Saturday, March 31, 2007

Palm/Passion Sunday - Year C

Crosses are all around us. On church steeples, around peoples' necks, on hot cross buns, on wwjd (what would Jesus do?) bracelets.

This is not new. The cross and various other cruciforms have long been used by various cultures and religions as symbols of life. For some, the cross might depict the four corners of the earth, the four elements of creation, the four beasts in a scheme of the zodiac, the four solstices and equinoxes, the four winds that bring rain.

Ancient Egypt used the cross as symbol of eternal life. New Age religion has popularized the image of a cross-tree, with each corner representing one season of the tree's annual cycle. In all these examples, the cross is a symbol of the life of nature or community.(Gail Ramshaw, Treasures Old and New)

But try telling that to Roman-occupied Israel. To them, the cross was anything but life-giving. Too many of them had seen friends and loved ones murdered on them. Too many had encountered forests of crosses, terrible reminder to anyone who broke Roman law. From stealing, to murder, the punishment was the same. They had to keep these rebellious folks in line somehow.

That's why the crowds cheered when Jesus arrived in the Holy City. Finally, someone was coming who would stop the cruelty, throw the Romans out, and bring Israel back to its former glory, a glory not seen since King David ruled, so many years ago.

They pinned all their hopes on this poor, backwoods preacher. He could heal sick people. Maybe he could heal the political sickness that kept God's people from inheriting their destiny. He could cast out demons. Maybe he could cast out the demonic tyranny of these Roman oppressors.

But when they saw him in handcuffs, they started asking questions. When he wouldn't speak up for himself, they grumbled amongst each other. When they realized he wasn't going to be the liberator they thought he was, they turned against him and watched him die.

The cross was saved for lowest class people. The Romans knew that it was the most painful and horrific form of torture and death. The victim could hang there for days. And when the Romans got bored they crucified people unside down while their families watched in agony.

So, for many of these people, the cross was anything but life-giving.

But for some of them, the cross became so. They still didn't like the imagery of the cross; they didn't use it in their worship and art until centuries after its actual use had declined. The cross was for them still an intrument of death. If it was empty, it was waiting in deathly silence for its next victim, like an empty hangman's noose or unoccupied electric chair. If Jesus was pictured on it, the tortured body of Jesus was a reminder of his agony, not his resurrection, not our salvation. They didn't use the cross to remind them of Jesus.

But for them they knew in their bones that Jesus' story had become their story, and their story had become his. They couldn't beautify the torture of the cross away, and so they didn't picture it, but they also knew something had happened in those holy days that forever transformed their lives. And so that transformation has also come to us, as his followers, too.

When we look to the cross, we know that when we are rejected, he has borne that rejection, we know that when we've failed, he has borne that failure, we know that when we've sinned, Jesus has borne that sin. We know that when we die, he has borne our death.

We know this because his story and our story has been woven together in a strange tapesty, stories that collide in this story:

The Passion - the suffering and death- of our Lord Jesus Christ according to St. Luke....

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Lent 2 - Year C

Foxes and hens. The contrast couldn’t have been clearer. And I’m guessing that that was the effect that Jesus was going for.

Herod, puppet-king of Galilee, whom Jesus called the “fox” – and it wasn’t a compliment, the one who put Jesus’ cousin John in jail for suggesting that it probably wasn’t a good idea to marry his brother’s wife. So Jesus wasn’t applauding to Herod’s craftiness when he called him a “fox”, or paying tribute to his shrewd worldliness.

No, this was a definite insult, a slam at Herod’s vicious self- interest, a slur toward Herod’s complete disregard for his religious roots and the pain he was inflicting on his people.

You have to admit, that took some nerve. Jesus was pretty blunt in his criticisms, knowing what would probably happen if he spoke his mind so freely.

But then again, what else was Herod supposed to do?

Fox-like behaviour. And it’s not confined to the Holy City. How do you behave when someone dares to criticize you? Does your back go up? Do your fangs come out, and a low growl coming from the back your throat? Whether the criticism was deserved or not, we don’t like hearing it when comes our way, and we’re liable to rip the head off of anyone who speaks a word against us, or against those we feel close to.

You could get all paranoid and be pessimistic about the fox that is in all of us. But Jesus takes all this foxiness in stride. He hears that Herod is after him and he doesn’t seem to care. Jesus is on his own schedule. He’s busy healing the sick and raising the dead – turning the world upside down. And if Herod has a problem with that, well, tough.

And Jesus knows what he’s doing. He knows that he’s provoking Herod, and he knows that Herod will probably get him in the end, just like folks like him always do to God’s messengers. Jesus acknowledges Herod’s fox-like behaviour, but he won’t let it stop him, even when he knows how much trouble he’ll be in.

Jesus knows the pain that Herod has caused. He knows what Herod is capable of. And so Jesus laments…not for himself, although the fox is ready to pounce. No, Jesus laments for the foxes themselves, because we don’t have to be fox-like.

Really, it’s a case of mistaken identity – Jerusalem is not be like a pack of wolves or a den of foxes, but like a flock of chicks Fluffy, downy fledglings. Jesus says, “How often have I longed to gather you under my wings, and you wouldn’t have it!”

So, Jesus the “lamb of God,” is now Jesus the “hen of God.” The hen who tries to pull the chicks away from their dangerous game of trying to be foxes, knowing that the game will destroy them in the end.

And Jesus didn’t pull this image from the air. After all, I’m told that chickens can’t fly. No, Jesus went down deep to find this image of himself as a mother bird. He went to the Hebrew Scriptures. He probably remembered singing from the psalms, “Hide me under the shadow of your wings, and God will spread wings over you and keep you safe.”

Then he probably heard from Sunday school the part from the prophet Isaiah, “I will protect Jerusalem like a mother bird circling over her nest.

In confirmation class he might have learned the passage from Deuteronomy that says “like an eagle teacher her young to fly, always ready to swoop down and catch them on her back.”

So Jesus is in good company when he compares himself to a momma-bird. And as I look at it, it seems a very appropriate image.

I’m reminded of a story about a fire in a henhouse in Mission, BC a few years back. The owner and his grandson, after the fire was put out, discovered a dead hen, top feathers singed brown, her neck limp.

But when they pick the hen up, there was movement, and beneath the hen’s dead body came four chicks scurrying out. The owner figured the hen gathered her chicks under her wings when she sensed danger, and she sacrificed herself for her babies.

Try telling those chicks that a mother bird is not a wonderful image for God.

A hen protects her chicks and suffers the consequences.

For chicks so bold as to flee the shadow of her wings, there is a cost to acting like foxes, thinking that they don’t need her motherly protection. The hen house will be abandoned or destroyed if the chicks persist in dangerous behaviour.

Jesus seems to be saying that Jerusalem – all sense of home – will be destroyed if they keep rejecting the cautions and care that Jesus has for them, and that prophets warned about.

It’s the same for us today – there are consequences of acting like foxes. Delude ourselves, like Herod, that we are always right, that we don’t need to change, then we will find other foxes snapping at our heals.

If we stubbornly refuse to see own complicity on human suffering, then we will soon find other foxes turning on US.

When we reject the call to look at our own faults, like the Jerusalem of Jeremiah, then we will no longer be able to talk about God with any sense of what that means. The sense of the divine, the holy, the awesome will leave us, and we will go through our days in a grey haze.

Ignore the prophets who speak to us of justice, like the Jerusalem of Isaiah, and our hearts will grow cold to the cries of the widow and orphan, the poor and the oppressed, and maybe, even the earth itself, and God will ask us what it means to be God’s people.

The truth of the matter is that Herod, Jerusalem, and we ourselves today continue our fox-like ways. We shoo away the Mother-hen and to yell at her to cease her clucking, because sometimes the safety of her wings feel more like a prison than a sanctuary.

But it’s also true that the hen doesn’t really care if the chicks are intent on their own business. The hen comes after us anyways, spreads out her wings to protect us – and in doing so, she dies. The Hen of God spreads out her wings and gathers us – on a cross outside Jerusalem.

Do we crazed, frightened, willful chicks recognize our mother hen there? Can we look to the cross and says, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord?”

The hen has arranged it – at great cost to herself – to keep her arms outstretched, open to any who would seek shelter under her wings.

Jesus’ arms are open, there on the cross. He laments our refusal to heed his wisdom, the wisdom of the prophets before him, the wisdom of the prophets after him, but still he stands with arms open. And what does he say to us but “Turn, turn, my foolish chicks who think your are foxes – come and find rest under the shadow of my wings.”