Mostly Dead?

The Princess Bride is one of the pinnacles of human achievement.  If you are not on board with this basic fact, I am not sure we have too much to say to each other.  (However, I am only going to talk about the movie for about 1 more  short paragraph, so I hope you will make it through.)

PBD127

There comes a point where the protagonist is thought to be defeated.  But it is explained  that all is not lost… He is only “Mostly dead.”  Our hero is revived (sort-of) and goes on to win the day.

The humor of this scene, of course, pivots on the fact that death is a binary condition; in other words, we either are dead, or are not dead.  There is no ‘mostly dead.’  Or at least it appears that way.  I am beginning to suspect that this scene, like much great humor, actually has a bit of wisdom running around beneath the surface.

I think that Jesus is a good illustration of the point.  It is not at all that Jesus was only “mostly dead.”  In fact, I think that Jesus was very, very dead.

There is of course, the physical aspect of it.  Sometimes (ok, most times) I suspect we Christians are a morbid and unhealthy group, and we spend too much time in grizzly love with the details of his execution.  On the whole, I don’t spend much time and energy pondering this aspect of things.  But I believe that they are true.  And they are relevant to the point at hand.  So consider, with me, the physical:

The number of lashes he was assigned to was nearly equal to the number given for a death sentence in the first place.  So he begins the whole process, “mostly dead.”

He is beaten repeatedly, forced to carry a cross large enough to nail him to.  His sentence is carried out.  Crucifixion is a diabolical, brilliant, despicable punishment.  But when he does not die fast enough, an impatient soldier finishes the job with his spear.

But the physical portion is just one aspect of the whole thing.

Jesus was dead politically.  Crucifixion was the worst that the Roman’s had.  It was reserved for the bottom of the barrel.  Subjecting him to this kind-of death was a way for him to be set apart by the authorities, marked as the worst among them.

Jesus was dead religiously.  The Hebrew authorities, who claimed authority over all aspects of his people’s lives, are the ones who turned him over because they did not have the ability to punish Jesus in the ways that they wanted to.

Jesus was dead socially.  He had invested in Judas, and in Peter.  There betrayal was only the most obvious.  Because the rest of them all scattered when things fell apart.

Jesus was dead idealogically.  He had made grand claims around who he was, and how things were changing.  And yet, it seemed like his drama was going to end just like all the others.

Jesus was as dead as dead could be.

The guy in the Princess Bride who brings back Wesley is named ‘Miracle Max.’  And bringing somebody back from physical death (even if it is only mostly dead) is a pretty cool miracle.

Yet…  Jesus’ return is a whole different thing.  It is not only a physical return.  His ressurection is also political, and religious, and social, and idealogical.  This is a pretty cool thing for lots of reasons.  But this morning, the thing I am thinking about is how this is something I get, too.  No matter how dead I am, no matter what ways I am dead, there is something more.

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Replays

Where were you when the World Trade Center fell?

That’s a defining moment for a generation.  And one of the things I remember about it was how they played that footage, over and over, for days.

It got so that we knew every plume of smoke, every flame, ever smashed detail of those buildings.  Watching that horror was terrible every single time.  It didn’t get easier.  I don’t know about you, but every single time I wanted it to stop.  There was a part of me that was in denial.  Each time it began, I wanted so much for it to end differently.

But of course it could not.   It had already happened.  That news footage was merely replaying what had gone on before.

Jesus knows the crucifixion has to happen.  He tells his followers who don’t really here him.  But he knows it’s going to go on.

I believe that the crucifixtion is many things.  One of them is replay of what happened in the Garden of Eden.  It’s like the camera’s have shifted, though, and now we’re seeing it from a different perspective.

The book of Genesis focuses on what it was like for the humans who betrayed God.

The Gospels focus on what it is was like for God when humans betrayed him.

If the Genesis account focused on humanity’s fear and foolishness, then the Gospel account focuses on the ways that God was hurt by these actions.

The crucifixion itself was inevitable.  Among other things, it was a replay of what had already happened.  God made himself vulnerable.  God was betrayed.  We chose to go on with out him.  Then things got ugly.

In Time, Outside of Time

A logical mind says that some things happen in time.  It is a little bit more abstract to suggest that there are things that are timeless, things that exist out of time.

It does not make sense to say that a thing happened in time and outside of time.  It seems like it needs to be one or the other.  But for the cross, it must be both.

If Jesus did not enter into time, if the cross is not a fact of history, then it means nothing.

But it had to be outside of time to.  I had not been born yet, of course, 2010 years ago.  But somehow Jesus’ sacrifice atoned for the sins I have committed in the past.  And for the sins I will commit in the future.

Like so many other myseries, we can use pretty language to obscure this issue, to make it appear less mysterious.  But we can’t avoid it’s fundamental strangeness.   Jesus was crucified in time and outside of time.

The importance of that act traveled backward in time, all the way back to Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden.  And it traveled foreward in time.  Until Jesus comes back.

In a way it is like an endless instant.  Jesus is still crucified.  (Equally important, the fact of the empty tomb is also an endless instant.  The tomb is still empty.)

This is why Jesus suffers with us.  And we suffer with Jesus.  And perhaps it is why, when we care for the suffering, we are caring for Jesus himself.

This is a reason to serve others: because in doing this, we are serving God himself.   It is often said that service is a form of worship.  I suspect that this is why: Because when we serve others, we are serving God, in the way that impacts him the most.

When I have been the poorest, this is when a gift of a few dollars has impacted me the most.  When I have been at my most lonely, this is when just half a smile from someone really touched me.  When I have been at my most afraid, this is when the smallest assurances have seemed the biggest.

It can’t be any different for God.

If God’s suffering was not real then none of it is.  Things more easily identified as worship might be enjoyed by him.  But there has never been a time that God was more vulnerable than when he was on the cross, a time when our actions impacted him the most deeply.

There are so many ways to serve others.  You don’t need me to list them.  When ever some one is suffering and you do something to ease their suffering, you are caring for Jesus himself, as he stands, nailed to the cross, beaten and bleeding.

Impossibly

The curtain fell with Jesus.

A great thing, which had stood with God hidden inside

Fell.

 

Did the first rendings in its fabric come before?

Was the curtain

Impossibly

Between that battered palm and the cross it would soon be nailed to?

 

Just as those few fishes

Impossibly

Fed hundreds

 

Just as the water

Impossibly

turned to wine

And wine

Impossibly

is His blood

 

Was the curtain

Impossibly

Between the palm and the wood?

 

When the nail was driven into the wood

Did a small hole appear somewhere

In that boundary around

The holy of holies?

 

Did the threads unwind around those little gashes silently?

Widening, widening

Was that fall a thing that appeared to happen so fast, but in fact was a long time in coming?

Sacrifice

As I’m getting close to the end of the fascinating novel “The Shack” I’m collecting some thoughts about Jesus.  These ideas were kind-of kicked off by the book.  For the most part, they aren’t directly out of the book.  It doesn’t say too much about the old testament and these realizations are mostly rooted in the old testament.

My first thought is that God doesn’t ask us to do anything that He wouldn’t first do himself.

He asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son.  He asked the Hebrews to turn over all the first borns.  But he gave Isaac a bail-out.  He told the Hebrews how to exempt their own first borns.

But he didn’t exempt Jesus.  I’d go so far as to say that it was because of Jesus that Abraham didn’t have to sacrifice his son; because of Jesus the Hebrews were able to spare their own first-borns.

Before I was a Christian, I used to think that God didn’t have the right to ask us of things, that he was so totally other that he couldn’t possibly truly know what it’s like to be human.  When I became a Christian, I got it that Jesus experienced it first hand. 

God the father subjecting Himself to the most horrifying expectation of the whole of the bible: the sacrifice of his son.  If he was willing and able to do this, what wouldn’t he do?

Rooms

Perhaps the rooms are nondescript.  Perhaps you don’t notice them because of the emotional intensity of the experience itself.

He  leads you into it.  He holds your hand.  You feel scratches from his palm on your own palm.  Skin that should be soft on his hand is scratchy.  It is scarred.

You sit down in an unremarkable chair.  And he stands with you for a time.  A time out of time, a timeless time.  You know that he is feeling such a powerful empathy for you.  It is almost a sadness.  And this is worrying. 

There is a door on the far side of the room.  This is not the door which you entered the room through.  It is the door he leaves the room through, though. 

And you wait for a timeless time.

You wait for long enough that you begin to wonder.  Have you been forgotten?  When He was here, you knew, with out a doubt, that you were so important to this all.  But now…

You think, absurdly, of those time in the doctors offices.  After you’d been lead out of the waiting room.  After you’d been lead to those little rooms.  But before the doctor makes it in.  Sometimes, the time would just stretch out and fold back on itself, and you would wonder if you had been forgotten.

It is a relief then when you sense someone in the next room.  He has returned.  You know that he is not alone.  It is not so much that they are making noises.  Perhaps it is that the air is moving around, something subliminal, inexplicable.

He enters back into the room through a door.  He enters first.  Later you think that perhaps he did this to reassure you.  He is still looking at you with such loving kindness.

Because the person who follows is the opposite.   The opposite of him.

Was there anyone in your childhood who hurt you?  Perhaps you were an adult.  Who hurt you the most… In the whole of your life; in the hole of your life, who hurt you the most?

That is the person who follows Jesus into that room.

Perhaps the person did something that would seem silly from the outside.  Perhaps the person did something that you can’t explain.  Perhaps the person should be in jail. 

It has probably been so many years since you have seen them.  And yet, still.  The body has it’s response.  A feeling in the stomach.  A clenching of the jaw.  And the anger, and the sadness, and the Great Question “Why?”

The question to them and the question to Him.  “Why?”

There are no answers to that question in this room.  Does He tell you that?  Or do you only think it?  I think that He says that the question will be answered.  But not in this room.  Not now.

And there is you.  And there is them.  And there is this silence.  And there is Him.

What will you do.

He asks that.  You are sure of it.  I am sure of it.  He asks, “What will you do.”

You think first that there should be an explanation.  The one who hurt you should have something to say for themself.    Perhaps it was his own childhood.  Perhaps there was something else going on, some greater good.  At least, you might hope for an apology.

But it is not the time for that.

There is only the question “What will you do?”

And you want to know what the question means.  I want to know what that question means.

Does your decision– does my decision– render some sort of verdict?  Will we, the one who suffered so, determine this final fate?

But it does not matter.  What does matter is the answer to the question “What will you do?”

And so that question is asked, out loud again.

And it becomes clear that the question is not as open ended as it seems.  It is really a multiple choice question.  There are actually only a) and b)

“What will you do?”  Really means “Will you forgive?”

With out explanation?  Without apology?  Will you forgive?

With something like anger you wonder: is this it?  Are these the rooms he went before us to prepare for us?

I know that the only way I will forgive is if He helps me to forgive.  I think that’s true of you, too.  This forgiveness is such a ludicrious thing, such an over the top thing.  How could we possibly do it on our own?

But if He helps us we will.  And if we do He will take us through that door on the other side of the room, the one he lead the other person through.

I don’t know what happens to the person who hurt us when we were a child.  I do not know if our forgivenenss frees them.  I don’t know if our failure to forgive leads to something else, somewhere else. 

If you make the decision to forgive, the person will simply fade from view.

But I know that someone else will be sitting in that next room, now, by the time that we enter it.

Will it be someone we recognize?  Will it be someone we remember? 

It will be someone we hurt once.

Perhaps not the same.  Perhaps because of the one who hurt us.  Perhaps we had our reasons.  Perhaps we don’t understand them.

The person who sits in the nondescript seat was growing impatient.  And their is such a terrible recognition in the look that crosses their face.  And you will know that it is not the time for explanations.  The jaw clenches.  The hands ball into fists.  The eyes fill up and they look away from you.

You will stand before the one you hurt.

And you will wonder what he will do.

And when he makes his decision, there is third room that you will find yourself in.  You will fade from that person’s view and fade yourself in that third room.

You will not know how you got into that third room.

But you are alone and their are no doors. 

There is just this mirror.

How could there be a room with no doors?

There are no windows, just this mirror.

But it is not a mirror at all.  You thought there was.  But the thing that you assumed to be your reflection does not move when you move.  A perfect reproduction of yourself occupies the other half of the doorless/windowless room.  The other-you seems just as lost, lonely, and confused as you know you are.

And you are standing before yourself.

And the question is this:

What will you do?

You have hurt yourself.  You have not become who you were meant to be.  You will see the fullness of what you should have been.  You will see what in fact you have chosen to become.

You have caused yourself such pain.

You have caused others pain.  You have let them down.  You have reached deeply inside of them and you hurt them.

What will you do?

Will you forgive?

And if you do you will find Him again.

And you will stand before him and he will be nailed to a cross.

And you put the nails in.

I put the nails in.

What will he do?

When it is finished you walk through a doorway that you did not notice.  It is beneath the cross, off-center.  It does not lead to another room.  It leads to the outside.  Golden sunlight filters in.  A soft breeze.

This is the beginning of the beginning, you realize as you walk through it.

“Why Have you Forsaken me?”

It’s common knowledge that Jesus hung on the cross and right before his death said words that translate into English as “God, why have you forsaken me?”

If you’ve ever discussed this with many Christian or followed the cross-references on a study bible, you know that this Jesus is quoting Psalm 22. 

I often thought that the reference to the psalm was meant to indicate that Jesus wasn’t as forlorn as he appears.  I thought that the argument went something like this: the psalm ends on an uplifting note.  Jesus began the psalm as a  shorthand to indicate he wasn’t as lonely or desperate as those words taken out of context might make it appear.

  I was contemplating this as I read through the psalms.  I decided it’s both too simplistic and too easy to simply decide that Jesus was talking in some sort of code.

Certainly he was quoting the psalm.  There are portions of it which appear more true for Jesus and his circumstances than any one else, ever.  For example, “But I am…scorned by men and despised by the people.   All who see me mock me;  they hurl insults, shaking their heads…Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you even at my mother’s breast.  From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God… They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing. All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD,  and all the families of the nations  will bow down before him” The end of the psalm continues in this veign.  It’s hard to imagine how you could interpret the last several verses as anything but a prophecy around Jesus’ return.  (No disrespect meant to the Jewish, here.)

My point is this: Jesus certainly meant this as a reminder, a proclamation, a proof of what he was going through.  And it certainly is a model for what we should do, when we feel furthest from God, so distant and abondoned.  The awesome thing about scripture is that it is such a thorough expression of all elements of human experience.  When we don’t have words for a certain situation, we can be guarenteed, that somewhere in scripture somebody has said just what we wish we had words for.  When words escape us, we can latch on to the words of David or Solomon or Jesus or Mary to express what we otherwise couldn’t.

However, in that particular situation, there’s an upper limit to how much comfort Jesus could have recieved by leaning on scripture.  Given who he was and what had to happen, there is so way around the fact that feeling unimaginably desolate, isolated and cut off had to Jesus experience.

There’s two reasons that I believe this.  I don’t quite know if they are two seperate arguments or two different sides of the same coin.  (Any opinions out there)

First reason: In some hard to understand and explain way, Jesus was taking on the sin of the world.  If God could abide sin, he wouldn’t have needed Jesus to take it from humanity in the first place.  By definition, the eternal communion between God and Jesus had to be shattered if the crucifixion were to mean anything at all.

Second reason: Jesus has moral authority over our lives because he lived as we lived.  If Jesus hadn’t come down he’d certainly have a metaphysical authority.  But because he was faced with the same realities we face and he did exactly what is right in every circumstance, he has a certain credibility he’d otherwise be lacking.

Throughout our lives we will experience peaks and valleys in terms of how close we feel to God.  Through most of his life, Jesus, appears unimaginably close to God the Father.  If Jesus never experienced seperation from God, it’d be reasonable to say “Well, it’s not really a fair comparison.  Jesus was able to be act rightous because of his closeness to God.”

So, that’s how I see it.  What do you think?  (It’s been awfully lonely at Jeff’s Deep Thoughts lately.  I’m hoping somebody tosses out a comment here.)

 
 

 

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
       Why are you so far from saving me,
       so far from the words of my groaning?

 2 O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
       by night, and am not silent.

 3 Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
       you are the praise of Israel. [a]

 4 In you our fathers put their trust;
       they trusted and you delivered them.

 5 They cried to you and were saved;
       in you they trusted and were not disappointed.

 6 But I am a worm and not a man,
       scorned by men and despised by the people.

 7 All who see me mock me;
       they hurl insults, shaking their heads:

 8 “He trusts in the LORD;
       let the LORD rescue him.
       Let him deliver him,
       since he delights in him.”

 9 Yet you brought me out of the womb;
       you made me trust in you
       even at my mother’s breast.

 10 From birth I was cast upon you;
       from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

 11 Do not be far from me,
       for trouble is near
       and there is no one to help.

 12 Many bulls surround me;
       strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.

 13 Roaring lions tearing their prey
       open their mouths wide against me.

 14 I am poured out like water,
       and all my bones are out of joint.
       My heart has turned to wax;
       it has melted away within me.

 15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd,
       and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
       you lay me [b] in the dust of death.

 16 Dogs have surrounded me;
       a band of evil men has encircled me,
       they have pierced [c] my hands and my feet.

 17 I can count all my bones;
       people stare and gloat over me.

 18 They divide my garments among them
       and cast lots for my clothing.

 19 But you, O LORD, be not far off;
       O my Strength, come quickly to help me.

 20 Deliver my life from the sword,
       my precious life from the power of the dogs.

 21 Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;
       save [d] me from the horns of the wild oxen.

 22 I will declare your name to my brothers;
       in the congregation I will praise you.

 23 You who fear the LORD, praise him!
       All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
       Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!

 24 For he has not despised or disdained
       the suffering of the afflicted one;
       he has not hidden his face from him
       but has listened to his cry for help.

 25 From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
       before those who fear you [e] will I fulfill my vows.

 26 The poor will eat and be satisfied;
       they who seek the LORD will praise him—
       may your hearts live forever!

 27 All the ends of the earth
       will remember and turn to the LORD,
       and all the families of the nations
       will bow down before him,

 28 for dominion belongs to the LORD
       and he rules over the nations.

 29 All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
       all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
       those who cannot keep themselves alive.

 30 Posterity will serve him;
       future generations will be told about the Lord.

 31 They will proclaim his righteousness
       to a people yet unborn—
       for he has done it.