April 20, 2014

Is Resurrection Good News?

When I look at the beaten, bruised and broken body of the crucified Jesus, I see, before anything symbolic or theological a victim of terrible evil. Many poor and oppressed people see, in that broken figure, which they understand to be the very image of the invisible God, one who understands suffering. One who understands their suffering. And for each of us who have ever been a victim, Jesus identifies with us in our suffering. Our wounds which are unbearable to us can become a meeting place with him and this is a very real grace.

On the other hand Jesus was put on that cross and killed. He was arrested, paraded through Jerusalem, mocked, beaten, betrayed, and murdered on a Roman cross.

Now think for a minute what the immediate news of the resurrection might mean to those who condemned and killed him. This is not good news is it? Just call to mind any movie you can where a victim of some crime/murder came back to life. The body is missing all of a sudden and they are out there somewhere.  This news is horrifying! Jesus body is missing and people are saying that they have seem him alive somewhere here in Jerusalem. At the very least he can now testify to my crime at then there is that unshakable fear that he is here for judgement or vengeance. Easter, for the perpetrator, should not be 'good news.' There minds would race with fear and paranoia as they ask the same question that we see asked in Acts 2:37, after peter explains that this Jesus that they have killed has been risen and made Lord and Messiah by God. Those people of Judea and Jerusalem asked in desperation "What should we do?"

Jesus is risen but when we run into this victim of ours we are not met with the vengeance that we might expect. Rather we are met with love and forgiveness. He shows us the wounds which we have inflicted  but there is no hatred, or revenge, or blood lust, or accusation. Rather from those very wounds flow grace and forgiveness toward the violators in us. Bearing the wounds of every victim of every crime we have committed against one of his own. Here we see the wounds which indict us, those wounds for which we carry great shame and guilt, those wounds upon which we cannot even bear to look. These very wounds speak grace to our shame. These very wounds speak forgiveness to our guilt. This very wounds speak freedom to the very part of us that deserves to be put into chains.

This is not the judgement day or reckoning that we expected. This is the deepest and most profound grace directed toward our most deep and profound evil. The initial encounter with the risen one who might very reasonably have been feared brings relief. That relief stirs in us profound and lasting joy.

This is the beginning of a new world with the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation. Where we could only imagine a victim demanding vengeance and making victims out of violators we find hope for the end of the vicious cycle of violence and historical evil. As we receive his inexplicable forgiveness we can pass it on and forgive as we have been forgiven. We can love much as we have been so deeply and concretely loved by him. Easter is such a relief! Easter is the beginning of a new story and new Being in the world. A new heaven and a new earth are being ushered in and this is really good news! It is such a relief isn't it?

April 18, 2014

Good Friday

Illustration by Jon Dengler
David wrote and posted this last year for Good Friday. It is worth reading again. and again. and again. Enjoy. 

Today Christians remember the torture, execution, and burial of Jesus Christ, and we call it Good Friday.

Today we recall that he who had power became weak. He whose voice spoke truth and grace was insulted, mocked, and spat upon. He lived as a homeless wandering heretic and he died as a criminal and an outcast. He became a cautionary tale for any would-be prophets with illusions of grandeur.

God crucified does not look much like we might imagine God enthroned would look. Instead, he looks like those with whom he spent most of his time during his ministry. And he makes a direct association with them, saying "...as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me." He identified with their exile, with their nakedness, with their need, and with their pain.

No longer can we look on those who suffer and be content to think "It's their own fault." For he who was without fault was made to suffer unjustly. No longer can we avoid the glance of an outsider, for he numbered himself among them. No longer can we despise the poor, wretched sinners, for where else should we expect to find God? He is with us poor, wretched sinners in a way that is scandalous and horrifying and we call it Good.

“When God becomes man in Jesus of Nazareth, he not only enters into the finitude of man, but in his death on the cross also enters into the situation of man's godforsakenness. In Jesus he does not die the natural death of a finite being, but the violent death of the criminal on the cross, the death of complete abandonment by God...He humbles himself and takes upon himself the eternal death of the godless and the godforsaken, so that all the godless and the godforsaken can experience communion with him.”  -Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God

April 17, 2014

Maundy Thursday

Jesus and the disciples gather in the upper room to share together in the Passover Seder together. As they begin Jesus removes his clothes and wraps a towel around his waist. He fills a basin full of water and begins to wash each of the disciples feet and dry them with the towel he was wearing. When he comes to Peter he is stopped and told "You, Lord, will never wash my feet." Jesus replies "unless I wash your feet you have no place here with me" and peter relents. After washing each of their feet Jesus asks them if they understand what He has done for them. He explains "You call me teacher and Lord, and rightly so, for that is what I am and if I, your Lord and teacher took the posture of a servant to wash your feet you should do this for one another" You see "No servant is greater than his master...and I am not too good to take the role of a servant for you" He continues "I have done this as an example for you and you should to as I have done."

Till this day we have repeated and remembered the supper that would follow. We celebrate it in churches all over the place. We rehearse and recall Jesus who took that Seder matzah, the unleavened bread of affliction (Duet 16:3), broke it and said "This is my body which is broken for you." We reflect also on the cup of wine which he took after dinner and said "This is my blood, the blood of the covenant, it is shed for the forgiveness of sins. Drink it all of you." We celebrate this meal and remember his body that was broken for us as often as we gather to break bread together.It has become, for communities of followers of Jesus, a sacrament. 

I love and cherish the table and mean no critique of this practice in the question that follows. My question, however is, what about the washing of feet? What about the master taking the form of a servant or slave and telling his disciple explicitly that it was an example that He wants them to follow? Have our communities echoed this part as faithfully as the other? Have we developed a habit and sacrament of wiping the filth of others onto ourselves? Have we stripped off the garments of lords and teachers and taken on the outfits and posture of lowly servants? Have we taught others to do the same? By our example? 

As I ask these questions I cannot help but think of the attitude of Jesus that Paul called his followers to have in his letter to the Philippians. He wrote in chapter two verses 3-8:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a slave,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Obedience started in humility and in taking on the form of a servant, then finally it ended, or was fulfilled, in His obedience to death. It seems that we still sometimes cry out to God about taking on the posture of a servant with the same cries that Jesus did about facing His execution:
Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me
For those of us who would call ourselves disciples of Jesus this cup will not and should not be taken away but rather taken gladly as medicine. As we cry about serving the way he cried about dying may we finish our cries as he did, with the words of surrender:
Yet not as I will, but as you will.

April 16, 2014

Spy Wednesday, Holy Waste & The Poor Will Always Be With You

There is story associated with this day in the Holy Week that is a very special story to me. The story is found in the fourteenth chapter of Marks gospel. In Jerusalem on the high holy days of Passover we see political and religious leaders seeking and scheming to arrest, condemn and kill Jesus. Then in the end of this vignette we see Judas, one of the twelve, a man from Jesus own community and one under his leadership conspiring to betray Him. Between the tension of these book ends we here those familiar words of Jesus "The poor will always be with you"

Below is the text from Mark and a talk I gave some time ago on this important passage. enjoy.

Mark 14 Now the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were scheming to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. 2 “But not during the festival,” they said, “or the people may riot.”3 While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.4 Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? 5 It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.6 “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. 8 She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. 9 Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”10 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them.11 They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him money. So he watched for an opportunity to hand him over.

April 15, 2014

Great Tuesday

This is the second post in a Holy Week series click here to read the first

The next day, after flipping tables in the temple, Jesus enters the Temple again. He is confronted by the chief priests and elders about his actions and his teachings. They ask him "Who gave you the authority to do these things?!" Jesus, as is his style, doesn't answer directly but asks them a question in return. He says "I will tell you that if you tell me this one thing, was John's baptism from heaven or was it simply of human origin?" This question stumps them because they know that if they say that John was a prophet he will just ask why they didn't believe him and if they say he was not a prophet the people will revolt, for they all revered him as such. So like any good politician they take neither stance and simply say "I don't know" to which Jesus replies "then neither will I tell you by what I authority I do what I do."

We often stop reading there but Jesus continues and asks them "What do you think about this? A Man has two sons; he went to the first and said, "Son, go and work in the vineyard today." The son says "no" to his father but later feels bad, changes his mind and goes out and does the work. The father asked the second son to do the same thing and that son said "Of course, sir. I will." but then he does not go and do anything. Jesus then asks these religious leaders "Which son did the will of his father?" They answered him "The first." Jesus then says "I am seriously telling you the truth when I say that the tax collectors and prostitutes (read all these people you consider terrible sinners) are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. John came to you in righteousness and you did not believe him, but they did, and even after you see what that has meant for them you will not change your minds and believe him?" 

John had said very clearly to religious leaders who came to him "Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." Your religious piety, your services and your rituals are the empty words of the second son. You do not do the will of the Father, and you do not take care of his sheep, his children, the family that he loves. Jesus continues his assault as he tells another story of a landlord whose tenants kill everyone he sends to collect fruits of the harvest, finally even killing his own son. He asks them "when the owner comes what will he do with those tenants?" Still seeming to not get this is outright accusation the answer "He will put those wretches to a miserable death and lease the vineyard to better tenants" As if to say you are exactly right Jesus just quotes Psalm 118 with those familiar words: "The stone that the builders refused has become the head cornerstone" He then continues "Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produce the fruits of the kingdom." Dang. 

Those first sons, who's lives seem to say no to God, but who love and forgive and share and cry and look up and know that they are desperate, they are the ones to whom my kingdom belongs. These are the children he is defending when he flips those tables, these are the children he is stopping to heal, and these are the children who cry out "Hosanna!"

Today we see Jesus continue to go push and push on the establishment which will inevitably lead to his execution. He does not back down or shy away in speaking truth to power. Even in the parable he tells them about the landlord and the tenants he is pointing out that they and their ancestors have killed every prophet that God sent to them and that in the end will even kill his very son. Jesus knows exactly what he is doing and it is not what anyone expects. 

Let us each inspect ourselves today. Where do we set ourselves up as righteous and religious like the son who would say yes and yet do nothing? Who are the people that we see as terrible sinners? What might we have to learn from those 'terrible sinners' about Jesus' love and the Kingdom of God? Where have we refused to follow Jesus because it was to costly? Maybe it's not too late for us. Let's go do the work in His fields that he asked us to do. May we bear the fruit of peace and justice and mercy and faith, those weightier matters Jesus pointed the religious to stop neglecting. (Matthew 23:23)

Κύριε Ἰησοῦ Χριστέ, Υἱὲ τοῦ Θεοῦ, ἐλέησόν με τὸν ἁμαρτωλόν.
Lord Jesus, Son of God,  have mercy on me, the sinner. 

April 14, 2014

Holy Monday

Yesterday, on the liturgical calendar, was the day known as Palm Sunday. It is, in Western Christianity, the beginning of Holy Week. We remembered yesterday that triumphal entry when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a colt and was praised with cries of "Hosanna!" by the people who lay their coats and palms on the ground like a red carpet being rolled out for the king. Hosanna, this word that they shout is a shout of adoration but also a plea to be saved. Hosanna could be read as savior or save us, both of which convey this meaning. There is some hope in being rescued here, some prayer for liberation in these cries.

Jesus does not shy away from these shouts, he does not rebuke this praise, rather he proceeds forward into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, which Matthew points out is a prophetic gesture recalling the prophecies of Zechariah which read:

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
 I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
 and the warhorses from Jerusalem,
and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
His rule will extend from sea to sea
-Zechariah 9:9-10 

 This is the scripture that would come to mind for all of those in Jerusalem. This is why those who are desperate and poor and hurting and know that they need saved cry out to him "save us!" This is also why the priest and the scribes and the pharisees and all of those in religious leadership are appalled and cry out "Blasphemy!"

Today is known as Holy Monday. In Mark there is an event that takes place the morning after this entry into Jerusalem. and so today is the day that we remember that event. I personally like Matthews telling of it which does not fade to black or transition days but shows Jesus riding straight into the city of Jerusalem and entering immediately into the temple where he begins to raise hell. He sees tables set up to exchange the money of foreigners for a profit, he sees doves and other potential sacrifices being sold to the poor, and he sees religion being used by the powerful and the wealthy as a way to extort and exploit the faithful poor who have arrived to make offerings to their God. He sees this and he begins flipping tables and throwing their monies on the floor and screaming about theft in His Father's house.

In Matthews rendering of this story in chapter 21 of his gospel we see Jesus kicking over tables and turning to care for and heal the poor in this same act. He kicks over the tables of money changers in this famous and for some infamous exercise of judgement and authority. He chases thieves out of the temple in what seems to be his greatest exorcism yet and while doing that stops to heal what Matthew calls "the blind and the lame." If ever there is a place to point for an argument that He comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable it might be this passage.

As he flips table and comforts the hurting there are children screaming and echoing those cries they heard just outside the Temple doors "Hosanna! - Son of David!" The cries for salvation and liberation continue into the Temple and the chief priest and teachers of the law ask him indignantly "don't you hear what they are saying to you?!" He then turns to these religious elite, these leaders and teachers of Torah and asks them "have you never even read the Psalms?! Have you never read "From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise"?!"

After he has kicked over the tables and healed the sick and challenged the teachers of Torah he simply leaves to go camp in Bethany with his little band of revolutionaries. And so the stage has now been set, the challenge has been laid down, and the cross on which he is to be executed alongside other revolutionaries is now impending. And he goes to sleep.

As I reflect on this story today I am filled with awe at this Jesus who would even be interrupted from starting a revolution in the temple to comfort and heal the broken. I am in awe of this Jesus who would boldly speak truth to power and act just as boldly to embody those convictions. I am captivated by this Jesus who would act on behalf of others even when the cost would be his very own life. I am grateful for that very character to whom I cry out "Hosanna, Savior save me, rescue me, liberate us all!"

May this same Jesus disturb you where you are comfortable and comfort you where you are afflicted.