Lectionary:Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 10:16-25; John 18:1-19:42
It’s taking too long. Earlier today we marked the hours of Jesus’ crucifixion (12 noon to 3 pm) by walking the Way of the Cross, then praying with the rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar. Now this evening, we gather to worship God, and be fed by Word and Sacrament. We hear again the very long passion Gospel (John’s version this time), and pray for unity in the church, guidance for the world's leadership, and comfort and strength for all who suffer.
But it’s taking too long. When we look around us, the church seems to be fracturing more not less. The world is no closer now to living in harmony than it has ever been. And presently, there seems to be increasing numbers of people who need comfort and strength for their suffering.
It’s taking too long.
But that’s the nature of life as a believer - being willing to wait on God and trusting that no matter how things look right now, God’s plan for us is perfect and perfectly loving.
As we walked the Via Dolorosa today (the Way of Sadness), we saw Jesus’ example of faithful obedience – an example which we are called to follow – for as long as it takes.
Jesus walked carrying a heavy burden that wasn’t even his own (it was ours), yet on he went. He fell from the weight of this burden – not once, but three times. He needed help carrying the burden. He sought the loving face of his mother to sustain him as he walked this terrible path. And he never stopped loving us, even as his flesh was torn and bled when the nails pierced him, even as he struggled to breathe while hanging on that cross.
It took too long. The reason the Romans used crucifixion as their chosen corporal punishment is because it was a long, slow, painful death. The person hanging would slowly suffocate – the weight of his own body crushing his lungs. If he tried to push up to get air into his chest, the nails holding his body to the cross would rip the skin of his hands and feet, tearing larger and larger wounds. And though the bleeding from these wounds would be great, it wasn’t enough to kill him. Death on the Roman cross was slow and agonizing. It took very long.
When I was 16 years old, Life Magazine did a story on Mother Theresa of Calcutta that changed my life. It showed pictures of Mother Theresa bending over people covered with oozing sores and skin diseases. She bent close and tended to their wound and whispered comfort to them. The interviewer asked Mother Theresa why she wasn’t worried about catching what these people had. Her response changed my life. Mother Theresa responded: “In the face of each of these I see the face of my Savior, Jesus Christ.”
The risk we face as modern Christians is making this all a movie that plays in our minds and not in our lives. We can share real emotion watching this movie in our minds, but we remain safely distant from the reality of it. Mother Theresa showed us how to make it real – how to find the face of Jesus all around us, not distant from us.
The truth is suffering always takes too long. When we hear that one voice that cries out to us from our gate and we respond, we expect to do our good deed and be done with it. If that person continues to need or suffer, we may give one or two more times, but then we get impatient. We begin to blame them – or use the very convenient (and over-used) excuse of not wanting to “enable” them. The truth is, what we really want is freedom from their nightmare. We don’t want to share their suffering when it begins to take too long.
In his book “Love Wins,” author Rob Bell says this: "What the gospel does is confront our version of our story with God's version of our story." And in God’s version of our story, redemption comes by the death of the Messiah on a Roman cross. Innocent of any crime, Jesus willingly gave everything - so that the will of God would prosper.
And what is the will of God? Salvation for the whole world – the WHOLE world. That could take a long time.
In the meantime, we are called to gather together to worship God,” not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some,” because we can’t do this alone. We need God and each other as we walk the way set before us. And we need to remember that serving God by serving those who suffer, as our Lord did on the cross, isn’t quick or easy. When we hear ourselves saying, “this is taking too long;” when we find ourselves impatient with a person whose problems just won’t go away – we need only look up and see the broken body of Jesus on the cross.
(Note: God ended this sermon for me and I just don’t remember what was said. It was a transcendent experience for me for which I am grateful, but unfortunately, for the sake of this blog, I can’t recount.)
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