March 20, 2016
"Stay Close" by Pastor Fred
Reflection on Holy Week:
As in each of the four Gospels, the Gospel of Luke spends a large portion of its pages, maybe a quarter or even a third of them, just to tell one week of Jesus’ life, his last week. This Passion of Jesus – the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus – seals the meaning, of the life he has lived.
Today as we enter into Holy Week, God’s Word in the Passion is as familiar to our ears, as our liturgy’s of the Passion and Three Day’s services are, from year to year. We have heard the story before. So, let me be brief.
In Jesus final walk to the cross, what his Passion seals for us, is the meaning of our lives: Why we are here, and how God has structured our world, inviting us to abundant life, wherever we are, and to live our lives in the freedom and servanthood, of the arc of Jesus’ life, lived for us.
Here in Luke’s Passion, we feel acutely the tension between our closeness, and distance to Jesus, as we experience the way the disciples betray, deny and abandon their Lord.
Judas comes as close to Jesus, as any disciple, when he greets Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, with a kiss. But this kiss, which is traditional between friends, is instead a kiss of betrayal, signaling to the authorities ‘who’ to arrest and put on trial. In this intimate exchange, Judas destroys his role as disciple and friend, and he distances himself from Jesus, forever.
Peter too, battles against himself, in a tension between his fears and his bravado – his humanness and courage to remain faithful. After Jesus is captured and led away to be tried, Peter is the only disciple to still follow Jesus, and stay as close as he can. But in the courtyard of the High Priest, as Peter sits around the fire, he cannot even muster the courage to claim his discipleship. Instead, when asked, he denies he even knows Jesus, not just once, but three times. And as the cock crows, Peter is close enough, that Jesus turns and looks him in the eye – striking terror within him, as Peter remembers Jesus’ prediction of his denial. How far away must Peter have felt at that moment of shame!?
In each case, as close as Judas and Peter are, the distance of their faithless actions seems irrevocable. Yet, Luke reveals how Jesus remains radically present to us, even to those who would betray, deny, or cast derision upon him. Jesus offers himself as the forgiving servant to each of us, unlike the ways we expect and know from the world.
Every civilization of the world would have treated Jesus the same way the Roman empire did. Even ours! That, is the same familiar story year in, and year out, of every state.
So, the power of the Passion, and our Holy Week services, asks us to courageously pick a procession, and start walking. Which leader do we choose to follow? Or will we stand mutely by the side of the road, waiting for the stones to speak for us? What will the arc of our lives be? Holy Week invites us to set off on a strange journey, and make a great and holy noise. Will we keep our distance, or will we risk becoming disciples, Jesus’ closest followers, joining others of like mind and mission, our hand, in the hand of another? In our mouths, singing joyful hosannas together?!
The jealousies and betrayals of the Passion stories this week – from the Last Supper on Thursday, to stark humiliation of Good Friday’s cross, to the surprising in-breaking of God as we Vigil on Saturday – are real and true to life, and dangers are everywhere. And though we all have our failures, and may sometimes feel far from God – we discover that God is never far from us.
Let us walk as courageously as we can this week, all the way to the cross, and beyond.