Our Prayers to the Crucified Christ

Sometimes we find in our lives a need to cry out with Jesus in desperation: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) and then we know with Jesus that despite human appearances, God is with us, even in tragedy, suffering and death.

At other times, meaning in tragedy can only be found in saying with Jesus: “Father, forgive them for the know not what they do” (Luke 23:34)  and then we trust God that His forgiveness, mercy and love will somehow and miraculously make right and whole that which had been destroyed or at least that God will forgive us for our willingness to destroy the Good.

Still there are other times when we come to understand the suffering and evil have no power over Jesus Christ our Lord, nor do they have ultimate power over any of us who are united in Christ.  We may suffer, but we realize the suffering is only in this world and is temporary for Christ has overcome the world.

We have been on a long spiritual sojourn together have followed God into the desert of Great Lent, and walked with Christ into Jerusalem to the cross.   We who have been baptized into Christ began a walk with Christ, that began right at the tomb of Christ.   We died with Christ in baptism – we came to his tomb, as St. Paul says:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.  (Romans 6:3-5)

Baptism brings us to the tomb of Christ, where we die with Him in order to be raised with Him.   It is no accident that we are here, but is God’s own plan for us.  And we are here by our own choice – by accepting Christ’s call to discipleship.  And all of us who have chosen to follow Christ have received His Body and Blood in the Eucharist.   And what are we told about the Eucharist?

In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.  (1 Corinthians 11:25-26)

Every time we drink the cup of Christ’s Blood, we proclaim His death, we end up at the tomb of Christ which also happens to be the fountain of the resurrection.   Christ’s own death is a significant part of our salvation.  We need to proclaim His death, we need to be at His tomb, to remind ourselves that our union with God comes in and through the death of God’s only-begotten son, Jesus Christ.

Our long Lenten pilgrimage has brought us to the tomb of Christ.  And here we remember all that Christ has done for us, and how He was willing to suffer for us and die for us.  But the tomb is not meant to be a shrine that we stay at and adore.

Because at the tomb of Christ we also hear the angel tell us, what?

He is not here!  He is risen! (Matthew 28:6)

The death of Christ which we personally experience in baptism and proclaim at every Eucharist and which is essential to our salvation, is still not our destination – if we want to be with Christ He is not at His tomb.  For we know now that Christ is sending us out into the world to live the resurrection and to share this good news with everyone we might meet.  The tomb of Christ it turns out is another sign of the Kingdom of Heaven, just like all the miracles Christ performed.  The tomb of Christ is telling us to continue our spiritual sojourn, to go out and live in the world, but live in the light of the resurrection.

Sunday of the Myrrhbearing Women (2010)

SUNDAY OF THE MYRRHBEARING WOMEN     Gospel: Mark 15:43-16:8

Women Disciples of the Lord

These women, when they arrive at the tomb, do not find what they expected (“they did not find the body”) but learn to their total surprise from an angel that they are dealing not with a dead Jesus but with a live Jesus (“Why do you seek the living among the dead?”). Not the Word of God dead and buried in a tomb, but the Word of God resurrection-alive in the neighborhood. They leave their spices and ointments at the tomb – they have no use for them:  Jesus has no use for them. They are on their way, ready to meet and follow and listen to the Word alive, Jesus. Ready to join the company of the Emmaus pilgrims, listening to Jesus interpret “to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).

                      (Eugene H. Peterson, Eat This Book, pg 85)

Bright Tuesday: The Empty Tomb

So neither seeing Christ on the cross, nor the report about the empty tomb, nor even the encounter with the risen Christ prompted the disciples, finally, to know the lord: the tomb is empty, but this in itself is ambiguous, and when he appears he is not immediately recognized. Rather, the disciples come to recognize the Lord as the one whose passion is spoken of by the Scriptures (meaning the “Old Testament”), and who is encountered in the breaking of the bread. Consuming Christ’s offering, they become his body. These two complementary ways – the engagement with the Scriptures (understanding how Christ “died according to the Scriptures and was raised according to the Scriptures” [1 Cor 15:3-5]), and the participation in the Lord’s meal (“proclaiming his death until he comes” [1 Cor 11:26]) – specify what St. Paul claims he had received and then handed down, or “tradition,” to later generations ( cf. 1 Cor 11:23, 15:3). (John Behr, Thinking through Faith: New Perspectives from Orthodox Christian Scholars, pg 74)

Christ is risen!

Christ in our Midst and With Us Always

The Gospel Lesson of Luke 24:13-35 is a Post-Resurrectional account of two of Christ’s disciples encountering Christ as they walk to the village of Emmaus on  Sunday late afternoon, just 3 days after Christ’s crucifixion.  They are dejected by the crucifixion of their Lord, and confounded by stories of the women’s discovery of Christ’s tomb being empty.   The disciples do not recognize Jesus as they walk and they explain to this “stranger” events that recently happened,

“Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,  and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him.  But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since this happened.  Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body; and they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive.  Some of those who were with us went to the tomb, and found it just as the women had said; but him they did not see.”

The disciples give a real brief synopsis of what has transpired in the last few days of Jesus’ life and show their own confusion as to how to understand the events.  They acknowledge that Jesus was a mighty prophet.  The problem is that the religious leaders rejected Him as such and had Him crucified.  Crucifixion (hanging on a tree) was a punishment for criminals, and those who died such were considered cursed by Jewish thinking based on the Torah.  So the disciples’ dejection includes the fact that they must consider whether they were duped into believing themselves.  They “hoped” Jesus “was the one to redeem Israel,” but had they hoped in vain?  They expected Christ’s life to end in glory, but instead it had ended in a cursed death.

  Their reaction to the reports by the women of angels claiming Jesus was alive were amazing but really hadn’t changed anything.  I find the lack of initial reaction to the resurrection to be historically believable because it indicates to me the story is not reporting how we Christians understand the resurrection after hundreds of years of hearing about it.  Rather they don’t know what to make of such stories because it is something totally new to think about, and not a little bit unbelievable.  Jesus may have given them clues about his death and resurrection but the dead coming back to life was not a common experience for these Jews.  So they hear the story with some excitement and yet with great reservation.  Even if Jesus were somehow alive “again,” what would it mean but that he would be hunted down again and executed again by the authorities – nothing really had changed in the world.  In addition, if they began a manhunt for Jesus, the authorities would soon be tracking down His disciples!

What Jesus must have thought about His disciples as they laid out their understanding of recent events becomes clear in His rebuke of them for their unbelief and hardness of heart.

“O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”  And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.

Jesus sees in them despondency and disbelief because He had died on the cross.  He upbraids them by saying “it was necessary” for the Christ to be crucified in order to enter into His glory.  The necessity of it is not altogether clear in the context , however it is clear that Jesus is claiming this always was God’s plan and should not be seen as an unexpected turn in events which ended God’s plan.  The humans as well as any evil forces involved have in fact played into God’s hands and done the very thing that was needed for the Christ to be glorified – they crucified Him.  The resurrection of the Christ will now reveal His glory and that He was in fact favored by God. 

The two disciples listen with rapt attention as Jesus explicates the scriptures which relate God’s plan including the central role of the suffering Messiah.   Jesus speaks to them to fill in the apparent missing pieces in the disciples puzzled understanding of the Messiah.   They find themselves comforted by the words of the unrecognized Christ – not only had the Jews in general not recognized God’s Messiah, at that very moment they didn’t recognize Him either!  They beg their comforting stranger to stay with them.  Even when they do not recognize Christ, they want Him to stay with them and be present to comfort them.  Then they sit at table with their unknown comforter and share table fellowship with Him as they had with the Lord Jesus while he was with them.

When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them.  And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight.  They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?”  And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven gathered together and those who were with them,  who said, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!”  Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.

What the disciples realized was that Christ was indeed still with them – the crucifixion had not changed that fact, had not ended anything.  It has been the wish of disciples throughout the ages that Jesus would stay with us, and we often are at a loss as to how to account for His apparent absence and failure to return immediately to us.  Yet the Gospel lesson on the road to Emmaus tells the disciples and us that Christ is with us and is in our midst.   Our eyes may be kept from recognizing Him, yet He has not abandoned us.  The astonishing fact is that the risen Lord is present with us, and in the very moment that we recognize that fact, He vanishes from our physical sight.  Christ is with us now and is known to us now whenever the scriptures are opened to us and “in the breaking of the bread.”  Both of these events happen within the fellowship of the Church, when we assemble as the Body of Christ, there Christ is in our midst (Matthew 28:20).

When the disciples realized Christ was with them, they didn’t stay where they were thinking Christ could only be with them in that spot at that moment.  Rather they immediately get up and leave the very place where they encountered Christ and get on the road to share with other believers their experience of the risen Lord.  They don’t create a shrine to their experience and sit and adore the place.  Rather they embrace the universal truth of the Resurrected Christ, which is not limited to any one time or place but is accessible to believers throughout history and throughout the world.  Wherever two or three of us gather in Christ’s Name, there He is in our midst (Matthew 18:20).  Having Christ be present with us doesn’t mean hunkering down in some safe place alone with Jesus – it means going out into the world to seek fellowship with any who do or will believe. And when Christ is in our midst, we become connected with His very first apostles in the Church.

For another commentary on Luke 24:13-35 see my Reading the Old Testament with Jesus

Reflection on John 20:1-10

John 20:1-10  (7th Matins Resurrection Gospel)

1Now on the first day of the week Mary Mag’dalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 2 So she ran, and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

Though Mary Mag’dalene is mentioned in all 4 canonical accounts of the Gospel at the Resurrection, she is introduced in John’s Gospel (as well as in Matthew and Luke’s) only at the crucifixion of Christ.  Only St. Luke makes a passing reference to her earlier in his gospel as a women Jesus had cured of demon possession, but then Luke does not mention her at the crucifixion.

One reason I think the Gospel accounts of the resurrection has a ring of historical truth to them, is that they are not written to make the disciples of Christ look good, which I think would have been a temptation of myth writers especially years after the events occurred (when the Gospels were written).  Mary Mag’dalene goes to the tomb, not looking for the resurrection like a child on Christmas morning rising early to see if Santa has come, but going to the tomb to weep over unfulfilled expectation and crushing disappointment.  Jesus had raised his friend Lazarus from the dead, but could not prevent his own death.

Mary Mag’dalene is astounded to find the tomb open and the body of Jesus gone.   She does not immediately think “resurrection” but “grave robbers” or some other bad news.  She runs to tell Peter about the missing body of Jesus.  “THEY” – she does not identify whom she suspects of having taken the body, but one might surmise the enemies of Jesus.  Killing him was not enough, now they have decided to desecrate and abuse the corpse as well.  “They” intend to humiliate Jesus and his disciples further.  But Mary’s conclusion is the body has been stolen and dumped in an unknown location.   The empty tomb will discourage any cult of a saint from developing and prevent the disciples from making the tomb into a holy place of relics, or so “they” believe.

 3 Peter then came out with the other disciple, and they went toward the tomb. 4 They both ran, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first; 5 and stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying, 7 and the napkin, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not know the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.

Peter and the unnamed disciple (tradition says it was John) run to the tomb also not looking for the resurrected Jesus but to see if Mary’s story is true – what now?  It’s bad enough they tortured Jesus to execute him, what is happening now to his corpse?   (The disciples had fled from Jesus at his arrest.  Mary ran away from the empty tomb to tell the disciples about it, not as good news, but as very troubling news).  Strangely, whoever had taken the corpse of Jesus had taken the time to remove the linen burial shroud, and even to neatly roll up the napkin which covered his face.  Who would go through that trouble and why?   What was going on here?  Peter and the other disciple now believe Mary’s story that the tomb is empty, but John the gospel’s story teller notes that at this moment the disciples do not make any connection to the resurrection, nor really to the promises of God (thus the “they did not know the scripture”).    The empty tomb has left them with questions but no answers. What’s going on?  Who took the corpse of Jesus?  Where did they go with it?  For what purpose?  The disciples do not make an immediate leap of faith to the resurrection, an idea which was still foreign to them.  Corpses do not walk out of tombs.  Somebody must be responsible for this.  Tombs are made empty by grave robbers, the macabre, or by the enemies of the dead who want to make sure the deceased is not immortalized.  The empty tomb is not at first a sign of the resurrection, it is immediately more troubling news for Christ’s disciples. Will they in fact be accused of being grave robbers as an excuse to arrest or discredit them?

10 Then the disciples went back to their homes.

What else can they do?   Are the authorities likely to be interested in investigating the theft of the corpse of a criminal?   More likely they are the very ones who stole the body and going to them can only bring threats and punishment to the whistle blowers. 

The empty tomb however will become everything the enemies of Jesus would not want – a holy place, the site of the revelation of the holy One of God, a confirmation of the Messiah. 

It will only be back in their own homes that the truth of what happened to the body of Jesus will dawn upon them.  

And this particular Gospel, read at Sunday matins or Saturday vigil, gives us the same glimpse into the historical fact of the resurrection.  And after we behold the resurrection, we go to our homes, like the first disciples, to contemplate what is the meaning of this totally new and unexpected event for our lives?  How does it change anything?  Or Does it change everything?