Prepare to Listen. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.
Prayerfully Read Matthew 28:1-10
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” This is my message for you.’ 8So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’
Twice, first by the angel and then by Jesus, the women were greeted with, “Do not be afraid.” The guards at the tomb were terrified, and who can blame them. Matthew alone highlights the drama at the tomb—an earthquake, a large stone rolled away, guards fainting, an angel looking like lightning. It was enough to terrify the bravest. They needed to hear Don’t be afraid, again and again. But there was good news from the angel. The one they grieved on Saturday was alive on Sunday. The women believed and raced back to Jerusalem. They hadn’t gone far when Jesus appeared to them and repeated, ‘Don’t be afraid.’ That’s the Easter message.
Sadly, we haven’t got it. I know Christians today who are controlled by fear. They fear people who disagree with them about what to believe and how to behave. In their fear they make enemies out of people who aren’t on their side, who vote differently, join different political parties. They live in fear that their enemy may win and take control. And they let fear lead them into a wasteland.
We need to hear the risen Lord say to us again, DO NOT BE AFRAID. If we truly believe the resurrection, truly believe Jesus is alive and in our midst today, we have no justification for fear. Jesus is Lord, not us. Jesus is alive and in control of the world, moving it towards the end God desired from the beginning. Do not be afraid. Instead, like the women, take hold of Jesus’ feet and worship him.
Ponder this Easter message today: Don’t be afraid. How will you respond to the fear around you today?
Respond in Prayer
Lord you are to be praised and worshiped because you have overcome the world and also my many fears. Help me grasp the meaning of the resurrection and live in trust not fear. Amen.
Live Obediently. Do not be afraid.
Prepare to Listen. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.
Prayerfully Read Matthew 27:55-66
55Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him. 56Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. 57When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. 58He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. 59So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth 60and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. 61Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb. 62The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate 63and said, ‘Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, “After three days I will rise again.” 64Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, “He has been raised from the dead”, and the last deception would be worse than the first.’ 65Pilate said to them, ‘You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.’ 66So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.
Repeatedly Jesus told his disciples that he’d suffer, die and after three days rise again. Did they remember his words? His adversaries did and were afraid the disciples would steal the body and claim he was alive, so they asked Pilate to seal and guard the tomb. Meanwhile, the disciples went into hiding. They never saw Jesus die, they never saw where his body was laid, and they never patiently waited at the tomb.
Only three women disciples waited and saw Jesus die. Only Mary Magdalene and the other Mary sat opposite the tomb, waiting. There was nothing else they could do, except wait. Did the women remember Jesus’ words? Were they expecting him to rise again? Did they hope to see him come out of the tomb fully alive? I wonder. Jesus was dead, silent, helpless and they could do nothing but grieve and wait.
They grieved Jesus’ death. Today, we grieve the state of the world. We can’t avoid our sorrow or pretend it’s not there. Like the women, we can’t give up in the face of suffering, even though we can do nothing about it. Like these two women, we can only grieve and wait in hope. They were rewarded, as we’ll read tomorrow. But first, they had to face the emptiness and the absence of God and wait.
Sometimes we jump too quickly to resurrection and fail to experience the healing that only comes through the wounds of the cross. Grieve and wait with the two Marys today.
Respond in Prayer
Lord, I know the story ends in resurrection. But today, as I wait, help me grasp more fully the suffering of the cross so that I don’t empty it of meaning or ignore the suffering in the world today. Help me be willing to touch their wounds. Amen.
Live Obediently. Wait for the Lord.
Prepare to Listen. Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last.
Prayerfully Read Matthew 27:45-56
45From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 46And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ 47When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘This man is calling for Elijah.’ 48At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. 49But the others said, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.’ 50Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. 51At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. 53After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. 54Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’ 55Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him. 56Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.
The only ones to hear Jesus’ cry of lament and witness his death were bystanders, Roman soldiers and women disciples. They heard, but not really. Some thought he was calling for Elijah and waited to see if he’d come. They failed to recognize the lament from Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” Would they have mocked again if they had really heard? God, they presumed, had forsaken Jesus, and couldn’t deliver him. Jesus breathed his last.
What no one knew, except Jesus was that his death was “the point towards which the gospel has been moving all along,” as N. T. Wright notes. He was forsaken on the cross, not because God had rejected him, or didn’t want to deliver him, but because his whole life was about this moment, when the weight of sin and evil of all creation converged on him, blocking the love of his Father as surely as the sunlight was blocked that afternoon. But even in this, he remained obedient, trusting the Father to bring him through to the other side, to a new and changed world for us all.
With one last agonizing cry, one Matthew fails to give the words, but which John says was, “It is finished,” he died (Jn 19:30). In omitting the words, Matthew highlights the agony of the moment in a dramatic way. One last loud cry “and he breathed his last,” followed by one long silence.
Take a few minutes to be still and silent before the cross.
Respond in Prayer
Live Obediently. Take time for silence today.
 Wright, N. T. Matthew for Everyone Part 2. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press. 2004, p. 191.
Prepare to Listen. This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.
Prayerfully Read Matthew 27:32-44
32As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross. 33And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), 34they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. 35And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; 36then they sat down there and kept watch over him. 37Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, ‘This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.’ 38Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. 39Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads 40and saying, ‘You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.’ 41In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, 42‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. 43He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, “I am God’s Son.”’ 44The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way.
The temptation at Jesus’ end is the same as at his beginning--If you are the Son of God. Not from Satan this time, but from passers-by who mocked. The religious rulers taunted, ‘We’ll believe you if you come down from the cross,’ adding, “He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to.” What they expected, happened. Nothing.
I don’t think we can judge them. I know I can’t. I’ve often doubted God’s willingness to deliver me, or a loved one, a nation under enemy fire, countless people buried under earthquake rubble. We know people who reject God, complaining, even mocking, ‘If God exists as a loving God, then why doesn’t he deliver the suffering?’ It’s a legitimate question, with an elusive answer. I was always taught that God is loving and wants to deliver us now. If I wasn’t delivered, which happened often, it meant I lacked trust. I wonder whether I’d have stood at the cross and mocked too. How about you? If God exists why does God allow suffering to continue? But here’s the thing, God didn’t deliver Jesus either.
Yet he never doubted the Father’s words at his baptism and again at his Transfiguration: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt. 3:17; 17:5). He trusted God, not to restore him to life as it was, but to be with him and take him through the cross and death to a new and different life. Often God, for reasons known only to God, leaves us in the hard times, remaining with us. In the end we find ourselves in a different place where we see everything more clearly. We can only trust and wait.
Imagine Jesus on the cross. How would you react if you were there?
Respond in Prayer
Lord, for all those today who feel forsaken by you because of circumstances, be present with them and help them keep trusting even when they can’t see or feel your presence. Amen.
Live Obediently. Trust God even in the dark.
Prepare to Listen. Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.
Prayerfully Read Matthew 26:47-56
47While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; with him was a large crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. 48Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, ‘The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him.’ 49At once he came up to Jesus and said, ‘Greetings, Rabbi!’ and kissed him. 50Jesus said to him, ‘Friend, do what you are here to do.’ Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him. 51Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. 52Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. 53Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? 54But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?’ 55At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, ‘Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. 56But all this has taken place, so that the scriptures of the prophets may be fulfilled.’ Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.
It’s instinctual to defend and protect those we love, whether with words or weapons. We understand Peter’s violent reaction when Judas arrived with an army to arrest the leader he loved, and whom he hoped would establish a new world order in Jerusalem. But resorting to violence isn’t the way of Jesus. He immediately rebuked and stopped Peter, saying, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” Violence begets violence and rarely, if ever, proves anything. I’m not sure that we’ve gotten this message, at least in U.S. society. We resort to guns and violence too often and too readily. It’s not the way of Jesus and should be condemned by the church.
Jesus didn’t rebuke Judas. Instead, he “delicately,” showed him love, calling him friend, not enemy, urging, “do what you are here to do.” Judas betrayed him, led the enemy to him, identified him with a mocking kiss, yet Jesus gave him a chance to change his mind. He was friend. Later that night, Jesus was tortured, insulted, mocked, spat upon, falsely accused. He never once reacted with violence, never once let fear dictate a vindictive and hateful response and never once appealed to the Father for vindication. He remained calm, maintaining “unflinching acceptance of a path that pointed to suffering, humiliation, failure and death.” He willingly and humbly followed it.
Jesus’ path of non-violence is radical, but it’s what led to ultimate victory. It’s what is most needed today when fear leads so many to react in violent ways. Chose the way of non-violence today.
Respond in Prayer
Lord, there is nothing sissy-ish in your way. It took great courage to resist a violent response, trusting God to be with and keep you. Help me live more like you today. Amen.
Live Obediently. Put away your ‘sword,’ be it words or weapons.
 Only John names him (Jn. 18:10).
 From John of the Cross as quoted in Lent With Evelyn Underhill, 1990, p. 37.
 Ibid., p, 38.
Prepare to Listen. You shall love the Lord your God. You shall love your neighbour as yourself.
Prayerfully Read Matthew 22:34-40
34When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ 37He said to him, ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” 38This is the greatest and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” 40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’
A pastor was asked her views on the church and homosexuality. She replied, ‘I’m called to love God and my neighbor, and that keeps me very busy.’ And she’s right. When a lawyer, hoping to trick Jesus, asked for the greatest commandment, Jesus gave a thoroughly traditional response. He told the lawyer to go back to basics—love God with your whole being and love your neighbor as yourself. It may be basic, but it’s also so “deeply searching that everyone else would be challenged by it.” It’s the only way to live as followers of Jesus.
Many of us live in a very divided society and this has affected our churches. I know people who left a church over its political views, treatment of LGBTQ, women in leadership, and more. We disagree on much that it seems, as Brueggemann wonders, whether “we have to some extent in the church forgotten the ties that bind us in the gospel to the living God and each other.” He suggests that the way to truly live the gospel and move beyond our differences, is to go back to basics, that is to these two commandments about loving God and loving our neighbor. In the biblical tradition neighbor always includes the outcasts, the marginalized, the despised. This dual love is the mark that will set us apart from the world. When the church chooses whom to love and whom to exclude, it has given in to the world. We need to go back to basics and learn what it means to be different from the world by truly loving God with all we are and have and loving our neighbor, regardless of who they are or how they live.
Commit to living these two basic but great commandments.
Respond in Prayer
Lord Jesus, help me heal the divisions in my society by going back to basics, loving you and loving my neighbor. Amen.
Live Obediently. Go back to the basics.
 Wright, N. T. Matthew for Everyone Part 2. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press. 2004, p. 93.
 Brueggemann, Walter. Tenacious Solidarity. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press. 2018, p. 401.
Prepare to Listen. My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. (Isaiah 56:7)
Prayerfully Read Matthew 21:12-17
12Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 13He said to them, ‘It is written,
“My house shall be called a house of prayer”;
but you are making it a den of robbers.’
14The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them. 15But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’, they became angry 16and said to him, ‘Do you hear what these are saying?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Yes; have you never read,
“Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies
you have prepared praise for yourself”?’
17He left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.
I always thought this story was about Jesus’ attempt to take over the temple by violent force as a protest against exploitation, until I read it with a second gaze. I saw little violence other than the overturned tables and seats. He did temporarily stop sacrifices, because, as Wright notes, “If people couldn’t change money or buy doves, even for a short while, they couldn’t offer sacrifice. The Temple’s reason for existence was called into question.”
Jesus was focused, not on protest, but on the temple’s purpose, emphasizing two truths. First, combining verses from Jeremiah and Isaiah he reminded them that the temple was a house of prayer for all peoples.  It’s a place where all peoples, regardless of status or race, are welcome and where God can be sought and found. Sadly, the Jews and some Christians today, put limits on who can and can’t enter God’s house.
Second, in welcoming and healing “the blind and the lame” Jesus acted out a second purpose, reversing an old ban. When David conquered Jerusalem he banned the blind and lame from entering When the temple was built, the ban remained in place and the blind and lame were excluded. Jesus broke the ban and welcomed them into the temple, healing the people who were once excluded. “It was an action of full significance. It summed up everything Jesus had been doing throughout his ministry.” He’s in the business of including and loving, not excluding and punishing.
Who are the people the church hinders and fails to welcome today? How can you stand up for them as Jesus did?
Respond in Prayer
Lord, don’t let me forget that you welcome all peoples into your presence so that I live in ways that are welcoming to all, regardless of who. Amen.
Live Obediently. Keep God’s House open for all peoples.
 Wright, N. T. Matthew for Everyone Part 2. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press. 2004, p. 72.
 Jeremiah 7:11; Isaiah 56:7, which adds all peoples.  The story is in 2 Samuel 5:6-10.
 Wright, p. 72.
Palm Sunday, April 2. MOUNTED on a DONKEY
Prepare to Listen. Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zech. 9:9)
Prayerfully Read Matthew 21:1-11
When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2saying to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.” And he will send them immediately.’ 4This took place to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, 5‘Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ 6The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!’ 10When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ 11The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’
A crowd gathered and joyfully welcomed Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. They presumed he was their Messiah and expected him to triumphantly defeat their enemy, the Romans. In expectation they hailed him as their Messiah-King. But nothing triumphant happened that day and Jesus made no revolutionary move against Rome. However, even today we think this story is about Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, ignoring Matthew’s warning.
He’s the only Gospel writer to quote the ancient prophecy about Messiah riding into Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt. He combined and adapted verses from Isaiah (62:11) and Zechariah (9:9). Significantly, he omitted Zechariah’s triumphal words—“Rejoice greatly” because “your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious.” But he kept the prophet’s sombre description of Messiah’s ride, hardly changing a word: “humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” It’s a sobering scene, highlighting Jesus’ humility and determination to stick to God’s plan, rejecting the crowd’s expectations.
He passively, non-violently rode a donkey, a beast of burden not war, into Jerusalem, saying and doing nothing. This isn’t the victory lap of a conquering hero. It highlights that we’re saved, not by triumphalism, but by the wounds of Jesus, who calls us to repentance, the kind that has a profound impact on us and the world, because it radically transforms our lives.
Enter the story, visualize the scene, imagining a personal encounter Jesus. What happens?
Respond in Prayer
Lord, guard me from a triumphalism that arrogantly dismisses others. Help me keep the vision of you on a donkey in view so I respect and live your humble way. Amen.
Live Obediently. Follow the humble rider on a donkey.
Despite having frequently read and taught Matthew's Gospel, preparing these daily devotions, taking that second gaze, has surprised me with newness.