Thursday, April 14, 2011
Growing up in Kansas I saw my share of rainbows that arched across the sky in colors that were vivid at one moment and fading away at the next. Young children are often told stories about rainbows that stay with them even into adolescence, like the one about the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Have you ever tried to find the end of a rainbow? Have you ever wanted to make such a journey just to see if it were true or not?
There is something about a search for things of value that seems to capture the human imagination whether it is a pot of gold or the fountain of youth or prince or princess with whom to fall in love, we seem always to be hoping for something of value to enhance our lives or provide us with health, wealth, status, love, or control over our destiny.
We may not be following rainbows for pots of gold that will make us secure and able to have whatever we want or looking for a fountain whose water will give us youth, or looking for a prince amongst the frogs or a princess waiting for a kiss to bring her back to life, but we do search for such things in most of the choices we make during our lives.
Here is something to consider as we prepare for this Sunday that celebrates Jesus’ joyful entry into Jerusalem followed by his betrayal, arrest, trial, suffering, and death of the cross. Perhaps these acts of worship on Palm/Passion Sunday represent an alternative story to the tales we tell of rainbows with pots of gold, fountains of youth, princes and princesses, and other myths that propel us through our daily lives towards what we have come to call life.
The end of Lent is near. We are coming to that thin place in time and space called Jerusalem when and where the infinite God will be found on a cross and where, as in the creation, he will exhale the gift of life.
On the cross, we will discover that the God of our creation, preservation, and redemption has been pouring out God life on us every single moment and moment between moments of our lives. The cross is not the only act that redeems us and it is not the final act of redemption. It is rather the moment of clarity for us about who God is.
Is God faking his presence on the cross? Is he acting powerless and self-giving or is God genuinely and authentically the one who does not count equality with the human notion of God, pots of gold at the end of rainbows, fountains of youth, princes or princesses, or unlimited power and control a thing to be grasped?
What is revealed on the cross in Jesus’ death is God doing what God always does: giving of life and love to create all that is seen and unseen by exhaling the breath of life with no expectation of return. Jesus is God incarnate and at the beginning of his death he did what God continues to do, he breathed his last and said: “Father into your hands I surrender my spirit.”
The cross marks the spot where we can see who God is and what God does so that we can begin to see God at work in the whole creation. God is not out to overpower us or bribe us or threaten us. God is doing what God always does: He is exhaling the breath of life and love into creation as if it were the last breath.
Tuesday, April 05, 2011
You know that if there had been a National Inquirer back then the reporter would have asked Lazarus what it was like to be dead; how he felt about being dead; did he have any bad feelings towards Jesus for not getting to him before he died; what happened when he was coming back from the dead; and what did he have to say now that he was alive again. After all, inquiring people want to know such things.
But is that really what the story of the raising of Lazarus is all about? If we extend our reading beyond this story just a bit, we discover that a certain religious leader spoke the operative words of our world cult as he upbraided his colleagues for their ignorance of the way things really work in the world. Caiphas said:
"Don't you know anything? Can't you see that it's to our advantage that one man dies for the people rather than the whole nation be destroyed?" (John 11:49-52)
How many dead are there who have been thrown on the sacrificial crosses of our cult to give us just a little more time, a little less than real peace, a little less life than we had before? What might they have to say to us? Do we want to hear what they have to say? It is not hard to understand why horror movies feature zombies, the living dead, and why film always suggests that we see them as the dead we do not wish to ever see or hear from again.
So, what happens when our world cult of sacrifice throws the creator of all that is seen and unseen on that cross? What does the dead, but risen Jesus say when he is raised from the dead? Can we bear to hear what he has to say? Is he like Jason, the never-to-die zombie, that goes around killing others or does he say something to us from the cross that is repeated after he returns from death?
Lazarus remains silent to us. We do not have a National Inquirers’ interview with him or any written record of what this once dead man had to say about his experience. Unlike, Jesus, Lazarus comes out of the grave still wrapped in the garment of death, the burial wrap.
Four days in the grave made the mere touching of Lazarus a terrifying experience that would render them unclean, yet Jesus commands those who were present to unbind him and let him loose. To unbind and to loose is the power to forgive which is the power to live in God’s creation as flawed, imperfect human beings with other flawed and imperfect human beings.
Why didn’t Jesus simply unbind and let loose Lazarus himself. Why not finish the job. This last part of raising Lazarus from the dead is the responsibility of the community. Just as Jesus later comes to his disciples and empowers them to bind and loose the sins of others, so now, he asks the community that has witnessed the bringing back to life of Lazarus to unbind and set him loose.
Why must the community do this? When death comes to a member of the community whether by illness or human violence the fear of death preaches a powerful sermon that we all hear. We have been trained to see and hear that death is the punishment for sin or whatever you want to call it. We have been baptized into the cult of sacrifice. We have a deep and abiding common desire to not hear what the dead have to say to us. Death is the final frontier, a place that is hopeless and without the possibility of redemption.
It is to confront those fears that Jesus would have us unbind and set loose and this act of unbinding and loosing is really not to benefit Lazarus as it is to set us free from the fears that keep us fearful and in the valley of the shadow of death. We are the ones who need the power of forgiveness to live outside the cult of sacrifice that is the foundation of all human culture.
What does Jesus say from the cross that we need to hear. “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” When Jesus declares his work on the cross completed (it is finished) he breathes out a final time, releasing the power of creation to complete the work in us that he completed on the cross.
When Jesus meets his disciples in the upper room where they are still locked in fear of death, he breathes on them and says to them: “Receive the Holy Spirit.” He gives them the power to unbind, to set loose. He also allows that they have the power to bind too. The power to forgive is the power to bring life where there has been death and the fear of death.
If we do not forgive, we continue to be bound to this fear of death that may have left Lazarus standing in the midst of people who would not unbind him or set him free. This seventh of the signs of John’s Gospel brings us to the cross and invites us to make a decision to bind or unbind ourselves, forgive or remain unforgiven in response to the crucified and yet alive Jesus.
His word to us before and after the cross calls us to a life without fear of death and the dead. Will be remain locked into the fear that makes Caiphas’ rule, the only way we can survive or will we seek God’s deeper path to true peace and fullness of life. Lazarus will not say a word to us, but his presence among us demands a response to either forgive and be forgiven or to remain bound to fear and unforgiveness for ourselves and others.