Matthew 27:51-54 The Curtain is Torn (Holy Week- Good Friday)

29 03 2013

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“At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.  They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection andwent into the holy city and appeared to many people.

When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, ‘Surely he was the Son of God!’” Matthew 27:51:54 (NRSV)

At the moment of Jesus’ death, there was a fundamental change in the relationship between God and man.

At the very moment His suffering and sacrifice were complete, the barrier between the Presence of God and the mundane world of humanity was broken.  God’s Presence broke free from the Holy of Holies.  The barrier between God and man had been broken forever.  God was no longer confined to a “holy space” where regular people were never allowed.

In some Christian traditions the tendency is to glaze over the experience of Good Friday and Calvary and fast forward straight to Easter Sunday.  That discomfort with the Passion of Christ is easy to understand.  It’s not pleasant to relive the gory and painful reality of Jesus’ torture and death.  It is not comfortable to know that our salvation came at such an awesomely exorbitant price. It is important for us to come to some understanding of Jesus’ suffering, however, lest we fall into the trap of thinking that the grace that was freely given had no cost.  Grace is not cheap.

We need to remember Jesus’ Passion.  We need to understand He did not die an “easy death.” We need to know that we are just as responsible for Jesus’ death as the people in the crowd who shouted “Crucify Him!”   It is good for us to enter into the experience of the Passion, at least on some level, though I would caution, it is also important to remember that death and suffering are not the end of the story.

If not for Jesus’ sacrifice and His total surrender, there would be no setting the Holy Spirit afoot in and through the world as the curtain was torn.  There would be no redemption of our broken and often profane world.  The sacred would still be beyond the reach of common humanity.  If not for Jesus’ sacrifice there would be no salvation for humanity, and no life beyond physical death and the grave.

crucifixionphoto

“From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?‘)” Matthew 27:45:46 (NRSV)

As we contemplate on and remember that Jesus died to save me, and you, and that cranky old guy across the road, and the convicted murderer consigned to prison we have to remember that in His eyes we are all on the same footing.  Lost, fallible, flawed, makers of bad decisions and law-breakers- all people fall into that category.

All people fall into the category of those Jesus came to save and redeem.  All people are invited to breathe in the Holy Spirit that was set free the day the curtain was torn and to participate in the Kingdom of God.  No one is “too far gone” to be beyond the reach of Jesus.

Death and suffering are not the end.  But today, we remember just how high the cost of our salvation was.

 

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Proverbs 16:25 The “Right” Way? (Holy Week Tuesday)

26 03 2013

choice

There is a way that seems right to a man, and appears straight before him, but at the end of it is the way of death.” Proverbs 16:25 (AMP)

It’s easy to malign Judas.  After all, he betrayed Jesus to the high priests for what would (roughly) be about $42.97 in today’s money.

The Author of the Universe, sold for less than fifty bucks.

It’s no wonder there are no pretty stained glass windows with “St. Judas” in them.  Nobody is naming their kids “Judas” either – it would be as bad as naming them “Pontius Pilate,” or “Hitler” or “Stalin.”  The name Judas equates to evil and treachery because of the deed he committed.

But before I’m too critical of Judas, I need to listen to what Jesus said to the Pharisees and others who were itching to stone a woman caught in adultery:

“When they kept on questioning him, (Jesus) he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground.” John 8:7-8 (NRSV)

writing on the ground

Some scholars and theologians speculate that Jesus might have been writing names and deeds on the ground- calling out the would be stone-throwers to be mindful of their own sins.  Others suggest that Jesus might have been simply doodling on the ground.

If Jesus was naming names and deeds, perhaps He was saying something to the effect of, “Hey, Jack- I know what you did in Vegas,” or “Hey, Cindy, what about that money you embezzled from your employer,” or “I know every single sin you’ve committed since you first drew breath!”

If most of us were confronted with a frank and all-encompassing assessment of our sins, (known and unknown) we would be dropping the stones too.

As far as Judas goes, it’s hard to say what his motivation was in selling Jesus down the river for less than what a full tank of gasoline costs most people today.  Perhaps he feared the power of Rome, as the high priest and Pharisees did.  Maybe Judas disagreed with Jesus’ methods.  Or maybe his motive was more self-serving than that?  Perhaps he needed money to support a gambling addiction, or to satisfy a taste for fine wine.  Scripture doesn’t spell out Judas’ reasons, although it does tell us that Judas did occasionally pilfer a bit from the treasury box.

Maybe Judas thought that surrendering Jesus was the right thing to do, which is even more troubling.  Maybe it was poor judgment rather than malicious intent or a love of money that motivated Judas.

How many times have we done what we thought was the right thing at the time only to find out later that it was a dreadful mistake?  How many times have we rationalized a wrong choice, and told ourselves that the end justified the means?

The sad thing about history is that it tends to repeat itself.

hitler

Millions of people thought following Hitler- and going along with mass genocide- was the “right thing to do.”

Like Judas, and like all the people in the world remembered for their evil deeds, we make decisions that cause harm to myself and others.  The irony of this is that that those who are remembered for their evil deeds often thought that they were doing the right thing.

It is guaranteed if the only thing we do is “look out for number one” that we are going to make bad choices.  It is guaranteed that if the only thing we do is follow “common” wisdom and just do what everyone else is doing that we are going to make bad choices.

Even if we try to do the right thing, there are times when our judgment is going to prove dreadfully wrong.  There are times when following the crowd turns out to be a fatal mistake.  There is not always strength in numbers.

The only way that we can make good decisions and have good judgment is by submitting our heart and minds to God’s will.

I pray that the Holy Spirit would guide us when we have difficult decisions, and keep us on God’s path.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119:105 (NRSV)