Tag Archives: cross

Standing on the Border

26 Feb
Photo via Flickr user Mars Hill Church Seattle

Photo via Flickr user Mars Hill Church Seattle

It’s near impossible to think about Jesus as a slave, but this word is repeated in his death story enough to catch our attention. Jesus took on the form of a slave and died on the cross. People treated Jesus like he was less than human. He was disrobed and whipped and spat on and ridiculed and ultimately put to death like a common criminal. Like someone easily discarded. Like someone the world has forgotten, someone who doesn’t matter at all.

Jesus chose to really live as a human. He chose to really die as a human. He makes this brilliant move, a move our whole faith is centered around. Our God chose to die as a human slave, looking human darkness in the eye and suffering greatly so that we might love each other more deeply. He had to be a ransom. There had to be a real, tangible transaction. At the center of our faith is the cross. At the center of our faith is suffering, so at the center of our faith can be love.

Jesus’ death is hard to read about because it reminds us what we are capable of. Lent is a hard time because we have to come to grips with the darkness inside of us, the darkness in the center of society. We can say we’d never do it. We’d never put God on a cross. We’d never own another person. We can’t understand how people could make other people suffer so much for their own enjoyment.

Yet last week, Pope Francis brought our attention to injustice happening in our country on our watch. In the middle of our Republican primaries where talk of walls and immigration reform run free, Pope Francis ventured into no-man’s land between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez to pray for compassion toward immigrants before saying Mass in the Mexican border town. It was quite a moment. During his trip to Mexico and the border, he spoke of forced migration and the slavery of human trafficking, as well as poverty and corruption. It was a strategic trip with a powerful message for our country.

Sadly, slavery is still real. It still happens today on our watch in brothels, factories and fields. We support systems that value some lives over others. We are capable of putting God on a cross. Pope Francis, by standing between the US and Mexico to pray for compassion, is challenging us to look at the slavery of Jesus this Lent and reflect on its meaning for our own lives today.

 

 

Holy Week: Standing Things on Their Heads

16 Apr

Lent is a time of conversion, a time for changing ourselves and our actions as we strive to better live into our baptismal vows. Holy Week makes a fitting conclusion to this time of conversion, in that what we celebrate during Holy Week radically challenges the way we see the world, at times standing on its head things we thought we knew.

On Holy Thursday, we remember and celebrate Christ’s institution of the Eucharist meal, that is, Jesus taking bread and wine him during his last supper with his followers and friends and teaching his disciples about how to remember him. A memorable part of the Holy Thursday service is that the priest washes the feet of people from the congregation, mirroring Jesus’ action of washing the feet of his disciples before the meal. We may be so used to observing this foot washing on Holy Thursday that we forget how radical a thing it represents. In Jesus’ time, when sandal-wearing would have been prevalent, foot washing was part of hospitality. A home owner would provide a bowl of water and offer a servant to wash the feet of those who came to visit. Jesus, the son of God and leader of this group, takes the role of a servant, showing hospitality and waiting on his friends. In so doing, Jesus overturns the servant-master hierarchy, becoming the servant himself. In so doing, Jesus demonstrates that central to being a leader is serving others.

While the master-servant hierarchy crucial to the social order of Jesus’ time may seem far from our experiences, there are other hierarchies that mark relationships between people and groups of people in our time as well. Globally, we can witness a hierarchy between so-called First World nations and those nations of the two-thirds world; we also experience a growing gap between the rich and poor, a hierarchy that fed into the Occupy movements and events. What other hierarchies do you experience in your life and what can you do to reverse them? How can you live out the call to provide hospitality and service to others, particularly those who are in the greatest need?

On Good Friday, the focus of the liturgy is the cross. It is a solemn day; the altar is stripped bare and no organ plays, as people reflect on the meaning of the cross. Many churches practice the veneration of the cross, when people come forward to kneel before and touch or kiss the crucifix. Again, when we step back to reflect on this practice, what a seemingly odd thing it is to kiss an instrument of torture and death. Yet we do so not to glorify violence but to remember the cost of what Jesus did because of his love for all humanity. The cross reminds us that following Jesus is a path that requires sacrifice. Loving God and neighbor in a world of violence and sin may sometimes cost us dearly.

Unlike the earliest followers of Jesus, who were afraid for their lives because of their association with this man, in the U.S. today we can claim our Christian identity without fear of being persecuted for it. Or can we? Truly living our Christian identity in the midst of a consumer culture that propagates values at odds with Christian ideas of justice does necessitate sacrifice and may lead, if not to out and out persecution, to a strain in our relationships with those who feel comfortable standing firmly with the values of the broader society. What sacrifices have you made to follow Jesus and to show your love for God and neighbor?

As if the reversing of hierarchies and the call to follow the road of the cross is not enough to make your brain do flips, then comes Easter, when we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and the promise of new life. Death is not the end; raising Jesus from the dead, God shows us that love is stronger than any other force in the world. In our world, it is hard to believe this Easter message, so bombarded are we with images and stories of illness, death, violence, tragedy, and sinful interactions between people. Perhaps the most “Christian” thing we can do in our lives is to try to live not in sadness, hate, and fearfulness, but with bold joy, love, and hope, trusting that God’s love indeed has the power to do all things.

We Are Only Human: An Odd Comfort

9 Apr

There are three scenes in this Sunday’s Gospel that give me an odd sort of comfort. The first scene takes place in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus has gone to pray. We are not told this explicitly, but I get the sense that Jesus just needed to get away from it all at this moment, to be alone, to pray to God before facing what he was about to face. Jesus is honest with his disciplines, explaining to them that his “soul is sorrowful even to death.” Addressing God as Father, a term that was unusual for Jews to use during Jesus’ time, which indicates Jesus’ intimate relationship with God, Jesus prays, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.” Jesus first asks to be spared, but then in the next breath reaffirms his trust in God, indicating his willingness to follow God’s will and not his own.

via flickr user Solle

via flickr user Solle

This is a Jesus that I can relate to; this is a Jesus I know is there. At the times in my life when I have felt deep sorrow, the sort of sorrow that feels as if it will swallow you whole, I have felt the irresistible urge to be in contact with the ground. Prostrate on the floor, I have cried and prayed, prayed and cried, imagining that Jesus, too, once knelt on the ground in Gethsemane, in touch with the dust out of which human beings are formed and into which they will return. Of course, this does not take away the sorrow, but it helps somehow to know that Jesus felt something similar. It helps somehow to know that even for Jesus is was not always easy to follow God’s will. This Jesus gives me permission to ask God if things might be another way, all the while encouraging me to trust in God.

The second scene is a familiar one involving Peter, who is milling about in the courtyard outside the high priests’ chamber, waiting, we can suppose, for the results of Jesus’ trial with the Sanhedrin. Despite his testimony earlier in the evening that he would never deny Jesus, Peter vehemently argues that he does not know Jesus to not just one, but three different groups of people who ask him if he was been with Jesus the Nazarene. (Interestingly, the first two people to whom Peter makes his denial are a servant woman and a girl, who, because of their social and gender status, likely would not have been in a position to do him harm had he affirmed his relationship with Jesus.)

Unfortunately, this is a disciple that I can relate to all too well. Luckily, I live in a time and a place where I do not have to deny having a relationship with Jesus if I am ever asked about it point blank. And yet I wonder how often my actions speak louder than any words ever could a denial of my identity as a Christian. How often do I fail to extend charity to those who need it most? How hard it is for me to include in my busy schedule time to work for justice and peace in my community? There is an odd sort of comfort in knowing that Peter, someone who actually knew and gave his life to follow Jesus, was not always up to following the call. And Peter’s response when the cock crows offers me a clue as to what I need to do when I realize the ways in which I have not lived as a disciple lives: take time to mourn.

The third scene takes place on the cross. As people are gambling for his garments and taunting him to save himself, Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Scripture scholars have spent much ink debating about this cry of Jesus on the cross. From my perspective, it is an authentic cry of anguish. Yes, we know that the end of the story is resurrection, but in that moment, Jesus felt abandoned, alone, angry. And in expressing those emotions, in yelling out to God, Jesus gives us permission to do the same. We are allowed to be angry with God, to yell at God when we do not understand. It is okay because God is God, and God can take it. And again, while this does not take away our anguish, we can take comfort in the fact that Jesus can commiserate with us because he experienced these very same human emotions. This Jesus is not one who shies away from the hard emotions in life. This is a Jesus who walks with us through the valleys of death.

These three scenes could be seen as dark and depressing. Maybe they are dark and depressing for someone who has never felt deep sorrow, deep anguish, deep doubt, or deep fear. But I have felt all these things, and knowing that Jesus felt them and that some of his closest followers felt them makes me feel less alone on my journey of faith. And perhaps most importantly, these three scenes remind me that it is okay to be human because that is what we are. I do not have to be perfect, and I am not expected to happily and unquestioningly follow God’s will. The journey of faith does not only encompass mountain top moments but also valleys of despair and doubt. And Jesus is not only with us looking out at the amazing vistas; he is with us most especially when we cannot see our way forward.

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