Tag Archive: Crucifixion


Born Into Our Suffering

This is the sermon I preached at Community Lutheran Church yesterday on the Massacre of the Holy Innocents.

Here’s the text from Matthew 2:13-23 for the First Sunday of Christmas:

13Now after they [the wise men] had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
16When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
18“A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”
19When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead. 21Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”

As Jerry Seinfeld might say, “what’s the deal with the Gospel reading for today?!” I mean, seriously, it’s the First Sunday of Christmas, and the lectionary gives us the slaughter of the Holy Innocents?! What happened to the angels and shepherds, the wonder of the manger and the word become flesh?!  It even feels like this gospel sets a totally different tone than the other readings for this morning.  Isaiah speaks of recounting the gracious deeds of the Lord, of praise and God’s mercy.  The Psalm speaks of angels, men and women, birds, beasts, sea monsters (that’s my favorite part!), and, indeed, all of creation praising God.  Hebrews speaks of God bringing God’s children to glory.  And then Matthew speaks of Herod killing all of the children two years old or under.  It’s… awful.

All together, the readings present celebration and praise of God alongside the struggles and pains of life under Herod’s rule.  Herod the Great, who is the ruler Matthew is writing about, was a powerful king – a “Jewish” king in name only known for his complete and unabashed loyalty to Rome as well as his incredible building projects, which included the magnificent Temple in Jerusalem, entire cities, and several fortresses.  He was also known to be a ruthless leader, harshly squashing opposition, even to the point killing multiple members of his own family! Talk about family drama…

Bearing all of this in mind, it makes sense that Matthew writes about Herod being afraid when the magi mentioned that they were looking for “the child who has been born king of the Jews.”  And it makes sense that Herod is infuriated that the wise men hadn’t returned to tell him where exactly they had found the boy king.  Herod the Great, a man who lived to defend his power, was terrified at the prospect of a new threat to his throne, even if that person was to be the Messiah!

Now, different traditions say that there were varying numbers of children killed, and we may never know if this massacre actually took place.  But that’s not the point.  The point is that there was a vicious tyrant ruling the region where the Messiah of God was to be born.  A Messiah who was to be the true ruler of God’s people – not the empire of Rome, not the puppet kings appointed by Rome, but a true king, with the best interest of God’s children at heart.  A king that would be worshiped not only by Israel, but also by Gentiles like the wise men who had come from afar.

Needless to say, this made Herod a wee bit uncomfortable and he responded to his fears by commanding that all the children under two be killed.  Now, if Herod had remembered his peoples’ history, he would have recalled the slaughter of the baby Hebrew boys at Pharaoh’s hand and how one baby, Moses, was spared.  He would have remembered that Moses was saved to deliver God’s people from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the promised land – to bring about a whole new chapter in Israel’s history.  And if he had remembered all that, it might have crossed his mind that maybe God was acting again in his own day to bring about a new type of liberation.

But he ignores all of that, or at best, forgets, and, instead, innocents die while Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus flee to Egypt.

Last week on NPR I heard a shocking statistic about the war in Syria.  There have been many statistics about this war, but this one caught me completely unaware and caused me to tear up in my car.  I heard that so far, 11,420 children have been killed in this brutal civil war.  11,420.  That is roughly 10% of the total war deaths.  And over half of the 2 million refugees are children.

In addition to these statistics from overseas, we cannot forget that on December 14, we experienced the first anniversary of the shooting of 20 children and 6 educators at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.

Sadly, it’s clear the slaughter of the innocents continues in our own day – this isn’t just a story about Herod, Jesus and the children of Bethlehem.  It’s a story about us, Jesus and all the children of God.

Giotto di Bondone - The Holy Innocents

Giotto di Bondone – The Holy Innocents

It turns out that this story isn’t the antithesis of Christmas after all.  In fact, it is the very meaning of Christmas that God comes into our hurting world and walks with us through all that we encounter and go through. You see, Christ is born in the midst of the ugliness and hatred and violence of this world.  In a fragile, helpless baby, God enters into history and human time in the flesh.  God is born into our pain and suffering.  And there’s the good news.  God is born into our lives and our experiences – not just into some far off land in another time, but directly into the middle of – the very heart of – our darkness, pain, brokenness and suffering.  And we heard it in the Isaiah reading for today: “…and he became their savior in all their distress.  It was no messenger or angel but his presence that saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.”  In God’s love and pity for us, God chooses to be fully present with us in Jesus.

And Jesus didn’t only live as a human, but also died as a human.  God is a God of the cross, bearing our pains and experiencing death as fully human.  Because God has taken on human life, God is intimately acquainted with the distress, despair and grief we encounter.  As the author of Hebrews wrote: “Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.”

Or, in the words of one of my favorite Christmas songs “O Holy Night:” “The King of kings lay thus in lowly manger, In all our trials born to be our Friend; He knows our need, To our weakness is no stranger. Behold your King, before Him lowly bend! Behold your King, before Him lowly bend!”  The fully human and fully divine Jesus is our real king, not a tyrant like Herod.

Of course, we can’t forget that the story continues after the crucifixion.  Our God is not only the God of the cross, but also the God of the resurrection and of new life, conquering sin and death once and for all.  He brings forgiveness, life, comfort and hope to all in need.  This is the promise of Emmanuel – “God with us” – in all that we go through, no matter how difficult or hopeless the situation seems.

In our baptisms, we too, are marked with the cross and given new life in Christ.  As such, we are called and challenged to walk among and with those who are suffering as Christ did, meeting people in their needs and journeying with them – helping to bring about transformation in the name of the One whom we serve, one step at a time.  Where we see the slaughter of the innocents, the oppression of God’s children, the destruction of creation, we are called to step up and respond.  To make a difference, acting in loving service as a response to God’s amazing love and grace in our own lives.  Where there are barriers between God’s children, we are called to work to knock down the walls and bring reconciliation.

As we reflect on God being present in our suffering and that of the world, we can reflect on how we can be present to those around us in their time of need.  What can we do for those suffering in Syria?  What can we do to lessen the violence in our world? What about the children hungry in our own backyard – the children who receive backpacks of food each Friday at our local schools before leaving so that they can eat over the weekends?

Herod feared Jesus and what this baby boy might do.  He feared change and the loss of his power.  And to some extent, Herod’s fears were grounded because Jesus’ birth did change things.  And as our texts for this morning point out, that’s what Christmas is all about.  It’s the celebration and praise of God’s almighty acts and God’s entering into history to bring hope and new life.

Today, Jesus continues to threaten the status quo and promise change and transformation in our lives and in our world.  It’s like that line so often heard in movies: “Is that a threat? No, it’s a promise.”  Jesus doesn’t only threaten change and transformation, but promises it.  Continuing to try to follow Christ in our daily lives transforms us, little by little.  And through God’s grace, we are invited to be a part of changing the world even if it’s hard to see that we are making any difference.

We, like Herod, may fear the change and transformation Jesus brings to our lives, even if we don’t respond as dramatically as Herod did.  We might find ways of ignoring or resisting God’s call, or just feel uneasy about what we might need to face within ourselves to better follow Christ.

But God has come to walk with us in our lives.  The question is, how we will respond to God’s presence? Will we respond with fear like Herod and continue abiding by the status quo? Or will we welcome and embrace God’s presence and the kingdom of heaven?

God never stops coming to us in our lives, seeking us out, and calling us to welcome the ways of God’s new kingdom.  Even if we respond with fear or trepidation, God continues to gently invite us to be transformed by grace.  Thanks be to God for God’s steadfast love that comes to us at Christmas and every day.  Amen.

© 2013. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

“Hosanna in the highest!” Even thought I’m not a Jesus Christ Superstar fan, I can’t help hearing this song in my head whenever the word “hosanna” comes up:

What is always fascinating to me about this song, and this Sunday (Sunday of the Passion/Palm Sunday), is that we quickly go from praising Christ to reading the passion story, putting ourselves in the place of the crowd. Let me explain that a bit. The song is happy and upbeat, but it has almost a menacing undertone which grows in intensity over the course of the song. Likewise, we begin waving palm branches and shouting “hosanna” to welcome Jesus to Jerusalem, but how quickly our cries turn during the liturgy to shouts of “crucify him!” I find this puzzling and powerful, sobering and also dramatic.

We hear the story of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion and I’m always amazed at how quickly the tide turns – from joy and acclamation to angry mobs and the death of the one we call Savior. Likewise, Psalm 130 (and so many of the psalms) oscillate between lament and hope, sorrow and joy:

1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
2 Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplications!
3 If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
Lord, who could stand?
4 But there is forgiveness with you,
so that you may be revered.
5 I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
6 my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.
7 O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem.
8 It is he who will redeem Israel
from all its iniquities.

This psalm is both a plea for help and forgiveness as well as a song of praise for and trust in what God can do. It flows between knowing what God could do (mark iniquities) to declaring what God does do (forgive). God’s forgiveness, mercy and redeeming love take over rather than judgment. Rather than getting what we deserve for the sins we’ve committed, no matter how large or small, we receive the gift of grace. It’s because of this that we can “revere” God. Some translations even have “fear” instead of “revere,” indicating a deep awe for God and who God is.

I’m still processing this psalm as well as Palm Sunday, but I’m happy that they’re causing me to think and that they can’t be figured out in a few days! We’re now entering Holy Week and in order to be ready for Easter, I am going to try memorizing Psalm 145, which is rather long. We’ll see how I do!

Father, grant us insight and clarity this Holy Week as we meditate on the life, death and resurrection of your precious son, Jesus. We give you thanks for his coming into the world and his dying and rising for our sake. May we take the time to listen to you and what you would teach us during this week. Draw us closer to you and fill us with your Holy Spirit that we might be renewed and strengthened for service to you and to our neighbors. In the name of Christ Jesus, AMEN.

© 2011. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.

Arches - Pergamum, Turkey

Lent. The time which spans from Ash Wednesday until Easter. The 40 days in which Christians are to prepare their hearts for Good Friday and the Crucifixion as well as Easter and the Resurrection. A common practice is to give something up or to adopt a new spiritual discipline in order to reflect upon what Christ has done for us. However, often times, this Lenten practice is reduced to giving up sweets or junk food, something I, too, have done in the past. Thinking about this now, it seems like giving up candy is a silly idea since we’re supposed to be reflecting on Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and drawing closer to God – how does not eating something sugary help? Am I really sacrificing anything or drawing closer to my Lord and my God? I don’t think so.

With this in mind, as I am journeying through this Lenten season, I will be giving up Facebook. While it is a wonderful tool for connecting people, staying in touch, and, well, procrastinating, I think I will better be able to focus on the richness of Lent if Facebook is not around as a distraction. In addition to this and in response to my awesome “Psalter and the Life of Faith” course this semester, I am going to dig into the Psalter and work on “writing it upon my heart” (cf. Deuteronomy 11:18, Psalm 119:11). Yes, I am going to try to memorize some of the Psalms. We’ll see how far I go!

While I’m giving up Facebook, I hope to record and keep track of my journey and my experiences here. I’m so excited! I’d love to hear what others are doing this Lent – leave comments below about your past experiences and/or what you’d like to do this year. Can’t wait to hear what you’re up to!

© 2011. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.

A few days ago, I heard the song “Make You Feel My Love” by Adele. I love its simplicity and the gorgeous harmonies that develop as the song progresses. It’s a beautiful love song for sure, but as I listened to it on YouTube and looked at the lyrics (posted below), I thought that maybe it spoke to a deeper truth.

“When the rain is blowing in your face,
and the whole world is on your case,
I could offer you a warm embrace
to make you feel my love.

When the evening shadows and the stars appear,
and there is no one there to dry your tears,
I could hold you for a million years
to make you feel my love.

I know you haven’t made your mind up yet,
but I would never do you wrong.
I’ve known it from the moment that we met,
no doubt in my mind where you belong.

I’d go hungry; I’d go black and blue,
I’d go crawling down the avenue.
No, there’s nothing that I wouldn’t do
to make you feel my love.

The storms are raging on the rolling sea
and on the highway of regret.
Though winds of change are throwing wild and free,
you ain’t seen nothing like me yet.

I could make you happy, make your dreams come true.
Nothing that I wouldn’t do.
Go to the ends of the Earth for you,
to make you feel my love”

As I listened, I found myself thinking, “does God sing like this to us?” I would answer “yes.” God is there for us when “the whole world is on your (our) case” or “there is no one there to dry your (our) tears,” extending loving arms to us as a parent would to comfort a child. God patiently waits for us to turn to God even though we may not know what exactly to think about God or faith.

In the song, Adele sings, “no, there’s nothing that I wouldn’t do to make you feel my love.” Celebrating Holy Week last week, I heard again the stories of God’s amazing acts in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and of the sufferings of Jesus Christ, and, as I listened, I heard echoes of that line from Adele’s song. I think the authors of the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments, are trying desperately to show us through story, song and letters how God has been trying to reach us throughout history.

Look how far God has gone to make us feel God’s incredible love for us – God brought up God’s beloved people Israel from Egypt, God delivered Israel from exile, and God has consistently taken sides with the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized and those crying out for mercy and justice. Taking this to the ultimate step, God took on human flesh and went to the cross for our sake. When the Crucifixion occurred 2,000 years ago, the world hadn’t seen anything like that and we still haven’t seen such an act since. Yes, there were many crucifixions, but never one in which an innocent man died in order to redeem the world. I would consider that going to the “ends of the earth,” wouldn’t you?

I enjoy this song as one sung about human love for sure, but I think it’s given me another chance to think about God’s amazing love for all of humanity. God is there, waiting to comfort us and bring us through the storms, winds, changes and regrets Adele sings about, even if we haven’t quite decided what to make of God. Thankfully though, God won’t stop trying to reach us – won’t ever stop trying to make us feel God’s love.

Happy Easter!

© 2010. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.

That may seem like an odd question, but surprisingly enough, someone has already laid out a possible answer by designing a mock Facebook page for Jesus! This page centers around the events leading up to the Crucifixion.

However, whether or not we agree with this page or find is amusing is not what I’d like to focus on. I’ve been thinking about what Jesus’ Facebook page would look like post-Resurrection and post-Ascension, i.e. today. As I thought about this, I imagined what Jesus’ “friend” box would look like. The numbers would be in the billions, a high number to be sure, but, after all, Jesus would have sent friend invites to all the world’s population. His friend box would be overflowing with people of every skin color and culture – the rich, the poor, people with scruffy clothes or piercings and tattoos, and people who would never be caught dead in sweatpants! What a beautiful array of photos that would be…

And what would Jesus’ status updates look like? I’m imagining that he could update from anywhere (mobile updates?!) and that perhaps the statuses would be along the following lines:

“Jesus is comforting a scared teenage mother.”
“Jesus is going out tonight to help a tired commuter reach home safely.”
“Jesus is heading out for a walk with his father.”
“Jesus has gone to the hills for some alone time.”
“Jesus can’t believe iTunes doesn’t carry the music of the angelic host! Boo 😦 Looks like “The Temptations” will have to do!”
“Jesus has his arm around a man who feels he has lost everything and has nowhere to turn.”
“Jesus is super excited and happy because someone put their neighbor’s needs ahead of their own! :-)”
“Jesus is weeping as he watches the evening news.”
“Jesus wants to encourage his friends to remain hopeful even when things are difficult.”
“Jesus is loving listening to the neighborhood kids play kickball!”
“Jesus wants to remind everyone that there’s going to be a community meal on Sunday – please bring some bread and wine to share! Look forward to seeing you there!”

We could ponder the possibilities all day long, but I really wonder what our comments and responses would look like. What would we have to say to Christ’s status updates? How could we respond to the Lord and Savior who has made himself so available and vulnerable for our sake? Maybe we couldn’t even respond with words. Maybe all we could do is go out and take after Christ – to do the same things he’s doing. Isn’t that our task and vocation (calling) as disciples of Christ?

Would we be reminded more often to follow Christ if he was on Facebook and we saw him on the update roll every day? Who knows? I just think it’s amazing to try to get a handle on all the places Jesus is present and all the things he’s doing right now. All I have to say to that is, “Annabelle Peake likes this.”

© 2010. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.

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