The Politics of Good Friday

We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

Martin Luther King Jr.

I often hear, “You shouldn’t politicize (this or that),” in reference to a number of things. More often than not, that sentiment comes from a place of privilege. It’s a privilege to experience various circumstances in life and not make political connections to real needs. Jesus is often invoked as someone who was politically neutral. When I hear this, it makes me chuckle a bit because it shows the person saying this hasn’t spent enough time reading the red letters in their Bible. Jesus was extremely subversive and political. Simply look at the Lord’s Prayer we recite each Sunday. When we pray, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done,” we pray a very political petition to God.

Good Friday is no less political. We recognize the injustice found in the killing of Jesus, an innocent person if there ever was one who was brutally executed. Yet, how often do we look at the criminal justice system that sentenced Jesus to death? Do we notice the poverty of Jesus and his family which prevented any sort of bribe being offered that would perhaps sway his release, or in today’s term he didn’t have the means to post bond? When we read the account of Jesus’ trial, we find Pilate declaring Jesus “not guilty” multiple times (Luke 23), and yet he was handed over to be crucified in what James Cone would describe as a lynching.

Though it may feel like long ago, it was just last month Nathaniel Woods, an African American from Alabama, was executed for a crime he did not commit. How do we know he was innocent? The person who committed the crime confessed multiple times that Nathaniel Woods had no role in the crime whatsoever. Nathaniel Woods is unfortunately the tip of the iceberg of such injustices. I’m sure many of us can recall the names of numerous men and women who were either wrongly convicted of crimes or worse, experienced in a single moment the horrifying effects of an antagonist acting as judge, jury, and executioner. I would be absolutely remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the prevalence of such injustices are often within African American communities.

And so Good Friday speaks to us today imploring and encouraging us to be watchful and steadfast in our pursuit of justice in all its forms (criminal, economic, healthcare, equality) for all our neighbors. Good Friday tells us God loves us unconditionally and is with us, truly with us in all aspects of our lives. God is with us as one who, at times, feels forsaken as Jesus did when he quoted Psalm 22 before his death. God is with us as the parent who lost their child, as the family member who lost their loved one. God is with us as the victim of oppression, power, and greed. God is with us as the person with insufficient funds struggling to make ends meet. God is with us as the one who enlists to sacrifice themselves for the sake of others. On Good Friday we see the political context of the crucifixion; on Good Friday we see God is with us and we are with God.

~Rev. Nick

God Forgives Even Judas

The band U2 has a song which is sung from the perspective of Judas. In one of the final verses of the song Judas is meeting his demise and says, “I reached out for the one I tried to destroy. You, you said you’d wait ‘til the end of the world.” I’ve always found the song interesting as it is one of the few forms of art in which we are presented with Judas’ perspective. I often think about Judas during this week and on Maundy Thursday in particular. In many ways I find him far more complex and “real” than how some of the other disciples are represented.

Yes, Peter denied Jesus three times after he insisted he would never do such a thing, and then eventually finds reconciliation with Jesus after the resurrection. And John was seemingly faithful till the end, being one of the few who stayed near Jesus until his death. But how often is it that in life, circumstance, temptation, “stuff happening” reveals we are a little more like Judas? Some who may be reading this will surely say, “Speak for yourself, Rev. Nick.” I don’t mean to generalize and lay blanket statements, but I’d like to think I have a little understanding of the human condition. And for many on the day before Good Friday we find ourselves contemplating and confessing our own sins.

I think what fascinates me about Judas was that he was set to be the fall guy before he had any idea of who Jesus even was. Just as God had hardened Pharaoh’s heart against the Jews (Exodus 9), God also had a specific role for Judas to play in the salvation history of His people. Staunch Calvinists would state that this is who God is, a God who elects those who will receive mercy and a God who elects those destined for punishment. Luckily, I’m not a staunch Calvinist and find myself as more of a Christological optimist. In other words, I think more of Jesus.

Back to that lyric, the one where Jesus’ reply to a desperate Judas is to say that Jesus would wait till the end of the world to intervene. How Easter of Jesus. I rather like that. I can’t imagine the lead singer of U2 is a scholar of early church history, yet this lyric makes me think of the teaching of the Early Church Father Origen, one who taught the theory of apokatástasis.

“Ok Rev. Nick, first U2 lyrics, then empathy for Judas, and now crazy Greek words?!”

Apokatástasis means a return to the original order, before sin; a doctrine that teaches a time will come when all will share in the grace of salvation. Remember, Jesus is the Second Adam who came to make right what the first Adam made wrong. Jesus brings life to all just as Adam had brought death to all. In the end when all is said and done, God reconciles and brings all things back into the fold, even Judas. And that my sisters and brothers is a very hopeful thought as we enter the bleakest time in our church calendar.

In Jesus, not only is Peter forgiven, but even Judas is given his reprieve. God’s “YES” engulfs and swallows up our “no.” Sure, many of us may not be betraying the savior of the world, but we do mess up a great deal, at least I know I do. I’m not advocating that we use this grace as a license to sin (the books of Jude and Hebrews warns against that), but I am suggesting that no matter your circumstance, no matter what you’ve done, no matter your shame, no matter what, in the end you are still God’s beautiful child, you are still loved, and you are reconciled.

~Rev. Nick


P.S. –

I want to apologize to those who were attempting to join the Wednesday night Bible study via Zoom and could not. Zoom had an update yesterday that created a few extra hurdles in joining the meeting that were not originally there when the Bible Study was created. I am sorry for those who had difficulty. These matters should be resolved and we hope to resume next Wednesday in a regular manner.

Pastor Search Suspended

Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, church leadership has temporarily suspended the search for a full time pastor. This is not an appropriate time to introduce new leadership. Leadership will instead focus their energies on the current needs of the church.

Fortunately, interim pastor Rev. Nicolas Mumejian is committed to serving Riverside throughout this period. The church will resume the search for a full-time pastor once members are able to return to the sanctuary and precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are relaxed.

We Are God’s First Love

But the ultimate reason for our hope is not to be found at all in what we want, wish for and wait for; the ultimate reason is that we are wanted and wished for and waited for. What is it that awaits us? Does anything await us at all, or are we alone? Whenever we base our hope on trust in the divine mystery, we feel deep down in our hearts: there is someone who is waiting for you, who is hoping for you, who believes in you. We are waited for as the prodigal son in the parable is waited for by his father. We are accepted and received, as a mother takes her children into her arms and comforts them. God is our last hope because we are God’s first love.

Jürgen Moltmann

As we enter this Passion week and look toward the cross, may we remember that we are indeed God’s first love. All the events, trials, and suffering represented in this week were done in an act of love, a love of each and every single one of you. Though we may feel alone and burdened, we truly are wanted and wished for and waited for by the God who became human and endured so much for our sake, out of immense love for us. I pray that you taste and experience the acceptance and embrace of God’s unconditional love for you.

God Bless You All,

Rev. Nick

Remembering Rev. Paul Clark

Photo of Rev. Paul Clark

Riverside Church family,

It is with great sadness we announce the passing of Rev. Paul Clark who went to be with the Lord on April 3, 2020 after a long battle with ALS.  Please pray for his wife Brenda and his family.

Rev. Clark was instrumental in our pastoral selection process, acting as consultant and spiritual leader to our church during the transition from full-time Pastor to interim Pastor. Our church has been enriched by his faith and wisdom and he will be missed by all who knew him.

A funeral service will be held at The First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC sometime in the near future.

God bless you,

Deacon Laurel

We’ll Get Through This Thing Together

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.

Prince

Generally, I would quote the Prince of Peace, but today I think Prince will serve us well. Beloved, we are certainly here, together, to get through this. And so, I wish to share a few things related to how this body of Christ is staying connected and helping one another.

Church, we’re near the end of Lent and about to begin Holy Week. And yet for many nothing about our current situation seems to conjure up the anticipation and hope that comes with next week. Nearly forty days ago I encouraged you to participate in Lent. As one person recently put it, this has been the Lentiest Lent we have ever Lented; indeed, it has.

Many of us are under stay-at-home orders. Others are essential personnel and are risking their lives going into work. Many of us are anxious, perhaps not knowing where money for rent and groceries will come. Some of us have underlying health conditions that make us more susceptible to COVID-19. And the list of worries goes on. For those who are working from home I wish to remind you that you are not working from home (or simply continuing to work), but you are home during a crisis trying to work. I think this is an important distinction to make as our minds are busy grappling with our current situation.

Therefore, I believe prayer is in order. A reminder that we are meeting through Zoom to greet one another and pray each Sunday at 11AM. The link for the meeting will remain the same until June, please click here – and if you do not have access to a smart phone or computer please join us by dialing (301) 715-8592 and entering the meeting number 766-90-1652.

Next, I would like to announce we’re beginning a Bible Study through Zoom starting next Wednesday April 8 at 6pm EST. It’ll last about an hour. We’ll be going through the book of Galatians, chapter by chapter. If you would like to join, please feel free to read Galatians 1 and be ready to discuss. All are welcome to join, and I look forward to seeing your wonderful faces and hearing your gracious voices. I will send the Zoom meeting info for the Bible study this coming Monday April 6.

Daily Quarantine Questions

For a bit of pragmatic application, I wish to share these daily questions adapted from Rev. Linda Couser Barnette. These are daily questions to ask yourself to help you take it one day at a time and keep yourself balanced.

  1. What am I grateful for today?
  2. Who am I checking in on or connecting with today?
  3. What expectations of “normal” am I letting go of today?
  4. How am I getting outside (if possible) today?
  5. How am moving my body today?
  6. What beauty am I creating, cultivating, or inviting in today?
  7. How I am speaking to God today? Did I either thank, confess, lament, petition, or say whatever I need to say?

I encourage you to try and answer these questions each day as you are able. Please remember to practice self-care as you care for one another.

Finally, this Sunday is Palm Sunday. Customarily across the globe Christians gather in their places of worship to celebrate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Many of us would take home the palms we would receive during this service. Since most churches across the globe are being loving, wise, and prudent by not gathering, there is a movement happening where Christians are being asked to place some sort of leaf, branch, palm, etc. on their door or window. Though we may not be able to have the procession of the palms in person we can still celebrate this day at home with our neighbors. In case you don’t have access to a leaf, branch, palm, etc. here is a template of some palms for you and yours to print and color as you’d like and use for Palm Sunday. 

I am praying for you and look forward to seeing you during our prayer meeting this Sunday. Beloved, with God’s grace we are here to get through this together.

Rev. Nick

Think on These Things

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:8-9

The news can be disheartening at times, particularly during this pandemic. Social media, one of the outlets for many during physical isolation, is also littered with posts, memes, and stories that can be overwhelming, especially when we’re already feeling anxious. I want to encourage you to find that which brings joy and peace and try to focus on these. Perhaps praying through the Psalms or reading Gospel you never paid much attention to; my favorite happens to be Luke. But it doesn’t necessarily need to be religious. Perhaps you could read a book that you wouldn’t normally pick up or taking a virtual tour of a museum you’ve always wanted to visit or re-watch a favorite show or movie that puts a smile on your face. I personally find great comfort in listening to an album that I haven’t visited in some time.

This is not to suggest that we shouldn’t pay attention to what is happening. On the contrary, we need to be informed and discerning. However, regardless of the medium I want to encourage you think about things that are pleasing, noble, commendable.

Riverside is blessed to have such a wonderfully diverse and gifted community. Jonathan Holley has gifted us with this video he made. May it bring some joy and peace to your day.

~ Rev. Nick

Fellowship Amid COVID-19

Dear Church,
I hope and pray this message finds you doing well.

With the continued recommendation from the CDC and local authorities, Riverside’s building will remain closed until further notice. Please do not hesitate to contact our staff should you need anything.

We are continuing to offer our Sunday service virtually. The service will be posted online Sunday morning at 10:00 am along with the bulletin for you to follow along at home.

I wish to share with you an invitation to virtually join together each Sunday at 11:00 am though Zoom. Our hope is that this prayer meeting will allow us to connect, see, and pray with each other. The format of the meeting will allow each person the opportunity to share a bit about how they are doing and how we can pray for them. This format does not allow for multiple individuals to speak at the same time, so I kindly ask you respect the time and one another’s turns. I also encourage you download and register for the Zoom application before Sunday to make sure you have as little difficulty joining as possible.

On Sunday morning, to join the prayer meeting via Zoom please go to the link – https://zoom.us/j/766901652 a little before 11:00 am. Again, please allow yourself enough time to register and launch the Zoom application.

Additionally, if you already have the Zoom application you can find our meet through the meeting ID: 766 901 652

If you do not have a smart phone or video capabilities through your computer, you can dial one of the following numbers and then enter the meeting number when prompted.

  • +13017158592, meeting number 766901652#
  • +13126266799, meeting number 766901652#
  • +16465588656, meeting number 766901652#

As this is our first attempt at such a meeting please be patient with us as we begin this process. It is our hope to continue to meet virtually through Zoom each Sunday at 11:00 am until we are back in person.

With appreciation,

Rev. Nick

The Lord Is Our Shepherd

Henri Nouwen wrote, “Nobody escapes being wounded. We all are wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. The main question is not ‘How can we hide our wounds?’ so we don’t have to be embarrassed, but ‘How can we put our woundedness in the service of others?’ When our wounds cease to be a source of shame, and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers.”

This sentiment of wounded healer reminds me of Psalm 23. Dr. Ellen Davis states that the Psalms are written, in part, as our personal communication with God. The Psalms were scripted for our mouths, becoming our cries and prayer to God. Where other books in the Bible are the stories of a particular people or to a particular people, the Psalms invite and call us into these laments, songs, and prayer to the point where each Psalm is our Psalm, our prayer.

This past Sunday we read Psalm 23 to open our worship service, and until we are meeting together in person I will continue to read from the Psalms to begin our service. Psalm 23 is a psalm of healing. What stands out most about Psalm 23 is the complete lack of anxiety in the midst of such adversity. The psalmists would normally express their cries, anguish, and anxiety freely throughout their numerous laments. This psalmist is free to express their sentiment without anxiety because they truly embodied what they prayed. Psalm 23 comes from someone who has known fear and has faced it down, it comes from someone who had wounds and was healed.

“The LORD is my shepherd.” The metaphor of shepherd is perhaps lost on some of us as I imagine very few have actually spent much time tending to sheep. But I hope over these past weeks as we’ve read and discussed the life and ministry of Jesus the “Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10) resonates and helps comfort as we hear these words from Psalm 23. That though we go through adversity, we have Jesus as our shepherd. To all of us, the psalmist offers the reorienting word that God brings us back to life. The Hebrew for “he restores my soul” in verse 3 is that strong, it emphasizes the life that God restores within us.

Psalm 23 is one of comfort, but not compliancy. It is a Psalm of fortitude. If we are to “dwell in the house of the LORD”, we have our chores to tend to. We have our command to love one another, to encourage and care for another, to uplift and pray for one another. It is my hope and prayer that you are encouraged, comforted, and know that you are loved as part of the Riverside household.

Sincerely,

Rev. Nick

Challenging Times

Dear Riverside Family,

I am reaching out today to extend my love and prayers for you and your family during these unprecedented and challenging times. I know many of you are worried about your jobs, your income, and your health. These are scary times for all of us.

Now, perhaps more than ever before, we have an opportunity to trust in God in a new and different way. Won’t you join me in praying for our church community and for our world? If each of us prayed just ten minutes more each day, what an impact our prayers would have on our world!

Let the words of Jeremiah 29:11 comfort you:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”.

When anxieties begin to rise, turn off the noise and rest in the promise of God’s word. He is faithful. He is true. And he has your best interests at heart.

This is our promise, and today is our opportunity to live it. As we adjust to our new realities, and the temporary closure of our church home, let’s love and serve one another well through this season. Reach out to those around you who may be alone and fearful. Spend a few minutes on the phone reassuring a neighbor or a friend that God loves and cares for them.

If you need prayer or assistance, please feel free to call our church office at (202) 554-4330. Someone from our pastoral care team will get back in touch with you.

Praying God’s continued blessings over you.

In Christ,

Deacon Laurel