no “no!”

preachinga sermon preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday, March 20, 2016

Whatever our ethical, ideological, political, or theological perspectives, however alike or dissimilar, murder provokes our cry, “No!” For all of humanity’s brutality that soaks history’s pages with blood, people of goodwill are outraged by murder, particularly of the innocent.

How strange the murder of Jesus provoked no “No!” The New Testament utters not a whisper of protest. True, Peter did object to the idea. When Jesus told his disciples he must go to Jerusalem where he would suffer and be killed, Peter rebuked him, “God forbid! This must never happen to you!”[1] But that was before his death. Afterward, they rejoiced. True, doubtless because of Jesus’ resurrection. Yet when the Apostle Paul sought to express his jubilation it was in direct relation to the crucifixion: (Jesus) humbled himself, dying on a cross. Therefore God exalted him, giving him a name above every name, so at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, every tongue confess Jesus is Lord![2]

Crucifixion, Nikolai Nikolaevich Ge, 1894

We hear an echo of Paul’s exultation in that haunting hymn, O sacred head, sore wounded:

In Thy most bitter passion my heart to share doth cry,
with Thee for my salvation upon the cross to die.
Ah, keep my heart thus movéd to stand Thy cross beneath,
to mourn Thee, well-belovéd, yet thank Thee for thy death.[3]

Jesus was murdered and Christianity does not cry, “No!”, but “Yes!” Strange? Perhaps not.

In my observations of human nature, mine and that of others, I think one of the cardinal features of our way of being is our resistance anything that we believe is against our best interests. Yet over two millennia Christianity has proclaimed that Jesus’ death is in our best interests.

What are our best interests? Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness? Security, tranquility, freedom from fear? Acceptance and approval? To love and to be loved?

I suggest our best interest is more fundamental than any of these. Discerning it involves looking within our selves, our souls; behind our public masks, our projected images of how we want the world and ourselves to see us. To look and to walk into the wilderness of our spiritual poverty, that wide and barren desert of disparity between the divine “ought” of God’s will for us and the human “is” of the way we really are, truly who we really are.

Even more, as we live in relationship with others, our best interest also involves looking at and walking alongside one another, listening lovingly to our plaintive pauses between words, our almost inaudible sighs between syllables through which we reveal to one another the signs and shadows of this soul-deep disharmony we all share: All is not right between ourselves and God, ourselves and others, ourselves and our selves.

It is in our best interest to be reminded afresh of this truth about ourselves, for it is a lens through which we can see more clearly the meaning of the crucifixion of Jesus.

The death of Jesus reflects life as we know it. Jesus, the incarnation of God’s unconditional, selfless love murdered at the hands of human hubris, stubborn selfishness, God-defying arrogance is the way the world is. This correspondence between the death of Jesus, a God who weeps, bleeds, and dies, and life in this world means that God identifies with us and, therefore, is a God with whom we can identify and, therefore, is a God we can trust.

And on most days, when we must protest, silently or aloud, against the disharmony in this world, in our living and our being, much, if not all of it beyond our command or control, knowing that God knows the trouble we’ve seen, the trouble we are is enough to strengthen our hope that we never are alone and, thus to help us continue our pilgrimage through life in this world.


Illustration: Crucifixion, Nikolai Nikolaevich Ge, 1894


[1] Matthew 16.21-22

[2] Philippians 2.8-11, paraphrased (my emphasis). Philippians 2.5-11 is the appointed epistle for the day.

[3] O sacred head, sore wounded, Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676) (my emphasis)

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