Good Friday, Holy Week

The Women

Early this morning I began thinking about them. We don’t know if they were at supper the night before. We don’t know who brought them the news about Jesus’ arrest. We only know that they went to the cross.
Here are their names, according to:
Many women…among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. (Matthew)
There were also women…among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome…and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem. (Mark)
But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance watching these things. (Luke)
Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s siter, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. (John)
They stood at the cross, and they witnessed his death. And I cannot stop thinking about them, these vaguely named women with one exception, grouped and regrouped.
We watched “Gospel of John” this week, and that film placed Mary Magdalene at the supper the night of his arrest, as a witness to the Farewell Discourse, as a beloved disciple touched by our Lord and going out with him across the Kidron Valley. And it’s not enough for me. Weren’t they all there? These nice Jewish women left their homes and their families and went with him. They “provided for him.” Surely they made the supper happen after the disciples found the room. Surely they were the first people some stray, fleeing disciple ran back to tell. Surely they went out looking for him and became part of the crowd watching the terrible events of Friday unfold.
This is the first year in my ministry that I haven’t had a service on Good Friday. They have been sparsely attended, and in two churches, only by women. We’ve sat at the foot of the cross together, looking on from the distance of almost two thousand years, feeling their grief and some sense of his pain, loving him in our way, as they loved him in theirs.
Today I’ll go with my daughter to another church for a noon service, to grieve for Jesus, and I’ll be remembering those other women, with their shifting names and their unshifting hearts.

Holy Tuesday, Holy Week

"but we proclaim Christ crucified"

I’m sure it wasn’t the first time I ever read the phrase, because I was a Bible-reading young person, but sometimes you remember the moment when a verse jumped out at you, and for me this one came in a little box ad on the Religion page. “We preach Christ crucified,” claimed the church, and I remember thinking, “What the heck does that mean?” Don’t we all? I asked myself that question, meaning all churches, but of course later I came to realize this meant something about the emPHAsis we place on certain sylLAbles of the faith.

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe.
For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18-24, NRSV)

Now Paul is not speaking of a difference between Christians, not speaking of an intramural difference, but of the distinction between those who believed in Christ and those who did not. And it’s clear he’s saying that both Jews and Greeks (or rather everyone) could be called, or could be off the mark. But we do have differences among us, because some of us are very, very uncomfortable with crucifying our Jesus, and we are glad to keep that fact neatly in the box of Holy Week, with perhaps a little airing out on Reign of Christ Sunday in Year C.

Jesus Christ on the Cross

“We proclaim Christ crucified.” It gives us a little shudder, doesn’t it? For those of us…well, let me say for those of me who can’t buy into the theories of atonement that focus on God forcing His Son to die in order for humankind to be forgiven, the only alternative is facing the human responsibility for the brutal execution of God.

For heaven’s sake. It’s uncomfortable. It’s horrifying. It makes me miserable.

But when I look around the world and see our human capacity for being inhumane to one another, I have no doubt about our culpability.

The good news is that it was Christ crucified. The good news is that God did not die. The good news is that in spite of the worst we can do, God continues to love us and want to be in relationship with us. The good news is that it’s not over yet.

So, I can proclaim Christ crucified, even if I don’t reason out from Paul’s letter to anything substitutionary or vicarious. My hope lies in what comes after.

Holy Monday, Holy Week, John 12:1-11

Poor Lazarus

When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus. (John 12:9-11, NRSV)

LP and I are watching the 2003 movie “Gospel of John,” starring Henry Ian Cusick (Desmond of LOST fame) as Jesus. We’re watching the three hour version, so we took a break last night somewhere toward the end of the Farewell Discourse, saving the rest for tonight. (LP is on vacation this week, so we can indulge in cinematic Bible all we want, as long as my schedule permits.)

I love the Holy Monday text about the anointing of Jesus, except that I don’t. I love the story of a woman anointing Jesus. I don’t particularly love this one, which places the story in the home of Mary and Martha and Lazarus, conflating the foot-bathing, hair-wiping story from Luke with the kingly head anointings from Mark and Matthew. I usually get so hung up on the way the story has been adapted and the emphasis on Judas as a thief (seriously? if John is going to tell us in a few chapters that the devil only went into him after *Jesus* gave him a piece of bread?) that I never focus on the last few verses.

But in watching the movie last night, I saw the unspeaking actor who plays Lazarus standing by a window, watching the crowd outside worriedly, and I thought, “Poor Lazarus.”

Jesus brings him back to life, and then the authorities want to put him to death again. Yet another tool for cosmic glory, like the man born blind?

It’s six days before the Passover, the third Passover in John’s gospel, with its repeated trips to the Temple for various festivals. It’s a story about a power struggle between God’s agent and messed-up religious authorities who just don’t get it. It’s full of contradictions: “I come not to judge.” “I come to judge.” Everybody who loves Jesus is a Jew; everybody who hates Jesus is a Jew; the sign that the time has come is the arrival of the Greeks, asking to see him. And oh! The parentheticals! Even as narrated by Christopher Plummer, they are hilariously explanatory.

It’s the sixth day before the Passover, and they are having dinner, with Martha serving, and Mary wiping Jesus’ feet (clean in the movie, by the way, unlike the dusty paws of the disciples in the later scene) and there is Lazarus, looking gently befuddled. This may just be that a non-speaking part was given to a non-actor, but it works. He has been feverish, and he has been zombie Lazarus (mostly in shadow (see how John brings out the parentheses in me?)), but here he is with his fluffy hair and beard and soft face and no words. No words. A bystander to a collision of powerful forces, collateral damage and undamage, dead and undead, and what next?

It doesn’t even matter if he really died, does it? It’s the perception of what Jesus has done that matters.

Poor Lazarus.