Saturday, February 28, 2015

Bearing with One Another - 5. Gathered Together at the Foot of the Cross

God’s grace – love and mercy –
meets human frailty, brokenness, and sin
at the Cross

Imagine with me: We are standing at the foot of the cross. Jesus is hanging there, dying. Who are you in the cast of characters gathered there?

The First Last Word

Gatherd at the foot of the cross, we hear Jesus speaking the first last word from the cross, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." (Luke 23:34)

We need to hear that before we can hear anything else.
Have I like Peter denied Jesus?
Have I denied my neighbor created in God’s image?

Have I, like the other disciples, abandoned him?
Have I abandoned my neighbor?

Am I like the handful of women standing witness, but powerless?
Have I refused to use what power I have
on behalf of my neighbor?

Am I one of those who condemned him to die?
Have I condemned my neighbor?

Am I one of those who nailed him to the cross?
In what ways have I nailed my neighbor to the cross?

One way or another, I am each of these. And so are you

My fingerprints are on the hammer and the nails.

I am guilty. Me.

I am the one who does not know what he is doing.

I am the who does not do what I know.

Things done and left undone.

I am the one who has failed to love God
with all my heart mind, body and soul.

I am the one who has failed to love my neighbor

I am the one whose mercy
falls far short of the mercy of God

I am the one who needs to hear Jesus say,
“Father forgive.”

The irony is I can only truly dare to look at the extent of my own complicity in the reign of sin and death, violence and greed, if I am first able to hear, in the deep places of my spirit, Jesus speaking his mercy, his forgiveness. Even before I know I need the forgiveness – like the Centurian, who too late recognizes that he has helped to crucify an innocent man, let alone the Son of God.

The Last Last Word

Receiving that word, I am able to pray with Jesus his last Last Word from the cross, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke 23:46) It is a prayer taken from Psalm 31 (vs 5). We also pray it in Compline.

Into your hands I commend my spirit. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31). But, if that God has already declared his love and mercy I can dare to do so.

And dare is the right word.

Because one of the things that must happen if I stay at the foot of the cross, is my own dying. My own dying to self. As we will hear Jesus say in tomorrow’s Gospel,

"If any want to become my followers,
let them deny themselves
and take up their cross and follow me.
For those who want to save their life will lose it,
and those who lose their life for my sake,
and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

I can do that because I believe that such dying to self is a dying into the hands of the merciful Father who will not let what is truly me be lost.

What needs to die?

Certainly we will all eventually die physically. On our dying day, we hope to be able to say with Jesus, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” But, if we are going to enter fully into what God desires for us, we need to do some dying along the way.

What needs to die? All the ways I nail God and others to the cross

My sense of my own rightness

My desire to make myself out as somehow innocent.
Or, at least, less guilty than others.

There is always the temptation to justify oneself or one's group
and point to the fault (fingerprints) of others.

But that is the way of Adam blaming Eve
and Eve blaming the Serpent.
It is the way of the Pharisee,
“God, I thank you that I am not like other people:
thieves, rogues, adulterers,
or even like this tax-collector." (Luke 18:9-14)

Judging others

Focusing on others' fingerprints

          and excusing mine

My own certainty that I know right from wrong

My defensiveness

My every failure to love,

My indifference

My hardness of heart toward others

Minimizing the pain, suffering and anguish of others
whose pain suffering and anguish is inconvenient

Thinking and speaking of others with disdain and contempt

Thinking of others as ‘other’

Every allegiance and loyalty – family, nation, political conviction, career

It all has to die.

It might not all stay dead. But, it must die if it is to be resurrected –
chastened, refined –
and lived in light of Christ.

God is love. But, that love is not sentimental or ‘nice’. Julian of Norwich, that great exponent of God’s delight, understood that God’s love is not sentimental or simple affirmation. It also entails the promise (sometimes experienced as a threat?) of transformation:
He [Jesus] says: I shall completely break down in you your empty affections and your vicious pride, and then I shall gather you and make you meek and mild and holy through union with me.
This is why it is misleading to say, “God loves you. Period.” It might be true enough as far as it goes. But it does not go far enough to be sufficiently Christian. God intends our transformation. God intends that we learn to die so that we can truly live.

Everything must die. Everything must be put in the crucible and melted down by the refining fire of God’s severe mercy. The dross must be removed – however dear to me it is – so God can heal me and restore me to the life for which he created me.

This is hard. It is a kind of religious extremism. But this is what it means to take up my cross, deny myself and follow Jesus.

So, here we are – all of humanity – gathered at the foot of the cross.
The Church is the community of people 
who have heard Jesus speaking his first word,
“Father forgive.”
And we need that forgiveness because we know
that it is our fingerprints on the hammer and nails.
We know, as we will hear again on the Sunday before Easter,
that we have responded to God
(and those created in his image)
with words and actions akin to
“Crucify him!”
And we know we need to die
to the tendency to use the hammer and nail
to crucify one another.
We need to die
and commend our spirit
into the merciful hands of the Father.

Finally, though we continue to walk in the valley of the shadow of death, now we recognize that that shadow is a shadow cast by the cross. And that shadow is cast because of the light of resurrection glory on the other side of the cross. The reality of death has forever been changed.

If we know that, we can know freedom. Among other things we are free to bear with one another with open hearts – even when we disagree.

Next: Free to be Wrong


Bearing with One Another

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