Psalm 63:1-8(9-11), 98 (Morning)
Psalm 103 (Evening)
When I was a kid, I was always fascinated by the stories of pioneers. I really liked the idea of setting foot in an undiscovered land and carving out a little hole that was “all mine.” One of my favorite movies that showed up annually on TV in my growing up years was “How the West Was Won,” and I’d bargain to stay up and watch all 164 minutes of it. It was not uncommon, in my backyard play time, for my dog Peetee and me to be holed up in a cardboard box, a makeshift igloo, a wooden crate, or a couple of sheets strung over the clothes line like a tent, pretending to be explorers or settlers. Of course, we always found our way out of starvation, yellow fever, vicious wolf packs, blizzards, or flash floods–a far different outcome than pioneers typically experienced. The reality is that real pioneers suffered–a lot.
Our reading today in Hebrews takes us into the notion of Jesus as a pioneer of salvation, and we generally don’t like to think about his human suffering as an equal part of his being that pioneer. We prefer to think about the resurrected Christ as being the sole author of that. It’s why, by and large, people prefer crosses to crucifixes, and even why the trendy megachurch thing is to have no crosses at all. The words of one area megachurch’s website near me used to proclaim, “We don’t fill our worship space with crosses, crucifixes or other sad and depressing images of Jesus because we celebrate our life with the risen Christ as our personal Lord and Savior.” It’s actually easier than one might think to see Jesus as a pioneer no different than the kind of pioneer I was portraying with my dog Peetee.
The fact is, we can’t have the Resurrection without the Crucifixion. Destroying the finality of the grave…well…it does require a grave, and a dead person in it. That’s a rather inescapable fact. Yet, it’s also incredibly difficult to reconcile ourselves to the “why” of the Crucifixion, and it’s one of the most basic, albeit inescapably difficult, questions those who are outside the faith put out there in their refusal. We have struggled with that one for centuries and we still struggle with it. However, it doesn’t feel very “pioneering.”
The one thing that all pioneers have in common, I believe, is the act of placing hope in the future generation as well as in their own personal hopes. The hope of all pioneers is that what was a struggle for them becomes commonplace for those after them. It’s a selfless love in which the recipient can’t always be seen at the time. Pioneering hope is paradoxical, because the pioneer hopes that future generations don’t have to think about suffering like they did, and the result is, unfortunately, that the succeeding generations often don’t. I know I certainly don’t spend much time thinking about my ancestors who had to clear hundreds of trees by hand to eke out 40 acres of tillable farmland.
Lent is a time in our calendar to be a little more intentional about the legacy of the Crucifixion–an avenue simply to understand that Jesus opened up a new way for the whole God-self of the Trinity to understand the depths of our own human suffering. We can grow to trust that God understands our grief at the loss of a loved one, because Jesus wept upon hearing of the death of his friend Lazarus. We can believe that God understands our fears and uncertainties because Jesus feared greatly in the Garden of Gethsemane. We can believe that God will not abandon us in our own deaths because Jesus knew exactly what the last breaths of a human being feel like. Perhaps being the pioneer of our salvation is really simply the act of God experiencing what we do, in exactly the ways we do it.
What are the episodes in your life when you needed the pioneering human experience of Jesus, who bled and cried and sobbed and died just like we do?
Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid