Not of flesh nor will of man
But of heart by will of Him.
Deep within a shot was cast and burrowed in the bow
The fine line of ecstasy and horror homoousion‘d among
Obedience was found on worthy lips, blessing bestowed for ages come.
Yet the blessing’s joy was found as a bell in the mist,
Meaning: it was not.
Go to dark Gethsemane,
You who feel the tempter’s pow’r;
Your Redeemer’s conflict see;
Watch with him one bitter hour;
Turn not from his grief away;
Learn of Jesus Christ to pray
Learn of Jesus Christ to pray.
Follow to the judgment hall;
View the Lord of life arraigned;
O the worm-wood and the gall!
O the pangs his soul sustained!
Shun not suff-ring, shame, or loss;
Learn of him to bear the cross
Learn of him to bear the cross.
Calv’ry’s mournful mountain climb
There adoring at his feet,
Mark the miracle of time,
God’s own sacrifice complete:
“It is finished!” Hear the cry;
Learn of Jesus Christ to die
Learn of Jesus Christ to die.
This past Sunday was Palm Sunday, the Christian holiday that ushers in Holy Week. It celebrates the “triumphal entry” of Jesus into Jerusalem (Mk 11:1-11). In hindsight, though, this is one of the oddest “triumphal entries” one could imagine. It is the triumphal kick-off for what would be the death of the Son of God for the sins of the world.
Even now, millennia removed from the events of this week, we still wonder at how this all works. How does one person’s death–however good they are–account for every sin of every human in all of history?
It only begins to make some sort of sense when we acknowledge that this great exchange is not between to equals. Jesus, the Good and Innocent human, cannot merely be “another man” dying for another.
Warning: this post talks about self-harm and suicidal thoughts. If you are experiencing this, you can chat online with the Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call at 1.800.273.8255.
We are in the final weeks of the Christian season of Lent: a time where we focus on the fact that we are not yet who we will be, and that we still live in much darkness, weakness, and self-obsession. On its own, this could become masochistic or over-indulgent depending on your personality. But this is why Easter comes on the other side as a call to cast off the brooding and soul-spelunking to rise into the highest heights of celebration and freedom the Resurrection offers.
But still, this time lends itself to sadder reflections. The other day, my coworkers and I were sharing stories of social work clients we’ve worked with over the years and I was brought back ten years to my first time encountering a suicidal client when I was brand new to the field.
Then this people will begin to prostitute themselves to the foreign gods in their midst, the gods of the land into which they are going; they will forsake me, breaking my covenant that I have made with them. My anger will be kindled against them in that day. I will forsake them and hide my face from them; they will become easy prey, and many terrible troubles will come upon them. In that day they will say, ‘Have not these troubles come upon us because our God is not in our midst?’ On that day I will surely hide my face on account of all the evil they have done by turning to other gods. ~ Deuteronomy 31.16-18
I’m really looking forward to doing a happy sermon sometime soon. But alas, I find myself preaching on both Ash Wednesday and Good Friday this year–not the happiest of Church Holy Days.
And yet there is hope.
It’s fashionable to emphasize the narrative nature of God’s work in the world. And yes, it’s true–there is a progressive nature to Redemption, with a beginning, middle, and end.
But God’s work is also often cyclical, with certain rhythms and movements that return, repeat, and fold within one another.
I had this in mind as I went into this sermon. Yes, we ought to press into the darkness and doubt of the Cross without just quickly comforting ourselves with the Resurrection–we have to sit there for a bit–and yet the Church Calendar gets into our bones and souls to such an extent that it transforms the darkness. We can never sit in the Cross’ forsakenness without feeling the spiritual muscle memory of previous Easters gone by. And in that is hope.
This realization led me to largely do away with my notes (which you can find below) when giving this sermon and largely ad-lib, speaking from the heart as I wrestled with this stuff in real-time. The text selections came from Matthew 26-27, and here’s the sermon audio. Feel free to send me any thoughts, questions or concerns:
Each year during Lent, I press all the more deeply into a motif that appears throughout the Bible: that in some mysterious way, the God of the Universe has had a “slain” and “suffering” aspect to his nature for all eternity–even before the world came into being.
When this world did come into being, the Bible says that it came to exist “through” this suffering and slain Jesus. Therefore the rhythms of Christ’s own nature and life are written into the very DNA of the world. All of our history is an echo of Jesus’ life, both from eternity past and while on earth.
When the world shook and the sun was wiped out of heaven, it was not at the crucifixion, but at the cry from the cross: the cry which confessed that God was forsaken of God. And now let the revolutionists choose a creed from all the creeds and a god from all the gods of the world, carefully weighing all the gods of inevitable recurrence and of unalterable power. They will not find another god who has himself been in revolt. Nay (the matter grows too difficult for human speech), but let the atheists themselves choose a god. They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation; only one religion in which God seemed for an instant to be an atheist.
Happy Easter! Let me greet all of you with the same Easter greeting that has been offered by generations upon generations of Christians before:
Alleluia, Christ is risen!
(And you respond with:)
Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia!
Now I don’t know how many of you have grown up saying that or have eventually settled into traditions that do, but I wonder how many of us have noticed the grammar of that statement. Why has it never said, “Alleluia, Christ rose”, or “Alleluia, Christ has risen”?
There is an extremely important and immensely practical aspect of the Resurrection that, as I’ve moved in more and more church circles, I’ve realized has either become de-emphasized, forgotten, or never known in the first place:
[I wrote this after my grandfather died in 2010 after a long battle with throat cancer. It really affected me, and I wrote this to redeem this moment for him and me. You’ll find a recording of the song below. It’s simply a piece of cathartic lament in light of pain, and is not meant to be “high art”.]
I here your footsteps coming
The floorboards they scream
I pray to my Father
to wake from this dream
I’m tired, so tired
when will this end?
I’m tired, so tired
Your strength, won’t you lend?
Oh Death, here is your sting Oh Death, I hear your voice ring Through echoes and ages and days gone past
Oh Death, here is your sting
This breath, you can take it
This body, is yours
This voice you have stolen
My eyes are now dim.
Oh this sweetness you’ve taken
I taste life no more
This life, I release now
But this love you can’t have!
But I’ll rise….
But I’ll rise…
I’ll awake from this nightmare as daylight draws nigh
The tension of ages breaks before my eye
This breath I’ll take back. This life will be His.
That body, you can keep; I’ll get a new one from him
Like daybreak it’s new and as strong as fired steel
The demon like dew is gone, ’cause I am healed.
His vict’ry now better: of this conquest we’ll sing
Your vict’ry now bitter:you will taste it’s last sting.
Oh Death, you’ll taste your last sting Oh Death, I’ll hear your voice scream Through echoes and ages and days gone past
Oh Death, here is your sting.
taste it and weep,
for oh Death,
I no longer sleep.
Because, Oh Death,
I’m no longer thine;
And, Oh Death,
The vic’try’s now mine.
[read my other Holy Day poetry here] all writings licensed: