Not Alone 3-29-15

I ask you to be the crowd today as you were out in front of the church, to shout “Barabbas’ and “Crucify him” as your parts in the drama. I ask you to do this not to make you feel guilty but to take our humble parts in the drama, knowing that we are not blameless and can’t point fingers at anybody else as the ones who are killing Christ or making evil happen in the world. Anytime we are silent in the face of injustice, any time we sit back and point fingers at someone else without trying to help, any time we give up because it’s just too hard, we are part of the keeping the creation from what God is calling it to be.

Mark 15:1-39 Now whenever there was a festival, Pilate would release for them one prisoner—anyone they asked for. There was a prisoner named Barabbas who was jailed along with the rioters who had committed murder in the uprising. When the crowd came to ask that Pilate honor the custom. Pilate rejoined, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” Pilate was aware, of course, that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests incited the crowd to have him release Barabbas instead. Pilate again asked them, “What am I to do with the one you call the King of the Jews?” The people shouted back, “Crucify him!” “Why?” Pilate asked.  What crime has he committed?” But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!” So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas to them, and, after having Jesus scourged, handed him over to be crucified. Then they nailed him to the cross and divided up his garments by rolling dice for them to see what each should take. It was about nine in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription listing the charge read, “The King of the Jews” With Jesus they crucified two robbers, one at his right and one at his left. People going by insulted Jesus, shaking their heads and saying, “So you were going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days! Save yourself now by coming down from that cross!” The chief priests and the religious scholars also joined in and jeered.”He saved others, but he can’t save himself!  Let ‘the Messiah, the King of Israel’ come down from that cross right now so that we can see it and believe in him!”  Those who had been crucified with him hurled the same insult. When noon came, darkness fell on the whole countryside and lasted until about three in the afternoon. At three, Jesus cried out in a loud voice. “Eloi,. eloi, lama sabachthani?” which means, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” A few of the bystanders who heard it remarked, “Listen!  He is calling on Elijah!” Someone soaked a sponge in sour wine and stuck it on a reed to try to make Jesus drink, saying, “Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down.” Then Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. At the moment the curtain in the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. The centurion who stood guard over Jesus, seeing how he died, declared, “Clearly this was God’s Own!”

March 29th 2015

Not Alone

We are Not Alone. One of the reasons this Lenten theme We are Not Alone resonates with me so much is that I was really lonely at times growing up. I remember in 7th and 8th grade in particular. I was kinda short, skinny and awkward, with funny glasses. I wasn’t good at sports, so I didn’t feel very connected to the guys in my class and I thought the only girl who would ever like me would be somebody short, skinny, and awkward with funny glasses. That’s kind of how it goes in 7th grade.

We all have times of feeling alone. Sometimes I think the feeling is more acute for guys. We are taught early on that we have to be big and not be scared and handle everything that comes at us on our own. I’m sure there’s a similar way in which that loneliness happens for girls and women. I can only talk from my own experience. I remember holding my dog and thinking that she was my only friend in the world. She would look at me and say that she understood and lick my face and it would feel a little better.

It was only later that I learned that solitude can be a wonderful thing. The difference between aloneness and solitude is really just a difference in perspective and attitude.

That early experience of feeling alone and being pretty intensely aware of feeling lonely shaped a lot of who I am today. It makes me empathize with the young gay person thinking about taking their life. It makes me appreciate the wonderful “It gets better” campaign that started after a spate of suicides. Personally I tend to think all teenagers, maybe all human beings, would do well to have a “It gets better” campaign handy for when things get difficult.

We easily believe that we have to hold a secret that no one else could possibly understand, that we have done things that cannot possibly be forgiven, that we have jobs to do with which no one will be willing to give us a hand.

 

The passion story at the core of our Christian faith is the archetypical story of aloneness. Maybe it resonates with people so much because it feels like the existential story of the human condition. Jesus sets his sights on his task, but the disciples go to sleep, then one betrays him, one denies him, and they all scatter when the going gets rough.

Only the women stick by him until the very end. Why do we portray Jesus as being totally alone when the women stuck with him? Maybe that’s the way women feel alone – when they are invisible to the world that doesn’t realize their resilience, strength and compassion.

Jesus knew the women were there, and it made a difference, as we’ll see. Nonetheless, at some point on the cross Jesus felt totally alone, totally abandoned even by God as he shouts in agony from the cross, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? It is a cry of utter despair and aloneness. (Later gospels that wanted to emphasize Jesus’ divinity more didn’t even include this saying of Jesus. Maybe John didn’t want Jesus to look that human.)

Jesus feeling of being totally alone is an expression of God’s total immersion in the human experience, taking on the worst pain and isolation of humanity. Paradoxically, this act is an act of ultimate solidarity and connection with humanity. (you see what I’m saying. By experiencing the completely loneliness of the human condition, God connects with and becomes one with all humanity in a way that unites us with God as never before.)

Similarly, we who call ourselves Christians, who follow the One who suffers and dies on the cross, are called also to take up our crosses. That does not mean that we are supposed to seek out or glamorize suffering for its own sake. No, the cross of Jesus, we believe, signifies the suffering of all human persons. We as Christians called to take up our cross, are called to stand in solidarity with all those who suffer, with all who are lonely or abused or suicidal with all who are small, skinny, blind, and scared.

And while the cross of Christ signifies every form of human suffering (sickness, tragic accident, aging), there are certain kinds of suffering that are central to its meaning. As we follow Jesus into Jerusalem from one side proclaiming the Prince of Peace and the coming of the new realm of God, knowing that Pilate is marching in on the other side with soldiers signifying domination and exploitation, we see the suffering that the cross represents. It is the suffering that doesn’t have to be, the kind of suffering is the consequence of injustice, the kind of suffering that cries out for an end not in death but in change. [Margaret A. Farley in Feasting on the Word, Passion Sunday p. 183]

So this cross is a symbol not of pain and aloneness, but a symbol of resistance to the suffering of people. It is and always has been for Christians a symbol of solidarity with people in their suffering, in their lonely struggles for fairness, for peace, for freedom, and life. This cross shows that there is a love stronger than death, stronger than any secret we might have, stronger than any suffering that isolates or makes us feel alone.

The God of Christians is not an arbitrary ruler who demands the price of suffering and death, but a God who can resist any evil, withstand any suffering, including death, and lead us to life and hope and new possibility, and a reuniting of all of God’s people working together for the recovery of God’s creation – the way God wants it to be.

Responsive Hymn: 2111 We Sang Our Glad Hosannas