Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Seven Last Words--Forsaken

Seven Last Words
“My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?”

Jesus is coming to the end of His task. He has been on this cross for almost six hours. He has experienced repeated insult, injury, frustration, and even abandonment by both His disciples and the leaders of the People of God. From a human perspective, He has come almost to the end of His rope. Almost, but not quite. The end will come quickly now.

Many smart people have pondered the meaning of these words, and have come to the conclusion that we simply don’t know their  full meaning. The conundrum arises from a central tenet of Christian theology—that God is One, and He cannot be split into parts. Given this understanding, it is simply impossible for God to have forsaken God; for there to have been a rift in the Trinity.

And so He hasn't. 

This utterance isn’t from Jesus’ divinity, but from His humanity. He is tired, and He has been doing what He came to do—all the suffering, all the not-answering-a-word, all the frustration with disciples who still don’t get it, has been part of the plan. Nevertheless, He hurts; He is tired; He is overwhelmed. Enough is enough.

These words are from Psalm 22, and are rooted in Israel’s relationship with her God; rooted in covenant and rooted in a history that has seen an endless cycle of closeness and distance between her and God.  They are rooted in Israel’s trust in God, and it is this trust that underlies and drives these words.

Israel’s history has included being over run, despoiled, and taken into exile. Her history has included punishment and being sent from her God. In the midst of these calamities, history has also witnessed her God go with her, even if she cannot experience His presence. God has not forsaken Israel even if it has seemed He has.

And God has not forsaken Jesus here. 

These words are the result of a very human feeling of desolation, of being alone in a dangerous place, but at the same time are founded in the expectation that God still hears, still knows, still acts to restore those who would cry out to Him. The remainder of Psalm 22 makes it clear that when all is said and done, the speaker believes that God does in fact hear and will act to restore Israel to himself. Similarly, Jesus trusts the steadfastness of God.

This cry from the cross is in a real way an affirmation of God’s presence and care for His people. God has not forsaken Israel, not forsaken Jesus, and will not forsake you—even in times when it seems He is absent.

Read Psalm 22 slowly. Let the words evoke the feelings, the dry mouth, the being surrounded by dogs. Have you been in such a place? When was it, and how did you maneuver through it?

In this psalm, despite the exhaustion and the wasting away, the psalmist calls out to God for help, for salvation. We often hear only the words of desperation, failing to hear that they arise from and  are based in a faith that God does in fact hear.  What kind of faith  do you suppose it takes to be in such straits and yet reach out to this God that seems to be absent?

Has your faith been tested like this? If so, how has your faith changed this side of the testing? If your faith hasn’t been tested like this, how might you prepare for such testing?

What do you need to do?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Seven Last Words--Behold Your Mother

Seven Last Words

“Woman, behold thy son.”

Jesus spent his last evening washing feet, giving last-minute encouragement to his disciples, praying in the garden while the disciples slept, and then betrayed and standing a religious trial. At dawn, He had been taken to Pilate and experienced the leaders of His people yelling, “We have no God but Caesar!”

After enduring an exchange of question and answer, He was finally turned over for crucifixion in return for a notorious insurrectionist. Beaten and insulted by the Roman soldiers, He now finds Himself hanging on a cross, being jeered yet again by those who should know better.

Before He dies, there is one last detail He needs to handle. He has to make arrangements for mom. Jesus is her oldest son, and some believe her only son. In the culture of the day,  she will not have anyone to care for her when He’s dead. It is his responsibility to make sure she is  entrusted to someone.

Looking down from the cross, he sees a handful of people. This small clutch includes His mother and the disciple we understand as one of His closest followers.  While He still has strength, He  makes introductions of sorts, entrusting Mary to John for the rest of her life. Tradition tells us that she lives with John for eleven years following Jesus’ death.

What do we see in this vignette? We have God, the One through whom  all things are made, and by whom all things are sustained, being killed viciously by His own people. He allows them to kill Him because He loves them and this is the way they will return to God.

Even so, this God before He completes  this cosmic, planned before time mission, in writhing physical pain and mounting emotional and psychic pain, takes time to care for a creature.  He will not allow Himself to complete His Father-directed task until he ensures that Mary will not be left alone in this world.

God stops or delays what He is doing to care for people.  How cool is that?

He loves you in the same way. Let Him care for you.


What does it mean to you, that God took time to make sure that Mary was cared for before He died?

Have you ever thought that maybe God wasn’t with you—that He may have left you out to dry? How did you work through that? If you’re in the middle of it right now, might knowing that Jesus cared for Mary even in the midst of his anguish help you reconnect with God?

We humans often get caught up in our own lives, our own important tasks. Sometimes we lose sight of the people around us and forget to care for them. Who in your life have you overlooked?

What do you need to do?


Friday, February 15, 2013

Seven Last Words - With Me

Seven Last Words
“Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Jesus is crucified between criminals. These folks are called thieves in Scripture, but the word used, lestes, might more accurately be translated as “robber.” A robber doesn't just take things surreptitiously like a thief might. A robber confronts his victims and may well use violence or even murder to take what they want. These two weren't second story men or petty thieves being crucified for taking someone’s VCR. These guys were violent men who may have been part of Barabbas’ group of insurrectionists.

I review all that to shed some light on who these guys were. They would have fit in the list of people Paul has told us would “never enter the Kingdom of God.”  These were men who had committed considerable crimes.

Unfortunately, they had been caught by on e of the most brutal regimes the world has known. Not only was life worth very little, but it could be taken seemingly at a whim by those in power.
We find them mounted on crosses as examples, on either side of Jesus on this Friday. They’re guilty and they know it; they’re guilty and they’re going to die today. One of them join in with the crowds, the Romans, the Jewish leaders and mocks Jesus.  He’s not observant, he’s not listening. He goes along with the crowd and rails against Jesus.

The other robber is a bit more observant; more on the ball so to speak. He’s either heard of this Jesus, or maybe he sees Jesus’ behavior on the cross and sees something that changes his view. Whatever it was, this robber acknowledges two things: 1)  they are guilty and Jesus isn't  2) Jesus is God. This robber interrupts the first one’s jeering and asks Jesus to remember him when He comes in His kingdom.

Jesus’ response is essentially, “OK.” This robber will be with Jesus.

Jesus is crucified between two criminals who behave and speak to Jesus in two different ways. How does the difference in their behaviors reflect the choice we have to make about Jesus?

These men are likely guilty of violent crimes against multiple people and may be insurrectionists against Rome. How do you react to the first robber; the one who mocked Jesus?

How do you react to the second robber? If your reactions are different, why are they different?

The second robber’s response to Jesus is largely a “death bed confession.” What is your reaction to death bed confessions?

What does it mean to you that Jesus apparently forgives this robber without any special rites or requirements?

Following are discussion last week of forgiveness, how does this interaction inform your understanding of God’s forgiveness and mercy for people who have had violent histories?

What do you need to do?

Seven Last Words - Forgive

Seven Last Words
“Forgive them because they do not know what they are doing.”

Forgiveness, what is it? All relationships involve the need for acceptance of another, acceptance of hurt, and acceptance of reconciliation. All healthy relationships require that I let you into my life as an imperfect person, willing to experience your failings even toward me.

We often see parents urge their children to say “I’m sorry” for relatively minor infractions, with the expectation that the person they have affronted would say something like, “It’s OK, I forgive you.” This is a great practice because it teaches kids that other people, their stuff, and their feelings are important and aren’t to be taken for granted. If all works well, the kids also get to see humility and forgiveness modeled for them.

Forgiveness though brings with it the idea of releasing a debt; of letting go of hurt; of blame. It includes a realization that we are all fallen creatures and perhaps even accepting that “there but for the grace of God, go I.”

Mature forgiveness must be freely given and have as its direction the reconciliation of a relationship in some form. It isn’t simply to ignore a hurt for the moment and continue to carry the affront quietly. It is rather, in its fullest form, to accept the hurt into our lives and yet to want and to do the best for those who hurt us.

Forgiveness arises from a deep caring for people because they are people. Willingness to forgive is a Christian virtue, one that arises from who we are and is extended without payment.

The following prayer was found in Ravensbruck concentration camp after its liberation.  Read it through slowly.

“Lord, remember not only the men and women of good will, but also those of ill will. But do not only remember the suffering they have inflicted on us. Remember the fruits we have brought, thanks to this suffering--our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, the courage, the generosity, the greatness of heart which has grown out of all this. And when they come to judgment, let all the fruits we have borne be their forgiveness. Amen.”

What is your initial reaction to this prayer?

What qualities of forgiveness did you notice in this prayer?

How do you imagine one of the Nazi camp staff would have reacted following the war, if they had heard this prayer uttered for them?

Are there any parallels between this prayer and Jesus’ prayer for forgiveness from the cross?

Have you been severely hurt by someone? How hard might it be for you to say a prayer like this for them? If it would be difficult, what would have to change in you to make it possible?

Have you severely hurt someone? What might be your reaction to know that they had said a prayer like this for you?

What do you need to do?

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