He Is Not Here

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. —Mark 16.1–8

Sorrow and Love Flow Mingled Down

When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast, save in the death of Christ, my God;
All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to his blood.

See, from his head, his hands, his feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did ever such love and sorrow meet, or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.

—Isaac Watts

Το Σωμα Μου

Body and Blood

While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

В рабском виде Царь небесный

Эти бедные селенья,
Эта скудная природа–
Край родной долготерпенья,
Край ты русского народа!

Не поймет и не заметит
Гордый взор иноплеменный,
Что сквозит и тайно светит
В наготе твоей смиренной.

Удрученный ношей крестной,
Всю тебя, земля родная,
В рабском виде Царь небесный
Исходил, благословляя.
—Федор Иванович Тютчев

These poor villages,
this sorry nature!
Long suffering is native to you,
land of our Russian people!

The proud foreign glance
cannot comprehend – would not even notice! –
what shines secretly through
your humble nakedness.

Burdened by his cross,
throughout your length and breadth,
in the rags of a slave, the Heavenly King
has walked, blessing you, my native land!
—Fyodor Ivanovich Tyutchev

(Russian text from http://az.lib.ru/t/tjutchew_f_i/text_0010.shtml)
(English text from http://lib.bigmir.net/read.php?e=4611)

Today, Tomorrow, and the Next Day

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’ ” —Luke 13.31–35

Sex Doesn’t Sell

I stole the title of the post from the title of this CNN article, which is about how poorly R- and NC17-rated movies are doing. If you read the article, you’ll notice that the only people they talked to were movie theater owners, studio execs, and the like — all “industry insiders.” You’d think someone would have the brains enough to actually ask theater-goers why they don’t see these movies (hello? maybe they suck?) instead of listen to a bunch of Hollywood yuppies wail about how we live in a Puritan society… or am I wrong?

I Came to Bring Fire to the Earth

Some of us Christians have taken Jesus a little too far down the path of peace and docility. Jesus did indeed preach peace and non-violence, but in a very passionate and extreme way! Some of his most intriguing and puzzling sayings are those which seem to fly in the face of our sophisticated and enlightened views of what Jesus was actually here to do:

“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

For all our talk of a man who insisted that we turn the other cheek, love our enemies, bless those who curse us, all propositions that as good Christians we of course affirm but rarely believe in and embrace on a deep and convicting level, this was someone who had suffered no illusion about the situation into which he was entering and how explosive and revolutionary the implications of what he said were for this dark and evil world.

It seems to me that many of us who grow up in the homes ranging from the evangelical to the even more extreme versions of American Christianity and then go on to learn more about our faith experience a kind of metamorphosis in our thinking as to who Jesus actually was. For me, essential convictions about the person of Christ have not changed much, but there is so much more than just the belief that Jesus is the Son of God! It’s staggering to consider how much human brainpower, intellect, and talent have gone into the question of what the hell he was actually saying and doing amongst us. And I believe it’s a worthy enterprise for the genuine disciple of Christ, for, as he himself said, “Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me.” (Jn. 12.44,45) Learning more about Jesus is learning more about God.

Learning about Jesus, then, and learning that there area lot of things you have assumed about Jesus or taken for granted that just simply are not true is at once scary and invigorating, stimulating even. You want to know more.

This is true for the person who grows up with a ruthless, almost cutthroat view of the world and of others, who then realizes that Jesus was almost the opposite of the American “religious right” in their views of war and violence and consideration for the other, and then comes across these “difficult” sayings of Jesus. Didn’t he come to bring harmony and reconciliation and peace? Actually, he knows for certain that that is the last result (literally) he is expecting from what he is doing on earth.

I love the version of this saying of Jesus in Thomas (logion 10):

“I have cast fire upon the world, and look, I’m guarding it until it blazes.”

This guy is not just ruefully aware of the unfortunate side effects of his words and actions; he’s looking for a fight! I wonder what “emergent” people like Brian McLaren (love his books, by the way) think of his attitude. It’s so, I don’t know, hardcore!

So what has Jesus come to violently combat? to throw into chaos? to stir up to a blazing inferno? Jesus’ words in John give us a clue, I think. There is one passage in particular that, as a Christian, a disciple in the most naïve, implulsive, and gung-ho sense of the word, I get goose bumps when I read and am ready to go! Here it is:

“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say – ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

As a disciple, there is so much to get excited about in these few verses. The emotional predicament in which Jesus finds himself, his choice to glorify the Father instead of giving in to his own fears and discomfort, the affirmation and approval of the Father in an audible and thunderous manner, the ignorance of the crowd, Jesus’ dramatic judgment on the dominion of the ruler of this world and on that ruler himself, and of course the image of Jesus’ elevation (like Nehushtan in the wilderness) and the drawing together of all the peoples of the earth to him. That’s what Jesus is doing!

He wasn’t just a hapless victim of the evil machinations of a religious elite intent on retaining their petty positions of power over the poor and unfortunate. He was bringing the fight to the arch-fiend himself, the ruler of this evil dominion of darkness and death. And he knew the costs of bringing that fight to the enemy’s doorstep. And I think it’s a cost that we have yet to begin to fathom.

In doing what he did, Jesus “cast fire upon the earth.” Those who responded to this burst of light in the midst of all this darkness and chose to be in it also chose to stand with Jesus in opposition to the prinicipalities of this world. And taking the stand against the modus operandi of this world, violence, avarice, ambition, self-entitlement, we as Jesus’ followers are asking for violence. More and more I come to believe that if we aren’t experiencing at least a taste of what Jesus did, we are probably not doing our best to follow in his footsteps.

Looking at Jesus’ last week in Jerusalem from this angle makes it relatively easy to see why he suffered the death he did. It is also easy to imagine how we could have easily been the ones to bring that fate to him with our own hands. Jesus didn’t come to Jerusalem just to die; he came to shake the very foundations of this world order. How are we going to follow our master’s lead?