The Signature of Jesus
Passage: John 20:1-18
Date: April 08, 2007
Preacher: Dr Jim Moiso
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Back up with me a few days, before the gorgeous flowers and the lively banners and that great sound of cracking eggs. Back up with me. Come to the place where Jesus went after he ate his last meal with his followers. Under cover of darkness, they left the upper room. Selecting three closest to him, they found themselves apart from the crowded, restless city, filled with Passover pilgrims, apart from the authorities who felt threatened by him. Jesus asked Peter, James, and John to be with him. He wanted to pray, deeply. He needed them close, to support him in his desperation. In response, they fell asleep. So, he agonized there, contending with his own demons, alone in the darkness.
Jesus easily guessed what might be coming. He had already experienced their anger, their fear. He knew the power of the establishment to protect itself. He recognized how powerless his little band of followers was. His peasant hangers-on were nothing in a pinch, either. So, trapped, he cried out to God, "Let this cup pass from me. Spare me the horror I see ahead." There he was, God's Beloved, so at one with God, endued with God's power, God's unique representative, the one who more than any other before him had lived faithfully-there he was, throwing himself down on the ground, clutching the earth, begging for God's deliverance.
Of all people, his request was not granted. Instead, his reward for astonishing faithfulness would be public humiliation, wrenching suffering, and devastatingly slow lonely death. What happened to all of his communion with his Father? Where had this closer-than-his-own-breath Holy One gone? Only divine silence met Jesus' prayer. Surely his passion began there, among those ancient olive trees, in the darkness. Yes, I suspect he feared his own death. But more, more than that, he must have grieved the death of all that he knew to be true of God. This only begotten Son must have agonized for God, even in God's absence, in God's silence.
Do you hear it? Do you smell it? Do you sense it? We moderns like to imagine otherwise, because it is far more comforting. We like to believe that after Jesus' prayer, "Not my will, but yours be done," that somehow all of that mysterious holy closeness was re-established. The crisis somehow passed. God was powerfully with him all over again.
But, that is not how it sounds to me. Manifest here was far more than one outstanding human being about to be eliminated as a trouble-maker. History is littered with such, even our own, even today. No, it is almost as if God's silence is at the heart of Christ's struggle. Such times have been called, "the dark night of the soul," when the most faithful, the most spiritually connected feel abandoned by the God who says, "I will never leave you or forsake you." Have you ever felt that distance, that silence, that abandonment? In his darkness, in God's silence, somehow Jesus still trusted his very being to God, at least for the moment. Sometimes, in the abyss that's all there is. "Your will be done."
But Jesus' struggle with God was not over. Last Friday evening, we saw it, we felt it. And we stayed away from here in droves because of it. Jesus' passion was all there was, filling this space, spilling out into the streets as we left. Darkness, penetratingly deep darkness, his and ours, those shadows which haunt our lives. His desperate cry, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Hardly the words of one in deep communion with the holy. More like godforsakenness. The Son of God, suspended, writhing, in far more than physical torment. Then he died, there. Abandoned by the God to whom he had devoted everything, and on whose behalf he had given his very life.
Family Circus had a cartoon last week. Did you see it? Mom is holding a crucifix, a cross with a Jesus-body attached. The little daughter says, "I liked seeing Jesus in the manger better." Most of us do. We do not want to hear, deep inside, that maybe God did abandon Jesus, that his Father was silent; that Jesus actually bore in himself that which we fear. We want it to be friendlier, neater, cozier than that. We prefer our crosses beautiful and empty, surrounded by flowers and light.
Friends, at the center of our Easter faith are not blooming flowers and the renewal of spring, as if it were an annual occurrence. No, smack dab in the middle is Christ's passion. I love the eggs cracking, the symbol of Christ breaking free, of Christ risen. It is the joyful sound of Easter for me. I am moved nearly to tears every time I hear Jesus call her by name, "Mary." But, he had to get into that tomb first. He endured not just the cruel unjust violence of the authorities, but he was subject to holy abandonment as well: "My God, why have you forsaken me?"
The other day, I was waiting outside the cardiac intensive care unit at Providence Hospital. A wooden crucifix hangs on one wall there. Outside CCU. What a wonderfully appropriate place. I stood for a while, using it as a focal point of prayer.
You see, Christ's passion can be for us proof that God does not exist, at least not in any way that makes much difference. God let Jesus die. Or, Jesus' profound suffering can become an avenue toward unquenchable hope. When we experience no hope, when we feel completely abandoned, then Christ's own passion connects with ours.
The passionately loving Christ, the persecuted Christ, the lonely Christ, the Christ despairing over God's silence, the Christ who in dying was so totally forsaken, for us and for our sakes, is like the brother or the friend to whom we can confide everything, because he knows everything and has suffered everything that can happen to us-and more. [God is no longer impersonal, way out there, but here, where we live.]
In our hopes about life, in our activity, in our love of living, we participate in his passion for the kingdom of freedom.
Our disappointments, our loneliness and our defeats do not separate us from him; they draw us more deeply into communion with him. (Bread and Wine, p. 151) because of who he is and what he endured.
In cultures wracked with suffering and tragedy, Good Friday connects, because it speaks to their inner beings about God. In peoples long degraded, outcast, put down, Good Friday captivates, because they identify with the Begotten Son. It is the suffering abandoned Christ, yes the one who was raised, but who had to die first, it is this Christ with wounds who understands, who welcomes, who holds, who engenders deep hope. It is this Christ who comes in our abandonment, who reaches out for us in all of our twistedness and brokenness and mixed intentions; who is present in our struggles and tragedies, and in the temptations that come when we win. It is this Christ who gave himself that we might live, this Son of God.
John says that broken hearted, fearful Mary of Magdala was the first one to encounter him. Others would follow. To convince them, Jesus would show them his humble signature. Not triumphant or arrogant, he simply let them see, even touch, his wounded hands, his pierced side. He wanted them, he wants us to connect, to believe, and to be changed by the One who raised him from the dead.
Graham Greene wrote: "You cannot conceive, my child, nor can I or anyone, the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God." This is Easter, filled with appalling strangeness. This is Easter. The tomb is empty. It has to do with holy mercy. This is Easter. The crucified One is risen! Look out. Look out world, because nothing has ever been the same. Believe it. Let it in. Believe it new or for the first time. Believe it this day and let it change your life! Amen.