FATHER, FORGIVE THEM; FOR THEY DO NOT KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING
Last weekend Gary and I saw the movie A Wrinkle in Time. One of the characters in the film cited a quote from Rumi that has stayed with me ever since: “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”
The more I thought about this quote, the more I began to realize that it ties in with the theme of forgiveness expressed in the first word from the cross. People said and did lots of hurtful things to Jesus. At this point in the Passion story, Jesus had been betrayed by Judas. Peter denied even knowing him. Soldiers had beaten him and mocked him. He had been placed on a cross in the middle of two convinced criminals. People were casting lots to see who would get his clothing after he was dead. Others taunted him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, God’s chosen one!”
At this point in the Passion story it’s clear that Jesus wounds were not only physical, they were emotional and spiritual as well. If we were hurt this badly, our natural instinct would NOT be to ask God to forgive our tormentors. In fact, if we were given the opportunity we would want to hurt them as much as they had hurt us.
But Jesus does not do this. Instead he prayed “Father forgive them.” and this, this is how the Light entered him. You see, if we do not learn to forgive others the darkness will consume us. Our wounds will never heal. The emotional weights we carry will get heavier and heavier.
Forgiveness is not so much for the person who is receiving it. Forgiveness is for the one who offers it. It is a force of transformation in our lives. It is a healing balm like no other. And so, we forgive those who trespass against us. We forgive those who have made us feel less than a beloved child of God. We forgive the taunters and naysayers, the doubters and betrayers, because this is how the Light enters us.
TRULY, TODAY YOU WILL BE WITH ME IN PARADISE
When some people hear the second word from the cross, they say, it’s not fair. How can you promise paradise to the repentant thief? He is reaping what he sowed. Karma has finally caught up with him. He has been tried and found guilty. He is getting what he deserves. He even said so himself!
It’s so easy to judge others. In the Facebook/Instagram/Snapchat culture we live in it’s easy to do this in a mega-second. All it takes is a few words typed in the comment section of one of our posts…and…BAM, we’re off to the races!
Suddenly, WE’RE WRITING IN ALL CAPS. Our righteous indignation shifts into high gear. We are incensed and outraged. We are unfollowing and unfriending, casting someone whom we considered to be our friend into the outer ring of darkness where we try to erase their name from the Lamb’s Book of Life, FOREVER!
Aren’t you glad that Jesus doesn’t work this way? Aren’t you glad that Jesus offers paradise to someone who really doesn’t deserve it? Judging others is one of humanity’s greatest sins in the age of cyberspace. Perhaps, we can learn from Jesus tonight. Perhaps we can become vessels of grace upon grace to others. Perhaps we can, in Luther’s words, “Interpret everything our neighbor does in the best possible light.”
If Jesus gave the repentant thief what he really deserved, we would have a much different story in the gospels! But thanks be to God, Jesus chose the path we are walking tonight. Grace and forgiveness triumphed over condemnation and judgment. This is good news for all of us!
WOMAN, HERE IS YOUR SON. HERE IS YOUR MOTHER
This past week I’ve been thinking a lot about my grandmother. The reason for this is that Dawn Lierman’s grandmother, Merrylyn Cass, passed away and Dawn commented that she wouldn’t be who she is without her grandmother’s influence on her life.
This got me thinking about my grandmother, Dorothy Pitrusu. I would say the same thing about her. I wouldn’t be who I am without my grandmother’s influence on my life. Perhaps the greatest gift she gave me was knowing what it feels like to be loved unconditionally.
I was her first grandchild, and the two of us had a special bond. She showed her love to me in so many ways. Grandma was my sugar dealer. Every time I went to her house she had either baked or bought something delightful for me to eat. She always knew my favorites and made sure they were available for my eating pleasure.
I also remember sitting beside her on the organ bench in her dining room. I marveled at all the hymns she knew by heart. I sang along with as many as I could.
But the thing I remember most about my grandma, is her smile. Every time she smiled at me, I knew all was well in my world. In that moment, I could do nothing wrong. I felt like whatever I aspired to do with my life I could make it happen.
This brings us to the third word from the cross where Jesus commends his mother to the beloved disciple’s care and keeping. It makes me sad that we don’t know more about Jesus’ relationship with his mother. I cannot imagine having to do what he did. I’m fairly certain that his mind was flooded with images of all the things Mary did for him.
I’m sure she tried her best to protect him from all the taunts of the other kids who thought he was an illegitimate child. I’m sure she baked all of his favorites, and taught him the words to all the beautiful music he heard being chanted in the synagogue. I’m sure her smile taught him what unconditional love felt like.
It was a smile he first encountered when Mary pondered things in her heart in a stable in Bethlehem. It was a smile that showed relief when his mother had been searching frantically for him and finally found the 12 year old Jesus safe in the Temple. It was a smile that gave him the strength to do what he had to do, even if she didn’t completely understand it.
Lots of people deserted Jesus in the moments leading up to his death. But the gospel of John tell us that Mary never left his side. If that’s not unconditional love, I don’t know what is.
MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME
Out of all the words Jesus spoke from the cross, this one is the hardest to hear. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” Forsaken is a strong word. It means “to be abandoned or deserted.” It is a terrible place to be.
You might find it strange, but I take comfort in this fourth word from the cross. If Jesus felt forsaken by God then he knows EXACTLY what we feel like when life has us up against the ropes and we begin to wonder where God is in the midst of our suffering and pain. Everyone, and I mean everyone, has felt forsaken by God at one point or another in their lives.
We Lutherans believe that Jesus was fully human as well as fully divine. If this is the case, then feeling forsaken is a part of what it means to be human. And since Jesus was fully human feeling forsaken had to be a part of his experience.
However, the good news is that Jesus moved beyond feeling forsaken and was able to place his life confidently in the hands of God. Perhaps this can give us the courage to do the same. Perhaps this can help to ease our anxiety when life has kicked us in the teeth and we wonder how we’re going to get through the next hour, let alone the next day.
We are, ultimately, in God’s strong and capable hands. Nothing, and I mean nothing, can ever separate us from God’s love, not even death. Therefore, friends in Christ, take heart. We may FEEL forsaken during troubled timed but are NOT forsaken in reality!
I AM THIRSTY
When Jesus uttered the fifth word from the cross, it echoed back to the beginning of his ministry where he taught “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Jesus was thirsty for more than water. He was thirsty for a world where good news is offered to the poor, and captives are released from whatever or whoever binds them. He was thirsty for a world where our blind spots and dim wits are illuminated, and those who are oppressed experience freedom, perhaps for the first time in their lives. He was thirsty for a world where everyone receives an invitation to come and dine at the Kingdom feast.
These are the kinds of things Jesus was thirsty for. Is our thirst identical to his? OR is our thirst self-serving and self-centered? Is it the kind of thirst that is never quenched but always wants a little more? Is it the kind of thirst that’s all about us and rarely about anyone else?
People are thirsty for all kinds of things in this world, Many of them are not very good for our bodies or our souls. The challenge of this fifth word from the cross is that we thirst in solidarity with our Savior. Can we set aside the “me” that clamors for attention like a whining baby, and focus on the “we” that brings opposites together, and builds bridges instead of constructing walls? Jesus, help us to be thirsty for all the right things! May our thirst be your thirst. Amen and amen!
IT IS FINISHED
It’s hard to imagine how difficult that final week was for Jesus. To be falsely accused and pronounced guilty, to be forsaken and betrayed by your closest friends, to be the victim of violence and ridicule, is as dark as it gets. We have a difficult time handling any one of these things separately, but all of them together is unthinkable. Yet, in the midst of this very dark time Jesus knew that everything was at it should be.
“It is finished” doesn’t mean everything has come to an end. “It is finished” means God is getting ready to begin something new! The death of Jesus reminds us that those who walk closely with God will not escape suffering in the life. If the Son of God endured suffering how can we expect anything less? It is a part of the human experience.
But one of the things we learn from the cross is that even when life is at its darkest hour, God is working behind the scenes to give birth to new life and new beginnings. So, friends in Christ, when we find ourselves in our darkest hour and everything feels like its coming to an end, may we put our trust in Jesus who is the Light in the midst of our darkness, and the Life that comes from death.
FATHER INTO YOUR HANDS I COMMEND MY SPIRIT
2017 was a difficult year for me. I battled chronic itching. I experienced the deaths of both my step-granddaughter Madison and my father Herb Eck. Various other family members were dealing with bouncing back from cancer, back pain that made it difficult to move, and compressed vertebrae that kept the arm and fingers of the choral director in the family numb 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
When you’ve had a year like that, (And I know some of you had a year like that as well!) When you’ve had a year like that, it’s sometimes a struggle to believe that God has got your back. It’s sometimes a struggle to commend your life to God’s care and keeping. You begin to wonder if, maybe, God took a long vacation and isn’t coming back. You begin to wonder if, maybe, you did something that made God really angry, but for the life of you, you cannot fathom what that “something” was.
In this final word from the cross, Jesus is able to commend his spirit to God’s care and keeping. He has total confidence that he is in God’s loving and capable hands. He knows with every fiber of his being that even though he is walking through the valley of the shadow of death, he fears no evil, for God is with him.
Wow, I wish I was that strong. But, honestly, I’m not. I may try to fake it from time to time, but, like you, I have my doubts. Like you, I have experienced dark nights of the soul.
What got me through them are the breadcrumbs of grace that God scattered on the soil of my life. These breadcrumbs helped me to find my way from the darkness back into the light. These breadcrumbs came in the form of prayers, apple pies, and notes of encouragement. These breadcrumbs came in the form of wine and bread I could see and taste and feel, as well as hymns that stirred my soul, and reminded me of what Jesus promised us after his resurrection from the dead: “I will ever leave you, nor forsake you.”
So friends, in Christ, when you find it hard to commend your life to God’s care and keeping, look for those breadcrumbs of grace. Jesus left some of them for us in the stories we’ve read tonight. We must cling to the faith that the One who was crucified, also rose again on that first Easter morning. We, too, shall rise, from whatever crises or sadness life throws at us. Amen.
Copyright ©2018 by David Eck