Sunday, April 5, 2009

Never Alone: Communion Of Bleeding Together

Palm Sunday b.09.St. Timothy’s
The story is strong, but the point is far from clear.
Mark’s version of the story is so harsh, so brutal.
And Mark does not tell us what it means.
He does not explain where the grace is.

Most of us hear the story
with a prefabricated interpretation.
We think we know what it means as we listen to it.
The popular prefabricated interpretation says it’s about
an algebra equation of guilt and punishment.
God’s justice demands that x amount of sin
must be punished by x amount of suffering.
We deserve to suffer, but instead Jesus suffers so we don’t have to.

I want to connect people with Jesus in a healthy, loving way.
If that interpretation connects you to Jesus,
then the last thing I want to do is interfere.
But that interpretation makes no sense to a lot of folks,
and it cuts them off from Jesus instead of connecting them.

So if thinking of the cross as crime and punishment
helps your faith, God bless you.
I wouldn’t want to change that.
But if it gets in your way, I want to help.

The idea that God needs someone to suffer
is not a clear teaching of the Bible.
The Bible is crystal clear that Jesus saves us.
But there isn’t a clear explanation for how that works.
There are little hints and glimpses here and there,
and theologians have taken them as jumping off places
to explain salvation in different ways for centuries.

St. Paul gives the jumping off places for 8 different explanations
in just two pages of Romans.
We all agree Jesus saves. But there are several ways of understanding
how that works.
The algebra equation of sin and punishment idea
did not come up in church teaching
until 1,000 years after Jesus.

Since we are reading Mark’s story of the cross this year,
I would like to preach on Mark’s interpretation.
But Mark doesn’t interpret it.
He just tells a dark, grim, brutal story.

So I am grateful that we also have a lesson today
from Paul’s letter to the Philippians.
Paul gives us at least the beginning of an explanation.
This is one of the most beautiful
and most profound poems in the whole Bible.
I love this text because it tells me something I can believe
and hold onto.

I want to understand the cross in a way that makes a difference
for the people who are losing their homes and their jobs
during this recession.
I want to understand the cross in a way that makes a difference
to the victims of the shootings at Binghamton, New York,
at Columbine and Virginia Tech.

The senior warden of our church in Colorado Springs
lost her 18 year old daughter two weeks ago.
The girl was filling her gas tank,
when another driver hit the gas pump.
It blew up and the senior warden’s daughter
was incinerated.
I need the cross to say something about that.
I need God to do something about that.

If God is sitting serenely, divinely at ease in Heaven
while we struggle through the world’s cruelty and injustice,
that doesn’t help.
If God is sitting safely removed from all this
with his auditors account book of our sins
so he can exact the right punishments,
that doesn’t help either.

But thank God for Paul’s letter to the Philippians.
He tells us the Jesus was not just one more human victim
in a long line of victims of cruelty and justice.
He tells us Jesus was God.
But this God did not choose to rest easy in the cushy life
of being Lord of the Universe.
He “emptied himself” Paul says.
He gave up that safe nest to share our life.

And he did not choose the life of a king
or a CEO or a revered scholar.
He chose the life of a menial servant, then a prisoner,
finally enduring the most shameful death
the world has to offer
– capital punishment of a condemned traitor.

Jesus did not die proud of his heroic martyrdom.
He had emptied himself of his perfect wisdom,
so that he died without knowing the meaning
of his death.
His dying words according to Mark were,
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
He shared our confusion, our alienation, and our despair.
And this is not something that happened once in history
and now it’s over.
The cross shows us what God the Son does
every moment, because in his infinite compassion,
he feels every pain that we feel
every inch as deeply as we do.
God is so present with the hungry that his stomach cramps
-- so present with the lonely that his throat constricts
and he cannot call out for comfort
-- so present with the grief-stricken that he cannot move.

Jesus joins us simply out of love.
If we have to be afflicted, he will not let us be afflicted alone.
He loves us enough to go with us
right through the gates of hell.

But does that do any good?
Does it help? Does it matter?
I believe with all that is in me, it does.

When God in Christ joins us in our suffering,
it changes the meaning of our suffering.
It redeems our suffering from being meaningless.
The sorrows the world throws at us
are so great only one thing can heal them.
The only adequate consolation for us
is to lose ourselves in the love of God.
We have to meet God to be saved.
We have to meet God up close and personal
to be saved up close and personal.
We have to meet God all the way
to be saved all the way.

We meet God at the cross –his cross, our cross.
It’s the same cross.
We can meet God in other ways too.
We meet God in beauty and in joy.
But it’s like when you are in trouble
and your friends stand by you.
When God in Jesus joins us in our worst times,
when God suffers with us so we won’t suffer alone,
that’s when we know the depth of God’s love.

Our suffering becomes a place to meet God
and know God’s love.
St. Paul said “I want to suffer with Christ.”That’s not masochistic.

If I had my choice, I’d rather not suffer.
But we don’t have a choice.
Suffering goes with the turf of being human,
so if I have to suffer, I don't want to suffer along.
Let me suffer with Christ.
Let my suffering be a moment of connection to God’s love.

Then when we experience love, we can love back,
and that changes everything.
When we love as Christ loves we become like Christ,
and we relate to our suffering differently.
We notice that we aren’t the only ones who feel this way.
We take off the blinders and dare to look at the suffering of others
– at the abject poverty in Haiti and Zimbabwe,
at the shame and remorse in the people right next to us.

Life hurts. We all hurt. We all go to the cross.
But we do not go to the cross without hope
if we go there together with Christ and each other.
When we bleed together, that’s Communion.

Is all of this an adequate answer for the people
who are out of work, the victims of violence
or injustice?
Is it enough to know we are in this together
and God is in it with us?

No. It is not enough.
The cross is not the answer.
When we are in the burning building
and Jesus charges though fire
to join us in the building,
that is the first step toward making a difference.

Salvation happens when he carries us out of the fire.
That’ s the Easter Story
when Jesus crashes through the gates of Hell,
breaks the chains of sin and death,
to set us free from all we suffer.

But that’s the next chapter.
For today, it is only ours to remember
how much we are loved
by one who never leaves us alone.