"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Paul to the persecuted at Philippi (2:5-11)

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Sermon for 3 Easter

Amidst all these rejoicings Aslan himself quietly slipped away. And when the kings and queens noticed that he wasn’t there they said nothing about it for Mr. Beaver had warned them, ‘he’ll be coming and going,’ he had said. “One day you’ll see him and another you won’t. He doesn’t like being tied down… It’s quite all right. He’ll often drop in. Only you mustn’t press him. He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.”

These words, so familiar to many but perhaps not to all of us, are how C.S. Lewis ends his book, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Every Narnia fan knows these words. In the eyes of the mind, the lion is gently slipping away from the feastings, back into the hills from which he came, softly and unseen. Not a tame lion, the children, now kings and queens in their own right, cannot command this lion, he is not subject to them. In all things, he is in control.
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“That very day, two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But theireyes were kept from recognizing him.” Theirs had been a frantic weekend. Likely, they had come into the city to celebrate the Passover, and now these men were returning home. A week before, Jesus had come into town riding on a wave of excitement, hope that this would be the revolutionary to overthrow the oppressor and take control over the land of Israel. Victory seemed so near they could touch it! But something had happened, something unplanned. Surely this frantic series of events was not in the plan. Somehow victory had evaporated, this was definitely not going as planned. Chaos had emerged from every corner of Jerusalem and had converged on this Jesus. Everything had spun out of control.

Jesus had been a prophet, mighty in deed and word before God and before all the people. We had seen his power and his authority and we had hoped, before it all went up in smoke, we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Surely the disciples understood that theirs was a people who could not govern themselves, they were little better than slaves to the Roman government. They were exiles in their own homeland. How these disciples had hoped that this was the prophet like Moses, the redeemer and deliverer who had been expected for generations! And when he rode into town in triumph, the people were encouraged. Surely this was the glory of which he had spoken? But glory broke down into shame, when he was handed over, stripped and mocked and beaten and hung on a tree to die. Did not the Scriptures say that “cursed is the one who is hung on a tree?” They had watched with their own eyes as glory slipped from his grasp.

They had believed that this would be the one who would topple the oppressor and govern the people of Israel, this would be a man of power. But such was this man of power that he went quietly when the soldiers came for him, answered humbly before worldly kings, and failed to rescue himself from the cross while onlookers scoffed “he saved others, why can’t he save himself.” They had watched as power faded away, out of his hands until there was nothing left in him.

Perhaps they had even heard his claims that he was God’s own son, existing before Abraham, before creation itself. Perhaps they had heard the charges against him, that he had made himself equal with God. Could this be the one who brings order to chaos, light to darkness? But by the end of the week, chaos had claimed victory, frantic events and emotions surged, the one who we had so hoped would be our salvation was dead before our eyes. Darkness had overcome light, the sun had withheld its light, and if as the centurion said, this man was truly innocent, then we have indeed witnessed great evil taking victory at his death.

You must be the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know these things.

And if this were not enough, some women were at the tomb early this morning and they did not find his body there. The chaos, the suffering, was this not enough?

Surely the disciples, as they walked the road to Emmaus did not give credence to the stories of women. In the ancient world, women were not credible witnesses. As would be echoed in the Victorian era, through Freud, women were believed to be prone to hysterics. Perhaps this was imagined, a frantic attempt to make sense out of something really quite simple. The words seemed to be an idle tale, wives tales! Gossip! Get a hold of yourselves, ladies! And two men, two male witnesses, then went to the tomb, and found it empty, as the women had said. What could these things mean? Surely the whole world has spun out of control!

Theirs was a tame messiah. Like a pet who responded to external stimulus, sitting in hopes of a treat from the outside master, they expected their messiah to respond to the situations at hand. The outside needs of Israel would dictate this messiah’s strategy. The influences of Rome would require tactical maneuvers. The situation would control the savior.

A tame messiah is an all too human sort of savior. It should be no surprise that a tame messiah would lose control of the situation at hand, as his own life came to be threatened and things began to spin out of control. A savior who was of this world would require an army bigger than that of Rome to take on the challenge ahead of him. A human savior would be destined to fail.

The Jewish leaders handed Jesus over to be crucified, but Rome was glad to prove the point with any such ‘rabble rousers.’ Conquered peoples did not control Rome. Rome was in charge. Crucifixion meant humiliation, agony, death. Not only would the rebel never rebel again, his followers would be scattered, shamed, and very unlikely to try to pick up where their hero left off. And as if this crucified Jesus were not example enough of what Rome did to any hope of a human savior Israel might have, in 70 AD Israel rebelled against Rome in armed uprising. It was then that Jesus’ prophecy that not one stone of the Temple would be left upon another, that the people would flee to the hills with no time to turn back, saw its first fulfillment.

And so the disciples, who had hoped for a human savior, a tamed messiah, were crushed. And now, adding insult to injury, even the body had gone missing. The sheep were scattered and each was returning, somewhat shamed, somewhat sadder and temporally wiser, to his own village.

But ours is not a tame messiah. He felt no need to respond to the questions of the leaders of this world. He felt no need to flee the cross, the chaos. For he knew that his kingdom was not of this world, and even amid the chaos, he held the order of the universe in his hands. He did not fear the darkness that descended on that cross, for he was the light of the world. And now, as he meets these disciples on the road to Emmaus, he who is the word of God explains to them how the word of God would be fulfilled. Now he shows them how he was in control on the cross, how he taken the chaos of Holy Week and brought forth order, how he had allowed death to triumph in order to bring forth life.

What they don’t realize is that their eyes are being kept from seeing who it is that is explaining all these things. They realize they are hearing a great teacher, but they do not see the full reality of his greatness. Many many preachers have tried to push this under the rug with thoughts about how we sometimes don’t recognize someone out of context, when we don’t expect to see them. And the unexpectedness of this encounter can’t be denied. But the Greek verb is more active, their eyes were kept from seeing. Implied is who it is that is keeping them from knowing. They do not recognize him because he is not yet ready to be recognized. He wants them to hear what he is telling them, not cling to him as Mary Magdalene did in the garden.

But the point at which their eyes are opened, in the breaking of the bread is also crucial. Jesus does something culturally very strange. Clearly this is not Jesus’ house, most likely the house belonged to one of the two disciples who, as host could urge Jesus to stay. Jesus did the culturally appropriate thing to do, he acted as if he were going on up the road, so as not to impose upon his hosts. And the disciples did what ancient hospitality demanded, they invited him to stay. But again the words are more dramatic, they begged him to stay with them. This goes beyond cultural norms, it is almost embarrassing, how they practically force him (in the Greek) to come to their home for the evening meal. But now we know the disciples have heard what Jesus has told them, that this Jesus in whom they had put their hope was far more than an earthly king, that indeed he was not a tame lion.

And so it makes perfect sense, that, as the guest turns the tables and takes the part of the host, blesses and breaks the bread, takes control of the situation once again, that their eyes should be opened and they should recognize that the teacher and the Lord are one in the same.

When we invite Jesus in to our lives and our worship, when we beg him to stay (as we should if we take him seriously) then we have to recognize that he is not a tame lion. This Jesus will accept our invitation to be our guests, but quickly he turns the tables on us and becomes, as he properly is, the host and the master of the household. If we ask him to be guests in our lives, he will happily become the host, taking charge and blessing us from his abundance.

And if this were just some presumptuous guest making himself the master of the house, all that would be appalling, but in fact he is the one who orders the chaos, lightens the darkness, and created the house itself. And if he is the master of this place, there is no chaos he can’t order, no death that can hold him, so we need not worry about what the future might bring, for the guest has become the host and master of this place.

And at times he may seem distant, for he is not a tame lion that we should command him, but he’ll be coming and going as he wills, according to our needs and his desire. At times he’ll come to us with the gentleness of a lamb. At other times with the power of his lion’s nature. But always he will come as host and master, orderer of chaos, and life which no grave can hold.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this, Tara, and continued Eastertide blessings . . . .

    ReplyDelete