21 March 2008

Good Friday, 2008

Goodbye. Goodbye Love. Goodbye Friend. Goodbye Jesus.

Goodbye is such a loaded word, but that doesn't keep us from saying it all the time. Sometimes sad, sometimes hopeful. Sometimes pained and sometimes necessary. Sometimes we say it just to be polite, but sometimes it’s heavy and cloaked in finality. Sometimes we avoid it all together. The word comes from the Old English term “God be with ye.” God be with you. A lovely way to send someone off… “Go with God.” Over time, “God-be-with-ye” morphed into g-o-o-d-b-y-e.

Same sort of thing happened with the term Good Friday. The Old English possessive word for God is godes and today was called “Godes Friday.” It kinda morphed along the same path as “goodbye”, and so eventually, “God’s Friday” became “Good Friday.”

I know that when I learned this little tidbit I was relieved. It’s nice to know that there isn’t a Religious Holiday Naming Committee out there who thought it’d be jaunty and fun to call the execution of our Lord good. The point is that this day belongs to God. And though we believe that God is so, so good, we also know that putting God to death isn’t so great.

..…Don’t you think it should be raining outside? Let’s just go back to bed. Sleep through this dark, damp, sad day. Stay in. Make some tea. Hibernate. Let’s just close our eyes and dream today away. A cup of tea and a nap seems nicer than living out this story. The man we love, the One who has made us whole and healed, is hanging from a cross and dying a horrible death, and the pain that he is in right now is too much. We cannot bear it. It cannot be good.

And yet. This moment, this pain, this tragedy that we can’t even begin to bear…This Friday is the essential ingredient to the Gospel. It is The Good News.

It might not immediately resonate with you if you’re like me—privileged and healthy. But the extreme, profound suffering of Christ does resonate to the core with so many. Today is the day that the people in the world who are most marginalized, the people in the world who seem to have no hope, those who have suffered more than we can ever, ever imagine… Today is the day that they—you—we—all of Creation—gets to step into God’s Grace.

God doesn’t exist contrary to the suffering of the world, nor does God exist parallel to it; rather God exists in the darkness of the world. Right now, hanging from that cross, God is piercing the darkness of the whole world.

God is with refugees and orphans, with victims of violent crimes, with those who live in the fear of occupied territories. God is there. God has not ordained the most heinous disasters—God is suffering through them. God is there. There is a worldwide poverty crisis, and God is in the middle of it. Weeping, too. Hate crimes, terrorism, tornado disasters, massive fires, every war in history, the current war, wars to come, the AIDS crisis. God is there. Suffering. Every child who dies, every divorce, every grief, every trouble. God is there. Every playground where the skinny kid is beaten bloody, every ounce of depression, every single cancer cell, every hint of insecurity, every bit of doubt, every morsel of self-loathing. God is there. Are you Lonely? Empty? Dark? Lost? God is there. Holding your hand. Dying with you. Dying for you.

And this death, this execution, is not just for the sake of the poor and the oppressed. Jesus is hanging on the cross for the oppressors, too. For the very people who commit violence against him, Jesus is dying. Jesus is dying for the people who do us wrong and cause us pain, and Jesus is dying for the people we hate, and Jesus is dying for your worst enemy. Jesus is dying for us even though we aren’t exactly saints, either. No one—no one!—gets to be exempt from the Love of that man hanging on the cross. Everyone gets salvation.

So, here we are. Exposed. Mortal, vulnerable, pained, human. We are standing at the foot of the cross, and we have to say goodbye to our Jesus for now. The One who loves us to death is dying to save us. We can’t fix a pot of tea and pretend like this isn’t happening.

So, behold it. Behold this moment. Behold this death. Look into its eyes. You have never seen Love like this before.

02 March 2008

the 4th sunday in lent, year a

Saint Anne’s Episcopal Church, Atlanta GA
Gospel Text: John 9:1-41

I don’t think the blind man in today’s Gospel lesson moved very much. He was a beggar who couldn’t see, so he probably just did a lot of sitting while other, better-abled people did the moving. He was a fixture in the lives of the people in the same way that I can’t hear the grandfather clock in my parent’s house anymore. Sometimes we just get so used to something, some noise, some sight, that it simply seems to disappear.

Every morning the women walked by him to fetch the day’s water. Every afternoon the Pharisees walked by him on their way to temple for midday prayers. Every evening, as it was getting dark, children raced past him to make it home in time for dinner. Once every couple days, someone might drop a coin or a crumb in his general vicinity. He adds it to his cup. And that is the closest thing to attention the blind man ever gets. For all intents and purposes, he is invisible.

For the people of Jesus’ time, blindness was far more than a physical condition. For the folks in first-century Mesopotamia, blindness was a result of sin, of poor living, of being outside of God’s favor. More than being simply unable to see, blind folks were considered to be full of darkness. [i]

The people thought of light as a substance, as something you either have or have not. If your body has light in it, then your eyes work. It’s almost as if your eyes are the things that shed light into the world. Sight comes from the inside out. Light is present in the human body, and when it flows from a person’s eyeballs it allows them to see. If someone is blind, if they cannot see, their body has darkness instead of light. [ii]

So, our blind man was a bone fide, big fat, full-of-sin-and-darkness nobody. He was nothing more than the requisite beggar taking his place on the curb, sitting there to make us feel better about ourselves, placed there to give our egos a boost, hanging out with nothing more than his coin cup and his walking stick, to remind us that we have everything and he has nothing. Who would we be if we didn’t have that blind beggar to complete the social circle?

Enter Jesus.

He and his disciples are on a walk on the Sabbath. It’s a day of rest, so there is not to be any business at all. They’re just on a simple, Saturday stroll when Jesus sees the blind man. His disciples see him, too…See how when you hang out with Jesus your perspective starts to change? See how suddenly the disciples start picking up on things that they might have otherwise ignored? “Jesus?” they asked. “What did this man do to be born this way?” “Nothing,” he says. He makes mud, rubs it on the man’s eyes, sends him to take a bath, and he comes back with sight.

It is unclear to us where Jesus went for the next 26 verses of scripture. What is clear that for the better part of the story chaos swirls around the healed man. People begin to see him. People begin to give him attention. The neighbors of the town and the Pharisees are divided over the details of the miracle, and the once-blind man is forced to defend the whole thing. There’s almost a steady refrain in the story, isn’t there? “I was blind. Now I’m not.” Over and over again. “Who? What? How?” They ask. “Jesus. Healed me. With Mud.” Over and over again.

The people just can’t seem to understand how a miracle could have happened to a darkness-filled sinner. The people just won’t accept that this kind of miracle-work can happen on the Sabbath. This healing is breaking rules, and therefore it must be wrong somehow.

My favorite line in the story is: “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes…”[iii] It’s almost as though he’s saying, “HELLO! DUH! What’s so difficult about this? Just because something happened outside of your realm of possibility doesn’t mean that it’s not possible! Abandon the trifles, unhook yourself from your way of doing things, and open YOUR eyes! God is among us. See the miracle.”

In Churchworld, we can get pretty wrapped up in this kinda stuff, huh? We tend to get caught in the rules and traditions and the way we think things should be. We want the best programs, the best preaching, the best Sunday school, and we all have an opinion about what that looks like. We go around and around about buildings and committees and budgets. And it’s not that all of these things aren’t important—They Are! But.

Sometimes in a system like the church, we aren’t very gentle with ourselves. We want things done our way or no way at all. When something different happens…when someone comes along with a different style, with a different way of looking at the truth…When the rules as we know them are confronted… When the protocol or norm is challenged… When our traditions are questioned… We get uncomfortable, squeamish, and sometimes we hedge out the possibility of the Gospel. When we get tunnel vision, we might as well close our eyes all together. We can’t see God’s movement in the world.

It’s easy, too easy, to forget the big picture. It’s our mission to seek and serve Christ in all persons. What are the real ingredients? What are the real rules? Justice. Mercy. Grace. Hospitality. Stewardship. Feeding people. Love. The Gospel is not made of protocol, trifles, or even logic. The Gospel does not hinge on one way of doing things. No, the Gospel is cloaked in the life, teaching, and miracles of Jesus Christ, the Light of the World. He hasn’t just come to brighten things up. He has come to give us sight. He has come to dwell in us so that we might see, so that we might illumine the earth with the truth of Love.

I believe that when we are brave enough to step outside of lines, to think outside of the box, to resist the tail-chasing, to question the rules…When we have the courage to let go of the emotional tornado that we attach to doing things the right way…When we take a deep breath and start living into the Grace of God… When we are gentle with ourselves and with others…Our eyes open, and we are filled with Light. Our eyes open and we start seeing God’s work in the most unexpected places. And then? Miracles happen.

[i] Props to Sarah Dylan Breuer for this insight. Second-handed props to the Social Science Commentary on John where she got the insight in the first place!
[ii] Ibid.
[iii] As always, kudos to the ever-genius Barbara Crafton for today’s e-mo.