Luke 18: 31-43
Let us pray. Holy God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you O God, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
In book group this past month we read “The Warmth of Other Suns” by Isabel Wilkerson. In this amazing book, she tells a story I was never told in school. The way African American history was taught to me, was that the Civil War goes right into the Civil rights movement. But it turns out, there is an incredible story to be told about those 80-90 intervening years. A story of a great migration where over 6 million African Americans quietly left the Jim Crow South in search of a new life in the North and West. Reading that book opened deeper understanding of who we are as a country and how we got here. It surfaced stories for me that I had not understood and realities that had been hidden to me.
All of this got me thinking about the stories of our faith – the stories we hear and that define us. It got me thinking particularly of the central story of our faith. One that we will soon recount again.
I am speaking of course about the story that Jesus is telling the disciples in the Scripture for today as they walk that dusty road towards Jerusalem.
It is the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, his last meal with his friends, his betrayal, arrest, his humiliation, trial and execution. It is the story of his burial and of his resurrection. It is the story of his gathering again with his friends. This is the central story of the Christian faith. This is the story through which we come to see Jesus as The Christ.
But as Jesus tells this story to the disciples in the Scripture today, they do not understand it. It is hidden to them. And even as they live into it what is to come, they will not understand.
And this got me wondering, Do we? Do we understand? Could there be more to this story that has been hidden to us in these intervening 2000 years?
For we have understood this central story of our faith to be about how Jesus gave his life to save us. We have understood the story to be about his ultimate sacrifice on our behalf? And the defining image or symbol, short hand so to speak for this story is — the cross. The cross stands at the apex of the Christ Event and casts a long shadow. In fact for many the shadow it casts falls not just across the events of Holy week, but across Jesus’ entire life. Some understand that the reason Jesus lived, was so that he could die, die a cross death for us.
And why was that necessary? The story goes — Because of our sin, our guilt, our fallibility that tipped creation out of harmony and set into motion pain, destruction and even death. Our sin was so great, that there was nothing we could possibly do to atone for it. There was nothing we could do to appease God. And so Jesus came to die to settle the score and restored us to God’s good grace.
There is truth in this. We have fallen down, and fallen away. We have caused much hurt. The earth groans. And so too, our brothers and sisters. We need to repent and ask for forgiveness. That is why we pray for God’s grace every Sunday morning.
But I do not think this brokenness and the need for atonement is the whole story. I do not think that it is even the defining narrative of our relationship with our heavenly parent, or the central story of our faith. I think there is more.
There is another telling of the story that has been a thin thread pulled through a thick fabric of theology, but never lost to us completely. There is another telling of the story that is emerging now and is shining greater clarity and awakening greater understanding. It is helping to make the old story new and bringing to light that which has been hidden. And it also alters our understanding of ourselves for it redefines us in a radically new way.
An interpretive clue, to this new telling of the old story is seen in the Scripture passage for today.
Jesus has just told the disciples what is to happen when they get to Jerusalem. They do not understand what he is saying and so, in the very next moment, Jesus opens up for them an opportunity to see what it is he has just told them is coming.
The story of the blind man becomes the interpretive script so to speak, a condensed enactment of what the meaning behind all that will enfold in that week we have come to call Holy.
Jesus hears the cry of the blind man. He stand still, he asks that the man be brought to him. He asks the man what he wants. He then makes real the man’s deep desiring, and the man is healed not just of his blindness, but is made whole in that he is drawn back now into community. And instead of cries for help, his lips proclaim the glory of God!
And of course this story is not unique. Over and over again throughout the Gospel accounts we have been hearing this story as people who were cast out and cast down are brought in and lifted up again to healing and wholeness, and brought back into community. Jesus whole ministry has been about creating the beloved community through the communion of forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration, through the communion of love.
Can you begin to see it?
Jesus’ death on the cross was surely a profoundly traumatic event for his followers. It was so inconceivable to them that Jesus ministry would end in that way that the trauma and dissonance of his death shook them to their very core. Telling the story that the cross was part of God’s plan from the beginning was one way to deal and perhaps heal from that trauma. But I am coming to see that it is not the whole story.
For I have come to see the defining symbol of Jesus the Christ as not the cross but instead, as the communion table. The table, that place of encounter, of forgiveness, reconciliation, welcome, belonging.
The old story that needs to be told, that we have forgotten, and that is needed if we are to truly understand and see who it is that bids us follow, is one of communion, not just sacrifice. Jesus was willing to offer up his life to be sure, if it came to that, in order for us to trust and to see and know that — not doubt, not betrayal, not fear, not even a cross death can separate us from the communion of love that binds us one to another and to God as one people, one family, one creation, blessed from the beginning and welcomed home to that blessing time and time again. The powers and principalities could not tolerate that message of deliverance, of love, freedom, reconciliation and new life that Jesus was bringing into the world. And so, for that he was killed.
I am coming to see that the cross was a consequence, rather than the purpose of Jesus life, death and resurrection. The purpose of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection was, is and forever will be the communion of Love.
This is what the Easter story is all about. It is the story of the communion of Love that could not be silenced by the harrowing events of Holy Week. It is the story that lives even when the powers and principalities of the day tried to undo it by trying to sideline and silence Jesus, by killing him and scattering the community that followed him.
But it did not work! Love stepped out of the tomb and gathered us into a communion that lives on and that shows us that this communion, this life of Jesus our Christ, this way of being with each other and with God not only withstands hate, violence and even death but can even – transform it.
Communion I will go on to say, is also the purpose of Church. We celebrate communion on the first Sunday of the month but we are to be communion every day. We are to be a reconciled people, forgiven and forgiving, taking up our place in the circle of God’s steadfast love. We are to let that love flow into us, healing and bringing us to wholeness. And we are to be instruments of that love, working towards healing and wholeness for others and for the world. This is how we are to be redefined by this story.
I do not want to sound melodramatic here, but I do believe that if our world is going to live then it will only do so through rediscovering the story of communion and the power within it. We have been locked into a narrative of violence, sacrifice, suffering and making someone pay. We must begin to tell the old story anew. The story that holds at its core reconciliation, forgiveness, healing, wholeness and the transformational power of love.
This particular story of communion is ours, but God’s communion embraces by its very constitution, other narratives of reconciliation, peace, forgiveness, healing told by our brothers and sister of other faiths and of other people of good will. We are all children of God, welcomed to God’s table of love, justice, reconciliation, peace and community.
So, dear Union Church, let us recount this story of communion reclaim it as a central story of our faith. Let it redefine us in a new light. Let us recount it not just in words but in actions. Not just here in these walls but out in the world. It is a story that our frightened, hurting and broken world needs so much to hear and to begin to live into. It is why we are here and it is what we are called to be. Thanks be to the communion of Love, now and forever. Amen