Sunday, April 17, 2011

Lenten Meditations on the Last Words of Christ - Week 6

"It is finished" (John 19:30) and "Father into your hands I commend my spirit." (Luke 23:46)

When the Allied Forces successfully invaded France on D-Day it marked the beginning of the end of World War II. That victory all but assured the ultimate defeat of the Nazis. It was only a matter of time to finish the job. Certainly there were many more battles to fight, but once the Allies were able to establish their front lines there was no hope for a German victory.

Jesus came preaching, "The Kingdom of God is near!" Jesus spoke more about the establishment of God's Kingdom than anything else. All that he did was oriented towards this message. The miracles he performed were signs of the presence of the Kingdom. He cast out demons, healed the sick, gave sight to the blind and forgave sins all to demonstrate that in the Kingdom of God there is no enemy, no disease, no blindness, and no sin. In short, Jesus came to establish a beachhead for the Kingdom of God to defeat the works of the devil and redeem our fallen world.

Hanging on the cross, Jesus was aware that he had accomplished his mission. By his death and coming resurrection he would guarantee God's victory over sin and death. He had withstood all that Satan and this world could throw at him. He wrestled with the weakness of human nature and triumphed through obedience. He took on our loneliness, fear, and pain. He endured insults, curses and temptation. He did it all, and when the last enemy, death itself, came to claim him he proclaimed, "It is finished" and entrusted himself to his Father. He gave his life; it was not taken from him.

Jesus' victory on the cross won our salvation and liberated us from sin and death, just like the people of Nazi occupied territories were freed by the Allies after D-Day. There are still many battles ahead and the way is not easy. The enemy stills claim victims and inflicts casualties while fighting a losing effort. But we can draw strength from knowing that while there are battles to fight the war has been won. If we endure we will win. This is what Paul means when he writes:

"No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Rom. 8:37-39)

As our Lenten journey draws to a close let us look forward with hope that we too can experience the power and presence of God's Kingdom in our lives as we wait for the day when the last battle is done and we can enter into the rest that Jesus has prepared for us.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Lenten Meditations on the Last Words of Christ - Week 5

"I thirst." (John 19:28)

It’s approaching three o’clock in the afternoon. For nearly 20 hours Jesus has endured torturous treatment at the hands of the chief priests and Romans. He’s been tried, beaten, scourged, dragged his cross through the city and finally nailed to it. Since noon he’s hung on the cross, the hot sun beating down on him. He called to mind Psalm 22 when he said, “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?” That Psalm goes on to describe his condition when it says, “My mouth is dried up like clay, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.”

But, Christ's thirst was for more than water, and his words call out to each of us today just as they did to those at the foot of the cross. Jesus thirsts for us. Stop and think about that for a moment. God longs for us. His desire for us isn't born out of necessity, as if there is something lacking in God, but springs from his love for us. He longs for us to know him because he knows that only then will we be fulfilled. The only thing that will bring us true joy and healing is relationship with him and he thirsts for us to enter into that peace.

At the same time we thirst for God whether we realize it or not. In the words of the Psalmist, "As the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God. My being thirsts for God, the living God." (Ps 42) When Jesus called out from the cross those standing nearby offered him a sponge soaked in vinegar to drink. Have you ever tried to drink straight vinegar? It's not exactly a thirst quencher. Yet every day we choose the vinegar of sin to try to quench our thirst rather than come to Jesus who offers living water.

Jesus calls out from the cross to let us know that he longs for us who unknowingly thirst for him. This Lenten season may we choose to drink deeply of the living water Jesus offers through having a personal relationship with him.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Lenten Meditations on the Last Words of Christ - Week 4

"My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46)

Where was God when the earthquake and tsunami struck Japan? Is he all powerful but uncaring, or is he all loving but impotent? Why did he allow so many innocent people be washed away? Where is God when over 1 million abortions take place each year in United States alone? Why did God allow the cancer to return? Where is God when life hurts?

“Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” Jesus cried out from the cross with the very questions that shake our faith. The great Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar reflected on the depths of the suffering Jesus endured for us on the cross. In his homily, “The Scapegoat and the Trinity”, he said, “Jesus, the Crucified, endures our inner darkness and estrangement from God, and he does so in our place. It is all the more painful for him, the less he has merited it ... there is nothing familiar about it to him: It is utterly alien and full of horror. Indeed, he suffers more deeply than an ordinary man is capable of suffering, even were he condemned and rejected by God, because only the incarnate Son knows who the Father really is and what it means to be deprived of him, to have lost him (to all appearances) forever. It is meaningless to call this suffering ‘hell,’ for there is no hatred of God in Jesus, only a pain that is deeper and more timeless than the ordinary man could endure either in his lifetime or after his death.”

As Catholics we reject the notion that the Father could forsake the Son; that God could turn away from God. But Jesus was not merely God, he was the God-man and in his humanity, hanging on that cross it is not beyond reason to see that he felt abandoned and forsaken. In that moment, in the midst of suffering that goes beyond what we could imagine, in the fullness of his human nature Jesus experienced that dark night of the soul when it seems that even God has turned away.

What does this have to do with answering questions about evil in the world? How does this apply to the problems of our pain and suffering? Because the Son of God passed through the way of suffering he was able to redeem our pains. It means that though this world is fallen and broken we must pass through the way of suffering, the way of the cross, if we want to experience the joy and glory of the resurrection. The good news is that we have a Savior that will go through it with us, or as Catholic author Melinda Selmys explains, “For Christ, in being forsaken on the cross, entered into this, the deepest of human sufferings, so that even in the greatest darkness we will never be alone.”