The Ash Wednesday liturgy in The Book of Common Prayer invites us “to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.”
This booklet of daily devotional reflections has been written by the members and friends of Saint Matthew’s and is offered to our church community as one of the ways we are observing Lent together. Each day’s Bible readings are taken from the lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer and are listed, followed by a devotional.
Each devotional provides a reflection that is based on one or more of the day’s Scripture readings. Each author reflects on a personal connection (by way of a memory or short story), and concludes with a short life lesson learned and a prayer. The date and the Scripture readings for the day are printed at the top of each devotional.
An example of the devotional’s format is shown below:
Sunday, February 28
Psalms: 8, 24, 29, 84
Old Testament: Jeremiah 1:1-10
Epistle: 1 Corinthians 3:11-23
Gospel: Mark 3:31-4:9
We are grateful to all the contributors (adults and youth) for being willing to share something of their own spiritual and personal lives with the rest of the community in this way.
May this Lent be a season of growth and insight among us, as the Holy Spirit reveals the Word of God in us through our daily prayers and meditations.
Spiritual Formation Committee
Saint Matthew’s Episcopal Church
Wednesday, February 17
Psalms: 32, 95, 102, 130
Old Testament: Amos 5:6-15
Epistle: Hebrews 12:1-14
Gospel: Luke 18:9-14
“…Do you realize where you are? You’re in a cosmos star-flung with constellations by God, A world God wakes up each morning and puts to bed each night…” (Amos 5:7-9, The Message)
Some years ago, Linda and I had decided to hike up to Cavell Meadows in Jasper National Park, in the Canadian Rockies. The hike started as expected, in the trees, looking up at the glaciers and snow-capped peaks around us. But as we went higher, we left the trees behind and came upon an alpine meadow full of brilliantly colored wildflowers. As we went higher still, all the vegetation began to thin, and the meadow was replaced with vast fields of scree. Though it was late July, there were still patches of deep snow.
And it wasn’t just on the ground. We could see a storm blowing in as it engulfed the tops of mountains around us. Soon, snow was in the air as well.
Putting on our weather gear, we kept on, climbing higher still. Eventually the snow blew through, the sun came out, and the rocks began to radiate heat. Now higher than almost every mountain around us, we sat down to let the glory of the moment fill our hearts and minds and souls.
Then Linda pulled out her Kindle and said, “Let’s say Vespers,” a service appointed for a specific time of day. I could not say the words with her; my heart was simply too full, my throat all choked up, tears welling up in my eyes. I thought, “I am blessed beyond all measure. I am surrounded by the natural world in all its magnificence and splendor, where I feel most at home. I am worshipping God, who, for me, helps set everything in its right place. And I am with my wife, the great love of my life.”
“Do you realize where you are?” Amos asks. (Amos 5:7-9, The Message)
In that moment, I did. And it was one of those rare times when I felt myself to be fully and completely whole.
May this Lent in general, and these devotions in particular, be an occasion for us to realize more clearly where we are – always and everywhere surrounded by God’s goodness and love. Amen.
– Fr. Rob Merola
Thursday, February 18
Old Testament: Habakkuk 3:1-18
Epistle: Philippians 3:12-21
Gospel: John 17:1-8
“Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this…” (Psalm 37:3-5)
I was scared and frankly felt lost when I got the news that my office would be shutting down due to the concerns and precautions needed to be taken due to COVID and the pandemic. I was being taken away from one of the things I love, being a physical therapist. I love working with people and helping them get back to living their lives without pain.
During the days of uncertainty that followed, I felt my purpose was gone, and I couldn’t help but be saddened by the continuous news of hospital staff working tirelessly yet losing so many battles to this virus.
Then I got the call that would turn things around for me; I was being deployed to the COVID call center. I still felt lost, but also hopeful that I could once again somehow play a role in helping others. The days that followed were still filled with uncertainty, as precautions and protocols continued to change. I wondered if I would know the right words to say to the people calling in. As I listened to frontline team members (nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, etc.) call in with all their symptoms and concerns, I began to realize I did have a purpose here. I was able to provide them with comfort by referring them to get tested when needed and, even better, to thank them for their hard work as frontline heroes.
Did I ever think I would find myself happy, sitting in front of a desk and answering the phone for 12-hour shifts? Absolutely not! What I soon came to realize was that this was all part of God’s plan for me. I just had to put my trust in Him, and He would help fulfill my desires to help people again.
May I always remember, when I’m feeling lost and wondering what my purpose may be during trying times, to put my trust in the Lord, for “…he will give you the desires of your heart.” Amen.
– Emily Palmer
Friday, February 19
Psalms: 95, 31, 35
Old testament: Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
Epistle: Philippians 4:1-9
Gospel: John 17:9-19
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6)
June 9, 2016 is a day I’ll never forget. I was diagnosed with breast cancer that day. Everything changed in the blink of an eye. My world came to a screeching halt. I was now fighting for my life.
After a flurry of tests and doctor appointments, the date was set for my first surgery. My anxiety and worry kicked into overdrive. As I struggled to deal with the enormity of what lay ahead, I had to find a way to keep the worry and anxious feelings at bay. As I lay curled up in a ball on the floor in tears, I had to remind myself that I was a fighter. I wasn’t going to let this get the better of me.
I knew that my community was praying for me, and it wasn’t because they would tell me. I could feel it. I was surrounded by friends and family, and we had a plan. But that wasn’t enough. Waiting was hard, very hard. I’m not very patient, and I had to find a way to cope. I started to change my mindset and my focus to live in the moment.
When anyone asked how I was doing, I would respond with, “I’m OK today.” Focusing on something as simple as being “OK today” changed everything. I knew tomorrow would come. I also knew that many of the tomorrows were going to be hard, really hard. Embracing the moments when I was physically still, being “OK today” changed everything. I was able to focus and breathe. I was able to ask for what I needed. I was able to pray a different prayer. Each day, I gave thanks for the little things that brought me joy. A visit from a friend meant so much. A card from someone far away brought a smile to my face.
I’m almost 5 years from that life-changing day. I’m still here, and I still try to remind myself that “I’m OK today” and that God’s got it under control.
Lord, I lay my worries at the foot of the cross, and I praise you with all my being. Thank you for the support you gave me during my battle, and grant me the strength to help others who are faced with a similar struggle. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
– Marcia Davis
Saturday, February 20
Psalms: 30, 32, 42, 43
Old Testament: Ezekiel 39:21-29
Epistle: Philippians 4:10-20
Gospel: John 17:20-26
“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty…” (Philippians 4:12)
About 30 years ago, I was a single mom, living comfortably with my son in a single-family home in Fairfax. I had a fairly good job and enough income to pay my monthly bills.
One brisk fall Saturday morning, my sister called me from Texas. Although I did not think it at the time, she may have struggled with a mental disorder (she has since passed). She said she had some bad news and some good news. The bad news, she said, was that her daughter (my niece) had separated from her husband. The good news was that my niece and her girls (a toddler and an infant) were traveling on a Greyhound bus, on their way to stay with me.
She hadn’t given me a choice.
They arrived within hours of that phone call, hungry and ill-dressed for the much cooler Northern Virginia temperatures. I was suddenly responsible for the care of five people. The food in my pantry diminished rapidly. A week’s worth of paper supplies disappeared in a couple of days. Detergent and shampoo seemed to evaporate. Her supply of Pampers and baby wipes ran out. And my utility bills were on the uptick!
I’ve always been very resilient, so I was surprised by the effect this new situation had on me. I couldn’t sleep well; I couldn’t stay focused at work; and I couldn’t hide my puffy eyes, even with makeup. It was the closest I’ve ever come to having a nervous breakdown. I cried, and I prayed.
Difficult as that time was, what I remember most was an act of kindness. It came from a co-worker whose name I cannot even recall. But I remember his kind face as he handed me an envelope with a $50 bill inside. That single act of kindness didn’t resolve my crisis, but it touched me deeply. He was Godsent – a sign of hope for me. Someone cared. And so, I was able to summon the inner strength to do what was really best for everyone – I had them fly back home to Texas, thanks to the kindness and financial help of another friend.
Heavenly Father, thank you for the people you placed in my path when I was in need. May I always recognize ways to pay it forward. Amen.
– Martha Olson
Sunday, February 21
Psalms: 63:1-11, 98, 103
Old Testament: Deuteronomy 8:1-10
Epistle: 1 Corinthians 1:17-31
Gospel: Mark 2:18-22
“And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.” (Mark 2:22)
The COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for all of us, for each in our own way. As a household at increased risk for the disease, ours has been a world of Zoom with our “family bubble,” along with a few trips to restaurants during “off times.”
Pre-pandemic, our relationship with the church had centered on the building and our physical presence among the congregation of our friends. We miss that interaction, but the pandemic has provided new and different ways for us to relate with the church and our church family. The new worship and fellowship opportunities have continued to nurture our spiritual and social needs; different than in person, but still fulfilling. The talent, professionalism, and creativity of those who prepare these activities are amazing, and I continue to look forward to the “virtual” worship, on Sundays and daily with Noonday Prayer and Compline.
We were also deprived of our building for community gatherings and activities. We have long supported LINK, Backpack Buddies, and our community fellowship lunches, among many other programs. Church leadership quickly built on our virtual presence and significantly improved on it to engage and become a bigger part of our community. Our leaders also recognized that the magnitude and variety of community needs was increasing. Answering their calls for help, our congregation responded, and we began providing even more food, supplies, and other assistance to our local and broader community.
When our church building (our wineskin) was restricted, we found a new wineskin, a much bigger wineskin, into which to pour our congregation’s efforts and commitments in new ways (our new wine). The pandemic encouraged all of us to examine how to become a greater part of our community while continuing our worship and fellowship together. For me, it was our pandemic’s silver lining.
Dear Lord, we are thankful that you have given us new opportunities to know and share your love. Although things have not been easy this past year, you have been faithful to us. Help us now to find even more ways to share your love, to continue to find new wineskins to fill and pour forth your love. Amen.
– John Thomas
Monday, February 22
Psalms: 41, 44, 52
Old Testament: Deuteronomy 8:11-20
Epistle: Hebrews 2:11-18
Gospel: John 2:1-12
“But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever.” (Psalm 52:8)
People are surprised when I say I am a church-going woman. Growing up, I went to church every week. My family, along with my aunt’s family, attended Saturday evening service every week. Except for one period in my life, I have always attended. I do not like to think about that time, as it was a painful time; but as I get older, I look at it as a test of my faith and my love of God.
When I was 17, I got pregnant. This was a shock to my conservative Catholic Italian family. That first Saturday night after my family discovered I was pregnant, we were walking into church and my mother turned around and said, “Button your coat.” I was shocked when she said that. I walked into church and sat down. I felt horrible and ashamed. As tears started to well in my eyes, I got up and left. Except for my son’s baptism, I did not enter church again for a few years. As an aside, my mother completely adores my son; she has since the moment he was born.
As my relationship with God was torn from me, I felt lost. Why was going to church so important? Was I too young to understand that God is always with me? That God loves me no matter what? As I got older and continued to go to church, I grew to understand this. I was always taught that God loves me, but I do not think I appreciated it until my faith was tested. I am imperfect, but I am as God made me.
Going to church each week is a ritual to honor and celebrate God, and it is one that I enjoy. Having a community of faith is important. Yes, we are flawed, but we try to live our lives with the same values; we try to be humble; and we try to give back to the community and help each other. As I continue to grow in my faith and my life, I am always learning and being tested, but I prevail because I know I am in the hands of the Lord.
Through every season, my trusted friend,
Through all my life, my faithful guide.
God behind me,
God beside me,
God before me. Amen
– Lisa Caselli
Tuesday, February 23
Psalms: 45, 47, 48
Old Testament: Deuteronomy 9:4-12
Epistle: Hebrews 3:1-11
Gospel: John 2:13-22
“The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple…So the Jews said to him, ‘What sign do you show us for doing these things?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up…’ When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.” (John 2:13–22)
The words “…making a whip of cords…” from this Gospel story made me think about the problems of two groups of people in our history: slaves and Native Americans. It made me think about them because the whip was one of the things that was used to force them to work and to give up their freedom and their lands. When I think about this more, I feel sad for them because they lost so much.
American plantation owners forced slaves to work under terrible conditions just to make themselves prosperous. For Native Americans, The Trail of Tears is one example that comes to mind – when about 100,000 Native Americans from Southeast region tribes were moved by the government off their homelands onto reservations west of the Mississippi. This forced migration was done so that Americans could mine for gold on the land that belonged to the Native Americans. Then they took over the land.
The final thing that hits me about today’s Gospel story is that Jesus is “the ultimate gamer.” Even though he gets killed, he has infinite respawns (he can come back to life)!
During Lent, we voluntarily sacrifice. There is nothing I can do that would come close to the sacrifices of slaves and Native Americans who were forced to do the will of others. I wish there was something I could do. Until I can figure out what that is, I will pray, especially during Lent.
Dear God, please help me be more understanding of others, and help me be more forgiving. Amen.
– Colin Leary
Wednesday, February 24
Psalms: 49, 53, 119:49-72
Old Testament: Deuteronomy 9:13-21
Epistle: Hebrews 3:12-19
Gospel: John 2:23 – 3:15
“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)
I am in my final year of a course for small groups called Education for Ministry (EfM). Over a four-year period, we read and reflect on the Old Testament, the New Testament, church history, and an introduction to theology. Alongside this, the group undertakes theological reflections embracing ‘Living faithfully in your world,’ ‘Living faithfully in a multicultural world,’ ‘Living as spiritually mature Christians,’ and ‘Living into the journey with God.’
Each year, everyone in the group shares a short autobiography of their own spiritual life – where they have been, where they are, and where they hope to go. Each year, the autobiography has a theme. This year, the theme was ‘Change.’
As I reflected on the changes in my spiritual life (and my personal life) it became clear that, in my personal life, I have, to some extent, gone where the wind has blown me. Moving jobs was never intentional, and moving to a new house was mostly wherever my job took me. Even having children – Jean went to the doctor’s one morning with a tummy upset and came out pregnant!!!
In my spiritual journey, however, I have seen more change in the last four years than in the previous forty! My entrenched dogmas have had to be looked at and changed, and prejudices have had to be acknowledged and let go. At EfM, we use the phrase ‘being open to ambiguity’– willing to allow a certain amount of vagueness take the place of long held views. I think the main change has been allowing love to soften my preconceptions and the judgements that I make about ideas and people. But sometimes, it is really hard for me to cut through the noise and hear God’s voice. I so often have to remind myself to listen.
“…the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.” (1 Kings 19:11-12)
Sometimes He just whispers…and I must listen hard.
“In earth, sea, and sky
and in the landscape of my own soul
I listen for utterances of Your love, O God.
I listen for utterances of Your love.”
(From A Celtic Benediction)
– Linden E. Sanders
Thursday, February 25
Psalms: 19, 46, 50, 59
Old Testament: Deuteronomy 9:23 – 10:5
Epistle: Hebrews 4:1-10
Gospel: John 3:16-21
“You are my strength, I watch for you; you, God, are my fortress, my God on whom I can rely.” (Psalm 59:9-10)
I know we all face times in our lives when it seems the world is against us – when nothing is going right. Unfortunately, no one told me during my childhood that life has periods of discomfort, pain, and even misery. (Or maybe that was a fortunate thing – so I wouldn’t give up before even getting started!) Of course, I knew the stories of Job and Moses and Abraham from church sermons, but I never imagined it would happen to me. So, when true unhappiness and despair found me, it came as a huge surprise.
I was blessed to grow up in an idyllic, small town. Everyone knew everyone. We had two stoplights on either end of Main Street, and one grocery store: the Piggly Wiggly. There were no malls or movie theaters, nor even a Wal Mart! Everyone went to church on Sunday and to the high school football/basketball/baseball game on Friday nights. Without Internet or cable tv, we didn’t know much about life outside the town limits except what you heard from others who came back to visit or what you could read in books and magazines.
Inspired by all that I read and the stories I heard, I decided to leave the comforts of that small, beautiful town for the wide unknown. Eventually, I found myself in a place of discomfort, pain, and misery. Gone were my constant and unwavering supporters. Instead, I was chided and ridiculed by those I thought I could trust. Thankfully, I was wise enough to reach out to my hometown tribe, who rallied to my rescue. My childhood best friend, Jackson, shared with his mother what I was going through. His mother, “Miss Penny,” encouraged me with this verse from Psalm 59: “Deliver me from my enemies, O God; be my fortress against those who are attacking me. Deliver me from evildoers and save me from those who are after my blood.”
The words of scripture and those of my dear friend provided me with the strength to persevere and overcome.
God, help me to remember that you are my fortress during good times and bad. When evildoers surround me, I know I can rely on you. Amen.
– Emory H. McCann
Friday, February 26
Psalms: 40, 51, 54, 95
Old Testament: Deuteronomy 10:12-22
Epistle: Hebrews 4:11-16
Gospel: John 3:22-36
“Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.” (Psalm 51:12)
My wife passed away four years ago. Before she died, she was the manager of a park in Loudoun County, where she directed nature programs and the upkeep of the park. She loved all critters, but was especially fond of those that could fly. She loved to sit out on the back deck of our house at night calling to the owls in the woods behind us, and was delighted when they answered her. She could identify the different owls by the sounds they made. Many were the times when we would walk the bike paths behind our home, trying to spot the holes in the trees where the owls were roosting and raising their owlets. Nothing made her happier than seeing a new family of owls in the neighborhood.
The days immediately after her passing were a blur. I felt overwhelmed with all the arrangements that needed to be made. It was hard to find a few minutes of peace to just “Be.” All those feelings of loss were growing. I prayed for something, anything, to make things better. Things would get better, but one thing in particular reminded me that God was out there and was listening.
As I sat at the kitchen table eating lunch one day, I looked up. On the deck railing, about 8 feet away, sat not one but three Barred Owls looking directly at me. They made no effort to fly away, but just sat there sharing their presence as if to say they missed my wife, too, and wanted me to know all would be well. I never saw an owl on our deck before that day and have never seen one since. Some people believe owls are harbingers of death, appearing when someone is about to die or has recently passed away. That could be true – or not – I can’t really say. I just know I needed some hope that day, and GOD sent three owls to me, creatures my wife would identify with. They didn’t make a sound, but somehow, I knew they were there from GOD and my wife to bring me love and support.
Dear GOD, you are always there for us and hold us in the palm of your hand in times of need. May we always remember your love and share it with others in times of trouble. Amen.
– Darrell J. Breed
Saturday, February 27
Psalms: 55, 138, 139
Old Testament: Deuteronomy 11:18-28
Epistle: Hebrews 5:1-10
Gospel: John 4:1-26
“You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.” (Psalm 139:5-6)
Back in 1973, I had the crazy idea that I could ride my ten speed bicycle across Canada. In preparation, I experimented using heavy chains to simulate weight in my backpack versus putting them in saddle bags on the bicycle. I practiced riding in rain and shine, purchased road maps of all the Canadian provinces I would have to ride through, and changed many a flat tire.
Then, I purchased a one-way ticket from New York to Vancouver. My bicycle was in a shipping box, and my baggage was my saddle bags. When I arrived in Vancouver, I realized it would be a giant hassle getting out of the city by bicycle before hitting the open road. So I purchased another ticket from Vancouver to Fort Saint John, British Columbia. There, in this remote tiny airport, my bicycle box came off the airplane. I reassembled the bicycle and started to peddle home. I was immediately riding through dense forest on both sides of the road.
That very first evening, it started to rain. The forest along the road was too dense for me to stop, keep dry, cook a trail meal, and bed down. Just when I was getting desperate, I saw an abandoned house in the woods. Perfect. The roof leaked, there was no glass in the windows, but I was dry and able to prepare my dinner. The next day was sunny and I continued to peddle across Canada.
Arriving back home, people were amazed and congratulatory of my endeavor. Some years later someone asked me, “Did you worry about bears? Northern Canada has a lot of bears in those woods.” THAT had never dawned on me. I naively went along thinking I knew everything about the roads, the bicycle, my food. I had read nothing about the potential danger of bears. The best I could do in hindsight was to thank God for his protection and assistance in realizing such a crazy idea.
This is just one experience from one person. I’m willing to bet we all have stories like this… amazing journeys, amazing feats, amazing accomplishments. I pray that, like me, we realize the one thread that runs through all of them…the helping hand of God that has hemmed us in. Amen.
– Richard Henry
Sunday, February 28
Psalms: 8, 24, 29, 84
Old Testament: Jeremiah 1:1-10
Epistle: 1 Corinthians 3:11-23
Gospel: Mark 3:31– 4:9
“I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born, I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5)
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” is a question intended to encourage career options for kids, but I found it discouraging. As a young person, I never had a good answer, and I was skeptical of those who knew what they wanted to do with their life from very early on. “Really?! How can you be sure?” That type of clear direction has always escaped me.
I’m a little jealous of Jeremiah’s directive from God. Jeremiah didn’t have to search for his path in life. He didn’t question other career options. Jeremiah could have ignored God’s call to be His prophet to the nations. But when God explains that He’s known this about Jeremiah since before he was conceived, Jeremiah has no other option but to update his LinkedIn profile to “Prophet” and cancel his Indeed subscription for good. And he does. Jeremiah commits fully.
Most of us don’t get that type of clear instruction from God. I certainly haven’t. But lately, I’ve been diligently asking, “Lord, how will you use me?” and really listening for an answer. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is less important for me to answer at this point in my life. It’s not about what job I want to have. It’s about how I can use my talents to serve God. How can I bring light to those who need it? These are now the types of questions on which I seek direction. I am trying to be fully open to the answers God gives me since He knows me better than I know myself.
Dear God, I seek direction and appointment from You on the things that truly matter. I trust that You know me deeply and, therefore, know my calling better than I can know it myself. Help me trust that You will give me clear direction, and help me to earnestly listen and commit. Amen.
– Sara Warnick
Monday, March 1
Psalms: 56, 57, 58, 64
Old Testament: Jeremiah 1:11-19
Epistle: Romans 1:1-15
Gospel: John 4:27-42
“Even now… ‘One sows and another reaps’…. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.” (John 4:36-38)
It’s hard to believe that just a short time ago, St. Matthew’s was sending mission trips to places like Haiti and Puerto Rico to help those whose homes and villages were ravaged by natural disasters. I’ve had the pleasure of participating in several of those trips, and the amazing constant throughout was the rich spiritual experience and sense of God’s presence that I found while serving.
In each situation, our week’s effort was part of a much larger strategy that was designed to build a church (Haiti) or repair parts of a village (Puerto Rico) or finish the drywall in the home of an individual displaced by flooding (New Orleans). Many times, we found that we were building on the work of previous teams, and later crews would continue the work, building upon our team’s efforts. In some instances, our efforts (and donations) served as the catalyst to start (or restart) a project. This was especially true in Haiti, where financial resources were very limited; and without our support, no real progress could be achieved.
As I read today’s Gospel (John 4:27-42), I thought about the mission trips and saw that Jesus’ comment about how ‘one sows and another reaps’ was so true in the progress made in each of those trips. Each team ‘sowed’ the seeds of progress that the teams that followed would ‘reap.’ In turn, those later teams would continue the progress and ‘sow’ for the teams that would follow them. Our progress was linked to both, those who came before and those who followed. We finished steps that we did not start, and started steps that we could not finish due to the time constraints of our trips.
We were part of the larger plan of sharing God’s love with those in need, and in return, our souls were refreshed with the spiritual food experienced by those who had the chance to serve. It was and continues to be the blessing of service that we have adopted as one of the fundamental tenets of our Parish. I hope and pray that each of us share in that experience whenever we can.
“‘My food,’” said Jesus, “‘is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.’” (John 4:34)
– Steve Buck
Tuesday, March 2
Psalms: 61, 62, 68:1-36
Old Testament: Jeremiah 2:1-13
Epistle: Romans 1:16-25
Gospel: John 4:43-54
“Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” (Psalm 61:1-2)
This psalm calls to mind a saying I first read on a sign in front of a church years ago:
“Give your troubles to God. He’s up all night anyway.”
Pithy, and, for a worrier like me, brilliant in its simplicity. I think of this saying when I find myself lying awake in the middle of the night, worrying about something I can’t do anything about in the middle of the night. As my heart grows faint, I cry out to God, and I know He hears the prayer I whisper.
Handing this over to you, God. I’m signing off for the night. I can pick up where I left off in the morning. Amen.
It almost always works, and I drift off to sleep.
It comforts me to read the words of the psalmist, composed a few thousand years ago; to know that the psalmist was having a tough time too, cried out to God, and left these verses for us, for me, to lean on thousands of years later. When I’m at the end of my rope, I need this psalm. When I’m overwhelmed and out of ideas, I need this psalm. When I can’t see the way forward, I need this psalm…and so I pray its words:
“Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” Amen.
– Theresa Helein
Wednesday, March 3
Psalms: 72, 119:73-96
Old Testament: Jeremiah 3:6-18
Epistle: Romans 1:28 – 2:11
Gospel: John 5:1-18
“My eyes fail, looking for your promise; I say, ‘When will you comfort me?’” (Psalm 119:82)
I am a fortunate man, blessed beyond what I likely deserve. The abundance of the blessings that fill my world was not always as apparent to me. For a long time, I didn’t appreciate what I had as much as I should have – my beautiful family, my job, my relative comfort. Instead, I paid too much attention to the things that I did not have – missed promotions, nicer cars, a bigger house; the usual trappings that many use to define success. How unfair I thought it all was. Wasn’t I a good person? Wasn’t I leading a good life? Didn’t I deserve more? It didn't dawn on me how wrongheaded my mindset was. Looking at all the things that could be dulled my appreciation of all that was right in front of me.
I might have continued along this path, but a cancer diagnosis served as a wakeup call. The prospect of losing everything made me realize how full my life was already. My eyes were opened, and I was able to clearly recognize, appreciate, and celebrate the beauty in my life. I understood that the Lord had bestowed upon me a wonderful existence, and I needed to do more to take care of it and give thanks for it. Every day since that diagnosis, I've looked at my wife and children and thanked God for the comfort and joy He has gifted to me.
This Lent, I pray that God grants all of us the strength to persevere through those times when it feels like we have lost all comforts. May our eyes be opened to the beauty in our lives, and may our hearts be filled with gratitude. Amen.
Thursday, March 4
Psalms: 70, 71, 74
Old Testament: Jeremiah 4:9-10, 19-28
Epistle: Romans 2:12-24
Gospel: John 5:19-29
“As for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more.” (Psalm 71:14)
I am writing this near the end of 2020. For most of us, those 4 digits likely have a wide spectrum of emotions permanently attached to them. For me, my perspective is largely colored by unemployment. I had been employed by the same company for 26 years. In a matter of hours, my seemingly solid job vanished.
To me, Lent is a season of reflection. This year, Lent came really early for me. I learned that the loss of a job warrants grief. I found that I needed to walk through the grieving process over losing a job (https://www.webmd.com/balance/normal-grieving-and-stages-of-grief#1).
I needed to realize that my job did not define me. For so long, I had attached self-worth to my job. This sounds a bit depressing, and for others it may be greatly so. Sometimes, though, things happen through no fault of your own. I accepted this and started moving forward. I know God is in my corner no matter what.
For not having a “job,” I have been ridiculously and joyfully busy. There is always something I can do to move forward in this next season of my career and life. Katie and I are blessed to have made and executed a financial plan over the years that allows us not to stress out about money for this moment. It has been a GIFT to spend this amount of time with my children. When I lost my job, one of my daughters said, “I am sorry you lost your job, but I am glad I got my Dad back.” It is amazing how a few words can make you realize your priorities were out of whack!
I do not know when I will find a job, but I will. I can’t tell you how many people I reached out to for help in my search, but every one of them wanted to help in whatever way they could. As I keep reflecting on 2020 it is becoming less about the year I lost my job, and more about the year I was able to learn, grow, and have a great time spending it with my family.
I pray that no matter where you are in your journey, that you realize God loves you, there are people that care about you, and there are good things happening in your life every day. Amen.
– Dan Robertson
Friday, March 5
Psalms: 69:1-38, 73, 95
Old Testament: Jeremiah 5:1-9
Epistle: Romans 2:25–3:18
Gospel: John 5:30-47
“Do not let the floodwaters engulf me or the depths swallow me up or the pit close its mouth over me.” (Psalm 69:15)
Today’s readings felt heavy, as though people, feeling stuck, isolated, lost, scared, and depressed, were calling out to God for help. They gave me pause; left me thinking about the drudgery that much of 2020 felt like for me.
By some measures, I have endured more than my fair share of troubles over the past few years. In fact, the first few months of COVID restrictions left me feeling relieved as life slowed down. In many ways, the past few years have given my family the resilience needed to adapt to this past year and taught us to focus on the bright spots which help keep life in perspective.
But sometimes the feeling that life’s “floodwaters engulf me” takes over. Whether due to balancing work with online schooling, dealing with health issues, missed milestones and holiday celebrations, shared grief from afar, financial strain, concern over the political state, or many other issues tied to unaccustomed social isolation, it has been a rough time! Chafing at the restrictions of life, longing for a return to normalcy and closeness with others, makes it hard for me to find hope some days.
Some days, kindness is hard for me to see. But it is there. It’s in delivering food to those in need. It’s in a big sister giving comfort to her scared younger sister. It’s in neighbors talking in driveways. It’s in connecting over video calls. It’s in watching the joy of children learning a new game or skill. It’s in people helping people in all sorts of big and small ways. I know that finding kindness and focusing on small bits of joy doesn’t solve everything in life. But recognizing kindness and joy around me does help lift my spirits. And I believe that if enough of us can be kind, the world can change.
So, during this season of Lent, I call out to God to give me the strength to focus on my pledge to Be Kind. Kind to myself, my husband, my children, my coworkers, and all those that I come into contact with each day. To hear their calls and struggles, and meet them with kindness. May my acts of kindness move the world to a better future. Amen.
– Haley Elliott
Saturday, March 6
Psalms: 23, 27, 75, 76
Old Testament: Jeremiah 5:20-31
Epistle: Romans 3:19-31
Gospel: John 7:1-13
“The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1)
On my first day as a high school freshman, I was late. Back then, all students gathered in the auditorium and would wait for their names to be called. Each would be handed their schedule, and then could proceed to class.
As I sat alone, waiting, I was asked my name. They couldn’t find my records! I was worried because I didn’t want to be late on my first day of class in a new school. It didn’t help that it was 1961, and I was one of only two black students in my grade integrating an all-white school in Vienna, Virginia. I wasn’t afraid to attend the all-white school. Maybe I should have been, but I wasn’t.
This wasn’t my idea. The NAACP approached my parents and encouraged them to enroll my siblings and me in the white schools. My parents didn’t ask us – they just recognized it as an excellent opportunity for a good education for us. And it was. “Separate but equal” was not a reality.
The NAACP even sponsored a “boot camp” to prepare us for the experience – how to act or respond to hostilities and how to support each other in a variety of scenarios. It was helpful later on when I’d hear something derogatory used in reference to me. I’d just ignore it.
My experience was very different from that of black students in Arkansas and other parts of the country. I guess I was lucky. I didn’t have parents yelling at me or armed National Guardsmen blocking my entrance into the school or escorting me to school.
Thinking back on it now, I wonder if my parents were afraid for us. If they were, they didn’t show it. I believe it was their faith and trust in God that got them through it; and it was that faith and trust in God that they instilled in us. I truly believe that’s why I wasn’t afraid when my records were found, and I finally walked into the classroom that first day of school – and all eyes turned toward me.
Dear God of Compassion,
You, who sent Jesus to live among us,
We pray that You will help us to follow His teachings,
So that we will care for our neighbors as we do for ourselves.
– Sandra Gentry
Sunday, March 7
Psalms: 34, 93, 96
Old Testament: Jeremiah 6:9-15
Epistle: 1 Corinthians 6:12-20
Gospel: Mark 5:1-20
“… ‘Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.’” (Mark 5:19)
As I write this, it is late December, and we have just looked up in our night sky to see the planets Jupiter and Saturn converge; the closest they have been in 800 years. There are many things that were hard for me to comprehend as I looked up, such as how far away they are. I feel like a small witness to a show of immense size.
I did a little research to find out how far Jupiter is from Earth. It is 390,682,810 miles at its closest. My reaction was, “WHAT?” I don’t understand those numbers.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus heals a demon-possessed man.
“When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him…No one was strong enough to subdue him…Jesus had said to him, ‘Come out of this man, you impure spirit!’…The demons begged Jesus, ‘Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.’ He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs…” (Mark 5:2-13)
It is a dramatic story and even hard to read; a crazed, suffering man, demons being cast into pigs... The Gospel writer tells us how people reacted when they saw this formerly suffering man completely healed – WHAT?
“When [the people] came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid…Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.” (Mark 5:15-17)
They were afraid. Not knowing what to do with this show of power, they asked Jesus to “leave their region.”
There are things I don’t understand about the gospel story, but I love how Jesus can use His power over darkness to heal our lives. Jesus, who created the heavens, can, as He himself says in this story, have mercy on us.
Dear Jesus, I praise you for your great power to heal me. Thank you for your love for me and the mercy you have on us. Amen
– Linda Merola
Monday, March 8
Psalms: 77, 79, 80
Old Testament: Jeremiah 7:1-15
Epistle: Romans 4:1-12
Gospel: John 7:14-36
“Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not record.” (Romans 4:7-8)
I was 14. A freshman in high school. My classmates and I were just returning to the classroom from our lunch break, and our teacher had not yet returned. So, of course, we started an eraser fight. These were the old-style, black chalkboard erasers, light, full of chalk dust and surprisingly aerodynamic! We just started throwing them at each other, ducking behind desks and cabinets for cover. It was a couple of minutes of blowing off steam. Harmless, the only real damage was all the chalk dust spots on your clothing if you were hit. There was only one person who didn’t participate: Greg, a kid I had known since third grade. Greg was awkward, uncoordinated, not at all athletic, and, as you can imagine, that made him ripe for teasing and picking on. We were friends – not close friends, but for most of the time I knew him, there were times I acted as his defender or protector – sticking up for him and stopping other kids from picking on him.
Greg was not taking part. He was off toward a corner of the room keeping a low profile. But soon everyone noticed him. And then someone shouted, “Get Greg!” It was good-natured, everyone was throwing erasers at everyone else. But at this point, all those with erasers turned their attention to him. Including me. And everyone threw their eraser at Greg, a singular target. Including me. He simply turned his back and tried to shield himself in the corner. Erasers bounced off him, chalk dust puffed off his clothing, we were all laughing. Well, Greg was not. He turned and looked at me. It was a look of hurt and betrayal. That look still bothers me today, even as I write this 42 years later. It was a look of broken trust.
Though I have used that incident to try and be a better person, I am far from perfect. I have failed many times since then. I have sinned. I will probably do so again. But that particular incident reminds me that we all need forgiveness, and I am blessed that God does not record my sins.
Thank you, God for your mercy and forgiveness. Help me to know that you love me despite all my failings. And that I must do the same. Amen.
– Jim Helein
Tuesday, March 9
Old Testament: Jeremiah 7:21-34
Epistle: Romans 4:13-25
Gospel: John 7:37-52
“Yet [Abraham] did not waver…but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God…” (Romans 4:20)
When my walk with God started, I was fearful and thought God would only love me and help me if I did everything right, largely because of my perfectionistic nature. I could not fathom a God who loved me if I did not meet the standard of perfection that He surely had. When I was “good,” this all worked out in my favor. But if I did something bad or if something bad happened to me, I let this drive me away from everyone and everything, and I would spiral into a terrible depression or the use of unhealthy coping mechanisms.
The summer after my second semester at Northern Virginia Community College, my younger sister invited me to go with her to Young Life College week, and that is when everything changed. Being surrounded by many young adults who came from all walks of life, I believe God showed me what faith looked like. It finally got through to me that it was not what I did that made me His, but rather having hope and faith, truly believing that He is who He says He is.
Within a week of this experience my faith was tested. I was a waitress at the time, and during my shift, I was assaulted by a coworker (which would later cost me my job). Prior to my experience at Young Life College week, I would have seen this event through the negative lens of “I am not good enough, and that is why this happened,” like I had with every other hardship in my life, and then become destructive to myself as a result. Instead, I fell to my knees and told God that, while I did not understand why this happened, I knew He had a plan and that I had faith that He would get me through this.
That series of events reminds me of Abraham in Romans 4. His faith did not waver, even in the face of unfortunate circumstances. Neither did mine, nor has it ever since.
O Lord, you are my refuge and my strength. You are my ever-present help in times of trouble. When it seems like my world is crumbling around me and I am thrown around by the storms of my life, take away my fear. When I am weak, be my strength. When I am vulnerable, be my refuge. Amen.
– Ash Holland
Wednesday, March 10
Psalms: 81 82, 119:97-120
Old Testament: Jeremiah 8:18–9:6
Epistle: Romans 5:1-11
Gospel: John 8:12-20
“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” (John 8:12)
My beloved Grandma died on Christmas Day, 2019. She had been ailing for several years, and as the holidays approached, it became all too clear to the family that she was in her final decline. As always, my siblings and I gathered at my parents’ house to open presents on Christmas morning, my mom joining us after holding vigil over her mother on Christmas Eve. She and her seven siblings had each been taking turns at Grandma’s bedside.
When we received the call that Grandma was gone, my first reaction was quite selfish: I was angry that she couldn’t hold on just a little longer, to give us more time to celebrate together and, more importantly in my mind, to leave what should be a joyous day untainted in my mom’s memory. My mom’s dad, my equally beloved Grandpa, had died shortly following Christmas more than a decade before. In the moment, it felt to me somehow unpoetic that Grandma wasn’t at least allowed a reunion with Grandpa in Heaven on that same day.
Soon after the initial call, however, we heard a fuller account of Grandma’s passing from those who were there – my aunt and the attending caregiver. Both women said that, in her final moments, Grandma’s face underwent an astonishing transformation, from withered and drawn to filled with such peace that she looked almost young again, vital and beautiful even as she drew her last breaths.
My Grandma was a believer and truly, as Jesus said in John 8:12, she followed Him and did not walk in darkness, but had the “light of life” – both figuratively throughout her life and quite literally at the very end of it. It was also a reminder to me that Christmas is still a day for rejoicing, since it was the day she met the “light of the world” face to face at last, without further delay and the perpetuation of her suffering.
Lord God, help us to draw closer to you daily so that we may live in your light throughout our lives. Amen.
– Caitlin Dronfield
Thursday, March 11
Psalms: 42, 43, 83, 85
Old Testament: Jeremiah 10:11-24
Epistle: Romans 5:12-21
Gospel: John 8:21-32
“My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God? My tears have been my food day and night…Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.” (Psalm 42:2-3,11)
Lord, today, I am sad. My soul is downcast. But unlike the psalmist, I think I know why I’ve been downcast.
The past few months have been the most difficult in a long time. Staying home. Not visiting family, friends, brothers, sisters, and coworkers. It’s getting harder to do. I miss being with my community of people. I don’t enjoy using Zoom, Teams, Skype, texting, and the phone. I very much prefer to actually be in the presence of people. And I dearly miss those who have left us to begin their eternal life with you, especially my Mom.
Like the psalmist, I put my hope in you, Lord. I pray for your help to endure my pandemic-imposed isolation. My faith in you provides the hope that we will all be able to gather together again, and soon. Give me comfort when I’m stressing and peace when I’m mourning. You are the light that has brightened my darkest days. Mom is gone, and I knew it was coming. She’s no longer suffering, but I’m still sad. You give me peace and comfort knowing that she’s with you now, and hope that I will see her again. Thank you, Lord.
I thank you, Lord, for the memories of laughter and joy, for moments of happiness as well as the difficult ones when all I could do was cling to hope and faith in you.
Lord, you have answered many of my prayers, comforted me in moments of distress, and filled me with hope – with the promise of eternal life with you in Heaven – I know I can look forward to spending many more joyful days here on earth and with you in God’s presence.
Lord, Thank you for giving us another beautiful day in your kingdom here on earth. May your peace be with us all, now and always. Amen.
– Pete Hart
Friday, March 12
Psalms: 88, 91, 92, 95
Old Testament: Jeremiah 11:1-20
Epistle: Romans 6:1-11
Gospel: John 8:33-47
“Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before Him with thanksgiving.” (Psalm 95:1-2)
During the latter half of 2020, the Men’s Group read and reflected on the book "The Cost of Discipleship" by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It is quite a challenging read, and Bonhoeffer sets a high standard for what a disciple looks like. The study gave me pause to think about my Mum – Mary. She was born in Liverpool, England in 1913, an illegitimate child to an unwed mother (my Nan). She was raised by her Grandmother, who was a gin wife (a British term meaning she enjoyed gin to excess), in a harsh home in the slums of Liverpool. Mum left school at 14 and was barely literate – I never saw her read a book.
Both Mum and Dad were regular churchgoers and raised my brothers and me in the church – all cradle Anglicans. Mum never read a lesson in church, prayed out loud, or attended a bible study group – the things Christians do. In my teens (and in my arrogance) this left me thinking that she couldn’t be much of a Christian – she didn’t do ‘godly’ things. But every week she went, alone, and cleaned the church and the Sunday School. She took meals to Miss McCartney across the road. She baked for all the many social events that we held at church. She helped at the Mother and Baby club. Mum did discipleship in a practical way – the only way she knew how. It was only when I grew up spiritually that I was able to see what a true disciple my Mum was. When she died, a couple of hundred people turned up to her funeral (including 3 or 4 priests and bishops) to celebrate Mary who showed her love and her praise of Jesus in simple, joyous ways. I wish that I could be half the disciple that she was.
This last year we have closed our Vestry meetings with this prayer, which I want to share with you:
Teach us good Lord to serve You as You deserve.
To give and not to count the cost.
To fight and not to heed the wounds.
To toil and not to seek for rest.
To labour and not to ask for any reward,
save that of knowing that we do Your will. Amen.
– Linden E. Sanders
Saturday, March 13
Psalms: 87, 90, 136
Old Testament: Jeremiah 13:1-11
Epistle: Romans 6:12-23
Gospel: John 8:47-59
“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom… Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.” (Psalm 90:12-14)
While in college this past semester, I was having a lot of self-doubt about my major and handling the work-load, continuing with swimming, and practicing my faith by going to church. It was easier to tune in for church when I was home with my family, but at school, it became less of a priority because my teammates would have breakfast on Sunday mornings.
Then I met a guy named Chi Chi who (up until this point in my life) is the nicest and most genuine person I have ever met. I found out that Chi Chi was a student athlete with a similar career path – in addition to being very invested in his faith through a nearby church and the FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes). He encouraged me to join.
As a result of joining FCA, I met a group of student athletes who were going through similar experiences as me, and I felt less alone. They helped me find a church I could attend (following COVID safety guidelines, of course). Once I started going to church again, my life started to feel more put together.
I felt lost when I had stopped going to church because, back home, it was a huge part of my life. Going to church while at college and seeing people in person reminded me of why I have my faith.
I pray for those who are feeling lost and disconnected from God. I hope that one day, as I did, they will meet someone or a group of people who will help them get closer to God. Amen.
– Chale Jacks
Sunday, March 14
Psalms: 19, 46, 66, 67
Old Testament: Jeremiah 14:1-22
Epistle: Galatians 4:21–5:1
Gospel: Mark 8:11-21
“…Jesus asked… ‘Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?...’” (Mark 8:17-18)
Strange as it may seem, 2020 may very well be a year I look back on with fondness. Oh, it was rough, though I know our family has been blessed to have stayed healthy. There was separation from friends and family, job loss, and uncertainty. Our children should have been enjoying college and high school instead of online education from home. My wife had the most stressful year of her teaching career figuring out how to teach algebra over a spotty Wi-Fi and connecting with students in virtual classrooms. On top of that were the adjustments and sacrifices we all had to make and the absence of so much we enjoyed.
It’s been easy to be immersed in that and ask God where He’s at work. Similarly, Mark’s passage starts with the Pharisees asking Jesus for a sign from heaven and his disciples being concerned about the amount of bread they brought with them for the trip when Jesus is trying to point them toward bigger things. Both of these literally come right after Jesus fed thousands with a few loaves of bread. In different ways, they’re seeing small. What should be obvious gets lost in the day-to-day concerns.
I understand them. If Jesus were at the dinner table with us, I’d probably ask him where God was at work while we rehashed the trials above. Then he’d probably look at me and say “Dude, seriously?” (a current version of the “Do you have eyes but fail to see?” bit he gave the disciples). Then he’d point around the table and I’d realize how much of a gift it’s been having our grown children home with us for a year when we thought those days had passed. I know we’ll all remember the family games over dinner with great food cooked by our son, how awesome it’s been for the kids to spend so much time together now when the age differences don’t mean as much as they used to, and how wonderful it’s been going through all the ups and downs together.
I strongly suspect that, years from now, many of the stories we tell during family get-togethers will come from 2020, and they’ll have nothing to do with a pandemic, current events, or economic hardships. I just have to remember to have the eyes to see those things now. Amen.
– Tom O’Neill
Monday, March 15
Old Testament: Jeremiah 16:10-21
Epistle: Romans 7:1-12
Gospel: John 6:1-15
“…Jesus…said to Philip, ‘Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?’ He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.” (John: 6:5-6)
I’m not what you would call a practical person. Last year, I may have relied on my kids to tell me what day of the week it was, and I never seem to pay attention to my budget app when there’s a fun new latte flavor out. So, I was surprised at my first Outreach Committee meeting to find that I was the person most concerned with the numbers.
When it came time to planning our year’s events and programs, I was worried because there were so many great ideas on how we could help our community. While I normally like to say “yes” to everything and, “That’s awesome, let’s do it!” could be considered my catch phrase, I found myself asking, “How are we going to do all this?” It just didn’t seem possible.
While we were trying to figure out which things we could cut to stay within our budget, one of the members suggested we not worry about the “how” because “God would provide.” I’m not going to lie, I had to bite my tongue really hard to keep from saying that was not practical – because it’s not! That idea would never work for a business.
But then I thought about it calmly. For a church ministry, it actually felt right and made sense. So, we stopped planning and started praying, and guess what? We were able to accomplish all our goals, and then some! It reminds me of today’s reading, when Jesus had only five loaves of bread and two fish and was able to feed five thousand people.
This past year, when COVID-19 greatly increased the needs of our community, St. Matt’s didn’t give up helping our neighbors even when it seemed impossible; through God, we found a way to provide.
“O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and light riseth up in darkness for the godly: Grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what thou wouldest have us to do, that the Spirit of wisdom may save us from all false choices, and that in thy light we may see light, and in thy straight path may not stumble; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” (“A Collect for Guidance,” BCP, p. 832)
– Adrian Mattina
Tuesday, March 16
Psalms: 94, 95, 97, 100
Old Testament: Jeremiah 17:19-27
Epistle: Romans 7:13-25
Gospel: John 6:16-27
“When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.” (Psalm 94:19)
As I write this, we’ve just started to receive some promising news about COVID-19 vaccines. As you read this (three months from now), I’m optimistic that we’ll have made dramatic progress toward resolving this pandemic. Obviously, COVID-19 has been a dominant factor in everyone’s life this past year, but hopefully not all of the effects have been negative.
For me, the toughest part of all of this has been the virtualization of the personal interactions that I used to take for granted – collaborating with co-workers, attending church services, and participating in small group meetings. We’re very blessed to have the technology to be able to do this remotely, but after a while, I get really tired of staring at a tiny screen!
To counteract the effects of screen-overload, I decided to force myself to “unplug” during my recreational pursuits and spend as much time outside as possible. One of my favorite discoveries when looking for new outdoor activities was finding the Potomac Heritage Trail, which runs along the Virginia shore of the Potomac River. There is a continuous section of the trail that starts around Great Falls and travels through Algonkian Park. One sunny, early-Spring morning, I was dropped off near Great Falls so I could make the hike home.
For me, there is something very meditative about hiking solo. I love the quiet, where I can hear the sounds of nature, like water flowing or a gentle breeze in the trees, accompanied by the rhythmic beat of my hiking boots on the trail. It’s times like these when I tend to have my deepest conversations with God, sharing my joys, sorrows, and concerns – and this particular hike covered the entire spectrum.
Several miles and a few hours later, I had completed my journey, feeling both physically drained yet spiritually full.
I hope you can discover something that helps you “unplug” and get closer to God during these challenging times. I’m looking forward to when we can share these experiences together once again in-person. “For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” (Psalm 100:5) Amen.
– Brent Harding
Wednesday, March 17
Psalms: 101, 109, 119
Old Testament: Jeremiah 18:1-11
Epistle: Romans 8:1-11
Gospel: John 6:27-40
Last December, after the first snowfall of the season, I set out in predawn darkness for an intended two-hour walk – my customary daily exercise throughout the pandemic. The sidewalks still mostly crusty snow on ice, I hugged the left edges of roads until I got to the black asphalt trail. This was better footing, and I felt sure of my non-slip tread, until at three miles I came to a wooded patch where snow still covered the way. My feet flew forward and my back and my head slammed the ice. I lay stunned but conscious on the cold ground for several minutes. “Got to get up. Got to get home!” The route would cross busy roads. If I cursed my stupidity before, I prayed now for sure footing, a clear if still ringing head, and safety at the last. Forty shaky minutes later, I had an ice pack on my swollen, bloody head. Thanks be to God, still in the fight.
In 2013, I wrote the Friday Flash for the week beginning March 17th. I have some fresh thoughts about the song lyrics I quoted then, based on the prayer “Patrick’s Breastplate,” and beginning with the words “I arise today.” I’ve adapted the words to capture some thoughts from today’s readings. I’m painfully aware that, though the intervening eight years have brought many blessings, I have only found sure footing and rose up when I yielded myself to God. May we draw wisdom from Patrick on his day.
I arise today, with the Potter’s hands to mold me
I arise today, with living bread to sustain me
I arise today, with the blameless way before me
I arise today, through a mighty strength.
I arise today, with God’s eyes to watch over me
I arise today, with God’s ears to listen to me
I arise today, with God’s words singing in me
I arise today, through a mighty strength.
Christ is with me, before me and behind me
Christ is in me, beneath me and above me
Christ when I lie down, when I sleep and when I wake
And Christ in every heart encount’ring me.
I arise today, in no shame of condemnation
I arise today, in the hope of resurrection
I arise today, with a love that knows no limits
And I arise today, through a mighty strength.
– Matthew L. Brown
Thursday, March 18
Psalms: 69:1-38, 73
Old Testament: Jeremiah 22:13-23
Epistle: Romans 8:12-27
Gospel: John 6:41-51
“I am the bread of life.” (John 6:48)
One day recently I looked up into the branches of a winter-bare tree. Perched on the very top was a small bird, surveying his world. It was all so beautiful, the bare branches, the beauty of the bird. A feeling of sympathy suddenly struck me: here was a small world of beauty (the bird weighed so little that the twig on which he was perched did not bend down!), and no one would particularly see or care about it – but God does. The little bird may have a short unnoticed life span, but God meets its needs and watches over it. God notices.
Jesus says in the Gospel today that He is the bread of life. He ties it to a reminder of God’s caring from the history of His Jewish listeners, providing them with manna in the desert. Jesus said the manna was a miracle of God’s caring, but that a greater miracle had come. Manna was a food that only satisfied temporarily, but that He, as the bread of life, offered eternal life.
Having bread, or the feeling of being full, is deeply satisfying in a physical sense. Jesus, with His talk of manna and bread, knows this and reassures that He satisfies.
Jesus, thank you for caring for me, and for satisfying my needs in every way. Amen.
– Linda Merola
Friday, March 19
Psalms: 95, 102, 107
Old Testament: Jeremiah 23:1-8
Epistle: Romans 8:28-39
Gospel: John 6:52-59
“Hear my prayer, Lord; let my cry for help come to you” (Psalm 102:1)
Over the last year or so we have all been living the same story line. We are not in the same boat, but we are experiencing the same story line. We are in isolation. It makes me wonder what it’s been like for others, how it’s impacted their families, how they’ve coped.
I know what it’s been like for me and how I’ve tried to cope. It’s no secret…I exercise…a lot! I will go for a run, a swim, a long walk with my family; or I will sing it out! Singing brings me an overwhelming peace and calm. And it brings me joy.
But I will never forget the day I learned the church would be closed to the band members. It was as if the wind was knocked right out of me. I felt empty and angry! Our little safe haven was no longer safe. So what were we going to do? We still needed to bring the joy. We are, after all, the #joybringers, and this is our duty, our mission.
I will admit to having doubted God over the last year, wondering where He was. With many others, I cried for Him to “hear my prayer…my cry for help…” And boy, did He!
He sent us a message we needed to hear. It did not matter that we were singing outside the church building; we were still able to bring music to our church family, and not just locally, but all over the world. What a ministry! Our music has touched and reconnected family and friends in ways beyond measure.
I was also personally blessed. I was able to spend extra time with my children learning about their little hidden talents of filmography and video production. I also climbed a mountain to sing about the “overwhelming, never ending RECKLESS Love of God!” Surrounded by trees, feeling the warmth of the sun’s rays on my face, listening to the melody of birdsong blending in with the music God has gifted me to share – yes, I have been blessed!
And while this time has been a challenge, I will continue to “…sing for joy to the Lord…and extol him with music and song.” (Psalm 95:1-2). Amen.
– Akila O’Grady
Saturday, March 20
Psalms: 33, 107:33-43, 108
Old Testament: Jeremiah 23:9-15
Epistle: Romans 9:1-18
Gospel: John 6:60-71
“On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’” (John 6:60)
Last spring, there were a lot of jokes circulating about how introverts were happy to finally have a good excuse to stay home. As an introvert and a homebody, I felt that humor keenly. But even I felt the strain of the pandemic restrictions: no in-person school or activities for my son, no playdates for my daughter (or me!), constantly having to tweak established methods to keep Backpack Buddies afloat, and distancing from my parents and my spouse’s parents. My son’s cry of “Because QUARANTINE!” became a frequent refrain around the house.
So, I set up a daily schedule for me and the kids to mimic school and keep us all sane. It included time for reading and crafts, for building and outside play, and for schoolwork and learning new skills. I even wrote it out on a big posterboard to hang in the kitchen. We referred to that big chart constantly.
Then, one day, I realized that we weren’t really following my chart anymore. Yes, we were still eating too much and having too much screen time, but we were also exploring the creek near our house, doing random acts of kindness, creating wacky and joyful artwork, and trying out new recipes – and it was happening more or less organically.
We didn’t seem to experience the strain of restrictions as much anymore. We had acclimated. We were able to walk through each day, not just weighing our losses, but also counting our blessings. We learned the value of celebration. We felt, deeply, and we sat with those feelings. We no longer just heard, “What MUST we do?” We started hearing, “What CAN we do?” And we knew we were going to be OK.
“Let the one who is wise heed these things and ponder the loving deeds of the Lord.” (Psalm 107:43) Amen.
– Hilary Hultman-Lee
Sunday, March 21
Psalms: 118, 145
Old Testament: Jeremiah 23:16-32
Epistle: 1 Corinthians 9:19-27
Gospel: Mark 8:31 – 9:1
“The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me? The Lord is with me; he is my helper…” (Psalm 118:6-7)
My sister, who is five years older than me, has no fear. She jumps out of planes, goes hang gliding off cliffs, plays women’s rugby, jumps headfirst into large waves, and has a zest for life like no one else I know. I, on the other hand, have always taken the safer route. I’ve always preferred the predictable, individual relaxing sports like swimming, jogging, and bowling. I was exposed to every sport as a kid. Ball sports? Never. I would conjure images of that hard ball making contact with my temple; thus, rendering me unconscious. Ultimate Frisbee? No way. I feared getting clocked in the eye with that hard plastic edge.
I often think about the grip that fear has on our lives. Should I take that new job with more responsibility? Should I move to that new town where I know no one? Should I let my newly licensed teenager drive to the mall? I know people with such debilitating fears that they are unable to leave their homes. Other friends are so gripped by health anxiety that they truly believe they have a serious disease from which they are dying. Others are tormented by social anxiety: Will I embarrass myself in front of strangers? What will they think of me?
Today’s Psalms bring me comfort when fear taunts me. When I’m afraid of failure, or when faced with the fear of, “What will people think of me?” Psalm 118 especially reassures me: “The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” And Psalm 145 tells me: “The Lord upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down.” (v.14)
Lord, thank you for Your Word, which is truly a light unto my path. Thank you also for Your son, Jesus, who exemplified fearlessness. Amen.
Monday, March 22
Psalms: 31, 35
Old Testament: Jeremiah 24:1-10
Epistle: Romans 9:19-33
Gospel: John 9:1-17
“As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth…[Jesus] spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes…So the man went and washed, and came home seeing…Some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath…’” (John 9:1-16)
My husband was Jewish but, at age 15, he decided that the Jewish faith did not work for him. As a Christian, I was a bitter pill for my devout Orthodox mother-in-law to swallow. To her credit, she stood by Gerry’s decision to marry outside the faith and defended us to her very Orthodox family.
I often heard my mother-in-law say, “You aren’t allowed to do that,” referring to various aspects of life. One time, she was talking about a woman whose father had died the morning of her wedding and how difficult it was for everyone to celebrate the marriage. When I asked why they did not postpone the wedding, she matter-of-factly said, “You aren’t allowed to.”
When my father-in-law died, she gave me a book about the rules of mourning. That book covered everything! How long the rend in your garment had to be, what to do if another close relative died while you were still wearing your rended garment, how long you were to mourn, what you had to do or could not do while mourning, etc. I was amazed!
When a friend of hers died, my mother-in-law remarked that he did a lot for the temple, but was not very religious. When I asked what would make him religious, she simply replied, “How well you follow the law.”
My husband used to say you could be a good Jew and never make a decision; there was a rule for everything! So, every time I hear this scripture about the man born blind, and get to the part about the Pharisees and their rules, I thank Jesus for freeing us from all that!
Maybe that makes it harder to be a Christian. But I think our two rules, to Love God and to Love our Neighbors, are much easier. Plus, when it gets hard to love my neighbor, the Holy Spirit is there to help!
Thank you, God, for sending your son to save us, and thank you, Jesus, for reducing all those rules to two and for welcoming us into direct relationship with you! Amen.
– Adrienne Miller
Tuesday, March 23
Psalms: 120, 121, 122, 123
Old Testament: Jeremiah 25:8-17
Epistle: Romans 10:1-13
Gospel: John 9:18-41
“They still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents.” (John 9:18)
You continue to remove blinders. While I do “see” others, it feels like I’ve been blind in other ways. Over the past few years, I’ve felt pushed to include only “necessary” people in conversations. I had to remain hyper-focused on making sure anything I said or communicated matched project management’s narrative.
I clearly remember a client coming to my desk and asking me to send over a report. After sending it, I was chastised by my manager for sending the information because it might be misinterpreted and make us look bad. A string of these criticisms ate away at my decision-making confidence, and I ended up keeping most of my thoughts to myself. After switching to a new project, my manager immediately shared that the new project appreciates communication that includes anyone who might provide value to a conversation. Through this discussion, You renewed and improved my communication skills.
This past year has changed communication for all of us. After working remotely for at least 15 years out of the past 22, one of the most promising things I saw in 2020 was management recognizing that remote work can succeed. While we do connect personally, I still miss some of the side conversations that only seem to happen when we’re in a room together.
Through all these communication changes, You have helped me “see” others I sometimes struggle to get along with as valuable and worth my appreciation. Pausing and listening to others speak has brought forth better ideas. Including groups in discussions has helped me understand the impact of my decisions. Speaking my mind, and having my actions accepted, has improved my self-confidence.
As I move through Lent, I look forward to better communication with others, and I pray that You continue to remove blinders from me. I can’t wait to see what You have to show me next. Amen.
“Open my eyes, Lord - Help me to see your face…
Open my ears, Lord - Help me to hear your voice…
Open my heart, Lord - Help me to love like you…”
(“Open My Eyes” by John Michael Talbot)
– Tom Leary
Wednesday, March 24
Psalms: 119, 128, 129, 130
Old Testament: Jeremiah 25:30-38
Epistle: Romans 10:14-21
Gospel: John 10:1-18
“May my tongue sing of your word, for all your commands are righteous.” (Psalm 119:172)
I am not a singer. Yet, I am a member of our choir.
I joined St. Matthew’s a long time ago. I had never really listened to the harmonies in music until I heard the St. Matthew’s choir. I was enthralled by the blend of the different voices and how they were used to weave the deep, beautiful messages of the Bible. So, I launched off and started taking lessons at Melodee music, perhaps the oldest student they ever had.
Soon, I was a member of the choir. I cherished the challenge of getting as close as I could to the correct pitch and hearing my voice in that weave of sound I fell in love with so long ago. Kevin Fletcher, our choir master, has been the epitome of patience and nurturing, encouraging me to continue to participate. (Note to all: If I can do this, anyone can; so join the choir if you have any pleasure in singing!)
Then COVID-19 came along, and our choir could no longer rehearse or sing together. As a non-singer, I felt this could have been the end of my choral journey. But Kevin arranged a means for us to remotely record ourselves and submit our recordings to be blended into our choir music for the 11 AM Sunday service. This presented a huge challenge for me because I depended on the voices around me for pitch. Nevertheless, as duly assigned, I recorded my voice every week. But when I listened to my recordings before submitting them, I did not know if I should laugh hysterically or just give up and cry. I mentioned to Kevin how horrible I thought I sounded, but he assured me I was doing a decent job. I thought he was just being kind and accused him of patronizing me.
To prove his point, he made a special recording of just my voice along with the alto voices to show me I was, indeed, on pitch. I was astounded and so grateful to know I was still contributing to the choir, to the beautiful harmonies I love to listen to, to the feeling of being just a little closer to heaven.
And I hope to continue to sing. Alone, my voice is truly comedic. But in harmony with each other, our voices are truly elevated.
Lord, may my tongue continue to sing of your Word. Amen.
– Richard Henry
Thursday, March 25
Psalms: 131, 132, 140, 142
Old Testament: Jeremiah 26:1-16
Epistle: Romans 11:1-12
Gospel: John 10:19-42
“I cry aloud to the Lord; I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy. I pour out before him my complaint; before him I tell my trouble.” (Psalm 142:1-2)
Shortly after Lilah was born we learned that she might be suffering from a serious illness that would force her to face life-long deficits and challenges. As any parent can imagine, my receipt of this potential diagnosis was devastating. In an instant, the joy I had experienced from becoming a first-time mom was gone, and I was filled with fear and anger. I questioned why something so terrible was happening to me. I felt alone and desperate. Although I had not called upon the Lord in many years, I found myself praying for understanding and clarity.
I cannot explain how it happened, but while I was praying, I realized something profound – something that would change my life forever. I realized how incredibly lucky I was to love someone so much that I could feel so desperate about her potential illness. I realized how incredibly blessed I was to have the opportunity to love a child the way I loved Lilah; and through my intense fear and anger was born the greatest gift – immense hope and faith.
Lilah is now 9 years old. We ultimately learned that she was not suffering from a serious illness, that she would be just fine. I am incredibly thankful for that, but I am also thankful that I had the opportunity to restore my faith in and love for God.
Shortly after this experience, my family began attending St. Matthew’s on Sundays. It is my hope to raise my daughter in a church where she will also learn to call upon God and find His mercy and love in times of trouble.
“We need no other hiding place
Our hope is safe within Your name
This we know, this we know
You promise never to forsake
What You began you will sustain
This we know, this we know
I will call upon the Lord…” Amen.
(“Call upon the Lord,” by Elevation Worship)
– Hillary Collins
Friday, March 26
Psalms: 22, 95, 141, 143
Old Testament: Jeremiah 29:1, 4-13
Epistle: Romans 11:13-24
Gospel: John 11:1-27
“God, come close. Come quickly! Open your ears—it’s my voice you’re hearing! Treat my prayer as sweet incense rising; my raised hands are my evening prayers.” (Psalm 141:1-2, The Message)
These are the words of David to God. I think David is imploring God to turn his prayers into something more than just his own words, to make them special – sweetly wafting up for God to hear.
Many times, I send up quick thoughts as I’m driving, in between projects, or running to another activity – “Keep them safe, Lord.” “Beautiful sunset, thanks!”
Sometimes silence is perfect, like when I’m walking the Labyrinth at Shrine Mont on a crisp, breezy, peaceful afternoon.
During tough times in my life, such as illness or the death of a loved one, my words, my conversations with God, have been nothing at all like sweet incense. I think temper tantrum, whining, and impatient demands would better describe what went on.
There have even been times, such as the death and funerals of my parents, when I didn’t have any words at all.
And I am so grateful for the authors who write, musicians who compose and write music, and the artists who paint, sculpt, and much more. The gifts they create touch my heart and mind like nothing else and help me to express myself in ways that involve more than just words.
So, even when I’m not confident that my prayers will be as sweet as incense rising, I think God hears me. God is listening and understands whether my words are short, or impatient, or when I don’t have any words at all, or when I’m reading a prayer or praising in song. He understands and takes whatever I can give.
Hear our prayer, O Lord, – Óyenos, Señor,
hear our prayer, O Lord; – óyenos, Señor;
incline thine ear to us, – escucha la oración,
and grant us thy peace. Amen. – y danos tu paz. Amen.
(A hymn – Anonymous)
– Sue Reier
Saturday, March 27
Psalms: 42, 43, 137, 144
Old Testament: Jeremiah 31:27-34
Epistle: Romans 11:25-36
Gospel: John 12:37-50
“I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in the darkness.” (John 12:46)
I was 19 years old, in the early 1960’s, when the power went out all along the east coast. The subway train I was on jerked to a stop. I sat in complete darkness, feeling my heart start to race when suddenly, to my relief, the emergency lights went on. But the train was not moving, and the car I was in was not at a station.
There were three strangers sitting near me. We started talking, trying to figure out what was going on and how long we would be sitting on the train. It was the middle of July, and the air was getting stuffy and hot. After about an hour, the conductor walked through and announced that the first car of the train was at the station. Our group decided to make our way through the train and up to the street to find a taxi to take each of us home. Eventually, we got out of the train and onto a very dark platform. One of the men lit a match, and we used its tiny light to make our way up the exit to the street. It was very dark outside, and there was complete chaos! We saw only a few headlights, no lights from any surrounding buildings, no traffic lights, and no streetlights.
One of the men hailed a taxi, and we all piled in. A sigh of relief came over me – I was finally on my way home. I was the last one that the taxi driver dropped off, arriving home at 10:30 p.m. Back then there were no cell phones to let our loved ones know what was happening, so my parents were relieved to see me.
Once home, I wondered if it was luck that got me home or divine intervention. Thinking back on it now, I believe that it was divine intervention – that I encountered a group of friendly strangers, that one of them had matches to “light the way” to the street, and that we found a taxi driver who was willing to take a group of people to four different destinations that night. The “light” that Jesus promises comes in so many ways.
Lord Jesus, help me always to believe in you, look for your light, and find my way out of the darkness. Amen.
– Wilma Sargent
Palm Sunday, March 28
Psalms: 24, 29,103
Old Testament: Zechariah 9:9-12
Epistle: 1 Timothy 6:12-16
Gospel: Matt. 21:12-17
“Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope…” (Zechariah 9:12)
Plan the flight, fly the plan. Always fly the plane. As a flight instructor, this is a common mantra I impart onto student pilots preparing for their first solo flights. Preparation and adherence to the plan lead to expected outcomes, and overcome the fear and anxiety that are natural when exercising a new skill.
As we enter Holy Week, anxiety and fear abound. On Palm Sunday, the Lord Jesus arrives in Jerusalem on a donkey in celebration. He knows the plan, and that the time of his death is coming, if not completely imminent. Jesus is fully human, and the fear is hidden perhaps by the palm fronds and people cheering. Yet, we know he feels fear and anxiety, but he is preparing this week for what is to come.
Unfortunately, in life, we don’t know the plan, and diversions to unexpected destinations happen often. Still, prayer can prepare. Such was the situation I found myself in five years ago this week when I learned that my daughter’s flu-like illness during her freshman year in college had become far worse. She was admitted to the ICU directly from the ER. She was suddenly and gravely ill and could not breathe on her own. Within hours, the ventilator would be insufficient. With extraordinary speed, she would be placed on a heart and lung machine to take over for her 19 year-old lungs that became completely non-functional in just 12 hours.
After a week in this condition, more vital organs began to shut down, and the procedure to replace other essential bodily functions failed. The next morning, her mother and I met with the top doctors in the hospital to discuss the fatal realities of her declining and hopeless condition. The next thing I did was look up the prayer of St. Jude to prepare for the things to come, careful not to plead and negotiate. As I prayed, fear and anxiety were replaced by peace and comfort. I think the implausible events that followed later that morning were not the result of that one prayer, though I’m grateful for the miracle of my daughter’s full recovery in the months that followed.
As we enter Holy Week after a year of so much illness and death, fear and anxiety, I invite you to prepare for the Coming of Zion’s king (i.e., plan the flight) and pray (i.e., fly the plan) with thanksgiving as “prisoners of hope.” Amen.
– Robert Henry
Monday, March 29
Psalms: 51:1-20, 69:1-23
Old Testament: Jeremiah 12:1-16
Epistle: Philippians 3:1-14
Gospel: John 12:9-19
“Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck…I sink…there is no foothold…” (Psalm 69:1-2)
My parents raised my siblings and me on the straight and narrow, and part of that included teaching us how to pray. By the time I was in kindergarten, I was doing more than just praying the Rosary; I felt comfortable casually talking to God.
I remember one sunny summer day, when I was maybe 8 years old. I was with my family at a very popular outdoor swimming pool in Austin. It was fed from underground springs and had a natural, rocky bottom. My parents left me and Johnny, my younger brother, to enjoy the water while they sat on a blanket in the shade to relax after working hard all week in their blue collar jobs. They reminded us to stay in the shallow water, where they could see us. We didn’t know how to swim, but each of us wore a swimming ring, carefully inflated by Dad.
After a while, I noticed that my parents were engaged in conversation with another couple. Feeling confident and quite grown-up, I left Johnny with a friend in the shallow water and inched my way closer to the deeper part of the pool, glancing over my shoulder to make sure my parents were still distracted. Quite suddenly, the rocks under my feet turned slimy. I quickly started to lose my footing. To my horror, I started slipping through the ring. It was all I could do to keep my face above water. I panicked big time, but I couldn’t find my voice. Maybe I was afraid I’d get in trouble, or maybe I was too embarrassed to cry, “Help!” Whatever my fear, it silenced my voice – but my inner voice instinctively cried to God.
Before I could sink completely underwater, a nearby swimmer saw my distress, took my elbow, and walked me to the edge of the pool. Shaken, I took a breath, and slowly made my way back to my brother’s side before our parents could see where I’d been. I don’t remember thanking the teen who’d come to my rescue, but I do remember thanking God for sending him.
Heavenly Father, thank you for always being there to pull me up when I slip, lose my foothold, and find myself sinking in waters up to my neck. Amen.
– Martha Olson
Tuesday, March 30
Psalms: 6, 12, 94
Old Testament: Jeremiah 15:10-21
Epistle: Philippians 3:15-21
Gospel: John 12:20-26
"When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy." (Psalm 94:19)
It seems like another lifetime ago, and in many ways, it was. In 2004, I was assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya as a Logistics Technician in the Engineering Security Office for the U.S. Department of State.
Prior to this assignment, I’d never left North America. I was an excited, nervous, and hopeful 25-year-old. I was too young and too naïve to realize the dangers, focused solely on the possibilities. However, that very quickly changed when I discovered I was expecting a baby during the second year of my tour.
Because of the lack of neonatal care available in Kenya, I was “medically evacuated” to the U.S. to deliver, leaving my (then) spouse to continue working in Nairobi.
Anna Clarice Campbell was born on December 3, 2005, a perfect gift from God. However, from the moment she was born, dread filled my entire body as I contemplated the arduous journey back to Nairobi, as well as the conditions in which she would live once we returned. It was one thing to go to Kenya myself, but to take along an innocent six-week-old baby seemed impossible. Yet, I had a job and her father to return to. It had to be done. January 18 was our return date. Joshua 1:6 became my mantra: “Be strong and courageous.”
To make matters worse, my sweet Anna-Claire developed colic. Once she started crying one dark, December night, she didn’t stop until after Easter in mid-April. So, now I was faced not only with taking an infant on a 24-hour journey alone, but she also would be crying the entire time.
Anna-Claire was crying before the car even left the driveway on the bright, cold morning of January 18. “Be strong and courageous,” I repeated incessantly. Miraculously, once we got on the airplane in Charlotte, Anna-Claire stopped crying. She remained silent from Charlotte to Detroit, and from Detroit to Amsterdam, and again from Amsterdam to Nairobi.
I called my parents back in South Carolina once we arrived at Jomo Kenyatta Airport in Nairobi, and my first words were, “GOD IS SO GOOD!” We had arrived safely, and my colicky baby had not cried for the entire trip!
Dear Heavenly Father, may we always remember that we are not alone in our anxiety. Help us to focus on the joy you provide us. Amen.
– Emory H. McCann
Wednesday, March 31
Psalms: 55, 74
Old Testament: Jeremiah 17:5-10, 14-17
Epistle: Philippians 4:1-13
Gospel: John 12:27-36
Reading Psalm 55 today, I was struck by how much of it sounded like a list of things people have endured during this past year. It literally goes on and on, and truthfully, I almost walked away. But after a pause to ask God to show me what I was to see in this psalm, I continued. Then, I read:
“Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you.” (Psalm 55:22)
I immediately started singing the song “Cast My Cares” by Finding Favour.
“I will cast my cares on you
You're the anchor of my hope
The only one who's in control
I will cast my cares on you
I'll trade the troubles of this world
For your peace inside my soul
I'm finding there's freedom
When I lay it all on your shoulders
Cast my cares I will, cast my cares
I will, cast my cares on you
Cast my cares I will, cast my cares
I will, cast my cares on you
Cast my cares I will, cast my cares
I will, cast my cares on you”
As I sang this song, I found myself becoming peaceful. I found myself thinking of how the Praise Band at St. Matthew’s sang me through so many emotions this past year and how, as I sing, I experience “…the peace of God, which transcends all understanding.” (Philippians 4:7)
“Cast my cares I will, cast my cares I will, cast my cares on you”
I’ve heard that the Bible says not to fear or worry 365 times. No, I haven’t counted yet. But, if that is true, then that’s once for each day of the year, which is about how many times I needed to be reminded this past year. Today’s reminder is, “Do not be anxious about anything (that’s hard by the way), but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6)
“Cast my cares I will, cast my cares I will, cast my cares on you”
As I sing, I don’t feel alone. Instead, I see the band singing their hearts out. I carry the memory of our church family gathered in the pews and singing together (as we will again). I sense God in our midst.
This time of Lent is a time of repentance, a turning back to God. So today, I will turn to God, singing. Amen.
– Susie Harding
Maundy Thursday, April 1
Old Testament: Jeremiah 20:7-11
Epistle: 1 Corinthians 10:14-17
Gospel: John 17:1-26
“I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known, in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” (John 17:26)
“You don’t want your toes done?” asked the woman at the salon. My mother and sister were getting pedicures during our Ladies Day Out. “No thanks,” I said. “My husband likes to paint them for me.”
He really does. He likes to take care of me, because he loves me. He knows that polishing my toes demonstrates that he thinks all of me is beautiful (even though I think my feet are really weird). He knows how happy it makes me to look down at my toes and see a pop of color or shine. He knows how I feel cherished when I prop my tired feet in his lap as he carefully applies polish, critically surveying any bubbles or thin spots.
“What, does he have a foot fetish or something?” laughed the salon woman.
Her reaction still sticks with me, years later. With a few words, she belittled something precious. How sad it was that she had such difficulty believing his motivation could be selfless.
It’s counter-cultural—especially for a man—to voluntarily, intimately, care for another person, for no reason other than love. It’s as counter-cultural today as it was when, on the night before he died, Jesus took his friends’ tired feet in his lap and carefully washed them, showing them how God cherished them, showing them how he loved them, showing them how to make his love known to the world.
Every time my husband paints my toes, he shows me how he loves me, and I remember that to follow Jesus doesn’t necessarily require grand gestures or heroic sacrifices. To follow Jesus just requires that we do what he did: love those around us selflessly, and serve them with tender care. That is how we know God’s love, and make God’s love known. Amen.
– Genevieve Zetlan
Good Friday, April 2
Psalms: 22, 40, 54, 95
Old Testament: Wisdom 1:16–2:1
Epistle: 1 Peter 1:10-20
Gospel: John 19:38-42
“Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus…With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus…Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices [of myrrh and aloes], in strips of linen…” (John 19:38-40)
I never cared much for cemeteries. I found them to be depressing and lonely, and I wondered how one could possibly feel connected to a friend or family member in a place like that. I did not understand why folks spent so much time discussing burial customs or went to place flowers at a headstone. I certainly did not understand why Joseph of Arimathea would have felt so compelled to take away and prepare the body of Jesus. I am not proud of this former attitude toward resting places, nor do I share it to tell anyone how they should or should not feel.
But all of that changed when my best friend was hit by a car while riding her bike, and died. My world shattered. I have never known grief like this, and I will never quite be the same.
Her mom called me the day after the accident to ask whether or not I knew if Ashley wanted to be cremated. By the grace of God, we had talked about it, what we might want when we died.
Two months later, after holding services and memorials so that the many, many people who loved her could say goodbye, we held a small burial where her parents had, just a year prior, bought a plot in the Sewanee cemetery. Her ashes were laid to rest in a beautiful wooden jar, lovingly carved from the trunk of a tree.
Not long after that, when I was visiting the mountain again, I got permission from her parents and planted lavender next to her headstone. I did not have perfumes or spices or linens, but I did have a small, aromatic plant that I believed would honor her in a way that few other things could. Now, whenever I can, I go to visit Ashley and smell that lavender.
I thank God every day for the sacrifice that Jesus made on Good Friday, for the loved ones who mourned Jesus in the only way they knew how, and for the hope that keeps my faith alive, the hope of the resurrection. That hope, and the smell of lavender, are what keep me connected to my best friend. Amen.
– Rev. Mary Margaret Winn
Holy Saturday, April 3
Psalms: 27, 88
Old Testament: Job 19:21-27a
Epistle: Hebrews 4:1-16
Gospel: Romans 8:1-11
“I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” (Psalm 27:13)
Some years ago, when I lived in Carlisle, Cumbria UK, I was having problems with my tummy, and after several visits to the doctor, it was decided that I needed to have an internal examination.
On the day I was due to go to the hospital for the examination, I sat at home reflecting on this Psalm (which was set in my daily Bible reading notes), feeling very uncertain about what the results of the tests might bring. My anxiety levels were fairly high, and reading this Psalm brought me a real sense of peace, especially as I read verse 13. I really felt God was giving me a promise that I need not be afraid and that he had things that he wanted me to do in the future.
About half an hour after I had been praying, there was a knock on the door. A couple of people from my local church had called to offer to pray with me before I went to the hospital. Not only did they offer to pray, but the Psalm they read was the very Psalm I had been reading just a few moments earlier.
I was amazed (and I know I should not have been!) at the way that God had provided these people at just the right time and how their reading of that Psalm brought a real sense of calm to my mind.
How often God comes to us in our moments of doubt and fear – either through a verse of scripture or a word of encouragement or a prayer from someone else – and gives us courage and hope for the future.
I pray, as we reflect on Lent and the stories around this season, that we may find a sense of peace and the promise of God’s healing and presence with us. Amen.
– Reverend Canon Wendy Sanders
Easter Sunday, April 4
“Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head: they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away.” (Isaiah 51:11, KJV)
When I was a teenager, my parents took me to Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. At that time, a great spiritual awakening was sweeping across America. People from a wide variety of religious backgrounds were joining together to worship God, just like the thousands of us who were gathering at Duquesne that week. One of the things we did together was sing, and one of the songs we sang contained the last few verses from Isaiah designated for today:
“Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return
And come with singing unto Zion;
And everlasting joy shall be upon their head.
They shall obtain gladness and joy;
And sorrow and mourning shall flee away.”
We sang wholeheartedly and without reserve, and did indeed “obtain gladness and joy.” The air was so thick with joy that sorrow and mourning could not help but flee away. But it was not an “everlasting joy.” I had absolutely no idea what was coming.
Maybe I still don’t.
Only, maybe now it’s in reverse. In that moment of such great joy so many years ago that I remember it keenly still, I had no idea how much sorrow lay ahead. In my youthful ignorance and naïveté, I wouldn’t have thought it possible. Now, in this moment, where there can be so much sorrow that it is sometimes hard to see beyond it, perhaps I have no idea how great will be the joy and gladness that are still to come. Perhaps now it is the ignorance and naïveté born of increasing years that threaten to blind me – blind me to the full extent that healing, redemption, restoration, reconciliation, and, yes, a joy so great it chases all sorrow and sighing away, are possible for us… are still possible for me.
That is the promise of Easter, my dear and beloved friends. It is made tangible in the resurrection of Jesus, who, even in the face of death, never stopped believing in resurrection. We may not have any idea what is possible, but God does. And so on this Easter day 2021, I choose to believe in a future of joy beyond imagining as well. I believe you can, too. Amen.
– Fr. Rob Merola