Tag Archives: Holy Week

When the Old Thing was Finished

John 18:1-19:42

The journey to this moment, began with those first stories of Advent. The angels that told Mary and Joseph that they would have a son. We don’t think much about Good Friday while singing Christmas carols.

But we began to clue in to where Jesus was headed when he went down the mountain of transfiguration into the valley of Lent.

From temptation in the wilderness, to secret meetings with the Pharisee Nicodemus as night, to Jacob’s well and the woman who had had 5 husbands, to the blind man who didn’t know who had healed him, to Mary and Martha’s grief on the road to Bethany… as Jesus uncovered our fears and anxieties in intimate encounters week after week… there were signs, signs that something bigger than just our issues and personal sufferings was being confronted. Jesus was passing by the particularities of our humanity. Jesus passed by because he was headed somewhere else.

Jesus was going to contend with something much bigger, something that was not about us individually… but something that is about us collectively.

And by the time we stood with the crowds waving palm branches, singing “Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”…singing “Save us now,  Son of David” there was no doubt that we would find ourselves here.

There was no doubt that the disciples would betray and deny him.
There was no doubt that the mobs would demand crucifixion
There was no doubt political and religious leaders would use the outrage for their own benefit.
There was no doubt that the empire would coldly and ruthlessly order execution.

There was no doubt that the place Jesus was going to was the cross.

We could see that today was where Jesus was going because Good Friday we have seen before.

We have seen the betrayals and denials of friends and family.
We watch the angry mobs crying out for vengeance on cable news.
We witness daily political and religious and business leaders use our outrage to turn a profit or gain a political win or entrench the power of religious institutions.
We see an empire that treats people coldly and ruthlessly even as we live and thrive because of that same empire.

We have no doubt that Jesus could end up on cross, because people like Jesus always do.

The ones who speak out.
The ones who risk themselves for others.
The ones who fight for goodness over self-benefit, justice over victory, compassion over power.
The ones who show warmth amidst coldness, who show love over ruthlessness.

We know today, we know Good Friday well, because in our world, there is also Good Monday, Good Tuesday, Good Wednesday and Thursday, Good Saturday, and Sunday.

Jesus’ journey to Good Friday is a common journey.

And it isn’t.

Because we remember the angels of Advent and Christmas, because we remember the voice of God thundering over the waters of Baptism and on the mountain of Transfiguration.

And then even though we have seen this story often enough, of betray and denial, of outraged mobs, and manipulative leaders, and cold uncaring Empires… beneath the cross we finally see the thing that Jesus has been pulling us towards all along.

The truth that Jesus tried to remind the tempter of.
The questions that Jesus explained to Nicodemus
The living water that Jesus gave to the woman at the well.
The sight that Jesus revealed to the blindman.
The buried  mercy that Jesus opened up for Martha, Mary and Lazarus.

Today Jesus reveals to us not another person doomed to die on a cross.

Today, Jesus reveals God, willing to die on a cross.

For us.

And thus begins the new thing that God is doing.

The new thing in oldest of stories.

In oh so common of human deaths for the sake our failing humanity, our sinfulness exposed in every way imaginable…. in the ultimate hubris, our belief if we just killed God we could be God.

God shows us life by dying.

Jesus shows us the beginning accomplished through the end.

Jesus shows us mercy given by a God who simply won’t be pushed away any longer.

Jesus shows us the love and grace that will be born, and live and pass by and come close and be just like us. How this love and grace ties humanity and all creation together on the cross.

Jesus shows us the completion of the journey where God does the thing that we have refused to do since Adam and Eve left the garden….

God joins the fallen to the divine, joins the sinful to the forgiven, joins the finite to the infinite, permanence of death to constant renewal of life.

Jesus shows us a God that dies just like us.

A God comes to us and finds us in every place we can possibly go, even in death.

So that we will live, and death will not be our end anymore.

No… we don’t think about Good Friday while we sing Christmas carols.

But God does.

The cross was where the incarnation, where God come in flesh, was going from the beginning.

The cross is the place where God was going to redeem creation all along.
The cross is the place and Good Friday is the day when the old thing – the power of sin and death –

When the old thing was finished.

And Jesus made all things new.

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Why did Jesus have to die? – Why God didn’t kill Jesus on Good Friday

We are on the doorstep of Holy Week.

Clergy types will soon be setting out to write and preach sermons that somehow make sense of the passion story, from Triumphant Entry, to Last Supper, to Trial and Crucifixion and finally Resurrection.

Along the way, it will be important to say something about how the death of a wandering preacher, teacher and healer on a cross is the means of our salvation… and what exactly we are being saved from.

This is a tricky endeavour because the story of the passion doesn’t explain the reasons. Instead we are left to fill in the gaps, and Christians have been trying to make sense of Christ’s death since St. Paul was writing letters.

And so often on Good Friday, a strange and convoluted theory of the reasons for Christ’s death is presented… one that makes God seem merciless, if not plain incoherent.

Often, God is presented as the ultimate source of Christ’s condemnation, the one who kills Jesus on Good Friday.

And this is absurd.

It is my contention that Good Friday is the day of the most important facet of the Good News and it is not because God killed Jesus.

Satisfaction Atonement

One of the most common ways that Christians tend to explain the atonement is with Bishop Anselm’s satisfaction atonement theory. The cole’s notes version is that the punishment for human sin is our death. And the satisfaction, the making things right is Christ’s death (since he was without sin).

What is rarely stated is that Anselm used medieval legal practice to formulate his theory. In medieval law, a fine was the punishment for most crimes. Anselm saw then that death was the fine for sin. But that wasn’t the end of the matter. In order to compensate the victim, satisfaction was paid. An additional amount that would make things right.

Anselm figured that since death was the most human beings could pay, an additional payment to make satisfaction with God was needed. Christ’s death becomes the satisfaction for our sin.

Now, beyond the fact that his medieval legal system is flawed and very human like any other system, there are a number of problems with Anselm’s theory:

God requires blood in order to show mercy… which is not mercy.

God is bound by human laws… which means God isn’t free.

And finally God and Jesus split apart by the cross… which is trinitarian heresy.

Anselm’s atonement theory is certainly not the only one out there (Christus Victor/ Ransom theory, Moral influence theory, scapegoat theory etc…). But it shows a common problem that most explanations of what was going on on the cross seem to have – they undo the trinity.

The Cross and Trinity

For some reason preacher’s tend to get uncomfortable with God being too close to the cross of Good Friday. When I was a neophyte theology student, still two years from starting seminary I was asked to give a short reflection on Good Friday on one of the 7 last words of the cross. My words were “I thirst.” And I pontificated eloquently on how Jesus experienced the human condition fully on the cross. Sounds lovely. And I then expounded on how Jesus was fully separated from God, just like we were. Almost sounds legitimate… except for that whole trinity thing.

The doctrine of the trinity reminds us that the persons of the trinity are never separate because they are one God. They are distinct, but one. So the experiences of one are shared by all. The Father and the Son could not be separated, even on the cross.

And this the heart of the problem. We don’t like the idea of God suffering, the Father suffering. We would rather make God the killer than the sufferer.

But the Trinity necessitates that God the Father experienced the cross just as much the Son did. God was crucified and died on that cross.

So who killed God?

We did.

Humanity. Our religion. Our government. Our authorities. Our mobs.

Yes, I do think that God knew the cross was in store of Jesus even before that angel visited Mary to tell her she was pregnant.

But it was not because God was perversely and cruelly looking to punish someone for our sin. It is not because God needed blood to be merciful.

God knew the the cross was in store because God knew us. God knew that humanity couldn’t let God come close in the incarnation. God’s coming close threatened our godship. We cannot be god if God is God. We could not be god if Jesus is God.

And here is where the Good News of Good Friday meets us.

Even though God knew the consequence of incarnation – of coming close to creation, of coming in flesh – God followed through to the end. God was born, God lived, God died. God did all the human things. Good Friday was the completion. God declared that God is going to a part of all of created life. There is no part of human existence that would be apart from God.

So why did Jesus have to die? Because we said so.

And why do we get to live? Because God said so.

So this Holy Week, whether you are preaching or hearing the preaching, listen… listen to hear the good news of Good Friday.

Listen and know that it is not that God killed God’s son in order to show us mercy. The good news is never a demand for blood. That is sin.

The good news is that God chooses life. God chose to live. To live all of created life, including death.

And because God lived it all, that whole resurrection thing that happens on Sunday becomes part of our story. Because God chose live and die with us, we get to die and live with God.


What good news do you hear on Good Friday? Share in the comments, or on the Facebook Page: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

It is Friday – God’s Friday

It is Friday.

Today we live in Darkness. Today we sit and worship in the shadow of cross.

We have heard Christ’s story of passion.

We have heard of humanity’s betrayal.

We have heard of his suffering and death.

But we have not come to kill Jesus again.

We have not come to grieve and mourn his death again.

We are not reliving the crucifixion again,

We are not nailing Jesus to the cross again.

Today we remember.

We remember our part in the story.  Our shame and our pride.

We remember that when faced with God in flesh, when faced with God with us,

we put God to death.

We remember that humanity at its best, humanity’s finest minds, finest scholars, finest religious authorities, finest soldiers…. our best and finest understanding of the divine,

led us to kill God.

This is Good Friday.

It tells us who we are.

It tells us who try to be.

It tells us what happens when we try to be God in God’s place.

We are threatened by anything that would take away

our control

our power

our strength.

We couldn’t stand the idea of being able to see God face to face.

We couldn’t stand the idea of God telling us that we were wrong, that were are not God

We couldn’t stand the idea that we didn’t control what God wanted, what God said, what God did, what God thinks.

How could we not be in control?

We believe we are God,

we know what WE want,

what WE say,

what WE do,

what WE think.

So when we met God face to face,

When Jesus  healed, preached, taught, fed, exorcized demons and raised the dead to life

When Jesus let us see God, and that we are not God.

We plotted, planned, schemed and betrayed.

When we met God face to face,

We said no.

We used our greatest tool. Our strongest statement. Our godlike power.

Death. We put Jesus to death.

When God came to us face to face,

God said yes.

God took our greatest tool, our strongest statement, our godlike power

God accepted our death

And then God did what he had come to do.

And then God said what he had come to say.

And then God gave us his greatest tool, his greatest statement, his real godlike power.

God gave us himself.

God gave us his life.

God gives us New Life.

And the cross which stands so tall,

no longer stands for death.

The cross which stands so tall

now stands for life.

We tried to make the cross say no

But God has made it say yes.

We have tried to be like God

But God has come to be like us.

We tried to control God with death

But God will not be controlled

Life will not be controlled

Love will not be controlled

Forgiveness will not controlled

Grace will not be controlled.

God will not be controlled.

God has come to love us

God has come to forgive us

God has come to show us grace

God has come to give us life.

It is Friday.

It is Good Friday.

It is God’s Friday.

The Disappointment of Holy Week

Mark 11:1-11

…Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

“Hosanna!

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!

Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

(Read the whole passage here).

Sermon

The Palms have been waved, and Hosannas sung. Today begins Holy Week, today we join with anticipation as the people of Jerusalem greet Jesus, riding into town like a King. This moment begins as sequence of events that pushthe people of Jerusalem and us from welcoming Jesus as a King to only days from now demanding death. During Holy Week, we re-live and rehearse this movement, this change in attitude towards Jesus, towards God. We rehearse this movement because as much as we would like to believe it belongs only to the people waving palm branches 2000 years ago, it is an experience that we know too well. It is expectation and hope met with disappointment and resentment.

The scene of the Triumphant entry is not easily identified by us for what it truly is. The idea of riding a donkey up a dusty road covered in palm branches, into an ancient city does not trigger memories or images for we modern people. Yet, for the people of Israel the symbol that Jesus represented was far more powerful than we imagine.

For us it would be better to imagine a Head of State stepping down the stairs of a private jet, being met by the welcome of cheering crowds and a band playing presidential music. Or we might be better to think of celebrities and stars walking down the red carpet to screaming fans and the flashes of media cameras. Or a motorcade with little flags on long black limos with motorcycles and big guys in suits with ear pieces and guns under their jackets.

Jesus is not just some guy on a donkey, and the reception he receives from the people is not just an impromptu greeting. Jesus has been headed towards this moment since he first rose out of the waters of the Jordan river and that voice thundered from heaven, “This is my son, my beloved.”

The people of Israel too, have been waiting for this moment. They have been anticipating the arrival of Messiah. They have been waiting for a King.

A King who was to hear the cries of the people.

A warlord who was to oust their Roman oppressors.

A spiritual leader who would re-establish the Kingdom of God on earth, with the Jerusalem temple at its centre.

And so when Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a steed, just like the Kings of Israel would have according to the Old Testament, the people believe that their salvation is near. They have high expectations for what is to come. They shout Hosanna, which does not mean Praise the Lord, but means Save Now. They believe that Jesus is One who has finally come to meet their expectations, to deliver on their hope, to save them from their problems.

We know this hope, we know this expectation. We have all longed for the one who will save us. Who will save us  from our problems, from our worries, from our brokenness, from our suffering and pain.

And again, we know the disappointment that will come. We know what it is like to have promises broken. We know that un-met expectations lead to resentment.

Holy Week is a reminder of this experience.

Holy Week is a practice in disappointment.

As much as we long for a saviour to come on our terms. A king from the house of David or a prime minister leading our party of choice. A warlord who will oust our oppressors, or a lottery ticket, romantic partner, job opportunity that will finally make our problems go away. A spiritual leader who will establish God’s Kingdom, or a pastor or program that will bring all the people missing from pews back to church (along with their wallets).

Our expectations for salvation. For our version of salvation will only lead to disappointment, this week more than ever.

This week, more than ever do we try to hold God’s feet to the fire for not being God in our image… and by Friday, Save Now becomes Kill Now.

But the disappointment is necessary. Because none of this has been about what we want. Jesus has reminded us all along the way, that our expectations, that our version of the world is not what he come for.

Jesus has come to do God’s work. Jesus has come riding a donkey, a symbol of peace, rather than the war horse of a conqueror.

And peace is what Jesus delivers. It will not be on our terms. It will not come by Thursday or by Friday morning. It will not happen in the Garden when Judas comes with soldiers. It will not be in Pilate’s court.

No, peace does not come on our terms. Salvation is not according to our version.

Instead, in the place where we have finally given up on peace, On Golgotha, where no one can imagine salvation. On the cross, where there is only death. God will deliver us from evil, and the King will finally sit on his throne.

On Good Friday, salvation will finally be on God’s terms.

We just won’t know it until Sunday.

Amen. 

 

Noah, the Silence of God, and Holy Week

We are in the last few days of Lent before Holy Week begins. As one who bears the responsibility for planning, preparing, presiding and preaching for Holy Week, the coming days will be busy, full and emotionally draining. As a pastor you carry, whether you like it or not, the emotions of your people. The anticipatory expectation of a saviour on Palm Sunday. The dread of Maundy Thursday. The deep guilt and grief of Good Friday. Finally the joy of Easter Sunday. It can be a roller coaster of emotions through the week.

imagesOn the brink of Palm Sunday, with palm branches ready and Hosannas waiting to be sung, I have been constantly coming back to the movie Noah. Last week I wrote a review of the Movie on some of the Biblical themes, and in particular the Christological symbols. Like I said in the review, I thoroughly enjoyed Noah and found it to be rich and deep movie. However, one symbol I didn’t say too much about was the silence of God.

*SPOILER ALERT*

While God never actually speaks in the movie, God is a noticeable presence. The characters in the film regularly reference the fact that God has not spoken to human beings in a long time. The filmmakers have said that they didn’t want to put words in God’s mouth, and others have noted that none of us hears God’s voice in that way. God’s silence is something we can resonate with. Any person of faith has struggled with feeling God’s absence and experienced God’s silence.

However, the reason I keep coming back to the silence of God in Noah has more to do with the ‘why?’ of the matter. Why has God chosen to be silent with creation and especially silent with human beings? What has driven God to refrain from speaking with these little creatures that God cares so much about?

The opening scene of the movie is Cain’s murder of Abel. This theme of murder in human relationships, with each other, and with creation permeates the movie. Humanity’s ability and capacity to kill becomes the relevant question at the climax of the movie.

I have a theory as to why God remains silent. I think the murder is so offensive to God that God can’t bear to speak to humanity again. God has created this beautiful, fragile, precious thing called ‘life’ and humanity cannot stop destroying it. I think that by the time things devolve into the antediluvian world – where humanity is murdering creation and each other – God is wondering whether creation should continue at all. Or whether human beings should continue being a part of creation. And so God decides to ask the last ‘righteous man’, Noah, to make the decision.

In the end, the film doesn’t really resolve God’s dilemma. Noah chooses to allow humanity to continue, yet does so knowing that humanity still carries the capacity for evil, for murder and death. Noah believes he has failed. Yet, because of Noah’s decision, God undeniably and visibly becomes not silent at the conclusion of the movie – the rainbow becomes the sign of God new word, or new covenant with creation. God has ended the silence with humanity, despite humanity’s flaws.

Which brings us back to Holy Week.

Palm-SundayThere is a certain silence to Holy Week. Through most of Lent, Jesus speaks at length in the gospel readings. He speaks with Satan, with Nicodemus, with the woman at the well, and with the blind man. But in Holy Week, Jesus seems to clam up a bit. And we all get the sense that this unresolved dilemma is facing God again. What is God going to do? What is humanity going to do? Jesus and the authorities are on a collision course towards death. Humanity can’t stop our killing, but this time God isn’t leaving the choice up to us. This time this beautiful, fragile, precious thing of life, this time God will not give us power over it.

This time life will overcome death. 

Palm Sunday IconBut it is going to take some silence on God’s part along the way. God makes room for our voices during Holy Week. Voices like “I do not know him” or “Surely not I, Lord” or “Crucify him!”

But they all begin tomorrow with that first word spoken by the crowds as Jesus enter Jerusalem.

Hosanna.

Hosanna, which we confuse with Hallelujah.

Hosanna, which does not mean praise the lord

But really means ‘Save now’.

In the midst of the silence this coming week, as we re-tell the story of passion. I am going to be thinking about that word – Hosanna.

It is the first word of Holy Week, but it is also a word for every Sunday. A word that we, at least as liturgical Lutherans, sing every time we gather for the Lord’s supper:

Hosanna in the highest. 

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord
Hosanna in the highest

Save now in the highest.

Save us from our sin.

Save us from death.

Save us from ourselves.

And unlike the Noah movie, where the question facing God of what to do with humanity goes unanswered, God will answer.

God will answer our Hosanna.

God will save us now,

With life.


 

What are your plans for Holy Week? Have more thoughts about Noah? Ever experienced the silence of God? Share in the comments or on Facebook: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik