“It is the Lord God who helps me, who will declare me guilty?”
“And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.”
Pilate asked, “What shall I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” All of them said, “Let him be crucified!”
The torturous humiliation of Jesus exceeds cowardly injustice. Jesus’ death is more than the murder of one individual. Both the Gospel and St. Paul depict Jesus as a willing coconspirator in his own humiliation, suffering, and death. Writing perhaps a quarter century before Matthew, Paul relates Christ’s passion and death in a poetic hymn:
“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.”
Paul makes no mention of cowardly Pilate. He writes not a single word of those who mocked Jesus, spit on him, struck, whipped, and nailed him. Yet, Paul was a first century Roman citizen who knew what “the cross” meant. Death by crucifixion was not a solitary exercise; no one ever committed suicide by crucifixion. Crucifixion was a community homicide and, in the case of Jesus, it involved a cast of hundreds if not thousands: everyone from Pilate the cowardly governor (and his anxious wife), to the priests, people, soldiers, passersby, and criminals—the crucified and the one released.
Yet Paul mentions none of these. The only character mentioned is Jesus—the very One God “highly exalted”—and “gave the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” Jesus is the center of Paul’s hymn: he did not grasp equality with God, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born a human being; and, as such, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death—even death on a cross.
We might say “Passion Sunday is all about Jesus.” And, in some sense, this is most certainly true. And yet, it’s somehow both more and less than “all about Jesus.” Christ’s passion is the essence of who Jesus is and what he does. We don’t need to know all about Jesus—his historical milieu, his manner of speech, the number of his siblings, or the fate of his earthly father, Joseph. All that might be interesting, but it’s of no lasting value. Today, with Isaiah, and Paul, and Matthew, we simply pour out our wonder, our incredulity, our perplexity that this one man in the form of God did not count equality with God a thing to be used for his own benefit—but for ours and for all others. We have never known another like him, and we never shall. No one ever shall. There is not now, nor has there ever been, nor will there ever be, another like him.
Christ is unique—not in his biological flesh, blood, bones, and skin —in these he was and is as we are: human. But he is unique in his person. God opened his ear and he was not rebellious. He did not turn backward, but gave himself completely into the hands of those who beat, tortured, humiliated, and killed him. He did this not for financial gain, nor political opportunity, nor for any personal advantage. He didn’t do it for Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or any other religious abstraction —he did it out of obedience to the point of death. He did it out of love—his love for all, his love for them, love for his betrayers, for those who mocked, beat, and humiliated him; he did it for his killers. He did it for his Father. He did it for us.
Sunday, April 27
9:15 am | Great Room
Barbara Hughes will lead our second discussion on estate planning. Barbara is a former member of the LM Foundation Board. An attorney with Hill, Glowacki, Jaeger & Hughes, LLP, Barbara handles estate planning and administration, elder law, and planning for special needs individuals. More information is available at the welcome desk.
Breadbreakers is one of the best ways to get connected at Luther Memorial. Small groups (6 to 10 people) eat together 2–3 times, after which the groups are shuffled and the fun starts again. Each group decides where to meet and when. Families, singles and couples of all ages are welcome! Summer groups run May–August. Sign up at the welcome desk or contact Kirsten Heggeseth, coordinator, to learn more: email@example.com or (608) 616-0772.
“The Lord does not see as mortals see.”
“For you were once darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light….”
“Neither this man sinned nor his parents; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”
Suffice it to say that the long Gospel readings this Lent did not culminate last Sunday in John 4, but lengthen today, and will continue to do so at least through the raising of Lazarus on Lent 5. But, then, “lengthen” is said to form the root of our word “Lent,” an assertion perhaps supported by our neighbors in Philadelphia, many of whom still persist in pronouncing “length” as “lenth.” The Lenten Gospel, thus, increases in length with the lengthening light of Spring. While Lent (as a liturgical season) may not celebrate longer days, it does (at least in Northern climes) observe greater and greater light as it leans toward the rising Light of Christ at the Vigil of Easter.
How happy, then, that this Gospel for the 4th Sunday in Lent should proclaim Christ, the Light of the world. Here in John 9, we hear Jesus say, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” And, if Ephesians is to be believed, baptized into Christ we are now “in the Lord …” and have, therefore, been made children of light. In other words, by means of our baptismal participation in Christ’s death and resurrection, by virtue of our being both in Christ and in the world, Christ Jesus himself remains in the world as the light of the world.
Nonetheless, as the Light of world, Christ’s presence manifests itself in relation to conflict, blindness, mud, opacity, and division. Here in John 9, the very gift of sight to the man born blind becomes an occasion for religious argument, conflict, accusation, and separation. It’s not only that the man born blind “sees,” but that the religious leaders who “see” cannot perceive that the one who made mud, put it on the blind man’s eyes, and told him to wash, is himself the Light of the world, the Son of Man, the Messiah in the flesh. From the first of his gospel, John has said that “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not comprehended it.” Darkness is not merely the absence of sunlight, but an opacity of mind and heart in the presence of eternal light—a blind ignorance, learned (perhaps) of scriptures and knowledgeable of religious law, even possessing 20/20 vision, but unable to perceive the Light of life shining brighter than a thousand suns. It’s what the Catechism terms “invincible ignorance,” a pernicious form of self-righteousness masquerading as authority, invariably exercised as abusive power, leading to disaster, injustice, and death. Invincible ignorance demands the Son of man be lifted up on the cross. Invincible ignorance often manifests itself as religious blindness, but it might also appear as religiously anti-religious like the freedom from religion movement, or overflowing with scientism’s false confidence, the pseudo–superiority of intellectual pretence. Such self-assurance kills Jesus for earnest religious reasons: he violates Sabbath law, our self-pretentious ways. The authorities say, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath.” Really?
John’s Gospel routinely speaks of “the Jews,” and especially with reference to characters conflicted with Jesus. But, in this chapter, every character is Jewish—the blind man, his parents, the Pharisees, Jesus, and the “others.” “The Jews” cannot mean all Jewish people, but must designate the invincibly ignorant religious authorities who condemn what Jesus does, and especially in connection with Sabbath observance—although ancient rabbis disagree about what constitutes proper observance of Sabbath. Some hold that healing on the Sabbath is acceptable, but others do not. In any case, “the Jews” in John must in some sense stand for us, for all humankind, when we blindly cling to literal law even when it fails to protect those who suffer.
Amid persistent religious blindness, God sacrifices his only Son. The crucifixion of Jesus is an improbable therapy for a world gone wrong: like putting mud on a blind man’s eyes. Christ’s cross is mud on a blind world’s eyes. On account of who he is—the Light of the world—Jesus could make mud see; he could give sight to someone born without any eyes! The therapeutic use of mud (dirt and spit/water) calls Genesis to mind, and a new creation come round at last. Only now—by means of a cross—not only does a man born blind receive his sight, but the whole world receives salvation, eternal life is born, and those who claim invincible insight—their sin remains—that they too might become blind, be forgiven and made new through by means of muddy faith in the crucified and risen Christ, and thereby reveal the works of God.
In every season of life, the crucified and risen Christ enlightens all who suffer loss, who cannot of themselves see a way forward, and yet through the blindness of faith see hope in the crucified Christ, the Light of the world, the One no darkness can grasp, comprehend, or overcome. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Luther Memorial will host homeless families through The Road Home of Dane County during the week of March 16-23.
Sign up in the narthex for the following volunteer opportunities:
We thank all those who have committed their time to this outreach ministry and continue to do so. New volunteers are welcome to try this ministry and experience the feeling of providing this very important service to families who are in need of support at this challenging time in their lives.
AFTER March 9: Please contact Sandy Bertics at 835-3793 to find out how you can help.
Saturday, March 1
9 a.m.–2 p.m.
New members and those who are interested in refreshing their connection to Luther Memorial are welcome to attend. Enjoy a theological tour, music in the balcony, lunch with friends and ministry highlights.
Please sign up at the welcome desk on Sundays or speak with Suelyn Swiggum, mission resource coordinator, at 258-3160 or firstname.lastname@example.org.