Epiphany 3A, Exodus, Holy Week

Behold a Star

My friend and colleague, L, came to dinner at our house tonight. She arrived with a bag full of colored strips of paper and sat with Snowman and LP to teach these origami-loving young people the craft of a different culture: Moravian Stars.

While they worked patiently (or not so, in some cases) to create a star for the first time, we marveled at L as she turned pieces of wrapping paper ribbon into an example. This was hard enough with larger, less slippery paper in contrasting colors!

It always interests me to listen to the way one person will describe an action and how differently another person will hear it. I become easily frustrated when I cannot understand how to do something, and it is perhaps fortunate that I was occupied getting dinner on the table while they worked. 

We think of a star, especially at Christmas-time, as shining a sudden, amazing, even clarifying light, but these stars took building, weaving the paper in and out to make the points. And I suspect enlightenment, or to put it less dramatically, understanding, comes in a similar way, one movement leading to another, a seemingly random set of actions or thoughts or feelings finally creating a whole.

Moravian Stars 122709 018

(Read more about making the stars here.)

Holy Week

Levertov says it best

(I heard this poem at a Sequence of Music and Poetry for Good Friday this evening, and if I had known it sooner, I wouldn't have bothered with my reflection for the Good Friday service.)

Salvator Mundi: Via Crucis

Maybe He looked indeed
much as Rembrandt envisioned Him
in those small heads that seem in fact
portraits of more than a model.
A dark, still young, very intelligent face,
a soul-mirror gaze of deep understanding, unjudging.
That face, in extremis, would have clenched its teeth
in a grimace not shown in even the great crucifixions.
The burden of humanness (I begin to see) exacted from Him
that He taste also the humiliation of dread,
cold sweat of wanting to let the whole thing go,
like any mortal hero out of His depth,
like anyone who has taken a step too far
and wants herself back.
The painters, even the greatest, don't show how,
in the midnight Garden,
or staggering uphill under the weight of the Cross,
He went through with even the human longing
to simply cease, not to be.
Not torture of body,
not the hideous betrayals humans commit
nor the faithless weakness of friends, and surely
not the anticipation of death (not even then, in agony's grip)
was Incarnation's heaviest weight,
but this sickened desire to renege,
to step back from what He, Who was God,
had promised Himself, and had entered
time and flesh to enact.
Sublime acceptance, to be absolute, had to have welled
up from those depths where purpose
drifted for mortal moments.

Denise Levertov
Holy Week

I Am; Am I?

(A reflection for Good Friday  April 10, 2009    Mark 14:53-65) 

“Who do you say that I am?”

It’s a question that flows through scripture as Jesus wonders whether the people around him can possibly understand who he is and what he is about. Some think he is a prophet, reincarnated, Elijah perhaps. Those closest to him suspect he is the Messiah, but probably with a measure of confusion, since their image of a Savior included a little more muscle than Jesus tended to show, a little more power used to overthrow the earthly powers.

On the last day of his life, the questions were turned on him. “Are you the Messiah? Are you the Son of the Blessed One?”

In the oldest gospel, Mark, Jesus answers in two Greek words that might mean “I am,” but might just as easily be translated, “Am I?” Because the other gospels choose the latter interpretation, having Jesus say, “You say so” or “So you have said,” it’s been on my mind, that question. “Am I?”

We know that in the garden, the night before, Jesus asked to be spared, if at all possible. “Let this cup pass from me,” he prayed, alone and afraid, a very human being.

I wonder, is it possible that in the moment of being questioned, even he wondered who and what he was?

"Am I?"

On this day, of all days, I can believe he didn’t know how it would turn out, didn’t rely on being resurrected, didn’t see we would be talking about him nearly 2000 years later. He chose—God chose—to inhabit a human body and a human heart, both breakable. God chose to accept the limits of mortality and pain and disappointment, all of which other human beings made readily available.

If he understood himself to be the Son of God, the one coming in the clouds, did he go to the cross considering the possibility of saving himself? Any god might have done that, avoiding the pain and the suffering, the slow death. Any of us would, if we could.

Are you the Son of God? That’s what they wanted to know, and he answered indirectly.

Am I?

You have said so.

You say that I am.

On that upside down day, the power lay with those who did not understand him, those who feared him, those who wanted it all to be over in hopes of protecting their own lives, in hopes of keeping a kind of peace in the community.

Am I? He asks the question, and we hear in it an edge. Then he echoes the words of Daniel: you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven. He changes the image, from Son of God to Son of Man and paints a picture of heavenly, not earthly, power. These are things he was not at that moment, yet the high priest tore his clothes and declared blasphemy and the night and the day moved on to what must have seemed an inevitable conclusion.

I am. Am I?

On that day, perhaps he wondered, too.

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With thanks to John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg and their book, The Last Week, in which they raised this question about the Greek used in Mark's gospel.