Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Weirdness of Holy Week is the Great LI-AMB

Holy Week. If you're a pastor, your congregants will want to make certain that they're given the chance to sing the right songs on Good Friday and Easter. We'll go to great trouble to make certain that the cross is properly draped in some colored cloth. We'll buy lilies and hams. There'll be eggs and talk of eternal life in Christ, a bizarre mixture of truth and fertility rites. But here's the deal: all of this is meaningless if it displaces the mysterious power and calling of the LI-AMB!

This week, if it is to meaningful at all, is when we recall the betrayal, arrest, trial, conviction, torture, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The thing about this that's so weird is the juxtaposition of Jesus as both a lion and a lamb.

The lion bit comes from the prophecy where Judah's offspring is promised the throne, and words are spoken about the Lion of Judah on the throne. That Judah, the one who slept with and impregnated his daughter-in-law because he mistakenly thought she was a prostitute, is the son of Jacob chosen to carry the crown is a strange testimony to grace and mercy. But chosen he is, and centuries later, this line will be the one through which a child will be born named Jesus. This one, 33 years later, will be crucified with the sign, "King of the Jews" above his head. Whether intended as a mocking statement or not, it's true - this one who hung on a cross was the king.

Of course the mystery is that kings don't hang on crosses, unless they're defeated by a more powerful force. Kings put other people on crosses. This, of course, is why that fateful night would have been so discouraging for his followers. "If He's our deliverer, what's he doing up there?" Or this, "If He's our deliverer, we're screwed" which is what Peter must have said, whether in so many words or not, when he distanced himself from even knowing the man, and then called it quits by returning to fishing. You and I would have done the same thing no doubt, because up until Jesus, winners won by winning.

The hint though, that Jesus would be different, would be seen retrospectively, when the disciples met with the resurrected One, and poured back over all the things He'd taught them. Remember when He first appeared on the scene: "behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." This is a ridiculous statement because in the Old Testament lamb's blood could cover sin (that's the meaning of the word atonement), but could never really take it away. And now, here's John the Baptist calling this Jesus, not a king, but a lamb!

Kings and sheep, you see, are supposed to be two distinctly different categories. Kings are powerful, lambs are weak. Kings crush rebellion, lambs are easy prey for enemies. Can you picture a lamb sitting on a throne with a scepter, ruling over the whole world? It's ridiculous actually, so outlandish that, in my opinion there's no way it could be fiction. It's too unbelievable. Who would buy into the notion that the ruler of the universe, the King of Kings, would end his human life by willingly emptying himself of his strength and authority, meekly becoming a lamb led to the slaughter, his face becoming pummeled and bloodied to the point where He would no longer be recognizable? Nobody does this. Nobody thinks this way. It's either mighty stupid, or mighty true.

I'll go with the latter, but if I do so, then I'm forced to recognize that the ways of God haven't changed one bit since then. His followers will also change the world, not by force but by laying down their lives, resisting the powers of evil through acts of service, acts which contradict the prevailing winds of greed and Darwinian triumphalism. This is Mother Teresa, serving the poorest of the poor. It's Desmund Tutu, bringing down apartheid without firing a shot. It's the believers of eastern Europe doing the same thing, dismantling the iron curtain through acts of love and service, testifying to truth in the midst of world saturated with lies.

Meanwhile, in the west, the church has spent nearly thirty years trying to be a king by exercising power instead of by being a lamb. We'll bomb the terrorists everywhere we think they might live, even if it means killing 100,000 civilians in the process. We'll persecute the dignity of gays and lesbians by denying them access to health coverage for their partners, all 'for their own good' of course. We'll let the homeless fend for themselves. We'll rule so that everyone will know - it's God's way or there's hell to pay.

Please stop. The lamb part of Jesus' character is missing entirely. Thank God we're getting tired of this route. Maybe, without sacrificing any of our commitments to holiness, we'll learn to once again love our neighbor, serve the Samaritan, wash the feet of the homeless and those who sexual ethic doesn't fit into our neat categories, and with humility share in the suffering of this broken world, blessing and serving anyone we can in Jesus name. This is Mother Teresa, and Desmund Tutu, and Martin Luther King Jr., and Dorothy Day. Li-ambs, breaking the powers of this world through their own brokenness and service.

For our lives to be Holy we need to embody both the lion and the lamb. Lion? Yes, I see it. I get it. But Jesus rebuked the value of lion power as a stand alone entity when he told Peter to put away his sword, and then fixed the ear that Peter's sword had broken. Where's the lamb power today? I'll go out on a limb and say that it's not making headlines, but it's there. And wherever it is... that's where the meaning of Holy Week is really being seen and felt. Frankly, I've had enough of ham and eggs, eaten behind walls of wealth while so much of the world remains hungry and lonely. Let's get on with it, living as Li-ambs. That's where the reality of Christ will be seen.


At 21/3/08 01:25, Blogger rivergreg said...

I liked this post a lot. A part of the beauty of our God is the great paradoxes that show His truth.

We humans, in the limitedness of our minds, tend to put reality into nice neat little boxes. Labels. Categories. Presumptions. It causes us to ignore truths because of the cognitive dissonance those truths encounter when they collide with our assumptions.

Paradox blows all of that away. Things which seem so contrary to each other but which go hand-in-hand :)

At 27/3/08 22:18, Blogger Gregg said...

This is a great post. I haven't commented before, but you must read this pastor's blog or vice versa. The following link is a blog from a pastor in my old hometown of St. Joseph. It seems like you guys touch on alot of the same things (in different ways) seemingly at close to the same time. haha. If you haven't read his blog, you might want to check it out sometime


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