Tuesday, January 17, 2012 -- Week of 2 Epiphany, Year Two
Antony, Abbot in Egypt, 356
Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p 945)
Psalms 26, 28 (morning) 9, 15 (evening)
"In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission." (Hebrews 5:7)
Yet the answer to Jesus' prayer was not accomplished during his lifetime. He was not saved from death. He was crucified and he died.
We cannot know the interior psychology of Jesus. So we don't know what he understood or thought or hoped as he died. The church has always insisted that Jesus was fully human. The death that he endured, he experienced as any human being would.
Mark's gospel indicates that part of what Jesus felt as he died was the experience of complete abandonment from God -- "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!" (15:34) Jesus had placed his hope in God for deliverance, and he realized that he was not going to be saved from death. Very likely he also felt the loss of the intimate relationship with God whom he called Abba; God had been the motivating center and energy of his life. For Jesus on the cross, God was absent. Jesus was suffering extreme physical torture; there was no escape; there was no answer; he was dying a humiliating, painful, public death; there was no promise that anything good would come out of this.
"In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries of tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission." We know the rest of the story. Jesus was vindicated. Jesus was raised from the dead. Jesus lives. But the living did not happen until after he experienced the pain and abandonment and death.
How often do we pray, and we experience no answer. We pray to God that God would save us, and we experience no sense of response, escape or deliverance. Yet the story of the resurrection reminds us that God brings life out of death. God can accomplish what is beyond our imagination. God surprises us. The scope of God's response is beyond our horizons.
So often when I see the grotesque suffering and senseless killing that fills our globe I feel like my prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who is able to save them from death are futile and hopeless. Nothing is changed. People die daily. Injustice abounds. For so many there is no escape; there is no answer.
Yet I cling to the hope of resurrection. God brings life from death. And I hold on to the conviction that the central reality of creation is God's love for the world. We hear that again from John's gospel today. "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." (John 3:16) I've never been convinced that this was merely a trivial formula for punching a ticket to heaven -- believe and get eternal life; don't believe and go to hell. That notion turns God into such an arbitrary monster.
The word "believe" comes from the same place as the word "belove." I think of those who do not know Jesus, but do know some form of love. Maybe they are somewhere in Sudan or Yemen or Afghanistan today. Maybe they are being caught up in some form of horrible violence, some terrible threat or torture from which there is no escape. Their love cries out with prayers and supplication, with loud cries of tears to the one who is able to save them from death. Regardless of their "belief," Jesus is with them. Jesus is one with them. Jesus knows and understands their experience. Their blood is their water of baptism. They will be heard, because of his reverent submission.
"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 3:17)