God would rather die

Photo by Anton Darius | @theSollers on Unsplash

Welcome to my ‘Layman’s Lectionary’ series where I stumble my way through the liturgical year and share my layman’s testimonies and confessions on modern culture and daily life as it corresponds to scripture.

Liturgy of the Palms
Liturgy of the Passion

Click here for the Vanderbilt Revised Common Lectionary readings.

When Herod would ride into Jerusalem, he’d always be in a Cadillac Limo — I mean, on a mighty warhorse…

Yet, here we have our savior. Rolling into town. On a donkey.

Herod would always come in the name of Caesar...

Yet here Jesus comes, in the name of the Lord.

Herod would be surrounded by chariots and uniformed soldiers with their swords, spears, and bows held high. His military procession, a show of force intended to arouse fear and compliance, not hope and joy…

And yet, here we have our savior, surrounded by a motley crew of misfits and losers holding palm branches and waving their coats.

By contrasting these two kings, the meaning of this account becomes clear. Caesar’s kingdom, the empire of Rome, rules by domination with threats of violence, demanding submission...

But God’s kingdom (the kingdom of heaven that Jesus is always talking about), rules by faith with a promise of peace, inspiring joy.

This is the ‘mind of Christ’ that Paul alludes to in his letter to the Philippians…

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 hum an likeness. And being found in human form,

he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.

In the middle of one of the bloodiest periods of history, we have this Jesus — this God made flesh — single-handedly attempting to reverse the massive cultural momentum of human rivalry, armed rebellion, and scapegoating.

The crowd that, just a day before so celebrated him, had turned on him in an instant — just as he predicted it would. Jesus knows all too well that a crowd in a lynching mood is the supreme power (sound relevant?).

Yet this evolved portrayal of God in the human form that is Jesus acts not as an iron-fisted king but a humble, female-spirited, donkey-riding servant who willingly submits to his own crucifixion.

The psalm this week sets the tone for the passion…

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD. We bless you from the house of the LORD.

The LORD is God, and he has given us light. Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar.

This day has been the one that’s been foreshadowed by scripture for hundreds of years. Jesus isn’t a ‘new thing’ while the Old Testament speaks of an ‘old thing’. This is the playing out of an ancient prophecy that people had been uttering around tribal fires from parent to child in the Near East for generations.

Starting with a pascal feast, this servant-God serves his disciples his body and blood as he lays out before them ever so calmly what will happen to him. And his predictions play out to an eerie precision.

On a personal note, I’ve been away from Christianity for more than 20 years. Holy Week is new territory for me and I feel that my footing is a bit shaky.

See, I’ve long skimmed right over this whole Easter/Holy Week thing because I — as with most postmodern, secular Americans — don’t like to feel guilty or uncomfortable. When I was younger, my perspective was as such: I had nothing to do with Jesus’ death, so why should I get all riled up and feel bad for something I played no role in? And what kind of God would make his son suffer such a price?

It seemed like the dysfunctional family across the street that I try to avoid like the plague.

Later on, in recent years, my respect grew for Jesus. But I still merely saw him as a mystical wisdom teacher. So it was like, Ahh man. Why did they have to kill such a brilliant and enlightened revolutionary?

But this time around, my view of Jesus and the crucifixion has taken on a new depth, breadth, and gravity. I’ve adopted a slightly higher Christology, if you will.

Christianity hasn’t stuck around in such a profound way for thousands of years for no reason. Sure, church attendance is down and you can say that Christianity is dying, but I believe we haven’t really even given it a true shot yet. I mean, we’ve tried OUR version of Christianity. The version that plays into the same sense of rivalry, human dominance and scapegoating that Jesus was here to reverse, so if THAT dies, I see this as a win for Christianity.

As I’ve said before, I don’t see Jesus’s crucifixion as a blood sacrifice towards an angry God on our behalf (we can thank the hack theologian Anselm of Canterbury for that theory — yes, a mere THEORY it is — which didn’t come around until around 1100 AD and went viral, so to speak, because it resonated perfectly with where we were in human consciousness during medieval times; I digress…).

Today, I see Jesus as more than just a really profound mystical revolutionary wisdom teacher (though I do see him as this as well).

This was the living God slipping into human flesh so as to effectively say, I understand your human inner condition which leads to oppressive systems and violence. Instead of acting in rivalry to it and perpetuating it, I’d rather die than continue carrying on the role you’ve projected onto your false God(s) before me. I’m absorbing all of it thusly taking it out of circulation for humankind.

Jesus knew exactly what was going down and he completely emptied himself in order to save us from ourselves. This, he understood, could only be done through profound love, mercy, forgiveness, surrender, and service.

Jesus never once blames a soul for this horrid act. Yes, he calmly gives us an uncomfortable play-by-play. And even as he does this at the feast — JUST THE DAY BEFORE— we think he’s off his rocker. But then Judas and Peter and…

Yeah, we do the thing we couldn’t believe he said we’d do.

We killed the innocent servant-king. Because that’s what we do when our world is upended by love.

I mean, really, the football game is just awkward when the players stop in the middle of the game, shake hands, hug it out, and have wine together —like, what’s the point? The same thing goes when we’re wielding inflatable objects, social media stats, or swords and spears.

Rivalry is part of our nature. It’s in our bones. The only way we know how to achieve temporary peace and save ourselves is through pointing the finger at a common enemy — a scapegoat.

Well, we sure did it this time. But this was no typical scapegoat. This was God Godself. And it made ripples around the world that we can still feel to this day.

Because the chance and the choice is still there. Christ has absorbed our transgressions and taken the violence out of circulation. God has washed God’s hands clean in God’s own blood and broken bones. And in so doing, God has washed us clean.

Can we offer our rivalrous ways up? Can we put on the Mind of Christ and empty ourselves?

Can we trust the God on the cross to move us from rivalry against each other to service towards one another?

The work has been done. We are free from ourselves.

I know there’s so much more to this Holy Week. So much that I’m missing. So much that I can’t wrap my head or my heart around. So much I can’t see. I know I’ll look back at this post in years to come seeing how far off the mark I was. As hard as it’ll be seeing this, I’ll take it as a sign that my faith is growing (hopefully).

Because this marks the moment that God hung on a tree. But we know that it’s not the end of the story. Death is never the end of the story.

I pray that I can grow in faith and deepen in understanding the ways that this God loves us. And I pray that we can, in turn, take that revolutionary, subversive, merciful, radical, and nonsensical grace and bestow it on each other. May we all act as conduits of God’s grace so as to heal our humanity, our world, and our planet.

Before it’s too late.