Friday, April 14, 2017

"A People Yet Unborn" Year A Good Friday 2017

“A People Yet Unborn”
Year A Good Friday, 14 April 2017
St. Paul’s Episcopal, Richmond, VA

When I was in preparation to become a priest, the phrase that was repeated to me over and over until I got was “Praying shapes Believing.” And I have not only acquiesced to that, I actually have seen it come true in my life and believe as well. It is no surprise that as Episcopalians we use the Book of Common Prayer, not something else.

Jesus was a person of prayer, from his time of trial in the desert after his baptism, to his days apart in lonely places, to how he taught us to pray when asked. He was raised in the Synagogue, the house of prayer in Nazareth, and we are told he attended “as was his custom.” His family would travel to Jerusalem to worship and pray in the Temple, as was their custom. Jesus was steeped in prayer and trained his disciples to be people of prayer as well.

Tonight we heard the choir sing the beginning of Psalm 22, one of the songs of the Temple, a worship song. Jesus quotes the first line of a well known lyric of a song from those in times of trouble. Taken out of context, we project ourselves into how we would feel, what we would think. Where is God when things go bad? And when one is being publically executed and humiliated despite being innocent could things be any worse? Jesus is quoting a sad song for sad times, Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani.

If we stop there, I believe we miss what Jesus was really saying. The words we hear end with “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” because we do not know the rest of the song.

Bruce Hornsby’s lyric may begin, “That’s just the way it is, some things will never change…” but if you know the song, the words finish, “Ah, but don’t you believe it.” What starts off sad, becomes a renunciation.

Words become ingrained in us with repetition, our praying shapes our believing and our reality as well. The way the human brain works has not changed since Jesus’ day.

I was invited to come and see a woman in the final stages of dementia, and was told by her family that she probably did not even know I was there. That was probably true, but when I started the prayers, from somewhere deep within her the words came out after she had not spoken in days. I said. “Our Father,” and she echoed in a feeble voice, “who art in heaven,” and she mumbled along with me the rest. The same happened with the Nicene Creed, and other prayers. Her family was astounded, but our praying shapes our believing and our reality. Her heart knew the words when her body and mind had failed her.

Jesus was the same. His heart knew the words, when his body was broken and his mind was in torment. He began the prayer, or song, however you want to call it. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And who would we be if we did not look to the rest of the lyric?

My sincere belief is that Jesus, in the height of his pain and torture got out what he could. Beyond the Romans who were there who would have been oblivious, he sent a message to his dear mother, his beloved disciples and the religious leaders who were standing there. He did not send them a message of despair but of Unquenchable Hope!

You see the Romans could crush his body, but not his soul. Inside, in his heart and soul, he continued on with the words he knew so well. What sounds like the anguish of a tormented soul, instead is a declaration of faith.

Psalm 22 begins with a cry of desperation…

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
  Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
  and by night, but find no rest.

It begins as dark as could be, then it weaves around the faith of the past when God delivered, and the humiliation of the present when there is no light. But then, the song goes to look ahead to what is to come. And this I think was among the final thoughts of Jesus, our Lord and Savior, during his sojourn on this earth.

All the ends of the earth shall remember
  and turn to the Lord;
and all the families of the nations
  shall worship before him.
For dominion belongs to the Lord,
  and he rules over the nations.
To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;
  before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
  and I shall live for him.
Posterity will serve him;
  future generations will be told about the Lord,
and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,
  saying that he has done it.

“A people yet unborn.” That is you. That is me. Jesus in his final moments had us on his mind, and in that hope, in that prayer, Jesus’s heart sang of our Deliverance.

Tonight as we sit and remember what the Lord has done, we are the fulfillment of the prayer Jesus prayed. Tonight, you are the answer to Jesus’ prayer. Here, and in every church and home and heart when people think on what he did and give glory to God, we are the fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer.

When you are asked why is this Day called “Good Friday,” remember that. How could we ever look at Jesus’ suffering on the cross and declare that Good? Nothing that I can see from the outside, but Jesus tells us where his heart is.

Think on what makes Christ’s heart sing: “Future generations… will proclaim to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.” Jesus has done it, and it is finished. And that is why we can call it Good. Amen

“Sour Wine” meditation Year A Good Friday 2017

“Sour Wine”: a Good Friday meditation
Year A Good Friday, 14 April 2017
St. Paul’s Episcopal, Richmond, VA: Prayers and Meditations Service 12 noon - 3 pm

Sour Wine.
He was thirsty, and they gave him Sour Wine.
Too often in this world, when we are thirsty we are given Sour Wine. It is the nature of the world. “But this is what you need,” they might say, “so this is what you get.” No matter the intent, it is still Sour Wine.

I think about, as he breathed his last, what was going through Christ’s mind? All the pain. All the sorrow. He was thirsty, and asked for something to drink. He asked the same of the woman at the well, if you remember.
So human a need for the Son of God to request. But here he was, the Quintessential Human doing what we all must one day, Jesus was dying.
And in the horror of those last moments, he asked, for something to quench his thirst.
“I am thirsty,” he said.
A statement.
A request.
I wonder if he thought back to the last thing he ate, the last thing he drank.
He was at a Seder, the traditional Passover banquet, with those he was closest to, eating, drinking, laughing, remembering.
And in the midst of that night he taught, he prayed, he worshiped.
He tasted of the Fruit of the Vine, the sweet wine of the Promised Land. He drank four cups of sweet wine as part of the ritual, the fourth and final cup the promise and hope of salvation. I wonder when he sipped the Sour Wine did he think back to the sweetness of the night before?
But it was not Sweet Wine he tasted, but Sout Wine. Wine that had turned. Bitter. Acrid. Biting to the tongue. Did he think back to the Maror, the bitter herb he had eaten the night? Just as bitter to remind all partaking of the bitterness of being enslaved, the bitterness of not being free.
The Sweet. The Bitter. Both mingled in that single sip. That Sour Wine meant to quench his thirst.

The agony of death on a cross is excruciating, doctors tell us. The nails piercing the wrists sever the sciatic nerve running up the arm causing pain closer to being burned alive than a cut or puncture. The stretching of the abdominals to the point of cramping gives the feeling and horror of suffocation. The effect and intended desire is terror. And add to that the nakedness of Jesus on the cross added humiliation. Crucifixion achieved the terror and and humiliation all too well. And Sour Wine is what they gave to the Savior of the World.

What do we give?

Sour Wine has a purpose. Analgesic effects, so they say. But when someone thirsts, EVERYTHING ELSE becomes secondary.
Thirst is a pain.
Thirst can drive wise ones mad.
Thirst is what Jesus felt.
It was the final concern of his all-too-brief life.
And he was given Sour Wine.

His final word, tetelestai as recorded in the Greek of St. John’s gospel, is often translated as, “It is finished.” But it is more than that.

Two weeks ago, my family did the Monument Avenue 10k. My youngest had never done it before, and the first four miles of the six point two, she ran ahead and kept pushing for us to go faster. You see, we had all done it before, and knew how far we had to go. She did not.
At mile 5, she slowed significantly, and before we were even close to mile 6 she was in obvious pain. At mile 6 she asked, “How much further?!?!” I was able to point ahead and show her the banners at the end so she could see the finish line. When she crossed it, she cried out, “That’s finally over!” But her loving father looked down, and said, “You did it! I am so proud of you!” I would have picked her up and carried her if I could, but we all know, there are some things we all must do for ourselves, and we alone can finish them.

Jesus, in pain and sorrow, looked to heaven and declared not, “It is finally over!!!” He declared to his loving parent, “It is accomplished.” And then he breathed his last.

And then the earth stood still and silent as Jesus died.