Saturday, April 15, 2017

What If It Isn't True?

There’s a quote attributed to the ancient philosopher Euripides that goes like this:

Well.  If that doesn’t describe life as I know it, I’m not sure what else would.

In the Western-American Christian sub-culture, once dominated by the influence of Evangelicalism, people have been taught that it is only religious certitude that marks one as faithful to the Gospel, as being ‘in the right.’  The more right answers you have, the more certain of your faith…and salvation…and ‘eternal destiny’ you can be.  You also get to be certain about the faith, salvation, and ‘eternal destiny’ of other people, as well.  At least, that’s what, functionally, people have been taught.

But what if it isn’t true?

What if nothing about God… Jesus… tradition…Scripture… experience… reason…

What if none of it is true?

It is my contention that if we do not allow ourselves to sit with this possibility, we cannot truly and fully be people of faith.  For it is what you choose to believe when you don’t see it that defines faithfulness, not what you have no choice but to believe when you do see it.

Or to put it in Euripides’ terms:  If we question nothing, we don’t learn anything, and we think we have the answer to everything. 

I don’t really want to be ‘that person.’  At least, not anymore.  Do you?

Yesterday, Jesus died.  In Mark’s account of the final moments of Jesus’ life, Jesus is hanging on the cross and cries out:  “Eloi, eloi, lama sabacthani?”  which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  After receiving a final drink, Jesus gives a loud cry, and then… Jesus dies.

Jesus’ life does not end with an answer but with a question to which he gives no answer.  It ends with doubt… uncertainty… indescribable pain… inexplicable suffering.  And that….that is the place where Jesus saves us.

Or so we think.

Because, Jesus is dead!  It is one thing to trust in a person or a plan that has succeeded.  After all, everyone loves success, even more so in 21st century Western-American culture.  It is quite another to trust in a person or a plan that has utterly failed, in every way.

Let me make this as clear as possible:  Jesus’ life was a complete and utter failure, and to be like Jesus is to see the same result in ourselves.  Try preaching that.  I have.  And it does preach...  but only to the humble, with whom it resonates…

This. This is Holy Saturday…

So… enough with the constant chatter and never ending rants of the time in which we find ourselves alive. 

Just…sit with this…sit with it…not “sit down and shut up.”  But instead, “sit with this reality and be still…and know…that he is dead…and he is God…”

Now that’s true.

God is dead.

There is no answer to a world full of pain, suffering, and death.  No one, not even the most holy among us, will ever be immune to it.

And unless we are willing to fully embrace that fact with all that we have and all that we are…

…there can be no resurrection

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Palms and Passion

I find it interesting that the Lectionary gives two options for the 6th Sunday in Lent this year, i.e., Palm Sunday.  One can choose between “the Liturgy of the Palms” and “the Liturgy of the Passion” for preaching, teaching, and worship. 

As one would expect, the former utilizes the gospel passage of “The Triumphal Entry” from Matthew 21, which is the story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a colt (thus fulfilling an Old Testament prophecy), and the crowds of people are cheering for him exuberantly, waving palm branches and throwing down their cloaks in front of him.

It is kind of like the New Testament version of a ticker tape parade being thrown for conquering heroes in battle or championship sports teams.  Basically, imagine the massive Chicago Cubs parade and rally last fall.  That is precisely what is going on here.  And the object of the people’s affection, their “conquering hero” as it were: Jesus of Nazareth.  Maybe something good can come from Nazareth, after all. 

This seems to be, almost exclusively in my experience, what is preached and sung and taught on Palm Sunday every year.  I mean, it does make sense.  And it is a delightfully happy scene.  Who doesn’t love that?  Plus, it’s good for getting the tithes and offerings up.

But the Lectionary does offer an alternative:  “The Liturgy of the Passion.”  The gospel passage utilized here is also from Matthew’s gospel, but begins with the betrayal of Jesus by one of his own disciples, Judas Iscariot (chapter 26), and ends with Jesus’ burial (chapter 27).  In my experience, not a lot of people choose this story to tell on this day.  It is dark, gloomy, foreboding, and it does not end with any sense of hope at all, let alone triumph.  Who wants to hear a story like that?  And it certainly doesn’t help pay the salaries and budgets.

Next Sunday, on Easter, there is but one choice in the Lectionary:  The Resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  Full of hope, full of life, it is a story that preaches itself, really.  God can overcome anything.  Even death.  That means there is nothing left to fear, and that love always wins.

In between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, though, a radically different story is taking place.  No championship parade like on Palm Sunday.  No MVP Award like on Easter.  Only a slow, daily descent into the Hellish realities of human existence on earth.  Conflict.  Battles.  Wars.  Lies.  Betrayals.  Death.  Destruction.  Hopelessness. 

This is the story told in the alternative Lectionary passages for this Sunday.  But most of the time, these are skipped in favor of the Championship Parade.  Why?  If I was going to be cynical, I’d suggest as I did earlier that you simply “follow the money, honey.”  And there is probably much truth in that.  But I think the greater reality is, we humans would prefer to have happiness without suffering, victory without sacrifice, achievement without struggle, joy without pain, life without death.

But the Good News is not that there is life without death, but that there is life after death.  If it were possible, we would desire this path to be taken from us – but the Way of Jesus is the only Way.  And the Way of Jesus is the Way of the Cross, the Way of Suffering, the Via Illuminate – the Way of the Least of These.

So on this, Palm Sunday, may we remember that there is but one Way…Jesus…and to walk in Jesus’ path is to take up one’s cross daily and follow him.  The good news is not that there is no death and no suffering, but that in the midst of the hopelessness that accompanies these, Jesus is there, never leaving us, never forsaking us.  We face down our fears with love.  And love always wins.  Like Abraham and Sarah, we hope against hope, and in God’s time, our faith will be rewarded. 

May it be so.  Amen.