Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ reproduces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for April 13th: Psalm 70; Isaiah 50:4-9a; John 13:21-32; and Hebrews 12:1-3. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
Yesterday we spoke of the cross through the lens of regeneration. Today’s Hebrews’ passage continues to walk us along this path. There we read: “Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith … Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.” Hebrews is clear that Jesus went to the cross in the fullness of our shared human nature. In this way, Jesus has suffered so that not even the worst of human atrocities prevents Him from walking with us wherever we are on life’s journey. Wherever we go, Jesus is beside us.
Hebrews, however, pushes the analogy further. Jesus is like the healthier friend as you take a hike together. When it feels like it’s time to say, “We’ve gone far enough,” Jesus is the one who is a few paces ahead encouraging us to keep at it. Jesus is the one who is close enough but still in front of us who is able to help us push forward “so that [we] may not grow weary or lose heart.” The cross is not Jesus pointing His finger at us and saying, “See what you sinners have forced me to do.” The cross is regeneration; it is Jesus reaching out His hand and saying, “I love you enough to do this, let me be “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”
Consider, as well, the Johannine Jesus’ words as Judas leaves the shared table to betray Jesus into the hands of His enemies. The Johannine Jesus looks upon the closing act of His life’s ministry from a perspective that is unique, that is not found in the three Synoptic Gospels. Jesus proclaims to the eleven disciples remaining: “‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.’” The Johannine Jesus does not see the cross as a failure of His ministry, but as its necessary and glorious culmination.
Jesus embodies the prophecy of the Suffering Servant in today’s Isaiah reading who faces every hate-filled insult and injury by trusting in the victory assured by the closeness of God: “The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. It is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty? All of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up.”
This is the divine closeness that Hebrews tells us is our promise, as well. This is the regeneration offered by the cross; and as such, as regenerated believers, we are to pay-it-forward. We are to be there to help and support others on their journey of faith. In this way, we benefit from and become a part of the famous promise shared through these words in Hebrews: “We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” This is such a profound time of year. I hope and pray that our Lenten journey is helping us to better appreciate the cross and its continuing significance in our lives and in those of others. Lent is a sacred time. Holy Week is the holiest time of Lent. And tomorrow we reach the holiest days of Holy Week. May we be open and receptive to Jesus’ outstretched hand as He calls us forward into the great mysteries that are just ahead of us.
If you’d like, here is the link to the Southern New England Conference’s daily reading schedule: www.sneucc.org/lectionary.
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