Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Holy Week According to the Pharisees

“The Pharisees then said to one another, ‘You see, you can do nothing.  Look, the world has gone after him!’” (John 12:19)

The shouts of “Hosanna” that reverberated throughout the streets and off the city walls of Jerusalem caused Jesus’ adversaries to sense defeat. In the minds of the teachers of the law, this grassroots Messianic movement no longer claimed merely the allegiance of a handful of Jewish peasants; rather, the message and mission had captured the imaginations of the world.  According to the Pharisees, the Way of Jesus had gone global- or at least Gentile- and they had no choice but to throw their hands up in surrender. 

That is, until Friday. Apparently the pep rally of Palm Sunday didn’t stifle the energies and strategies for too long.  

Still, that’s not what bothers me about this text.  I am not even as unsettled by the pressing realities that only a few days later the same hallowed Jerusalem walls reverberated a different word- “crucify!” After all, the fickleness of humanity is fairly constant.

What bother’s me about the Palm Sunday text is that I don’t know if Jesus’ sparring partners would utter the same words in 2015. I am not sure they would claim, “Look, the world has gone after him!” Instead, for me, Holy Week elicits new forms of lament that linger at least until Sunday morning. You could say I am tempted to embrace a reversal of the Pharisaical fatalism:

You see, we can do nothing. Our efforts are in vain. Try as we may, the world remains broken. Lions devour lambs. Drones and threats of terror are preferred over pruning hooks and plowshares. Political and religious rhetoric push people farther apart instead of pull friends and foes together.  Reconciliation across racial, economic, geographic, denominational and ideological communities appear more improbable than generations before. Children become collateral in both neighborhoods of privilege and villages drenched in oppression. Hosanna?!  Look, the world has gone after power and dominion no matter what the cost. Will deliverance ever come?   

Nevertheless, cynicism will not become my central discipline during this sacred seven-day journey. This Holy Week, I will instead sit with a revised echo of the Pharisees as my eager and hope-full prayer for the world (and our churches) to indeed go after this Jesus. In the presence of so much unrest throughout our local and global communities, I will dare to open my eyes and look to see evidence that we are not and will not be overcome by darkness.  I will hold on hope for the possibility- nah, probability- that just maybe we can and many are doing something as those who pursue the One who promised not to condemn the world but to save and make it right again. 

I will pray expectantly, not only for the church, but also for the world caught in between beauty and despair.  I will pray for a world whose Lord is the Christ and promised future is reconciliation. I will pray for the world to go after the dreams of God and the rhythms of love and redemption. I will pray for the church and churches to take the lead and (continue to) do the same. 

I will believe in the resurrection even when Twitter feeds, news outlets, and unending stories of injustice near and far tempt me to abandon the greatest of all Christian hopes. 

I will trust the story of Easter as affirmation that even when the world fails to go after Jesus as Lord, Jesus indeed goes and has gone after the world which he loves. 

After all, this kind of belief and trust in Life’s great triumph over death and all its friends is the only advantage we have on our pilgrimage from streets draped with palms to a tomb we pray will be empty so enough. 

“The only advantage ‘we’ have over the world around us is that we know that He is our Lord and theirs too, and that we may use the access to God which He has opened up for both us and them. ‘We’ may believe in the midst of the others while they do not yet believe. ‘We’ thus do so visionally in their place.  In this way ‘we’ hold a position they have not yet occupied or even have abandoned. ‘We’ do it for our Lord, the Lord known by us, and therefore for them whose Lord He is also although they do not yet know Him.  Hence, ‘we’ also pray in anticipation with them and for them as we pray with and for one another and for ourselves.” 
Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics III.4, pp. 102-103.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Lent, the Myth of Elevator Buttons, and Another Modern Psalm

We’ve all done it. We are running to make it on time to an appointment or we simply don’t have the patience to wait an extra second or two so, after we have stepped into the elevator and selected the correct floor, we reach for and push the button marked “Door Close.”  In order to gain even the slightest edge in our race against time, we frantically press the plastic button and assume we have the ability to interrupt the timing systems and safety mechanisms of the elevator.

Today I learned the button is a fraud.  In a podcast by Radio Lab, the hosts uncovered the plausibility of approximately 80% of these buttons marked “door close" being non-functional.  They are disconnected intentionally. Engineers do not hook up the wires of these bottom level buttons in order to protect and preserve the integrity of the traffic patterns and rhythms determined by the computers within one of our most underrated technologies. 

That’s right, we actually do not have the ability to manipulate and speed up our upward or downward mobility no matter how many times we jam that button with our index fingers or thumbs. Despite our best intentions, the door will remain open until the integrated system is ready for it to be closed. 

Every Lent I am reminded of a similar truth, we cannot bypass the liturgical season linked to lament, confession, and unsettling encounters with our sin, suffering, and a crucified God.  No matter how many times we attempt to skip the 40-day journey to the cross, likely favoring the sentiment of Easter over and above both Ash Wednesday or Good Friday, the liturgical rhythm and the sacred season must be endured.  The timing mechanism and traffic pattern of the Christian calendar always follows the jubilee of Advent, Epiphany, and a brief stint in ordinary time with a more somber Lenten road. 

If we are honest, we need this pause.
"Then Jesus came with them to a plot of land called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, 'Stay here while I go over there to pray.'" 
Matthew 26:36, New Jerusalem Bible
We need this pilgrimage of contemplation and discontent.  We need the Spirit to provoke our consciences and disturb our souls, not so much for the sake of sorrow and grief, but in efforts to remember our call and commission in the midst of a creation that continually groans. Lent is a season when we are forced to confront the dark realities of a despairing world and our despairing selves even as we reaffirm our commitments to cruciform discipleship.  Lent is a holy bid to slow down and rest where we are and as we are- fragile persons in a fragile world in a fragile time.  Sure, we are those who cling to a promised future, but we must relinquish our temptation to rush upward and close the door too soon on God’s dreams for welfare and wholeness in the here and now. 
“One cannot say, ‘Thy kingdom come!’ without hope for our time, for today, for tomorrow.  The great Future, with a capital F, is also a future with a small f.” 
---Karl Barth, Prayer 39 
May this Lent be an opportunity to prayerfully engage the here and now, the present places of brokenness in our world, communities, congregations, and our own selves. May this Lent be an opportunity not to rush ahead, but to slow down and consider where and how we may have missed present moments to embody God’s concern for despairing persons near and far.  May this Lent be a chance to keep the door of confession and lament open for just a bit longer as we then consider fresh possibilities both to receive and practice the resurrection that is surely coming.

This Week's Modern Psalm for Lent: "Come As You Are" by Crowder