The Day That Hope Was Born

cross-and-manger-16-12-19Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ 27Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

28 After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfil the scripture), ‘I am thirsty.’ 29A 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. 30When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.  (John 19: 25b-30)

Those midday hours on that day were merciless.  I stood there feeling so helpless, wanting to hold him to cradle him like I did when he was a baby.  At that point, I didn’t know what the outcome would be.  I just knew that he was in pain.  And I needed to get to him.  But the guards were holding us back.  There was nothing that I could do but pray, pray that this would end, pray that God would release him, pray that this would all turn out for some good. Little did I know how good it would be.

In that moment, the memories flooded back.  I thought about that night when the angel came to me.  At first I did not understand. I was afraid.  But something in me compelled me to say yes, to say yes to something that I had no idea how to do.  I thought about that long trip to Bethlehem.  And then when we arrived, the city was packed with people and we had nowhere to go.  It was so scary.  But I never felt like we were alone.  Someone traveled with Joseph and I.  Now I understand.  We were never alone.  And I knew that I was not alone now.  There, there on the cross was God.  But in that moment, I prayed that it still all had a purpose.

None of it seemed real.  At that point, I was questioning why.  Why did all this happen?  Why was I allowed to love him, to look into his eyes and love him if this was how it was going to end?  I wondered if these people standing here with me even thought about the manger, even thought about that holy night.  In hindsight, I know that God was holding ME—when I was holding him and even now.

I wondered if the world would ever understand what it did.  And it began to rain and the wind began to blow.  The skies turned appropriately dark and angry.  And the world began to shake.  Rocks and debris began to slide down the mountain behind us and the wind blew the temple curtain that separated the holy and the ordinary.  In that moment, I thought hope was dying there on the cross.  I realize now that that child I held that Bethlehem night so long ago was hope, a hope that would never die, a hope that would literally spill into the ordinary parts of our lives.  At that point, I thought it had ended.  I know now that our eternity itself was spilling in to our lives.  I know now that that birth so long ago was never for naught.  It was for this—to give hope to a world that could never give it to itself, to give hope to a world that sadly over and over destroys itself, to give hope to a world that doesn’t really understand that it has never been alone.  I know now that hope was born in that manger.  But hope came to be on that cross.  I know now that I was pulled into a story that would have no end, that would birth newness and hope at every turn.  How blessed I truly am!

At the center of the Christian faith is the history of Christ’s passion.  At the center of this passion is the experience of God endured by the godforsaken, God-cursed Christ.  Is this the end of all human and religious hope?  Or is it the beginning of the true hope, which has been born again and can no longer be shaken?  For me it is the beginning of true hope, because it is the beginning of a life which has death behind it and for which hell is no longer to be feared…Beneath the cross of Christ hope is born again out of the depths. (Jurgen Moltmann)

FOR TODAY:  Dare to hope…in spite of everything else.  Dare to hope for that which you cannot know.  Dare to hope beyond what you can see.

Peace to you in this often-hectic week,

Shelli

In the Time Between

StillnessScripture Text:  Luke 23: 48-49

48And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. 49But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.

 

What do we do with this day, this day after, this day before, this time between?  What do we do when our foundations have been shaken to their core and we wander, alone?  What do we do when we stand at a distance and can do nothing to fix it or hurry the healing along?  This IS the deepest part of the wilderness.  We begin to wander again but this time, we are alone.  This time we wander in grief and despair.  The darkness overcomes us.

Have you noticed that all of the Gospels after the frantic accounts of the Crucifixion fall silent on this day?  They all go from some rendition of laying Jesus in the tomb to some version of “after the Sabbath”.  There was, you see, nothing more to say about what had happened and the story had to stop and wait for itself to begin again.  You see, this IS the Sabbath, the time between work and work, the time between conversations, the time between life and life.  This IS the time to be silent, to sit in the deep wilderness and wait, wait again for life to dawn.

The truth is, there IS nothing to do with this day.  See, this day is not ours.  We’re so accustomed to days revolving around our lives that we have forgotten how to wait, how to just be.  Notice that tomorrow morning the Scripture will not give us the account of the Resurrection.  It will instead tell us the story of the revelation of what has happened, the finding of the empty tomb.  We were not there for the Resurrection.  While we were grieving and wondering and trying to find our way in this new wilderness, God was re-creating in the darkness.  God seems to be drawn to the darkness, to the place where the Light most needs to be.

So, in this darkness, in this silence, know that you are not alone.  Know that God is re-creating everything even now.  Know that this is the time to just be still, to just be still and know.

My ego is like a fortress.  I have built its walls stone by stone to hold out the invasion of the love of God.  But I have stayed here long enough.  There is light over the barriers.  O my God…I let go of the past.  I withdraw my grasping hand from the future.  And in the great silence of this moment, I alertly rest my soul. (Howard Thurman)

 

FOR TODAY:  It is finished.  Just be still.  Just be still and know.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Betrayed

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Scripture Text:  John 13: 21-32

21After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” 22The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. 23One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him; 24Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. 25So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” 26Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. 27After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” 28Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the festival”; or, that he should give something to the poor. 30So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night. 31When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.

 

What was Judas thinking?  Did he really just go completely bad or was it something else?  Had he somehow convinced himself that he could control the situation, that he could somehow force something to happen so that Jesus would have the chance to show once and for all that he was the Messiah?  I don’t know.  I guess we’ll never really know.  The Gospel According to Judas depicts it as if it was the plan all along, somehow, I suppose, in a fail-hearted attempt to save Judas from eons of blame.  But this passage from John’s Gospel, written in hindsight, doesn’t leave much room for speculation.  Judas becomes the quintessential bad boy, the pinnacle of all badness in the world.  Dante would later relegate him to the 9th circle of the inferno, destined to spend eternity in the bowels of hell with Brutus and Cassius (I suppose, then, putting Julius Caesar’s murder on equal footing with Jesus’!  How odd!)

I actually feel sorry for Judas.  I mean, don’t you think the world is a little too quick to jump on him and portray him as the son of darkness.  And we are ready to follow along and release the other disciples from any wrongdoing.  (After all…it was apparent, they really didn’t get what was going on anyway!)  I really do think that Judas loved Jesus.  Think about this as a possibility:  Soldiers come to Judas in the dark of night.  This had to be scary.  After all, the tension of the week is mounting.  “Show us Jesus; show us your Lord.”  Judas hesitates.  “Why are you afraid?  Because if Jesus really IS Lord, he can prove it…he can get out of it…just show us.  And here…here’s some money for your trouble.”  You know, thinks Judas, they’re right.  He is Lord.  He can get out of it.  And then, as the writer of Matthew’s Gospel account depicts, when Jesus was condemned to death, Judas could not face himself.  What had he done? How could he live with it?  How could he ever be forgiven?  And so he hanged himself, a victim of his own choices and his own action.

And as for the blameless others, think about Simon Peter, so eager to be a part of Jesus’ “inner circle”…but, three times he was asked…and three times he denied even knowing Jesus.  Is it that much worse to betray a trust then to deny that trust altogether?  We assume not, because we are much more likely to be the culprits of this denial, going our own way, following the ways of the world.  But surely, that can’t be as bad!  So Judas remains the fall guy, the poster child for the worst sin imaginable, and the focus of all the blame for crucifying the Savior of the world.

Do we really think that it was ALL Judas’ fault?  Was it Judas’ kiss that started the cycle that would end on the Cross?  I don’t think we’re that naïve.  All of the disciples played a part.  All of society played apart.  All of us play a part.  We are all betrayers; we are all deniers; we are all beloved children of God.  So, is this story supposed to be about betrayal or about forgiveness?  None of us are innocent.  All of us are forgiven.  Holy Thursday does not end in betrayal; it ends in love.  Perhaps rather than trying to lay blame for what happened at the Cross, perhaps rather than using Judas as the scapegoat for all of our own sins, we should let the Cross be what it is—a place of healing, a place of reconciliation, a place of forgiveness, a place of life recreated.  Because of the Cross, all of us are invited to the table—even the Judases among us.

 

The soldiers are there with their swords and lanterns. The high priest’s slave is whimpering over his wounded ear. There can be no doubt in Jesus’ mind what the kiss of Judas means, but it is Judas that he is blessing, and Judas that he is prepared to go out and die for now. Judas is only the first in a procession of betrayers two thousand years long, If Jesus were to exclude him from love and forgiveness, to one degree or another he would have to exclude us all. Maybe this is all in the mind of Jesus as he stands with his eyes closed, or possibly there is nothing in his mind at all. As he feels his friend’s lips graze his cheek for an instant, maybe he feels nothing else…It is not the Lamb of God and his butcher who meet here, but two old friends embracing in a garden knowing that they will never see one another again. (Frederick Buechner)

“I Hope You Find It” (Cher)

 

FOR TODAY:  In the Name of Christ, you are forgiven—all of you.  Imagine yourself forgiven.

 

Grace and Peace,

Shelli