On this Good Shepherd Sunday, I am delighted to be joined by the members of Holy Cross’ Worship Team as we reflect together upon our experiences with the 23rd Psalm. We begin with a familiar translation of the Psalm. Our own reflections are punctuated by Rabbi Jamie Arnold’s translation from the original Hebrew.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
For most of my life, the words of the 23rd Psalm, as they were translated and interpreted by the authors of the King James Version of the Bible, have been with me, here and here. When I was just ten years old, we moved to Newmarket and lived here less than a year. It was a lonely year.
My brother and I were what we called back then, latch-key kids, which meant that we pretty much took care of ourselves while Mum and Dad had to work. I vaguely remember a brief friendship with a girl who lived down the street, who had the audacity to invite me to join her for a week of Vacation Bible School. Never having attended church, I had no idea what to Vacation Bible School was. Nevertheless, my parents’ discouragement about church, was all the encouragement I needed to want to attend. There was something exciting about the independence of striking out on my own, without parental encouragement, to explore the goings on at this place my parents avoided; indeed disparaged. I remember very little about that week except for the ongoing lessons of a gifted teacher who taught us the 23rd Psalm. I say taught us, but it would be more accurate to say, that he imprinted the 23rd psalm on our memory-banks, where it remains to this very day. I remember a sense of confusion about the meaning of these strange words. I remember feeling their weight, their importance, as if they were to be treasured and remembered because of their power. Power which my ten-year-old mind equated to the only other thing I had ever memorized, my twelve-times-table. If I could only capture those words, the way I’d captured the twelve-times-table, the power of numbers stored in my memory, would pale in comparison to the power of these magic words. I remember the teacher carefully explaining that these words together are poetry and that it is important to memorize poetry because poems are alive; they are sacred living words. At the time I had no idea what the word “sacred” means, but like the strange and mysterious words of the poetry of the psalm, the word “sacred” sounded mysterious and so filled with wonder. So, I stored the word “sacred” away as a precious gift. Over the years the sacred gift of Psalm 23, graciously given by wise teacher, has over and over again, filled me with wonder and opened me to the power of MYSTERY.
The King James Version of the 23rd Psalm, lends itself well to the mysterious power of poetry. Recently, I discovered another version of the 23rd Psalm translated from its ancient Hebrew origins by Rabbi Jamie Arnold. Rabbi Arnold’s translation adheres to the original Hebrew and like the King James Version captures the mysterious power of poetry to reveal the SACRED. Earlier, I invited the members of our Worship Team to briefly reflect upon their most vivid SACRED encounters with the poetry of the 23rd Psalm. What follows is a reading of Rabbi Arnold’s translation wrapped around some of our Worship Team’s reflections. Rabbi Arnold’s translation of the 23rd Psalm, which he calls:
Six Verses of Refuge (Equanimity) begins, “A song for LOVE’s sake: When our LOVE’s the Guide by-my-side, I want for nothing… Continue reading
Reposting this by request for all those celebrating Good Shepherd Sunday and looking for an approach to the metaphor of shepherd born out of a Jewish translation of Psalm 23. This sermon was preached last year during the early weeks of lockdown.
“The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want” or,“A song for LOVE’s sake: When our LOVE’s the guide by-my-side, I want for nothing.”
The translations of this ancient Hebrew hymn may be separated by centuries, but both the English translators of King James and the American Rabbi Jamie Arnold seek to move us deeply into the inner workings of our being.
Like the unknown ancient Hebrew who created this pathway to a realm beyond the surface of our thinking toward our deepest longings, our darkest fears and into our deepest peace, all translators, interpreters, readers, and listeners of this ancient LOVE song, approach the ULTIMATE MYSTERY which IS the HOLY ONE.
IS , is the word is the present tense of the verb TO BE.
The verb “to be” is unique among all verbs.
The present tense of the verb to be: AM, IS, ARE
The past tense: WAS, WERE
The past participle: BEEN,
And the present participle: BEING.
TO BE a verb which struggles to communicate the very ISNESS of BEING.
For the ancient ancestors, the very essence of a being is contained in the name of that being. Is it any wonder then, that the verb “to be” in Hebrew was used by the ancients to communicate the name of the ULTIMATE MYSTERY which IS the HOLY ONE?
YAHWEH – I AM, WHO AM, or I AM, WHO I AM, or I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE
Or as the anonymous gospel-storytellers put it, simply, “I AM.”
JESUS BEcomes the embodiment of the I AM.
ONE with the ULTIMATE MYSTERY which IS the HOLY ONE.
When we turn to this song of the ancients, we see, lush meadows, meandering waters, green pastures, and valleys crowed with figures of death and disgrace, pictures, images, hopes, dreams, and fears, laid out in words designed to lead us beyond our wants, beyond our fears, from death into life.
Today, each one of us can, without much difficulty, move beyond the distractions of the moment toward our wants and our fears, all around us death is very much a part of life. At our fingertips we have access to images aplenty of the valley of the shadow of death which no amount of hand-washing can erase. In our lives there are losses and griefs which mask our ability to see beyond our fears. We know that the lush meadows are all around us, but the enormity of the world’s pain coupled with the uncertainty of tomorrow’s worries blind us to the WAY beyond. From the isolation of our homes, so many of us lumber through these days, longing for release, while others venture out on our behalf, fearful of what lurks in unseen molecules. If only there were a shepherd to lead us, a saviour to save us, a way to move us beyond, this, whatever this, is, was, or will become. No press conference, no medical expert, no brilliant scientist, no astute economist, no canny politician, can move us beyond our wants, beyond our fears, from death into life. And yet, we long for green pastures and the memory of ONE who insisted that, “I AM”, this ONE continues to inspire possibility beyond words or images.
“The truth of the matter is, I AM the sheep gate.” “I AM the gate. Whoever enters through me will be safe – you’ll go in and out and find pasture.” “I came that you might have life and live it abundantly.” Abundant life, life beyond our wants, beyond our fears, abundant life. The anonymous gospel-storyteller we call John speaks of Jesus as ONE who claims wandering sheep as his own, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never be lost. No one will ever snatch them from my hand. Abba God, who gave them to me, is greater than anyone, and no one can steal them from Abba God. For Abba and I are ONE.”
Therein lies the MYSTERY, “I and the ABBA are ONE.” Therein lies the WAY beyond our wants, beyond our fears, from death into life. I AM, You ARE, We ARE, ONE. “Even when” I, You, We, “descend into valleys crowded with figures of death and disgrace,” I, You, We, “will not succumb to fear, now knowing where” I, You, We, are, “I AM, I AM with YOU,” YAHWEH. I AM, You ARE, We ARE, with YAHWEH, ONE with the ULTIMATE MYSTERY.
“Ancestral staff of family tree in hand, courage and comfort blossom under the sun, casting shadows revealing time in melodies measure for measure, these and these harmonies lay my frets to rest.” “When our LOVE’s the guide by-my-your-our-side, I, You, We want for nothing.” For the ULTIMATE MYSTERY which we call God, IS LOVE.
“Patience and perseverance, playing with polarity, stand and say, “Send me. Send me before you; tabling shame and sorrow for tomorrow that you may feast today, head anointed with oil, LOVE’s cup pouring-over the rim with plenty.”
We can move beyond our wants, beyond our fears, from death into life. Look around, there are lush green pastures everywhere. Our cups overflow with goodness. “Gratefulness and lovingkindness run me down and up, coursing through my vines to live in all my limbs, words and ways, coming home at last to sit and sabbath. Your ever-presence, here, now embodying, housing, LOVING CONSCIOUSNESS in time-space-and-soul.”
I, You, We, and the ULTIMATE MYSTERY which we call God, who IS, WAS, and every more SHALL BE, LOVE, I, You, We, and this LOVE are ONE. This ONEness into which LOVE draws us moves us beyond our wants, beyond our fears, from death into life. It is our ONEness which transforms us into the Good Shepherd. You and the Abba are ONE. In LOVE we live and move and have our BEING. We set the table in the midst of all this, whatever this is, the table is set by LOVE, this, all this IS abundant life, eternal life. I, You, We ARE the LOVE who IS. We are the shepherds, we are the saviours, we ARE the ONEs. See beyond your wants, beyond your fears and let us dwell in the house of LOVE forever. Amen.
You can watch the full worship service below – download the Order of Service here
I don’t know about you, but as we here in Ontario face the third wave of this devastating pandemic, the moments when I’m able to safely get out into CREATION become more and more precious. So, this morning, I went out in the brisk spring air hoping to forget about all the bad news which keeps flashing across our screens. So, let me try to give you a brief glimpse of my morning walk. Indulge me as I take you just down the road from my living-room to the shores of Lake Simcoe, where the wind is blowing, and the spring rain is gently falling.
. . . see the video . . .
As I walked along the lakeshore this morning, I was reminded of another lakeshore far, far, away, where the wind was just as fierce, and the rain was even more intense as I walked by this other lakeshore. Listening to the gentle waves of Lake Simcoe, I was transported back in time, through the decades and on that distant shore I could still see my twenty-year-old self, my Australian traveling companion, two Swiss women, an American, a German, a Bahamian, and a Japanese guy.
We were a strange lot, gathered together by chance, as each of us backpacked our way through Europe in search of adventure. “By yon bonnie banks and by yon bonnie braes, Where the sun shines bright on Loch Lomond.” We’d met on the train to Fort William and together, we headed out on foot to the youth hostel on the shores of Loch Lomond. Now, I’m sure it has changed a great deal since we trudged along on a cold, ever so cold August day in 1976. Back then there was only a single cart lane leading to the youth hostel. We didn’t see any people along the way, and we weren’t sure we were going in the right direction. Most of us were caught up in our own thoughts, or too tired from our travels, to make conversation. But not Japanese Guy, who simply wouldn’t shut up.
He was positively annoying. There we were on “yon bonnie banks” leaning into the beauty which surrounded us, longing to be swept away by the majesty of it all, and this guy couldn’t keep his mouth shut long enough for us to escape into the wonder of our surroundings. I kept hoping that he’d “tak’ the high road” so I could tak’ the low road” and we’d “never meet again on the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.” But alas, we were stuck with each other.
I tried lagging behind the others, humming softly to myself. But Japanese Guy, he saw this as some sort of invitation to hang back for a one-on-one conversation. His questions didn’t let up. He wanted to know: Where was I from? How long I’d been backpacking? Why did I choose Scotland? Was Scotland what I thought it would be? Did I imagine it would be so cold in August? On and on went his questions. My abrupt answers didn’t manage to clue him into the fact that I didn’t feel like talking.
When even my rude, unfriendly behaviour could not silence Japanese Guy, I ran to catch up with our companions, so that they too could share in the burden of unwelcome conversation. When we finally arrived at the hostel, we all spent the evening avoiding Japanese Guy.
The next morning, we were reunited over breakfast and it turned out that we all had the same plan to climb Ben Lomond. For those of you who dinnie kin, a Ben is what the Scots call a mountain. Ben Lomond is just under a 1,000 meters high with about a dozen kilometers of trails to the summit. We were young and the Hostel Manager assured us that we could get to the top in about five hours, have enough time for a quick lunch, and then hike back down to the hostel in time for dinner. Continue reading
Traditionally, the Second Sunday of Easter is the day when the church commemorates the story of Jesus’ disciple Thomas’ reaction to resurrection. Now, the New Testament is full of parables like the parable of Doubting Thomas. Allow me, if you will, to draw your attention to a different parable, one outside of the Bible: “The Parable of the Mad Man” was first told in 1882. More recently, it appeared in 1969 edition of Time Magazine, which bore the title, “Is God Dead?”
The Parable of the Mad Man goes like this: “Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market-place, and cried incessantly: “I am looking for God! I am looking for God!” As many of those who did not believe in God were standing together there, he excited considerable laughter. Have you lost him, then? said one. Did he lose his way like a child? said another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? or emigrated? Thus, they shouted and laughed. The madman sprang into their midst and pierced them with his glances. “Where has God gone?” he cried. “I shall tell you. We have killed him – you and I. We are his murderers.
But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained the earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving now? Away from all suns? Are we not perpetually falling? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is it not more and more night coming on all the time? Must not lanterns be lit in the morning? Do we not hear anything yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we not smell anything yet of God’s decomposition? Gods too decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.
How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was the holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become gods simply to be worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whosoever shall be born after us – for the sake of this deed he shall be part of a higher history than all history hitherto.”
Here the madman fell silent and again regarded his listeners; and they too were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last, he threw his lantern to the ground, and it broke and went out. “I have come too early,” he said then; “my time has not come yet. The tremendous event is still on its way, still travelling – it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time, the light of the stars requires time, deeds require time even after they are done, before they can be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than the distant stars – and yet they have done it themselves.”
It has been further related that on that same day the madman entered various churches and there sang a requiem. Led out and quietened, he is said to have retorted each time: “what are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchres of God?”
Some of you will already know that this Parable of the Mad Man, was written by Friderich Nietzsche. One of the characteristics of a parable is that it surprises us with a truth which we already know. God is dead and we have killed “him!” I think perhaps that Nietzche’s Mad Man was right, “God” the big guy, up in the sky, judgemental, santafied, wish-granting, personified, old, bearded, super-man Father, god is dead, and it is we who have killed him. This image of god has been sacrificed on the altars of reality. All that we have learned about the cosmos; all the scientific breakthroughs, our technologies, our philosophies, biblical scholarship and our evolving theologies have killed the personification of god which we once worshipped and adored.
For most of my life the personification of what we call “God” was the only way I had of knowing anything of the MYSTERY which lies at the very heart of reality. I can truly empathize with the followers of Jesus who huddled together in the upper room. In my imagination, this parable takes place in a ghostly terrifying darkness. While it is so very tempting to lock the door against the unknowns lurking in the darkness, there is a line in the Parable of Doubting Thomas which makes me wonder. Not “wonder” in the sense of “I wonder what this means?” But “wonder” in the sense of “Oh my God!” as in “How wonderful!” or “How inspiring.” The line in the parable which causes me to wonder, wonder, wonder, is on the lips of Jesus, when asks and then insists: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Like Thomas, I suspect many of us continue to long for a vision of the DIVINE MYSTERY which we can see and touch. Say what you will about the big guy, up in the sky, judgemental, santafied wish-granting, personified, old, bearded, super-man Father, god, this was an image we could certainly wrap our minds around. Peering into the darkness and the sheer vastness of the Cosmos, it is impossible to wrap our minds around the ONE in whom the Cosmos has being. Faced with the enormity of the ONE who is BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that Also, I can certainly understand why our ancestors insisted that no one can look upon the face of God and live. Shut the front door and let me languish here in the darkness of this upper room, with my too small image of a puny god; a god I can mold and shape and worship without fear.
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Faced with the vast, awe inspiring darkness of the Cosmos, it can be difficult to catch glimpses of tangible markers to guide us. Squinting into the abyss of unknowing, I can’t help thinking about the women who stared into the darkness of the empty tomb. The darkness of the Cosmos, like the darkness of the empty tomb, can send us racing back to the safety of a familiar room, a hide-out where we can shut the door and nurse our fears. Or the darkness can be for us, a place where resurrection begins, as the birth pangs of a new way of being give way to new life. Peering beyond the wounds inflicted by our personifications of the ONE who is more that we can begin to imagine, can we begin to touch and be touched by the LOVE which is the SOURCE of everything? Can we begin to feel the power of DIVINTY which is so much more than our personifications? Do we have the courage to put ourselves in the embrace of the SPIRIT which pulses, evolves, moves, shakes, and brings into being all that IS? Inspired by this SPIRIT, dare we begin to see DIVINITY finding expression in the likes of Jesus? Might we see in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus a way of being which is capable of transcending fear, so that we too might become LOVE. For being LOVE is what resurrection is?
The LOVE which is the MYSTERY we call God is beyond our ability to imagine or express, but that L LOVE lives in, with, through, and beyond us. Death cannot limit LOVE. For no matter how many times this cruel world tries to destroy LOVE, LOVE will live again, in, with, through, and beyond all of those who embody LOVE. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Our too small personification of God is dead; sacrificed on the altars of reality. But, do not be afraid. Death will not have the final word.
Out of the darkness, LOVE springs to life. LOVE lives even in us, even in our woundedness. LOVE, which is the SOURCE of all, lives and has being in, with, through, and beyond us. Blessed are you who have not seen and yet have come to believe, believe the ONE who is our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE Itself. Resurrection happens when we are that LOVE in the world! LOVE is risen! LOVE is risen in us! Alleluia!
View the full Worship Video for the Second Sunday of Easter below
Anticipating Doubting Thomas’ annual appearance, I am reminded that resurrection is not about belief. Resurrection is a way of being in the world. Over the years I have tried serval different approaches to encourage the practice of resurrection. click on the titles below to see
Exposing Our Wounds click here
Believing in Resurrection is NOT the point! click here
Easter: 50 Days to Practice Resurrection! click here
Humpty Dumpty, Doubting Thomas, and Resurrection click here
Leap of Doubt – How Do We Believe Resurrection? click here
Can the ways in which we tell the stories of resurrection transform us into followers of Jesus who embody a way of being in the world that can nourish, ground, and sustain the kind of peace that the world years for? click here
Practicing Resurrection: Forgiveness click here
One year ago, our worship the Second Sunday of Easter was online because we were locked down. Today, is the first day of a stay at home order and this sermon about Jesus’ followers being locked in in fear in an upper room, seems appropriate. We are blessed that this current lockdown contains the hope of vaccines. Stay safe.
“A week later the disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them.”
Four, Five? How many weeks is it and we have been in our houses?
Their doors were locked for fear of the authorities.
We too are locked down for fear of, well you all know what we are afraid of…
Even in our respective lockdowns we cannot shutdown our fears.
And now Thomas is with us.
Or maybe Thomas has always been with us?
Doubt and fear seem to be old friends.
Hand in hand, doubt and fear, are locked in here with us and there is no amount of sanitizer which will save us from the ability of these particular viruses to haunt the darkness of our isolation.
Outside the sunshine appears so tantalizing, luring us to move beyond the limits of physical distancing, while inside we long for resurrection. Yearning to burst forth from the darkness of these tombs of isolation, we long for resurrection.
Grasping on to any hint that the restrictions will be lifted, we can’t help but hope for a return to our lives as they once were, before, you know, when things were normal. Suddenly, without warning, our stories resonate a little too much with their stories. Like the disciples of old, the ones who followed Jesus, we now huddle in the confines of our darkness. All they had were a few brief stories.
We too have their brief stories, together with our emerging stories. The one about the empty tomb and the one about a vaccine. Folded grave-cloths. Discarded face masks. Weeping women and fleeing men. Worn out nurses and discouraged doctors. Horrible wounds: the mark of the nails; bruised faces and scarred psyches. Rumors, Confusion, Fear, and Doubt. Is Thomas with us, or are we with Thomas?
Thomas is the one forever known as doubting. So, is believing, trusting what we have not seen, is faith the answer? There are plenty who will tell us that faith is all we need, that this too shall pass, that everything is going to be all right. But like Thomas, I’m not so sure. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in Jesus’ hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in Jesus’ side, I will not believe.”
Longing for resurrection, I want to believe. But we have scarcely even begun to see the marks the virus is making or touch the depths of the wounds inflicted on millions.
Many of us, are tucked up safe and warm, in our isolation.
We are well fed, well entertained, and conveniently distracted,
happily confused about the nature of the very resurrection we now long for.
Dreaming of hugs and handshakes, gatherings and workplaces; trusting that all we need to do is to go back to the way things were.
In the same way that some believe that faith in the resuscitation of Jesus’ corpse is all there is to resurrection, there are so many who believe that faith in the status quo is all we need to resurrect our world. Those fear-filled followers of Jesus huddled together immersed in the trauma that crucifixion wrought, they knew that nothing, nothing was ever going to be the same again. Jesus could no more rise up from the dead, free from the wounds of his death, than we can. Their dreams of a messiah who would make everything better died upon the cross. They could not return to life as they once knew it. Jesus’ life and death changed everything they had ever known or hoped for. They were forever changed by the visible wounds and the not so visible deeper wounds.
Today, the marks of the nails are seen in different ways. New media beam images of death and our fear of death into the isolation of our minds. The crosses of execution have been replaced with images of body bags, temporary morgues, and forlorn care-facilities. Nail marks look more like facial bruising. Not all wounds can be seen on the surface, some are held deep within the confines of isolation as we worry about our finances, job security, and where we might take a walk. While anxiety and depression consume others, and far too many feel the sting of abuse, poverty and homelessness, others struggle to find food.
While the knowledge that some of these wounds will heal helps us to move from one day to the next, we know that many wounds will never heal.
The pain of those who have lost loved ones must wait to be soothed by the practices we have grown accustomed too. Mourning and grieving must begin in unfamiliar isolation. The balm of shared tears and laughter, the strength gained from long embraces, and the familiar grieving rituals, have been taken from us, leaving far too many gaping wounds on so many mourners.
No belief in the resuscitation of a corpse can heal the inequities of our world which have been revealed by this virus. The poverty of millions has been exposed along with the lack of medical care. The ease with which the privileged are entertained during what has become a nightmare for others rubs salt into the wounds. The frustration of the powerless endangers the safety of everyone.
If the Risen Christ cannot bear these wounds, then the tomb is nothing but empty. Rumors of an empty tomb was not enough to calm the fears of Jesus’ first followers.
In the midst of their fear and grief, in the turmoil of their attempts to figure out what to do next, in the anxiety of their panic about the dangers which surrounded them stood the Risen Christ bearing the wounds of the world. In the absence of Jesus, in whom all their hopes were founded, the Risen Christ appears. This Christ, this Risen One is so much more than a resuscitated corpse – this Risen ONE is the presence of the LOVE that cannot be contained by death.
This Risen ONE is LOVE.
LOVE there in the midst of a rag-tag, fear-filled gathering of hapless individuals confused by the magnitude of their trauma.
This Risen ONE stands wounded, and bids them, “Shalom. Peace be with you.” and drawing attention to the wounds of the world, sends them back into the world to make it whole.
No mere, revived corpse has the power of the ONE who is LOVE.
Surely, if this virus has taught us anything, it is that we are all ONE.
When one of us is suffering we are all suffering.
Our world is suffering, we are all suffering.
But there is nothing, in heaven or on earth, no virus, not even death which can separate us from the LOVE that IS God.
LOVE rises again, and again, and again.
And when LOVE rises, LOVE heals.
LOVE makes us whole.
For in the LOVE that is God we are all ONE.
LOVE is Risen! LOVE is Risen in us!
And it is that LOVE which will heal our wounds.
But like the wounded in all times and in all places, we will be forever marked.
We cannot go back to life as it once was.
For our wounds to heal, we must allow them to change us.
There is much we can learn while we heal.
So much is being revealed. So much is being exposed.
Not the least of which is the reality that we don’t have to go back to the way things were. LOVE can work in, with, through and beyond us to make all things new. Therein lies the hope of the world.
We can linger in our houses, with the doors shut, confident that LOVE cannot be contained by death. We can breathe deeply of the SPIRIT, trusting that LOVE rises in us, with us, through us, and beyond us. There will be much that needs to be transformed in the weeks and months that lie ahead. But for now, take comfort in the RISEN ONE, who IS the LOVE we call God, who even know stands among us bidding us, “SHALOM, Peace be with you.”
May the peace which comes from the LOVE who is God, continue to work healing
in, with, through and beyond us.
Resurrection is here and now.
LOVE is risen! LOVE is risen in us! Alleluia!
Soon, Risen LOVE will send us back into the world to make all things new.
For we are the hands and feet of the ONE who IS LOVE.
LOVE is risen! LOVE is risen in us! Alleluia!
Resurrection is a central tenant of the Christian faith and Easter is the primary celebration of resurrection and yet, too many of us fail to open ourselves to current scholarship surrounding the doctrine of resurrection. Questions about the nature of the resurrection ought to send us back to the words of the Apostle Paul. Bernard Brandon Scott is a charter member of the Jesus Seminar. His book “The Trouble with Resurrection” is a must read for those who preach during the Easter Season.
This video provides essential background information about the words of the Apostle Paul on the nature of the resurrection which may surprise you. Scott’s treatment of 1 Cor. 15 provides a new understanding of resurrection which is compelling as well as liberating. For this reason, our Easter worship services forgo the prescribed readings, including the anti-semitic ones, to make room to include a reading from 1 Corinthians 15.
The word resurrection is not a word which gives up its meaning easily. Far too many preachers and theologians have tried to use words to express the meaning of resurrection. But mere words, are incapable of rendering meaning from the word resurrection. The best way I know of wrestling meaning from a word like resurrection is through a story. I know I have told this story before. But as my Irish Nannie would say, “Sure if a story is worth tellin once, then it’s worth telling again.” This story of resurrection dates all the way back to my first year as a pastor, when I naively believed that the right words could save me.
It wasn’t my first visit to Anna’s home, but it was my first visit to the home of someone who had just died. In the driveway, I crossed paths with the doctor who had signed Anna’s death certificate. We recognized one another from the few times which our visits to the house had overlapped. I stared with envy at the doctor’s medical bag, “at least she has some real pain medication in there.” All I had in my bag was a bible and my tiny, little travel communion kit. Just some cheap wine and a few stale wafers. I envied the doctor with her knowledge, her pills, her medicine and her skills. The doctor sighed, “Oh thank-God you’re here! They’re a real mess in there.”
As I stood there, wondering how to respond, I remember wishing the doctor had something in her bag of tricks which could give me the courage to enter the house. I felt like a fool. What was I supposed to do? I felt as useless as I did upon my first visit with Anna. A parishioner had called me just a few months earlier, “Could I go and visit a friend of hers who was dying? Cancer.” she said, “It won’t be long now. She’s being cared for at home; she wants to die at home. She used to go to church and now as the end draws near, she wants to reconnect. Would I please go to see her?” I knew I was out of my depth from the moment I hung up the phone. I thought this is it. This is the real stuff of being a pastor. This is where they discover that I don’t have what it takes to do this job. Leading worship, preaching, and teaching is one thing, this, this is something entirely different. But my parishioner was insistent, as she described her friend Anna. “Pastor, you’ll never guess, Anna was once a Lutheran.
Yes, she went to Sunday School, Confirmation, and had her kids baptized, and even taught Sunday School. But since they moved to Newmarket, they had fallen out of the habit of going to church. Anyway Pastor, she really needs to get close to God right now, so I told her you would come. You will go and see her won’t you, I know she’s not a member, but she really needs to get things in order before she goes.”
Standing there in the driveway feeling like a fool, I said good-bye to the doctor and tried to get myself to go inside the house. The black van in the driveway signaled the presence of the funeral home; there to collect the body. Her husband welcomed me at the door, fell into my arms and said only, “It is almost finished; they’ll be gone soon.” He motioned to the stairs and I got the impression that he wanted me to go up. I expected him to follow me. I was wrong. I entered the familiar room. Anna was still lying there. She looked much the same as she had when I’d seen her the day before. I’d like to say she looked at peace, but she didn’t. Her face was frozen in the same tortured expression, I’d seen the day before. The gentlemen from the funeral home stopped what they were doing and quietly stepped out of the room. I guess they thought I needed some privacy, and I was grateful for the moment to think. You see, I love words and I was convinced that words would save me. I’m a preacher and a teacher and words are my friends. Words help me to figure things out. Words help me to make meaning out of events. Words give me the stories which give shape to the meaning which I try to make out of the stuff that happens. But standing there in that room, words failed me. There was only silence.
After the silence became unbearable, I shot up a prayer to the faraway god, up there in the sky, “You got me into this! Tell me what to do. Tell me how to help. Where are you when I need you?” I went out into the hall were wordlessly the gentlemen from the funeral home were about their business and in just a few moments the body was gone. I was sitting in the living room listening to her husband recount the details of Anna’s final moments, when their daughter burst through the front door. After many, many tears were shed it was decided that I should accompany Anna’s daughter to the funeral home the next morning so that she could see her mother. Anna’s husband insisted that the body they had taken away was not Anna; Anna had left sometime during the night. Anna’s daughter wanted to kiss her mother good-bye. She was angry that they had not waited for her arrival before taking her mother from her. Before I left, I reached into the bag of tricks which lurk somewhere in the back of my mind and I remembered the words of a wise seminary professor, who taught us that storytelling helped us to make sense out of life, and while there is nothing that can make sense out of death, a few good stories can make the pain bearable. Stories, my professor would say, are a good a way, as she had ever found of beginning the healing process. So, before I left, I made arrangements to accompany Anna’s daughter to the funeral home, and I encouraged Anna’s husband to invite members of the family to come by for tea, or a meal, or even a few drinks, just a small get together where they could tell me stories about Anna, and we could begin to plan her funeral.
The next afternoon, I accompanied Anna’s daughter to the funeral home. They had done a splendid job of preparing her body. She looked tortured, somehow. Anna’s daughter reached for my hand, squeezed tightly and leaned into me. Her whole body began to tremble as she wailed and sobbed. Over and over again I heard, “What am I going to do? What am I going to do?” And I am ashamed to say that I was grateful that it was Anna’s daughter and not me that was echoing these words, over and over again. I had no words, no idea what to do, what to say, how to help. It took some time, but her sobbing began to subside and was replaced by something more daunting as even more questions began to leap out of her. “What will I do without you?” “Where are you Mom?” “How can I go on without you?” “Why, why did you have to leave me?” For once I was glad, I had no words. No words only silence with which to reply. Question after question met only with silence until suddenly, Anna’s daughter announced, “That’s not my mother. My mother is not here.” We left together in silence.
When we arrived back at Anna’s home, we heard laughter coming from the living room. Eight, nine, maybe ten people, some of them I’d met on previous visits, all laughing and telling stories, stories about Anna. It wasn’t long before her daughter joined them. A glass of wine was thrust into my hands; there was bread and cheese on the coffee table, and casseroles in the oven. Apparently, the neighbours didn’t need words, just practical care filled loving actions. As we shared a meal, we remembered Anna. When the meal was over, Anna’s husband said, “I wish Anna was here, she would have loved this!” One of the guests disagreed, she insisted that Anna would have been mortified to be the center of attention, which sent the whole group of us into gales of laughter, at the thought of Anna being mortified on the day of her death. Gallows humour. Before I left, I had collected enough words and stories to do Anna proud at her funeral.
As I said my good-byes Anna’s husband asked me if I had a favorite flower. It had been a long, hard winter, and I told him that at this time of the year, I was longing for spring to finally arrive. So right about now, tulips are my favourite flowers. “Perfect” he said, “Tulips it is.” Then came more stories about how much Anna hated the flowers that professional florists concoct for funerals. Everyone it seems had a story about Anna going on and on, at some funeral or other, about how horrible these contrived funeral bouquets looked. Natural, hand-picked flowers lovingly arranged by friends and family, that’s what was called for. Anna’s husband insisted that, “as the pastor is longing to see some sign of spring, tulips it is!” So, everyone was instructed to bring tulips.
At Anna’s funeral, there were tulips everywhere; more tulips that you can imagine. It was beautiful. Tulips lovingly arranged by those who loved her. The tulips and the stories got us all through the funeral of a woman who died much too young. The tulips and the stories helped us to begin the task of making meaning out of the death of a loved one. The tulips and the stories did not take the pain away, nor did they explain the pain away, and they certainly didn’t change the fact that Anna was dead, or that her family would have to go on without her. The tulips and the stories did help us to begin to make meaning out of her death. Together we wept among the tulips and we wept in the midst of the stories and together we began to find words and to make meaning out of death.
“Woman. Why are you weeping?” “Because they have taken away my Rabbi, and I do not know where they have put the body.” “What am I going to do? What will I do without you? Where are you Mom? How can I go on without you? Why, why did you have to leave me?” “Woman. Why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?” She supposed it was the gardener, so she said, “Please, if you’re the one who carried Jesus away, tell me where you’ve laid the body and I will take it away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!”
If only, all those we have lost and will lose could appear to us and comfort us in our grief. The followers of Jesus were bereft. Their beloved Jesus had been taken from them, tortured, and executed by their enemies. They had placed all their hopes and dreams in Jesus. Jesus had taught them a whole new way of being in the world. Jesus had lived in such a way, taught so challengingly, loved so fully, that in Jesus they had seen an image of God which turned their whole lives upside down. Jesus’ way of seeking peace, not through violence but through justice, opened them to new possibilities. They had dared to dream. They had hope in the face of oppression. They had been willing to follow Jesus into battle. But when Jesus had insisted on living what he preached, most of them had fled in fear, and the horrible truth of their abandoning him, the reality of their failure was more than they could bear. It is almost impossible for us to imagine because we’ve read it in the bible, which reads much like those professional bouquets of flowers at funerals, designed to provide answers to the unanswerable, all tied up with neat little bows. Generations of arrangers have taken the stories which have been told, as followers and lovers of Jesus struggled to make some sense out of his death. Generations of interpretations upon interpretations of those stories make it seem as though everything happened just thus and so, neat and tidy. Resurrection happened just like that, in the twinkling of an eye. Jesus died. He was not there. They didn’t know what they were going to do. They wept. They trembled. They were consumed by grief. Huddled together in an upper room, terrified that they too would soon be killed. Suddenly, after only three days Jesus is risen. Jesus is risen indeed. Alleluia! Resurrection all tied up in a neat little bow. The perfect bouquet. Smell the flowers and all will be well. I wonder.
I wonder. People do wonder you know. That’s how people are. They wonder. Questions. Questions. Questions. What’s going on? What are we going to do? Words. Words. Words. Anna’s grieving loved ones wove their stories of Anna in and out of the words, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me even though they die, will live.” Words familiar words, designed to help us to make meaning. For the followers of Jesus, there were also words, familiar words designed to help them make meaning. In Jesus, his grievers, had experienced God as LOVE. Surely, God would not stand idly by and allow their enemies to take Jesus from them. Surely, LOVE itself could not be destroyed by the powers of evil. Surely, their God, the ONE in whom they live and move and have being,
surely God who Jesus had taught them is LOVE, surely LOVE would not abandon them. Surely LOVE would live on. Questions, questions that have no answers. Questions for which words always fail us. Questions we just can’t help answering with words. Words which are designed to comfort and to satisfy. Words that when all is said and done, fail and leave us with more questions. So, if God is LOVE and we experienced that LOVE in Jesus then, where is Jesus? Will we ever see Jesus again? Will we ever see LOVE again? Will the LOVE that lives in us die? “Woman: Why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?” “Please, if you’re the one who carried Jesus away, tell me where you’ve laid the body and I will take it away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!”
We can’t help ourselves when love dies, we keep hearing and seeing that love all around us. It is as if our beloved is right here, in the midst of us. We hear them call our name. They mean so much to us. In the presence of our beloved, we were transformed into the best of ourselves. To hear them call our name…ah…the sheer beauty of their presence. Perhaps they can tell us. Perhaps they know the answers.
“Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned to him and said, “Rabboni! –which means “Teacher.” Jesus then said, “Don’t hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to Abba God.”
Are they here? Are they real? Am I imagining Jesus? What is happening? I don’t understand. The followers of Jesus could still feel the impact of his being on their lives. When he spoke, Jesus’ words challenged everything they knew or believed they knew. When Jesus acted, his actions turned their world upside down. When Jesus loved them, they knew the power of LOVE. When they saw Jesus’ love others, even their enemies, they saw a power in Jesus which was so much more than they could put into words. It was as if Jesus embodied the very LOVE which lies at the heart of everything. When Jesus spoke, scales fell from their eyes and they saw things which they’d never seen before. And now, now that he was gone, they could still hear him, they could still feel him. And in seeing him and feeling him, all their hopes and all their dreams of a better way of being in the world still seemed possible.
What was happening? Could this be real? It certainly wasn’t neat and tidy. Not with the Romans threatening to annihilate them and the religious authorities demanding that they just shut up and stop causing trouble. But they keep hearing his voice and feeling his presence, and the words, Jesus’ words, continued to challenge everything. Jesus’ presence continued to turn their world upside down. What was happening? Could this be real?
Even Jesus’ enemies were touched by his presence. Even Jesus’ enemies were being challenged by his words. Words designed to help us make meaning. Words which when all is said and done fail us. So, we turn to more words, other words and craft our stories so as to comfort us. And still the words of Jesus challenge us. And still the presence of Jesus continues to turn our world upside down. What is happening? Can this be real? This absence in which we feel the presence of Jesus, can this be real? Our questions echo the questions of the first followers and lovers of Jesus. Our stories build upon their stories, which were built upon the stories of the ones who had gone before them. None of these stories are neat and tidy. None of these stories can tie everything up in a pretty bow so that we can present the perfect bouquet which will heal all our pain and answer all our questions. They are just handpicked, slightly askew, bouquets which contain such beauty that we cannot take our eyes of them. They do not answer all our questions, but the really beautiful ones, the ones like tulips after a long, cold, winter, they can capture our imagination and give us the courage to ask our questions and struggle to make meaning of those things which are beyond words. Things like life and death, and resurrection.
About five years after Anna died, I ran into her daughter in the grocery store. I mean it, I actually ran into her. Our shopping carts collided. We laughed when we realized that each of us had a couple of bunches of tulips in our carts. “Somewhere Mom is smiling,” Anna’s daughter insisted. I agreed and added that it had been a long, cold, difficult winter and the tulips looked so beautiful I just had to take some home. Anna’s daughter nodded and agreed that winter is brutal. She was really looking forward to spring and the tulips would certainly give her hope. Suddenly, the toddler in Anna’s daughter’s cart shouted, “Who’s that?” Her mother said, “This is Pastor Dawn, she is a friend of your Grandma Anna.” “And who are you,” I asked the beautiful little girl. “I’m Anna! I’m free.” Whether it was free or three it was all the same. This beautiful little girl shared her grandmother’s eyes as well as her name. In her eyes I saw the reflection of Anna’s story, her stories, and her love. After we said our goodbyes, I went back to get more tulips. In Anna’s absence, I felt her presence. Anna lives. Anna lives in little Anna, and her daughter and in me, and now she lives in you.
Friends, this has been a long and difficult year. Isolated and fearful, we have felt one another’s absence. What is happening? Can this be real? This absence in which we feel the presence of LOVE. Can this be real? Are these tulips real? You bet they are. As real as the challenges we experience in the stories we tell. As real as the LOVE we feel in even in the absence of one another. As real as the LOVE which lives and breathes, in, with, through, and beyond us. In Jesus absence, his grievers felt LOVE’s presence. LOVE lives. LOVE lives in you and in me. LOVE is risen! LOVE is risen in us! Alleluia! Alleluia!
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I don’t know about you, but I can’t begin to contemplate the events of this dreadful day without hearing the echoes of Jesus’ plaintive cry, in his mother tongue: “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?” The rawness, the bitterness, the desperation of this horrendous moment, together with all the horrendous moments which have transpired before or since are captured in Jesus’ plea, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” I have always imagined a dying Jesus gathering up what little strength he has to raise his head to the heavens and cry: “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?” Now, maybe that’s because most of the Hollywood films depicting the crucifixion that I have ever seen show Jesus looking up toward the heavens to utter this painful cry to God, who’s somewhere up there in these movies.
Jesus’ question has haunted the followers of Jesus for centuries, as Christians have struggled to understand how and why Jesus died. Questions about Jesus’ death have left the followers of Jesus tied up in knots for nearly 21 centuries. Why did Jesus have to die? Now, I’m sure that in pulpits all over the internet, preachers are struggling to help our listeners and our viewers cope with the realities of the violence which murdered the ONE we seek to follow. I can tell you that I have spent most of my life, struggling to understand exactly why Jesus died and what Jesus’ death means for all the generations who have trusted and followed Jesus. I have studied the answers which have been offered by successive generations of Jesus’ followers. I can almost recite chapter and verse of the various theories which have been offered by the church to explain Jesus’ death as all part of God’s grand plan to reconcile humanity to God. I could tell you about the Apostle Paul, who looked back to the Book of Genesis to try to fathom a reason for it all and settled upon the story of Adam’s disobedience as the source of our sinfulness. I could talk for hours about the theologies that hang on that apple. I know far too much about the doctrines of the fall and original sin and our need for reconciliation. I could recount various theories of how God went about settling the score; of making us one with God. The theologians called this process of reconciliation with God, atonement and then they proceeded to develop all sorts of theories of atonement. Lutheran pastors are required to study them all; all the way from the moral authority and ransom theories to the favorite of the last few centuries aptly named the satisfaction theory.
The atonement theory which we are all probably too familiar with, is western Christianity’s favourite: the penal substitutionary sacrificial atonement theory. How’s that for a moniker? Popularly expressed as: “Jesus died as a sacrifice for my sin.” Or “Jesus died for me. ” Or “Jesus died on the cross to pay the price for my sinfulness.” The theory of the penal substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus lies at the very heart of so much of what you and I have been taught about Jesus. It also lies at the heart of so many of the reasons which people give for rejecting Christianity. And why wouldn’t they? I mean really, who wants to worship a God who sets his, and I do mean his, sets up his creatures up in a beautiful garden and warns them, “you can eat anything you like; only don’t eat this fruit over here, no this is the fruit of knowledge and you mustn’t eat this.” We all know if you put a child in a room full of toys exactly where that child is going to go. So, Adam eats the forbidden fruit because everyone knows it is the sweetest of all fruit and for the crime of being human, Adam and his lovely wife Eve are cast out from the garden because God is ticked. According to the Apostle Paul, because Adam sinned, we are all tarred with the same brush. We are sinners and the only way we can get back to the garden is
if somebody pays the price for our sin with blood. So, Paul sets Jesus up as the new Adam, and casts the story of Jesus’ death as a sacrifice. Paul’s Jewish listeners understood sacrifice. Jewish audiences understood the death in terms of the Passover sacrifice of a lamb, while gentle Romans, schooled in Greek thought, understood the sacrifice of scapegoats who were offered up on behalf of the people to placate the gods. It worked for Paul and later, Augustine would add his ideas and the notion of original sin. The fall, and our need of a sacrifice would lead Anslem to weigh in with his scales of justice and have Jesus tip the scales in our favour by offering himself as a sacrifice for our sin. It was the kind of logic which worked for centuries to keep the followers of Jesus in line, convicted by their sinfulness and looking to Jesus to save them from the wrath of God by climbing up there on the cross to die in order to placate an angry God. Sure, Luther came along and challenged the angry God stuff, which the church was using to keep the people in line. Luther’s theology of grace is indeed a thing of beauty. It softens God. For we are indeed wicked sinners in need of forgiveness and so God who is gracious and merciful becomes one of us; takes on flesh in the form of Jesus and dies to set us free from our sin.
We could spend the rest of the day exploring the answers which have been developed over centuries to explain why Jesus died on the cross. But I dare say, no matter how many hours we spend tracing the details of these answers, some questions will remain. We all know what happens when the answers don’t quite answer our questions; that’s where faith comes in. If it doesn’t make sense, if you don’t quite get it, don’t worry just have faith and believe.
Maybe that’s why Jesus’ question from the cross continues to echo so loudly in me, “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?” Maybe if I just had enough faith, I wouldn’t hear Jesus’ question quite as loudly as it rings in my ears, in my heart and in my mind. My God, My God why have you forsake Jesus? I mean really what kind of god, gets ticked off at children for doing precisely what children do? What kind of god allows their wrath to so overwhelm them that the only way they can be satisfied is if somebody pays the price!!! What kind of god sends their own child to pay that price?
I know, I know, there are those who will try to remind me that maybe just maybe Jesus was God and that Jesus dying on the cross was actually God dying on the cross. They will try to convince me to see that God is so gracious that God, God’s-self is willing to die for us. But why? Why does anyone have to die, let alone God? What is this god trying to convince us of? Does God think that some divine suicide is going to convince the world to join hands and sing kumbya? Well, it’s 21 centuries and counting and I don’t think it’s working.
So, the question remains, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” I don’t have an answer to this question. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to pat you on your sweet little heads and tell you, “There, there dear ones. Just have faith and God will take care of you. All shall be well.” I can only respond to Jesus’ cry, by making it my own question. My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why can’t we end these endless cycles of violence? Why do we keep crucifying you? Over and over again? When I have the courage to allow the echoes of Jesus’ cry permeate my very being it hurts and there is pain, and loneliness, confusion and a distinct feeling of fear. What if we really are abandoned? What if we are all just left here to squirm on our various crosses; wounded by our encounters with the world? My God, My God, Why?
When echoes of Jesus’ plea become our own; when we take up our cross and make that horrible journey to Golgotha and feel the pain as we are wounded by the world and hoisted up upon the cross from which we can see the violence, the poverty, the disease and the madness which surrounds us; when we too cry out, “My God, My God, why?” then and only then can we begin to look beyond the religious platitudes which have protected us from the realities of our humanity. It’s taken some 14 billion years for us to arrive at this moment and it is an amazing moment. Yes, we are fearfully and wonderfully made, but humanity was not created in an instant. Humanity has been evolving for millions and millions of years. There are no perfect creatures back in there in the past who fell from some perfect garden. We are evolving and part of the reality of our evolution is that it is a messy undertaking. We have evolved into creatures who are capable of such great goodness and creatures who have the capacity to do great evil. Our evolution has involved some of the most horrific evils. All around us we can see the evidence of the destructive power of our human nature. All around us we can see the evidence of the magnificent power of our nature to do good. We have gazed into the farthest reaches of the universe and we have plumbed the depths of depravity. We know that God is not up there in the sky like some grand puppeteer controlling our strings. We have learned so very much about the man Jesus of Nazareth, who lived and died in such a way that humanity has been, and continues to be changed by his teaching, his life, his death and his ability to live on. In this the great information age we are no longer held captive by the powers that be. We can dig and dig, learn and study, question and theorize for ourselves. We are free to explore the wonders of Creation,
free to examine the life and teachings of Jesus, of Moses, Mohamed, Buddha, and Confucius and so many other great humans. The sacred scriptures are open to us and we can read for ourselves the Gitas, the Upanishads, the Hebrew Scriptures, the New Testament, the Quran, the Dead Sea Scrolls, together with the wisdom of the ages. We are not confined by the logic of the Apostle Paul, who wrote to articulate his own struggles with Jesus’ question. Nor are we bound by the legalisms of Anslem, who balanced Jesus’ questions with the sensibilities of his generation. Even though some of us bear his name, we are not Luther, oppressed by the powers of the church struggling to comfort the afflicted by convincing them of God’s grace by offering God up as a sacrifice. And we are certainly not like so many people today willing to check our brains at the door in order to protect our fragile faith. We have been up and the sky and know that God is not sitting up there on a throne.
So, let us feel the echoes of Jesus’ question resonate in the core of who we are. “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?” Let Jesus’ question move us to a deeper questioning of our own. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” It wasn/t until I set myself free from the idols which have been made of God that I began to let Jesus’ question resonate in me. When we allow ourselves to question, then we can begin to know Jesus. Not the theological construct of Jesus, but Jesus the Jewish man who preached the urgent need to establish the kin-dom of God on Earth; the need for Justice for all people; Jesus, the inspiring and courageous man, in whom those he met could see the depth of the DIVINE PRESENCE in human form. Jesus did not believe that he had to die in order to win God’s forgiveness. We only have to read his parables about God’s mercy to know that he did not believe in a vengeful God, or a God who dispensed justice measured against our sin. Jesus would not have told people to walk in relationship of utter trust with God, if Jesus believed that God was withholding forgiveness from people because of Adam’s sin.
Jesus died a shameful death on a cross because that was where his life, his teaching and his preaching took him. It’s where his passion for justice took him. He accepted the consequences of what he stood for. He did not see himself as a grandiose, other-worldly god-figure striding the heavens and the Earth setting everything right between God and a sinful humanity. Jesus was a courageous Jewish man who gave the best possible human expression he could to the gracious, life-giving, compassionate, DIVINE PRESENCE alive within him.
We are told in the gospels that Jesus taught with authority. We can presume that this was not the sort of authority the temple priests and the legal experts from Jerusalem exercised, but the authority of someone who lived what he preached. Jesus was a man who knew the pains and the struggles of the human condition. Jesus demonstrated in his own pain and struggle that it was possible to hold onto belief in the utter goodness and graciousness of God, and to trust the presence of God, whatever the darkness. Jesus lived in integrity to the fullest extent possible. Jesus did what many others have done and continue to do: he stood up for what he believed and accepted the consequences. Jesus final journey to Jerusalem was precisely that. Jesus knew that in the face of such a corrupt, violent regime, he was about to take a stand for justice which would set him at odds with evil and he was willing to take that stand. Jesus was willing to die for what he had lived his life to exemplify. The human condition and human systems of control and governance led Jesus to his death, not a God ruling from the heavens.
Life took Jesus and tested him. Jesus’ struggle to be fully human in the face of all that life dished out can be heard in Jesus’ plea from the cross, when we remember the very nature of the God whom Jesus proclaimed. The Abba to whom Jesus’ teachings point is not some far off distant God up there, or out there; but in here, in you and in me. Jesus declared, “I and Abba are one.” “If you have seen me, you have seen Abba.” Jesus embodied God and pointed to God who dwells, in, with and through us. Jesus believed and taught that the DIVINE PRESENCE is in all people. Jesus’ insight about the here and now reality of God’s PRESENCE in people is missed when we contemplate Jesus’ death as a sacrifice for sin.
When we look at Jesus’ human integrity, his courage, and his faithfulness, we can begin to see the SPIRIT of DIVINITY in this human being. When we honour the reality that Jesus was human like us, we can begin to understand that the very same SPIRIT of DIVINITY is active in our lives when we struggle for justice, when we struggle to be good, to be courageous, to take a stand, to bear suffering and disappointments, to be faithful to what we know to be true, to be just, to be loving. Jesus’ way of dying reveals the extraordinary capacity of the human to rise above evil and pain and struggle and fear.
As I said before, when I hear Jesus’ cry from the cross, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” I have always imagined Jesus looking up to the heavens to ask God why? But seeing the face of God in my sisters and brothers of all faiths and of none, I realize that I need to let go of this image of the crucifixion which I have turned into an idol. What happens if we imagine that Jesus, knowing full well that the DIVINE PRESENCE lives and breathes and has its being in all of Creation, in each and every one of us, can we then begin to see that Jesus didn’t look up and cry, but looked out to the people around him and cried? What can we see in the image of Jesus looking out at his executioners, appealing to the SPIRIT in them? Looking out at the jeering crowds and beseeching the SPIRIT in them? Looking to the women who were gathered below, and crying to the DIVINE PRESENCE in them? Shouting to those who abandoned him and fled he knew not where, pleading to the DIVINITY in them: “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?”
When we begin to understand that our God is the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being, we can perhaps see Jesus’ plea from the Cross as a cry to the SPIRIT that Jesus knew in himself and his sisters and brothers and yes even in his enemies. When we begin to understand that the SPIRIT lives and breathes in with, through and beyond us, can we begin to hear Jesus’ plea from the cross as a plea to the DIVINE PRESENCE in us. Can we hear the echoes of Jesus’ cry from the cross as the embodiment of all those who have cried out from far too many crosses, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” hoping against hope to stir the SPIRIT in their fellow human beings?
Can we begin to hear in the echoes of Jesus’ cry from the cross the utter sadness, desperation and misery at humanity’s failure to give expression to the MYSTERY which is the LOVE we call God? Can we look beyond the idols we have worshipped for so long; see past the theories and conjectures, and actually begin to feel not for ourselves and our own failures, but for Jesus and every other sister and brother in whom DIVINITY lived and breathed and see the suffering and death which has been wrought because of humanity’s failure to give full expression to the LOVE which dwells in, with, through, and beyond us? For the sake of the Jesus, who gave such beautiful expression of DIVINITY, and for all those who in giving expression to LOVE have picked up their crosses, can we listen to their cries and work together to give expression to the God who is LOVE? If we cannot hear Jesus’ cry; if we cannot hear the cries of the countless millions of those who have been forsaken, abandoned, tortured, abused, left to die, then all the sadness of this Good Friday and every day, is for naught.
As we weep for Jesus, let us hear the cries of everyone who looks to us and cries: “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” Let the awesome responsibility of responding to their cries for justice, peace, mercy and love, stir in us so that the LOVE who dwells among us, can find expression in us. “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?” My God. My God. Why have you forsaken me?
View the full Good Friday Worship Video below
At this time of year, I am often asked, “So, if you don’t believe that Jesus died for your sins, then why do you even bother celebrating the events of Holy Week?” Behind this question lies the assumption that the only way to understand Jesus’ death is to frame it within the context of the theology of “sacrificial atonement”, which is the technical name for the understanding of Jesus’ death which insists that: we are judged to be sinful creatures, punishment is required, and so God, who is imagined as a supernatural being, sends Jesus to pay the price for our sin. This theory of atonement was not formulated until the 11th century by the Benedictine monk known as St. Anslem. Anslem’s theory continues to hold sway in the minds of far too many followers of Christ.
The success of the theory of sacrificial atonement is a testament to the power of our liturgies and hymns to form our theology; for our liturgies and hymns are filled of sacrificial atonement images. However, Anslem’s theory is not they only faithful way to understand Jesus’ death. When one seriously engages the question, “What kind of god would demand a blood sacrifice?” the answers often render God impotent at best and at worst a cruel, and vindictive, a child abuser. The too small god of sacrificial atonement is a far cry from the ONE who is MYSTERY, beyond the beyond, and beyond that also; the ONE some 21st century Christians relate to using the phrase first coined by the 4th century saint Augustine of Hippo, who described the DIVINE MYSTERY as our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE Itself.
While atonement theories all too often cast their god as little more than a cosmic perpetrator of filicide, who can only be placated by a blood sacrifice, of a beloved child, we only have to look as far as the Book of Genesis, to discover a vastly different view of DIVINITY, which offered to us by our Hebrew ancestors. The story of Abraham’s flirtation with child sacrifice, ought to have serve as an eternal reminder to the descendants of Sarah and Abraham that YAHWEH, the GREAT I AM, is not ONE to demand child sacrifice. Fortunately, theologians continue to open up different ways of understanding the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that empower the followers of the Way to see new ways of understanding the life and the death of Jesus of Nazareth, ways which empower us to practice resurrection here and now.
On Maundy Thursday Jesus’ followers commemorate not just the events leading up to Jesus’ death. We celebrate Jesus’ gift of a “mandatum” from which we get the word “maundy” – a mandatum is a commandment and so today we celebrate Jesus’ gift of LOVE. Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment: Love one another. And you are to love one another the way I have loved you. This is how all will know that you’re my disciples: that you truly love one another.”
That we should “love one another” is not a new commandment. There were many before Jesus, and many who came after Jesus who commanded, advised, encouraged, implored, and even begged us to, “love one another.” What is new about Jesus’ commandment is that we are to love one another the way that Jesus loved us. Which begs the question: How exactly did Jesus love?
I believe that Jesus loved in ways that I am only beginning to understand. I believe that Jesus was so open to the power of the LOVE which is God; that Jesus was able to live his life fully without fear. I believe that Jesus wanted more than anything else for his followers to be so open to the power of LOVE which is the DIVINE MYSTERY we call “God,” so open, that they too would live their lives fully without fear. I believe that this is what Jesus meant when he said, “I have come that you might have life and live it abundantly.” I believe that Jesus lived life abundantly and that living life abundantly means that Jesus loved abundantly and without fear. Jesus was so open to the power of the LOVE, which is God, that Jesus would not let the powers of darkness stop him from loving and living fully.
The kind of LOVE which Jesus embodied and taught is limitless. No darkness, no power, no fear, not even death can limit the power of LOVE which IS God. For if LOVE is limited by death, then LOVE will always be qualified and quantified. That Jesus was willing to LOVE without limits, came at great cost to himself.
But Jesus was willing to pay that price in order to show others the way; the way to LOVE without limit, without fear, without boundaries. Limitless LOVE is abundant life. That Jesus’ LOVE endured the worst that the world could send his way, that Jesus’ LOVE was for all the world, dead and buried, and yet bursts free from the grave, in ways we are still learning to understand, bears witness to the power of LOVE. That Jesus’ LOVE could not be destroyed, not even by the thing we fear the most, death itself, saves us from our need to fear death. Jesus has shown us the way. We can live abundantly, lives which are free from the fear of death and because Jesus has shown us the way, we are free to live fully, to love extravagantly and be all that we are created to be. LOVE shines in the darkness and darkness shall not overcome LOVE. If Jesus, life, death, and resurrection teach us anything, surely, they teach us not to be afraid. Not to be afraid of the darkness. Not to be afraid of living fully. Not to be afraid of loving extravagantly. Not to be afraid of the powers of evil. Not to be afraid of the power of death, because LOVE will endure. LOVE lives on, and on, and on. Jesus cannot save us from life. There is still evil to contend with. There will be darkness and there will be death. Jesus couldn’t save himself and he cannot save us from life. Darkness and death are both part of life.
Each of us must walk into the darkness which lies before us. We can beg God to take the cup from us! But the darkness will still come. And there will be days when the darkness will triumph. There are Good Fridays too many to mention out there. We can shout all we want for Jesus to save us, but in the end we too will have to take up our cross and find a way to follow Jesus into the darkness and beyond, trusting that even though it feels for all the world that God has forsaken us, we will make it beyond the darkness. The cross will not look the same for each of us. But there will be crosses to bear. But, Jesus has showed us the way. If we are to follow Jesus, then we must love one another the way that Jesus loved. LOVE is the only way beyond the darkness.
Do not be afraid of evil. Do not be afraid of death. Do not be afraid of the darkness. Follow Jesus who by LOVE frees us from the power of darkness to hold us captive to our fears, so that we can live life and live it abundantly. How exactly did Jesus love? Without limit. What did Jesus save us from? Our fears. Jesus saves us to love one another, just as Jesus loved. This is the way of abundant life, to LOVE one another, for LOVE is of God, the ONE who is BEYOND the BEYOND, and BEYOND that Also, our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE Itself. Amen.
VIEW the full Maundy Thursday Worship below