This is a twist on the Stations of the Cross. During worship after the sermon, we invited people to view different images of Jesus and meditate on the corresponding description of Jesus. Any image of Jesus can be used. The descriptions come from Walter Brueggemann’s A Gospel of Hope, chapter 5.
We’ve known from the beginning an astonishing truth about Jesus, that he’s a part of a larger story; the center, focus, and lead character of THE story of heaven and earth. The church has worked to connect this Nazareth guy – born of Mary, executed by Rome – to the great mystery of the world. We’ve not been able to say all we sensed about him. Attempts have been silly, primitive, embarrassingly supernatural, but we’ve kept trying because we’ve not wanted to let the Jesus story be a small story that flattens his mystery, denies his glow, or limits his power for newness.
Jesus is beyond all usual categories of power, because he embodies the gentle, gracious, resilient, demanding power of God. He does not travel in temples and cities and dynasties, but in the power and truth of the creator God.
Jesus was a deep disruption wherever he went. Jesus was a misfit; he did not fit anybody’s categories. Jesus was weird and they did not know what to do with him. When he entered the room, everything changed. Wherever he sat immediately, promptly became the head of the table.
We have made Jesus too pious, too nice, too patient, too polite. He was none of these. He was a dangerous alternative kind of power that was prepared to name names and call a spade a spade, to describe social relations exactly as they were, who counted on the fact that in the end, all the raw, abusive power in the world could not prevail. His honesty is grounded in his confidence about the rule of God.
Jesus is the lens through which we re-read power, social relations, and politics. Jesus stands alongside all the powerless in his abrasive prayer, demanding justice on earth. Jesus’ innocence is an expose of, and a threat to every other kind of power. It would be quite an Easter if we came clean on this moral claim. Talk about a coup! No wonder he made the governor nervous and the crowd frantic. They killed him, but he kept praying in his dangerous, abrasive honesty, insisting that “the Lord hears the needy, and doesn’t despise his own that are in bonds.”
Coming to church is so routine, so predictable, so often boring and nothing, jaded against the odd claim that in Jesus of Nazareth has come the odd God of Sinai with new command. We were not there but the purpose of the story in its reading is to let us hear and re-enter the narrative, to know the same fear of holy intrusion, to hear the same words, “do not fear,” that gives us access to Jesus. And then to look again and see only Jesus. That is all there was. That is all there is. That is all our faith is about.
This is what we have seen in the guy from Nazareth. This is the cloud rider of whom we sing. This is the one who calls us to obedience, away from all our commitments to death. We rejoice in our vocation, for we – after Jesus – are in sync with the truth of the world. Imagine holy truth – aligned with widows and orphans and prisoners and the homeless. No wonder it’s good news, that the link between heaven and earth isn’t broken. It’s still pertains. That is why we say, he ascended into heaven and is seated on the right hand of God the father. Good news indeed!
We don’t often think of Jesus as strong. But Jesus wouldn’t give in. He wouldn’t compromise his vision or his vocation. He wouldn’t be talked out of it by his opponents, nor by the threat of the court, nor by the suffering of the cross. He had a quiet confident strength because he always knew who he was, one with the father. And those who follow him closely know that kind of strength, not violent strength, but compassionate, generous strength, the capacity to be in the world differently, and so occupied with the newness of the world.
We must speak about death, not because we are excessively fascinated by it or because it is fun to talk about, but because in that Friday drama, Jesus knew who he was and gave himself in love for the sake of the world, gave himself to the poor, the needy, the despairing, but also for the wise, the strong, the controlling. And in his act of vulnerability, his power to love broke all the power of violence and brutality.
The church must endlessly tell its Jesus stories because in them we behold the glory of God. It happens where a son is welcomed home, a neighbor is honored and cared for, where a whore is loved, a leper cleansed, a crowd fed, a guilty man forgiven, a crippled woman stands up straight and dances. The claim of the glory of God in the life of Jesus isn’t mystical, supernatural voodoo, but it’s the confidence of the church that in the life of Jesus, we see all that God intends and wants and acts and asks of us. It’s so daily, so concrete, so engaged with hurt, so self-giving.
In a world of fear and alienation and resentment and anxiety, Jesus comes to be a peacemaker. Such peace as he can make happens only through vulnerability, exposed to risk and breaks the vicious cycles of violence. His suffering love deals with death’s power that surrounds us. The world of Jesus is where he has made peace and we are welcomed into his company and his work to be peacemakers in hard places, to refuse the way of anger and fear and hate and resentment, enacting a world of gratitude, generosity, and forgiveness.
In our quest to be sure people believe right or morally, to be sure people act right; or are pious, to be sure people pray right, the little ones know, this Jesus is enough. It’s enough to know Jesus, for in Jesus you see the way God is and the way God acts. It boils down, for this Jesus, to neighborly acts and caring. For that’s what Jesus did. It boils down to receiving our life from God as a gift and living it in gratitude. If you focus on this Jesus, you’ll know the mystery of how life works. Being with God means staying close to the simple, caring, demanding ways of Jesus.
You want to know about joy and well-being and truth and goodness. Look at Jesus. Not being served, but serving. I have no doubt that the world depends on Jesus. I have no doubt that on a day-to-day basis, the world depends on the Jesus people who give their lives. What else would you do but give your life? Would you keep and save your life and let it go sour? Think this day about being in another conversation, another community, another cup, another baptism. We are given a glimpse of a more excellent way, servitude and healing. What a way to be first and great!