Psalm 22: Jesus’ cry from the cross echoes a universal lament – the lonely beginning works toward a triumphant conclusion
Novelist Peter De Vries recalled his religious upbringing thus:
“We went to church five times a week, three times on Sunday; I wasn’t allowed to play ball on Sunday. We were force-fed a lot of doctrine. The two main beliefs were in the total depravity of man and the divine grace of God. I only believe in one of them now.”
Tantalisingly, that’s where the interview ends, and we are left wondering “which one?”
The introspection that so often dominates the Lenten journey may have us entertaining the idea that he chose “the total depravity of man.” Mainline media fixation on the worst of current affairs and some of our own experiences of deprivation, disappointment and suffering may feed our perceptions and lead us spiralling down into the pit of despair.
If we are walking the Lenten journey purposefully and hopefully, however, we will, while aware of human idiosyncrasies and limits, be aware of the “divine grace of God,” for we are an Easter people and know how the story transcends the road to Calvary and beyond, even while we walk it.
A bit of googling (and perhaps some knowledge of his writing) answers the question about which side of the line Peter De Vries falls.
Our Lenten challenge right now, however, is to answer which side of the line do I habitually fall?
What’s your favourite version? The original Led Zepplin leads in Google hits. The lyrics are most evocative as we contemplate the Lenten journey – for on such a road we are often confronted with choices between the tantalising and immediate and the deeper and more reliable. Which is the true stairway to heaven? The image is based on Genesis 28:10-17. Jacob’s dream of a “stairway to heaven” interrupts his journey of choices. It will take a lifetime of pursuit of riches and power that leads him to a night of transformational wrestling that leads him to further choices. Maybe the “stairway to heaven” is part of the landscape of the Lenten journey to the self-giving of the cross and beyond.
As a teenager, I looked up the meaning of my first given name. My then prudish temperament was somewhat taken aback to see that it was associated with Dionysus, the debauched Greek god of revelry and wine.
Had I been raised as an ancient Hebrew, it could have been far worse, for names were given to reflect something of the inner nature and projected destiny of its bearer. Hence the story in Genesis 17:1-16, of Abram’s name becoming “Abraham” – the “progenitor of many nations.” The world’s three great monotheistic faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – look to Abraham as the foundation of a covenantal relationship with the Divine.
The Lenten journey, then, travels through this reflection and realisation that we continue to be part of this unbreakable covenant relationship with the Creator.
Oh, and I discovered that Dionysius, in the Greek pantheon, is also a source of new life, but modesty forbids me to reveal that! (And there are several Saints Dionysius I can choose to relate to as well)
Matthew 27:11-31 is loaded with drama. Jesus stands silently before Pontius Pilate – both men are under judgement.
Where will the gavel fall in favor – maintenance of the status quo, control and order; or the brazen, divergent reign of the Prince of Peace, a reign that is not of the current scheme of things?
Divergent is the title of a freshly released movie set in a dystopian post apocalyptic future. The cohesion and security of the city is assured by dividing its citizens into factions, according to temperament and related tasks. Those who don’t fit any of the nominated categories are deemed divergent and dangerous, and are either marginalised or disposed of. Themes in the screenplay seem sometimes in close parallel with the drama unfolding on Pilate’s podium. For example it is interesting that the faction marked by “selflessness” is deemed the most threatening by two of the more powerful blocs.
Pilate’s message is “Conform, submit, play by our rules.”
Jesus’ response is silence. Pilate’s demand cannot contain the wholesome reality of the reign of heart and mind that Jesus represents and envisions.
Pilate attempts first to neutralise and marginalise Jesus by offering the release of Barabbas in his place. This tactic fails, and Pilate hands Jesus over for execution.
Lent draws to a close, the journey into Holy Week begins.
The music of Psalm 118 celebrates turned tables – two well known phrases “The steadfast love of the Lord endures forever” and “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone,” appear here.
This alludes to something of the subversive nature of lived out faith. “Subversion refers to an attempt to transform the established social order and its structures of power, authority, and hierarchy…” (See full Wikipedia article here). The article gives many instances and examples of harmful subversion, whereas today’s Psalm points towards subversion towards an integral and wholesome society.
Indeed transforming social order has been both the intention and the outcome of the spread and acceptance of the Christian story – beginning with the teachings of Jesus, his acts of compassion, the manner of his living, the ignominy of his death, and the power of his resurrection demonstrated in the transformed lives of his early followers through to the present day. All of this is subversive!
Any strategy, program, policy, project, action or campaign that does not meet the criteria spelled out by Jesus in his teachings, actions and life is fair game for subversive action, underpinned by the “steadfast love of the Lord [that] endures forever” as “the stone that the builders rejected” takes its place as the foundation block for a transformed society.
It’s a work in progress!
Hyperbole and one-up-man-ship often mark the national discourse where controversy is concerned. In the midst of the sloganeering and major political parties competing to see who can offer the greatest deterrent to “stop the boats,” are men, women and children detained in off-shore prisons awaiting their indefinite and uncertain fates.
On the reception of asylum seekers, the Church in this land is also divided. Immigration control vs humanitarian response to people in distress! The former suggests a pre-occupation with the concerns of empire, while the latter reflects the kernel of the focus of God’s realm. Our Lenten readings from the prophets, the gospels and the letters of Paul indicate as much.
So how does the follower of Jesus emulating the latter respond to opponents even within his/her camp. “With this mind,” says Paul as he launches into the Church’s well known and favourite credal hymn – the touchstone of what we’re all about in today’s Lenten text Philippians 2:5-11.
The focus for all Christians, no matter what persuasion, even in the divisive asylum seeker debate is – serve one another with the mind and heart of Christ. This is what changes the world for the better.
… may be the only one who is in step!
Isaiah 50:4-9a is one of the so-called Suffering Servant songs. Appropriated by the Early Church to describe the Passion of Jesus, it initially describes the despair and desolation of the people of Israel as they are led off in chains into Babylonian exile. Suffering the indignity of oppression and humiliation, the composer nevertheless remembers who YHWH has called him to be – one who teaches that the glory of God is a person fully alive (if I may time machine Irenaeus back into the experience of the exiles!), for after all, this composer is a teacher of Israel.
The matter of another people in exile vexes me right now as the question of Australia’s imprisoned and hidden asylum seekers becomes ever darker and more sombre. The voices that seek to amplify their silenced voices are few and far between in the Australian population – such has been the success of politician and media mogul in demonising them. The role of the teacher is to call people to a heart and mind understanding of our true story against the popular myth that is designed for short-term gain.
The story of Israel, the Way of Jesus’ cross and the cry of asylum seekers seem to merge at this point. Isaiah’s poet clutches hope in the most dire of circumstances.
Let’s try for the same!
When the molasses are thick, what keeps some folk swimming while others succumb?
Ezekiel seems quite upbeat in the midst of most depressing circumstances. He is a welcome guide as we tread the heavy Lenten journey to Jerusalem and the cross. Todays text, Ezekiel 37:24-28, holds out to exiled Israel a beatific vision of a restored and unified realm. No wishful thinking or trite optimism here. Ezekiel grasps the desperate reality of his current circumstances. Rather than sink, however, the troubles become a foothold for hope. His grasp of the faithfulness of God’s intentions is so strong he can only see the fulfilment of a process towards the realisation of “rightness.”
Victor Frankl observed similar phenomena as a survivor and observer of the Holocaust, resulting in his well known “Man’s Search for Meaning” and the practice of logotherapy. A relentless sense of purpose can see a person survive the most dire situations. Zesty Zeke helps lead the way.