Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. . . .
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.
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Best and Worst of the Faith
Thursday of Lent 5
26 March 2015
We Christians invite our unchurched friends and neighbors to church for the days of the Easter Feast: Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. Perhaps we should rethink that plan. Let's remember what they are being invited to hear and witness: the betrayal, arrest, torture, execution, burial, and resurrection of God's only begotten Son. We are rubbing their noses in the weakness and humility of God. The very thing which our unchurched guests are most willing to doubt, reject, mock and even abhor is the very thing which the church portrays before those who attend the services of the Triduum (the Three Days). From the perspective of human wisdom and the advertising campaign mentality that arises from human minds, this is a plan that needs drastic revision. Indeed, organizations that call themselves churches have now begun to embark on the effort to take all the messiness and weakness out of the Easter celebration; touting all the joys of the season, without walking to Calvary's blood-spattered hill with Jesus.
If there is no death of Christ, the resurrection of Christ is simply unnecessary. Why hope for the resurrection of someone whose death is not taken seriously enough even to commemorate? Unfortunately, our view of the Christian religion is so shallow that we are trying to erase the memory of Christ's suffering and death from the consciousness of the church. It seems to me, though, that "outing" all of Christianity's big, ugly issues on the holy festival days is exactly the sign of authenticity that the church really needs. We aren't hiding anything from anyone. There is no "bait and switch" going on. Here is Christ on the cross. This death tells us who we are and what our religion means. Christ's ignominious death and His powerful resurrection are the theme of every Christian solemnity. Such an insight almost denatures the old joke about the occasional church attendee who upon greeting the pastor at the door of the church on Easter Sunday says, "Reverend, I don't know why I bother to come back here, because every time I come here, you talk about the death and resurrection of Jesus." On some level, that is true every time the church gathers to hear God's Word, because the Church participates in that death and resurrection.
Christ's death is our death. Christ's resurrection from the dead is our resurrection from the dead. This Word of God repeatedly kills the old man, who would flee from such a death and would mock the reality of such a resurrection. This counter-intuitive instruction is a mandate from our Lord Jesus who wants to kill His Church, that He might raise her to newness of life in Himself. This is what the Triduum is about. Amazingly, young people today are attracted to this drama of salvation in ways that mock the spiritual laziness of previous generations, especially my own. However, I should not be so amazed that the Word of God has its own powerful attraction. The church needs to be faithful to the proclamation of the death and resurrection of Jesus. That message is the heart of her teaching, even if it is a burdening proclamation. At the Triduum we offer the best and the worst of our faith. And they are the same thing.
"The things that were done [to Him] go beyond all language. For as though they were afraid that they should fall in any way short in the crime of having killed the prophets with their own hands, this man with the sentence of a judge, they do in every deed. They make it the work of their own hands and condemn and sentence Him both among themselves and before Pilate, saying, 'Let his blood be on us and on our children!' (Mt 27:25). By insulting Him, treating Him spitefully, binding Him, leading Him away, they render themselves authors of the spiteful acts done by the soldiers, and nail Him to the cross. They revile Him, spit at Him, and deride Him. For Pilate contributed nothing in this matter, but they themselves did everything, becoming judge, jury, executioner, and all.
"These things are read among us, when we all meet together. For unbelievers may not say that you display to people and nations only the things that are glorious and illustrious, such as the signs and miracles, but you hide these matters of reproach. The grace of the Spirit brought it to pass that in the full festival, when masses of men and women are present, when all are together at the Great Vigil of Easter, then all these things should be read. When the whole world is present, then all these acts are proclaimed with a clear voice. This is read and made known to all, that Christ is believed to be God and, besides all the other things, is worshiped, especially because of this that He chose to stoop so low for us as actually to suffer these things and to teach us in every kind of virtue.
"These things then let us read continually. For indeed great is the gain, great the advantage to be obtained from it. For when You see Him, both by gestures and by words, mocked and worshiped with so much derision, and beaten and suffering the most extreme insults, though you be stone itself, you will become softer than any wax and cast out of your soul all pride."
John Chrysostom, Homilies on Matthew, 87.1
Almighty God, graciously behold this Your family for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed and delivered into the hands of sinful men to suffer death upon the cross; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
For those who do not know the meaning of the weakness of God in Christ, that they would find at the foot of the cross the wisdom of God and the righteousness of God
For all those who travel as a condition of their employment, that they might be assured that holy angels are watching over them wherever their vocation takes them
For Simon Makangula, that the Lord Jesus would watch over him granting strength and hope to him by the Holy Spirit
Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias Isenheim Altarpiece (1515)
© Scott R. Murray, 2015