STORIES, ART & ILLUSTRATION
Yesterday’s lectionary reading was John 9:1-41. It tells the story of Jesus curing a blind man. “As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” This event certainly is not a miracle easily explained by science. So today we will focus on the miracle of light and its science. This will provide another example of how the works of God are displayed. Deep under the oceans and near its surface, light is generated by many organisms that glow as a result of chemical reactions. Animals, from bacteria to sharks, include bioluminescent species. The chemical reaction requires two chemicals: luciferin and the enzyme, luciferase. The luciferin is the compound that produces the light. The luciferase is a catalyst that causes the reaction to happen, if there is oxygen present. This light is cold, and it helps many creatures in the ocean depths to attract or locate prey and/or mates. On the earth’s surface, a similar biological light can be seen in fireflies, which create light from the same two chemicals. Fireflies use their lights to attract mates. In the heavens, light is either the result of nuclear fusion within stars, or by the reflection of light from such reactions. Inside the sun (and other stars) atoms combine and release huge amounts of energy in the forms of both heat and light. When that light falls on objects like our moon, (which is basically a huge rock) it lights the surface and is reflected off the surface, so we can see it. Other lights in the sky, such as the tails of comets, glow due to the sun heating gasses and dust in the comet’s tail. In all these different ways, we can consider “the heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth His handiwork.”
Today the Lenten topic is another tree. I have been reading Luke’s version of the life of Christ. It was probably written in the later part of the 1st century between 70 and 90 AD. This was after Matthew's version and before John's. At this point in the Lenten story, “[Jesus] entered Jericho. And there was a man named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector, and rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not...” He was short and the crowd was large so he ran on ahead of the crowd, and climbed a sycamore tree to try to catch a glimpse. “And when Jesus came to the place he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he made haste and came down and received him joyfully. It turns out that Zacchaeus was a fairly just collector. Despite grumbling from the crowd that Christ had selected the home of a “sinner”, Jesus announced that salvation had come to Zacchaeus’s house, since he also was a son of Abraham, “for the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost.”
The sycamore of Palestine is not the sycamore we see along streets here in the U.S. Our common street tree is the London plane tree, Platanus occidentalis. The sycamore in which Zacchaeus sought a view of Jesus was most likely the sycamore fig tree, Ficus sycomorus. It is a member of the mulberry family, and is also known as the fig-mulberry; its leaves vaguely resembling mulberry leaves, and it’s fruit being vaguely reminiscent of figs, since they grow directly on the trunk of the tree. Its large, thick, leathery leaves may be the kind of fig leaves referred to in Genesis that Adam and Eve used to fashion garments. The Hebrew name of the tree means “resurrection” as this species will sprout new growth, even if the tree is cut down. There are three trees in Jericho that claim to be Zacchaeus’s tree. The tree has many medicinal uses, provides fruit, fodder, soil stabilization and may be food for silk worm caterpillars. It is also used for wood work.
When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.” Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?” The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. ...Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment. Centurions were officers in the army of ancient Rome. Each centurion commanded a centuria, a group of 100 soldiers. They were experienced warriors, who had worked their way up through the military ranks to a position of command. In Jesus’s final weeks and hours of life, two unnamed centurions encountered him, and both declared their faith openly. The first was the one that came to him in Capernaum, whose faith and humility enabled Christ to heal his servant. The second, was the centurion charged with overseeing his crucifixion. Matthew tells us that as Christ died, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that he thus breathed his last, he said ‘Truly this man was a son of God.’ ” It is quite amazing that these two seasoned warriors were willing to demonstrate their faith, despite their official and political standing. It was because of his extraordinary faith, that the second of these centurions is included in the memorial window above the altar at First Congregational Church in Montclair.
Spring officially begins today at 12:57 P.M. EDT. Today is the Vernal Equinox. Equinox means “equal nights,” and, except for the bending of light by our atmosphere, today there should be 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness all over the world. The Earth’s axis is at 90 degrees to the sun and today, sunrise and sunset should be exactly in the east and the west. Although the Earth is always tilted at 23.5 degrees on its axis, today the top of the axis points perpendicularly to the sun, so there is equal light and dark all over the world. Of course, today is the first day of autumn in the southern hemisphere.
But here in the northern hemisphere, spring is close at hand. As I write, chipmunks are scampering outside my window and birds are searching for nesting places. Crocuses (another true bulb) and snowdrops have pushed out of their dark tombs into the sunlight. Daffodil and tulip leaves are visible if you look closely. From the Song of Solomon 2: “ For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle [dove] is heard in our land.”
Today’s take-home lessons: The Earth’s tilt on its axis is the reason for the season. And... rebirth... every spring it happens, no matter what kind of winter we have endured. The Cycle of Life keep turning, from death to rebirth.
Olive trees have been cultivated in the Middle East for over 6,000 years. There is a Greek myth, that Athena created the olive tree for a competition held by Zeus, to create the most useful invention. Its wood can burn when wet, it’s fruit can provide oil for light, for cooking and for anointing. The mash left after pressing the oil from the fruit is used as animal feed. The trees provide shade and wood. And in more modern times, it has been discovered how to make the fruit edible for humans. Athena won the contest. Surprisingly, olives from the tree, whether young and green, or ripened to black, are very bitter, and are considered inedible. It is doubtful that even in the days of Jesus, people in his country knew how to cure the fruits with brine, or lye or other marinades. Now there are over 500 cultivars (man-made genetic variations) and as many different recipes for curing olives. It is likely that the olive trees on the Mount of Olives were just plain old Oleo europaea, the European olive. Olive trees grow in rocky, well-drained soil and have extensive shallow root systems. An individual tree may live over 1,000 years. They reproduce either from seeds, or from shoots that grow out of the base of the tree. The olive branch has been a symbol of peace for thousands of years. The trees grow up to 20 feet tall. The many references to olive trees and olive oil in the Bible include Noah and the dove that returned to the ark with an olive branch as proof that the flood had subsided, and the struggle between Man and God was finished. Oil in the scriptures always refers to olive oil. It was used to anoint kings, prophets and priests. The word “Messiah,” means “anointed one.” The garden of Gethsemane at the base of the Mount of Olives was probably an olive orchard, since “gethsemane” means oil press.
Last Sunday, March 16th, was the Full Worm Moon. How does this relate to Lent? Well, if it had come four days later, Easter would have been next Sunday! The timing of Easter is set by a slightly modified moon calendar. Easter was traditionally set as the first Sunday, after the first full moon, after the Vernal Equinox (the first day of spring). This timing allowed pilgrims in the Holy Land to journey to the Holy City under the light of a full moon, back before cars and headlights and street lamps. If this full moon falls on a Sunday, then Easter is postponed for one more week. So Easter can come as early as March 22nd and as late as April 25th. Apparently the church can fool around with the calendar and make the first day of spring, not exactly when it occurs, astronomically. This involves ecclesiastical full moons. But this year the date follows the astronomical rule. March 20th is the Vernal Equinox, and the next full moon is on April 15th. Easter is the following Sunday in 2014. The Full Worm Moon was named by the Algonquin people, who ranged from New England to Lake Superior. At the time of this moon, the ground begins to soften and earthworms become active. They leave their casts (little piles of soil grains), on the earth’s surface. The return of the worms, signals the return of the robins. In some regions, the March full moon is known as the Sap Moon, as it marks when sap begins to flow and signals time for tapping of the maple trees.
Hyssop in one of the more frequently mentioned plants in the Bible, eight times in the Old Testament and twice in the New. This plant was an important part of the Passover (Exodus 12:22) and it was used in ceremonial cleansing in Leviticus. Hyssop is mentioned in Psalm 51 and in John’s version of the crucifixion. There is a great deal of controversy regarding what the hyssop plant mentioned actually was. Some scholars indicate that hyssop was Hyssopus officinalis, a small evergreen herb in the mint family. This plant, like all mints, has a square stem, is aromatic, and is used to make teas, syrups and infusions to treat a variety of ills. It was used for ritual cleansings of holy places. This may be the plant that was used to spread blood on the lintels of houses to mark the homes of Jews who were passed over by the plague of death in Egypt. It may be the hyssop of Leviticus too. It is unlikely that the same plant was the one used to lift the sponge soaked in vinegar to Jesus’ lips when he was on the cross. The stem is not long enough to reach up, nor is the plant itself spongy enough to absorb vinegar. Matthew and Mark mention a reed, not hyssop. There is no simple solution to this puzzle.
In the weeks and months toward the end of his life on Earth, Jesus preached, using many parables. When his disciples exhibited lack of faith, he chastised them saying “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove you hence, to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.” The symbolism was clear to the locals, familiar with garden plants of the Galilean area. There were few, if any, seeds of cultivated plants that were smaller, and yet, produced such a large plant as the black mustard, Brassica nigra. Each seed is about 1/20th of an inch in diameter. The plants may grow to be over 6 feet high, with many branches. Although mustard is an annual, dying at the end of each year and regrowing from seeds, this species may develop a somewhat woody stem. This plant is a wonderful metaphor for something very small which provides a large return.
Black mustard is a common weed in the U.S., although it originated in the Middle East. It is widely cultivated there, and in the U.S. as the major source of the popular condiment, mustard, which is made by grinding black mustard and sometimes white mustard seeds, and mixing them with water or vinegar. The yellow cross-shaped flowers occur in clusters and produce one inch long, 4-sided siliques. These capsules dehisce, or split open, when mature. Each silique contains 2 to 12 or more round, reddish brown to black seeds. A single plant may produce thousands of seeds. Seedpods must be harvested by hand or mechanically before they fully ripen, because if they are left to ripen, the seedpods will explode, spreading the seeds on the ground. Young mustard leaves may be eaten as a salad or cooked as a "green".
Kwarezimal– Maltese Lenten Almond Cakes This is a traditional Lenten cookie originating in Malta. It contains no fat or eggs, foods which are not supposed to be eaten during Lent. The word kwarezimal refers to quaresima, literally the quadragesima, the forty days of Lent. I’ve adjusted this recipe for U.S. ingredients and weights. This might be a good weekend to bake them. I just did and they are delicious! Ingredients:
A generous 7 ounces of blanched almonds A generous 7 ounces of sifted flour 9 ounces of superfine sugar (NOT powdered, but superfine of fast-dissolving sugar). I have found this at my local A&P so it can be found. 1 scant tsp cinnamon
Orange flower water (available at Whole Foods or Treasure Island) Grated rind of one orange, one lemon and one tangerine Honey (Maltese or Greek if you can find it. I used Italian honey.) Unsalted pistachio nuts, hazel nuts or additional almonds for garnish Lightly toast almonds. Grind coarsely. Mix with the flour, sugar, cinnamon, rinds and a little orange-flower water. Add just enough water to make a stiff dough. Knead lightly until thoroughly mixed. If it sticks to your hands, add a bit more sifted flour. Shape into ovals, approximately 3 inches long, 1 inch wide . Flatten with spatula to ½ inch thick. Place on greased and floured baking trays, or on parchment paper on a cookie sheet. Bake at 375 F for about 20 minutes. Spread hot cookies with a very little bit of honey and press chopped nuts into cookie. Enjoy! The “art” today is the art of cooking. Photo gives a clearer image of the cookies.
Royal Purple is the color for Lent. Paraments (the cloths that hang from the pulpit), tablecloths and the stoles worn by pastors and choirs this season, are generally one or another shade of purple. They are purple, because purple is the color of penitence and mourning. It is also the color of royalty. Following Jesus’ arrest, according to Mark 15:17-18, ...And they clothed Him with purple; and they twisted a crown of thorns, put it on His head, and began to salute Him, “Hail, King of the Jews!”
Purple came to be the color of kings and emperors in pre-Christian times. Tyrian or Royal Purple dye, was worth its weight in silver, and was reserved for king’s robes and queen’s gowns. No one else could afford it. It was long-lasting and did not fade. According to Greek legend, the dye was discovered by the Tyrian king, Melqart. He and the nymph Tyros were walking by the Mediterranean with their dog. The dog supposedly ran ahead and bit into one of the mollusks (sea snails) it found along the shore. The dog returned to its master, with its muzzle dripping with a purple mucous-like substance. Melqart figured out where the dye had come from and had it used it to dye a gown for his lover.
The animal that produces the dye is a shellfish in the mollusk phyllum, Murex brandaris. The dye, which is used to protect the eggs and to confuse predators, like the ink from octopi, can be “milked” by prodding the animal, or can be collected by crushing the shell, thus killing the animal. Either way it is a time consuming and costly process.
The Syrian fox, Vulpes thaleb, is probably the fox of which Jesus spoke when he mentioned their dens. While it appears that the terms “fox” and “jackal” were frequently used interchangeably, these are two very different animals. The black-backed jackal and the Syrian fox both have dark, bushy tails, but the jackal seems thinner and has more black on the saddle-like markings on its back. Foxes are more solitary in their life style, while jackals are social animals that tend to live in packs. The foxes burrow, while jackals generally rest during the day in brush or thickets.
There are virtually no decent images of Syrian foxes on the Internet, so today’s drawing is from one questionable photo and descriptions.
Foxes are omnivores, meaning they will eat both other animals and plants like berries. They also eat carrion (dead animals). Foxes in the area where Jesus lived would have been considered pests since, along with controlling rodents,(which was a good thing) they also commonly raided grape vineyards and ate the ripe grapes.
The Sea of Galilee area was Jesus’s stomping ground for several years near the end of his life. It couldn’t be called his home, because, once he left his parent’s home in Nazareth, he never really had another home. He spoke with some wistfulness, of foxes having their den’s and birds their nests, “ but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.”
Many of Christ’s disciples were fishermen, before they gave up their work to follow Jesus. Fish figured significantly in many of His stories, as well as in traditions of modern day Christianity. Fish is the protein of choice during Lent. There are many species of fish in the Sea of Galilee, and probably most of them were there during Jesus’s time. The list includes: damselfish, catfish, scaleless blennies, mullet, barbels, sardines and cichlids. One group of the cichlid family of fish is Tilapia. Tilapia galilaea, also known as Sarotherodon galilaeus, is a fairly common fish in the sea. They are also common in lakes in Africa.
This species is sometimes called St. Peter’s fish, since it is assumed to be the type of fish referred to in Matthew 17, shortly after the Transfiguration story when Jesus requires a tribute payment in Capernaum. Jesus said to Peter, “Go thou to the sea, and cast a hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money: that take and give unto them for me and thee.”
These fish are bi-parental mouth-breeders, which means both male and female fish keep fertilized eggs in their mouth to protect them until they hatch. After hatching, the parents may continue to provide a safe haven for the young for several weeks.
For those who don’t know, Sundays are not counted as part of Lent, possibly because they are already considered holy days. The forty week days and Saturdays between Ash Wednesday and Easter morning are our 40 days.
A friend down South, who has not been dealing with our winter so much, tells me her Lenten roses are in bloom. Lenten roses are not really roses, but are more closely related to buttercups. Still, a lovely name. It’s scientific name is Helleborus orientalis, which means eastern (far East) Hellebore. These drooping blossoms, in a variety of colors from white to deep purple, are among the earliest blooming flowers in the spring. They grow in partial shade in, usually, well-drained soil. The palmately compound bottom leaves provide ground cover year round in warm climes. The plants are deer resistant and all parts are toxic, so not a good choice if you have young children or plant-munching cats. I think I will plant some at the lake.
Like Poinsettias, the blossoms are not really petals, but sepals. The true flower is not very showy, but is surrounded by these long-lasting colorful sepals. A treasure in shady woodland gardens, and a true harbinger of spring.
When you Google “Lenten Symbols”, one of the more intriguing items that you will find is the lowly pretzel. What could this possibly have to do with the lead-up to the most holy of Christian holy days? There is one claim that in 610 A.D. an Italian monk created pretzels as a reward for children who had learned their prayers. He calls the strips of baked dough “pretiola” (little rewards). They were an appropriate treat, as they were made solely of flour water and salt, thus not including any of the forbidden ingredients of Lent: milk, eggs, butter or lard. There is documentation that pretzel shaped pastries have been used as the emblems of baker guilds in Southern Germany since 1111. The little treats, known in Germany as “bretzels,” were described as showing the shape of a child’s arms, folded across the chest in prayer. The three holes, created by the twisted dough, are said to represent the Trinity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This treat may also be the origin of the term, ”tying the knot.” A prayer book used by Catherine of Cleves in 1440, included an illuminated picture of St. Bartholomew surrounded by pretzels. By that time, pretzels were considered a sign of good luck and spiritual wholeness, probably because of their relation to the Trinity. Originally all pretzels were what we now call soft pretzels. According to several sources, the dry pretzels we now purchase by the bag, were a result of a baker in the Pennsylvania town of Letitz, who left his pretzels in the oven too long. The upside of this dried product was that they lasted longer and so could be sold further afield.
The temptations and the wilderness experience took place about three years before the Lenten events we focus on at this season. The attached map provides some sense of the setting for the events in Jesus final years of life on Earth. Yesterday’s story about the temptations in the Judean desert were followed by a quick trip north to Galilee to try to get his cousin, John the Baptist, out of jail. He spent some time preaching and healing in the north between Nazareth, Capernaum and the Sea of Galilee. That year he traveled back and forth between the north and Jerusalem in central Israel. The following year when he was about 31 he seems to have spent most of the year in and around Capernaum near the Sea of Galilee. In his 32nd year, he was in Capernaum much of the time, but also traveled to Jerusalem, Perea (north of Galilee) and Bethany. In his 33rd year he was found in Perea, Jericho, Bethany and Jerusalem.
Today is Ash Wednesday. It is the beginning of Lent in the Christian calendar. Lent is a reflection of the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness, fasting, praying and resisting temptation. This Lenten season I have chosen to make a small sacrifice (giving up chocolate candy, which demands a lot of resisting temptation for me), but more importantly, to spend some time each of the 40 weekdays of Lent, reflecting on the meaning and the symbols of Lent, and of Easter, which is the culmination of the season of Lent. Today, the topic is daffodil bulbs. On Easter morning, our church, and many others, will be decked in Easter lilies, daffodils, tulips and other spring flowers. These all grow from true bulbs. True bulbs are complete, miniature plants encased in modified leaves called scales. These scales contain stores of reserved food for the bulb during its long sleep underground through the winter, and they provide the energy needed for the leaves to push up through the soil into the sun in spring. They also protect the tender bud within the bulb. Scales are usually covered with a dry, papery covering called a tunic. At the base of the bulb is a woody disc called the basal plate, which holds, bud, scales, tunic and roots together, and from which off-set bulbs emerge, to reproduce the plant. Why bulbs? Because like the body of Jesus which was closed in the darkness of the tomb, bulbs, which look dead, are entombed in the darkness of Earth. At Easter, the miracle is that both emerge, bright and beautiful, to a new life. Resurrection!
Day 2 – March 6th Today’s journey began with the discovery of a Bible given to my grandfather in 1897 by the Young Men’s Society of St. Paul’s Church in New Orleans, as a “slight token of their esteem and regard.” It is signed by the minister, and six young men.
In this Bible, I reread Matthew 4, the saga of Jesus’ wilderness retreat and His temptation. I infer, from the text, that he was in the desert of Judah, to the south of Jerusalem, quite a distance from Galilee. If you bother to Google “Judean desert, images,” you will have a MUCH clearer picture of where this story was set. I highly recommend doing this. It was not anything like a wilderness campground in Colorado or Maine. There are plenty of rocks that could have been turned to bread. Not much else. There are some wildlife species, including scorpions, lizards, rock hyraxes, ibex, Blandford’s foxes, Syrian foxes, jackals and hyenas.
As in most deserts, there is limited vegetation. Perhaps, during his 40 day vigil, Jesus was cheered by the sight of a stemless hollyhock, one of the few flowering plants of that area that would have been blooming in March.
This series of images and accompanying text is a project undertaken by the artist/scientist to learn, to practice art and science, and to share the story of Lent.The series was created for Lent in 2014, so dates may not work for a diferent years, but the number of the day will always work.
Interestingly, a number of sources tell us that palm trees were not found growing in Jerusalem at that time, so it is assumed that the branches had been cut and brought into the city from the country to the east of the city. Romans observed prolific forests or groves of date palms in the Jordan River valley, extending from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea. Dates were a major element of the area's economy. There were likely date palms growing in or near Bethany where Jesus and his disciples stayed before entering Jerusalem. Since they were an important source of food throughout Palestine, it is probable they were being cultivated near such a large city as Jerusalem.
A surprising discovery dealing with date palms began with an archaeological dig in 1973 at the site of Herod the Great's mountaintop palace at Masada, Israel. Archeologists uncovered a cache of seeds that had been buried in a clay jar around 2,000 years ago. For 30 years the ancient seeds sat in storage at Tel Aviv's Bar-Ilan University. In 2005, botanical researcher Elaine Solowey requested and received several of them for an experimental planting. The seeds were from an extinct date palm and they were successfully sprouted, re-introducing the ancient, long extinct Judean Palm into modern times. Unfortunately the one tree that sprouted is a male tree, so it cannot bear fruit. The plan is to cross-pollinate it with another ancient date palm from Egypt, in hopes of eventually producing a seed-bearing tree with a genome as similar to the Judean date palm tree as possible.
The Judean Palm is similar to modern date palm trees.
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Charoset: Sticking with Tradition at Passover Charoset, from the Hebrew word “cheres” meaning clay - is symbolic of the mortar which the Israelite slaves used in their building in Egypt. It is one of the eightsymbolic items on a Passover table. While it is not mentioned in the Torah, ithas a long tradition and is discussed in the Talmud. The Talmud is a compilation and commentary on the laws (Mishna) of the Jewish faith. Charoset recipes vary, but most include chopped apples, chopped nuts, cinnamon and wine. Like everything connected to Passover Seders, even the ingredients have their own symbolic meanings. Some say the use of apples is to remind us of the Israeli women in Egypt who went out to birth their children under an apple tree, to avoid them being found and killed at the command of the Pharaoh. Some say apples are used because they are commonly available and were included to offset the taste of the bitter herbs in the Seder. Regardless of the exact historical significance, charoset is, without a doubt, the tastiest element of a Seder. The mixture, designed to look like the mortar used by slaves to build temples and homes for their Egyptian rulers, is yet another reminder of the bitter years of slavery. It is not to be eaten alone, but to be dipped into with matzo or lettuce or other items. Sephardic Jews - those descended from the early Jews of Spain,Portugal, north Africa and the Middle East - tend to use dried fruits like figs, dates, raisins, prunes, dried apricots and even coconut in their charoset. Ashkenazi Jews (descended from Jews from France, Germany, and Eastern Europe) often use fresh apples in their charoset. This link will take you to a recipe for an apricot/ pistachio charoset which sounds intriguing. http://www.epicurious.com/articlesguides/holidays/passover/charosetrecipes/recipes/food/views/Apricot-Pistachio-Charoset-234302
Preparing for Passover: The Meaning of Matzo Matzo, Matza or Matzah: No matter how you spell it, it is part of the centerpiece of a Passover Seder. Matzo is unleavened bread made from one of five kinds of grain: wheat, barley, spelt, rye, or oats. These grains are mentioned in the Torah, the laws of Moses, also known as the Old Testament books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. It is the only bread which is permitted for use during Passover. It is a specific commandment that matzah is to be eaten on Passover because the children of Israel "baked the matzot of the dough which they had brought forth out of Egypt, for it was not leavened; because they were thrust out of Egypt and could not tarry" (Ex. 12:39). Only grains capable of fermentation are allowed in the manufacture of matzah. In fact only wheat is usually used. Boxed matzo comes in units called boards. Each flat, brittle square of bread is called a board. The regular matzo is unsalted and has little taste, being made of nothing but flour and water. Another version of matzo, egg matzo is a sweeter, more tasty food, but it is not used for the Passover Seder because it has ingredients other than flour and water. At the beginning of the Seder, three matzo boards are set on the table. The middle board is broken in two, with the larger piece being wrapped and set aside for later. This piece is called the “afikomen”. There are several interpretations of the meaning of the afikomen, a Greek word that means “He that will come”, or “that which is to come”, meaning either The Messiah or dessert. Yes, that is a big difference, but different communities and traditions look at the events differently. Consider how various denominations vary on their interpretations and applications of the elements in communion. The afikomen is wrapped in a napkin or in a special cloth bag, and is hidden. After the Seder, in many homes, children search to find the afikomen and the child who finds it receives a gift or reward.
The Lord is my Shepherd: Of Lambs and Easter. Sheep are mentioned more than 500 times in the Bible. They were an important segment of the economy in the time of Jesus. They were a known quantity, and therefore they were the basis for many of Jesus’s parables and metaphors as he preached to the common folk. Think back to Christmas. Who were the first ones the angels announced the newborn to? It was the shepherds, keeping watch over their flocks by night.
Jesus is commonly referred to as the Good Shepherd, where Christians are considered to be his flock. He was known as the Lamb of God, since he was sacrificed, as the Jews sacrificed lambs and rams to God. It was sacrificial sheep’s blood, smeared on the doors of the Jews in Egypt that marked the houses for the plague of death to pass over in story of Exodus. This is why a lamb shank bone is part of the symbol-filled Seder celebration.
Good shepherds, back in the day, poured oil on the heads of their sheep, to discourage ticks, lice and other parasites from infesting their ears and eyes. Smearing the sheep’s body with oil is now considered a “traditional” method of dealing with parasites. Thus, “Thou annointest may head with oil...” is a reference to God as a good shepherd. King David, who wrote the psalm, was a shepherd in his youth.
For these reasons, and for the sheer joy of watching young spring lambs cavorting, lambs are closely associated with Easter. Many Christian families serve lamb for Easter dinner, a reminder of the last, hasty meal of sacrificial lambs that the Israelites consumed before departing from Egypt.
Passover is coming and as it figures significantly in the story of Lent.The Jews had been in bondage in Egypt since before Moses’ birth. His mother and sister, two very clever women, managed to save his life, although the Pharaoh had directed the midwives to kill all the male babies that were born to Jewish women. Fortunately the midwives feared God more than they feared Pharaoh. Moses had his share of trials and tribulations, but eventually, God called his number (out of a burning bush) and he had to step up and serve. Reading the story yourself, you will learn of all the threats made and promises broken. The Lord certainly did not make it an easy venture for Moses, or the people of Israel. The 10 plagues that God caused to be visited upon Egypt are recounted in Exodus, and some are reviewed during a Passover Seder. The ten were: the river turning to blood, frogs over-running the land, lice, flies, disease and death of livestock, boils, thunder and hail, locusts, darkness and death of the first-born, both human and animal. Through nine plagues, the Lord kept hardening the heart of Pharaoh, but eventually, the tenth plague broke and Pharaoh expelled the children of Israel. Several elements of Passover will be covered here, but today the “burning bush” is our science focus. The story of Moses and the Exodus is the origin of its name, though this species is not one Jesus would have encountered. A popular ornamental shrub, winged euonymus (Euonymus alatus), is also called burning bush. In autumn, foliage turns a brilliant, glowing red. Along the stem are corkey ridges that lend it the winged name. It is native to northeastern Asia, and can be invasive, if notkept under careful control. It spreads by seeds and root shoots.
The Bible lectionary psalm for today is Psalm 81, in which the Lord is chastising His people for not following His ways. The end of the psalm reads,
“O that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways!
Then I would quickly subdue their enemies, and turn my hand against their foes.
Those who hate the Lord would cringe before him, and their doom would last forever.
I would feed you with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”
In “the land of milk and honey,” the sweet product of bees was often found in rock crevices. We tend to think of hives being found in trees, but in the wild lands of Israel, limestone cliffs and crevices were common locations for wild bee hives. Many plants such as thyme, mints, and crocuses are available for bees to forage upon.
Researchers have found a 3,000-year-old apiary in the Iron Age city of Tel Rehov in the Jordan Valley. This is the oldest known commercial beekeeping facility in the world. The bees kept in the hives were apparently imported from Turkey. Evidence of bee keeping in Egypt is documented by paintings from as early as 2400 B.C. Two days ago, I saw my first honeybee of the year in our garden, grazing on the purple crocuses. This is one more sign that spring has arrived. Our native honeybee in the U.S. is Apis mellifera. They were imported to the western hemisphere from Europe by early colonists, and have now become naturalized throughout the entire continent.
The reading, for the 3rd Sunday in Lent, is the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. It marks the beginning of the expansion of Jesus’ ministry to the Gentiles. Today’s illustration sets the location. All faith communities in the area agree that the story took place at the well at Sychar. A bit of research will show you that, like visiting the Alamo, in Texas, visiting this well would provide a surprising wake-up call. Today, the well is located inside a Greek Orthodox church. Apparently one can still drink from the well, but the Sunday school image many of us hold, of Jesus sitting beside the well in the sunshine, waiting for the woman to draw water, is a non-starter. Samaria was the central region of ancient Palestine. It was bounded by Galilee to the north and Judea to the south: the Jordan River on the east and the plains of the Mediterranean Sea (or the Sea itself) to the west. Maps vary. The people of Samaria did not interact with the Jews and were generally considered as outcasts. They were, apparently pagan peoples who had been brought to colonize the area by conquering Assyrians. Not a lot of love was lost between the two groups. One interesting note from research on this well. At least one source indicated that, unlike many wells that were simply cisterns, collecting and holding water, Jacob’s well (for it was on his property) was, and is, fed by an underground aquifer which contains flowing water. This was known as “living water”, which adds a new dimension to Jesus’ statement. “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”
Passover 2014: Traditions in Question – Science and Skeptics Lighting of the candles at sundown this evening ushers in the first day of Passover, 2014. Passover is the time when Jewish people are reminded how Moses freed the Israelites enslaved by the Egyptian Pharaohs over 3,000 years ago. The story is told in the Book of Exodus in the Christian Bible and in the Torah, the sacred scriptures of the Jewish faith.
According to the story, Moses asked the Pharoah to free the Israelites. Pharoah was warned that Egypt would be plagued by blood, frogs, gnats, flies, blight of the livestock, boils, hail, locusts, darkness and the death of every first-born male in Egypt if they were not freed. If you search on line you will find explanations for each of these plagues, which sound reasonable and scientific. What I discovered, which surprised me, until I spoke to a friend of the Jewish faith who confirmed this, is that you will also find many items that totally deny that the Egyptians ever held the Israelites as slaves, and that the Exodus, ever happened. Most of the deniers base their belief on the lack of archaeological evidence. Many archaeologists apparently do not believe in any parts of the Bible being historically true. If, as many other scholars believe, the Exodus occurred around 1400 B.C. (or BCE if you prefer), that would mean that any evidence would have to have lasted for 3,400 years. A lifestyle of a nomadic group wandering in the desert for 40 years, certainly reduces the likelihood of finding much in the way of potshards and fabric fragments. Certainly houses were not built, nor temples raised. We all know that the winners in great conflicts tend to rewrite history and to erase “facts” and “truths” which are embarrassing to them. I found the following website highly informative and reasonable in its content. http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2009/08/09/The-Exodus-Controversy.aspx-Article
I also remind the doubting Thomases and Tzadoks of this quote by 19th-century writer H.L. Hastings in response to skeptics’ attacks on the Bible: “For 1800 years, skeptics have been refuting and overthrowing this book, and yet it stands today as a solid rock...The skeptics, with all their assaults, make about as much impression on this book as a man with a hammer would on the Pyramids of Egypt. When a French monarch proposed persecuting Christians, an elderly advisor told him, “Sir, the Church of God is an anvil that has worn out many hammers.” So the hammers of the skeptics have been pecking away at this book for ages, but the hammers are worn out, and the anvil still endures. If this book had not been the book of God, men would have destroyed it long ago. Emperors and popes, kings and priests, princes and rulers have all tried their hand at it; they have all died and yet this book lives on. As with the rest of the Bible, the Exodus account remains a mighty witness to a God who cares about His people and intervenes in human affairs to carry out His plan.” Whether you believe in the science or choose to be a skeptic, tonight is a special night. I wish “Chag Sameach” or “joyous festival” to all those who are celebrating Passover (or Pesach) this week.
Preparing for Holy Week: Traveling from Joy to Joy, but stopping along to way. Palm Sunday services throughout the Christian world will begin with reenactments of the triumphal parade into Jerusalem. In Spain intricately woven palm branches will be paraded down the Ramblas and through the Barrio Gotico. In Australia, white donkeys will be ridden into towns by young men in sandals and middle eastern costumes. In Brazil people will be watching the events in St. Peter’s Square in Rome, on television, as a group of their young countrymen carry a wooden cross in to be delivered to the world’s first Latin American Pope. At First Congregational Church in Montclair, NJ, the congregants will wave sustainably harvested palm branches as they parade into the sanctuary, and the choir will sing the “Hosanna” song from Jesus Christ- Superstar.
We will all hear the story of the joy-filled reception and the choruses of “Hosanna!” But too many Christians will skip from that happy event, straight to the joy of Easter Morning. For the rest of us, as for Jesus, there are six more days to negotiate. Luke tells us of him throwing the money-lenders out of the temple and then teaching, much to the dismay of the chief priests. They spent much of the following days trying to discredit him and plotting how to have him put to death.
So the week ahead, known as Holy Week, was filled with treachery, plotting, betrayal, denial, lies, and torture, all designed to fulfill the words of the prophets. By taking time to recognize these events, through services on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday, through reading the story in the gospels, by reenacting the Last Supper, you are bound to find even more joy on Easter morning.
Beyond the Rising of Lazarus - The lectionary reading for the 5th Sunday in Lent was the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead. Here is another story that makes you wonder why Jesus didn’t do something right away, but waited for a more dramatic event to prove the power of God. Distance delayed him, but he still might have arrived “in time” had he left two days earlier. Like Mary and Martha, I would have liked to have my friend save my brother before he died. But Jesus waits until four days after Lazarus dies, before showing up and calling him out of the tomb. Before he calls him, the shortest sentence in the Bible appears. “Jesus wept.” He was obviously fond of Lazarus, but this event was planned for the glory of God. In the end, Lazarus and his sisters get what they want: a living Lazarus. But the drama resulted in its own consequences. Our pastor took the story a step further. She went beyond the “Wow!” moment of raising the dead and expanded the reading to include how the event was reported to the priests and Pharisees. We learned how Caiaphas, the chief priest, prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation of Israel “And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad. Then from that day forth they took counsel together for to put him to death.” It was their feeling that it was better to sacrifice one man’s life, than to have the wrath of the Roman Empire descend upon all the people of Israel, should Jesus be recognized as a doer of miracles or a messiah. So the shadow of the cross loomed ever closer. As an aside, Lazarus apparently lived another 30 years and became the Bishop of Kition in Cyprus where he moved to to escape the powers of the Roman Empire.
The Mount of Olives is a range of four hills that forms the eastern boundary separating Jerusalem from the edge of the Judean Desert. It runs from Mount Scopus to slopes that dip down to the Kidron Valley in the south. It has been a place of religious significance since the days of David and Solomon. Around 950 BCE (Before the Common Era or BC), King Solomon began building the first temple on Temple Mount. It took about 7 years to complete. Around 586 BCE King Nebuchadnezzer destroyed the temple, during his conquest of Jerusalem. Around 517 BCE Nehemiah and Zerubbabel directed construction of the second temple, which was completed and dedicated in 515. Other conquerors built over the second temple, but it was the site where Jesus was dedicated and where, at the age of 12, he returned to talk with the rabbis. The Mount of Olives, to the east of the Temple Mount, is higher, commanding an excellent view of the city of Jerusalem and surrounding area. It is formed from up-lifted limestone rock, which is easy to cut into, leading to this peak being designated as a cemetery as early as the time of the First Temple. It is still used as a burial site today. Jesus visited The Mount of Olives, on several occasions prior to his arrest and crucifixion.
As days grow longer, and temperatures rise, sap is moving up from the roots of trees. Along parkways, the yellow tint of twigs on weeping willow trees is already showing. Weeping willows, known as Salix babylonica, are named after the city of Babylon, capital of Babylonia under the rule of King Nebuchadnezzar. It was his armies that destroyed the temple in Jerusalem and took the leaders of Israel into bondage in Babylonia. According to Psalm 137 “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.” Weeping willows, like most willow trees, grown near water. Later in the psalm willows are mentioned, but there is a not a lot of evidence that this native of China was growing in Babylon 400 years BC. One willow that is native to Israel is Salix acmophylla, known as willow of the brook. This species grows in ravines, dry stream channels, and in oasis, where it may be planted. They are in flower at this time of year. Their seeds, or broken branches are often swept down stream where they lodge in mud to become “... a tree planted by the rivers of water”. Here in the United States, the best-loved willow of spring is the pussy willow, Salix discolor. Pussy willow, too, prefers “wet feet”. It is a true sign of spring when branches covered with the silky grey male catkin buds appear. Pussy willows and many other Salix species, were known for their pain relieving powers by Native Americans and ancient peoples of Asia as well. Willows were the original source of salicylic acid, what we know as aspirin.
Good Friday: What is so Good About it? You have probably heard the explanation that today is called Good Friday because it was once called “God’s Friday.” Apparently, there is zero evidence that this is the origin of the name. On the other hand, some people say its name came from a secondary meaning of the word “good.” Many years ago, “good” meant “holy.” Holy Thursday was followed by Holy Friday and Holy Saturday. Then came Easter.To me this makes sense. God was very busy on Good Friday. It must have been a dreadful day for Him, having His child crucified, mocked and killed, even though he knew the final outcome would be to have his son back in Heaven with him. I imagine that He wanted some time to gather Himself together, as well as time to build up the tension which was released on Sunday morning through the resurrection. God is good at making us wait. Perhaps He walked in the garden of Joseph of Arimathea, keeping watch over His son’s tomb. One of my favorite Easter songs has always been “In Joseph’s Lovely Garden.” If you are unfamiliar with it, here is a link where you can hear it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bib0zhxyjFw You would not have found Easter lilies there, nor, perhaps any lilies at all. Lilium longiflorum. Easter lillies, are native to Japan, where Easter lilies were grown and exported since the 1700’s until WWII. At that time, cultivation of these lovely plants shifted to the United States, specifically, in California and Oregon. Most bulbs are grown there, and then they are sent to growers in other states to be potted and forced to bloom in time for Easter. This is accomplished by manipulating temperature in the greenhouses. White lilies have been a symbol of the Virgin Mary for a thousand years. They can be seen in paintings of Mary by Dante Gabrielle Rosetti, Russian icons of Mary and Jesus, and many paintings of the Annunciation. The flower in these pictures is the Madonna Lily, Lilium candidum. This lily is native to western Asia, and was cultivated in the Middle East. It was an herbal remedy used by Romans, and it was used in ceremonies honoring the goddess Juno. It may have been brought to Europe by pilgrims returning from Jerusalem, or from the Crusades. It does not do well as a potted plant, as Easter lilies do.
April's Full Moon, the Full Pink Moon, is named for the moss pink, or wild ground phlox, on early blooming ground-covering wildflower known to the Algonquin Indians, who gave this moon its name. Today’s full moon is also known as the Sprouting Grass Moon, the Egg Moon, and the Fish Moon. This is the time shad swim upstream to spawn. Todays full moon also provided a total eclipse of the Moon visible between 2 a.m. and 5:35 a.m. The eclipse creates a “Blood Moon,” where the lunar surface appears red as a result of the longer red light waves from the sun that ring Earth as the moon passes through its shadow. Lunar eclipses occur when the Sun, Earth and moon are lined up so that the moon passes through all or part the Earth’s shadow, blocking sunlight from the lunar surface facing the sun. The term blood moon comes from the reddish-orange hue that comes from the longer red light waves from the sun that ring the Earth as the moon passes through its shadow during a full eclipse. The first full moon after the vernal equinox is the date of Passover. The first Sunday after this full moon, is usually Easter. This full moon is also known as the Paschal Full Moon. “Paschal” means “of, or pertaining to Passover.” It has also come to mean pertaining to Easter. There will be four blood moons, from eclipses, in the next year. This phenomenon of 4 consecutive total eclipses occurring at approximately six month intervals is called a tetrad.
Butterflies are another symbol of resurrection. The desert white (Pontia glauconome) is a member of the Pieridae family, also known as the true butterflies. It is a beautiful, white butterfly that inhabits arid regions of North Africa and Asia, including Israel and Palestine. There are pigments in the wings that either reflect or absorb ultraviolet light, resulting in lovely patterns. The caterpillars are green and lack hairs or spines. Butterflies in this family fly in straight lines, without gliding. Like most true butterflies. They close their wings when at rest.
There is little information on the biology of the desert white, but it is thought that the ultraviolet pattern on the wings is used by the male and female desert white to identify mates during courtship. The caterpillars feed on the leaves of shrubs, including spiny zilla, (Zilla spinosa) and taily weed (Ochradenus baccatus). Adults feed on nectar from flowers. During the period from March to October, it may produce three generations, each of which may differ in appearance.
As this butterfly lives in deserts and on mountain slopes and foothills with sparse vegetation, it is one that Jesus probably encountered in his travels. Active at this time of year, it is yet another symbol of resurrection, metamorphosing from an earth-bound caterpillar to a shrouded chrysalis and eventually emerging as a brilliant, ethereal creature able to reach the heavens.
The desert locust, Schistocerca gregaria, is one of about a dozen species of insects in the same order of insects as grasshoppers, katydids and crickets - order Orthoptera. Locusts are able to change their behavior in response to population density. The gregarious form is more irritable and restless. They form swarms that can migrate over large distances (like Africa to England). These gregarious locusts usually develop in marginal areas, where food is in short supply and weather conditions make migration necessary for survival. Locusts can also be found as individual insects. Locusts lay eggs underground where they may remain for up to 20 years, before conditions are right for hatching. Early stages of the insect are flightless and must hop from place to place as they devour every green plant within reach. Later stages develop wings and fly with the wind from place to place. Swarms can contain billions of individuals and can spread over areas as large as 40 miles in width. Locusts consume their body weight in food each day, making them a major agent of destruction in agricultural areas. A swarm can lead to famine and starvation. Locusts were one of the 10 plagues visited upon the Egyptians before the Exodus.
There are at least 7 species of crocus in the Holy Land. Crocuses are in the Iris family and, like iris, grow from corms: fleshy underground stems that serve asthe reproductive structure for some seed-bearing plants. Many crocuses (crocus or croci) are sterile and do not set viable seed. The corm, which is covered with a fibrous tunic (unlike the papery tunic of true bulbs), creates offsets, which become new plants. They are among the earliest flowers to bloom in spring. The name crocus comes from the Greek “krocus,” meaning thread. The thread-like stigmas, which hold the pollen have been harvested as saffron. Saffron has been used for thousands of years, both as a dye and as a culinary flavoring. There are autumn flowering species and spring or vernal species. The underground corms provide protection for the plant through harsh winters and dry summers. Crocuses bloom in the mountains of Palestine as early as December. There are over 30 species and many hybrids, most are native to Asia Minor, though some originated in Europe. It is said that the original crocus was a fall blooming type, Crocus sativus. This is the species grown for saffron in Palestine during King Solomon's time. It was an important commercial product in many ancient civilizations. Within the first few centuries of the new millennium, the Romans brought crocuses to Britain, C. vernus is one of the plants credited with initiating Holland's bulb business. Crocuses were among the first bulbs brought to North America by the early settlers. It takes 240,000 stamens (almost an acre of flowers) from the crocus to produce 1 pound of saffron. For this reason, saffron is the most costly spice on Earth.
Easter Eggs: Origins and Options Eggs are an ancient symbol of fertility. They are most common in nature in spring, when rebirth is happening all around us: Birds eggs, reptile eggs, insect eggs. The egg, an ancient symbol of new life, has been associated with pagan festivals celebrating spring for thousands of years. Baskets of eggs were offered to the deities to encourage abundant new life.
From a Christian viewpoint, some people say that eggs became an Easter treat since they were forbidden during Lent. On Easter, eggs were once more allowed in the diet. So they were decorated and made part of the celebration. Decorating eggs for Easter is a tradition that dates back to at least the 13th century, according to some sources. Some of the most intricate decorations are done by Ukrainians. These Pysanka eggs are very time consuming to create, using a batik-like wax resist dye technique, where each color is applied and then covered with bees wax. Then the next darker color is applied and covered until all the desired colors have been applied. Then the wax is gently removed by heating the wax coated egg over a candle or in the oven, revealing the brilliant colors. It takes many hours to decorate a single egg. To see some of these pieces of art and a wide assortment of other egg designs, visit this site. http://www.noupe.com/design/the-painted-egg-decorative-and-imaginative-easter-eggs.html One of the most charming egg-related children’s Easter sermons is the one where children are shown a simple uncolored egg, and they are asked what is inside it. Some guess a raw egg. Some say a hardboiled egg. A few might say a baby chick. Then the egg is cracked and opened. Imagine the surprise when the egg is empty. Nothing in it at all! This egg is like the tomb of Jesus, in which his friends expected him to be in on that very first Easter morning. What a surprise to find it empty. If you want to do this, you need to learn to blow eggs. Here is a video to show you how. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xiqBrC8v2o4
An ancient relic that many Christians believe was Jesus Christ’s “Crown of Thorns” is housed at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. The crown is a circular band of woody stems bundled together and held by gold threads. Thorns were once attached to this braided circle, which measures 21 centimeters in diameter. In 409, Saint Paulinus of Nola mentions the crown as being one of the relics kept in the basilica on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. In 570, Anthony the Martyr found it exhibited in the Basilica of Zion. In 870, once again in Jerusalem, Bernard the Monk noted the presence of the crown. Between the 7th and the 10th centuries, the crown and other relics were moved to the Byzantine emperors’ chapel in Constantinople. In 1238, Latin Emperor Baldwin of Constantinople was in great financial difficulty and decided to pawn the relics, including the crown, at a Venetian bank to get credit. Saint Louis, the king of France, paid the Venetians and took ownership of them. On August 19th, 1239, the relics were taken to Notre-Dame de Paris where King Louis built Sainte Chapelle to house them. Moved to the National Library during the French Revolution, they were eventually returned to the cathedral where they remain today. Despite numerous studies and historical and scientific research efforts, the crown’s authenticity cannot be certified. Thorns were once attached to this braided circle, The thorns apparently were divided up over the centuries by the Byzantine emperors and the Kings of France. There are supposedly seventy, all of the same type, which have been confirmed as the original thorns from this circlet. There is some thought that the crown was braided from a vine called Capparis spinosa, the caper bush. Here, again, there is nothing proven, but it is possible.
Depending on which lectionary you use, there is an interesting pattern in readings for this week. In Kings II, Elisha appears to resurrect a young boy who has died. Jesus has just brought back Lazarus from the dead. In Psalm 143, David speaks of being made to sit in darkness like those long dead and prays to the Lord to deliver him from his enemies.
Spring is surely a time of deliverance for us. Many people refer to deciduous trees that dropped their leaves last fall as being dead. In fact the phrase “in the dead of winter” reflects what appears to be the situation. In far northern climes, there is not a lot of evidence of life in the bleak midwinter. Yet below the earth, which “stands hard as iron,” and under the “water like a stone,” life has slowed down, but has certainly not ended. Just beneath crusts of snow, mice tunnel to scavenge for food throughout the winter. Chipmunks and woodchucks are deeply asleep in their underground burrows and frogs are whiling away the cold hibernating deep in the mud below the ice in ponds and lakes. Insects, in their pupal stages, are busy metamorphosing into seemingly new creatures. In early spring, warmer temperatures, longer periods of daylight and gentle rain send signals out to all life forms which have seemed to be dead and buried. Under the bark of trees, buds are swelling. Underground bulbs are pushing their leaves up to the sunlight and their roots down into the soil. Chipmunks and groundhogs are already awake, and bears are on the prowl for food. Birds and squirrels are busy mating and choosing spots to build their nests. Dried grasses from last fall are being pulled and pushed and woven into nests to hold baby bunnies, baby birds and baby mice. Forsythia blossoms are showing bits of yellow and pussy willows have taken on their fuzzy spring coats. The cycle of life is turning as the earth moves through its vernal orbit. Bulbs are rising, sleeping creatures are rising and songs of birds are rising in great annual chorus of life: new beginnings are all around us. It is hard to contain that most special word which must wait another ten days to raise. But for now, we will substitute “Hooray!” On Easter Sunday morning, with the earth robed in all it’s spring finery, it will be a joy to sing and say the “A word” once again.
Where did the name Easter come from? Like many holy days, Easter, as it is now celebrated, is an amalgam of elements from several cultures and faith traditions. Once you begin to read about the setting of date for Easter you will discern the political shenanigans that went on in an effort to keep Easter from falling on Passover. It appears that early Christian leaders wanted to separate the two events, although it is clear to those who read the Bible, that the two are inseparable. After all, the Last Supper was a Passover Seder. Some people believe that the name Easter comes from a Germanic or Norse goddess, Eostre, a deity of spring rites and rituals in a pagan world. The first mention of her is found in the writings of The Venerable Bede, an English historian of the early 8th century. According to his writing, her name came from an ancient Norse word, Ostara or Eostre. This was connected to the festival of spring at the vernal equinox when nature is resurrected following winter. It is interesting that Eostre’s name appears nowhere before the Bede’s writing, and all later references refer back to his work.
Jacob Grimm, of fairy tale fame, wrote in 1835 of a German deity, Ostara. April was her month, and was the time when fertility was very evident. Rabbits make a reasonable symbol for fertility, as they reproduce abundantly. Some sources say that Eostre had hares (rabbit relatives) as servants. Not much documentation on this. Many ancient cultures include a rabbit god, including Native American tribes, Egyptians and Chinese. The Chinese moon goddess however was part of autumnal events. Eos, was the Greek goddess of the dawn. Dawn/new life/spring. There is a certain logic there.
Jesus traveled from Galilee to Jericho, in the area near the Dead Sea, which was then called Lake Asphaltitus. This name was derived from the presence of bitumen, a black, thick mixture of hydrocarbons that was found floating on the surface of the lake. This is the material from which asphalt is made. The material was exuded from fissures under the surface of the lake. It was used for caulking, waterproofing and anchoring materials, like the rocks in the hanging gardens of Babylon. Jesus and his disciples are now (weeks before his arrest) traveling from Jericho to Jerusalem. We will soon hear about their entrance into that city. At this point they were staying in Bethany, while presumably, Jesus went out to the countryside to preach and to heal the blind and the lame. According to Matthew, “... in the morning as he returned into the city, he hungered. And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away. And when the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, How soon is the fig tree withered away! Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, if ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done. The native fig around Bethany is Ficus carica, the common fig, a member of the mulberry family. The fruits are tasty, either dried or fresh. The tree also produces a sticky latex sap which is dried and powdered for use in coagulating milk to make cheese and junket.
Welcome to Easter...the end of the Lenten Journey. May this be the beginning of your journey to learn more about your faith, whatever faith that may be. Happy Easter.
Today is Maundy Thursday. “Maundy” is derived from the Latin word “mando,” meaning “command.” It refers to the commandment Jesus gave to the disciples at the Last Supper. The Gospel of John 13:34 reads “ A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you.” So many special events are tied into this day: the model for our communion sacrament when Jesus shared bread and wine with his disciples, and told them to remember him when they do this in the future; the new commandment; the reminder to serve one another with humility, as he did when he washed the feet of his disciples. This is the night on which Jesus was betrayed by his friend, Judas, denied by his friend Peter and ...it is the beginning of the last segment of the journey to the cross. Let us all work to be better friends to Jesus and to one another, in keeping with this new commandment.