A crimson cord

File:Red thread.jpg

Wednesday

Hebrews 11:29-12:2

31By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.

Her life hung by a thread, a length of crimson cord.

Joshua sent two spies into Jericho. The text says they took lodging at the house of Rahab, a prostitute – presumably the line between a public house and a brothel was thin in those days as in many others. When the king of the city learned of their presence, he sent word demanding Rahab bring them out, but she hid the spies and sent the soldiers on a chase saying the men had already left the city. Her house was built into the city wall and in the night she let the men down by a rope, having asked for them to reciprocate her loyalty. They told her to gather her people into the house and mark it with a crimson cord. When the city was taken and sacked, it would be her protection.

The brutality of the slaughter is for another time. What haunts me is that in the midst of the cries of chaos and confusion, the screams and blood, all her hope rests on a promise made visible by a crimson cord.

When Abraham went out from Haran he left with nothing more than a promise. When Joseph languishes in prison, he is sustained by nothing more than the promise given by God in dreams he received in his youth. Amidst the wails and sorrows of that night when death struck Egypt, the hope of the Israelites rested on a promise made visible by the blood of a lamb upon the doorpost.

Faith is not my own inner conviction; it is clinging to the promise we have received. Amidst the cries and cruelties of our broken world, all our hope is in a crimson cord and a promise: a splash of water and the promise that our death is taken by Christ and his life given to us.

Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, Rahab – this great litany of saints – are lifted up to us by the author of Hebrews as examples not for their great deeds or holiness, but because they entrust their lives to the promise of God.

We who gather at the table of the Lord trust our lives to the promise incarnate in a bit of bread that all debts are lifted. We trust our lives to promise that the world belongs to the God who rescues the enslaved and opens the grave. We trust our lives to the God who promises that mercy, kindness, compassion, forgiveness are the destiny of the world.

All our hope is in a crimson cord and a promise, in a lamb slain who lives and shares his imperishable life with us.

1Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

 

This reflection is slightly edited from that for Propers C 15 in 2013.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ARed_thread.jpg By Saurabh R. Patil (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

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Shamed

Wednesday

File:Francisco de Zurbarán 006.jpg

Isaiah 53:4-12

9They made his grave with the wicked
and his tomb with the rich,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.

When we remember the parallelism of Hebrew poetry, where the first line is restated by the second line, we see the words ‘grave’ and ‘tomb’ in parallel and that makes sense. But then we see the words ‘wicked’ and ‘rich’ in parallel.

Christians move so quickly in the hearing of this text to Jesus laid in a rich man’s tomb that we seldom pause to recognize that the word ‘rich’ is regarded as a synonym for ‘wicked’.

From the perspective of the oppressed poor, burial among the rich and mighty is a scandal for a prophet. Political candidates work hard to wear plaid shirts and drink beer like one of the guys (or gals). This is odd when you consider that they are applying for the post of representing our country among the leaders of the world. We don’t want our president wearing plaid shirts to have a face to face with Putin or Merkel or Xi Jinping. We want him wearing his fiercest power suit.

But there is a suspicion about the rich and powerful that’s different than those who prosper from hard work and good fortune. People who get rich by clever schemes that leave homeowners underwater are not regarded as much more than thieves. So the president wears plaid shirts.

But this poor prophet is condemned to burial among the rich elite, as if all his words had fallen on deaf ears. The prophets call for justice. They stand with the poor, the victims, the faithful of the land trying to do right by God and their neighbor. They do no not hobnob with the men or women wearing hundred thousand dollar suits or watches or pearls or yachts. They might as well be sitting on the porch with the leader of the Crips.

And then, in our text, ‘violence’ and ‘deceit’ become parallel to ‘rich’ and ‘wicked’. The prophet lies in state among the ‘wicked’ even though he did no violence and told no lies!

Guilt by association. Shamed completely. “We accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted.” We regarded his fate as just. We thought God had given him his due. We did not see that he was wounded for our transgressions,” that God made “his life an offering for sin.”

Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” says the Baptist. Behold the lamb whose blood marks the doors of the Israelites to save them from death. Behold the lamb who dies at the hour the Passover lambs were sacrificed.

Behold. See. See truly. See deeply. Recognize the face of God beneath that crown of thorns. Recognize the hands of mercy pierced. Recognize the faithfulness of God who does not strike back, but bears our violence and sin.

Behold the one shamed; it is our shame.

9They made his grave with the wicked
and his tomb with the rich,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.

But the prophet does not stop there, for then God speaks: “The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous.” The disgraced one was faithful – and will make us faithful.

So we are summoned no only to see, but to follow. And the faithful one tries once again to help us understand: Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.

 

Painting: Agnus Dei, Francisco de Zurbarán [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