Very Early in the Morning
This is the day:
WHEN TEARS ARE WIPED AWAY,
SHATTERED HEARTS ARE MENDED,
FEARS ARE REPLACED WITH JOY.
This is the day:
WHEN THE LORD ROLLS AWAY THE STONE OF FEAR,
THROWS OFF DEATH’S CLOTHES,
GOES AHEAD OF US INTO GOD’S FUTURE.
This is the day the Lord has made:
DEATH HAS NO FEAR FOR US,
SIN HAS LOST ITS POWER OVER US,
GOD OPENS THE TOMBS OF OUR HEARTS
TO FILL US WITH LIFE.
This is the day – Easter Day!
CHRIST IS RISEN!
Prayer of Confession
From Eggs and Ashes
I see Christ crucified still-today:
where the hungry cry for food,
die for food,
though there’s plenty.
Where people are yelled at,
bricks through their windows
because their skin isn’t white, isn’t right.
Where abuse and rape occur,
where gay men are beaten up,
where lust kills love—
I see him crucified still.
I see Christ crucified still-today:
where wars scar people, lands,
the endless, killing politics of hate.
Where the cry for justice
is unheard, oppressed, beaten down
by cold, world systems.
Where power comes first,
where religion twists faith,
where religion twists faith.
where fear kills trust—
I see him crucified still.
I see Christ crucified still—today:
where creation’s fabric shreds,
by ‘must have now,’ ‘must use.’
Where earth’s beauty is destroyed.
Where trees burn,
where water poisons,
where greed kills need—
I see him crucified still.
And I try—a little—
to stem the deadly tide
as I give- a little,
write to those in power- a little
takes my bottles to the bottle bank,
and try to love- a little.
O God, for all these crucifixions
may there one day be resurrection.
Prayer of Thanksgiving
very early on that first day
you caught chaos unawares:
planting grace in a garden,
setting love loose on creation,
flinging joy into the air.
Jesus, Sun of Justice,
very early on that first day
you staggered sin,
throwing its weight off the world;
you confounded death,
leaving it alone in the grave;
you opened the gates of the kingdom,
so all could follow you into life.
very early on this first day of the week,
while we were washing sleep from our eyes
and trying to make sense of our lives,
you sang glad songs to us,
rolling away fears from our hearts
so we can see the Risen Lord.
God in Community, Holy and One,
very early on this first day of the week,
we lift our prayers to you.
using the words that Jesus taught us:
Running to Tell the Good News
how we ran,
How, could we note?
Knowing what we did,
Seeing what we had seen.
“Quick, Mary, Joanna, quick,
Pick up your skirts and run,
to tell the others, the good news.’
My heart will explode, surely,
it is like falling in love,
only ten times greater,
and running as well,
I feel as though
I will die—
He is not dead,
He is risen.
Wait! Wait! Wait till I see
light up with joy
‘Mary, Joanna, quick, quick!’
no longer in fear
but in joy!
Can you imagine?
My heart is beating
LOUD, LOUD –
Can they hear it?
Already – can they sense it?
Already – do they know it?
Here, we are,
We have arrived.
I cannot talk, breathless, joy, too great,
I manage, hardly, to utter the words:
‘He is risen’ and gain, ‘HE IS RISEN!’
And as I stop
to catch my breath,
the men —
dull and dismayed,
and their eyes
but look only
as if to say:
‘What are we
Isaiah 53 Who has believed what we have heard?
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
2 For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering[a] and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces[b]
he was despised, and we held him of no account.
4 Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have all turned to our own way,
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
8 By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
Who could have imagined his future?
For he was cut off from the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people.
9 They made his grave with the wicked
and his tomb[c] with the rich,[d]
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him with pain.[e]
When you make his life an offering for sin,[f]
he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days;
through him the will of the LORD shall prosper.
11 Out of his anguish he shall see light;[g]
he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge.
The righteous one,[h] my servant, shall make many righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;
because he poured out himself to death,
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.
JESUS IS RISEN!
Three nights of darkness
tried to swallow you up,
burying the dreams
of the oppressed people
who loved you.
The empire and the insensible religion
believed that killing you
would kill the hopes
of the humble.
Three days of darkness were not enough
to kill the hope of humanity.
Those who gave you to Caesar wanted to silence you,
who belonged to God and to the people.
Those who preach and do not practice their preaching
The empire wanted to get rid of your to eliminate
the ideals of freedom from the invaded
and massacred people.
They killed you,
mistreating your body,
but they couldn’t do away with your spirit,
They buried you to erase your memory
because the empire always fears
the ideas that revive
the conscience of the people.
The empire fled in terror
at the sign of your resurrection,
abandoned the chained tomb.
How they feared you, Jesus!
They put chains on your grave!
They were afraid of your words of love,
of your relations with the poor—
they were afraid of your smile.
You have risen,
because your project in life,
The rich and the priests,
they hated you.
You were always walking with the marginalized,
with the ostracized.
You talked with the prostitutes
and after that you talked with the criminals.
How could you call yourself a teacher?
How could you lame to be a rabbi?
You had to die,
they had to kill you,
you had to go.
You called the hypocrites
who gave you that authority?
The priests who sold themselves to the empire
accused you of treason
because you wanted to overthrow the empire,
because you overthrew the tables
of the Temple earnings.
You had proclaimed yourself King
and the only King was Caesar,
the foreign oppressor.
The wealthy merchants hated you,
how did you dare to take the bread
and offer health for all for free?
Don’t you know how much wheat costs?
How much the patents
For the medicines cost?
You don’t know, Jesus, how many starving people
wish for your death.
break the chains they put
on your grave.
You showed yourself to the poor,
to the blessed,
and you blessed
the suffering, the blind,
Three nights were not enough,
even today you are resurrecting
in the villages
in the women.
Even now the empire fears
and tries to kill you
but if they do,
you will rise again
and whenever necessary
you shall rise,
because you are risen in me,
in my brothers and sisters,
in the children,
in those who learn to read,
in those who fight,
and in the indigenous villages
of Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru.
In the people of African descent
you are risen
and you rise
every time it’s necessary.
That is the time of the resurrection!
Jesus is risen!
–Obed Juan Vicaíno Nájera, Venezuela
12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.[h] 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
John Robert Osborn was born on January 2nd 1899, and he was a soldier. When World War II began he was stationed in Hong Kong. He was positioned on a hill top with other soldiers and the enemy kept throwing grenade after grenade and each time they would throw them back. Eventually one of the grenades landed where they weren’t going to be able to grab it and throw it back in time, and so without thinking Osborn threw himself on top of the grenade and was killed. And his death saved the lives of all of his friends. Often Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is compared to someone like John Robert Osborn throwing himself on the grenade. (https://worldwarwings.com/the-soldier-who-threw-himself-on-a-grenade/) That his death- was awful but it saved others. So if that’s true. My question is, who threw the grenade? If in our understanding of the cross, Jesus is the one who throws himself on the grenade- did G-d throw it or did we?
Did an angry and vengeful G-d demand the death of his son? Did G-d really set the world up in such a way that Jesus would be forced to die even though he was innocent? If so, what kind of G-d do we serve? And how could that possibly be good news? Aberlard wrote, ‘Who will forgive God for the sin of killing his own child?’ … ‘How cruel and wicked it seems that anyone should demand the blood of an innocent person as the price for anything, or that it should in any way please him that an innocent man should be slain—still less that God should consider the death of his son so agreeable that by it he should be reconciled to the whole world!’
In Luke 11, Jesus tells us the following about G-d the Father; 9 “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for[e] a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit[f] to those who ask him!”
Now to me, that doesn’t sound like a G-d who sanctions and demands a sort of divine child abuse. And if we are saying that G-d is one who authorizes abuse- what kind of fruit does that bear in the Church?
There is a great book entitled; The Proverb of Ashes and in it- it talks about the harmful ways that this theology has infiltrated our lives. How substitution atonement doesn’t produce good fruit “How could we in good conscience continue to server a church whose fundamental teachings contributed to the very violence we were seeking to prevent?…a quiet knock on the church office door interrupted my reading. Marking quickly the payer I’d chosen for Sunday’s service, I closed the Book of Worship and opened the door. A short, brown-faced woman stood on the threshold, bundled up against the chilly Seattle weather.
“Hello, pastor. I’m Lucia. I live down the block and walk by the church on my way to the bus.” She gestured to indicate the direction. “I saw your name on the church sign. You are a woman priest. Maybe because you are a woman, you can understand my problem and help me.”
“Of course, come in,” I said. She sat down on the old sofa next to my bookcase with tis load of theology texts bending the shelves. She smiled, an expression both warm and sad.
“I haven’t talked to anyone about this for a while,” she began, the smile fading, and sadness deepening in her eyes. “But I’m worried for my kids now. The problem is my husband. He beats me sometimes. Mostly he is a good man. But sometimes he becomes very angry and hits me. He
knocks me down. One time he broke my arm and I had to go to the hospital. But I didn’t tell them how my arm got broken.”
I nodded. She took a deep breath and went on. “I went to my priest twenty years ago. I’ve been trying to follow his advice. The priest said I should rejoice in my sufferings because they bring me closer to Jesus. He said, ‘Jesus suffered because he loved us.’ He said, ‘If you love Jesus, accept the beatings and bear them gladly, as Jesus bore the cross.’ I’ve tried, but I’m not sure anymore. My husband is turning on the kids now. Tell me, is what the priest told me true?”
Lucia’s deep black eyes searched my hazel ones. I wanted to look away, but couldn’t. I wanted to speak, but my mouth wouldn’t work. It felt stuffed with cotton. I could get the words to form… just that past Sunday I had preached a sermon on the willingness of love to suffer. I preached that Jesus’ life revealed the nature of love and that love would save us. I’d said that love bears all things. Never breaks relationship. Keeps ties of connection to others even when they hurt you. Places the needs of the other before concern of the self.
In the stillness of that moment, I could see in Lucia’s eyes that she knew the answer to her question, just as I did. If I answered Lucia’s question truthfully, I would have to rethink my theology. More than that, I would have to face choices I was making in my own life. After a long pause, I found my voice. “It isn’t true” I said to her. “God does not want you to accept being beaten by your husband. God want you to have your life, not to give it up. God wants you to protect your life and your children’s lives.”
Lucia’s eyes danced. “I knew I was right!” she said. “But it helps to hear you say it. Now I know what I should do what I have been thinking about doing.” She planned to take courses at the community college until she had a marketable skill. Then she would get a job and move herself and her children to a new home. We stayed in touch as she took each step. Eventually, her husband sought help for himself. Lucia agreed to let him spend weekends with their children. “They got their father back,” she said, “and I got my life back.”
Jesus told us in Matthew 7:16 that we know if something is good by the fruit it bares. I can’t help but read the previous story and question the fruit that “traditional understandings of atonement” bares. G-d always, always, always advocates for the vulnerable and yet his vulnerability and suffering on the cross has been used as swords of oppression against vulnerable people for centuries.
We even see this in the Bible! 1 Peter 2 reads, 18 Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh. 19 For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. 20 If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.
22 “He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
23 When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross,[h] so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds[i] you have been healed. 25 For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.
How is this the same G-d who liberated the people from slavery in Exodus? It is important to remember that the Bible is a diverse document. And it was written during a very specific time by people who were seeking and trying to identify G-d in their lives. There are a diversity of voice and different theological views. Overall there is a G-d who is merciful and loving and forgiving.
One of my favorite things about Colombia Theological Seminary, was that the dining hall looked like something out of Harry Potter. It was a breath taking large wooden room with a tall cathedral ceiling that came from a point. And in my first week, I was eating a meal in there and two guys were discussing theology. Perhaps, debating would be a more adequate term. Now this was, around 10 years ago- but I still remember parts of it. They asked, “Is G-d limited?” Is G-d bound by certain rules? “Did G-d have to go to the cross?” If G-d can do anything- why on earth do that?” And someone answered back, “I don’t think G-d was bound by that…but that was what we needed as people to get it. To see the price for our sin.” “What about if it is less about G-d’s wrath and much more about ours?” And I am looking down at my salad, and am sort of picking at it and thinking- “wow- I am in way over my head! There is no way that I will be able to keep up with these guys-I’m going to fail for sure!” Spoiler- alert- thankfully I didn’t. I ended up doing very in seminary by the grace of G-d. But I will always remember hearing that conversation because it was the first time I really heard anyone discussing and debating the meaning of the cross and that there is more than one way to understand what happened that day.
Last week, I was looking up different interpretations of the cross in Scripture and I was stuck by Acts 10:34-43. It reads; 34Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ — he is Lord of all. 37That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40but God raised him.
A variety of different understandings of the meaning of the cross exists, in theology and in Scripture. In The Proverbs of Ashes, she writes;
“Liberation theology upholds an older theology of atonement. Abelard’s moral influence theory. Abelard argued against the idea that God was a dishonored lord whose honor was restored by the murder of his own son. Instead, he said the problem is that human beings see neither their sin nor the mercy of God. The death of the Son of God brings human beings face to face with cruelty. Contemplating the suffering of Christ, people will feel remorse and repentance—especially seeing that Christ submitted to violence rather than turning it back on his enemies. A love so great that it withholds evil for evil reveals the mercy and kindness of God. Seeing, this Abelard said, human beings would be moved to stop rejecting God and would open their hearts to receive God’s mercy.
“During the civil rights struggle in the United States, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. understood that peaceful demonstrators would meet with violent hostility. Accept in your own body, Dr. King said, the slings and arrows of their hostility, but do not return it. There is power in undeserved suffering. Your enemy will come to see the error of his ways and will repent.
“As a strategy to call oppressors and unjust systems to account, the practice of nonviolent resistance can be effective. Important changes have resulted from people’s willingness to take risks to confront and transform injustice. But the violence endured during the civil rights movement, including Dr. King’s assassination, is anguishing.
This theology assumes every violent perpetrator has the empathy and moral conscience necessary to be moved by the suffering of others. And it makes every victim an agent of God’s call to repent and accept mercy. This makes the repentance of the perpetrator more important than the suffering of the victim.”…Jesus’ death on the cross was not a spiritual illumination. It was a public execution performed by an oppressive empire. The brutality of this violence is mystified, absorbed into a spiritual affirmation…..
“Jesus’ crucifixion shows us that God is with us in our pain. That is what the theology of the crucified God says. On the cross, God experienced the full meaning of human existence. To be human includes humiliation, betrayal, physical torment, abandonment, isolation, and the collapse of hope. On the cross God is finally, fully at one with humanity. This is the at-one-ment, the atonement: that God know the heart of human sorrow because God is full union with us, ‘even unto death, death on the cross’ (Philippians 2:8)….
“This theological claim provides a divine companion for suffering humanity, especially the victims of violence and abuse. It tells the oppressed that God is with them. God knows the worst. There is nothing that can happen to a human being that God has not experienced.”
This Lent we have been working our way through Jesus’ journey to the cross. And the horrible torture he was forced to endure. But I don’t think he was forced to endure it by G-d. I think he was forced to endure it by us. Somethings that have come up as we have explored that journey is his sense of abandonment, betrayal, physical and emotional torture, prejudice, injustice, racism, sexual assault…and the list goes on and on. And the sad truth is that these all exist today. All of us have experienced at least one of these things. Perhaps Jesus was willing to endure such atrocities to show us their true cost, and that he is with us through anything. And no matter what the world throws at us, no matter what we do to each other G-d is bigger than that. G-d offers forgiveness while bleeding on the cross. G-d gives mercy and love and hope. Thanks be to G-d.