A Good Friday Meditation

Original water color by Cathie Horrell

Original water color by Cathie Horrell

He is led out of the garden, where he has gone with his disciples after they shared a Passover meal, not by angels with fiery swords, but by men armed with swords sharp enough to cut off a person’s ear. He has come to the garden to pray. While his disciples, full of Passover wine, sleep. For Jesus there is one more cup from which to drink.

At the meal he pours the wine into the cups and after he said the blessing everyone drank from their wine cups. Three cups of wine are blessed and the blessing cups drank from. Someone that night reads the story of the Hebrew’s peoples flight from Egypt. The story of how God saves. Then Jesus takes the unleavened bread from the bowl, the matzoh, breaks it in half, and shares with all present a piece of the same bread that sustained the Israelites as they made their long journey to the land of promise. At today’s Seder Supper, a piece of that bread is wrapped in linen and hidden away, for the children to go in search of after the supper ends. In a few days the women who have wrapped Jesus body in linen will go in search of him but find no one where his body had been lain, except once again the angel standing guard in the garden. This only after Jesus has given himself, broken like the Passover bread, shared now with the world, his life-blood spilled out upon the hard ground of Calvary for all to see.

Today we experience the deepest expression of self-giving, where Jesus of Nazareth continues to share with us the greatest and final Passover. The passage of the Son of God from life to death. And we understand what this offering in complete freedom and love means only as it stands in the midst of Jesus’ final meal and in his rising to new life in three days. We can only make sense of this day when we think of it in terms of his whole life, his words of care and concern for others, his healing, his teaching, his message, his work, his whole person. In his life and in his death he is the embodiment of God’s love and good will for us. We see the Father’s com-passion, the God who suffers with us, in Jesus’ Passion−the cross where we encounter God in the depths of his/our humanity.

That this God is no extra-terrestrial is nowhere more evident than today. This is the day called good because God shows us in no uncertain terms his willingness to suffer for all human kind, for every human person, for you and I. Today God in Jesus embraces every lost, lonely, suffering, unloved, betrayed, sick and dying human being. In this day’s death because we know he is risen we know that it is God who protects and sustains Jesus and ourselves, and truly becomes one with all human kind. Not in spite of human suffering, but in the midst of it. Today in Jesus on the cross the human and the sacred become bound irrevocably together. Today there is no longer any barrier or boundary between us and the God who comes to earth, to experience all we experience and joins, in the human and sacred Jesus, with us forever. We live now in the unfailing presence of Yahweh, the God who saves. In Yeshua of Nazareth, which means God saves, we know without a doubt his good will for us. The promise now to us is that in the face of any death, evil or  suffering, any ‘no’ to life, God’s ‘yes’ is greater. This is the only certainty of God’s will we can speak of. Today we glimpse the kingdom of God come in Jesus’ life and in his death because we know that in him the promise of eternal life is kept. Today is a Promise kept. And if we doubt that, we might hear the echo of the final words of scripture forming in the heart of Jesus today as he extends to us the unleaving bread of himself and the final blessing cup is passed on to us for us to partake.  For in Jesus God truly makes his home in us. And his name is God-with-us. He will wipe away all tears from (our) eyes; there will be no more death, and no more mourning or sadness. (Rev. 21:4)

 

Advertisements

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.

 

 

At the Table of Jesus

 

IMG_0318  Of course, the church’s sin against women is not exclusive to women. Somehow, shortly after St. Paul and the gospels were written came the selective interpretation of the scriptures. A selective interpretation that was nothing more than proof texting for the exclusivity of a  male dominated church. You can selectively sort through St. Paul’s letters and come up with sentences here and there that seem to cast women in lesser roles. But reading the whole of his letters paints a different picture.  To exclude women, or anyone, was not Jesus’ message or how he lived his life; nor was it Paul’s nor is it in the Acts of the Apostles. In Acts women are preaching, teaching and are ordained.

The new Jesus movement as we see it in the gospels and in Acts is a Jewish movement whose purpose and identity was grounded in the universal inclusion of all people in the new covenant faith. The gospel message is that there is no barrier of age, race, gender, ethnicity, class or status. All were welcome. As all were welcome at the table of Jesus who even ate with sinner, even with tax collectors!

St. Paul and the other apostles saw their mission to preach Jesus’ death and resurrection as a universal imperative which included pagans and gentiles, and was intended to reach to the ends of the earth.  No one was excluded. What has happened to us? To the church? On religious grounds, false religious grounds I might add, people of different orientations are being excluded. We are suspect of anyone of a different faith. Whose practices are not like ours?

In Acts it becomes clear that ALL barriers are eradicated by the coming of the Holy Spirit. One of the first signs at Pentecost, the sending of the Spirit of Christ into the world, was that people of different tribes, speaking different languages, could understand one another. Being baptized not by apostles but in the name of the Spirit of Jesus, not only erased ethnic diversity which was so strong at the time, but also made it possible to bring everyone to the table. To the table of Jesus. He even sat down and ate with Pharisees, with his enemies.

How outrageous then are those purveyors of Christianity who refuse anyone to come to the table of the Lord. Even to say you need to be free of sin to come to the table seems ludicrous. Who needs Jesus more? And who is to judge the human heart?  When we remember Jesus’ last supper this week, as we participate in the remembrance of Jesus’ last supper, we need to be aware that just as he welcomed everyone to every meal he ate during his public life, we too might work to include rather than exclude. For there are no barriers to love. And it was only the women and a lone Roman soldier who stood with and witnessed the embrace of Jesus for everyone on that Good Friday.

 

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.

 

Failure as Fertilizer

On Good Friday a good Jewish man was crucified in a Roman form of execution, condemned to death by the leaders and members of his very own faith. Yeshua of Nazareth, a faithful and devout Hebrew, believed that his mission in life was to his own, to Israel. He fearlessly challenged the powers that be and sought to show a way of being Israel that followed the spirit rather than the letter of the law. He did not come to establish another faith, church or religion as many believe. His words and the following he had threatened the rulers of both Judaism and Rome. His death was to put an end to his mission. It would seem that his mission had been a failure. Indeed, his own followers were destitute and disillusioned at his death and ran away to hide. They believed that what he stood for and taught them had failed.

To this day we run/distance ourselves from our own (seeming) sense of failure rather than bear the untenable pain and suffering of counting all our efforts and activities as for nothing. I have been struggling with my own sense of failure during the past week or so as well.

My identity is bound up in my ‘work’. My sense of self and self-worth is bound up in not just what I do, but other’s reactions to it. It’s easy to say you don’t care what others think. I think that can only be true if you live on an island. For women especially, we worry the one negative reaction or comment, to the exclusion of all the positive that should outweigh or at least put these worrisome responses in perspective. And it doesn’t really help when you are hosting a pity party to tell yourself ‘you learn from your mistakes and/or failures’. There are days I want out of the school of life.

As Good Friday approaches I get a good reality check. I have a place to put this down. At the foot of a cross. St. Paul is clear about what happens next.

Even having acknowledged this myself I know that if we can but stay with the sense of the death of our dreams, ambitions, callings, some small grace begins to push its way through, course its way into our sense of being, up through the softened ground of loose dirt that we feel covered in, a rhizome rising, the ever-hidden sacred substance, where a green shoot of renewal begins to emerge, fertilized by a sense of failure.

So perhaps when our lives feel like so much manure, we can throw our sense of failure out on the thawed dirt of spring and  wait to see what comes up, what blooms there. Let failure empower/fertilize the ground where your dreams seem to have sidled away with the worms.

Even now ‘failure’ I think allows God to take mastery of our mission, our self meaning, and ‘redeem’ it, turn it into his purpose, in order to re-orient our understanding in the wake of Jesus’ life and thereby our own.

Job already had the conversation, so we don’t have to have that conversation again. Jesus died on the cross, his mission also a seeming failure. So much so we hear him cry out with the words signifying complete abandonment by God. Like three days in a tomb, we just have to wait, listen, believe when belief doesn’t feel possible, until we hear God say I got this. And know that he does.

The Christ-self

This, then, is what I pray, kneeling before the Father, from whom every family, whether spiritual or natural, takes its name:

Out of his infinite glory, may he give you the power through his Spirit for your hidden self to grow strong, so that Christ may live in your hearts through faith, and that, planted on love and built on love, you will with all the saints have the strength to grasp the breadth and the length, the height and the depths, until, knowing the love of Christ, which is beyond all knowledge, you are filled with the utter fullness of God.                                                                                                                            Ephesians 4:14-19

 The hidden self that Paul prays will grow strong within us is the Christ-life as the center, source and sustenance of our lives. Paul sees it as hidden, as something that we come to realize the more we come to know the meaning of Christ’s love for us. To know its breadth and length within us. To experience the height and depths of its presence in our lives, in our very beings. It is the hidden life of Christ that is waiting to enter into the garden of our lives so that we might know the extent of his love for us. The love he demonstrates now for all time from the once and for all fall into the incomprehensible abyss of God’s absence, the long day’s journey into a night in which God is sequestered in the hearts of humanity waiting to be called forth from the tomb, from exile into the abundance of the hidden self that now awaits the fullness of his life within. Known in the love of Christ as it shines forth from his final meal with his friends until his love’s triumph over darkness and death.

It is ours to become more aware of his life within us, as this awareness becomes stronger, more present to us, the gracious and freely given gift of the love of Christ that is planted deep within us from the beginning, that brings us to the fullness of knowledge and awareness of his love as the most encompassing realization in our hidden depths. Our hidden self that is the sacred self. The embrace encompasses not only the kingdom of all that is sacred and whole but along with it, all that is dark and broken, limited and wanting as Good Friday reveals. It is this inclusiveness of the sacred self that is its healing embrace of the totality of who we are, where we find the unconditional embrace of the sacred incarnate there.

What we come to know are the gifts and abilities to heal and to become whole, to not just survive but to thrive, to achieve and live beyond betrayals into the eternally renewing creative spirit that is our never-ending hope. The never-ending hope that is rooted in our attention to the presence and love of Christ which Paul says is beyond all knowing. The eternal round of growth and decay is the province of the sacred and hidden self as well, it’s enduring rhizome sustained beneath the flux and final flower of each season. In Christ Jesus the sacred and human have become indistinguishable. It is the love of Christ, the fullness of the God-life within us that is our ever-present horizon of being waiting to be discovered, grow strong, within the precincts of the hidden self.