Friday, April 22, 2011

A Good Friday Meditation: He Didn't Want to be There

He Didn’t Want to be There
Meditation for Good Friday

He didn’t want to be there. Pilate usually spent the days at the coast enjoying the cool breezes of the Mediterranean at his palace in Caesarea. His balcony overlooked the sea and he could dream of the day he would be able to return to Rome and get back to civilization away from this forlorn place that seemed to be loved by crusty prophets and religious sages.

Pilate on the other hand had no use for their strange religion of one god. All he cared about was keeping the peace so he could get back home. But he had to make the trip to Jerusalem for their high and holy festivals where the fools would flock to their temple and chant their strange words of hope that had no basis. He had to be present to oversee the crowd control but he didn’t want to be there.

And this time he found himself dealing with another one of their “kings.” Empty words of promise and religious platitudes were fine with Pilate but don’t go calling yourself a king. That did not make for a peaceful religious holiday nor did it set well in the belly of Rome. There was to be only one real king and his name was Caesar.

O, Herod could have his quaint title as “King of the Jews” but everyone knew what that really meant. It meant nothing. It resulted from a back room handshake late at night so that the mob could at least say they had a king. Herod was under Rome’s thumb and everyone knew it including Herod but it worked for the festivals.

But now we had this upstart king who talked about kingdoms not of this world. Pilate would rather be sipping wine on his porch in Caesarea and now he had before him a rather pathetic looking character that seemed to be stirring up the crowd. He tried a ploy to satisfy the mob by offering a good faith gesture. After all Pilate just wanted to get back to his porch by the beach and then eventually back to Rome where they all knew who the king was and who the gods were.

But now the mob would not even accept his offer of release for this donkey driving king. He obviously was no real threat but even the presumption of kingship was a danger with these desperate people. They could make a king out of nobody if left alone and Pilate knew he could not leave them alone but he sure did not want to be there.

So he ordered his bowl of water and washed his hands of the matter. All this guy was to him was crucifixion number 637. He had people crucified with the same frequency he had his evening wine. “Get rid of the bum I want to go home.”

Simon did not want to be there either. He was coming in from Cyrene to enjoy the festival. He got caught up in the crowd as he tried to make his way into Jerusalem. The mob was making their way out screaming as if they wanted something to happen that was not happening fast enough.

Simon found himself pushed to the edge of the teaming swarm when suddenly words came to him as if a landslide covered his tired body. He was weary from his trip and simply wanted to get to his relatives in Jerusalem. He didn’t want to be there, but he was.

“Carry this,” screamed the soldier. “My God this was a cross. This isn’t my cross. I did not earn this burden. Why me?” He didn’t want to be there.

Before Simon knew it the wooden beam was pushed his way. The man who had been carrying it looked half dead already. Simon quickly surmised that the reason he was being forced to bear this cross was that the soldiers must have realized that the crucifixion would not happen if this poor criminal was forced to keep carrying his means of execution. He was going to die on the road and deprive the crowd of the main event.

Simon struggled under the weight of the cross. He didn’t want to be there.

And then there was Jesus. Just the night before he told his father that he didn’t want to be there. “Is there a way to take another road, father? This cup before me is beginning to taste like poison.”

But he was there…broken…beaten…betrayed…beyond hope of saving. Jesus barely made it to the place of the Skull and there his arms were again placed on his cross and the nails driven deep into his writs and feet. He looked up at the horizon and saw Pilate’s courtyard. He looked down from the cross as they lifted him and it up and he saw Simon still recovering from his brief time of carrying the unwanted burden.

Pilate…Simon…Jesus….they didn’t want to be there, but they were.

And because they were there so we are here facing this cross. I do not know about you but I too don’t want to be here.

Could we not fill out some form or go through some exercise of will in order to be redeemed by God? Could we, like Pilate, find some retreat place of solace and go where we could simply hear God speak to us of better days? Why can’t we join Simon in slipping through the crowd and get to a place of calm and safety? Why do we have to be here facing this cross? But we are here because we have to be.

Jesus did not want to be here. He fell in love with life and he so wanted to offer it abundantly to all who would listen and follow. But his way of love was rejected and the one reason we are here despite our unwillingness to be is that his way of love is still rejected…rejected not only by this “not wanting to be here world” but also rejected by us…by me.

So we come and we say first that we are sorry for walking away from his ways of love and forgiveness. We then come to say “thank you” for his willingness to overcome his desire to not want to be here.

So now we know that in all those places we will go that we will not want to go…those places of sorrow…grief…failure of our bodies…and yes even in those places of darkness and evil…wherever there is the deep darkness …where we do not want to be…he was and is there…

And in that place where we forget…in that place we have no other word to call it but “sin”…for us sinners he was there.

Jesus did not want to be there…but he was…Thanks be to God.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Jesus and the Moon Roof

Can't you just see Jesus smiling and waving to the people as he makes his way through the crowded streets. His arms gesture back and forth as he acknowledges the acclaim of thousands. From his perch inside the Mercedes he has an excellent view of the teaming masses and the open moon roof helps protect him from a might be trouble maker...even a lone assassin. Secret Service agents posing as disciples surround the car and push away any who would come too close.

Of course it did not happen this way. Jesus ends up on a "colt"... a donkey...some disappointed bystanders may have even called it a jackass. Jesus sure made a fool of those who thought he was going to set up a new kingdom where the gospel of success would rule. Of ccourse they thought it was Jesus who was the fool. But hey Jesus got what he deserved it seems for disappointing all those people. He ended up out on the town garbage heap uttering even more foolish stuff about forgiving those who hung him up there.

Jesus' entrance these days continues to disappoint many people. Lately the rhetoric about priorities of how we are going to allocate our money is heard rather than "Hosannas." Underneath some of these phrases is a view of Jesus' words that somehow seem to come from that moon roof. "Love God and you will be blessed. God wants you to be successful. You are a child of the king and you should live like a king in your castle."

Forgotten are the words that the man on the donkey would have used from his ancestor the prophet Amos: "Thus says the Lord...for the three transgression, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment; because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes....they trample the head of the poor into the dust, and push the afflicted out of the way."

Jesus spent a good deal of his time with those who had been "pushed away" and the latest debate about local school budgets and our national budget seems to be willing to do just that so that "we" can make sure we do not lose any of "our" resources for our castles. Sure our systems need reforming. Sure we have created a welfare system that breeds too much dependence. But for God's sake let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater nor change the donkey into a Mercedes.

The gospel of success is a mockery to the man who came into our world in a stable and on a donkey. This coming week is Holy Week. The human face of God will again strip off his shirt and kneel to wash the dirty feet of surprised disciples. He will tell them that real love is serving those who need to be reminded that they are cherished because they do not feel cherished.

He will raise a cup and say "Love is not love until it is poured go pour yourselves is not about is about giving." OK, that is a loose translation but it is an extension of what he meant. The cross of Jesus stands today amidst an i pad/i phone/i pod world. None of this technology is bad but the pronoun in front of the device is a symbol of an "i" culture.

Jesus came on his donkey to remind me that it is not all about me. Let's work to make our systems that help the "needy" be made better but let's not sell out for a pair of shoes or a Mercedes.