Sermon Archives

Friday, March 30, 2018
Good Friday
The Reverend Andrew Van Culin, Rector
Becoming the Christ - New Tools

In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The dark, lonely night is behind him and the final hours of his journey, a searching pilgrimage to the very heart of God, is nearing its completion.  As we have walked with him this Holy Week, we have witnessed Jesus’ gradually complete his maturation as the Son of God, progressively transforming from the Beloved of God to become God’s Love incarnate.

Over the course of the preceding days, we have watched Jesus as lay down his expectations, the expectations that he and others have so easily placed upon him; expectations that he would simply, magically if you will, solve the problems of human sin.  We have watched, as well, as he had laid aside the ancient purpose of the gods and of men for the accumulation of glory and power, in order to take up a new purpose:  the gift of life for others.  Finally, last night we watched him as he wrapped a towel around himself and took up the foot of Judas and as he placed a wine soaked piece of bread in his outstretched palm; and as we did, we watched yet another great transformation as Jesus came to the full and complete understanding of God’s love which has not end.

Today, as we hear the gruesome scene of death play out before us again, as the bystanders mock him, as soldiers flog him, and as the world crucifies him, we witness still another of Jesus’ many tranformations.  Everyone within this macabre drama is searching, in fact, for the same thing – life.  Remember, Judas and the Jewish authorities conspire against Jesus’ in order to preserve Jewish life and order – for it was Caiaphis himself who had said, “it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.”[1]  You see, the authorities perceived Jesus not simply as a threat to their power, but an existential threat to the Jewish people.  Pilate, too, in his own way, and the Roman authorities that he oversees, seeks life, a life of peace in the realm.

The means by which such life is achieved, however, are anything but life giving.  In one way, the tools that they use, conspiracy and lies, humiliation and violence, domination and destruction, are the traditional tools of life.  They are the tools that people and nations have used already for millennia to preserve life – they are the same tools that are used still today by people and nations to preserve their own lives even now.  For generations, we have been told that our strength, our ability to destroy, is what preserves us in peace.  We have been told – as people of perhaps all nations and cultures throughout the world have been raised to believe as well – that our safety depends on our ability to destroy another.

Lest you think we are talking only of the nation-state, note that these are the same tools we so often wield in our daily lives.  How often do we speak ill of another behind their back, quietly building or strengthen in alliance with another friend at their expense?  How often do we let loose biting words against one who has hurt us, defending ourselves with a bloodless violence that cuts to the core?  How often do quietly allow others to be hurt and humiliated in our presence, in order to preserve our reputations or our place in the community?

Such tools are not lost on God either.  In some way, these are the same tools that God has used in ages past.  When his people first fell into sin, God retaliated with a destructive flood.  When Jerusalem had become a reproach to the nations, God allowed her to be ravaged by conquering armies. 

Jesus, too, knows these tools.  Just days ago, enraged at the scandal that the temple had become, Jesus responds with a ferocity and destructiveness that we would condemn in any one else.  Too often we tame the violent scene that it is; “righteous anger” we call it.  That is simply destructive violence by another, more palatable, name.  But that is what it is.  Violence and destruction – as he makes a whip of cords and as he throws over the tables of the money changers, Jesus is turning to the most human and divine of tools.

So, too, in that confusing account of Jesus’ seemingly arbitrary encounter with a fig-tree out of season. You’ll notice that this story, too, lies within the arch of Holy Week, as Jesus makes his way between Jerusalem and Bethany, each day drawing closer to the Calvary and the cross.  Unlike the over-turning of those tables which so easily reflects the destructive capacity that we humans secretly possess, this odd story reminds us of power of God to give life and death, blessing and curses.

In but two short accounts we are vividly reminded that Jesus, the Son of Man and the Son of God, possess all the capacity for violence and destruction of life, human and divine. 

This power is not lost neither on his disciples who follow him or the demons he casts out, either.  They who have witnessed his power over heaven and earth, the winds and the seas, know full well the power he possesses to destroy as well.  Remember, it was his disciples James and John who, upon watching the Samaritans reject Jesus, asked, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”[2]  So, too, the demons who Jesus encounters along the way.  From the very first, they are uniquely aware of Jesus power, not only for life, but for death, as they cry out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?”[3]

Whatever we might say of Jesus, and whatever we might say of God, we must acknowledge something that has always been true; namely, that Jesus, both the man and Messiah, possesses the same tools of death and destruction that all of humanity and all of the divine realm have possessed before him.

And so he must choose again.  He must choose the tools of life that he will wield.  If he were to rain down fire from heaven or command his followers to take up sword and follow hime, we would neither be surprised nor would we take any offense, for that has always been the way.

But today, Jesus chooses another path; today Jesus picks up new tools.  At the foot of the cross he lays all the weapons of death and destruction – from cursing words to deadly weapons – he lays them there at the foot of the cross and says no more.  No more will he, man divine, use tools that destroy as means to life. 

And with that he takes up a new tools in their place.  Forgiveness replaces curse, sacrificial life replaces wounds of death.  Here as he makes his final journey to Calvary, as he lays down to tools of destruction and takes up the cross of love and sacrifice, his transformation is complete.  The man who simply began as the Beloved of God has become God’s incarnate love for the world.

[1] John 11:50

[2] Luke 9:54

[3] Mark 1:24