Sunday, April 18, 2010

Post-Resurrection Experiences

Third Sunday of Easter – Year C (RCL)
Acts 9:1-6, (7-20); Psalm 30; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19
Sunday, April 18, 2010 – Trinity, Redlands

In today’s Gospel reading we have John’s last reported encounter between the Risen Christ and his disciples, sometime after the encounter between Christ and Thomas, which we explored last week. Seven of the remaining eleven disciples are hanging out at the Sea of Tiberias, possibly for a little R&R. After all, they are overwhelmed by the events of the previous week or so – Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, their last Passover meal with Jesus, his betrayal by Judas Iscariot, Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, his trial before Pontius Pilate, his flogging and humiliation, and then his crucifixion like a common criminal at Golgotha. And then, as if all that weren’t enough, three days later, Jesus was resurrected, and appeared several times to various of their number. This was almost more than a group of simple fisherman from Galilee could take. They need to take a break from all this disciple stuff. And what better way to do that than to return to some semblance of normalcy, something safe and comfortable, to go back to what they had done before this wild ride began three years before. So they return to the seaside and go fishing.

But alas, they aren’t going to get much of a break. For Jesus manages to track them down even here. What ensues is really three short stories that are woven together to create a larger tapestry. At first Jesus shows up but the disciples don’t recognize who he is – just like all the previous post-resurrection appearances. The disciples have been fishing all night but have caught nothing. So, Jesus offers some advice on fishing technique. And in so doing, he also provides a miracle resulting in the catching of a great number of fish – 153 to be exact. In this miracle the disciples recognize who he is. In the second scene, the disciples have finished bringing their great haul of fish ashore. And there is Jesus, waiting for them. And he’s even cooked breakfast for them, providing them with much needed and appreciated sustenance. And in the third scene following breakfast, we have the famous exchange between Jesus and Simon Peter in which Jesus asks three times if Peter loves him, and each time, with increasing frustration, Peter responds that of course he loves Jesus.

On the surface, this may seem just another encounter between the Risen Christ and his disciples, complete with miracle, meal, and mentoring. But what is presented is really much more than that. It is really an epilogue to the Gospel According to John. And like most epilogues, it serves to wrap up the entire story presented thus far. Or in this case, it doesn’t so much wrap up the story as it reveals that the story really does not end, but continues, and what we are to expect in its continuation. In this respect, the story is not so much about Christ’s encounter with the disciples as it is about our encounter with the Risen Lord. In this, the disciples are stand-ins for us. The disciples merely portray how the Risen Lord will, and does, work in the lives of those who carry on the story. And that would be us.

As I see it, the totality of today’s Gospel reading provides us with an overarching lesson about our relationship with our Risen Lord. And each of the three component stories provides us with a more specific characteristic of that relationship.

Probably the most significant lesson about our relationship with the Risen Christ is revealed in the way in which he enters into the Gospel story. Namely, the Risen Christ breaks into our everyday lives, meeting us wherever we’re at in any given moment, even though, like the first disciples, we may not recognize his presence. Just as Jesus came to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias where they were fishing, be it recreational or for purposes of earning a living, so too the Risen Christ breaks into our lives and is present to us not only in church on Sundays, not only in our times of prayer and private devotions, but even in our times of recreation, times with our families and friends, and even while we are at work. Prior to his crucifixion, Jesus promised his disciples and all who would be his followers that he would be with them always. That is part of what it means to be the Body of Christ – as members of that Body, with Christ as its head, we are always connected with him, he is always with us. Now, more often than not, we don’t necessarily realize it. We may not be consciously aware that Christ is with us. Not unlike in our Gospel reading when Jesus shows up at the Sea of Tiberias but the disciples do not initially recognize who he is. Of course, nowadays, Christ does not generally appear to us bodily, but in other forms. That makes it even more difficult to recognize him. Certainly he is there, dwelling within us in and through his Spirit. But he is also present to us in more external ways – most notably through other people. In his Rule, St. Benedict discusses how one of the keys to our spiritual lives is to be open to seeing Christ in those whom we encounter. But whether we recognize him or not, Christ is always in our lives, always present, always available.

Each of the three mini-stories comprising today’s Gospel reading provides a lesson that exemplifies the ways in which the Risen Christ is present to us and active in our lives.

In the first story Jesus shows up and learns that the disciples, despite having fished all night, have not caught any fish. He tells them “cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” And with that “advice” the disciples catch so many fish that they are not able to haul in the net. Now he doesn’t always provide miracles in our lives, but the Risen Lord does continue to guide us in our lives. This guidance is provided in more formal ways through Scripture and through the teachings of the church, through educational programs and worship experiences. And it is provided in more informal ways through our connections with each other; in the ways we counsel, support, and challenge each other; in the ways we help each other discern our callings, and in holding each other accountable for living the Gospel.

In the second story, the disciples finish their fishing adventure and come ashore, where they find that Jesus has been busy cooking breakfast for them. This demonstrates that the Risen Lord continues to bless and nourish us. While not always nourished in a physical senses, although sometimes food and drink given us can seem as if a blessing from God, most of our blessings and nourishment come through spiritual means – through the presence, comfort, and guidance of the Holy Spirit. One of the particular ways in which we continue to be blessed and fed directly by our Risen Lord is every time we gather around God’s table to make Eucharist. In this meal, the simple elements of bread and wine become for us the Body and Blood of Christ. In partaking of these elements, though providing only a mere taste with a token of physical nourishment, we are provided with spiritual food and the gifts and graces that nourish us for the continuing ministry that Christ has called us to.

And in the third story, Jesus asks three times if Peter loves him. This exchange is often seen as a parallel to Peter’s earlier threefold denial of Jesus, in which Jesus is rehabilitating Peter, testing his conviction, redeeming his previous unfaithfulness. This exchange is also sometimes seen as Jesus’ commissioning of Peter, and calling him to the ministry and the faithfulness that Jesus knows Peter is capable of. Regardless of Jesus’ specific intent in questioning Peter three times about his devotion, it is clear that even in light of the fact that just a week or two before Peter had denied his Lord and Master three times, Jesus is giving Peter another chance. Jesus knows where Peter’s true heart lies, where his true devotion lies, and is willing to overlook past indiscretions and allow Peter to grow into his true calling. So too, with us the Risen Lord does not focus on the past, on where we may have fallen short or royally messed up. Instead, he is able to see deep within us to what we are capable of, to see where our true devotion lies. And because he is willing to look beyond past mistakes, he gives us all second chances. And third chances. And fourth chances. And as many chances as we need. All he asks is that we take responsibility for the ways in which we have fallen short, recognize how we have failed, and to sincerely work to turn ourselves around and try to get back on the right path.

As the Great Fifty Days of Easter progress, we continue to explore the ways that the Risen Christ manifested himself to his disciples, providing them with the final instruction they would need as they prepared to continue the ministry Jesus had begun, as they prepared to carry the Gospel out into the world. The words he spoke to the first century disciples, the lessons he attempted to impart, are also meant for us, the 21st century disciples who continue in our own day the ministry Jesus began. Even though he is no longer physically present, even though he no longer makes regular post-resurrection appearances to us, he is with us nonetheless – breaking into our everyday lives, guiding us, feeding and nourishing us, giving us all the chances we need to live into what he is asking us to do in his name. For the Easter story does not end with the cessation of Christ’s post-resurrection appearances to his disciples. The story continues right up to the present, and is being constantly played out as the Risen Lord makes his presence felt and known in the lives of each and every one of us. In that, we are all witnesses to post-resurrection experiences, if we just take a closer look.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Read more!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Blessed Are Those Who Question

Second Sunday of Easter – Year C (RCL)
Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 118:14-29; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31
Sunday, April 11, 2010 – Trinity, Redlands

“Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (Jn 20:29)

When you consider this statement by Jesus in light of how everyone has reacted thus far to the various resurrection appearances, it’s nothing short of a miracle that we are even here today. Everyone who witnessed a post-resurrection appearance of Christ initially had a hard time believing what they were experiencing. We start off on Easter morning with Mary Magdalene going to the tomb and finding it empty. After telling the disciples, she has a direct encounter with the Risen Lord, but she does not recognize him until he calls her name. Once she has the confirmation she needs that it is indeed her Master, she runs and tells the disciples what she has experienced. But later that evening, when the Risen Christ appears in their midst as they hid in fear in a locked room, they don’t seem to recognize him, even though Mary has told them that Jesus had indeed risen. Only when he speaks and shows them the wounds in his hands and his side do they recognize him. When they tell Thomas what had happened, that they have seen the Risen Lord, he doesn’t believe them. He needs to see for himself. A week later, he gets his wish. Jesus appears to him and invites Thomas to touch his wounds. Without even having to touch them, he knows that this is indeed his Master. None of them – Mary, the ten, or Thomas – initially believe, despite the facts that they are Jesus’ closest companions, despite the fact that he had prepared them for this, telling them on more than one occasion that he would be killed in Jerusalem and then would be raised up on the third day.

What I particularly find amazing is that despite his own followers, those who knew him best, having a hard time believing his resurrection, that so many people afterwards came to believe. If the eyewitnesses to the resurrection had such a hard time believing, how could those who had not been there be expected to believe? Mary and the disciples were ultimately able to believe because they saw the Risen Lord, had direct contact with him, were able to verify that he was who he said he was, that what he claimed had indeed happened. “Have you believed because you have seen me?” Well, yes.

We don’t know for sure how many people actually had first-hand experiences of seeing the Risen Lord. Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians tells us that in addition to the eleven disciples, he appeared to “more than five hundred brothers and sisters” (1 Cor 15:5-8). But despite only appearing to a total of, say six hundred people max, many more people than that have believed. In the time since Christ’s resurrection, literally billions of people have believed in the Risen Lord, despite not having first-hand knowledge, despite having no proof. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” To me, this is truly a miracle.

When I hear Jesus’ words, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe,” I cannot help but think of a former co-worker of mine. Karen was one of the staff biologists at the consulting firm I used to work for. She was a top-notch scientist, but also struggled with issues of faith. She had been raised Roman Catholic, but had drifted away from the church sometime earlier in her life. It was during the early years of my friendship with Karen that I had a re-awakening or a renewal of my faith journey. It was during this time that I found the Episcopal Church and was launched headlong into parish life and intensive exploration of my own spiritual path. Karen was aware of all of this and we would often have conversations about religion and spirituality. Being the consummate scientist, I think some of this was a challenge for Karen. Once she set her mind on figuring out or understanding something, she was tenacious. And while she saw no conflict between science and religion, I think she tried to approach religion from a more scientific, rationalistic perspective to seek answers, which just didn’t work. This was a cause of great frustration for her. Karen and I were very much alike in a lot of ways. Professionally we were both in fields that required logical, orderly approaches to issues and problems. And I think what was frustrating for her was that I was somehow able to suspend my engineering brain when it came to matters of religion and faith, whereas she did not quite know how to do that. On more than one occasion she would say to me that she saw how important my faith was to me and that she wished she could have that experience, too. She would ask me how she could “get” what I had.

I felt so helpless. I really wanted to help her, but didn’t know how. All I could tell her was that the expression of faith is unique to the individual and that we all have our own path to realizing that. As such, there is no way I could know, let alone tell her, what was right for her. All I could do was invite her to go to church with me, which she did regularly. Now that wouldn’t have worked for some people. But since Karen had a basic foundation due to her early years in the church, and a profound desire to explore her faith, to try to understand it, she would have a fighting chance.

Karen did join the Episcopal Church and seemed to find some satisfaction in our tradition and the broadness that it affords. I have lost touch with Karen, but I sometimes wonder, particularly when this Gospel lesson rolls around in the lectionary, if she ever found what she was looking for. And I often think that Karen and Thomas are two peas in a pod. Actually, I think it’s a pretty big pod, with lots of people keeping company with Thomas and Karen.

So what do we do with Thomas? Based on today’s Gospel lesson, he gets the moniker “Doubting Thomas” and has become the poster child for anyone who doubts, who refused to believe something without direct, physical evidence – even if it’s obvious to the rest of us. Well frankly, Thomas gets a bum rap. A lot of people get the idea that because Thomas had doubts as to whether Jesus had risen and appeared to the other ten apostles, that he lacked faith.

But that’s not really fair. Because up until now, Thomas had not had the opportunity to question his faith, to struggle with what he truly believed. Up until now, Thomas and the others had traveled with Jesus and witnessed all sorts of signs and miracles that pointed the way to who Jesus was, to elicit faith in him as the Messiah, the holy one of God. Up until now, everything about Jesus had been proven to them. And now, when a new situation involving Jesus presents itself, Thomas would have rightly expected some sort of proof, just as had been provided in the past. I don’t think Thomas did not believe as much as his faith was clouded by uncertainty. And when it comes to faith, that is not necessarily a bad thing.

Alan Jones, the former dean of Grace Cathedral, often quotes an unnamed English monk who once said “The opposite of faith isn’t doubt. The opposite of faith is certainty.” Many people think faith and certainty go hand-in-hand. But in reality, when one is certain, particularly in matters of faith, he puts God in a box. When one is certain, there is nothing else to learn on the matter. Certainty closes off the need for or the possibility of questioning or further exploration. Certainty eliminates mystery. And what is our faith and religion if not built on mystery? Doubt, on the other hand asks us to open our minds to possibility. Doubt is about entertaining questions. Doubt invites us to go deeper in our exploration of the unknown, of ourselves, and of our God. Doubt invites us to enter into mystery, to experience the joy that it has to offer.

Episcopal priest Philip Culbertson goes one step further than Alan Jones. Culbertson believes “Doubt is . . . a crucial ingredient in faith. Faith and doubt have a sort of yin-yang relationship – dependent, complementary, energizing and focusing one another. Doubt is the energy of inquiry. Faith is never lost through the fearless search for truth. And so it was with Thomas. His initial doubting leads him to proclaim one of the greatest faith statements of the New Testament . . . ‘my Lord and my God’” (Culbertson, 24). He could not have made such a statement had he initially lacked faith, had he not had a core faith waiting to be brought forth to the surface, a faith wanting to be deepened.

In addition to his underlying faith that just needed to be coaxed forward, Thomas had one other thing that, as I see it, helped him through his period of doubt. Even in his doubts and uncertainty, Thomas was part of a community of faith, namely the other ten apostles. Even though he had his doubts, the community did not reject him. I cannot help but think that the other ten apostles supported him, maybe tried to help him work through his questions and his doubts. After all, what we tend to forget is that a week before, they were where Thomas is now. When Jesus initially appeared before them, they did not know what to make of him. They did not immediately recognize Jesus. While they did not specifically ask for proof, they were provided with it. They heard his voice, they saw the wounds in his hands and his side. In those signs they were assured that this was indeed their Risen Lord. Thomas was not asking for anything that they themselves had not had the opportunity to experience. Maybe they used their experiences of doubt to help Thomas deal with his own doubts.

That’s probably the most important lesson for us, removed two millennia from the resurrection event. We are those whom Jesus was talking about when he said “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” We have not had the benefit of the experiences of the ten apostles on Easter Day. We have not had the opportunity to experience Jesus as Thomas did a week later. Yet, through the witness of innumerable saints over the last two thousand years, through the testimonies of scripture, and through the abiding conviction of our own faith communities, we are able to believe that our Lord is risen. That does not mean that we do not at times question the veracity of the event, wonder about the specific details, the whys and wherefores. Such events are hard to fathom. Such questioning is natural, and if anything, helps us to further our faith – particularly when done in community – through Bible studies, through various groups in the parish such as Daughters of the King, ACES (Adult Christians Exploring Spirituality), and the Companions of Sts Benedict and Scholastica, and even through our informal conversations.

At one time or another, we are all Thomases and Karens. And at other times, we are part of the ten apostles, supporting the Thomases and Karens in our midst. And no matter where we are in our struggles, as long as we have that core faith that keeps us coming back even in the midst of our doubts, we will always be the blessed who may not have seen with our eyes, but have nonetheless seen how the Risen Christ has touched our lives and the lives of others, and because of that proof, cannot help but believe.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Culbertson, Philip L., et al. New Proclamation: Year C, 2010, Easter through Christ the King. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009.

Read more!

Saturday, April 03, 2010

The Light That Burns Forever

Great Vigil of Easter – Year C (RCL)
Romans 6:3-11; Psalm 114; Luke 24:1-12
Saturday, April 3, 2010 – Trinity, Redlands

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Yes, the Lord is risen indeed. These are probably the most beautiful words ever spoken. For these words point to what salvation history is all about. These words reveal the priceless gift God has given us. These words contain the foundation of our faith as Christians. All else flows from the fact that our Lord is risen.

That’s what this whole night has been about. It has been about the fulfillment of salvation history. In the vigil, we started off with the story of our creation in the image and likeness of God and continued with stories emphasizing God’s love for his people, his desire to protect them, and provide for them. These are the stories of a God seeking to be in relationship with us, and for us to be reconciled to God. And while we did our best, we still could not quite live up to what God wanted. We just had a hard time trying to be in relationship with a God who we could not see, who we could not touch. We humans need face-to-face, flesh-against-flesh relationship.

So, it became evident to God that a new covenant was needed, one in which God would come in the flesh, becoming one of us. So it was that God became flesh through Jesus to establish that face-to-face, flesh-to-flesh relationship with us. But even so, there was still a divide that precluded the type of relationship, the complete reconciliation that God desired. That divide was the sinfulness of humanity. Elimination of that sinfulness would require a sacrifice so huge that we could not possibly pay it. There was only one person who could – he who was totally human and totally divine –Jesus, the only begotten son of God. And so Jesus willingly took all the sins of humanity – your sins and my sins – upon himself, so that in his death, those sins would be forgiven and erased. And God allowed this because he loves us so much that he was willing to suffer the ultimate sacrifice, that of his only son, so that our relationship with him, reconciliation with him, might be secured for all time.

That was Good Friday. But on this night, God’s desire is fulfilled. Christ has been resurrected. And in so doing, he has broken down the barrier of sin and destroyed its hold on our lives. He has defeated the bonds of evil and death. Death no longer has dominion over humanity. In breaking those bonds, he has insured for each and every one of us forgiveness of our sins. In washing away our sins, we are made a new creation reconciled with God and promised the joy of eternal life.

The death of Jesus on the cross was not the end of the story. Even his resurrection is not the end of the story. It is just the beginning. On this night, we are all there, at the tomb, along with Mary Magdalene and the other women, witnessing for ourselves the empty tomb, coming to terms with what it means for us that our Lord has risen. In that we are all witnesses to the resurrection. We are all apostles. And our job as apostles is to take the message of the Risen Christ, of God’s promise of forgiveness and eternal life, into the world. That is our sacred responsibility and our solemn vow as members of the Body of Christ. For in a few minutes, we will renew our Baptismal vows, acknowledging that “through the Paschal mystery . . . we are buried with Christ by Baptism into his death, and raised with him to newness of life” (BCP, 292). One of those Baptismal vows we will reaffirm is that we “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ” (BCP, 293). And the news doesn’t get any better than that Christ is risen.

One of my favorite stories about the Easter Vigil and about proclaiming the Risen Christ is a story about St. Patrick.

Every year, the Druids celebrated the festival of Beltane at the time of the Spring Equinox. The festival was held at Tara, the seat of the High King of Ireland. As part of the festival, the Druid priests would light a great ceremonial fire atop the Hill of Tara, from which all other fires in the land would be lit. In preparation for the festival, all fires, inside and out, in the vicinity of Tara were to be extinguished. Law required that no other fires were allowed to burn in the vicinity of the great festival fire. Any such fire would be considered blasphemous, punishable by death.

In the year 433, the eve of Easter happened to coincide with the Spring Equinox and hence, the festival of Beltane. That year, Patrick decided to celebrate the Easter Vigil atop the Hill of Slane, 10 miles across the valley from and in direct line of sight of Tara. And of course, the Vigil started with the Service of Light and the lighting of the new fire, just as we did this night. But this wasn’t just a little fire that might go unnoticed. This was a bonfire bright enough to be seen for miles, in direct violation of Druidic law. The High King and the Druid priests at Tara watched in surprise, horror, and anger as the first fire of Easter burned in the distance – an obvious affront to their beliefs. According to tradition, one Druid priest said to the High King, “If that fire isn’t put out tonight, it will burn forever.”

Outraged, King Laeghaire (pron. Leary) led his army to the Hill of Slane to arrest the rebel responsible for this blasphemous act. Due to Patrick’s eloquent preaching, the King was quickly pacified and rather than being arrested and executed, Patrick was allowed to preach to the pagan army and further extend the light of Christ throughout Ireland. The Druid priest was right in his prediction. That Paschal fire on the Hill of Slane was not put out, at least figuratively. And its light has continued to burn throughout Ireland to this day.

I started off this homily by saying that this night has been about the fulfillment of salvation history. Well, that’s not entirely true. The story is not over. The story is only beginning. And it is our job to continue to tell the story, to live the story of salvation, of the ongoing hope and promise of forgiveness and new life that is only made possible by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Tonight a new light is shining in the world through the resurrection of our Lord. Through us that light will burn forever, as we continue to boldly proclaim to the world:

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Read more!

Friday, April 02, 2010

Standing at the Foot of the Cross

Good Friday – Year C (RCL)
Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9; John 18:1-19:42
Friday, April 2, 2010 –
Trinity, Redlands

Here we are, standing at the foot of the Cross. As we look up at the tortured body hanging on it, we cannot help but look back and reflect on how we got to this point, maybe even trying to figure out what went wrong. Over the past week we have been with Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem and during his last few days with his disciples. We have witnessed his triumphal entry into Jerusalem last Sunday, with waving of palms and shouts of “Hosanna!” Last night we shared the Passover meal with Jesus in the upper room. But then, in the midst of such a festive occasion, things took a turn. One of our own betrayed Jesus. As a result, in the early hours of this morning Jesus was arrested. We followed as he was escorted away, subjected to a so-called trial before Pontius Pilate. We then witnessed the cruel treatment of Jesus at the hands of the Romans, as he was mocked and flogged. And then we walked with Jesus as he took his last steps, as he carried his own cross out of the city to Golgotha. We watched in horror as the Roman soldiers nailed him to the Cross, like a common criminal. And now, here we are, standing at the foot of the Cross, looking up at our crucified Lord and Master.

This is our Messiah? The one who had been foretold by the prophets, whom we have awaited for so long? This is our Savior? How can someone so weak, so helpless, be our savior? We must have been wrong.

No, we weren’t wrong. For things are not always what they seem. Let’s step back and take another look. You can tell a lot about a situation by looking at power dynamics.

The Romans were the ones with the power, right? They were the ones in control, right? After all, they were the ones who tried Jesus, found him guilty, and sentenced him to death. Yes, the Romans were ostensibly the ones in authority. They are the legal authority of the land. But did you notice how Pilate, the one in charge, tried to get out of taking responsibility. He kept going back to the chief priests, trying to convince them that Jesus wasn’t guilty, trying to find a way to turn the matter back over to the Jewish authorities, where it rightfully belonged. Pilate saw that this was really a religious matter, a local dispute that really had nothing to do with the Romans. But the chief priests, through some carefully chosen words, convince Pilate to see things their way. “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor.” It turns out that, in this particular matter, Pilate was really only a puppet of the chief priests. He was manipulated into playing his part, into finding Jesus guilty and pronouncing sentence.

So then, it was really the chief priests and the Pharisees who were in control, right. After all, they are the religious authority. And the whole dispute with Jesus was about religion and relationship with God, right? Not having the legal authority to accomplish their own desires, that is, the death of this heretic Jesus, they manipulated things behind the scenes to get the Romans to do their dirty work. And in so doing, they refused to take responsibility. In fact, to protect themselves, they eventually wimped out, claiming to be loyal subjects of Caesar, the enemy.

But you know what? Those who appear to be in authority, the Romans, the chief priests, were really cowards, engaged in a dance to try to get the other to do their dirty work. The real authority in all of this, the one with the real power, was the one on trial, the one sentenced, the one crucified.

From the beginning, Jesus was in control of the situation. He willingly marched into Jerusalem, knowing what awaited him. In the garden, instead of running away, Jesus willingly stepped forward and boldly stated “I am he.” When Peter tried to prevent Jesus’ arrest, Jesus ordered him to stand down, that this was what needed to happen. Then at the trial before Pilate, it certainly seemed that Jesus guided, even manipulated the discourse with Pilate through judicious use of taunting questions and cryptic, even insolent, responses. It’s like Jesus manipulated Pilate into finding him guilty, into pronouncing sentence – death by crucifixion. And even here, as he hangs on the Cross, he still exercises control and authority, guiding actions that fulfill scripture.

As we look back at the events of this past week, of the past few hours, we see that Jesus is really the one in control of these events and their outcome. And while it looks like what is happening here at Golgotha is a cruel, inhumane, unjust death, the result of a mockery and miscarriage of justice, it could have happened no other way. Sure, the specifics maybe could have been different, but the end result would have had to have been the same. For the whole purpose of Jesus’ life was to bring about the definitive reconciliation between humanity and God. But to do that, both parties needed to be on equal terms – or as equal as possible. We cannot become like God, but God could become like us. So, to level the field, God needed to become one of us. He needed to be in human form to truly experience the limitations we have in not being divine, to experience all that we experience, just as we experience it – our temptations, our struggles, our frustrations, our sorrows, and our joys.

But even that was not quite enough. Because there was still one thing that stood in the way of complete reconciliation – one great divide that could not be overlooked. Our sinfulness. For even in becoming human, that is the one thing that God could not experience. So the only way to take care of this divide would be to provide a means for ultimate forgiveness of all the sin of humanity. Only then could reconciliation occur.

The first part was relatively easy. Through God made flesh, Jesus, God could himself experience what it means to be human – the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly. And that even meant the ability to experience something that God, despite being God, could not experience on his own – death. And therein lay the key to dealing with the second obstacle to reconciliation – sin. For what did YHWH require for the absolving of sin but death – death through Temple sacrifices, whereby an offering was made to atone for particular sins. But what form of sacrifice could possibly be appropriate and sufficient to atone for the sins of all humanity? The usual animal sacrifices would not do. Because of the magnitude of the sin for which forgiveness was being sought, even sacrifice of more precious life, of human life, would not be sufficient. No, atonement on this scale required something far beyond anything we could possibly provide. The only thing that would even begin to cover the debt would be the sacrifice of the perfect human, of that which is totally human and totally divine – Jesus, the only begotten son of God.

And so it was that this exercise of God incarnate provided the means by which atonement for all of humanity’s sin could be gained. And so it was that the events of the past week had to happen, under the guidance and authority of the one being tried, convicted, and crucified, no matter how unjustly, to insure that the debt would be paid. For this, Jesus willingly offered himself as sacrifice for our sins – to insure that the playing field would be completely leveled, paving the way for complete reconciliation between God and humanity.

At the Cross, God is joined to us in the experience of death. And that death is not just any death. It is a death of great sacrifice – the sacrifice that atoned for all the sins of humanity; the sacrifice of our Lord who willingly gave up his life for ours; and the sacrifice of a God who loves us so much that he was willing to suffer the ultimate sacrifice, that of his only son, so that our relationship with him might be secured and reconciled for all time.

Here we are, standing at the foot of the Cross. As we look up at the broken body hanging on in, we look back and reflect on how we got to this point. We are reminded of the cost incurred – by the one hanging on the Cross, and by his father our God. And we are reminded of just why this has happened. Maybe, through the tears, we might begin to catch a glimpse of just what this might mean. And in that glimpse, we see that the story is not over, but is only just beginning.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Read more!