Scandal

In John’s Gospel we hear:

‘Jesus knew that God had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.’

This story presents a great scandal of the Christian faith. That Jesus the Son of God humbled himself and took on the role of a servant. As a servant he stripped off his robe and in his underpants knelt down to bathe and dry the feet of his followers.

Peter didn’t want Jesus to do it. In part I suspect because Peter realized that he would be asked to do the same for others.

There is something particularly intimate and humbling about kneeling at the feet of another, washing their dirty, smelly feet. There is something particularly unsettling about Jesus the Christ serving in such a way.

Last Good Friday Pope Francis created controversy when he visited a shelter for youth living on the streets of Rome. As with Jesus the Pope kneeled down, washed and kissed the feet of the young people. The controversy was heightened when Pope Francis washed and kissed the feet of a girl and a Muslim boy. He was rebuked by some in the Church because it was so ‘unseemly’.

Pope washing feet of youth

Pope Francis is being embraced within and beyond the Christian tradition because he understands the scandal of Jesus. He understands that God came in humility to show us how to live by showing us how to love. In Jesus we learn that compassion has come not just for some but for everyone, those who are like us and those who are different.

There’s something profoundly unsettling that God’s own child would come to serve in this most humble of ways. The great paradox of the way of Jesus is that the path to spiritual enlightenment comes only through a life of humility and service. Its a great mystery that we find our self as we give our self away.

As always the opportunity to serve and find is extended to you and me. May the scandal of Holy Week continue to unsettle and inspire.

The Scandal of Good Friday

Cross in NicaraguaLet’s be honest, many Christians don’t know what to make of Good Friday.  This is particularly true for those of us in the liberal wing of the church.   Good Friday is that day when Christians reflect upon the crucifixion of Jesus.   Our tradition teaches that upon the cross God’s son Jesus, took upon himself the sins of the world.   From that cross Jesus sacrificed his life as an act of atonement for the sins of the world.

Liberal Christians struggle with the theology of the cross on a variety of levels.  Some question whether Jesus is actually the son of God.   Some are offended by the concept of a God who would sacrifice their most precious gift, their child.  We are put off by the horrific image of Jesus hanging from the cross, intended by the Roman Empire as a tool of torture and humiliation. 

Gordon Cosby the founding pastor of Church of the Savior, who died this week at age 94, writes:   “The cross is an embarrassment to many, that Jesus did for us what we could not do for ourselves.  This dependence upon God’s forgiving initiative on our behalf, conflicts with our human desire for self-will.” 

Good Friday makes us uncomfortable. 

Tonight the church I serve will gather for Good Friday.  The crowd will be far smaller than that which gathers for Easter.  Easter goes down a lot easier.  It has flowers, bright colors, uplifting music and an uplifting message.   And, we offer brunch!

Our human tendency is to jump from Palm Sunday to Easter.  But unless we stop, ponder and wrestle with the cross we risk losing out on the power and promise of Easter.   This is true wherever you place yourself on the theological spectrum.

For me Good Friday is that day when we remember that it isn’t about us. It’s about God’s son Jesus, taking upon himself all the violence, pettiness and apathy of the human condition.  Upon that cross Jesus chose to suffer and in that suffering enters into deep solidarity with all the suffering of the world. 

Because of the cross Jesus is with us in the hospital.  He is with the child soldier in the killing fields of the Congo.  He is with the girl who is sexually trafficked on the streets of Portland.  He is with the people of Syria as the bombs rain down.  He is with the young man who sleeps on the streets of McMinnville. 

Good Friday reminds us that God took the initiative and entered into the human condition.  God chose to forgive the human family for all our failings.  God chose to be with us in our most vulnerable times.  God chose to bless us. Why?  Because the nature of God is love.  This holy love desires to accompany us through this life and into the next.

We need to go to the cross. In so doing we claim forgiveness for oneself but we also are challenged to forgive those who have wronged us.  The cross compels us to enter into the suffering of others and indeed, to work to correct the causes of suffering and injustice.

If we don’t go to the cross the Christian faith loses its power and promise.  This truth is lost when we move too quickly from Palm Sunday to Easter.