March 29, 2013

It Is Begun

Filed under: Congregational Development,Leadership,Lectionary,Social Gospel — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 1:00 am

Who would have thought God’s saving power would look like this?[i]

Broken. Mangled. Bruised and bloody beyond recognition. The suffering servant is abandoned. It is clear that God is not going to swoop in and save the day. The big plan for our salvation is a hot mess. And what happens next is going to be very painful, and very human.

But Jesus isn’t ready to give up. He invokes the 22nd Psalm, a song of anguish and praise, a hymn to God’s greatness and power, no matter how bad things get.

Yet what Jesus sees when he looks down from the cross is not terribly encouraging.

First, of course, are those he doesn’t see: those who have abandoned him, run away, holed up until the worst of it passes. Some have started to reconvene at Mark’s house; others are still scattered, lying low.

Then there are those who jeer and mock him, whether for sport or from genuine scorn.

The hardest, though, are those who simply ignore him—another Friday, another batch of criminals for Rome to dispatch, another itinerant preacher who took it a little too far. The opposite of love is not hate; the opposite of love is indifference.

But in the midst of it all, there at the very foot of the cross, a little knot of people catches his eye—four women and a teenage boy, in whom Jesus finds love and hope.

His gaze falls first to Mary, his mother. She is not the first grieving mother he has seen in the course of his ministry. He knows that her anguish has no depth, no words, no comfort. He sees the sword pierce her heart with every agonized breath he labors to draw. The thing that both he and she need most in this moment is assurance.

After all we’ve read of teenage rebellion, public rebuke, cheekiness and downright sassing her, Jesus’ final will and testament, all eight words of it, ensures his mother’s physical safety, social security, and emotional and spiritual comfort.

In turning to John, Jesus draws our attention to a different face of society’s most vulnerable: a young male on the threshold of adulthood. John had been among the very first of Jesus’ disciples and was the youngest of the twelve. His devotion was without exception: Along with Peter, John had witnesses the raising of Jairus’ daughter, the Transfiguration, and the Agony of Gethsemane; he had gone ahead into Jerusalem to prepare for the Last Supper; he had followed Jesus into the palace of the high priest after his arrest.

Now, Peter has denied his Lord; only John remains.

Perhaps Jesus felt responsible for this young man, or perhaps he just instinctively knew that John needed a mom. Either way, Jesus cared for this beloved disciple in the most intimate way possible: He gave him a family.

And thus in the midst of the most barbaric torture and death that humankind has ever invented, Jesus lives into God’s creative power. He redefines family as a relational unit based on love and care, rather than on blood and lineage. He establishes not the church—that will be left to Peter—but the ecclesia, the people gathered.

With that it is finished. Jesus has done what he came to do. Our salvation is accomplished. The rest is up to us.

Reflecting on our Epistle reading, Sheldon Sorge writes:

For all the power and majesty of this resounding exclamation of Christ’s finished priestly work, the story of atonement does not end with “It is finished” from the cross. Rather, the cross’s obliteration of all that divides sinful humanity is only the beginning of the salvation story effected through Jesus Christ. Because of what he has done through his sacrifice on the cross, Hebrews teaches, we are free to move forward in “a new and living way” of freedom, enabled joyously to live according to the life-giving law of God.[ii]

The legacy of the cross, therefore, is not personal salvation. It is a communal witness of encouragement and hope.[iii]

Like Mary and John, we who hear these words from the cross this day are charged with new responsibilities. It falls to us to carry the Good News into our time, from this Place of the Skull to the Jerusalems and Judeas and Samarias of our lives.

In this Paschal Triduum, in the tension between death and resurrection, the question becomes:

How do we live into our Gospel inheritance when about half of our neighbors describe themselves as being spiritual, yet only 18% say that their faith is important to them and an even smaller 15% believe it is important to attend church services regularly? How do we behold our mothers, embrace our sons, engage with seekers who don’t even know they are seeking?

As we stand in this hour, on the cusp of what is finished and what is begun, let us pray…

Lord Jesus Christ, in dying you created a new family: your church led by your apostles. May we, like Mary and John, entrust ourselves to one another. May we, like them, be sure guardians of your witness. This we ask in your name, Amen.[iv]

[i] Peterson, Eugene. The Message. Is 53:1.

[ii] Sorge, Sheldon L., in Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, Editors. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press. P. 296.

[iii] Chakoian, Christine, in Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, Editors. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press. P. 296.

[iv] Adapted from Perry, Tim. Blessed is She: Living Lent with Mary. Harrisburg: Morehouse, 2006. P. 93.


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