God of the accused and the accusing, who made the mouth, the ear and the heart of all in conflict. May we turn ourselves towards that which must be heard, because there we will hear your voice. Amen.
This prayer begins a series of prayers called a Collect by the Irish poet and theologian, Paudrig O Tauma. It is the stations of the cross Collect and I’ll be sharing a few of its prayers today. It begins with this hard truth, that what we often try to avoid will often be the place we hear and see God at work. And what do we try to avoid more than death itself? What do we run from, distract ourselves from, or avoid the discussion of more than death?
Yet, here we have it described in graphic fashion in the very scriptures that give us hope. And we often forget about it. We often skip to the end of the story. We move ahead to Easter, to the resurrection, to new life quickly and deliberately. I wonder if this is why the gospel writers spent so much time describing Jesus’ death and so little time writing about his resurrection. We want new life, we want to believe and hope in death being defeated, but we often want to skip over the embodied death that precedes it. We want the rising without the falling.
God of the ground, whose body was – like ours – from dust, and who fell – like we fall -to the ground. May we find you on the ground when we fall. Oh, our falling fallen brother, may we find you, so that we may inhabit our bodyselves. Amen.
The faithful life of Christ is an embodied life. It isn’t one to just speak of God’s love, but to show it. And this embodied love takes on a different look than what we want or expect, just as Jesus’ power takes on a different look than what we want or expect. In the face of the untouchably sick, Jesus touched and was touched – lepers, blind men, bleeding women. In the face of society’s oppression, Jesus befriended and allied himself – tax collectors, prostitutes, the religiously impure. In the face of violence, Jesus worked for the good of those who actively and passively worked to kill him – the religious elite, Roman soldiers, the disciples who fled. Killed at the hands of the violent and power hungry, we find Christ on the cross, his body broken. His love and power were so complete and full that in the face of violence, his answer was the opposite. His kingdom, not of this world, does not play by the rules of the empire, so here we find him.
Jesus, our Lord of death, you have gone where we have not yet gone. We honour your death with art. May we also learn from our fear, because fear didn’t save you from anything. Amen.
Fear. How often we can relate to this primal emotion. In the days following this death, we know that the disciples hid away. Death and fear go together, even still today. In our world, we fear and we fear a lot. And not just the emotion of being afraid, but fearing, to our very core. Fear of intentions and religions. Fear of neighbors and strangers. Fear of action and inaction. And this fear, fear of death itself, makes us fear life itself.
As the disciples hid away, hearing “It is finished” ringing through their ears, they must have certainly agreed. It was finished, they were finished – finished with the movement, finished with the traveling, finished with the struggle of resisting the empire, finished with disappointment and confusion. They hid away, just as we hide away. But Jesus did not. Jesus, despite the fear he surely felt, was not governed by it. Regardless of if he knew what would come next, he willing, steadily walked forward. He embraced life, all life, even the lives of those who took his. And it seems so backwards and foolish. It goes against our instincts.
This radical, embodied love is the path of Christ. And we try to do the same by loving those who we fear, loving those who we don’t trust or understand. In the face of fear, we work to choose love. In the face of violence, we work to choose life. In the face of greed, we work to choose generosity. And when we fail, which we will and do, we need just look to the cross, where we find that “It is finished” declares the end not of life, but of death and fear and sin. Through death, death is buried.
We move to Easter, we move to the resurrection, but without this day, without this sacrifice, there is no new life. Paudrig O Tuama’s Collect, the prayers at the Stations of the Cross, calls us to steadiness in Christ’s work, just as Jesus demonstrated what that can sometimes look like. We see death, yes; today we see death. But we do not see fear. We call this Good Friday, not because of Christ’s death, but because Christ’s death puts death itself, fear itself, sin itself in its grave.
Jesus of the unexpected, for at least some of your life this was not how you imagined its end. Yet even at the end, you kept steady in your conviction. Jesus, keep us steady. Jesus, keep us steady. Because, Jesus, keep us steady. Amen.