Friday, April 18, 2014

Love Is Not A Victory March (Good Friday 2014)

Homily:  Good Friday.  April 18 2014.  St. Albans
Isaiah 52.13-53.12; Ps 22; Heb 10.16-25; Jn 18.1-19.42

Love Is Not a Victory March

Pilate understands power.  It’s the air he breathes, the water he swims in.  He knows its structures, he knows its relationships.  It’s the first criteria he uses when he’s sizing someone up, it’s his map as he navigates his way through life.   So far he’s been doing pretty well.  He is the fifth Governor of the Roman province of Judea under the Emperor Tiberias.  He has Roman soldiers under his direct command.  Now, as Roman Governors go, he is a big fish in a small pond, and he knows that better than anyone else.  Just as his own ruthlessness and maneuvering has brought him to his current position of power, he knows that if he fails to keep the control of the province and collect enough tax for the empire, those who have more power than he can have him removed in an instant.  Pilate understands power.

And so when Pilate addresses Jesus, the first question he asks is a power question. “Are you the King of the Jews?”  But Jesus sidesteps the power question.  Pilate persists.  He needs to know the power dynamics.  “Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me.  Why, what have you done?”  Jesus once again refuses to engage in the contest of power.  And Pilate doesn’t understand.  He’s perplexed by Jesus’ refusal to play by his rules.  “Do you not know that I have the power to release you and the power to crucify you?”

But Jesus won’t be drawn in.  “You say I’m a king.”  You’re concerned about power.  But I’m here for a different reason.  “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.”

Truth vs Power.  It is, I suppose, the classic confrontation.  “What is truth?” scoffs Pilate. 

Pilate has a lot invested in power.  So do we, if you think about it.  We spend most of our lives trying to become more powerful.  We grow up.  We educate ourselves.  We compete for jobs.  We increase our earning power.  We network, we make connections, we acquire things, we have credit cards in our wallets.  We strive for control of our lives, for independence.  We like to be in control of our relationships too.  We may not go as far as Pilate does, but we have a lot invested in power.
Do we make the same investment in truth?  In response to a question of identity, Jesus responds that his whole purpose in life has been to reveal the truth.  And just what is this truth for which Jesus was born, to which his life and now his death will be a testimony?

I suppose that we could use many formulations and write many words to describe that truth.  John, the gospel writer uses just three:

“God is Love”

I believe that God is love.  But I’m not sure that it helps much to just say it.  I think that if Jesus had simply told people that God is love, most of us would want that love to look like unicorns and rainbows[i], like one of the poems on the inside of a Hallmark Greeting Card.

I believe that God loves us.  But I’m reminded of the advice that my wife once gave me, that whenever I say ‘God loves you’ in a sermon, what most people hear is “blah blah blah blah blah”.

So it makes sense to me that God sent Jesus to show us what love is.  Jesus is the word made flesh, God in human form, the one who makes God known, who reveals God to us.  And it is on the cross where God’s love is revealed most fully.  Love is hard.  Love struggles.  Love is sacrificial.  Love suffers.  Love is vulnerable.  Love weeps, love cries out, love forgives.

Or in the words of one of Leonard Cohen’s songs, “Love is not a victory march, it’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah.”

God’s love is a refusal to exercise power, a refusal that for Jesus, results in death.

It seems to me that every year as we gather on Good Friday, as we hear the passion gospel, as we meditate before the cross, it seems to me that one of the things that we’re trying to do is to draw meaning out of that death.  One of the meanings that we as the church have drawn out of Jesus’ death from the very beginning is that through it our sins are forgiven and we are reconciled with God.  And, as might be expected, we want to know how that works.  And sometimes we put that into a bit of a formula that says that a just God needed to punish humanity for its sinfulness, and that Jesus offered to be punished in our place and so the rest of us escaped punishment yet are forgiven.

The problem I have when we put too much emphasis on speaking of the cross in this way is that we’re actually using a logic that Pilate would have understood very well.  We’re using the language of power and the logic of exchange to propose a mechanism for how God forgives us.

I believe that the cross is at once much simpler and much more profound than a language of exchange can ever convey.

God forgives us because God loves us.  Simple, yes, but also profound.  Because love isn’t rainbows and unicorns.  Love is not a victory march, it’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah.

Because in order for forgiveness to really happen, something has to die.  We know that from our own relationships, if only in our own limited way.  Whenever there is forgiveness, there is a death:

·        A dying of expectations
·        A letting go of your power over another
·        The death of your reason for feeling better than someone else
·        A breach in your wall of security which leaves you exposed and vulnerable
·        An embracing of something that hurts when it could have been kept at arm’s distance

We all know, each in our imperfect way, what it means to love.  We all know, each in our imperfect way, what it means to forgive.  And that means we all know or can imagine, at least in some measure, how painful it is to be rejected by the ones we love, and how much we suffer when we see the suffering of those that we love.  We can’t love without being hurt, without being open to pain and sorrow.  And we know how much it costs to forgive those that hurt us and others, to remain in relationship with them and to continue to love them.

This morning I watched the video of Douglas de Grood, the father of the young man who has been charged with the 1st degree murder of five people at a university year end party in Calgary.  Douglas de Grood is a man who is clearly in pain and deeply saddened as he struggles with what has happened, offers condolences to the families of the victims and yet still speaks words of unconditional love and positive regard for his son Matthew.

How much more then must God, who is love, and created us out of love, suffer and endure pain as a result of what happens in our world.  In the course of human history, with its war and violence and genocides, in the course of our own personal histories, imagine how much pain and suffering a God who loves has had to endure.

God loves us.  God forgives us.  And every day God is dying.  Every day, God hears the cry of his people, and suffers with them.  Every day, God endures the pain and anguish that comes when the people you love turn against you, abandon you and reject you.  Every day, something in God dies so that God can forgive us and love us.

Now, we don’t get to see that every day.  God is, for the most part, invisible to us, a mystery to us.  So we don’t get to see it.  But perhaps God in his wisdom thought that we should see it at least once.  No one has ever seen God.  But it is God’s only Son who has made God known.  And Jesus, the Word who was God, the Word made flesh, he has made God known must fully on the cross.

Jesus died on the cross to testify to the truth that God loves us.  Because we needed to see that love with our own eyes, we needed to see what love looks like, and what it costs.  And once we’ve seen it, we’ll never be the same again.

“Love is not a victory march.  It’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah.” 


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