Jesus’ Last Words

 IMG_0318 Today is Good Friday. That it is called ‘good’ has puzzles many people. Perhaps we could call it God Friday. For me today is not the day to enter into a theology of Jesus’s death and dying. Today is for me a day to follow him up the Appian Way, stand at the foot of the cross and watch the sky turn dark and just be in the emptiness that ensures. The emptiness of a world without Jesus.

In Luke’s gospel the last words of Jesus are ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ These last words are words of trust. These last words are words that acknowledge Jesus giving himself over to his Father. Another translation reads ‘Into the hands of thee, I commit the spirit of me.’ It is poetry. In these words Jesus’ spirit is put directly into God’s hands. Spirit to hands. Jesus to the Father. One sacred human reality committed to the ultimate reality of all life. From a cradle manger to the cradle of God’s hands. Catching him as he falls from life. His last breath returning to the breath of God. In another forty days or so the spirit of Christ will come back into the world to be spread by his followers across the world. To enable a life in Christ that can be given to all who want it. In the last moments of his death Jesus is telling us the term of his life. He is telling us about the term of our lives as well.

Today, with his last breath breathed out, the spirit of Jesus is firmly, squarely placed into the hands of the God of the Life, his Father, Creator of the world, who in the beginning formed the earth and the human person from clay by the work of his hands. Today God’s hands have been rendered immobile, nailed down by fear and misunderstanding. Nailed down by those who feared he was going to upset their smooth running apple cart, the bed they had made with the Romans. God’s spirit was breathed into Adam to give him/us life. Today it is this same spirit breathed out across the universe creating the world anew in Jesus’s last breath. He gives up his spirit and is gone. He gives up his spirit and gives us at last to truly be a part of him. He gives us new life, more life, a life made whole in him. More Jesus.

 

 

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The Birth of the Word in the Soul – Part VII

The Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us. The Word is one of the metaphors in St. John’s gospel that speaks to Jesus’ identity. The Word was in the beginning of the unfolding universe. For King Solomon, Wisdom, the divine Sophia, danced with the Creator as he spoke the world into existence. In the unfolding drama of Jesus’ birth, the Word become flesh is once more empowered by a woman, amidst the ordinariness of life, to a struggling nation, in an obscure town, where those to whom he first comes impart to Jesus his heritage, his longing and his mission to Israel, soon to become captive to another empire that would take his message and put its stamp upon it, for better or for worse.

The sword that would pierce Mary’s heart is the sword that would pierce her son’s side, their hearts the saving symbol of the heart of God intent upon loving the world from the manger to the altar of the cross, where worship is no longer a mother’s song but the very body and being of her son. Mary’s first prayer will be Jesus’ last. As he prays to his heavenly Father in the garden at Gethsemane before his death, Jesus utters let it be as you would have it. As Mary accepted his life, he too will accept his death, from mother to son, the faithful surrender to God’s design for their lives. As Jesus takes his last breath, a lone centurion stands beneath him, recognizing his true identity, his first Roman follower, worshiping him in the place where a voice has gone silent. No ideology can embrace this moment.

            This is the moment that brings us to true compassion, a compassion that continues to transform the world today. From the heart of the manger in Bethlehem we are fed; our hearts filled with praise springing forth in song, where the worship of God becomes the artistry of our lives just as it did in the people of Luke’s narrative. There it is real, human, enfleshed, ordinary, giving birth and giving witness to Jesus in the world. In this we are with them, with him, in the purpose and passion of his life, to his God and Father, our God and Father as well.

            A whole nation stands in an old couple and one young girl who said let it be. It is Luke’s way of saying what was will be saved, transformed by what is to come. For Luke, it is the good news placed in the story of the improbable advent of a savior. The old embracing the new, rejoicing, blessing Yahweh with their lives. The Lucan Jesus is welcomed into the world by devout people, whose lives of adoration became the manger in which he is set. His beginnings are humble. His end seemingly a humiliation. Though dedicated to the simple habit of their ritual, waiting for the promise to be kept, the story of Jesus’ beginning, like his life, is clearly a narrative of paradox and reversal. For those who first touch Jesus, the very ordinariness into which he comes admits Yahweh’s extraordinary new deed into their midst; into a world waiting for Yahweh to take them in his arms once more and keep his promise to them.

            They hoped for what they could not see, what they could only envision: the restoration of Israel. They stand in the empty Temple of Yahweh, in the gracious space of his presence, his promise to them their only adornment, age-weary prayers an incense rising, carrying their hopes to the unseen God. Silent for generations, now abandoning the laws of nature to grace, giving the world his only begotten, a small hope vested with great promise.

This promise is God’s spirit moving upon the body of the earth, bringing substance from the void, a child from the womb of a virgin, life from the tomb, the cross an empty manger once more. A soldier stands beneath the cross looking up. He blesses the son of God and another advent begins. A small hope grown in a lifetime, experienced, followed, loved, blessed with a woman’s life, a life of joy and a life of sorrow. A life that followed him from the moment of his conception until he stood in another garden, another Mary searches now not for knowledge but for love. He stands beside her and beckons her to rise. Just as Mary rose up to greet Elizabeth−women bearing Christ to one another, he bears himself to this other Mary, who will bear witness to his return−come back to a woman, as he once originated by the power of the spirit from his mother’s womb, then leaving the world an empty manger once more, where with each season we await the improbably advent of his return.

©2014 Cathie Horrell.  All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

Birth of the Word in the Soul Part V

Mary’s response to this miracle of birth is simple and concise. Let it be. In the moment of her assent, assured of its possibility, Mary’s faith shatters the seeming limitations of this world, so the fullness of God can find its expression in the fullness of humanity. Mary’s fidelity to her heritage and to Yahweh inaugurates the renewal of the kingdom, God’s reign as the place of promise, now realized in her son. As the Spirit of Yahweh enters into the mother of Jesus, the place of promise is no longer only a land, but a way of being, the ever-abiding-yet-to-come kingdom of God in the human heart, begun under the heart of a woman.

Mary’s let it be is the life-affirming response running through all of scripture. From a woman who considers herself a handmaid, by her assent, Mary becomes co-creator with Yahweh, open, responsive and receptive to the sacred spirit that overarches human finitude to bring about that which is no longer bound by time. Be it child or image, painting or poem, or the life lived authentically in response to the spirit hovering over the waters of this world, we, like Mary, give worship to that same spirit in each new day, in each new creation we bring forth, ever open and attendant to its advent.

As we sift through the gospels in order to make a response to the question Jesus put to his disciples and to us, who do you say that I am, we do well to look first to his mother. What she was, he will become. His first lessons came from her; his last instructions are for her care. She is present from the beginning of her son’s life until its end. From Bethlehem to Calvary, from the manager-cave of his birth to the rock-hewn cave where his body is placed after his death, Mary will watch Jesus grow and she will watch him die. The first place Jesus goes when he comes out of the tomb is to his family in Galilee. For a few brief moments a mother will hold her son again. After he goes to his Father, Mary is present at Pentecost when the spirit of her risen son is poured out upon her and the disciples, giving birth to the community of believers, just as it conceived her son in the temple of her belief.

The angel tells Mary that her kinswoman Elizabeth is also going to have a child.  As soon as the angel departs, Mary is off to share her news with Elizabeth, who is overcome with joy at Mary’s greeting.  At this greeting, John, the babe in her womb, leaps for joy. This leap of recognition spills from his mother as she cries out Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Elizabeth’s happy words to Mary come from the song of Deborah and Barak when Israel triumphed over Canaan. As these two women stand at the threshold of their lives, Luke uses the triumphal events of Israel’s past to telegraph the triumph their sons will have over foreign rule and foreign hearts, to bring their people safely home to Yahweh.

Mary’s response to Elizabeth’s jubilant song also springs from within her. My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. From the depths of her soul she reaches back to the sacred writings of Israel, to the poetry of the woman Hannah who took a similar path to the one Mary is about to embark upon. Her song magnifies the wondrous deeds of the Lord God of Israel, wrapping her unborn son in the blanket of his destiny. She knows she is blessed. She knows she will give to the world the man who will magnify the same Lord with his life, so much so that he can call him Abba, Father, and tell us that to see him is to see the Father.

 Mary’s Magnificat is taken from the ancient canticle of Hannah, as Hannah surrenders her son, Samuel to Yahweh in service in the Temple. Like her kinswoman, Elizabeth, Hannah was beyond child-bearing age and was mocked because she was barren. She prayed to Yahweh for a son who would, as Elizabeth intones, take away her humiliation. And Yahweh gave her Samuel. And she gives Samuel back to Yahweh, just as Mary and Elizabeth give their sons who, like Samuel, will rescue Israel from her enemies and go on to be great leaders.

In the Magnificat the voice of Yahweh resounds again, echoing from Malachi, reiterating that the covenant made with Abraham has not been dashed upon the rocks of their oppression, but lives in the flesh and blood of two infants whose destinies could not have been foretold or imagined. One will be the unlikely messenger of the promise; the other the embodiment of that promise.

There is an irony here not to be missed. When he became their leader, the people pressured Samuel for a king but Samuel repeatedly refused. Eventually, however, he relented. In the end he had been right to refuse them, for the choosing of King Saul was the beginning of the end for the nation. The twelve tribes would shatter. When John and Jesus come on the scene, the Jews living in Judea are no longer the unified tribes of Israel but rather divided into often quarreling sects under Roman occupation. Once more they want a king. A powerful militaristic leader like David who will save them from their oppressors. But Jesus, like Samuel, refuses to take to himself the mantle of kingship. In the four gospels Jesus speaks more of himself as a shepherd than a king. He saw what the people did not. The shepherds who came to the manger were a sign in themselves. Their presence announced that a shepherd-leader had come among them. It is part of the paradox of his life that King of the Jews became the title that mocks Jesus’ death, though his death would not deter the advance of the kingdom he came to bring about.

©2014 Cathie Horrell.  All Rights Reserved.

Good Friday

The sword that pierced Mary’s heart

was the sword that would pierced her son’s side,

their hearts the saving symbol of the heart of God

intent upon loving the world from the manger to the altar of the cross,

where worship is no longer only a mother’s song but the very body

and being of her son.

Mary’s first prayer will be Jesus’ last.

As he prays to his heavenly Father

in the garden at Gethsemane before his death,

Jesus utters let it be as you would have it. 

As Mary accepted his life,

he too will accept his death,

 from mother to son,

the faithful surrender to God’s design for their lives.

As Jesus took his last breath,

a lone centurion stands beneath him,

see the man, seeing the truth of him,

his first Roman follower,

worshipping him in the place

where a voice has gone silent.

In one, silent still moment

birthed on Calvary

the heart of God and

And the heart of humanity

hung together.

In the womb of the world

and the embrace of his Father,

arms reached out to the world

where God came home

and humanity is no longer homeless.

 

God’s Folly

Paul’s letters to the Corinthians are a treasure trove.  Throughout these two letters the Spirit sows the seeds that grow into a marvelous succession of images and ways of being that bring us to the heart and soul of the Good News that Paul preaches with clear-sighted focus, vigor and single-minded ardor.

He begins with an appeal to unity.  To begin from oneness so that the rest may proceed from the wholeness and well-being that was the gift of the Creator now through his Son. Jesus’ mission was to regather, to reunite the dispersed tribes of Israel. Now Paul takes this charge up as his mission as well extending his churches as the new creation in Christ, the Israel of God. But there is still wrangling among the coverts as to what this means. Who would they follow? Peter, Apollos, Paul?  No, Paul says, Christ cannot be divided.  With the longer view of two thousand years behind us this sounds like a great irony. For we know that indeed the Christian faith has been dispersed among many factions and denominations. But for Paul what is important is building the body of Christ. One Body. Building a community of faithful who will unite around the one Lord, not any one person’s preaching, but the wisdom of God.

So he begins writing about wisdom. Because the dissention revolves around, again, how to rationalize something that Paul emphasizes at the beginning of Corinthians is not rational. The wisdom that we are shown here is not the wisdom of the reason or philosophy but the wisdom of what appears to the world as folly. That a man would hang on a cross and by doing so bring what he calls salvation to the world. It is this wisdom that looks certainly like folly. This kind of folly that sees strength in powerlessness, not in power. God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom. Paul speaks from experience. From his own weakness. But through his weakness the power of the Spirit is released so that he can do the work he has been sent to do.

It was unthinkable to the Jews that human sacrifice would bring about the saving of anyone, certainly not the Hebrew people.  This is the foolishness that Paul is addressing. The folly of Christ crucified. And I must say at times it does seem mind boggling. I want to say couldn’t this have come about some other way? Did Jesus have to go through such ignoble humiliation and horrible death? The death of Christ can be a stumbling block to ourselves sometimes as well as the Jews who wanted not this kind of weak, powerless messiah, but a capital M Messiah who would wield an army, conquer their Roman oppressors and set them free, saving them at last, from the exile and save them to be able to worship Yahweh as they believed they were meant to, rather than give tribute to the pagan power of their Roman oppressors. Yet irony of irony again that it would be their Roman oppressors who would hand Jesus over to the religious authorities to execute, so that this thing called salvation could be realized for all.

In Lent we make our march through the wilderness, up the Appian Way, to place we would rather not go. To a scene we would rather not see. To a foolishness we would rather not witness. Even though that scene on the cross-laden hill hovers over all that Paul preaches, its foolishness is God’s foolishness for us. The foolishness of love. The foolishness of a pierce heart reaching out to the world to remind us that no price too high, no cost too dear, in order to gather us all together to that one heart, one community, one Body of Christ.