Scripture: John 13:20-31; Isaiah 50:4-9 and Hebrews 12: 1-3
Lent it hard.
Truth be told, I’ve spent this year and last year avoiding Lent. Last year I experienced so much grief and sadness, (mostly the pain experienced by people around me) that killing God too seemed like it just might do me in. This year things are going well, I’m happy, I’m working hard, life is good… so I don’t want to enter into darkness for fear it will overpower the light and I won’t re-emerge again. I fear this because once you’ve seen the darkness… the “darkness that can be felt” like Exodus 10:21 describes, you know it’s danger. The dark is always dangerous which is I suppose why Paul admonishes us to walk in the light…
And yet Lent, and specifically holy week, is designed to take us into the darkness. Into the depths of despair. Intentionally.
Some churches get real kicks out of darkness, specifically if it includes the gnashing of teeth. Hellfire and damnation is meant to scare the evil out of you. Unfortunately the sin they’re often trying to eradicate is drinkin’ beer, playing cards and going dancing on Saturday nights. And as if the threat of hell wasn’t bad enough such communities specialize in guilt, fear and self-loathing, and making this life a living hell too.
Fortunately I don’t ascribe to such theology.
Unfortunately, because I do embrace a theology of hope and grace, when my religious community does ask me to enter with them into intentional darkness, it can be even more terrifying than hellfire and brimstone. You see, it’s not the gnashing of teeth I’m afraid of… it’s myself.
Those other religions portray God as a wrathful, vengeful God. A “hater” as my teenage friends might say. But I don’t think an angry, spiteful God would come to earth, impoverish himself and then allow his enemies and even his friends to nail him to a cross or submit himself to a tortuous death. If God’s in the game of winning at all costs and gloating in the process, those were the wrong cards to play.
But this isn’t a game. This isn’t about who gets in and who doesn’t. Who manages to please rather than piss off the Holy One.
It’s a relationship.
Ched Myers writes “Reconciliation is not something accomplished by Christ for God, nor inflicted on Christ by God, but forged by God through Christ. This wreaks havoc on the medieval (but still widespread) doctrine that Christ's death functions to placate an angry or offended deity. Rather, the ‘crucified God’ represents a fundamentally restorative initiative by the Divine victim towards the human offender.”
This is about God who became a man… and that man wants a living relationship with the men and women and children of this world.
While the passage we read today in John describes Judas as dipping his hand in the common cup and being called out by Christ as one who will deny him, as Roger noted on Sunday, in the Mark passage no one is named and thus all the disciples in the story are indicted as falling short, as denying Christ. We know what happens to Peter. We know about Thomas’ doubts. And so Roger concluded, like the disciples, we’ve all had our hand in the goblet of blood, on the plate on bread and we’re all now sitting in darkness asking, “Is it I Lord… Jesus? Is it I?”
And the answer is yes. Yes it is you. Yes, you are Judas who sells Christ to the highest bidder every time you gripe about paying your taxes or choose comfort over charity or a business promotion over your family or a raise to the detriment of your employee’s health benefits. Every time you render to Caesar what is God’s the answer to “Is it I” is yes.
Yes it is you, Peter, denying Christ three times before the crack of dawn. Every time you check the “spiritual but not religious” for fear of being misunderstood as a Christian. Every time you fail to stand up for Christ’s principles in the business room or decline to defend Christianity when the media portrays it as a war-loving, gay-hating circus. Every time the government tries to put our ancient Genesis text into the public classroom instead of into the hands of religious communities we are Peter, and we say, nah, it isn’t ours. You can have it. I don’t belong to him. We say it all the time with our silence and with our vehement admissions. And then the cock crows.
Yes it is you, Thomas who refuses to believe until you’re proven wrong. Yes it is you every time you write off the miracles of God as folklore. Every time you dismiss the Bible as myth. Every time you choose the easy way out instead of the hard work of learning from God and the people around you, you are doubting Thomas. Every time you vote no to the church budget that’s too big, lose hope because the building that needs so much work, turn away from the person who’s screwed up too many times. Every time you need proof of change, you dip your hand in the cup.
Yes, it is you. And yes it is me. And yes, it is all of us.
All of us. They’re all around us, Hebrews says. All the saints who were also the Judases and Peters and Thomases and thieves and Pharisees and Politicians… they’re all around us. All these faithful and not always faithful men and women of the Bible, men and women from our history books, people we looked up to… they made mistakes too. They too ate of the bread and drank of the wine and ended up denying Christ. The saints are always the sinners which is what makes God so good. God died so humanity could experience reconciliation, resurrection. The tricky part is always coming to peace with the fact that peace on Christ does not always mean peaceful living. Suffering and pain and challenges will always be with us… just as they were with our forefathers and mothers: the Martin Luthers, the Martin Luther Kings, the Mother Theresas, the Lottie Moons, the Volma Overtons and the Glenn McLaughlins… and when you feel the darkness of holy week, when you feel the suffering and the abandonment of the cross take heart… the saints are all around us!
And take heart because they too raised their hand and asked, Is it I, Lord?
And the answer was yes for them too.
In Isaiah we read about perseverance of the faithful. Perseverance is a gift from God given to all believers even and because they have had their hand in the common cup…
The Lord GOD has given Me the tongue of disciples,
That I may know how to sustain the weary one with a word
I love that line. And I can list, just as you did earlier in the service, the saints that God has put in my life to help me through the most difficult of times. They too sustain me with a word.
You have to go through Lent to get to Easter. Good Friday dies before Sunday raises. You have to enter the darkness to end up in the light. We all do.
But don’t be afraid! So many have gone before you and truly they are all around you too! Look up, Rafiki tells Simba in the children’s movie, The Lion King. See all those stars? Those are all the kings who have gone before you and are with you now. What beautiful imagery. We too have our cloud of witnesses, so take heart!
No more giving up! Go into the darkness, but don’t give up. Turn around. Turn around. See the darkness, feel it even. Repent and drink of the cup again, taste the bread again and start walking toward the light. Resurrection is coming. Hope is just around the corner! Four more days my friends, four more days! And while I can’t put an hour or date for when you will escape from the darkness in your life, I promise, healing IS coming. It is coming. It is right around the corner and though you may feel scared or abandoned or guilty, nail those feelings to the cross of Good Friday and they will go down with you and on Easter morning you will be raised to new life in Christ. Healing has already arrived. Not in a bloody cross, an angry God, a wimpy prophet, but in an empty tomb, a living body, a forgiven community. Peter and Thomas and Mary and Paul went before us… Saint Augustine went before us… Annie Armstrong went before us… Jerry Keesee went before us… but they are with us still, cheering us on to Easter.
You are not alone, my friends. You are not alone.
But you are forgiven, accompanied by Christ and the great cloud of witnesses and together we will stand one day before the throne of God and hold out our wine-stained hands and our crumb-dirtied fingers and Christ will say, thank God you drank of my cup and ate of my plate. Well done, my good and faithful servants. And welcome home.