It is Finished

???????????Scripture Text:  John 19: 14-30

Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, ‘Here is your King!’ They cried out, ‘Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!’ Pilate asked them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but the emperor.’ Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.

So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew* is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them.  Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, ‘Jesus of Nazareth,* the King of the Jews.’ Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew,* in Latin, and in Greek. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, ‘Do not write, “The King of the Jews”, but, “This man said, I am King of the Jews.”’ Pilate answered, ‘What I have written I have written.’ When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.’ This was to fulfil what the scripture says,  ‘They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.’  And that is what the soldiers did.

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.  After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfil the scripture), ‘I am thirsty.’ A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

It is finished–all the announcing, all the birthing, that star over the manger, the shepherds, the wisemen, the ministry around the lake, the welcoming, the pushing, the encouraging, the healing, the teaching, the last meal–it is finished.  What would we do for just one more moment, one more moment to kneel at the feet of the Savior and worship and love and learn and bask in a Presence that we can’t even explain?  What would we change about how we had done it, how much we paid attention, how much we were aware?  What would we tell Jesus that we did not? What would we do rather than betray him, betray his trust, his love, his faith in who we are and what we can do?

This is the most difficult for us Protestant Christians, those of us who have chosen to spend the whole of our church year bowing before the “empty Cross”, the depiction of Christ’s Resurrection and the promise of our own salvation.  And while I’m not willing to trade the large gleaming empty cross at the front of the sanctuary and permanently replace it with a Crucifix, I think that we do miss part of what the Cross means if we choose to never enter the pain and the suffering that is Christ’s.  In fact, Howard asks, “Where, suddenly, is the theology that teaches that because the Savior did it all, we thereby are reduced to the status of inert bystanders?”  Because, truthfully, when the chips were done, the people stood by.  WE stood by.  We stand by and we let Christ suffer, wait for Christ to finish up this whole messy ordeal, hand us a lily and a pretty bonnet, and invite us to joyfully sing “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” and go on about our business.

The season of Lent, though, is about entering the experience of the Cross—the whole experience.  Because how can one understand the joy of Resurrection without experiencing the pain and suffering and even the death of Crucifixion?  The two cannot be separated.  We are called to enter and bear all that is Christ—the pain, the suffering, the death, and, just when we think “it is finished”, the joy of rising to eternal life, to an eternity of oneness with God.  If we are to truly understand what that means, we must, then, embrace the entirety of the message of the Cross.  And so, perhaps, if only for awhile (maybe 40 days or so!), we should spend this Season of Lent truly looking at the “pre-Easter” experience of the Cross.  You will be amazed what that Easter morning Cross, gleaming in the sunlight of a newly created day, looks like if you understand how God created it, if you have experienced all that is God.

So, in this moment, in this moment when it is all finished, the moment that, for now, our journey ends, what do we do?  What is next?  You know, this thing would have been a whole lot easier to piece together and market if Jesus had died a hero.  But Jesus did not come as a hero; Jesus came as a servant, a humble human servant, to show us what life means.  So, were you there?  Sometime I wonder if I was.  Sometimes I’m too busy or too tired or too convinced that I already have it figured out.  Sometimes I forget to be there.  I have taken this whole journey wanting so badly to be near Jesus, wanting so badly to be connected, to be one.  But sometimes I forget to be there.  Sometimes I want to jump ahead and set up for the Easter celebration.  But today, in this moment, we are called to be there, to stand, perhaps alone, and be with Jesus on the Cross, to be there when it is finished.  Hard as it may be, we have to live the end, to live the “it is finished” before we can live the beginning.  So sit here at the Cross, in this moment, this finished moment.

After the Crucifixion, this defeated little band of disciples had no hope. As you can imagine, they had no expectation of anything else to come. Everything in which they believed, in which they had invested their lives, had died on the cross. It seemed to them that the world had been right and they had been wrong. Joan Chittister says that “the road behind us becomes what frees us for the road ahead.” In this moment, God was already freeing them from grief and recreating joy.  And us…there is something in all of us that struggles with the thought of God suffering. We instead imagine a God that stands apart from us, shielded from pain, and prepared to pick up the pieces of our lives when we need it. But God, in God’s infinite wisdom rather recreates our lives from the inside, from the point of our deepest pain and suffering, from the cross, and even we become new Creations whether or not we can see it now. The cross is the rebirth of humanity in all its fullness. In this moment, it is death that dies.  Truthfully, it is DEATH that is finished.  It is hard for us to see right now. It is hard to see clearly through the tears of grief. Christ died on a cross in immense suffering and pain. And those who love him grieve a grief such that they have never known.  And just when nothing else makes sense, it is in that moment that your eternity has begun.   There is Light ahead but for now, just for a moment, we sit here at the Cross.  It is finished.  It is in this moment that we finally just let it be.

There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning. (Louis L’Amour)

This is the moment.  This is the moment that you begin.  Jesus did not die a hero to emulate; he died to give us Life.  No longer a bystander, we are called to enter that Life.  What does that mean?  Go forward…you can’t see it just yet but your eternity has begun!

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

 

Mary’s Song

Lectionary Text: John [18:1-19:15] 16-19 [20-25] 26-30 [31-42]
Then he handed him over to them to be crucified…So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew* is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, ‘Jesus of Nazareth,* the King of the Jews.’…When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfil the scripture), ‘I am thirsty.’ A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

I am standing here but it does not seem real.  I want to hold him, to comfort him, to cradle him in my arms like I did when he was a baby.  But the guards are holding us back.  Oh, please, I don’t think I can stand anymore.  But I must stand.  He has to know that I am here with him.  He has to know how much I love him, how much I hurt for him, how I would trade places with him if I could.

All of the memories are flooding into my head.  I remember that night when the angel came to me.  I did not understand.  I was so afraid.  But I knew I had to say yes.  I had no idea what I was agreeing to do.  And then for nine months I carried the baby in my womb. It was joyous.  In one respect, it was just like any other pregnancy, like the others I had after that.  And yet, it was different.  I always felt like there was someone there with me, guiding me, loving me, helping me through it.  It’s hard to explain.  The birth itself was hard, downright scary in fact.  We traveled to Bethlehem.  It was so far, so painful.  And then when we finally arrived, it was so crowded.  The streets were wild.  I remember that nice man who let us bed down in the room that housed his animals.  I remember the first time I looked into his eyes–those dark, compassionate eyes.  Even as a baby, he had compassionate, loving eyes.  He was special.  I knew that he was special when he came into the world.  I just didn’t know how wonderful he would be.  I remember the day that my cousin’s son baptized him.  He didn’t know I was there.  I hid behind the trees.  After all, he was an adult; he didn’t need his mother always looking on.  And I remember when his ministry started.  He was so brave, so fearless.  It scared me at times.  I thought something like this might happen.  But I am so incredibly proud of him.  I am so proud of what he became, what he made others become that he touched in his life.  He was special.

No, this does not seem real.  Somebody needs to help him.  Please, please, he’s asking for water.  Please, someone give him water.  I’m afraid this is it.  I’m afraid he cannot take it anymore.  I’m afraid he’s going to give up.  Perhaps it would be better.  Perhaps it is better to let go…Oh, how I love him! How I want to go back, to hold him just once more!  It is over.  It is all over.  He is gone.  What was this for?  I don’t understand.  Why the angel?  Why the star?  Why did it all happen if it was going to end this way?  What does God have in mind for him?  He promised me that it would be for good.  He promised me that it would be OK.  I guess I have to believe that, hold on to it, hope.  Someday maybe I’ll see it.

I wanted to stay here until they gave me his body, but I don’t think I can.  There are others here too–Jesus’ friend Mary, who has always been so lovely toward me, and the disciples.  I hope they all realized how much he loved them, how he would do anything for them.  The rain is really coming down now and the skies are angry, angry like me.  The wind is blowing so hard, I can no longer stand against it.  There are rocks and debris sliding down the mountain above us.  It seems that the world is breaking apart.  Will the world ever know what it has lost?  Will the world ever know what it did?  Will God ever forgive this world for killing my son, their son?  Someone just told me that the temple curtain has split in two.  It is as if the holy has spilled into the world.  I can’t explain it.

My son came into this world wrapped in so much hope.  He was supposed to change the world.  He was supposed to open the eyes of the world to what it could be, what it could become.  Is it all for naught?  Or, someday, will we finally understand why he came?  Someday, I know, that God will make it make sense.  But, now, today, I am grieving more than I could know.  But what a gift I’ve had!  What an incredible gift that was taken away all too soon!  I have to leave this place, as hard as it is.  Shabbat is starting in a few minutes.  I must go prepare, light the candles, and usher in the joy of the Sabbath.  I must go rest.  I need it.  I need it to resurrect my hurting soul.  God will be with me.  Let it be.

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”  (Luke 1:46-55)

Shalom, my dear Son!  May God’s Light stay with you!

The point of Holy Week is to empty.  It is the completion of the process of Lent in which we have made room for our death…Resurrection is finding that place that is just for us.  In the beginning of Holy Week, we find ourselves spiritually homeless.  But when we are homeless, we are ready to be sheltered.  The shelter from death, in life, is on its way.  We don’t need to fear the emptiness. (Donna Schaper)

 

FOR TODAY:  On this day when we remember the Crucifixion, let us grieve for awhile and then keep vigil with the expectant hope of whatever it is God will do next!

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

It is Finished

???????????Scripture Text:  John 19: 14-30

Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, ‘Here is your King!’ They cried out, ‘Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!’ Pilate asked them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but the emperor.’ Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.

So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew* is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them.  Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, ‘Jesus of Nazareth,* the King of the Jews.’ Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew,* in Latin, and in Greek. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, ‘Do not write, “The King of the Jews”, but, “This man said, I am King of the Jews.”’ Pilate answered, ‘What I have written I have written.’ When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.’ This was to fulfil what the scripture says,  ‘They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.’  And that is what the soldiers did.

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.  After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfil the scripture), ‘I am thirsty.’ A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

It is finished–all the announcing, all the birthing, that star over the manger, the shepherds, the wisemen, the ministry around the lake, the welcoming, the pushing, the encouraging, the healing, the teaching, the last meal–it is finished.  What would we do for just one more moment, one more moment to kneel at the feet of the Savior and worship and love and learn and bask in a Presence that we can’t even explain?  What would we change about how we had done it, how much we paid attention, how much we were aware?  What would we tell Jesus that we did not? What would we do rather than betray him, betray his trust, his love, his faith in who we are and what we can do?

This is the most difficult for us Protestant Christians, those of us who have chosen to spend the whole of our church year bowing before the “empty Cross”, the depiction of Christ’s Resurrection and the promise of our own salvation.  And while I’m not willing to trade the large gleaming empty cross at the front of my own sanctuary and permanently replace it with a Crucifix, I think that we do miss part of what the Cross means if we choose to never enter the pain and the suffering that is Christ’s.  In fact, Howard asks, “Where, suddenly, is the theology that teaches that because the Savior did it all, we thereby are reduced to the status of inert bystanders?”  Because, truthfully, when the chips were done, the people stood by.  WE stood by.  We stand by and we let Christ suffer, wait for Christ to finish up this whole messy ordeal, hand us a lily and a pretty bonnet, and invite us to joyfully sing “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” and go on about our business.

The season of Lent, though, is about entering the experience of the Cross—the whole experience.  Because how can one understand the joy of Resurrection without experiencing the pain and suffering and even the death of Crucifixion?  The two cannot be separated.  We are called to enter and bear all that is Christ—the pain, the suffering, the death, and, just when we think “it is finished”, the joy of rising to eternal life, to an eternity of oneness with God.  If we are to truly understand what that means, we must, then, embrace the entirety of the message of the Cross.  And so, perhaps, if only for awhile (maybe 40 days or so!), we should spend this Season of Lent truly looking at the “pre-Easter” experience of the Cross.  You will be amazed what that Easter morning Cross, gleaming in the sunlight of a newly created day, looks like if you understand how God created it, if you have experienced all that is God.

So, in this moment, in this moment when it is all finished, the moment that, for now, our journey ends, what do we do?  What is next?  You know, this thing would have been a whole lot easier to piece together and market if Jesus had died a hero.  But Jesus did not come as a hero; Jesus came as a servant, a humble human servant, to show us what life means.  So, were you there?  Sometime I wonder if I was.  Sometimes I’m too busy or too tired or too convinced that I already have it figured out.  Sometimes I forget to be there.  I have taken this whole journey wanting so badly to be near Jesus, wanting so badly to be connected, to be one.  But sometimes I forget to be there.  Sometimes I want to jump ahead and set up for the Easter celebration.  But today, in this moment, we are called to be there, to stand, perhaps alone, and be with Jesus on the Cross, to be there when it is finished.  Hard as it may be, we have to live the end, to live the “it is finished” before we can live the beginning.  So sit here at the Cross, in this moment, this finished moment.

After the Crucifixion, this defeated little band of disciples had no hope. As you can imagine, they had no expectation of anything else to come. Everything in which they believed, in which they had invested their lives, had died on the cross. It seemed to them that the world had been right and they had been wrong. Joan Chittister says that “the road behind us becomes what frees us for the road ahead.” In this moment, God was already freeing them from grief and recreating joy.  And us…there is something in all of us that struggles with the thought of God suffering. We instead imagine a God that stands apart from us, shielded from pain, and prepared to pick up the pieces of our lives when we need it. But God, in God’s infinite wisdom rather recreates our lives from the inside, from the point of our deepest pain and suffering, from the cross, and even we become new Creations whether or not we can see it now. The cross is the rebirth of humanity in all its fullness. In this moment, it is death that dies.  Truthfully, it is DEATH that is finished.  It is hard for us to see right now. It is hard to see clearly through the tears of grief. Christ died on a cross in immense suffering and pain. And those who love him grieve a grief such that they have never known.  And just when nothing else makes sense, it is in that moment that your eternity has begun.   There is Light ahead but for now, just for a moment, we sit here at the Cross.  It is finished.

There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning. (Louis L’Amour)

This is the moment.  This is the moment that you begin.  Jesus did not die a hero to emulate; he died to give us Life.  No longer a bystander, we are called to enter that Life.  What does that mean?  Go forward…you can’t see it just yet but your eternity has begun!

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

 

Station XI: Regrets

crucifixion-22Scripture Passage: Mark 15: 22-32

22Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull).23And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it.24And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.  25It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him.26The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.”27And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left.29Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days,30save yourself, and come down from the cross!”31In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself.32Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.

The eleventh station of the Via Dolorosa is marked by a beautiful Latin shrine.  This is the place where tradition tells us that soldiers nailed Jesus’ hands and feet to the cross.  It is only 9:00 in the morning.  For us, the thought of arriving at this eleventh station seems much longer, days really.  But it is still only mid-morning.  The sounds are deafening.  The clanging rings out over the land and settles into our hearts–a nail of greed, a nail of selfishness, nails of betrayal and hatred and war, nails of hunger and poverty, nails of not accepting and loving each other, nails of being so sure of one’s beliefs, so sure of one’s understanding of who God is and what God desires, that we miss seeing what God is trying to show us.  It is finished.  In the Name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.

It is here that our regrets sink in. It is here that we want to go back, we want a redo.  We would do it differently next time. We would not ask so many questions as to why he was doing what he was doing and to whom.  We would just watch and listen and learn from him how to love.  We would not fight and grapple with each other over who was in charge, over who was the most important, over who was his favorite.  Instead, we would bask in his spirit and his radiance and his love of equality for all.  And when asked if we knew who he was, we would not betray him.  Rather, we would step forward no matter the cost.  Because grace is not cheap.  But now we know how incredibly rich it really is.  Yes, we would stand up and be counted as one who follows him, who brings healing and love to the world, who doesn’t need credit or acclaim, and who is willing to lose one’s life to find it.  But there are no redos just now.

Regrets can be debilitating.  They can pull us into the past and keep us there.  It is not healthy.  Regrets can also be life-giving if we allow them to compel us to change, to perhaps turn a corner that we did not see before, to become something new, a New Creation, to become the one that God calls us to be.  And, yet, we still want the easy way out.  After all, we are empty cross people, Resurrection people!  And so maybe we walk away from this moment entirely too quickly.  After all, it makes us uncomfortable and God offers us life.  So too quickly we let it go, too quickly we move past our regrets without letting them change us.

The most difficult thing for us to face is that so little has changed.  We still try to be the one on top.  We still shut the door to those who are not like us.  We still close our doors so we don’t have to think about poverty or homelessness.  We still justify war.  We still will do anything it takes to defend the life that we have created.  We still betray.  We forget to love; we forget to bring healing; we forget to lose our life.  So, would we crucify Jesus today?  Would things go differently?  Only we can tell…

So on this Lenten journey, stop for a moment.  Look at the cross.  And let your regrets of what should have been done differently change your pathway.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Were You There at the End?

Today’s Scripture Passage: Mark 15: 34-47.
To read today’s portion of the account of the Passion, click on the below link:
http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=200678972

It’s 3:00.  The bells have begun to toll.  The sky is black and rumbling. After hanging there for hours, Jesus is nearing death.  He cries out from the depth of his forsakenness, the depth of his loneliness and abandonment.

Standing in the background, we want to help.  We want to bring comfort and a swift and painless death.  But we don’t.  Instead we stand by, not really knowing what to do, not really knowing if we should get involved, put our own selves at risk perhaps.  The truth is, we don’t really want to get our hands dirty.  Why do we think that because Jesus is our Savior, we should become nothing more than inert bystanders?  Well, we’ve never been told that.  No where in Scripture does it tell us to sit back while Jesus does all the hard stuff.  Oh, it would definitely be more palatable to just sort of walk way from this whole ugly mess and wait for it to pass, maybe show up Sunday morning for the grand processional with not even a bloodstain on us.

And then, it is over.  Jesus cries out and breathes his last breath on this earth.  The last piece of humanity that was at its fullest, the last shred that was what God envisioned, goes away in one last long and drawn out exhale.  God breathed us into being and is now exhaling and slipping away.  It is finished.  Jesus is gone.

Suddenly, the earth shakes and flashes of lightning cut across the darkened sky.  Torrential winds begin to blow across the earth and rain begins pouring onto the land.  The curtain of the temple, the veil that separates the Holy of Holies from us, that separates holiness from the earth, is torn in two and heaven and earth begin to spill together.  In some ways, they become almost undistinguishable from each other.  It is almost as if they somehow belong together, perhaps that they always belonged together. 

And then, from the shadows emerge the women.  They are those who are powerless, meaningless in society.  They are those whom Jesus loved.  And they were there even at the end.  Because the Sabbath was beginning, Joseph of Arimethea, an outsider in Jesus’ circle, asked for Jesus body.  And after anointing him, Joseph buried him in a borrowed tomb.  Even in death, Jesus had no home.  Even in death, the world did not make room.  And so the stone was rolled into place.  And those who loved him tried to go back to their lives.

So, were you there at the end?  Were you there when Jesus died, when the world changed, and when Jesus was buried in an unmarked grave?  The women knew where he was buried.  But no one else seemed to know.  They were not there.  So, what now?  We were always told to follow Jesus.  Where is he now?  Well you see, this would be the point at which we are compelled to pick up our cross and follow.  This would be the place where we die to self, where we leave our selves behind and go forward.  This would be the place where we experience the wholeness of who Jesus is.  This is the moment for which we’ve been preparing on this forty-day journey.  Just as the earth and heaven have spilled together, becoming undistinguishable, so have death and life.  No longer can we see where one ends and another begins because death has been recreated as life, death itself has had the breath of God breathed into it. The Protestant notion of the “empty cross” does not even make sense.  The cross is not empty; it is full of life–all of life. 

But we have to wait.  We have to enter the Cross on this day.  We have to follow Christ.  We have to die with Christ this day–die to self, die to greed and selfishness and putting ourselves ahead of others, die to prejudice and exclusion and a lack of compassion for our brothers and sisters in this holy earth.  Today we die.  And then we wait.  For God has gone on ahead.  God entered death first and asked us to do the same, asked us to follow, asked us to take up our cross.  So, take up your cross and follow.  For those who believe that God redeems, death is now part of life, earth is now part of heaven, and endings are now part of our beginning.  The birthing is not over.  It is never really finished.  On this night it all spills together and waits for God’s redeeming work.  On this night the earth once again waits with expectant hope for birth to happen.  But this time, it is ours!
 

Silent night! Holy night!
All is calm, all is bright,
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child!
Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace!
Sleep in heavenly peace!
Silent night!  Holy night!
Son of God, loves pure light
Radiant beams from Thy Holy Face
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy Birth!
Jesus, Lord, at Thy Birth!

So, even as we wait in darkness, even as we grieve this night, God has only begun creating Life.  So, were you there at the end?  If we’re not there at the end, we’ll miss what comes next.  In the silence and holiness of this night, God is with us, walking us through to Life.
The point of Holy Week is to empty.  It is the completion of the process of Lent in which we have made room for our death…Resurrection is finding that place that is just for us.  In the beginning of Holy Week, we find ourselves spiritually homeless.  But when we are homeless, we are ready to be sheltered.  The shelter from death, in life, is on its way.  We don’t need to fear the emptiness.  (Donna E. Schaper, in Calmly Plotting the Resurrection, p. 80.)
Grace and Peace,
Shelli


Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?

Today’s Scripture Passage: Mark 15: 20-33
.
To read today’s portion of the account of the Passion, click on the below link:
http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=200598988

So they led him away and they hung him on the cross.  They chided him to save himself.  But Jesus was even too weak to carry his own cross.  They randomly pluck a man out of the crowd to help him carry it.  Now if we were doing the staging of this, we probably would have written in one of the disciples to do this, one of those who had traveled with Jesus these past years and received so much love and so much of life from Jesus.  It would have made more sense for one of those whom Jesus had stooped down below last night to wash his feet in a poetic depiction of incredible mutuality.  But that’s not what happened.  As it becomes more and more difficult for Jesus to carry his cross, it is a stranger who stoops to serve Jesus.  We really know very little about Simon—is he black, brown, white, olive-skinned?  Does it matter?  He was from Libya—a foreigner to the city of Jerusalem.  Anonymously plucked out of the crowd to help a bleeding dying man, he stooped and hoisted the cross that Jesus was carrying to his own shoulder.  Even at this late hour, God has orchestrated a Divine reversal in what the world expected.  Isn’t that just like God?  But, you have to wonder, where were the disciples?  Where were you?

The account says that they brought Jesus to Golgotha.  The name derives from the Aramaic golgolta, meaning “skull” or “place of the skull”.  Early tradition assumed that this was a site west of the city.  And when the Lukan Scripture was translated into Latin, it became known as “Calvary.”  But somewhere in history, the site was lost.  Perhaps it wasn’t even a specific site at all but a sort of general area away from the bustle of the city where these crucifixions would occur.  In 330, the Emperor Constantine tore down a Roman temple to Aphrodite and built the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which tradition now recognizes as the last stations of Jesus’ journey to the cross, the site of the Crucifixion, and the site of the burial.  The present structure, built by the Crusaders, still houses the Constantine structure and the tradition.  Maybe it’s best that it’s like that.  Maybe it’s best that the actual site of Jesus’ final moments is not really known and even that Jesus’ final resting place is more of a tradition than a known place.  After all, would you have been there anyway? Maybe the anonymity is the whole point, sort of a depiction of our faith journey as we wander with no real knowledge of where it is we’re going–only that God is calling us there.

So, accompanied by an anonymous person to an anonymous place, Jesus is crucified.  The one who not so long ago had been surrounded by friends and followers, who a short time ago had preached to thousands on a hillside near the Galilean lake, and who only days ago had been showered with palm-branches in acclaim for who he was, was totally alone.  The one who had come into the world to save the world was now going to die in a shroud of anonymity.  It’s pointless to ask the question as to whether or not you were there.  You weren’t.  I wasn’t.  No one was. 

The life that began in the humble anonymity of a rough-hewn manger was ending the same way on a rough-hewn cross.  Maybe that was the whole point.  We bring nothing into this world and we take nothing out.  We are here for but a short time that, by the very Grace of God, is hopefully so filled with life and love that when our life here has ended, love still remains.  We do not know exactly where Jesus was born and we can’t pinpoint the location where he died.  What we do know is that while Jesus hung on the cross waiting those agonizing hours to die, God had plunged down to the very depths of humanity, to the places of loneliness and despair, to the places of abandonment and darkness, to the places where we are sometimes afraid to go.  And there, God began to say Creation into being once again.  The cross is God’s highest act of Creation yet. And when it was all said and done, it was Love that remained.

H.J. Iwand said that “our faith begins at the point where atheists suppose it must be at an end.  Our faith begins with the bleakness and power which is the night of the cross, abandonment, temptation, and doubt about everything that exists!  Our faith must be born where it is abandoned by all tangible reality; it must be born of nothingness, it must taste this nothingness, it must taste this nothingness and be given it to taste in a way that no philosophy of nihilism can imagine.”  So, in all probability, the explanation of the Cross is that there is no explanation.  At humanity’s lowest point, whether or not we bother to show up at all, it is only God who can save us.

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Where you there whey they crucified my Lord?

When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon…

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

When Nothing Else Makes Sense

A Good Friday Sermon…

Lectionary Text: John 18: 1-19:42

This is the road that we have all walked before. Most of us would rather not. We would rather just close our eyes and wake up when the whole awful thing has ended. We would rather open our eyes and see that everything is alright or, even better, back where it used to be. This is grief. We have all experienced it. We have all felt loss and despair; we have all felt as if the very foundations of our world have been ripped away and left us standing to fend for ourselves. We have all felt at times like the abyss in which we find ourselves is consuming us and that there is no way out. And grief is the one thing that does not get easier each time you do it. Each time cuts a little sharper and a little deeper until nothing of our lives make sense in light of the way it was before. This is the road we walk when nothing else makes sense.

The road we walk today is no different. Oh, perhaps it seems to be, because intellectually we already know the ending to the story. But it is grief nevertheless. We sit here in this darkened sanctuary contemplating what was done on this day. We can hear the sounds of a world going about its business. That’s always a bit odd for me. There’s a part of me that expects the world, if only for a moment, to stop and grieve my grief, to revere what I revere, and to feel this in the same way that I do. But that does not happen. It is mine to feel and mine through which to walk.

If we are feeling this today, can you imagine what the disciples must have been feeling? They were on the ground floor of something wonderful; they were part of changing the world. This radical roving man who they had agreed to follow for life was doing something incredible! What was happening now, though? Was it only five days ago that we came to town? Was it only five days ago that we were at the height of these years—processing into town with all those people cheering us on? Was it just last night that we were eating dinner together? And, now this? What went wrong? Surely this would turn out alright! After all, this man works miracles! But there was to be no miracle this time.

Their grief was insurmountable. And, around them the world was continuing on. We as followers of Jesus ourselves have this sense of this execution being a big deal, as if the whole of Jerusalem and surrounding areas shut down for the day to be a part of it. But the truth was, this happened all the time. This was just one more Roman crucifixion in the life of a city that lived in perilous and often tenuous times on the world stage. And, so the life around them did not stop. And they had to face their grief in the midst of it all.

And at this point, they had to also look at themselves, uncomfortable as that may have been. What part had I played in this whole sequence? What would I do now? And we 21st century disciples also have to ask where we would be in the story. There was Peter, wallowing in guilt for not standing up for his friend, for denying his own belief. He had wanted so badly to be part of Jesus’ “inner circle”. But why couldn’t he come through when it mattered? There were the fishermen James and John. They had willingly followed Jesus, giving up everything they knew. What would they do now? Jesus was their everything. What about Mary Magdalene? Jesus was the first person that had accepted her, that had loved her simply for who she was? And now that was gone. And Judas…Judas carried the heaviest grief of all. He didn’t know whether or not he could live with himself. The very foundations of their world were gone as they watched their whole world nailed to a cross and slip away. None of this made any sense at all.

We Christians have spent centuries trying to make sense of the cross, perhaps even trying to take our own humanity and our own part out of the equation. The truth is that Jesus was put to death because we as humans expected something different. It was humans who took control and did this. But there are more theories of the cross and its atoning power than most of us will ever fathom. It has been described by some as a cosmic battle between good and evil, a battle that God seems to lose at first only to pull it out in the end. Then there is the belief that the cross depicted God’s love in such that we humans might be compelled to follow in faith. And there are those for whom the cross is the satisfaction paid to God for the sins of the world, a substitution of the redeemer for the sinful, implying that God somehow demands a ransom in order to release our redemption and salvation. In all honesty, I struggle with all of these. In fact, none of them by themselves really makes sense to me.

It seems, to me that the cosmic battle takes humanity out of the picture, relegating us to bystanders. If there is no humanity associated with the cross, what, really is the point? And while the notion of God’s love depicted by the cross is of paramount importance to us, if we leave it there, it sort of turns it into an overly sentimental description of the incredible mystery and power of God. Is that all there is? And, probably the most popular understanding in our history, the understanding of the cross as a satisfaction paid to God for our sins does not really make sense for me. Think about it. God created us in the image of Godself. It would not make sense, then, for God to have to be talked into loving us. True redemption is not a required sacrifice, but an act of overwhelming love by God who desires us as much as we need God. It is we humans that try desperately to come up with a reason for the cross, with a reason for Jesus’ death. Perhaps there was no reason. Perhaps God truly took the senseless, the inhumanness of our humanity, and made sense of it.

Truthfully, though, there is no single understanding of the cross that has been accepted by everyone. None of them are mutually exclusive. And none, alone, really make sense of something that is so filled with the pervasive mystery of God. In a way that sometimes makes little sense to us, God turned suffering into joy, betrayal into forgiveness, and death into life. From that standpoint, the cross, for me, could be counted as God’s highest act of Creation in all of time. The cross is God’s overwhelming love made tangible and real and accessible for each of us.

God took something so horrific, so senseless, so utterly inhumane, and so personally painful and recreated it. But when you think about, God had done that before. If you remember, in the beginning, there was nothingness, senselessness and God created all that there is, bringing order to the senselessness. And it was very, very good. And now, at the depth of our grief, in the face of what seems to us senseless, God once again creates life. And once again, all of Creation responds. Other Gospel writers depict the Crucifixion by saying that the whole earth shook, rocks were split, graves opened and the temple curtain that had always separated the sacred from the ordinary was torn in two. As the earth opened up, surely seeming to the world that Creation was undoing itself, the holiest of holies spilled into it. In this moment, when all we see are endings, when grief overwhelms us, when our very lives seem to have been swallowed up, God recreates everything. In this moment, the universe has changed. Death is not just avoided or bypassed but is indeed swallowed up by life. In this moment, death itself is defeated. And God looked at it all. It is finished. And it is very, very good.

There’s still a lot in this world that doesn’t make sense. September 11, 2001 still clangs loudly in our hearts, with its almost jarring effects of despair and hopelessness, suffering and death, and its intrusive way that it has affected our well-tuned and carefully planned lives. Communities were devastated, lives were shattered, and the pall of an incredible hopelessness still to some extent hangs in our hearts over Ground Zero.

Like many other landmarks around it, the Liberty Community Gardens in Battery Park were almost totally destroyed on that day, buried in dust and ashes. What was left was later trampled by the hundreds of workers and then finally destroyed when it was designated as the place where the smashed fire trucks and rescue vehicles would be temporarily discarded.
But more than 2,800 miles away, there were some 75,000 people in the city of Seattle who responded to their own shock and sadness of that day by bringing more than a million flowers to the International Fountain in the Seattle Center. By depositing beauty, it was their way of honoring those who had suffered in the devastation. It was there way of creating something new. But we know that we cannot hold life in our hands. And so as the flowers started to decay, echoing their own tales of death and stench and despair, hundreds of volunteers began the painstaking effort of separating the flowers from the paper, plastic, mementos, and wires that were mixed with them and then chopped and mashed the 80 cubic yards of flowers into mulch for composting.

If you garden at all, you know that compost is a metaphor for renewal, a natural part of life and death, a reminder of new hope gained from loss. It is a reminder of rebirth and recreation. From the sadness of the twin towers, was birthed a source of life.

But the story doesn’t end there. One of the volunteers had an idea. And so, in September of 2002, a year after the desolation of the Battery Park Gardens, thirty-two donated boxes were each filled with forty to fifty pounds of the compost and flown to New York City. And on September 28, 2002, the New York gardens were rededicated—to abundance and beauty, and to a future life recreated from present death. Things will never be back to the way they were before, but God has sown the beginning of something new. But we had to wait to see it in all its fullness.

We had always envisioned a Savior that would make the world around us alright again. Instead God in Christ began recreating the world into that which it is supposed to be. That, of course, is hard to grasp as we stand at the foot of the cross watching our Lord writhe in pain and despair. But Jesus Christ came as fully human, with all of the feelings and emotions that we experience. Christ knew what it was like to be human, knew what it was like to feel pain, and knew what it was like to grieve. It is tempting to ask where God was through all this. God was there. God went to the cross first.

After the Crucifixion, this defeated little band of disciples had no hope. As you can imagine, they had no expectation of anything else to come. Everything in which they believed, in which they had invested their lives, had died on the cross. It seemed to them that the world had been right and they had been wrong. Joan Chittister says that “the road behind us becomes what frees us for the road ahead.” In this moment, God was already freeing them from grief and recreating joy.

And us…there is something in all of us that struggles with the thought of God suffering. We instead imagine a God that stands apart from us, shielded from pain, and prepared to pick up the pieces of our lives when we need it. But God, in God’s infinite wisdom rather recreates our lives from the inside, from the point of our deepest pain and suffering, from the cross, and even we become new Creations whether or not we can see it now. The cross is the rebirth of humanity in all its fullness. In this moment, it is death that dies.

It is hard for us to see right now. It is hard to see clearly through the tears of grief. Christ died on a cross in immense suffering and pain. And those who love him grieve a grief such that they have never known. As we sit here in this dark sanctuary and listen to the bells toll, we will once again feel the finality of it all. But Louis L’Amour once wrote that “there will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning.” And just when nothing else makes sense, it is in that moment that your eternity has begun.

In the Name of Christ Crucified, in the Name of overwhelming Love.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli