Scripture Readings - Ocala Florida

A Maundy Thursday at
Home Service During Our Being Apart Due to the Coronavirus

Thursday, April 9,

Ascension Lutheran Church, Ocala,

As we are separated together this Maundy Thursday, let us begin in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Prayer: Holy God, source of all love, on the night of his of his betrayal, Jesus gave us a new commandment, to love one another as he loves us. Write this commandment in our hearts, and give us the will to serve others as he was the servant of all, your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

A Reading from Exodus 12: 1-13 (God is setting his people Israel free from slavery in Egypt. He has commanded Pharaoh to let the people go. God has sent plagues on the land to convince Pharaoh to free God’s people. Pharaoh has refused and now God will send a final plague, the death of the first born in all of Egypt. However, God will save his people. Israel is commanded to take a lamb without blemish and to consume it for dinner. They are to take some of the lamb’s blood and put it on the door frame of their homes. The homes marked with the blood of the lamb are spared. Christians see Jesus as the Lamb of God, pure and perfect, who in his suffering and death takes away the sin of the world.)

The Holy Gospel: John 13: 1-17

A Brief Homily by Pastor Chuck Erzkus

Scripture doesn’t tell us how many years Jesus’ public ministry lasted before his final journey to Jerusalem. Many believe it was around 3 years. During that time it is clear that Jesus was training his disciples to do ministry after he was not physically with them any longer.

So, Jesus knew, that Thursday evening was the last time before his death and resurrection that he would be with the twelve. How could he prepare them for what was to come? What did they need to remember? What was at the heart of what Jesus had been teaching them for three years?

Jesus takes a basin of water and a towel and begins to wash the feet of each of the disciples (including Judas Iscariot). It is not the task a teacher, much less Jesus, was expected to do. Feet were dirty and cruddy from wearing sandals and picking up anything that was on the city streets. Maybe you would hire a servant to do this task if you had a group coming for dinner. The host or hostess would not perform this task. Jesus washes their feet. Peter objects. He knows this is not a task for Jesus to be doing. He doesn’t yet understand.

Jesus had once said, “You know that the rulers of the gentiles Lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20”:25-28)

I’m with Peter. Sometimes I don’t get it. Sometimes I want to ignore what Jesus tells me. Yet ,like Peter, I want and need Jesus, and am amazed, totally amazed, that just hours before his arrest, he is still teaching, still loving, still caring for those he has called to follow him. As the hymn says, “What wondrous love is this O my soul?”

It is stating the obvious to say that this Maundy Thursday is different from any
Maundy Thursday we can remember. Ironically, staying away from each other is the equivalent of washing feet this Maundy Thursday. 

When Jesus is arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter thinks it  appropriate to fight and cuts off the ear of the servant of the High Priest. Jesus says no. He heals the injured man and the disciples take off running. Jesus rejects resorting to violence and also protects his disciples who now quickly run away. On this Maundy Thursday we are asked to restrict our freedom of movement. That may be frustrating, but if it helps stop the spread on a pandemic and keeps someone from illness and/or death, my frustration is a small price to pay.

I deeply miss the Meal Jesus gave us that first Maundy Thursday. Yet in greatly missing it, I may realize even more its meaning and value. When we do come together again, what a feast of love and grace it will be!

In chapters 13-17 of John’s Gospel, we read the remarks of Jesus that first Maundy Thursday. Among them: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35) On this holy night, we are separated together, yet bound by the love of Jesus and our love for one another. Amen

Prayers: Gracious God, in the midst of a pandemic where over one and a half million are ill globally and 88 thousand have died, we pray that this virus may be stopped. Bless the ill, comfort the dying, may those who need medical help receive it. Please bless nurses, doctors, and all other hospital workers. Protect we pray, those who work in super markets, those who deliver meals, all who work in public places. Surround with protection first responders. Bless the families of those who are ill, the loved ones of those who risk their lives to help others, those who have loved ones in hospitals and Nursing Homes and cannot visit them. We pray for those who live in refugee camps, those in detention centers, those in health care facilities and homes for the aged, where close contact with others is hard to avoid. Lord, our prayers could go on and on as we face this global pandemic. Thank you that you love all people, that you are with us, that you are at work to guide us and heal us. We pray in Jesus name.

The Lord’s Prayer may be prayed.

The Passion History: Luke 22: 39-46

(As I looked at a past Maundy Thursday bulletin, I was struck how the words of the following blessing are quite appropriate for this night, but take on additional meaning in our global context this year.)

Blessing: May we go forth on our journeys. May we walk through the next hours with confidence and courage. Even though the darkest of moments lie ahead, may we go forward by the strengthening and steadying presence of God’s Holy Spirit and may the blessing of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit abide with us always. Amen

Let us go in peace to serve the Lord. Thanks be to God!

The Wednesday of Holy Week 

April 8, 2020 

Ascension Lutheran Church, Ocala, Florida 

“Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.”       Matthew 27:27-31 

Earlier this year Herb Enberg made a crown of thorns and gave it to me in case we could use it at church this Holy Week. You had to be careful how you held it and I’m really not sure how he managed to make it without a lot of cuts and scrapes. I cannot imagine it being pressed down on a person’s head, the way they did with Jesus. 

Jesus is a victim of torture. I do not understand how a human being can torture another human being, but history shows over and over this dark side of humanity. Jesus is mocked. Jesus is spat upon. Jesus is beat up. Jesus is whipped. Jesus is humiliated. Jesus is taunted. Jesus is unfairly accused and condemned to death. He knows how bad humans can treat one another. 

I’m reading a book by Ben Rawlence entitled, “City of Thorns”. The author is a former researcher for Human Rights Watch, and he came to know the world’s largest Refugee camp at Dadaab, Kenya. The camp is now almost 29 years old and it is home to a half million of God’s people. Hopes were that it would be a temporary escape from war in Somalia, from hunger, from rape, from shells and bombs and missiles, and that one day home would be somewhere else, perhaps Europe or America, or even a stable Somalia. Some have left the camp to new homes; others are now there for the third generation. The United Nations runs the camp and with other emergency aid agencies, supplies food, medicine, and a tent which can last perhaps a year. The world, for the most part, just doesn’t care about these refugees.   

The author chose the name “City of Thorns”, because thorn bushes grow well here and they are used for barriers and even for make shift huts to lodge in. I wonder if those in the camp would notice that so many of the pictures of Jesus on the cross show him wearing a crown of thorns? He knows them. He understands. He cares! 

Jesus wore a crown of thorns for me and for all people. Incredibly, he even wore it for the soldiers who jammed it on his head. He did so to save us from sin, from death, from evil. He did this to rescue us from self-centeredness, selfishness, and the attitude “as long as I’m ok, everything is ok”.  

I need Jesus to teach me how to love and care the way He does. I need Jesus to help me have compassion for all people. I need Jesus to raise my vision, how I can make a difference for others on a global basis. I need Jesus to inform my praying, my giving, my longing in my heart for the good of all. And the more I keep my eyes on Jesus, and allow his love to give me joy in my caring and concern, I may find myself laughing a bit. “You know Lord, my need to love like you do is even greater than my need for paper towels and toilet paper. Thanks for raising my vision!” 

Pastor Chuck  

Lord Jesus, on this Wednesday of Holy Week, please bless the refugees in the world’s largest refugee camp at Dadaab, Kenya, as well as all refugees in our world. Thank you that you are a King who is even willing to wear a crown made of thorns if that means saving and rescuing your people everywhere. Help our hearts to be full of love for you and to have in us Your love for all people. See our world through a most difficult week. We ask this in your name Lord Jesus. Amen

“We are separated together”

A Brief Devotion for
March 18-19

Ascension Lutheran Church, Ocala,

“I lift up my eyes to the hills – from where will my help come? 

My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.         

He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand.          

The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.”  Psalm 121

I love the mountains! When Cindy and I served in West Virginia, we lived in the small town of Franklin, which was in a valley between two mountains. When we moved to western Maryland, the mountains were still around us. The mountains were not only beautiful, they represented stability, strength, even protection from storms. Sure the Psalmist would lift up his eyes to the hills and be reassured?

Actually, that was not the case. Psalm 121 is a “Pilgrim Psalm”, said
and sung by those traveling to Jerusalem for a Festival and the hills encouraged fear, since it was there that they might be robbed. So as they looked at the hills, from where would their help come? The answer is immediate. “My help comes from the Lord”. How powerful is the Lord? Well, God made heaven and earth!

God does not need to sleep, so God’s watchfulness is constant. God knows when you come and go. God simply will be with you at all times.

Loving the mountains, it’s hard to realize the hills were a fearful place for some. Loving the super market, (including the snack aisle}; loving going out to eat with a group of family or friends; loving going to church and Bible study; it’s very hard to realize that now there could be the danger of exposure to a virus, and we need to refrain, as much as possible, from close physical contact with others.

From where is our help to come? Thankfully it is the same answer the Psalmist gives. “Our help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.” We are not alone. We are separated together. Best of all, God
cares, constantly keeps track of us and is present to help in every time of

In Christ

Pastor Chuck,

Prayer: Gracious God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, please see us safely through this day. Not just us Lord, but all people on this planet. We pray especially for those whose income is in danger, those who need help with child care, those taking care of a loved one who is ill. Bless and help we pray, in the name of Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Amen