Jesus Wins…So We Don’t Have To

Christ shows himself to Thomas, mosaic in Washington Cathedral by Rowan and Irene LeCompte, n.d.

My posts are going to be pretty spotty for the next few weeks. We’ve sold our house, we’ll be moving to a new house soon and I’ll be starting a new job so my attention will be elsewhere. Such is the life of a part-time/hobby blogger. For those who look forward to my posts, I appreciate your patience. Hopefully things will return to more regularity in May. I intended to get this post up closer to Easter, but things being as they are…this will have to suffice.

Lent concluded just over a week ago now with the celebration of Easter. For Christians, this is the biggest day of the year. On it we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, upending expectations, breaking the grip of death, the salvation of the cosmos and the inauguration of Kingdom of God on the Earth as it is in Heaven.

In simpler words, we celebrate and remember the day that everything changed.

Of all the things that I heard on Easter Sunday, and through all the food I ate, one truth bubbled up in my head and refused to dissipate. I think I was actually driving down the road when this thought hit me.

Jesus Wins…So We Don’t Have To.

In Easter we remind ourselves of Jesus victory over death first discovered by the women heading to the tomb early in the morning. The Jesus they thought was dead and buried had risen and left the tomb. The movement Jesus’ followers thought had ended was suddenly revived with Jesus and given new meaning.

Their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight. They said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?
Luke 24:31-32 (CEB)

Through Jesus, sin, death and the powers of this world are put on notice. Victory was not gained through power and oppression but through weakness and death. The ascension of Jesus as Lord was not earned by the sharpness of his sword but by the piercing of his body. Judgement and vengeance against his torturers, accusers and murders is replaced by his pronouncement of Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” (Luke 23:34 CEB). Through those words and triumph of the resurrection, the path to forgiveness, sanctification and peace with God and the world opens up for all.

Typically we, in Evangelical Protestantism, focus on the forgiveness offered to ourselves so that individually we might be reconciled to God. But Jesus request of forgiveness was for the multitude crying out against him. The resurrection was not just for the faithful disciples who stuck by his side (even though they really didn’t), but so that they might be empowered in their weakness by the authority demonstrated in Jesus to, “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” (Matthew 28:19 CEB).

Jesus Wins…So We Don’t Have To.

When we realize the redemption demonstrated and offered through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus has also been offered to our neighbor we no longer have to “win” anymore. As the disciples who deserted Jesus are welcomed back in and empowered, we are shown an example, in Jesus, that forgiving our neighbors (accusers, deserters, liars, etc.) is the real way to win.

There is no punishment to be exacted.

There is no tribute to be demanded.

There is no sacrifice to pay.

There are no castles to defend.

Our life is given to lay down in service to others.

Our blessings are to be used to bless others.

Our authority is to be shared by disciple-ing others.

Our walls are to be broken down and the doors and gates flung open.

Jesus Wins…So We Don’t Have To.

Don’t get me wrong. I am glad every day that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection lead to my redemption and sanctification as an individual. But, the more I can understand the truth of that in my neighbor, the less I need to fight for some temporary position over and against my neighbor. The more I realize Jesus has opened up the way of forgiveness to them, the less I need my needs met against theirs.

I no longer need to be right, I just need to remember and pray as Jesus taught us to, “Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you, just as we also forgive those who have wronged us.” (Matthew 6:12 CEB)

Prayer for Easter Sunday

The Risen Christ Appears by He Qi, 2001.

Creator of the universe, you made the world in beauty, and restore all things in glory through the victory of Jesus Christ. We pray that, wherever your image is still disfigured by poverty, sickness, selfishness, war and greed, the new creation in Jesus Christ may appear in justice, love, and peace, to the glory of your name. Amen.

 

Prayer is from the Revised Common Lectionary provided by the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.

Honesty in the Silence (Lenten Lectio Reflection for Holy Saturday – Psalm 31:9-14)

Mourning of Jesus, by Jacques Le Breton, & Jean Gaudin. Stained glass at Cathédrale d’Amiens, Amiens, France.

Have mercy on me, Lord, because I’m depressed.
My vision fails because of my grief, as do my spirit and my body.
My life is consumed with sadness; my years are consumed with groaning.
Strength fails me because of my suffering; my bones dry up.
I’m a joke to all my enemies, still worse to my neighbors.
I scare my friends, and whoever sees me in the street runs away!
I am forgotten, like I’m dead, completely out of mind;
I am like a piece of pottery, destroyed.
Yes, I’ve heard all the gossiping, terror all around;
so many gang up together against me, they plan to take my life!
But me? I trust you, Lord! I affirm, “You are my God.”
Psalm 31:9-14 (CEB)

This might seem a little macabre for some of you, but I confess that Holy Saturday has become my favorite day in Lent. Not because it is the last day of Lent and tomorrow the fasting and introspection is over. But because it is the most emotionally raw and potentially honest day of the Lenten season. Holy Saturday recognizes the day that Jesus laid in the tomb and nothing happened. Holy Saturday is the day when it seems like all hope is lost and all the miracles and work of Jesus were for naught.

Jesus is dead.

God never seemed to show up.

The Roman authorities are still in power.

Nothing changed.

Holy Saturday is an emotionally awkward day. There is a temptation to not think about it and jump to the hope and resurrection of Easter. But, if we’re really honest with ourselves, that is never how our lives work. Personally, this has been one hell of a year for me and I could have tried to ignore the pain and run away from the emotions. First, my father died back in July and then my family was rocked by the miscarriage of our second daughter, Zoey Grace, in December. Couple with that a lack of movement in my career goals and dreams and there was a big temptation to just accept the easy answers and move on. As I wrote about a few times, I’ve felt a bit like being in the wilderness. I could have parroted the easy answers that, “everything happens for a reason” or “God loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life.” But, that would not have been emotionally honest. Like this Psalmist writes, “My vision fails because of my grief, as do my spirit and my body. My life is consumed with sadness; my years are consumed with groaning.” The Psalmist does not ignore his true feelings. Rather, he lets them be known to God and to anyone listening to the song. He does not jump to leaning on his trust in God until all the emotions are out. He acknowledges his pain before the reminder comes that “I trust you, Lord! I affirm, ‘You are my God.'”

There is no healing before the pain.

There is no resurrection without the cross.

There is no Easter without Good Friday and Holy Saturday.

I couldn’t accept the easy answers. I dove in head first and embraced the pain, awkwardness and disorientation of the whole mess. Like a good relationship, it’s never good to ignore the elephant in the room. Communication is key and when it comes to things like this, communication and interaction with one’s emotions is key to getting through reasonably unscathed.

My father died.

Our daughter died.

God never seemed to show up.

Nothing is changing.

This is the lesson of Holy Saturday. There is something to be learned in the honesty of the silence. This is especially true now as we in the present time sit between the resurrection of Christ and his redemption and resolution of all things. There is a spiritual awkwardness as we live in the already and not yet of the Kingdom of God. Like the disciples probably wondering what the heck happened on Holy Saturday, we can listen to the news and wonder the same thing.

Jesus is dead.

God never seems to show up.

Sin and death are still in power.

Evil people still get their way.

There is a deep honesty in feeling the silence of Holy Saturday. It is good to feel the pain and awkwardness. It’s only after doing those things that Easter and the resurrection can be experienced in their full weight and glory. Not just as another day of the year, or simply a day for feasting and family.

But as a day when something happened.

Prayer for Holy Saturday

Angel of Grief, William Wetmore Story, 1894.

Eternal God, rock and refuge: with roots grown old in the earth, river beds run dry, and flowers withered in the field,
we wait for revival and release. Abide with us until we come alive in the sunrise of your glory. Amen.

 

Prayer is from the Revised Common Lectionary provided by the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.

Death by the Law (Lenten Lectio Reflection for Good Friday – John 19:5-7)

Ecce Homo – “Here is the Man” by Antonio Ciseri, 1871.

When Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here’s the man.”

When the chief priests and their deputies saw him, they shouted out, “Crucify, crucify!”

Pilate told them, “You take him and crucify him. I don’t find any grounds for a charge against him.”

The Jewish leaders replied, “We have a Law, and according to this Law he ought to die because he made himself out to be God’s Son.”
John 19:5-7 (CEB)

It’s easy to read the story of Good Friday and let some of the nuggets the Gospel author left for us slip by. One of the things I’ve grown to appreciate in reading the Gospels is understanding that each and every element and story was placed with a reason. Since the Gospels are not a simple, dry, retelling of a historical act but instead present the “Good News” about the life of Jesus, every phrase choice by the Gospel writers is meant to direct our attention back to Jesus and his work. Today, as I re-read the Good Friday narrative from the Gospel of John again, one phrase from the Jews shouting back to Pilate stuck out to me. In trying to convince Pilate to pronounce the death penalty of crucifixion on Jesus, the Jews shout in verse 7, “We have a Law, and according to this Law he ought to die because he made himself out to be God’s Son.”

The incensed Jewish crowds felt that their law gave them the precedence to pronounce a sentence of death upon Jesus. This Law they are referencing, by the way, was the same Law God gave them to follow when they agreed to be his covenant people at Mount Sinai. The same law that, right in the middle of the Ten Commandments states, “You shall not murder.” The same law that later says in Deuteronomy, “I call heaven and earth as my witnesses against you right now: I have set life and death, blessing and curse before you. Now choose life—so that you and your descendants will live…” God encourages his people to choose life, yet here they demand death. Does this seem strange to anyone else?

Laws tend to do this though. Whether we live in our Western democracy, a monarchy or even some kind of socialist system, laws help set the limits within our society. While, this is typically a good thing, laws can be wielded in such a way that they are oppressive, segregating, and depressing. You don’t have to look to far back in human history to find such laws and, honestly, you just have to turn on the TV to see modern laws being used towards oppressive ends.

Here Jesus stands innocent of any wrong doing, yet also accused and condemned to death on account of the Law. A Law that is not being used to set limits, keep the peace or give life. The Law is instead being used to segregate and to call for death.

This is one of the often overlooked elements of the Good Friday story. We all tend to agree that Jesus is innocent and was wrongly accused, what we may miss is how this demonstrates the potential for our own laws and power structures to be used in negative ways against those who find themselves at the margins of society. Here, Jesus stands in for all those who do not have the power to fight back. Jesus is an example of those who do not have the luxury of the Laws being used for their defense but instead find themselves as the target.

Here Jesus stands as the homeless person pushed further to the margins because people do not want to see them in their city.

Here Jesus stands for the ethnic minority denied basic rights because they were trying to escape a life of violence and fear in their home country.

Here Jesus stands for the Christians drug out on a beach and martyred because of their killers believe they have a Law that allows them to do so.

Here Jesus stands for the gay couple who’s relationship is denied legal recognition preventing them from taking medical leave to care for a sick partner.

Here Jesus stands for the child seriously injured by a “non-lethal” device during a police raid of his home.

The accusations against Jesus and his death on the cross are not simply unjust acts, but they shine light on the ways laws and power can be used in harmful and destructive ways even in our time.

Here Jesus stands not for the powerful and the “blessed”, but with the weak and the “cursed.”

“God’s curse is on those who are hanged.
Deuteronomy 21:23 (CEB)

“…because what is written kills, but the Spirit gives life.
2 Corinthains 3:6 (CEB)

Finally, yes…the verse says Jesus wore a purple robe and the artwork has him wearing a red robe. Let’s forgive the artist his scriptural oversight but applaud his use of the traditional color for Good Friday.

Prayer for Good Friday

Transport of Christ to the tomb by Antonio Ciseri, 1864-1870.

Grieving God, on the cross your Son embraced death even as he had embraced life: faithfully and with good courage.
Grant that we who have been born out of his wounded side may hold fast to our faith in him exalted and may find mercy in all times of need. Amen.

 

Prayer is from the Revised Common Lectionary provided by the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.

A Personal Touch (Lenten Lectio Reflection for Maundy Thursday – John 13:3-9)

Christ washes the feet of the Apostles by Jacques Le Breton, & Jean Gaudin.
Stained glass at Cathédrale d’Amiens, Amiens, France.

Jesus knew the Father had given everything into his hands and that he had come from God and was returning to God. So he got up from the table and took off his robes. Picking up a linen towel, he tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he was wearing.

When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You don’t understand what I’m doing now, but you will understand later.”

“No!” Peter said. “You will never wash my feet!”

Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t have a place with me.”

Simon Peter said, “Lord, not only my feet but also my hands and my head!”
John 13:3-9 (CEB)

Washing each others feet is something we have little to know context for in the modern world. In fact, if you started washing someones feet when they came into your house you would probably be considered crazy and having not concept of boundaries and personal space. Of course, in the world of the Ancient Near East, washing of feet was a regular and necessary occurrence. Since walking was the dominant mode of transportation and paved roads were a rare occurrence, ones feet could get very dirty. Tracking all that dirt into someone’s house, especially if you were attending a party or meal and they had worked all day preparing and cleaning, was considered very rude. If you have ever heard a sermon on this passage, you’ll know that the washing of feet was typically servants job. When Jesus takes off his robes, kneels down and proceeds to wash the feet of his disciples he is taking the role of a servant. This is much of the reason for Peter’s initial disapproval. However, something else struck me as I was reading this story again this year.

How both deeply personal and communal Jesus act of washing the disciples feet is.

First of all, when Jesus chooses to wash the feet of his disciples he is serving them in a very personal level. He gets down in front of them, one by one, and washes their feet. I imagine he also looks each and every one of them in the eye, probably calls them by their name and welcomes them to the evening. I don’t know if you’re like me but, someone touching my feet is a deeply personal experience. Heck, even someone seeing my bare feet seems a bit personal. Here we have Jesus addressing the disciples personally and taking the time to clean their unique feet and removing dirt from between their toes and under their nails. By washing their feet, Jesus acknowledges them as individuals and works to reveal their true self. Jesus does not clean their feet to make the disciples something they are not, Jesus cleans their feet to help reveal who they are underneath all the dirt from the road. Jesus does not tell them they need new clothes, a new leg or even a pedicure. The dirt was not a part of who they really were, the dirt was picked up moving through their lives and obscured who they were. I’m sure it is possible that some of the disciples intentionally got their feet dirty and enjoyed rolling around in the mud…but more than likely their feet got dirty because the road they walked was dirty.

Secondly, Jesus washing his disciples feet is a communal act. Basically, having ones feet washed was probably the price of admission to the meal that evening. Nobody wanted to sit next to someone with dirty feet and no one wanted to be the one person with dirty feet at the table. To take part in the meal, to be a part of the community that evening, it was expected that one have their feet washed. On a more spiritual level, Jesus says, “Unless I wash you, you won’t have a place with me.” So, for the disciples to be a part of the evening and to enjoy being a part of this thing Jesus was about to inaugurate, one was expected to have their feet washed and to be clean. I’m not going to wade into the deep theological waters of being “clean” (ritually/spiritually/etc.) and what it means for Jesus to do that. Lets just simply say that Jesus sets the stage for the disciples need to be washed and for them to in turn serve others in that way. Being washed invites the disciples to sit at the table with the others who have been washed. The washing does not transform them or change their identity, but it does allow them to identify with the community gathered and freely sit at the table set for them. Loud mouths, betrayers, young and old, men and women all found themselves washed and welcomed to the table.

So, this act of Jesus washing his disciples feet is deeply personal and communal at the same time. For those of us today who may find ourselves gathered with our church community around a table this has deep meaning. It means that when we sit down, we are acknowledging our “washed” status among the community of others who have been “washed.” But, it also means that we can look across the table (or the chairs or pews around us) and see people welcomed to the table. We have been “washed” to reveal who we really are and we have been “washed” to join the community. We have been “washed” to help others find who they really are and we have been “washed” to welcome others into the community.

Take some time this evening, if you are gathered with your community, to truly see someone the way Jesus would have seen them. If you have the opportunity, serve them and call them by name. Acknowledge that they have been loved and washed by Jesus and you are glad they are their at the table with you.