Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Solidarity and Atonement

This week's scripture are Isaiah 53:1-9 and Mark 15:21-39.

This is always a difficult Sunday to preach. On the one hand there is a temptation to focus totally on Psalm Sunday and to ignore the agonizing story of the crucifixion. On the other, one can wallow in the sordid descriptions of physical torture and pair these with a brand of "Atonement Theory" that, pushed to its logical conclusion, turns God into the Divine Sadist, exacting pain and retribution for the sins of humankind.

I would not deny the reality that Jesus was tortured to death in a terrible and horrible manner. That torture included not only the physical elements that so often get focused on; but the social shaming involved in being hung naked to die by the side of the road as an object lesson for what happens to those who take on the establishment (the Romans had terrorizing their subjects down to an art).

Betrayed by a friend, abandoned by his closest companions, railroaded for political expediency, tortured, shamed, abandoned. In these moments Jesus lived out God's solidarity with those who suffer the very worst that human beings do to one another. This is truly "Emmanuel...God WITH us." This all happened because of the way Jesus insisted on describing and modeling God's attitude toward God's creation; even (perhaps especially) those on the fringes, the outcast, the ones at the bottom of the pile).

Two things drive this solidarity home for me. The first is that Jesus dropped his cross. Tortured to the point that he couldn't continue dragging the cross-beam any further, the soldiers-eager to get these executions over with and go home-forced Simon of Cyrene to carry Jesus' cross. The second is Jesus' cry from the cross, "My God, My God...why have you forsaken me?" Jesus did not die the death of a "super hero." He knew what it was like to be so beaten down that he couldn't go any further. He knew what it was like to feel totally abandoned by the God he had given his life to obeying. And he knew death.

Please notice something. Mark 15:38 says that the curtain in the temple which seperated the people from the Holy of Holies was torn from top to bottom (to demonstrate that it was God's doing) when Jesus died. When Jesus Died. It wasn't at his baptism, or at the Transfiguration, or even on Easter morning. The seperation between us and God was destroyed at the point where God in Jesus had endured the very worst that can befall us.

When you "drop your cross"; Jesus knows what that's like-he's been there. When you feel that even God has betrayed and abandoned you; Jesus understands-he's been there too. There is NO PLACE, no matter how bitter, how desolate that Jesus cannot or will not join us. The Psalmist said, "though I make my bed in the depths of hell, You are there."

Solidarity. At one-ness. Atonement.

See you Sunday.


Kara said...

I agree that it's healthy and necessary to spend sometime reflecting on the suffering to fully appreciate Easter. The reflection helps us identify with it which makes it meaningful and personal.

I always found it interesting that Jesus cried out of being forsaken. But I thought after that he said something like, "Into your hands I commit your spirit."
Does that vary in different interpretations or is it just as agreed on as the desperate cry?

I always assumed that was the model: Jesus has suffered too, but he showed that you should still put your faith in God.

Jeremy said...

Hi Kara,

There appears to be two cries - Matthew, John, and Mark have very similar wording there (as Stephen uses), while the cry you quote is from Luke. (I popped on to Bible gateway to refresh which was which). In my study Bible, there's a note with the Mark verse, stating that some manuscripts don't have the cry.

Solidarity is a different approach here with these four separate events here: two of which are meant to show unity and understanding (dropping the cross, the cry), and two of which are divisive (Judas' choice, and the change from "hosanna" to "crucify him").

As I currently understand the situation, the catalysts for both sets of events are very different. Why was Jesus there anyway? Why go when he knew what awaited him? Why show solidarity? Essentially, it was love. On the other hand, what drove Judas' choice? What drove many of the denizens of Jerusalem to call for the death of Jesus? Why divide? Fear.

How often are these two emotions in direct opposition with how we live our lives? Stephen has pointed out a few times, in relation to different subjects, on how fear can prevent our reaching out - how it can be a shroud (maybe, a curtain?) - in a very real sense, preventing solidarity with those around us. I'm interested to explore this new connection on Sunday.

Jeremy said...

Uploaded 4-10-09