Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Model of Dying

Recently, God open my eyes to a new (at least new to me) perspective on the Sorrowful Mysteries (as found in the Rosary). As I considered each of these painful moments in Christ's Passion, I realized that with each step....with each injustice Christ willingly endured...He taught us about dying...specifically about what needs to be crucified in our own lives if we are to ever really know Him.

The Sorrowful Mysteries begin with the "Agony in the Garden." Here we see Christ in all His humanity painfully, deliberately willing His self to assent to God's will and His saving plan. No doubt Christ knew what was ahead...the pain...the humiliation...the separation from God. But He also knew the purpose...He knew the reason death was necessary....and He knew the Father. So as He anguished in the garden, sweating blood, praying that this cup might pass from Him...He taught us the about sacrifice and about the need to let our will die so that God's will might live within us. How humbling it is in this light to recall the countless times I have raged over my own plans being foiled. How often do I fight and push for my will to be done? Christ's moments in the garden remind me...that my will should be the Father's will.

The second mystery is the "Scourging at the Pillar." I don't know that I will ever think about this horrific moment in Christ's life and not recall the enactment of this scene in Mel Gibson's The Passion. Seeing all that Christ had to endure, the pain and torture, it is easy to understand why He had wanted this cup to pass from Him. And I have no doubt that with each strike of the whip His body cried out and begged to be released. He was literally wracked with pain...a pain level I doubt many of us can imagine. Yes, His submission to God's will meant, among other things, that His body would be made uncomfortable...to say the least. It would be abused, persecuted, and afflicted beyond what any human being could endure. And yet in this, Jesus reveals that our walk with Him must involve this sacrifice of our flesh. We must crucify the comforts and distractions and conveniences that our flesh demands...but that ultimately serves only to distract us, or discourage us, from God's will. We must not recoil when we feel the sting of our flesh not getting what it craves...we must submit...as Jesus did.

It's hard to imagine anyone mocking the King of Kings...the Creator of the Universe...and yet the third Sorrowful Mystery reminds us that no sooner did the soldiers finish torturing Jesus' body, that they went to work on His spirit. The "Crowning with Thorns," is a vivid reminder that just as Christ did...we must relinquish our pride. Certainly Christ could have protested the soldiers' mocking with a miraculous demonstration of His Sonship (not that it necessarily would have meant much to them). He could have in fact called down legions of angels to dispatch these soldiers in the blink of an eye. But Jesus knew His sacrifice needed to be perfect...and whole. He knew the Death that He must endure for us was not simply the end of His life...but the Death of our sinfulness. And so Christ willingly sacrificed His pride, refusing to lift Himself up, refusing to assert His own worth...His own prominence. He allowed Himself to be humiliated...despite having the power to end it. How much more should I endure humiliation then...as I have no power to stop anything?

Crucifixion was generally reserved for criminals. It's punishment was not simply death...but public death. It made your sin clear to everyone. Your sin...your mistakes...your failings as a person. The cross was a sign of guilt. In a sense, the cross was like a more severe scarlet "A" (the letter Hester Prynne bore because of her sin in Nathanial Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter"). And yet, the fourth Mystery confronts us with the fact that Christ had to carrying His Cross. The unspotted lamb, the Prince of Peace, the perfectly pure Son of God willingly submitted still further to this complete and unrelenting Death of the self. Never mind the extreme pain Christ surely must have been in, never mind the exhaustion that certainly was perched to overtake Him at any minute, and never mind the historic injustice of having a man without sin being forced to carry a criminal's punishment. If anyone could ever have turned the tables on the spectators...certainly it was the man who offered that he who is without sin should throw the first stone. If anyone ever could have pointed out the hypocrisy of the whole affair, it was the man who could see into men's hearts. Here was The Truth and The Way, The Alpha and Omega, the Author of all that is Good, carrying a cross...publicly being labeled a sinner...mocked and jeered as a criminal. And so I am left to ask...who am I to become self-righteous when my sin is exposed...when I am rightly caught in my own shortcomings. Here was God, allowing Himself to be falsely accused and convicted...and here am I...a known, often unrepentant, repeat sinner. As the "good thief" observed,
And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds ; but this man has done nothing wrong. Luke 23:41

Finally, at the end of this sorrowful journey, we arrive at the Crucifixion itself. We have all heard that one of the strongest (if not the strongest) instinct in the human race...and really among all living creatures...is the preservation of our own life....self-preservation. When confronted with death...the end of our earthly life...many a conviction has died in our place.
As Paul writes:
For one will hardly die for a righteous man ; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. Romans 5:7
Yet this is the culmination of all the other "deaths" we are to endure. We should love nothing so much in this life (whether our own plans, our physical comfort, our health, our pride) that we are unwilling to let it go...to let this whole life go in fact...if it is asked of us by God.
That is what Jesus does, He endures Death in every shape and every form...and then lays down the entirety of His human life...for us.
Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.

And so as I meditate on these Sorrowful Mysteries, God continues to open my eyes to how I can identify with Christ in my own life...by dying...by sacrificing my will, my physical comfort, my
pride, my self-righteousness, and ultimately my life...all for Him...and for His people. This is God's plan for our lives...and this is the model He gave us.

A true servant of Jesus is one who is willing to experience martyrdom for the reality of the gospel of God. ~ Oswald Chambers

Friday, February 4, 2011


Constancy...what a rare and valuable commodity in today's world. Things are always changing it seems. Like that saying, "you can never step into the same river twice," life is flowing all around us. Time marches on...carrying us and our experiences with it. We live in grains of sand...tiny moments of time that hopefully and prayerfully add up to a life worthy of the promises of Christ. But through it all very little stays the same. Buildings crumble, memories fade, people come and go. I always liked the line from The Muppet Christmas Carol (which while based on Charles Dickens' classic adds a few lines here and there): "Life is made up of meetings and partings. That is the way of it." How very true.

But thank God...quite literally...that He is constant. He doesn't change. As Paul writes in today's readings:
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Our God is the God of both the Old and New Testaments. He is the God who swallowed the Egyptians in the Red Sea AND the God Incarnate, born in a manger, healer of lepers, forgiver of sins. He is our anchor...our lighthouse...our security. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as well as David and Solomon, and Peter and Paul. And He is my God.

So when the craziness of this world starts to overwhelm me...when I start to feel like I just can't keep up...I remember that even though Heaven and Earth may pass away...God will remain...and so will all those who live in Him.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


It has to be one of the toughest lessons for us to learn -- dependence. We work so hard to convince ourselves...and those around us...that we are independent...self-sufficient...that we don't need anyone. And yet I suspect that at some level, we are all very much aware this is a lie. We can't take a breath without it being the Will of God. If that were not the case, we would be immortal. But our very existence is dependent on Him. And so whatever "power" or "control" we appear to exert (or that others exert on us)...it's a mirage. As Christ told Pilate, "You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above" (John 19:11).

And because Jesus is Truth, He wants to pull back the self-made veil from our eyes...He wants to confront us with our dependence...and then He wants to help us embrace it. That's what He did for the disciples...and that's what He wants to do for us:
He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick –no food, no sack, no money in their belts. They were, however, to wear sandals but not a second tunic. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave from there...." Mark 6:8-10
Here they were, ready to embark on their first mission for God....their first tour if you will...and Jesus sent them out without anything. No food, no drink, not even a change of clothes. Nothing but a walking stick. Jesus was putting them in a position to where they would have no choice but to trust Him...to trust God the Father. (And isn't that so often the best way for us to learn...when we don't have a choice BUT to learn.) Everything they would need...would have to be supplied by God.

Of course God wasn't going to supply food and shelter supernaturally as he did for the Israelites or for Elijah. The truth is that might have been easier for them. I think it would have been easier for me...given the alternative. No, instead of supernatural provision, Jesus encouraged the Apostles to not only accept their dependence on God, but to accept their dependence on one another....that is on other people. Whatever food they would eat, whatever shelter they would have...it would all come through the kindness and goodness of others...of God's people. It is one of the great paradoxes of life. Though in the end it is all about our own personal relationship to God, we are meant to work out the relationship together. And sadly, that isn't always easy:
Any place that does not receive you or listen to you, as you go out from there, shake the dust off the soles of your feet for a testimony against them. Mark 6:11
The Apostles learned first hand that trusting God doesn't mean He will make the path smooth. Nor does our need for one another ensure that we will all treat eachother with goodness and kindness. Yet that doesn't change anything. We are still dependent...still helpless without God...still needing Him...and still needing each other.

But as always, The Gospels are ultimately a message of hope. And so while the Apostles were thrown into the depend end of dependence...they showed us that if we will embrace our dependence on God....if we will trust Him for our needs...if we will focus on doing what He asks of us...and if we will be obedient...then we will succeed beyond anything we could ever have pretended to do on our own.
They went out and preached that men should repent. And they were casting out many demons and were anointing with oil many sick people and healing them.Mark 6:12-13