Friday, April 06, 2012

Of Irony, Sentimentality, and Good Friday

Read John 19:1-37.

I'll warn you ... I meander a bit here. This turns into more off-the-cuff thoughts. And for some reason I have violence on my mind. Probably because of last nights Maundy Thursday reading, Luke 22:51, "Stop! No more of this."

Time and space prohibit me from really describing the convolution of images that John has brought together in order to write about the death of Jesus: The irony of being crown king by the very people who will kill Him. The presentation of the new Adam, i.e. the new creation, when Pilate says, "Behold, the Man!" The irony that Jesus is the passover lamb, simultaneously refused as the Messiah from God and offered as a sacrifice in memory of how God delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt. Your just going to have to spend some time with the text to let the full implications of that night seep deeply in your hearts and minds.

"It is finished." That's one of the words Jesus spoke from the cross. As Stanley Hauerwas writes, "The work that is finished ... is the cross."

He continues, "He will be and is resurrected, but that resurrected One remains the One crucified. Rowan Williams remind us of Pascal's stark remark that 'Jesus will be in agony until the end of the world.'"

Think about that for a moment, especially in light of what Hauerwas says about sentimentality, which I'll interject here in the middle of this quote: "I think nothing is more destructive for our ability to confess that the crucified Jesus is Lord than the sentimentality that grips so much that passes for Christianity in our day. Sentimentality is the attempt to make the gospel conform to our needs, to make Jesus Christ our 'personal' savior, to make the suffering Christ on the cross but an instant of general unavoidable suffering. I should like to think the relentless theological character of these meditations helps us avoid our sinful temptation to make Jesus's words from the cross to be all about us."

In what ways do we cheapen the cross by reducing it to a mere act-in-the-past that is all but disconnected from our actual on the ground, day to day, lives? How is the story of God about memory? How is it about more than memory? What does it require of our bodies?

That Christ is in agony until the end of the world, when all is put right, " ... is a remark that makes unavoidable the recognition that we live in the time between the times - the kingdom is begun in Christ but will not be consummated or perfected until the end of the world. Williams observes that Pascal's comment on Jesus's ongoing agony is not an observation about the deplorable state of unbelievers; it is instead an exhortation not to become nostalgic," or sentimental, "for a supposedly less compromised past or take refuge in some imagined purified future, but to dwell in the tension-filled time between the times, to remain awake to our inability to 'stay in the almost unbearable present moment where Jesus is.'"

Tension, indeed, for today our Lord dies and there is nothing we can do about it. And tomorrow, on Holy Saturday, we will be forced to remember that old line from the creed, "He descended into hell." There is no quick pass to Easter. Before their is resurrection, there is death and waiting.

All of this shapes and forms us, as the church, to be a people who live in tension of the times between the times, between the first and second coming of Jesus. The question before us is how should we live in the meantime? Does the cross say anything about the trajectory of our lives, marriages, and friendships? Does it question our politics, wars, and violence? Does it stir up compassion, justice, and peace? Or is it just something that happened in the past that doesn't make claims on our lives today?

Perhaps the greatest irony of the cross today is our sentimental embrace and, thus, refusal of its deepest implications. The first being, in light of death/cross of Jesus, that perhaps violence get's us nowhere.

What is finished? Jesus's life? Creation, which means that the New Creation is about to begin? Violence? There's a lot to consider here.

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