Friday, April 02, 2010

Surveying the wondrous cross

“When I survey the wondrous cross on which the prince of glory died/ My richest gain I count as loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.”
When I survey the cross, something happens. It changes the way I look at the world, and at myself. When I survey the cross I am struck by the man stuck on that tree. I am struck with fear and trembling that it is in fact God who is on that tree.
God is crucified on a cross, and I am surveying that cross. It forces me to pay attention. It makes me look at the world around me in a new way and with new questions. It forces me to wonder why I’m down here and God is up there. It-throws-me-out-of-myself.
(Turn to your neighbor and repeat after me) When I survey the cross. It throws me out of myself.
When I survey the cross. When I survey the cross.

Lord God, on this, the remembrance of your passion and death, please allow me to speak a word that is true. Please allow me to preach a word to these people about you. May the words of my mouth and the meditations upon all of our hearts be acceptable to you this Good Friday. In the name of your son, Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

When I survey the cross I see a man going up to Jerusalem. This capital city. This center of faith.
And he doesn’t look like much. He’s just another pilgrim from the countryside. He argues and debates with his fellow Rabbis. They argue about the same thing humans are always arguing about: Life, death, and taxes to Caesar.
Then he does some street theater. He rides that donkey that makes all the difference rough shod over Roman warhorses.
He even goes a step too far to bring his message home. He symbolically attacked the Temple. He rearranges the money changers.
But doesn’t he know? Doesn’t he know about revolt and repression?
Doesn’t he know about the slaughter of a few years previous?
Hasn’t he heard that a few years back a Roman soldier made an obscene gesture toward the Temple. Doesn’t he know that caused a riot? Doesn’t he know about Roman “Peace Keeping”? Doesn’t he know of the thousands of bodies that littered the street that year?

Riling up folk on the biggest holiday of the year, that’s a good way to get your fool self killed.

And that’s just what happens. He ends up at that lonely garden praying those fervent, frantic, and faithful prayers. And his friends fall asleep—for they can not stay awake with him even for one hour.
Then there is the betrayal. His friend came with a well-armed crowd and this man was caught by a disciple’s kiss.
When I survey the cross I see a troubling trial. I see a man beaten, lashed with Roman whip.
He is paraded around, he is mocked. Thorns are threaded together into a crown. They are placed upon his brow in a kingly coronation of pain.
But that isn’t enough. When I survey the cross I see a man who has to be dealt with. It is said he is a king. It is said he refused to pay taxes to Caesar. It is said he would destroy the temple.
It was this first charge, his claim of kingship, I believe, that got him killed.
When I survey the cross I see a man being executed for expediency. A man with big dreams and expansive ideas being killed because he talked about “The Kingdom of God.” Killed because kings don’t like their kingship questions and threatened.
So they execute him on a cross. They kill him along with thieves and criminals.

When I survey the cross I see a massive tragedy perpetrated by a mad system, scared people, and this man Jesus simply at the wrong place at the wrong time. In a sense, when I survey the cross, I simply see foolishness.

Yet. What a shift, if on that cross hangs God.
If the Creator of all that is, hangs upon a two by four and breaths one last breath. If the one who can say, “I am,” and end that statement with a period has become flesh. Become flesh to the point of crying out to God in anguish, God screaming out in God-forsaken-ness!
Then, then, we are knocked flat when we survey the cross. We are thrown out of ourselves, when we survey the cross. Any belly button gazing, any righteousness we believe we have collected is found to be folly. Any wisdom is foolishness and any strength weakness, when we survey the cross.
Oh yes, when we see the curse of the tree and the life of the Messiah meshed and mashed together we see the paradox of power and weakness, wisdom and foolishness. Because we’ve been thrown out of ourselves.
All the systems that we have set up to cope with the world as it is are judged in light of killing God. Every piece of reality and every piece of ourselves is confronted by the cross.
All that brought God to the cross, all that nailed Jesus to the tree, all that crucified God, is unmasked as an idol.
When we survey the cross we are thrown out of ourselves and realize our religious assumptions killed the Messiah, our power to mete out punishment lead to the Passion of God!

And I wish more people could be thrown out of themselves when surveying the cross.
I wish that religiosity was not a way to mangle lives and torture God.
I wish that brute force and violence was seen as an enemy of God. Our purity and our power are idols that we will sacrifice God for.
Look at the headlines. Catholic Bishops hiding sexual abuse, hiding rape! They did this to make sure hierarchy and structure appeared holy—so that religious authority would not be questioned. So that purity remained.
And, I don’t want to single out our Catholic sisters and brothers. After all we can admit hard truths at the cross. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America was one of the first churches to settle a sexual abuse case.
Look at the headlines. A so-called “Christian” militia was recently arrested by the federal government. They were preparing to confront and kill a cop and then increase the carnage by exploding a dirty bomb at the funeral. Fanatical fantasies of power and violence replaced faith.

But it is not enough to point to the idols manufactured by those who protect pedophile priests. It is not enough to point out the idolatrous sliver in the eye of right wing militants.
What of ourselves? What about you? What about me? After all we are thrown from ourselves—I from myself and you from yourself.
What idols are reveled by the tree on which our God rests?

Do I need alcohol? Do I need drugs? Do I need romantic relationships? Do I need sex? Have they became as indispensable to me as breathing?
Has appearance become my idol? Does my appearance dictate who I am? Do other people’s appearances dictate how I treat them?
Am I needy without meeting the needs of others?
Have I fedishized my title, my calling, my degree, my uniform, my religious garb, my future plans?
Do I refuse to let go of the past even as it crucifies me?
Does violence satisfy some secret, or not so secret, longing of my heart?
Has my faith become a church thing, instead of a God thing?
What golden calf is revealed by the 3 hours of darkness when they crucified our Lord? What do I fear more than I fear God? What do I love more than I love God?
Surveying the cross shakes our assumptions about religious wisdom and strength. It causes us to see our own guilt and culpability in the crucifixion of the Christ. It reveals idols. If God is brought low by wisdom and strength, what does that say about wisdom and strength?

But what of those who come to the cross, not in pious wisdom or strength? What of those who do not view the cross from a place of disinterest, nor do they see the man on the cross as a threat to their idols? What of those who come to the cross because find themselves there too.
They too are thrown out of themselves. Out of their situation. Out of their sin. Out of their painful places and difficult decisions.
When I survey the cross I am thrown out of myself and thrown into God! Into the open arms of Jesus on the cross.

There was once a Jewish boy named Elie (LE) Weisel. He survived the hell of the holocaust. Later he would come to write about his experiences. At this point he has written 54 books and has even won a Nobel Prize in literature.
In his most famous book, Night, he describes a very horrible time amongst the dreadful canvas of horrible times. At one point people were being hung. As the bodies piled up at the foot of the scaffold and the situation became more dire, a young boy was hung, and because he was so malnourished was strangled by the rope instead of having his neck broken by it.
And a man asked, “Where is God now?” And the author “heard a voice within” himself answer, “Here He is—He is hanging here on this gallows.”
Yes, this is a word of despair—of tragedy. But it is also the truth we affirm on Good Friday. God hangs from the gallows with us and for us. Foolishness and a stumbling block, yes, but there God is! We are thrown into God.

When I survey the cross I hear God—emptied of all power and might for our sake—intercede for his captors saying, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” I don’t know if there are any sinners in this church other than the one in the pulpit—but I want you to know tonight that God forgives you!
When I survey the cross I see God, even at the hour of His death, looking to a criminal in need of consolation and saying, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” To those caught up in things, who feel you have no chance, know that in Jesus there is always a second chance. Ours is a God of second chances.
When I survey the cross I see God providing His bereaved mother companionship, a son. Those that are lonely can look to your right and to your left, in front of you and behind you, there are brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters.
When I survey the cross I hear God crying out as we all do in our moments of despair, “Why have you forsaken me.” You who are forsaken struggling through the Dark Night of the Soul Jesus wants you to know that Psalm 22 doesn’t end with the word “forsaken!”
When I survey the cross I see parched lips and hear a crackling voice—God crying out in thirst—just as millions of God’s children cry out for clean and dependable sources of water.
When I survey the cross I see God with us to the end. Abandoned? No, never alone, never alone!
When I survey the cross I hear God sending His Spirit on, trusting, always trusting, that God is a merciful Father. Fear God? Fear not!

Not only that! When I survey the cross I hear God saying to the abused “that’s not purity, that’s foolishness.”
When I survey the cross I hear God saying to the victims of violence, “that’s not power, that’s weakness.”
When I survey the cross I am thrown out of myself. When I survey the cross I am thrown into God!
“When I survey the wondrous cross on which the prince of glory died/ My richest gain I count as loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.”

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