and, like Peter, being asked, under threat of death, “Aren’t you one of his disciples?” The temptation is to deny Jesus in order to save our own lives. Jesus tells the disciples, “If you confess me, you deny yourself – because you will be put to death for it! And yet that is actually the way to find (save) your life!”

To “take up the cross” means literally that! The journey Jesus has just begun is the journey of political confrontation. Ched Meyers suggests that the phrase “Take up your cross!” was in all likelihood a recruitment slogan for revolutionary groups – effectively “suicide squads” who were being asked to risk almost certain capture and crucifixion. There is nothing spiritualised or trivialised about Jesus’ call to discipleship here. The message of the Kingdom that he proclaims is necessarily the Way of the Cross because it is the promise and announcement and enactment of a new world order – God’s.

Note that this is a new call. In 1:16ff Jesus calls the first disciples, saying simply, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people”. In other words, there are people who want to hear Jesus’ message, and he invites them to follow and be part of spreading Good News that is eagerly received. Now the direction changes. This is a new journey – a journey of confrontation. It bears a deadly cost. And as Jesus enters this new phase of his ministry, he does not say, “Follow me”, but warns the disciples about what is entailed and gives them the opportunity to back out. Lent is about facing the seriousness of discipleship, and wrestling seriously with the question about whether or not we are “up for it”

2.  The Gospel Context  – St. Stephens, Richmond

Remembering the context for the Gospel lesson (Mark 8:31-38) is helpful. Jesus has just asked the disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” and “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answers correctly, when he says, “You are the Messiah.” (8:27-30) Just before this passage, Jesus cures a bRlind man (8:22-26), and before that, he miraculously feeds 4,000 people (8:1-10). Back in chapter 6 of this Gospel, Jesus fed 5,000 people, and between chapters 6 and 8, Jesus has performed a number of miracles and walked on water.

So, lots of amazing things have been happening, and Peter has just affirmed Jesus as the Messiah. Now, in this passage, we seem to get a dramatic change in tone and substance. With everything going so well, it must have come as a shock to the disciples when Jesus began talking about his having to undergo great sufferings, be rejected, and be killed. Peter expresses his shock by rebuking Jesus for talking this way, and Jesus turns right around and rebukes Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Pretty strong words.

3. "Heart of Faith"

Have mercy
Upon us.
Have mercy
Upon our efforts,

That we
Before Thee,
In love and in faith,
Righteousness and humillity,
May follow Thee,
With self-denial, steadfastness, and courage,
And meet Thee
In the silence. 

Give us
A pure heart
That we may see Thee,
A humble heart
That we may hear Thee,
A heart of love
That we may serve Thee,
A heart of faith
That we may live Thee, 

Whom I do not know
But Whose I am. 

Whom I do not comprehend
But Who hast dedicated me
To my fate.
Thou – 

– Dag Hammarskjöld 1905-1961

4. "Overview Effect" for Lent – Dawn Hutchings

But with the explosion of information about the nature, beauty and complexity of the cosmos, perhaps we can achieve the humility that the ritual of confession offers in ways that do not require us to adopt the attitude that human’s are unworthy creatures in need of a god who would demand satisfaction at the expense of a blood sacrifice.

Each time I look up into a starlit sky I am overcome with a sense of awe and wonder that is in and of itself a prayer that inspires humility in me. A sense of awe and wonder at that which is beyond ourselves is the beginning of a prayer that always leads me to a sense of ONENESS with all that IS.

This morning, my Lenten devotion came to me in the form of this splendid video The Overview, which describes the awe and wonder of those who have had the privilege of looking at the earth from the perspective of space.

They describe their awe and wonder, their prayer if you will, as the “overview effect”. The overview effect serves to connect these space travellers to the earth itself and moves them to the kind of humility that helps me to realize that awe and wonder can serve as nourishment for my own Lenten journey.

As we gaze in awe at our marvellous planet perhaps we can be moved to tread more lightly upon her. Perhaps awestruck by the beauty and wonder of creation, we can look to all the inhabitants of the earth and see that they too are fearfully and wonderfully made. I trust that a humility based not on a belief that we are wicked, unworthy creatures, but rather on a experience of awe and wonder, will lead us on a Lenten journey to a place where we will have the courage to gaze upon the cross and see beyond the violence to the hope of resurrection. Read more

5. "The Paradox of Prayer" – Suzanne Guthrie from Grace’s Window

I know that the prayers of those other parents and children were not less worthy than mine. I am not ungrateful, but I can’t forget the children who were left behind and I do not know what my prayer or my love or my ministry would be like had I not carried my children out of the hospital corridors alive and whole. Yet I sensed at the time that God was present in death as well as if life. It was not a sense of comfort of assurance that I experienced, but a love that did not depend on life or death.

A hospital corridor can be a mysterious place, a terrible and holy threshold upon the boundary of the soul. Here you will find an opening through which you might apprehend and embrace unexperienced aspects of God. Uprooted from your ordinary days, the hospital confounds the peaceful soul with the realization that the God of daily living is also the God of sudden dying. The God of the comforting parish sanctuary is also the God of the Intensive Care Unit. The God of beeswax candle and incense is the God of vomit and pus; the God of white linen and embroidered chasuble is the God of plastic curtain and sweaty sheet; the God of organ and flute is the God of squeaky gurney wheels and crying children; the God of deep port wine and delicately embossed communion bread is the God of infected blood and wounded flesh.

The God of all those corridor smells and sights and sounds is also the God of profound silence. When despair has obliterated ordinary prayer, when the psalms fail and all words are stupid and meaningless, the mantle of loneliness surrounding me becomes a mantle of dark and wordless love. This darkness reveals the paradox of prayer: in the absence of God, all there is, is God.

6. "Take Up Your Cross " – Richard Rohr from The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe

What does it mean to follow Jesus? I believe that we are invited to gaze upon the image of the crucified Jesus to soften our hearts toward all suffering, to help us see how we ourselves have been “bitten” by hatred and violence, and to know that God’s heart has always been softened toward us. In turning our gaze to this divine truth—in dropping our many modes of scapegoating and self-justification—we gain compassion toward ourselves and all others who suffer.

Those who agree to carry and love what God loves, both the good and the bad, and to pay the price for its reconciliation within themselves—these are the followers of Jesus Christ. They are the leaven, the salt, the remnant, the mustard seed that God uses to transform the world. The cross, then, is a very dramatic image of what it takes to be usable for God. It does not mean you are going to heaven and others are not; rather, it means you have already entered heaven and thus can see things in a transcendent, whole, and healing way now.

7. "Gains and Losses " – Debi Thomas

Mercifully, Peter reminds me that we’re all inadequate and inept most of the time. We’re not saved by our ingenuity. We’re saved by God’s grace.

In this week’s Gospel reading from St. Mark, Jesus predicts his death for the first time. “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering,” Jesus tells his disciples. He must “be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”

Standing on this side of resurrection history, we too easily miss the bombshell effect these words have on Jesus’s disciples. Their great hope, cultivated over the three years they follow Jesus, is that he will lead them in a military revolution and overthrow their Roman oppressors. After all, they’ve seen him feed the multitudes, heal the sick, clear the temple, and raise the dead. They’ve witnessed firsthand his charismatic ability to draw crowds. They’ve heard him proclaim the arrival of a new and glorious kingdom that will never end and never fail.

In other words, he is their longed-for future and their cherished dream. So what can be more disorienting, more ludicrous, than the news that their would-be champion is determined to walk into a death trap? To surrender without a fight to a common criminal’s death?

What does it mean to deny myself?

What would he say to a culture that glorifies violence but cheapens death? A culture that encourages rugged individualism and “freedom” at the expense of self-giving compassion and empathy? What would he say to my own frightened heart, that priorities self-protection over so much else that matters in this life? What if Jesus’s call is for us to stop clutching at this life so desperately?

To take up a cross as Jesus did is to stand in the center of the world’s pain. Taking up the cross means recognizing Christ crucified in every suffering soul and body that surrounds us, and pouring our energies and our lives into alleviating that pain — no matter what it costs.

As we move deeper into Lent, shall we protect ourselves with numbness and apathy, or experience the abundant life Jesus offers to those who ache, weep, and bleed alongside the world’s suffering? This is the question I’m asking in my Lenten wilderness: how shall I die?