So much is swirling in my head right now. The culmination of Lent is crashing in and questions of my vocation, the Mind of Christ and this day of the command to love and eat and drink in remembrance. The conversation and story telling around getting or not getting the emergent church and discomfort with Brian McLaren are in this mix as well. This is not a good situation for settling on a focus for tonight's sermon.
I am still quite struck at the generosity of Robyn's response to my attempt to account for my discomfort and distance from the emergent church. Robyn told her own story in response. In that story she comes to say the place she ends up is with Jesus. I say Jesus executed by the Roman Empire as a criminal and terrorist, Christ on the cross and seeking the Mind of this Christ is where I end up. hmm..., Wonder if the Christian Militia recently in the news, is two thousand years later taking seriously the propaganda that sent Jesus to the cross. I guess they didn't read the Gospels too carefully (if at all, seem more interested in Revelations etc.) that the charge of insurrection (sorry Peter Rollins couldn't resist linking to the tour here) and usurpation were trumped up charges. Well, you see my problem my mind is all over the place. Interwebs, and Twitter don't help in this regard.
Oh right where I was going with all this is that it seems to me that one place where Robyn's and my story intersect is in the story of Jesus of Nazareth. That Story that we only know in and through the four Gospels. I perhaps at the moment am more willing to assert an orthodox spin on all of this then perhaps Robyn is, and yet there is Jesus in the midst of our stories.
There is Jesus in the midst of a disparate crew of disciples with all sorts of ideas about who Jesus is and what it means for a restored Israel, and the fate of the Roman Empire. Each with very different stories, most of which we know little or nothing about before they meet Jesus. In the midst of their stories Jesus commands love, and demonstrates what he means by this word and command, by washing feet.
What analogue to our times for this act? There are no basins at our doors to wash the dust off our feet. When we enter a restaurant there is no lowly worker hired to rinse our feet off before sitting down for our meal. Yet it is still a powerful unsettling symbol to the extent that the thing we consistently talk about as we plan these services of the Three Days is how do we encourage and get people to participate in this rite of washing feet. It is strangely intimate (which is from our context I think probably not so much so in 1st century Palestine) and still dirty activity. We are very much like Peter, don't touch my feet as our initial response to this act of washing feet. Yet, the service and love portion is perhaps lost on us a bit, given that there is not some lowly position in our labor force in which people are given the task to wash feet. And yet that is the point, God in human flesh before the supper in which we are to eat and drink in remembrance, takes on the role of the lowliest position one could have as a servant or a slave. insurrection in deed, but not in the way the trumped up charges wanted the Romans to believe.
There is so much here that is simply astounding, and beyond comprehension, or at least tidy systematization. As the crucifixion looms and at our Good Friday service we adore the cross; debating substitutionary atonement seems to miss something. I get the rejection of it: More or less it was this exclusive theory and the early Covenanter's assertion that Jesus died out of Love that God had for Humanity not as the recipient of God's wrath in our place that the Covenang was born. Even so rejection of this isn't the answer. We can't get away from that Jesus' death isn't an accident, and it isn't simply about identifying with suffering. Ivan in the Bothers K shows us the weakness of that position as well. No, it was the plan, the Lamb of God was slain from the foundation of the world. We may not like it our attempts to systematically and theoretically comprehend it may land us in horrific ideological places, but without the cross there is no Resurrection. There is no life as Christians understand it without passing through this death, through Death itself. As the Orthodox Liturgy proclaims "Christ beat down death by death..." It seems we often in the US feel that we must chose between a theory of the atonement where God is the wrathful furious God who is only able to calm his rage enough to forgive by killing his Son (I use the male pronoun here deliberately), or something that equally reduces God and the cross to some equally ( in my mind) distasteful place of platitudes about God being with us in suffering. I'd say that these three days are neither simply about wrath nor about suffering, and yet about both and so much more.
We don't have to choose, rather we are called to contemplate divine love that is greater than what we can grasp, and at the same time face ourselves, our inability not only to comprehend but fully and completely live out this love that calls to us. No reductions here, only the massiveness, the awesomeness of something we are always already only beginning to understand and live out. And so we come and we wash and we worship and kneel. We weep with tears of sorrow and joy, and we wonder that through death somehow God has ended all oppression and injustice. God beat down Sin and death and freed us from their "necessary" dominion over us, and yet we still must choose and we so often choose death and our reductions over life and its infinity.