Holy Monday Reflection: The Kind of Hero We Need

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For those of you closet Christians, this is a quite notable week in our faith.  It all began yesterday as we celebrated Palm Sunday, the reenactment of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  From today to Wednesday we study the teachings of Jesus in the temple.  Then on Thursday we gather together for a “Maundy” or “New Commandment” Service where we wash feet and sing about love.  Friday night we descend into darkness as we extinguish candles during a Tenebrae service.  On Saturday we wait.  And then on Sunday the party gets going!

If you are a Christian, this is our week.  It is our time to fast, to pray, to meditate and to attend the special services and to long for the salvation that only Christ can bring.  The goal of Holy Week is to give ourselves over again to the story that we believe changed the world.

But there is another story happening Friday that my news feed won’t shut up about.  It is the epic showdown between Batman and Superman.  And don’t get me wrong, I am kind of excited for Batman Vs. Superman, or BvS as us cool kids are calling it now.  And like most cool kids I am more excited for the “B” than for the “S.”  I fell in love with the Batman mythos through Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, whose stunning second act, “The Dark Knight,” is considered one of the best movies ever made.

The closing act of that movie gave us an iconic line about heroes as Commissioner Gordon tells his recently rescued son, “Batman is the hero we need but not the one we deserve right now.”  That line, right up there with the best of all movie lines, still resonates today.  Sometimes our hero doesn’t look the way we want the hero to look.  Sometimes the hero we need is not the one we want or deserve.  Sometimes the conquering king is actually a crucified criminal.  Sometimes the way, the truth and the life is a carpenter’s son from the middle of nowhere.

That can be quite unsettling.  As a pastor friend and New Testament scholar once reminded me, “The good news doesn’t sound like good news to some people.”

In Mark 11, after Jesus’ triumphal entry, those in established authority roles get nervous.  To them Jesus is not gospel.  He is threat.  He threatens to steal their followers.  He threatens to expose their arrogance and ignorance.  He threatens their long held beliefs.  He threatens their prejudices and power.  And they are not cool with that,  In fact, to them he just might be the kid in the crowd who yells, “Wait, that emperor isn’t wearing any clothes!”

So the chief priests go to Jesus and ask, “What kind of authority do you have for doing these things?  Who gave you this authority?” (Mark 11:28).

Jesus is rather coy.  He asks them a question about where John the Baptist’s authority came from, a very clever question because there is not a right answer.  I imagine they stuttered and stammered as they weighed their lack of options before spitting out, “Um, we don’t know.”

But then Jesus tells them a parable about the misuse of authority.  Like most parables it points out to the Chief Priests that they had asked the wrong question.  They wanted to know the source of authority.  Jesus wanted them to know about the misuse of authority.  Jesus told them about a vineyard owner who sent several messengers to collect his share of the profits.  They beat and killed all of the messengers who were sent until the owner finally sent his son, whom they also beat and killed.  Then Jesus closes the parable with, “But the stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (Mark 12:10-11).

This is not good news to those in authority.  Jesus is not the hero they want at this point and the gospel has become threat.  The stone we builders rejected has become the stone that holds the entire building up.  That tells the world we don’t know much about building after all.

In the same way the gospel reminds us that we are not all that great about religion.  The prophet the theologians and pastors and good church people rejected has become the savior of the world.  The vigilante the police force is trying to capture has become the symbol of justice in our city.  The ingredient the expert chefs threw out is now on the menu of every restaurant in America.

One of the reasons we take great care in telling the Easter story during Holy Week every year is because we need constant reminder that we are the foolish builders, the misguided theologians, the over zealous police force, the lousy cooks.  Yes, we don’t want the world to know it.  Like most people, I would prefer if you all believed I knew what I was talking about.

But in the end our salvation can only come by accepting the truth that the hero we rejected, the one we crucified has become and will always be the savior of the world.

We should not be like those chief priests who immediately wanted to arrest Jesus on the spot.  Instead we should accept the truth of our errors for what it is and turn towards Jesus the author of eternal life.  Only by admitting our ignorance and arrogance and repenting towards the truth can we enter into the glorious Easter morning.

Dear heavenly father, help me to accept the cornerstone and grant me newness of life this Holy Monday morning.

 

 

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Holy Saturday Reflection: Watching and Waiting

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It is partly cloudy and bit cold outside, with sporadic sunshine dancing across the street on which I live.

This morning my son woke me up around 7am.  His sister awoke about an hour later.  I made my family pancakes, fixed a flat tire, cleaned up fallen branches and pushed my children on their swings in the backyard.  My wife is currently at a book study that would have happened on any other Saturday.

This could be any other Saturday in April, and for many outside Christianity, and regrettably many Christians, this is.

Yet on this Saturday we wait and we watch.  After all, Holy Saturday is unique in the list of Holy days.  The gospel narratives barely include it.  Mark, the lectionary gospel for this year, gives us no narrative account of the Saturday between the crucifixion and the resurrection.  It simply skips over it with the words in 16:1, “When the Sabbath was over.”

We have no idea where the disciples were on Saturday or what they did.  We know that the women waited, but there is no reason to believe it was a passive waiting.  They probably went about the business of a regular Sabbath, while trying to reconcile their memories of Jesus with his bitter end.  If they were around today, they would probably be playing with my children in my backyard, or at the book study with my wife.  They might be smiling and laughing but their smiles would quickly turn to grief as the sunshine outside my window quickly turns back to clouds.

So today we are left alongside these women.  We do not fully understand the cross, even after 2,000 years and we do not fully grasp why God had to die.  We are struggling to stay happy after the terrible revelation that God lived among us and we killed God.

Yet as we wait, we hope for Sunday morning.  We may not know exactly what we are hoping for.  For many of us, it will just be the paltry end to our Lenten fast.  Others of us look forward to signing all five verses of “In Christ Alone” again.  .  .and again.  Others of us look forward to the Easter ham.

But whatever we hope for this morning, while we wait with the women, we gather our burial spices together and prepare to go honor our fallen Messiah, wondering who might pull back the stone for us.  .  .

Good Friday Reflection: What Kind of God?

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When my wife and I were still dating, I was visiting her parents for Thanksgiving.  There I found a book called “Life of Pi” by Yann Martel.  It looked interesting enough, so I read it and was blown away by it.  It is still one of my favorite books.

Towards the beginning, Yann writes about a young Hindu boy named Pi wandering into a Catholic Cathedral and searching the paintings for a depiction of the Catholic God.

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He sees a painting of women crying and angels hovering overhead and a dove.  He studies it awhile, trying to figure out which one of these creatures is “The God.”  Then his eyes rest on the crucifix and slowly it dawns on him, “This is their God.”

Little Pi finds that idea both horrific and magnetic.  Pi tells us, “If the Son is to die, it cannot be fake.  If God on the Cross is God shamming a human tragedy, it turns the Passion of Christ into the farce of Christ.  The death of the Son must be real.  And Father Martin assured me it was.  But once a dead God, always a dead God, even when resurrected.  The Son must always have the taste of death forever in His mouth.  The Trinity must be tainted by it; there must be a certain stench at the right hand of God our Father.” (Life of Pi, 68)

This poetic paragraph captures the harrowing irony at the heart of our faith, that our God died.  Whatever it means to die (whether going to hell, Hades, nonexistence, becoming a ghost, separation, etc) our God experienced.  And by going all the way to death and descending all the way to where dead souls go, God redeemed all death and all life.

That experience of death is now integral to the Trinity.  God dying was not a tangent theology in our faith.  It was not a fun little story to tell our kids every Spring.  Nor was it a silly business transaction that was soon forgotten amidst all the other heavenly business.  Instead, it was a world altering, earth shattering event.  It forever changed the way we relate to God and the way we relate to each other and even the rest of Creation.

But the irony goes deeper than that.  Our God didn’t just die.  We killed him.  One of the great ironies of the Christian proclamation is that the Creator of the entire universe lived among us.  He walked where we walk and talked like we talk.  But He did it all in the right way.  He lived a perfect, sinless, authentic life.  .  .and we killed him.

If you read the gospels you find we mostly killed him out of envy and fear.  We were scared he might take over and depose us.  We were envious because he had more followers and could do cool magic tricks.  And so we killed him before He could do any real harm to our fragile egos.

And yet, in the killing, in the death, we accidentally crowned him King!  After all, the crown (albeit of thorns), the purple robe and the sign above his head on the cross are all typical markers of a coronation.  The trial and crucifixion, read another way, are the movements of a coronation ceremony.  So, scared that Jesus just might become King, we killed Him and in so doing, made Him King.  It is quite the irony.

And it is this irony we celebrate today.  Our God has come.  Our God has died.  We killed our God.  But in so doing we unleashed the very power of love to all creation.

Today as we join little Pi in our churches and stare up at the cross wondering, “Could this really be God?” and as we wonder at the love that held Him there, while certainly calling to mind our own sinfulness, may that almighty grace flow forth from the King who forgives, who reconciles, who redeems and who gives out eternal and abundant life!

Holy Tuesday Reflection: Hiding in the Cleft

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This year Holy Week has become a time of unmasking and revealing.  As we get closer to the cross, we begin to get a sense of what Jesus is really about.  More about God is revealed to us on the journey.

It begins on Palm Sunday when we celebrate what we want Jesus to be about.  Then slowly over the week, the truth about what Jesus is really about is revealed.  There isn’t a throne or palace at the end of the trip, but a cross.  This reality hits us like a ton of bricks on Friday.

We want a King who comes to conquer through violence or intimidation or even popular vote.  Instead Jesus conquers through vulnerability.  It is the bleeding, naked, hurting Christ that turns the world right side up.

But, Holy Week isn’t just a time when God is revealed to us, but a time when we are unmasked as well.  As I pointed out on Sunday, there is that young man in the Garden of Gethsemane who loses his robe while fleeing the guards.  He ends up naked in the night.

I am convinced that the young man is supposed to be us.  As we journey to the cross with Jesus, discovering God’s conquering vulnerability, we end up vulnerable and naked ourselves, running away in our own nights.

For this reason I find it helpful to fast during Holy Week.  After all, food is such a great covering.  A full stomach (but not TOO full) keeps us comfortable and empowers us to continue to hide the truth about ourselves from the world.  In turn, hunger brings a nasty vulnerability.  It reveals things about ourselves we would rather not know were there.  Hunger unmasks anger, grief, resentment, frustration and in so doing forces us to deal with it.

So on this Holy Tuesday, as we get nearer and nearer to Friday’s cross, may we find that we are out of places to hide.  May our food, our games, our movies, our internet, our avoidance all fade away as we run into the night.

I was thinking about such things this morning when God delivered an old hymn to my mind.

“Rock of ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee.  Let the water and the blood, from your wounded side which flowed, be of sin the double cure, save from wrath and make me pure.”

There are all sorts of dangerous clefts out there that beg us to hide in them but the simple words of this simple song invite us to hide in true cleft that alone saves and makes us pure.

I love the second verse all the more,

“Could my tears forever flow, could my zeal no langour know, these for sin could not atone; Thou must save and Thou alone.  In my hand no price I bring; Simply to your cross I cling.”

As we get ever nearer to the cross, may God keep us safe from the evil around us and hide us in the true cleft.

See you all tomorrow.

Dead Mice in the Kingdom of God

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Last November I began running on a beat up old treadmill in my garage for 4 days a week.  As I spent an hour running my legs to the rhythm of the treadmill’s clangs, I noticed another sound in the background.  It was similar to a scratching or clawing.  Now I am usually a very curious person, but my curiosity failed me.  I blame the treadmill.

At the end of November we pulled our Christmas tree out and found mouse droppings.  .  .a lot of them.  So we bought two traps.  They were the new confangled kind that sought to bait the mouse with food and then enclose them in a round container.

We set them, placed them in the garage, waited for a month and caught nothing.  I assumed the mouse had died or moved on, though the scratching sound did not go away and the droppings increased.

In January my wife finally saw the mouse run across the floor.  She insisted we do something about it, claiming there is a disease you can get from mouse droppings that infects you by breathing.  Considering the majority of droppings were right beneath the treadmill, where I spent a half hour breathing hard every day, I decided to look into it.

So I researched it and found that %15-%20 of mice are infected with the hafta-virus.  The hafta virus is especially sinister.  It is an uncurable flu that can kill people if it gets into the lungs.  The virus itself is killed by direct sunlight but still very lethal if inhaled.  After reading about it, I panicked and bought the old school spring-load traps.

I set one with peanut butter one evening and left the garage.  I came back five minutes later to find a mouse.  “That was quick!” I exclaimed before I realized the mouse was still living.  Its ear and the side of its head were caught in the crossbar but the rest of it was fine.  It looked at me trembling and frightened and immobile.

“Oh, no, poor mouse,” I muttered.  My daughter, who was standing behind me, repeated it.  I stood there looking as equally terrified as the mouse and also immobile.

After ten seconds I knew what I had to do.  I grabbed an old dusty broom and a plastic bag and sought to sweep the trap and the mouse into the bag.  It didn’t work.  The first time I moved the trap, the mouse pulled its ear free, spurting blood onto the garage floor.  It shot like a lightning bolt underneath an old television stand.  For a second I thought it had run clear through it and emerged into the maze of boxes on the other side.

I muttered, “nuts.”  My daughter repeated it.

I turned to go inside when it occurred to me I should at least check under the television stand.  So I carefully pulled it back and there was the mouse, on its side, breathing heavily with the trembling eyes.

I knew what I had to do but I didn’t like it.  I lifted up the broom and brought it down swiftly to end the mouse’s life.

For the rest of the evening, my daughter repeated, “aw, poor mouse” over and over to remind me of what I had done.

The whole event brings into clear focus the true brokenness of creation.  In Genesis there is a wonderful picture of all animals living together in harmony.  In that world mice didn’t carry lethal viruses that could be spread by breathing the same air they do.  At the same time, humans didn’t have boxes of junk sitting in dark garages that mice could chew up and destroy.

But now our world is less than that utopia.  It is full of things like disease and death and boxes of junk.  Still, the Apostle Paul teaches us in Romans 8 that all creation is groaning while it waits for the children of God to be revealed.  I think that includes mice.  The hafta virus and the destroyed Christmas decorations and the disgusting smell are all signs of a groaning creation, waiting for redemption.

As I stood over that mouse and the trap that (let’s face it) is less than merciful when it works properly, I found myself groaning as well.

As I brought that broom down to mercifully end the life that I myself had all ready mutilated, I longed for a better world.

Poor mouse.  Poor humans.  Poor creation.

Come Lord Jesus.