Year A: April 5, 2020
First Reading: Isaiah 50:4-9a
Midnight Teacher: Lilly Ann Granderson and Her Secret School by Janet Halfmann
(Written for ages 7-11)
Comment: When the Israelites were taken into exile in Babylon, away from their home and the Temple, they were feeling discouraged and doubted God’s interest or ability to redeem them. The prophet responds to their discouragement with what is often called a song about a servant, a teacher who can sustain the weary with a word. Unlike the rebellious Israelites, this teacher obeyed God. The result was that people struck him, pulled out his beard, insulted and spit on him. This unknown teacher or servant depends on the Lord and knows that his adversaries will not defeat him. They will wear out like a moth-eaten garment. Who is this teacher whose word sustains the weary and who is persecuted? The prophet does not say. This leader is a person with power, too, but a different kind of power. When Christians read these words, they think about Jesus.
Lilly Ann was a slave as a young girl in a house in Kentucky. She learned to read when the master’s children played school with her. Learning to read gave her access to newspapers where she heard of people who had found freedom in the north. She yearned for freedom for herself and others. She began secretly teaching other save children to read knowing that learning what she offered could give them hope for a better future. After being sold to another master in Mississippi, the penalty for teaching slaves to read was much harsher, but Lilly Ann began a midnight school to continue to teach other slaves to read. The penalty for the school was lashings for both Lilly Ann and all her students, but their desire for freedom was such that they were willing to accept the penalty if caught. Like Jesus, Lilly was a teacher who faced persecution and danger for her teachings, but whose love of justice and education made a profound difference in the lives of people who were weary and beaten down by their circumstances. Lilly’s deep commitment and passion for the lives of the people who wanted to learn even if it meant they would be hurt is a good example of a servant teacher like the one Isaiah speaks about.
Second Reading: Philippians 2:5-11
Grandpa Stops a War by Susan Robeson
(Written for ages 5-9)
Comment: Paul is writing to a church that he loves, the church in Philippi. He is encouraging them to be unselfish and humble, to think of others. So he quotes what most scholars think of as an early hymn about Christ. “Let this mind be in you…” – the mind of Christ. What was the mind of Christ like? Christ was willing to give up his place as equal with God in power. The Bible words are “he emptied himself.” He gave up the power and glory of God to become an humble human, willing to die on the cross. The song ends in some of the most glorious words of praise about Jesus in the Bible. A poet has written a hymn based on this hymn which may be in your hymnbook. It is called “At the Name of Jesus, Every Knee Should Bow.” Perhaps you can find it.
Paul Robeson was a stellar student, a professional football player, and an outstanding singer and actor. He had every reason to be proud of his accomplishments and focus on his success. But in this story, written by his daughter, you get a glimpse of what was most important to him. He wanted to make life better for everyone, not just himself. This particular story recounts his concern over the people of Spain during their civil war in the 1930’s. Robeson had several concerts that raised money that he sent to Spain to help the people who were suffering, but he felt that he needed to do more to enable peace in Spain. He went to Spain at great danger to himself and was driven to the front lines of battle. There, he sang because he felt that the songs he had to sing – African American spirituals – would give the soldiers hope for a more peaceful world. As he sang, the battlefield went silent and for a short while, there was peace. Robeson was a man whose mind and heart were focused on helping others and not on his own stature. His gifts were used in service to those around him.
Gospel Reading: Matthew 26:14-27:66 (Liturgy of the Passion)
He is Risen: Rocks Tell the Story of Easter by Patti Rokus
(Written for ages 3-8)
Comment: The story of the last week of Jesus’ life is so familiar to some that it is hard to find ways to tell it so that it continues to astound and move us. This book will help with that. Similar to her Christmas book, Rokus tells the story of Jesus’ last week on earth with rocks that she picked up as she did her daily walks. Using these rocks to illustrate the accompanying descriptive sentences – she uses both Bible verses and simple sentences – helps to hear this familiar story in fresh ways. The book can be used on this Sunday up until the page where Jesus is buried, and used again on Easter Sunday for the pages that follow. Consider asking your congregation to bring in their interpretation of the Easter story next week with rocks they find. Even if you do not use this book for the next two Sundays, this is a book you will want for a church library!
The Revised Common Lectionary Links this week are co-written by Virginia C. Thomas and Ann Thomas Knox.