Remember the holy

Clouds and light

Thursday

Luke 9:28-36

A cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud.

One of my brothers got married some years ago, when my girls were young, at a place I presume, now, was in the Oakland hills. It was then – and is still – unfamiliar territory to me. I should ask my brother where this was.

I only know that after we left the wedding reception late that night, the road rose up along the edge of the grass covered hills and we were unexpectedly engulfed in a thick, thick fog. Suddenly there were no stars, no city lights, no horizon and no other cars. It was profoundly disorienting. We were in this ethereal white cocoon unable to see to the side of the road. It was also scary; we were traveling a mountain road and I could not see where the road went.

I have sympathy for Peter, James and John, an all night prayer vigil makes anyone’s head droop. They are alone up there, away from the safety and security of the village (this is not a world in which people went camping!), when suddenly they are startled awake by two men talking with Jesus. There before them are the holy figures of Moses and Elijah, radiant with the glory of the celestial realm. And then they are enveloped in a cloud – a cloud they know can only mean the divine presence. Like Moses and Elijah on Sinai, they are in the presence of the Holy One – these decidedly unholy fishermen.

Disorienting. Fearful. And then the voice. No wonder they kept silent about what they had seen.

We are a first name culture. We are a society in which everyone’s photos and thoughts are public. Here is me with my buds. Here is me on vacation. Here is me at dinner.   Here is the sunset I see, or the blossoming daffodils. (Yes, I know that grammatically it should be “Here am I”, but somehow the repetition of the word “me” seems more appropriate.) We post our favs and show our videos. Grieving families do the morning news. Not much is hidden.

It is hard to appreciate what Peter, James and John felt in the presence of the holy. But I felt a piece of it that night in the fog when I could see nothing familiar. When the world seemed to dissolve around me. When I was confronted with something I had never experienced before.

There is something good in that part of Christian faith that recognizes the intimacy of our relationship with God. Jesus, after all, dared call God “Father” and bid us do the same. But there is also a time to remember the holy, the otherness, the majesty and mystery of God. There is a time to be weak in the knees. There is a time to know the awe.

 

Photo: dkbonde
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Perfect love

Thursday

Ezekiel 1:28b – 2:5

File:Bearing of the Cross (Duccio di Buoninsegna).jpg28I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of someone speaking. 1He said to me: O mortal, stand up on your feet, and I will speak with you. 2And when he spoke to me, a spirit entered into me and set me on my feet.

God speaks to Ezekiel. At the culmination of the prophet’s overwhelming vision of the glory of God, God speaks. Ezekiel is on the ground and, though he is commanded to rise, he is unable. God fulfills in him what God commanded.

I will take nothing away from the teaching of Jesus that God is a loving father. But we have grown so used to the idea of God as a doting father that we have forgotten the awe. We don’t want to talk about the fear of God. It sounds wrong to our ears. Why should we fear what is perfect love? But the punch line is in that word perfect. Perfect love ought to silence us. Perfect love ought to press us facedown to the ground. Perfect love ought to suck the spirit out of us. Perfect love is nails and thorns and unspeakable shame borne freely for our sake.

When perfect love tells us to stand on our feet, our knees should be too weak. We should need God’s own spirit to lift us up.

 

Duccio [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

For the whole world

Friday

1 John 1:1-2:2

File:Meister Theoderich von Prag 013.jpg2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus is crucified at the hour the lambs are slaughtered for the Passover. In John’s memory – or in his theological reflection on the meaning of Jesus’ death – it is not the Passover meal when Jesus arises to wash his followers feet. It is the night before. And the day he is sacrificed, is the day the lambs are sacrificed. He dies as the lambs died, to redeem the nation from death.

Whether John’s account is memory or reflection, the power of the imagery is impossible to miss. Christ is our Passover lamb. In the imagery of the Book of Revelation, he is the lamb who was slain standing in the center of the throne.

“He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins,” writes the author of 1 John. And with those simple words we are reminded of Christ our Passover Lamb whose blood marks the door and saves us from death.

But the author of 1 John writes more: “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”

“For the sins of the whole world.” He is the atoning sacrifice not only for the shame we bring upon God for our pedestrian selfishness – the occasional greed, thoughtlessness, selfishness, betrayal that’s so much a part of ordinary human existence – but for the great shame of fratricide that has plagued us since Cain rose up against Abel: the slaughter of other children of God in the name of God, wealth, power, ideology and simple hate, envy, and vengeance. Unspeakable crimes from every beaten woman to every segregated fountain, from every raped child to every tortured prisoner, from every neglected elder to every stolen pension, from every death camp to mass grave. Unspeakable crimes against humanity. Unspeakable crimes against the children of God.

“He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”

Most of us are likely to excuse our own petty sins. We don’t imagine they need real atonement. And for those other sins we imagine there is no atonement, no way to make it right. But before us stands the cross, the nails, the scourge, the thorns, the grave. Before us stands the stone rolled away. Before us stands the risen one with wounds. And in our hands is the broken bread – the sign of his broken body. Broken for us. Broken for the world. The whole world.

Our hands should tremble as we hold it.

 

Image: Theodoric of Prague [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons