Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Remembering the Cross ~ 3

When I was a little girl, I looked at pictures of Jesus dying, the crown of thorns pressed around his head and the blood trickling down his face.  I saw the gash in his side.  His kind eyes gazed on the people below. And the nails.  The enormous nails.  
I wondered why Jesus had to die.

And for the life of me, I couldn't figure out how the same people who welcomed as a king on Sunday called for his crucifixion on Friday.  It just didn't make sense.  It still doesn't.  

It’s hard to imagine why this story might end in crucifixion.  Jesus healed sick people.  He restored sight.  On at least two occasions, dead people woke up.  Everyone knew what Jesus did.  They all talked about it.  They hoped he was the promised Messiah, the King and Redeemer predicted by the prophets.

But Jesus wasn’t quite the Messiah the people hoped for.  He wasn’t the king they had in mind. 

Jesus defied the traditions.  He worked on the Sabbath, if you call healing a man's twisted hands work.  He didn't stop his disciples, who picked grain on the Sabbath because they were hungry.  When the Pharisees called him on it, he compared himself to King David.  

Worse, Jesus ate with sinners.  He talked to women and Romans and Samaritans, hated and despised members of society.  A good man didn't do such things.  

And Jesus said crazy things like, “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in you.”  What does that even mean?

He said he would tear down the temple and build it again in three days.   Everyone knows that's impossible.

He awarded forgiveness to people who had no right to be forgiven. Only God can do that.

He said he was God; the Pharisees said he was from the devil,

The people began to wonder, and they began to ask questions:

Are you really the one promised by God? 
Where do you get your wisdom? 
Why don’t you follow the traditions?
Why do you behave unlawfully? 
Why do you eat with tax collectors and other sinners? 

Who are you?
Are you the king of the Jews?
Are you the Messiah, the son of the Blessed God? 

Jesus answered their questions with parables and riddles that just didn't make sense, and then he asked his own questions.

Who do you say I am?
Do you believe in the Son of Man?
Can you drink the cup I’m going to drink? 

If any of you want to follow me, he said, you must first take up your cross. 

Jesus was not the king they wanted.   He challenged too many traditions.  He didn’t free them from the Romans, and he asked too much of the people.

Jesus asks a lot.  He asks for everything, and following Jesus isn’t always easy.  Sometimes he doesn’t answer our prayers the way we want, and sometimes life is hard.  Sometimes we ask, “Where is God?  Doesn’t he see me?  Doesn’t he care?

We all have these moments, moments when we feel abandoned by God.  He doesn't come through for us like we thought he should, like we thought he would.

I have had those moments, moments when my prayers looked more like arguments with God than prayers.  

My first miscarriage.  

Aren't I a good mother, God? What did I do to deserve this?  
Don't you care? Why did you allow this?

When my daughter questioned the existence of God.  

This isn't the way it's supposed to be, God.  
I raised my children to love you.  
You promised they would follow you if I raised them like that.

When my son moved to Alabama.  I knew he wasn't just changing geographical locations.  In his search for self, he rejected everything we stood for.  

Don't you hear me, God?  
What are you going to do?  Where are you?  
My heart is breaking.
You've used us in the lives of other people's kids.  
Why didn't you send someone for our kids?

Where are you God?  Why don’t you care?  Why should I care about you?

We all have these moments.  They're connected to marriage, to singleness, to money, to children, to relationship failures, to sickness, to death. 

They're related to wanting and expecting perfection in an imperfect world.

Just as Jesus didn’t come to deliver the Jews from the Romans, but from a deeper problem, he didn’t come to rescue us from all our difficulties.  Jesus didn’t come to give us an easy life.

Jesus came to restore what was lost when we turned our backs on God.  He came to connect us to the living God by taking the punishment for our sin.  He came to restore our relationship with the God who created us.  He came to free us. 

The priests in Jesus’ day accused him of treason against God and against Rome, and when the Roman governor sentenced him to death, the chief priests called out, “Crucify him!” and then the people called together, “Crucify him!  Crucify him!” 

And then they declared, “He is not our king.  We have no king but Caesar.”

The people God loves reject his Son.  The Messiah doesn’t meet their expectations, and so they turn their back on him.

We like to think we would be different, and yet we call out “crucify him” every time we turn on our backs on the Lord who loves us so deeply.  

If we pause, we can hear Jesus' voice, asking:

Who do you say I am?
Do you believe in the Son of Man?
Can you drink the cup I’m going to drink? 

If you want to follow me, you must take up your cross, just as I took up mine.

We must remember these moments because they remind us why Jesus came.  Why Jesus had to die.

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