Why, are the disciples in trouble? Because they’re backing up their promises with actions! The disciples were jailed overnight, after they were teaching in the Temple about the “rejected cornerstone,” Jesus. And standing right next to them, in the beautiful portico of Solomon, on the southern side of the Temple, had been the man who was paralyzed from birth, who had never stood up straight before! It was hard to say which was more offensive to the Temple leaders, the healed man, or Peter’s speech about a supposed Messiah, crucified, and raised from the dead. But the leaders were afraid to punish Peter & John, because they were so popular with the people for the act of healing they had done, and their public word, pointing to Jesus.
Yesterday, at the MCS Stewardship Conference, we heard a funny story about what happens when you don’t keep word and deed together. As the story goes, it was back in Reformation times when a group of princes were getting baptized in a German church, a baptism by immersion. And each of them as they were dunked under, held one arm up above water. Everyone thought that was a little strange at the time, but it wasn’t until later that they discovered their intentions. The princes had been thinking ahead to when they would be called into battle, and that that was the arm they would have to use to wield their swords. ‘This is our un-baptized arm,’ they said. ‘It’s okay!’ Sort of like crossing your fingers with your hand behind your back, I guess! Obviously, we can’t separate out our baptized life, in this way. The words and promises of baptism go together, and apply to what we do in our whole lives, all the time.
At their trial, the two disciples are given a chance to set the record straight, by which the leaders of Jerusalem expect they will renounce Jesus. But something had happened to them since the crucifixion and resurrection. As they reflected on it together in the upper room, they had been changed. Jesus had even told them that they wouldn’t have to worry what they would say when they were arrested and brought before rulers, for the Spirit would give them the words they needed. And now Peter, when asked “by what power or name he was doing this” preaching and healing, takes a deep breath, and it says, he was “filled with the Holy Spirit.” Only then did he launched into his, Jesus is the cornerstone speech.
The anachronistic irony of course is that, the Temple where Peter is speaking from in this story, has long since been destroyed, and both Jewish-Christian followers, and the Jewish leaders, have been dispersed for some 40 or 50 years by the time the book of Acts is written. Acts is written to a new community some distance away from Jerusalem. Both, Jewish-Christian, and Jewish believers, are frantically trying to figure out how to put their lives back together without a Temple, without the ark of the covenant safely tucked away at the center of the Temple, in the Holy of Holy’s.
Jews and Christians came up with slightly different answers to this question after 70 AD, and not just out of thin air! But for the Jews, by going back to the tradition of the Ark of the Covenant being mobile, when it led the people on their 40 year journey of faith, in the wilderness. Now, after a similar crisis, the Jews became a faith of the book, the Torah, worshiping in synagogues, on their new journey, everywhere, throughout the world.
And the Christians remembered how Jesus called the Temple his father’s house, and that, when he was asked for a sign of his authority Jesus said, tear down this temple and in three days I will raise it up. No one had understood this cryptic saying before his death. But one of the “aha” moments the disciples had afterwards in the upper room, was that Jesus had been talking about his resurrection. Jesus, the stone that was rejected by some, was for them, the cornerstone of a new and mobile temple. Jesus had backed up his words with one very large deed, in being raised! Jesus is our ark of the covenant, our light and salvation, our breath of life, going before us, like a Good Shepherd, to lead the way, 24/7, by night and by day.
I have been challenging the Church Council, and all of us this year, to be on the look-out for where God is calling Unity to go, in these days. Perhaps a special ministry, or a defining identity that centers and energizes us? If you asked anyone in Edgewater about Unity Lutheran Church, what would they say about us? Are we backing up our core values and vision, with an active mission? Who are we? What are we becoming?
One little example: I heard this story this week about a mobile food project and restaurant on wheels, Enemy Kitchen, the brainchild of Chicago-based artist, Michael Rakowitz. On his food truck flies an Iraqi flag and he serves Iraqi food. The chef’s are Iraqi too, Jawher Shaer and his two sons, who own and run Milo’s Pita Place, a nice little restaurant in Rogers Park. The four servers on the truck, on the other hand, are all U.S. veterans of the Iraq war. And so, through this Enemy Kitchen project, Rakowitz has been using Iraqi food and culture to break down cultural barriers for several years already. One of the veterans, Aaron Hughes, has added his own twist to the project. Hughes served at Guantanamo Bay, where he said he learned not to trust the prisoners, part of military training, of course, even though it has long since been proved that the vast majority of prisoners there had nothing to do with Al Qaida, and many were swept up as innocent businessmen themselves. Hughes remembers how he was offered tea daily by some of those prisoners, but he always refused. So now he’s on the Enemy Kitchen food truck, and instead of the usual street art that aims to shock, his “Tea” performance is pure hospitality. ‘Each evening at sunset he’ll unfurl an Iraqi prayer rug, fire up a hot plate and begin the time-consuming double-boiler method of traditional Iraqi tea service. When he’s done, he’ll hand passersby cardamom-scented black tea in Styrofoam cups that he adorns with arabesque flowers.’ (Time Out Chicago) At Guantanamo, you see, the prisoners are allowed to keep only one possession in their cells, a Styrofoam cup for tea, which each prisoner decorates by hand, usually with flowers.
This ministry of Enemy Truck, and act of societal healing, is a “good deed” that begs for a word of conversation – on our part – which was exactly the aim of creator Rakowitz.
Together, through our words and deeds, and in the name of “the one who laid down his life in order to take it up again,” healing can happen – in our neighborhood, in our world. Each week, we are energized at this table when we receive the bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ, and remember the powerful words and deeds of Jesus. And so, let us take a deep breath, and let the Holy Spirit fill us. Jesus promises to give us the words, if we live the deeds we’re being called to. Where is God calling you? Where is God calling Unity? Go, let us be healers, as Christ has healed us – loving our neighbors, and even our enemies – and the words we should say, will be given to us.
Our Eucharistic Prayer over the bread and wine concludes in this resounding crescendo: “With your holy ones of all times and places, with the earth and all its creatures, with sun and moon and stars, we praise you, O God, blessed and holy trinity, now and forever. Amen, amen, amen.” I like to think Earth Day has nothing on the church. That at the heart of the churches tradition, is care for the creation. That at our best, we understand that the human race, along with, all creatures, even sun, moon and stars, thank and praise, the “Author of Life,” as Peter calls Jesus, in our worship, and our work, in the world.
The communion liturgy, remembers the creating, redeeming, and life sustaining work of God, in the world. Specifically, we remember Jesus’ body and blood, given and shed for us in the bread and wine – and that it was during the Passover meal, with the sacrifice of an innocent lamb, and the deliverance and gift of freedom given, that Jesus also liberates us – and in the remembrance and presence of the gift, we eat and drink the meal of blessing, so that, we are freed from our bondage to sin and death, and saved and made alive, in Christ. And that it is not only us, singing God’s praise, but all creatures, and all creation, “with sun and moon and stars,” as Psalm 148 declares, sing too! It’s a song that reflects our high calling to care for God’s creation! Can we do this? Be this?
Earth Day began with idealistic dreams on April 22, 1970, under the initiative of Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson. Hoping to give legislative birth to Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” the Environmental Protection Agency came into being, and soon after, the passage of the Clean Air and Water Acts, that some say have saved hundreds of 1,000’s of lives, and, at the time, gave the 99%, protection, if not voice, in its caring for creation.
Originally, the passage of that legislation was a bipartisan effort, under a Republican President. Opposition, however, has only increased over time and coalesced into a movement whose success is bank-rolled by an emergent oligarchy – a caring for the 1%, more than creation, kind of movement. And so Earth Day will be another stand off resulting in no action – at least for climate change. Protests will run into the buzz saw of well organized climate deniers, who have bought and paid for, our elected leaders. There is an Earth Day celebration going on the National Mall in Washington DC as we speak, famous bands entertain, and speakers enlighten. And the Earth Day website urges us to join the “campaign for communities,” offering hundreds of suggestions for connecting up with people and resources to make a difference in your community. But who will speak for the earth as a whole, as our mother, who alone, silently, continues to pay the price for our sins of excess, as carbon emissions, among many other pollutants, continue to climb beyond safe limits? The Opposition is kicking her butt, if you’ll pardon my French, and winning!
Peter and John were familiar with the Opposition, and suffered for it – willingly suffered for it, if you take the book of Acts at face value. Joyfully, almost! Going to prison for it, but making friends and continuing to spread the good news, under guard! Before being arrested, however, they intended to come to a prayer breakfast, if you will, at the temple. Having recently baptized 2,000 new members, and agreeing to share “all things in common,” they “sell all their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need,” but they never make it to their prayer meeting. On the way, they run into a man on the street, paralyzed from the waist down.
Every day someone helped carry the man to the street corner near the temple so he could put out his hat to beg for some change, to eat. Unfortunately, Peter and John don’t have any cash on them. They gave it all away - donated everything to share with their church community! But, they do stop and, do what they can. Peter and John say to him, “look at us,” as they “stare” at him intently. And looking up, he expected the usual handout. But Peter said to him, “I don’t have a nickel to my name, but what I do have, I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk!” And taking him by the hand he helped him up, and his feet and ankles were made firm at the same time. And “he jumped to his feet,” it says, “and began to walk, and went with Peter and John into the temple where he was “dancing and praising God.” [The Message trans.] Others recognized him as the one they had passed outside everyday, and they were “astonished and amazed.” “And the man threw his arms around Peter and John,” it says, “ecstatic.”
When the leaders of the temple began to grumble and complain because the crowds were getting the impression that Peter and John had special powers, Peter begins his now second speech, in Acts. “Why do you wonder at this… as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk?” Don’t look to us, look to the power of Jesus, the servant of humanity, and the "Author of life.” He did this.
And this healing, was what got them thrown into prison! Bad men! Healing someone! Bringing to life that which was dead! And making a useful citizen out a man paralyzed from birth! But, that is how Opposition works. March for peace, and you get thrown in jail. Bring light to the darkness of our society, and you become a target. Opposition to the realm, and Spirit of God, is strong, and ever alert, to intimidate, shame and disappear!
But Peter and John were undeterred, and didn’t falter in prison – think Nelson Mandela, in our times. The light of Christ, and the gift of life in the resurrection, had enlivened them. Peter and John, who before the resurrection, couldn’t give speeches if their lives depended on it, now become a font of good news. Peter, the one who curtly denied Jesus three times, and John, the one who wanted special privileges from Jesus when he came into his kingdom, now speak with the same power as their servant-teacher, had. Though uneducated, they speak passionately from the heart. They laugh in the face of the Opposition, being alive in Christ, beyond fear!
As gospel-story, we see in the raising of the paralyzed man, how Peter and John see through what holds him down, and into his need to be re-created, not just given a hand out. In standing up to the opposition, they reject the way of privilege and self-preservation. The Author of life, writes us, more than a book, giving us the gift of life itself. We see in Jesus’ death and resurrection the way of life beyond death, not just heaven, but the understanding of a servant-vocation, and the freedom to live authentically, which we might call, the way of no fear – or faith. In Jesus, the Author of life, there is no death. Which is opposite of, the way of the Opposition, who desperately seek to hang on to their life, and so, sadly loose it.
Easter teaches us that “death has lost its sting.” In Christ, we banquet with the crucified, living one, singing with the saints, who are alive to us now, and with all the creatures, with sun and moon and stars. In this song, earth day can begin. Creation, put in it’s rightful order, is no longer our servant, but we serve it, and its Creator. For death no longer has dominion over us!
“Thomas, who was called the Twin, one of the twelve,” is an iconic figure. His questioning-unbelief, or doubting, is legend, even beyond Christianity. What remains a mystery, is, we don’t know who Thomas’ twin was? Nothing in scripture reveals it to us. Though, the creative conjecture today is that, we all know who Thomas’ twin is… we see him or her every morning, when we look in the mirror!
Thomas, it seems, isn’t one to just skip over the fact that the risen Jesus has died! Was buried even! Thomas isn’t jumping from Good Friday to Easter joy, without some proof, some connective evidence, to link death and resurrection.
We all have, or will, experience the death of a loved one. And though painful to our core, it can become, fruitful and life changing – but one dare not jump over the pain and loss, just because we are so well schooled in the resurrection. The dialog between Thomas and Jesus is instructive. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” Earlier, Jesus taught his disciples with a very earthy metaphor: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains a single grain. But if it dies it bears much fruit.”
Grief is a tricky thing! I will never forget the unfortunate faux pas of our bishop in the NGLS when we lived in the UP. At the wake for Kim’s mom, Tedi, Bishop Tom was nice enough to drive out of his way to pay his respects. But his theology of glory was not what Kim needed. And unfortunately for him, she would not let his office, or even death itself, hold her back from speaking the truth. And so when he led off with, ‘isn’t it great that we can hang onto the promise of the resurrection at times like these,’ he probably, after 15 years, should have known her better. Kim, with eloquence and unswerving focus, would let him know that that’s not what she needed, now. Now, as they stood side by side in front of her mother’s still, and casket-entombed body, Kim was clear that she needed to grieve and remember how Jesus had also died and was buried, and that he continued to carry the marks of the crucifixion in his hands and side, with him, forever. She needed the bishop to remember that we are all ‘dust and to dust we shall return’ – that the pain of loss is real. And the peace that Christ comes to bring us, is accompanied by those scabbed over hands that know the depth of our lives, and all our woundedness.
When our grief is deep, we need peace. Jesus, in his newly resurrected body, appears to the disciples, bringing them shalom. “Peace be with you,” he says. Jesus, understanding the disciples entombed fear, holed up in their hiding place, knew enough to connect the dots between his surprising appearance to them behind locked doors, and so immediately offers to show them his wounds from the crucifixion. And only then, paradoxically, do they rejoice! Oh, here is our Lord! Yes, what a relief to see his scars!
Not much makes sense in times of grieving. Nothing except perhaps, facing up to the pain, and loss, and realizing you can’t make it go away, even if you try. You can only go through the experience, one foot in front of the other. Loss and grief feel like being buried in the ground, and so we can only cling to the hope of Jesus’ promise, lean on friends who water and tend to us, knowing that seeds must first die, before they spring forth and bear much fruit.
“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains a single grain,” said Jesus. “But if it dies it bear much fruit.”
Thomas portrays the paradox of faith to us – Thomas our twin. We don’t demean his doubt, but we acknowledge his human struggle to come to terms with the new reality of the crucified one now resurrected – for we too are somewhere on the boundary of unbelief and becoming a believer.
And, the disciples will come around after they take time to face up to their pain and loss. In our Acts reading we find them a-ways on down the road, when they have already been transformed by this new life, gifted them by the glory of cross and resurrection. They have been united as fledgling-church now, by faith and trust, and this motivates them to restructure how they live together. In a word, they share. “They share all things in common.” Those who are more well-to-do “sell their property, lay it at the apostles’ feet, who distribute it to each as any had need.”
No one knows how long this may have worked, or to what degree it was followed. But Luke, the author of Acts, makes it clear that the Holy Spirit is directing them to form their community around this sharing principle. Today, politicians claiming to be the spokes-people for the bible, run this very principle down as godless, and insist out of thin air, that God wants us to have the unbridled freedom to be successful on our own, individually. Despite Acts Ch 4, and also Ch 2, and throughout the gospels, sharing for them, is some kind of class warfare. Those who are left behind, or left out of their circle of privilege, deserve it, it seems.
But what actually happened to the apostles, is that they faced up to their grief, and they remembered the mark of the nails their risen Lord had showed them. And in this way they came to know that the peace Jesus kept offering over and over to them, was not just a peaceful tranquility to cultivate in their private lives for their own personal betterment. But it was also a peace that was to be shared, and de-clared, to the whole world.
The risen Christ shows his wounds to us, because they are the root of God’s gift of forgiveness. Even in the face of death and painful brokenness, whether done to us voluntarily or involuntarily, we now see in Jesus, the one who is our innocent victim, the crucified Lord who comes back, not for revenge, but to gather his scattered flock – to forgive, that we too may forgive others. In the gift of peace, and the breath of the Holy Spirit from Jesus who has conquered death, we are offered a new way to relate with the world, and to all our sisters and brothers. We are given a grace sufficient to the unity of “heart and soul,” as Acts says. Inner peace begins to give way, to giving peace away – for others! As Martin Luther King liked to say, “justice denied anywhere, diminishes justice everywhere.” Such is Christ’s gift of peace, for all.
I am not advocating that you sell all your possessions and deposit them in our Unity coffers – that would be foolish of me! But I am saying, that when Jesus tells Thomas, “Do not become unbelieving, but believing,” he’s inviting us, the twins of Thomas, into the new life of the resurrection, a life of peace with justice, that does not retaliate, but learns the way of forgiveness and the way of the common good for society. In a word, sharing. When we do the grief work of facing up to the pain and loss we find all around us, it’s hard to ignore – sharing is not class warfare, but it’s the gift of life, the breathe and Spirit of Jesus, in our world.
P: Alleluia, Christ is risen! C: Christ is risen indeed, alleluia!
On this Easter morn, as darkness and grief turn to light and joy, the “good news” of Mark’s gospel is, Jesus is not here! None of the women, or men disciples, even get to see him. No one celebrates. And the women who encounter the handsome young angel and hear that Jesus is raised, run away in fear, saying nothing to anyone! Happy Easter! Sometimes a little distance – say 2,000 years – is a good thing!
Ann Tyler, one of my favorite authors, just came out with a new book called, “The Beginner’s Good-Bye.” The protagonist, who becomes a widower at age 35, says this in the book’s opening line, “The strangest thing about my wife’s return from the dead was how other people reacted.” No, the novel is not about the supernatural! If you know Ann Tyler, you know that wouldn’t be her thing. Her novels live in a world of the ordinary. She celebrates amateurs and novices, not experts. She’s sometimes called, the patron saint of misfits, always introducing characters that are either, awkward or shy, eccentric or mismatched. And the lesson of The Beginner’s Good-Bye, according to one reviewer, is that the widower learns how to say farewell, not just to his wife, but to the person he was when he was married to her – in a surprising transformation.
The beloved, eccentric and mismatched disciples, including many women who follow Jesus from Galilee, were shocked by the empty tomb on Easter morn. And, seized by chaos, they have no idea that they will learn how to say farewell, not only to Jesus, but also to the people they were, before they came to know their Lord in the flesh.
The Gospel of Mark’s ending is somewhat of a downer, by our contemporary standards. But that’s alright, because we can fill-in the joy that we need. Belly’s full from Easter Breakfast, “roast-something” in the oven for when we get home, the feast is here, the Lord is risen! No one will roll the stone back and entomb our joy! And here in this place we celebrate that. We are renewed and reformed into God’s people at the font, and we feast at the Lord’s table, simple fare by comparison, this bread and wine, yet extravagant too, knowing it is the gift of Jesus’ body and blood for us, and in consuming it, Jesus turns into energy for us, coursing through our blood stream, making us one with our brother and our savior.
So, is there any way to make sense of Mark’s surprising and fear filled ending, all these crazy centuries later? How do we dust off the ancient pages of scripture and square it with our reality? Certainly not by bopping each other over the head with the literal words of the “good book”, whether in English or Greek, Swedish or Swahili! But only in desiring and devouring the meaning of the words, the proclamation of the good news for our time, so that they may live in us, a pumping life-blood message which takes flesh in its real-time witnesses, you and I, then it can be resurrected once again, and becomes a story that changes the world!
This book of Mark confounded many a reader, from early on. So much so, that the copyists and keepers of the written manuscripts, began to add on more palatable endings of their own. Not surprisingly – because they didn’t understand the joy already embedded in it – they wrote happier, more traditional endings, mostly copying Matthew and Luke. And this time, made sure Jesus appeared to the disciples, and then ascended. Your bible at home probably has these alternate endings in them, without any note of explanation.
But the original ending is just how I told it to you today. That after the women hear the announcement, Jesus has been raised, and is going ahead of you to Galilee, …just as he told you, they went out and fled in fear and amazement, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
If that doesn’t affect you in some way, confound you, give you pause about the faith and religion you have been baptized into, the realm and kingdom of God that you represent every time you walk out into the world, then, we have a problem, Houston! Mark wants us to feel that something is not quite right! That the women say nothing to anyone should worry us. How will the message get through? There’s no business or government agency, no army or non-profit that will exist for very long if the vital messages of the organization aren’t communicated well!
Mark’s ending is not a story to be put on the shelf and forget, but it affects us, changes and turns us, and calls us to react. Mark’s ending challenges us, to be the ones to go and tell someone. “Go spread the news,” our Hymn of the Day urges, “he’s not in the grave. He has arisen this world to save.”
And so the ending, creates the possibility for a new beginning. In fact, it’s the only way out of the tomb! Jesus has been pointing to it in this story all along, but standing in the shoes of the disciples, we seem to have ignored it, just as they disbelieved it! Jesus told them plainly, he must suffer and die, and on the third day be raised. Jesus told them he would go ahead of them, back to Galilee, where they would find him again. Mark’s ending is not a failure, or somehow, badly written. Mark’s ending is a challenge to be inspired, eternally pointing us back to the beginning to re-read the story for all the parts we first missed. What is the good news, again? Who is this Jesus, Son of God? The ending is a new beginning, just as our lives, baptized in Christ, are remade and redeemed by this transformative cross of daily forgiveness and renewal, our public coming out, because every part of us has been reconstituted and raised up.
And so we might call this story, The Beginner’s Good-Bye. We say farewell, not only to Jesus at the empty tomb, but we say good-bye to who we have been before – before we knew the crucified one, now raised. We let go of selfish, short-sighted desires, so that we may truly desire what brings joy in our world, the light and life of Christ. We let go of fear, addictions, and hatred, and find self-respect, forgiveness and growth in faith. We find that we are a new self, alive, because “He is risen.” We find in our neighborhoods new possibilities for life, because “he has gone before us,” to occupy the places we live in. The real ending of Mark is grounded in the real-ity of our own human fears – while pointing to the way where true joy is found, in the new life of the risen Christ.
We gather around the cross tonight, symbol of life overcoming death, and remember and give thanks for its power to unite us. The cross, in its multi-layered diversity of meaning, for me, and you, and for all, is the most universal of Christian symbols. To adore it, is to enter deeply into its meaning for our own lives. And in this most stark, and empty, and forsaken of nights, we find buried in the root and stump of this tree, life everlasting, a gift of God to the world.
But looking on the cross can also recall nightmares of the violence, first of all to Jesus its innocent victim, but also the visions of the violence we have encountered in our lives, and throughout history. These echo’s of hurt, anger, misappropriated power, war, and countless spin offs of violence passed on down through believers and non-believers alike, sober us in the shadow of Jesus’ cross. For God has made Jesus’ cross a living, breathing word, not a moment locked in time, but a liberating word addressed to this violence, and especially sacred violence, the kind of violence we declare good and so sanction, on our behalf, but which is revealed by the cross itself as unacceptable, not of Jesus, and the life-giving power of the trinity.
So, what catches my ear in the passion of John reading this year, is the comment by the gospel writer, just as Jesus is brought to be tried before the Sanhedrin. In a little aside we almost miss, it says, “Caiaphas, the high priest that year… was the one who had advised the Jews that it was better to have one person die for the people, than to have the whole nation destroyed. He prophesied that Jesus was about to die … not for the nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God. So from that day on they planned to put him to death.” (John 18.14 & 11.50f.)
A perfect example of sacred violence, by the way. One person, a scapegoat - in this case, Jesus - is to be offered up to keep the peace for the greater society. And so, the high priest, Caiaphas, plots against his own kin. Jesus' execution will passify the Roman overlords from taking action against the whole of the nation of Israel. Never mind that Jesus is actually God’s appointed high priest for Israel, the true king, and Son of God! By sacred violence, one carefully calculated crucifixion can unite a restless society, at least for the moment, until the next time.
And so, the cross unveils all these multi-layered levels and drivers of violence, that live in and around us, exposing our complicity with the crowds who shouted “crucify him.” But also revealing the seed of faith growing inside us, the deep root of God’s gift of life in a new world of forgiveness, the turning from, death to life, from sacred violence to justice and non-violence. The cross is our best friend, and also the most revealing mirror of our hearts.
So, you can understand how the vigil around the cross this night is not strictly speaking, attractive, and may even repel. But such a mirror is necessary to gaze into, if we are to learn forgiveness and the way of the cross.
For, love conquers violence, and looking up to the cross unveils the scapegoating mechanism that has perpetrated the brokenness and violence we do to one another. In the cross, we are turned and transformed and offered “a way out of no way,” a way to the realm and kingdom of God, blooming forth with a fragrance and beauty like no other, in this, our tree of life.
As we continue our service tonight and tomorrow in the Easter Vigil, we have prayers to offer and faith work to do. How will we hold ourselves accountable to this remarkable power found in the cross which turns and transforms the whole world? Let The Three Days continue, as we glory, this Good Friday, in the life-giving cross of Christ.
Jesus’ death and resurrection are a gracious gift of God, beyond our ability to completely apprehend. Yet baptized in Christ we ourselves embody this gift, living it fruitfully for others. We cannot accomplish our own salvation; yet we are living examples of new life for the world. These polarities, which inform our core values, we hold in tension by faith. We believe Jesus died - to save us. That he was lifted up - to conquer the world’s brokenness. A contradiction? Or a holy mystery? As doctrine - folly to the world. As lived out in the Body of Christ, - the spirit in all created things are enhanced for the life of the world.
In the night in which he knew Peter would deny him three times, Jesus got down on his hands and knees in an act of loving service to wash Peter’s feet. Perhaps here is the place to begin! Here is the story of the Passion in miniature.
Peter will turn away, be torn from Christ this night, instead of following. Jesus tells him plainly ahead of time, but without rancor. When Peter asks Jesus, “‘Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus answered, ‘Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterward.’” That is, later on, after the passion, Peter will find his voice, he will follow and become a leader of others.
Jesus - denied and betrayed by us - must go all the way to the cross, that we will be changed, that we will be redeemed, and that we will desire to follow. Afterward! Jesus turns us, to desire what is life-giving, by giving his life.
So after the meal -this last supper together- Jesus gives them a sign; a promise, a gift of hope, which they don’t quite understand or appreciate at the time, but which will sustain them, later. This Foot Washing! And if you think about it, who wouldn’t want to have their tired and dusty ol’ feet washed and cared for?
In my baby book, there is a picture of me getting washed in the kitchen sink as an infant. And each of my siblings have a similar snap shot in their book. I’m guessing they make something out of plastic now-a-days, something safer for baby baths? But then, it was simply sitting in the porcelain sink, with only a parents hand to cradle you. I have no recollection of that first bath, lovingly gifted me by my mother, but whenever I look at the photo, the action is unmistakable. Helpless, not yet fully formed, totally dependent – parents do all the giving, granting life or death each day, washing us clean and preparing the way for what is to come afterward – later, when we will understand and be able to grasp hold of the desire to be life-givers too, to wash our own children, and share the new commandment Jesus gave us, to love one another.
Jesus, about to be betrayed, denied, and crucified, by us, loves us to the end, and gives us a simple gift, a foot washing, the gift and sign of a new day, if we but come and journey with him, all the way, through cross and resurrection. We are Peter, promising to stand by our man, our woman, and then somehow, as things turn out differently than we’d expected, we find ourselves fleeing away, abandoning, instead of what we had desired, in all good faith.
But love, Jesus’ love, does not desert us, but always cradles us and holds us steady. We cannot always depend on parental love to be gracious and pure, to guide and protect us in our years of dependency and maturation. So in Jesus, our true brother and teacher, we learn what confession and forgiveness, laying on hands and absolution, really are.
In the foot washing we have the Gospel in miniature. It is not a requirement, to be washed, but only a gift. A loving gift we are now able to offer one another as a sign of the forgiveness we have in Jesus, the blessed message and meaning, of the cross and resurrection, which saves and transforms the whole world.
I’m going to “give him a piece of my mind” when he gets here. But first I’ll give him a big hug!
The mother had just got off the phone with her son, in tears of relief. The son had gone AWOL over-night, and he’d never done that before. He was too old for a curfew now, she knew, but he was generally home before midnight, anyway. And, if something unexpected came up, he usually called, which made it all the more worrisome this time. Maybe he just had a new love interest, or maybe he was in trouble. She was thinking the worst, couldn’t sleep, swinging back and forth between rage and denial! How many of us have been there, either as a parent or a child before!
Finally he did call in the wee hours of the morning, and she was relieved he was safe. He had gone with a friend to help him move his stuff out of his old apartment, to his new place. Only, the friend didn’t tell him the reason he was moving was because he was trying to get out of the gang he just got involved with. The friend’s cousin at the apartment was also in the gang, and when he saw what was going down, he called his homie’s – you can’t just quit your gang. And even though the friend packed in a hurry, just as they were driving away, the gang’s enforcers were coming down the block at the same time. And spotting them, they started shooting. The back window was hit and shattered, but otherwise the son and his friend made their get-a-way. When they were out of the hood, he finally called his mom, who was upset about her car – but happy to hear from him, considering! She would “give him a piece of her mind,” when he came home, but first she’d give him a big hug, because, he was alive, after all!
Paul writes in our 2nd reading from Philippians, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…” Paul knows, Jesus wants to give us a piece of his mind. He has a right to be frustrated and angry with us, but what he really desires for us, is all to be one, united in him, in the mind of Christ, to turn and transform us into, a people of faith, who serve others – like Jesus, who “emptied himself,” as a “humble” servant, “becoming obedient to the point of death…” Jesus wants to give us a piece of his mind, but first he gives us a big hug – the gift of life!
Many of you, I know, have been taking time in the Lenten Prayer Area, and trying the spiritual exercise of “Letting Go.” This is an exercise that is not to be taken lightly. Jesus, too, had to let go, or “humble” himself, as he went to the cross not knowing, but trusting, that his disciples would be his Body in the world, when he was gone. Trusting that they would find and accept “the piece of mind” he was offering.
And it’s not like Jesus was a passive push-over, in letting go. He didn’t, close his eyes and make a wish, that God would take care of everything. Jesus first did everything in his power, applying all his talents, engaging the world in healing, teaching, being prophetic in his preaching, and enacting his message in signs and miracles. It was a risky venture – this trusting. A typical example is when Peter, with great passion, confessed Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ, but then took issue with Jesus, that this meant he would have to suffer and die – for that Jesus rebuked him in the strongest possible way! The disciples kept struggling to get it. And so, even at the Last Supper, having lovingly prepared the Passover meal, Peter and the 12 again misunderstand the Passion. And, in the Courtyard, Peter’s third denial, just as Jesus predicted before the cock crowed twice, is heartbreaking, “I do not know this man you are talking about,” and I guess that sums it up – he doesn’t yet know Jesus as the one who, became our servant, who humbled himself, and became the Lamb of God, to forgive the sin of the whole world.
Yet still, Jesus lets go of trying to control Peter and the 12, and stays focused on the mission God calls him to, one of faith and trust. Was Jesus angry with the disciples? Is Christ ever angry with us? “Let the same mind be in [all of] you that was in Christ Jesus.” Jesus wants to give us “a piece of his mind” – and no doubt we deserve it at times! But instead of forcing, controlling or berating us, even as he was so treated, he gives us, the peace which passes all understanding, the gift of freedom and grace, to turn and live a new life in him, the way of trusting one another, by staying focused on our mission.
Wherever there is lack of trust, an abuse of power, a failure to live as a servant, sin and brokenness enter in, and disrupt the life and growth in the Spirit we need for a healthy society, a healthy church, a healthy neighborhood. Jesus had to let go, and trust – trust the 12 disciples, the many women followers from Galilee who were at the cross, and the untold others Jesus touched along the way. Jesus gives us “a piece of his mind,” which unites us in faith, love and forgiveness, which forms us as a community of servants, the true power of God, we find hidden in the cross.
In his passion – in his loving act of trust in God, and in us – Jesus gives us “a piece of his mind”. And what that looks like, is the picture of a mother embracing her son, who risked his life for his friend, and, came back to tell about it.