March 28, 2010
Isaiah 50:4-9a, Philippians 2:5-11, Luke 22:14-23:56 Deborah Magdalene, OSH
It all happens so fast. One minute we are with the multitude of the disciples spreading our jackets and sweatshirts on the ground so that Jesus and his donkey will have a royal carpet to walk on. We cry with holiday excitement, “Blessed is our king who comes in the name of the Lord!” And before we know it, we are shouting just as loudly, “Crucify him! He saved others, let him save himself!”
This morning’s Passion Play, taken from Luke’s Gospel,leads us up to the empty cross and then just leaves us there. The words we hear this morning prepare us for our walk through Holy Week, but they leave us hanging on the precipice of death. How do we reconcile that the same crowd of disciples who adores Jesus can turn so quickly into a lynching mob? How did it happen so fast?
For years I thought that I was supposed to feel the agony of Jesus’ suffering and death. I believed that the purpose of Lent was to focus on my own sin and to wallow in the pain of knowing I’d let Jesus down. It was almost as if the more sorry I felt for my sins the more joy I might feel on Easter morning.
Thank God I have learned otherwise. Any time we focus on our sins without seeing them through the prism of Christ’s abiding love for us we are off base. It will remain a mystery to me what was going through Jesus’ head as he moved from riding astride the donkey to bending under the burden of his own cross. And my task is learning to be comfortable with that mystery.
It is not so very hard to imagine how Jesus’ disciples got so frightened that they let him down in the moment of his greatest need. They were only human. But it will always remain a mystery how Jesus kept his promise and rose from the dead in order to save all of humankind for God ..... and me from myself and my confused ways of thinking.
As I participate in the events leading up to Jesus’ trial, execution and burial my job is to let go of reason and grasp on to the mystery of salvation. It is only though accepting the miraculous mystery of God’s love for us that we can begin to comprehend the power of Christ’s death.
While I was in New York City attending seminary I got introduced to opera. And not just any opera. I was given tickets to attend the Metropolitan Opera – the Met. I was so transformed by my experiences there that I saved my money in order to buy a season ticket for my last year in New York. My seat was at the top of the nose-bleed section, but I didn’t care. I was affected just as deeply by what was happening way down there on that distant stage whether I sat in the 12th row, center (which happened once) or the farthest seat back. It didn’t matter where I sat.
What happens during good opera is art – a beautiful mix of orchestral music, talented singers, brilliant intertwined melodies and poetry, breathtaking set design and take-your-breath-away magic. It was the mysterious magic of it all that kept me coming back.
Good opera transports you to another reality. You become one with the drama or comedy unfolding before you on the stage. On the stage there is always frustrating miscommunication, ridiculous coincidence and inevitable tragedy. We in the audience see what the actor/singer cannot see, and it gives us the advantage of knowing what is about to happen.
We watch helplessly as tragedy hunts them down and one or another favorite character dies a gruesome and painful death. We get somber hints of grief through key changes in the music, while the gathering darkness of deep violet stage lights signals the cataclysmic. Music, lights, costumes, vocal artistry, and passion overwhelm everyone in the room and we’re left numb as the chandeliers rise and the curtain falls. We sit stunned in the afterglow of the mysterious effect of opera.
The story of Christ’s passion and death are just as much a mystery. But just because this paschal mystery is the center of our Christian faith, doesn’t mean that we understand it any better this year than we did last. In fact, because it is the focal point of our shared Christian story, it assumes a life of its own and is easy to misunderstand.
All four gospels tell the same story. Though they differ from each other in unique ways, the key points never vary. In fact, the gospels are all described as passion narratives with long introductions. All of Jesus’ earthly life leads up to these moments of arrest, abandonment, betrayal and death.
The key to understanding what happened at the end of Jesus’ life is to place these events within the context of the entire gospel story – from the beginning to the present moment.
Jesus’ death is not the focus of his ministry or of his life. Christ came to us that we might have life, and have it more abundantly. (John 10:2) And if we don’t understand that key point, we will misunderstand why he had to die.
The first Christians were bewildered and lost during the events of Christ’s passion and death. It all happened too fast. One minute they are learning from their teacher and the next they are hiding in fear. It was only in the afterglow of Christ’s resurrection and ascension that they were able to look back on his life and death and put the pieces together.
have the advantage of knowing the whole story. But it is about this time in our Lenten journey that we all need reminders. Two images help me to put Holy Week in perspective.
The first is the Incarnation. The limitless vastness of God empties himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbles himself and became obedient to the point of death-- even death on a cross.”
The miracle of today’s story is that God’s own self could be born in a human body, that like all of us, has a permanent date with death. Jesus’ death was inevitable, as is our own. We mustn’t forget that without the incarnation there would be no resurrection. We are called to see the passion of Christ through the lens of Christmas.
The other image that helps during Holy Week is when Jesus invites the little children to come to him, “For it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs." We are the children invited to the Last Supper with Jesus, and invited to sit and be present with him as he protects us with his love. We are designed to be loved, but the journey of deep and abiding love is inevitably paved with hardship and turmoil.
The Easter joy that awaits us is the miraculous life we are all given after the Resurrection. There is now a purpose for our lives – we are Christ’s own forever, as our Baptismal Covenant reminds us, so that we can co-create God’s heaven here on earth. It is our job to invite the little ones to come to us because we have such good news to share.
One week from today we will celebrate Pascha – the Orthodox name for Easter, which means, “the Passover.” God lets Jesus pass through death so that we can have life. The Paschal Mystery is that Christ has come, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again. Christ came to us as a child on Christmas, he rose to show us how deeply we are loved and he will come again to make all of history complete.
May we allow this coming Holy Week to wash over us in the same mysterious way in which God washes over us – bathing us in the light of mystery and opening new doors of possibility through the cycle of death and new birth that surrounds us all.