Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday Homily 2011: "Walk in love as Christ loved us."

Yesterday was Maundy Thursday and it was a quiet hive of activity here at All Saints. Arriving for the day I cut through the back door of the church where Easter lilies were all lined up along the ambulatory wall -- waiting for their debut at the Easter Vigils. Gloria was filling the candlesticks with oil in the sacristy as the piano tuner was plunking out notes on the piano here on the chancel while a woman walked the labyrinth in the south transept.

As I came out the baptistery door into the courtyard, I paused under the banner hanging across the lawn: “All Saints Says Torture Is Wrong.” And I thought what better day to stand against torture than Maundy Thursday -- the day we celebrate the "new commandment" that our Lord gave us ... the commandment that we love one another ... just before he was led off to be tortured for the sake of that love.

Today is Good Friday and yesterday’s hive of activity has been replaced with the rhythm of the story we know and hear again.“Jesus went out with his disciples across the Kedron ravine. There was a garden there, and he and his disciples went into it …” And we know the garden’s name: Gethsemane.

And we know what happens next – we know where this familiar Good Friday story leads – know where we will leave it when we conclude this three hour service of prayer and reflection, story and song. We know that Jesus dies: that the life -- the promise -- the light that shone so brightly will be extinguished. All that will remain of the rabbi from Nazareth will be a broken body and the broken dreams of his scattered followers. The Kingdom he proclaimed has not come. The powerful remain powerful: the oppressed remain oppressed -- and where there had been hope there is only despair.

This is the stark truth of this day we call "Good Friday" -- a crucial point in the symphony that is Holy Week. Palm Sunday was our overture: touching on all the themes to be played throughout the week and leading us into the subsequent movements. And now we've arrived at Good Friday: in some ways the "adagio" of the piece. In the hours between now and the "allegro" of Easter, we sit in the silence and contemplate the power of this story that is ours.

There is a poem I come back to again and again on Good Friday. Its author and origin are both lost to me in the mist of Good Fridays past … I have it only as a typed (as on a typewriter … remember those?) scrap of paper in my prayer book.

And it reads:

This is the day when life is raw,
quivering, terrifying:
The day of numbed emotions,
the day of blunt nails
and splintered wood,
of bruised flesh
and red blood.
The day we loathe,
when hopes are crushed.

The day we long for,
when pretences fall away—
Because the worst that we can do
cannot kill the love of God.

The worst that we can do cannot kill the love of God. That’s the short answer to one of the most common Good Friday questions: “So what’s good about Good Friday?”

A somewhat longer answer to that question starts with the words of Robert Shahan, a former Bishop of Arizona, who famously said, "Faith is what you are willing to die for. Dogma is what you are willing to kill for."

What’s good about Good Friday is that Jesus didn’t come to give us dogma to kill for -- he came with a willingness to die for the faith he had in the message that the Kingdom of God is at hand: the Reign of God is about to be realized. It is here. It is now. He came with a message of inclusiveness and compassion: compassion in the truest sense of the word.

That message – in the words of the offertory sentence we’ve heard more times than we can count– is the invitation to walk is love as Christ loved us.

“This is the cup God has given me; shall I not drink it?” Jesus asked in the Garden. Was it a rhetorical question asked by the one who saw unfolding before him the events that would lead to the death he had been born to die -- the sacrifice of the sinless one for the sins of the world?

Or was it a hoping-against-hope question that there was still another way to make known to the people of God the love of a God who was willing to become one of them -- to show them how to walk in love with God and with each other?

It won’t surprise anybody to hear that I believe it was the latter. I believe that more important than the death Jesus died was the life Jesus lived – a life so in alignment with God’s will – with God’s love, justice and compassion – that he was “obedient even unto death.” Not obedient to a vengeful God who sent Jesus as a blood sacrifice – to a death that was the inevitable result of humanity’s abject sinfulness for which we should still wallow in guilt and shame.

Rather, what I believe is good about Good Friday is that Jesus was obedient to the love of a God so great that it enabled him to transcend the FEAR of death as he walked the way of the cross – as he chose to drink the cup he had been given even as he questioned up until the very last moment whether there wasn’t another way to accomplish the work he had been given to do.

The “good” in Good Friday is that in spite of the worst the world could do, the love of God transcended even death. The “good” in Good Friday is that we who follow Jesus -- we who have been called to BE the Body of Christ in the world -- can likewise transcend the fear of death in order to live lives fully alive – in order to continue to walk in love as Christ loved us – to walk in love with the God who loved us enough to become one of us in order to show us how to love one another.

It was the message he spent his 33 years on earth teaching, proclaiming and modeling for the crowds who gathered and for the disciples who followed. And it was – by earthly standards – a message that resulted in a “massive fail.”

In the end his poll numbers plummeted and the crowd’s joyful “hosannas” shifted to shouts of “crucify him” as his own disciples abandoned him as he hung dying on the cross. But not before Peter … the one he’d counted on, the one he’d called “the rock on whom I will build my church” … pulled out his sword in the Garden and whacked off the ear of the high priest’s slave in an act of brutal violence antithetical to message preached by the Prince of Peace.

Peter didn’t “get it” that night in the Garden and the Church hasn’t gotten it down through the ages either. Verna Dozier in her wonderful book "The Dream of God" describes it thus: "The [church] made the incomprehensible gift of grace into a structure … [rejecting] the frighteningly free gift of God to be a new thing in the world – a witness that all of life could be different for everybody."

And yet the good news this Good Friday is that God hasn’t given up on us getting it.

“There is a massive shift coming in what it means to be a Christian,” said Rob Bell in Jon Meacham’s TIME Magazine cover article What if there’s no hell? “Something new is in the air.”

I want to say “amen” to the massive shift part – because I think it is evidence that God hasn’t given up on us “getting it.” And I want to question the “something new” part – because I believe that what is in the air isn’t something new at all … it’s something very, very old.

It is nothing less than the core message Jesus came to live -- and the message he died without compromising: walk in love and I have loved you … and the world will be changed.

Walk in love as I have loved you … freed from the power of death and empowered to be fully alive.

Walk in love as I have loved you … and there’s nothing you can’t accomplish.

Walk in love and I have loved you and together we can turn the year of the Lord’s favor from a prophecy to reality: good news to the poor, freedom for the captives, liberation for the oppressed and sight to all who are blind to the power of God’s love, justice and compassion.

None of this is new to anybody who hangs around here at All Saints Church – even for a little while.

In fact Jon Meacham said as much when he wrote “a similar work by a pastor from mainline church might have merited a hostile blog post or two but it’s difficult to imagine that an Episcopal priest’s musings would have provoked the volume of criticism directed at Rob Bell whose reach threatens prevailing Evangelical theology.”

To walk in love as Christ loved us is threatening – not just to Evangelical theology but to all the structures and hierarchies and theologies and principalities the church has created down through the ages to protect its love of power from being challenged by the power of love.

In response to that threat the church has too often pulled out its dogmas and its doctrines – like Peter pulled out his sword in the Garden – and inflicted spiritual violence antithetical to the message preached by the Prince of Peace it purports to follow.

And yet the good news this Good Friday is that God hasn’t given up on us getting it. Inspiring Rob Bell to re-examine old certainties about heaven and hell and proclaim “something new is in the air.” Speaking through John O’Donohue who calls us to undo the “fall from belonging” and recognize the interconnectedness of all creation in the Creator’s web of love. Calling Ed Bacon to remind us that we CAN “reverse our amnesia” and remember that we – like every other human being – are loved beyond our wildest imagining.

Today is Good Friday.
The day we long for,
when pretences fall away—
Because the worst that we can do
cannot kill the love of God.

And so we walk the way of the cross these next three hours knowing that the worst they could do to our Lord on Good Friday could not keep Easter from coming.

And we walk in love as Christ loved us as we move forward into God’s future – knowing that even the worst the world can do … even the worst the CHURCH can do … cannot kill the love of God.

We walk in love as Christ loved us, an offering and sacrament of love, justice and compassion.



LGMarshall said...

Beware of Rob Bell's teaching, 'there is no eternal hell, hell is what you make of your life here on earth...there is no heaven, heaven is what you make for yourself here on earth ', because that makes Jesus out to be a liar. [which surely he isn't.]

Rob Bell asks.. 'would a loving God send people to eternal hell?" but you have to ask also, 'would a loving God kidnap those who do not wish to be with him". Answer: 'No.'

He gave Adam & Eve 'options', and those options still hold today.

Rob Bell aims his message at those that are not really interested in what the WORD has to say.... and after reading his book, --they are even further away from God ...but now they have Bell's approval on top of it.


Three quick notes:

● Adam and Eve were not real people.
● God is not a "He"
● And Rob Bell rocks.

Happy Day One of the Fifty Days of Easter!