Wisdom 8:1, 9:4, 9-10;
Psalm 78:1-6; 1
I presume there are a few of you in the congregation who like me had the experience of growing up an only child. I certainly can attest to the advantages of being an ‘only’ through my observances of family and friends who did not share my experience. For instance, unlike my cousin, I did not have a younger sister who liked to pull my hair or inform my parents of my every move. Unlike my best friend in elementary school, I did not have to wear the ‘hand-me-downs’ from an older sibling. And, contrary to the experience of a college friend, I did not have to live up to the standard set by more virtuous siblings who seemed to do no wrong. I definitely considered these advantages. Yet, even though I enjoyed being an ‘only,’ I did experience some jealousy of my friends with siblings. My mom liked to tell the story of the time when I was 7 or 8 years old when I came to my parents who were sharing a conversation in the kitchen and asked if I could have an older brother! My dad, probably a little amused but letting me down gently said, “I don’t think things work like that, son.” Being resourceful, I had a follow-up question prepared. “Could we adopt one?” Obviously, knowing now how things turned out, they did not work that way either. As I think back to that story from my youth, I wonder what was behind my desire for an older brother?
This evening’s reflection is the first in a three-part series entitled “Lord Jesus, Come Soon,” in which we explore the great ‘O Antiphons’ of the season of Advent. On the last seven days before Christmas, this group of antiphons book-end the Magnificat (The Song of Mary) which is sung every evening at Evensong. Each of them refer to Jesus using an attribute associated with this long awaited Messiah: Emmanuel, Rex gentium, Oriens, Clavis David, Radix Jesse, Adonai, and Sapentia; translated: Emmanuel (meaning “God with us”), King of the Nations, Morning Star, Key of David, Root of Jesse, Lord, and Wisdom. When arranged in a particular order they form a Latin acrostic: Ero cras, which translated means, “Tomorrow, I will come.” This evening we will explore Jesus as ‘Wisdom.’ The text of the antiphon is:
Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 71:1-14; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; John 12:20-36
When praying with our scriptures appointed for this evening, one word kept grabbing my attention and has stayed with me now for several days. It is something that I have spent a lifetime trying to evade but continues to show up and rear its head at me no matter how much I try to control it, manipulate it, and cover it up. I have a personal and intimate knowledge of it, yet I know it to be a pervasive reality in all of humanity and I suspect that every one of us here has an intimate knowledge of this word. The word is: shame.
Wikipedia defines shame as: a painful, social emotion that can be seen as resulting “…from comparison of the self’s action with the self’s standards…,” but which may equally stem from comparison of the self’s state of being with the ideal social context’s standard. Both the comparison and standards are enabled by socialization. Though usually considered an emotion, shame may also variously be considered an affect, cognition, state, or condition.[i]
From the beginning of the canon of scripture, it only takes three chapters for shame to appear in the human condition. The last sentence of Genesis chapter two reads: “And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.” In the course of chapter three we read that Adam and Eve act on their temptation to do the one thing their creator has told them they must not do, eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Their eyes are opened and they hide themselves. When God moves through the garden and cannot find them he calls out to them, “Where are you?” The man answers, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” And from that moment, shame enters the human condition and continues to show up continually throughout our existence.
1 Corinthians 1:18-31
An Hasidic tale is told of a student who asked the rabbi, “Why does the Torah tell us to “place these holy words upon our hearts.” Why does it not tell us to place these holy words in our hearts?” The rabbi answered, “It is because as we are, our hearts are closed, and we cannot place the holy words in our hearts. So we place them on top of our hearts. And there they stay until, one day, the heart breaks and the words fall in.” (1) Life is heart breaking. And, in a way which is quite paradoxical, where we are broken, where we feel inadequate or powerless, where we are overwhelmed, this may well be the way, perhaps the only way, that God can break through to us. Where do you find yourself coming up short, weak, powerless? When we are convinced that we are not God may be the way, the only way, to open our hearts to the God revealed by Jesus Christ.
Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 71:1-14; 1 Cor. 1:18-31; John 12:20-36
Tuesday in Holy Week is a kind of non-event. But we’re here anyway, because this is what we do every Tuesday at 5:30 (and today being a first Tuesday of the month, we have soup following the service). Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week are like the eye of the hurricane: a return to calm after the traumatic events of Palm Sunday and before the drama that begins to unfold on Maundy Thursday. We’re in pause, with two days distance from the visceral events of Sunday, and two days distance from the earth-shaking events that begin to unfold on Thursday–so perhaps this evening we can ponder things in a more reflective way.
The scriptures we hear this evening strike a note of universalism. Universalism in the sense that God is concerned with all of humanity, not just certain tribes. “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” [Isaiah 49:6] In 1 Corinthians, Paul proclaims Christ crucified to all people: Jews, Greeks and all the other Gentiles. And Jesus himself in John 12:32: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
Micah 6:1-8; Psalm 15; 1 Cor. 1:18-31; Matt. 5:1-12
Today we’re presented with some of the crown jewels of scripture. “…what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” One of those passages from scripture that concentrates so much truth. And the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount: a necklace of the finest diamonds. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek, those who hunger for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart. Blessed are the peacemakers. Jewels in scripture’s crown, showing us the way of blessedness.
But why are we so struck by the beauty and power of these passages? Why do they resonate so deeply within us? Why do we choose them above others? The Bible, after all, is a big book, a book of books, a library of many types of writing, a treasure chest of many things. Histories, poetry, hymns and love songs, parables, letters, sage advice, prophecies, legislation, lamentations, curses and maledictions. Tall tales and theological treatises. And, of course, many writers, each with a cultural setting, each with biases and limitations, each advancing an agenda.
Is. 49-1-7/Ps. 71:1-14/1 Cor. 1:18-31/John 12:20-36
As Holy Week gets underway we have the sensation that something large, something very large, has been set in motion. And that there’s no stopping it. Even though we know how it all turns out—sort of—there’s a sense of both largeness and inevitability. So there’s nothing to do but to go with it. Nothing to do but to allow ourselves to be swept up in this enormous wave–again.
How large is the largeness of Holy Week? We just heard in this passage from John that when he is lifted up he will draw all people to himself. “All people” is pretty large. But a variation in some of the ancient texts suggests something even larger. When I am lifted up I will draw all things, everything, the whole shebang, to myself. An exponential leap from all people to all things, the whole creation, the whole cosmos. What happens in Holy Week and Easter gathers up the entire cosmos in its energies.
We may remember the end of the Gospel of Mark where after his resurrection Jesus tells the disciples to “proclaim the gospel to the whole creation”. Not just to every human being, but to the whole creation. We may recall Romans 8 where Paul says that “the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now”, and that creation itself will be “set free from the bondage of decay”. And that the creation itself will “obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”
It’s hard to know exactly what Paul had in mind, but his understanding of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is cosmic in scope. Something that pertains to the whole cosmos is happening in the death and resurrection of Christ: animal, vegetable and mineral; earth, air, fire and water. From the depths of inner worlds to the furthest reaches of outer space. “Behold, I am making all things new”—not just all people, but all things, he says. Whether we quite comprehend this or not, the scope is breathtaking.
Yet the high drama, the cosmic drama of this week is experienced in very intimate things. A son and a father share an agonized conversation in a garden. Friends share supper for the last time. A foot is washed, then another. Clothing is removed to shame a victim. Flesh is pierced—the piercing of flesh is a terribly intimate thing. A mother anguishes as she awaits the last breath of a first born son. All terribly intimate moments.
Yet, all the while as these very intimate things take place, the cosmos, the planets and solar systems and galaxies swirl on their way. Its always like this, of course. Galaxies swirl even as we have our own agonized conversations, even as we share suppers for the last time, even as our own flesh, our own souls are pierced. And its all of a piece.
When he was lifted up he drew all people, all things to himself. All things, from the most distant fires of the cosmos to the most intimate embers of the soul. A fundamental unity, the very ground of our being, has drawn it all to himself. Having accomplished that, now your agony in the garden is my agony in the garden; and our agony in the garden is his agony in the garden. Now that which pierces you pierces me; and that which pierces us pierces him. Now your resurrection is mine and mine is yours and his new life is ours.
But its best not to jump ahead. For the moment, better to be swept up in this great wave and let him take us where he will.