With Jesus in the Sadness

I woke up this morning feeling a bit melancholy.  A touch of soul-sadness, the cause of which I could not and did not even want to try to pinpoint.

I say that “I did not even want to try to pinpoint” because I have learned over the years that more often than not, my conclusions about “why” I think I am feeling blue are either downright false or hopelessly myopic.  So I don’t do that much anymore.

My first real experience with God came when I was 16 or so.  In my bedroom, on my knees, like a flash of light, God caused God-self to erupt into my soul.  Of course I had had many “experiences” with God before this – felt the presence of God here and there, loved Jesus, had people prophesy over me and so on – but this was different… like fire and wind.  And it eventuated in a year or so of general spiritual euphoria for me…

…which abruptly ended sometime during my senior year of high school.  I went into a period of darkness that was at times suffocating, honestly feeling at times like God had abandoned me.  I didn’t know what to do.  I vividly remember praying and praying and praying that the sadness of soul, the feelings of abandonment, would simply “lift” and that I would be able to feel God’s presence again.  I wanted to be restored to my previous state.  I wanted the sadness to go.

And it would… sometimes… and then it would return.  I came to the conclusion several years later that these feelings probably had less to do with my “spiritual state” or the status of my “relationship with God” than they did with the cycles of seasons (deep winter’s tough psychologically in the midwest) and various other truly physical/psychological things going on with me.  In other words, that these seasons of feeling emotionally out of whack were very normal and probably weren’t a reliable index on how “close” I was to God.

Which was INCREDIBLY freeing – an enormously important conceptual bridge to cross, for it allowed me to cease and desist from trying to “fix” myself when periods of sadness would descent, or – even worse – panic about the sadness.  Instead, I could just let it be what it is while I kept doing what I needed to do.  I didn’t need to let it become a distraction (which would invariably become an obsession) as so often it had in the past.  The cycle of “feeling sad” and then “feeling sad about feeling sad” was broken.

That was a BIG move for me.

But there were more moves to come.  The biggest one being a gift I received from the Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross.

Now everyone these days it seems knows about St. John, who was famous for coining the term “The Dark Night of the Soul” – which for him was a state of deep emotional sadness, a sort of dying, that purified the heart of faith.  “The dark night of the soul” for many has become shorthand for talking about being in a spiritual trough or valley.

Which is fine as far as it goes.  The trouble is, there’s more to tell of the Dark Night in St. John’s thinking.  What is not usually mentioned in the popular descriptions of his perspective was that for St. John, the Dark Night was to be celebrated BECAUSE it provided a sort of spiritual “covering” for lovers – the lovers in this case being God and the human soul.  For John, the Dark Night was a place of intimate communion.  A place at once of purifying but also of stillness and rest, and – paradoxically I suppose – of passion and fulfilled desire.  Listen to these lines from his poem “The Dark Night of the Soul”:

There in the lucky dark,

none to observe me, darkness far and wide;

no sign for me to mark,

no other light, no guide

except for my heart–the fire, the fire inside!

That led me on

true as the very noon is–and truer too!–

to where there waited one

I knew–how well I knew!–

in a place where no one was in view

O dark of night, my guide!

night dearer than anything all your dawns discover!

O night drawing side to side

the loved and the Lover–

she that the Lover loves, lost in the Lover!

There’s really a lot to observe here, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll limit my observations to three:

1) He feels fortunate to have this darkness, calling it, among other things “the lucky dark” and a “night dearer than all your dawns.”  For St. John, this experience was nothing to be wished or willed or prayed away, but to be celebrated and entered into!  And why?  Because…

2) GOD WAS ALREADY PRESENT THERE!  As he says, his heart “led” him “on, true as the very noon is–truer too!–to where there waited one I knew…”  And what was the result?

3) God and his soul experienced a sort of spiritual consummation of their union.  The night, as he says, “draws side to side the loved and the Lover”, creating space where “she that the Lover loves, lost in the Lover.”  For St. John, the darkness was a place of spiritual abandonment, a going-outside yourself, a getting-lost in the soul’s Lover.

The paradox that I’m learning is that I can – if I wish – embrace my moments of melancholy and sadness as blankets of intimacy with God.  And it is not as though I need to INVITE GOD INTO THEM.  It is more profound than that.  God is already present in the very deepest places of my sadness.  Which means that I can take hold of them as blankets of intimacy with God.  They are places of fellowship and nearness.  And in that way, they are certainly not panicked over, much less “wished away” – instead, they are coverings.

As John (the Gospel writer) puts it:

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. (John 20)

I love that.  Doors locked.  Darkness.  Fear.  Anxiety.  Grief.

And the Risen Christ finds a way in.  He speaks his peace, he shows his wounds, and joy results.

May you know the presence of Jesus in your sadness.

Peace be with you.

Andrew

Eugene Peterson on Spiritual Direction…

…despite the high-falutinness of the term “spiritual direction”, it’s a lot more normal and natural than most people think.  Love this quote by the always clear-headed Eugene Peterson:

Spiritual direction takes place when two people agree to give their full attention to what God is doing in one (or both) of their lives and seek to respond in faith.  More often than not for pastors these convergent and devout attentions are brief and unplanned; at other times they are planned and structured conversations.

Whether planned or unplanned, three convictions underpin these meetings:

(1) God is always doing something: an active grace is shaping this life into a mature salvation;

(2) Responding to God is not sheer guesswork: the Christian community has acquired wisdom through the centuries that provides guidance;

(3) Each soul is unique: no wisdom can simply be applied without discerning the particulars of this life, this situation

(From “Working the Angles“)

Simplicity on the Far Side of Complexity – A Thought for Preaching

The text of Scripture has a funny way of being much more resilient than we’d like it to be.  It has riches to yield… but not cheaply.  Usually it yields them only after a long and painful struggle.

My impression of most preachers is that we really don’t appreciate this process.  As a result, we make one of two mistakes:

1) We settle for a cheap simplicity on the near side of the complexity of Scripture.  Instead of really grappling with the text, we revert back to using cheap platitudes, “Christainese”, old stories, and worn-out doctrinal formulations.  As a result, we fail to have a fresh, compelling “word” to speak.

2) We press into the complexity but stall out in the middle of it.  Instead of persevering through the arduous struggle with a resilient text, we make a home in the complexity.  This results in preaching that is convoluted, sloppy, and over-“explainy”.  Moreover, we fail to actually PREACH, for – sorry to burst the bubble here for anyone – mere exposition is not proclamation.  It is one thing to be able to explain how – for example – the U.S. Government works.  It is an entirely different thing to announce that the Commander in Chief has entered the room.

There is a third way, of course; and it is where good preaching tends to be found:

3) We press into and through the complexity and come out on the far side, in a crystalline and hard-fought clarity and simplicity that evokes awe, wonder, repentance, gratitude, and obedience in those who listen.  Jacob, we are told, “wrestled with the man of God” till daybreak, famously declaring, “I will not let you go until you bless me!”  His hip was wrenched (he was marked by the struggle) but a blessing he did get.

Most of us give up the struggle too early, if we even enter it at all.  It is part of why “the word of the Lord” tends to be “rare” in many parts of Christendom.  WE’RE LAZY.  And the result is that our preaching is cheap garbage.

Don’t settle for lazy preaching, preachers.  Enter the struggle with that resilient text that seems to have a mind of its own.  Wrestle with God in it.  Insist on not leaving it till he blesses you.  Don’t let it go until you’ve wrenched a fresh word from it.  Chances are, you’ll be marked by the struggle (it will cost you do this).  But you and the congregation alike will be MUCH BETTER OFF.

So get to it.

Peace to you…

Along the Road to Perfection: Reflections on Psalm 119 #7 (Zayin)

Let us recount the journey:

  • Aleph (vv. 1-8): the horizon is perfection
  • Beth (vv. 9-16): the path is God’s gracious speech
  • Gimel (vv. 17-24): the commitment to Yahweh’s “way” makes us by definition strange (something we’ll have to grow increasingly comfortable with)
  • Daleth (vv. 25-32): sooner or later, followers of Yahweh “hit the wall“, and when they do, Yahweh has them right where he wants them
  • He (vv. 33-40): the Psalmist’s “poverty of spirit” pushes him to plead with Yahweh for assistance (for this life is not possible with mere human strength)
  • Waw (vv. 41-48): all of this begets a renewed inner resolve to follow Yahweh, whatever the cost

And he will need that resolve, for the heat is about to get turned up again with the next stanza, each line beginning with the Hebrew letter zayin:

49 Remember your word to your servant,
for you have given me hope.
50 My comfort in my suffering is this:
Your promise preserves my life.
51 The arrogant mock me without restraint,
but I do not turn from your law.
52 I remember your ancient laws, O LORD,
and I find comfort in them.
53 Indignation grips me because of the wicked,
who have forsaken your law.
54 Your decrees are the theme of my song
wherever I lodge.
55 In the night I remember your name, O LORD,
and I will keep your law.
56 This has been my practice:
I obey your precepts.

Inevitably, our big, brash “I WILL!” statements are put to the test no sooner than they leave our lips.  The Psalmist finds a new inner resolve to follow Yahweh and almost immediately he finds that the proud and arrogant, those who live their lives outside of and against Yahweh’s gracious “instruction” (Torah) are “mocking” him “without restraint”.

So what will he do?  Will he survive the onslaught?  If so, how?  And what will this do to him in terms of his formation?

I am struck by three things:

1) The centrality that “remembering” plays in this stanza.  It opens with the Hebrew word “zachar”, which means, “to remember”, and that word is repeated three times in this section.  It is noteworthy who is doing the “remembering” and what is being remembered.  In verse 49 it is Yahweh who is being called upon to “remember his word” to the Psalmist.  “Don’t forget what you’ve said to me God!” the Psalmist cries.  In verse 52 it is the Psalmist who is “remembering” the the ancient laws spoken by Yahweh and finding comfort in them.  And then again in verse 55 it is the Psalmist who is “remembering” Yahweh’s Name.

Yahweh remembers his word to us.  We remember his Name and his Way, and we find comfort therein.  And so if you ask the question, “How is the Psalmist preserved through the onslaught?”, the answer in part is, “by remembering…”  As the founder of Hasidic Judaism put it, “Forgetfulness leads to exile, while remembrance is the secret of redemption.”  If Yahweh forgets the Psalmist, all is lost, and exile is sure to result.  And if the Psalmist forgets Yahweh, similarly, he’ll get swallowed up by the onslaught, and exile is sure to result.

We remember who and Whose we are… it is how we are preserved.

2) But the Psalmist does more than “survive” in the midst of this – he positively THRIVES.  Despite the onslaught of persecution and hardship that comes his way for his commitment to walk with Yahweh, the Psalmist finds a way not only to “make it”, but to find deep deep reservoirs of strength and vitality.  He saturates his mind and soul with Yahweh – his character, his promises, his word, his will, his ways; erects for himself a sort of Torah-tabernacle, and finds therein that the “word” of Yahweh “causes me to come alive!” (v50).

This is no “eeking” it out.  No “just getting by.”  No “hanging on by a thread.”

No.  It is EXPERIENCING A SORT OF VITALITY THAT HAD LIKELY NOT BEEN AVAILABLE TO YOU UNTIL THE MOMENT OF YOUR SUFFERING.

Suffering because of our commitment to God has a way of doing that.  It ushers us into depths of communion, vistas of “presence” and “being-with”, that were simply not possible for us to taste until the moment of our suffering.  “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” said Jesus.  And why?  “Because the kingdom of heaven belongs to you” (Matt 6).  A huge part of our journey is learning the joy that comes from standing alone – alone with God that is.

3) All of this has amounted to another new experience for the Psalmist – he “burns”.  At the very center of this stanza the Psalmist says this:

Burning indignation has gripped me because of the wicked who have left Torah behind…

The corollary of loving Good is hating Evil.  The corollary of loving Light is hating Darkness.  The corollary of loving Justice is hating Injustice.  The corollary of loving Yahweh is “burning indignation” over what stands against Yahweh – his Goodness, Truth, and Beauty.  And the longer we journey with Yahweh, the deeper we venture into communion with Him, the more we’ll come to detest what is anti-Yahweh.  

It is what Abraham Heschel called “sympathy with the Divine pathos” – to experience intimate fellowship with Yahweh is to find ourselves sharing in Yahweh’s deep experience of displeasure over what is “out of whack” in his world.

“To fear Yahweh is to hate evil” (Pr 8:13).  And how could it be otherwise?

Sadly, it is not always so with us, is it?  As often as we are seized with “burning indignation”, we are also numbly indifferent.  We are not yet like our Maker, who loves what is right.

Would to God that we would become as He is.

Amen.

Along the Road to Perfection: Reflections on Psalm 119 #6 (Waw)

As always, we recap the journey the Psalmist has taken us on thus far:

  • Aleph (vv. 1-8): the horizon is perfection
  • Beth (vv. 9-16): the path is God’s gracious speech
  • Gimel (vv. 17-24): the commitment to Yahweh’s “way” makes us by definition strange (something we’ll have to grow increasingly comfortable with)
  • Daleth (vv. 25-32): sooner or later, followers of Yahweh “hit the wall“, and when they do, Yahweh has them right where he wants them
  • He (vv. 33-40): the Psalmist’s “poverty of spirit” pushes him to plead with Yahweh for assistance (for this life is not possible with mere human strength)

And so he continues with this stanza, each line beginning with the Hebrew letter “waw”:

41 May your unfailing love come to me, O LORD,
your salvation according to your promise;
42 then I will answer the one who taunts me,
for I trust in your word.
43 Do not snatch the word of truth from my mouth,
for I have put my hope in your laws.
44 I will always obey your law,
for ever and ever.
45 I will walk about in freedom,
for I have sought out your precepts.
46 I will speak of your statutes before kings
and will not be put to shame,
47 for I delight in your commands
because I love them.
48 I lift up my hands to your commands, which I love,
and I meditate on your decrees.

This stanza is one of the reasons I love this Psalm.  The journey thus far has taken us from idealism to hard reality to humility to desperate pleas for help…and what happens in the Psalmist on the other side of it?  Is he defeated?  Broken?  Chastened?  More “realistic”?

Nope.

In the interiority of his being, he finds that his resolve is crystallized, refined, made strongerI WILL obey…I WILL walk…I WILL speak!

Those statements of resolve, of course, are grounded in Yahweh’s work.  The Psalmist is confident that the “way” he has taken is right, and so he opens by entreating Yahweh to rise up and make a public demonstration on his behalf; to show, in some visible way, that Torah-living is the right way to go.

He says, “May your hesed come to me…your yeshua according to your speech.”  Old Testament scholars have long held that the word our English translations normally render “unfailing love” – hesed – is actually something of a code-word for “covenant faithfulness”, so that when the Psalmist asks for Yahweh’s “hesed” to make an appearance, what he’s asking for is for Yahweh to make good on his end of the deal.  “Live up to your promises!” the Psalmist cries…”for when you do, then I’ll have something to show to those who revile me and you both!”

The sure knowledge that Yahweh WILL IN FACT arise and vindicate in one fell swoop Himself, His Way, and the One (the Psalmist) who follows his way, is what makes possible the Psalmist’s confidence in the face of his adversaries.  It is what allows him to stand against the BOTH spirit of the age AND those who represent the spirit of the age – “kings” here being a nice way to talk about the gatekeepers of cultural power.

The Psalmist says, “Because I know that my God is and will show himself to be faithful to his word, you can be sure that I’ll be getting in the face of kings.”

We must understand that “courage” is a virtue made possible by faith, hope, and love.  It is not that some people are simply “born” courageous and others aren’t (though some are perhaps born with more disposition to take risks than others); rather, we are made courageous because of our conviction about “things not seen” – God, his Rule, and the future victory of Light over Darkness chiefly.

What impels Jesus to stand up to the leaders of his day, what impels the early church to face floggings, imprisonments, and death, what makes possible dangerous Christian mission in every generation… what enables Francis of Assisi to stand up to sultans, Wilberforce to stand up to corrupt social systems, and Luther to stand up to a wayward church… what inspires every act of gutsy, courageous Christian faithfulness down through the ages is the firm belief that God is real, his “way” is ultimate, and one day – perhaps soon, possibly late – that God will arise and vindicate Himself, his Way, and all who walk in it. 

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see”, said the writer of Hebrews. “This is what the ancients were commended for.”

May we be so convinced.

Amen.

Praying about reading the Bible with Walter Brueggemann

I first encountered Walter Brueggemann sometime during my last year of seminary.  He quickly became a favorite of mine…in particular, I had never – before or since – read anyone who took the particularities, subtleties, oddities, and nuances of each individual text of Scripture so seriously as the living Word of God to us NOW as professor Brueggemann.  To that extent, I found him to be a kindred spirit.  The Bible is just SO freaking much more interesting than all of our lame attempts to “say” God.

So when Walter writes prayers about reading the Bible, I listen up…and then pray them too…I hope that your encounters with the text of Scripture rise to the level of the courageous “encountering” that he speaks of:

For the mystery of the text

and for the history of eyes to see

and ears to hear the text

we give you thanks.

Our eyes are scaled

and our ears are uncircumcised

and we are children of another world.

We pray for the gift of perception

We pray for energy and courage

that we may not leave the text

until we wrench your blessing from it.

Amen.

(From “Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth: Prayers of Walter Brueggemann“)

Holy Week Reflections #7: Easter Sunday // Practice Resurrection…

If anyone is in Christ — it’s all New Creation; the Old is gone, Behold! – the New has come.  – St. Paul

As Christ, Jesus is the plane which lies beyond our comprehension.  The plane which is known to us, he intersects vertically, from above…As the Christ, He brings the world of the Father…In the Resurrection the new world of the Holy Spirit touches the old world of the flesh, but touches it as a tangent touches a circle, that is, without touching it.  And precisely because it does not touch it, it touches it as its frontier–as the new world…What touches us–and yet does not touch us–in Jesus the Christ, is the Kingdom of God who is both Creator and Redeemer.  – Karl Barth, Epistle to the Romans

30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”  – The Gospel of St. Luke, chapter 24

Christ is Risen…the Church declares – “He is risen indeed!”

But what shall we do?

Perhaps more clearly than anyone else, Barth (quoted above) understood that the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead is not one “thing” that takes place in the world among other “things”.  Rather, for Barth, the Resurrection is the incursion of the Kingdom in the midst of time, that “dissolves us as men” and then “establishes us by God” as a New People, a Kingdom People, who therefore live a fundamentally “odd” existence in this world.  In the language of one Bible writer, by virtue of our crossing the threshold between the Old Creation and the New Creation, by dying and coming to life again in the Resurrected One, Christ Jesus, we become “in but not of” the world…

We are odd… like the Resurrection is odd…

We are a threshold people…

I think that is what accounts for the paradoxical nature of the Church’s existence in the world, for we are a people who are at once ready to lay waste the earth and yet can speak and act tenderly towards her.  We’ll run around raving like lunatics about how bad things are and yet press on in our engagement with the world in courageous hope and conviction that there is a better future yet to be had.  We’ll excoriate humanity for her outrageous acts of rebellion, and yet stand ready to give a cup of cold water to a stranger.

We are this because we are a threshold people… an Easter people… that is, an “odd” people…

No one, in my opinion, has captured this better than Wendell Berry.  I leave this poem of his to you for the stoking of your Easter imagination, and I adjure you along with him, to “practice resurrection”:

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Amen.  So be it.

Holy Week Reflections #6: Holy Saturday // At the frontier of newness…

Holy Saturday.  We stand at the threshold.  At the frontier.  One world has ended.  A new one is upon us.

Holy Saturday.  A holy “pause” before the new creation comes bursting forth in the resurrected body of the Lord.

Buried deep in the collective memory of ancient Israel was a foundation-story.  A tale that set the trajectory for everything else.  A narrative that gave coherence and meaning to Israel’s existence.

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

“Formless and empty” is an eery expression in Hebrew: tohu-wabohu.   Prior to Elohim’s creative word, the earth was a shapeless void… a horrifying black lay over the face of the watery abyss…

And yet…

…there was “ruach” – Spirit, Wind, Breath.

From one point of view we may say that the darkness was a terrifying spectre.  But from another… perhaps we may be so bold as to say that the darkness was also something of a covering of intimacy… between Elohim and the world he was about to bring into being… For “breath” denotes intimacy… wherever there is “breath”, there is also a “face”… over the watery abyss, over the “tohu-wabohu”, Elohim was breathing his sweet breath.  Newness was about to burst forth from the waters.

And so it did.

An eruption of light… a separation of waters… dry ground, jutting forth from the deep… the formlessness being brought to form… the void being filled with fullness… fruit and vegetables… living creatures… filling water and sky… and then…

…and then…

The crowning achievement of Elohim’s works – Man; made in Elohim’s image and likeness.  An impress of the unseen God, fashioned to cultivate and safeguard Elohim’s kingdom like viceroys.

Formlessness.  Breath.  Six days.  An explosion of newness.  Man.  Then Sabbath…

Fast forward.

Holy Week.  6 days it took Elohim to separate and fill, and to finish his creative works with a flourish.  6 days it took us to reverse creation.  For the living Logos, the Author of Life, appeared among us in flesh, making claims on us that only he could make.

We should have submitted to him.

We didn’t.

Our usurpatious selves angrily demanded his demise.  We’ll have Creation – and our “selves” – without God, thank you.  We got what we asked for.  And more… For on the sixth day God made Man, with dignity and beauty.

And on the sixth day – Friday – Man made a mockery of himself by throwing God up on a cross.

The execution of the Son is the reversal Elohim’s creative works BY his works.

And so here we are.  Holy Saturday.  The Old Creation has been brought to an end.  Man has nullified himself. He has plunged himself back into darkness…

Which means that the stage is set, for we know how Elohim characteristically behaves in such situations.

We are told in the Gospels – each of them – that when Jesus, tormented in body and soul on the cross, had given up a loud cry… he “breathed” his last.  He exhaled the “pneuma”.

Our imaginations are yanked back to Genesis… and so it is again… over the “tohu-wabohu” of Jesus’ body, the the darkness of Golgotha and later, of the Tomb, the Pneuma hovers… and we are on the edge of our seats.

Holy Saturday is the “pause” before another – this time indestructible – Creation bursts forth from the womb of death.

And so we cry out with the Church on Holy Saturday:

1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD;
2 O Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.

3 If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins,
O Lord, who could stand?
4 But with you there is forgiveness;
therefore you are feared.

5 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
6 My soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.

7 O Israel, put your hope in the LORD,
for with the LORD is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption.
8 He himself will redeem Israel
from all their sins. (Ps 130)

Indeed.  With Elohim and his Life-giving Spirit, the story is never over.

Holy Saturday is “Holy Breath” day, a day to know that, wherever you are, whenever you are, whatever you’re doing, in whatever circumstance you find yourself in… when death and darkness reign… when your life ebbs away… when you feel cold and alone and naked… when your own foolish choices have made a mockery of your dignity, and it feels like everything’s run out of steam…

Just know that this is Elohim’s favorite time.  His Countenance hovers over darkness like a lover before the face of the beloved.  In the “space between” there is Sweet Breath.  Holy Breath.  And resurrection is right around the corner.

More than the watchmen wait for the morning…

We wait for you Lord God.

Holy Week Reflections #5: Good Friday // Behold the Man…

“Behold the man” said Pontius Pilate, trotting out a scourged Jesus before the crowd… the crowd that called out in bloodthirsty rage for his execution.

In its purest form, all Christian theology and all Christian spirituality is an attempt to do just that: Behold the Man.

We would rather do other things… explain the Man most notably.

And perhaps the time for explaining will come.  But not today.  Today is not the day for explaining.  Today is the day for beholding.

Jurgen Moltmann states that Christian theology is a continuous attempt to deal with the question, “Who is God in the Cross of Christ who was forsaken by God?”

What sort of God is this?

What sort of people are we?

What sort of world do we live in?

Behold the Man.

We are told in the New Testament that the Incarnation and eventual “giving up” of the Son on the Cross were part of a unified act of saving love for people.

What sort of God is this?

What sort of people are we?

What sort of world do we live in?

Behold the Man.

Serpents and forbidden fruit, Pharaohs and Asherah poles, expulsion and exile… Cancer and catastrophe, empires and imperialism, murder, revolt, and rebellion…

We are told that the cross somehow is God’s answer to all of this… as Barth declared, at once God’s “no” to all of this filth, his decisive repudiation of every attempt to construe for ourselves life outside of Life; and yet, simultaneously, God’s astounding “yes” over us.

The time for explaining will come.  But not now.  Not as he bows his head in exhaustion.

Behold the Man.

We gave ourselves over to darkness, and darkness was the result.  Our rebellion let lose a torrent of horror; every evil thing let loose upon humanity.  This was our doing.  We did it.  We are to blame.

Killing fields and concentrations camps, homicide and genocide, racism, sexism, classicism…

We plunged ourselves into a living hell, and there was no escape.

Not until God the Son did the unimaginable, taking on the likeness of sinful flesh, walking in our shoes, living our destiny.  Even our destiny unto death.  He plunged himself into the hell we made.

Somehow, someway, by some mysterious miracle too deep for words, we are told that this act has healed us.  It has brought that old history, the death-history, the God-forsaken history, to an end.

The time for words, for explanations, will come.  But not now.  Not today.  Not as cries out in dereliction from the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me…”

Somehow that gut-wrenching cry was for us, with us, in our place.

Behold the Man.

There is a sense in which the words we use to explain what was going on in the cross of Christ are blasphemous.  We are not comfortable beholding.  So we nervously babble on.  We pour out words to ease the discomfort we feel at it, and in so doing we limit and mitigate the shocking horror of it all.  You and I are complicit in this.  This was BECAUSE of us.  In ways too difficult to express.

And in so doing we likewise truncate the profound, stunning, and inexhaustible beauty of it all.  Too horrible.  Too beautiful.  Too gut-wrenching.  Too stunning.  We use speech like an alcoholic uses booze… to try to keep ourselves from FEELING this.

Words like “propitiate” and “expiate”, “ransom” and “reconcile”… I know they have value.

But not for me.  Not today.  I’m too busy beholding the Man… marveling at the mystery.  If I try to capture it all, my head will crack.  But when I seek to be captured by it…

…my heart melts in worship.

Be still and know that he is God.  Behold the Man.

Lead us into the mystery of your Cross, Lord Christ.

(This is a re-post of my Maundy Thursday reflections from last year… enjoy!)

The Blog of Andrew Arndt

Today is Maundy Thursday.  So-called because of the new “mandate” that Jesus gives his disciples just hours before his death, at the Last Supper.  Surely you remember the scene.  Dinner is served, and when it is finished, Jesus, as John says, “Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love” (v1), and then does the unthinkable – he pours water into a basin, gets down on his hands and knees, and starts washing feet.

The act of washing feet of course was something that only folks on the lowest end of the social totem-pole did for those at the highest end… so much was this the case in Jewish culture that it is said that not even Jewish slaves washed the feet of other Jews.  Simply too degrading.

And so Jesus, as only Jesus can do, flips the whole…

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