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 7th: Psalm 31:9-16; Isaiah 53:10-12; and Hebrews 2:1-9. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
John Meier wrote a two-volume study of the historical Jesus that is honest and refreshing. He called it “A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus.” It was published 35 years ago, but I think it remains current and still provocative. Toward the end of Vol. 1, Meier attempts to plot a chronology of Jesus’ life. This is far more difficult than it may sound because the historical Jesus was a minor figure on the world stage during His lifetime. For the vast majority of that lifetime, Jesus was a nondescript carpenter in Nazareth. There was no BC or AD when Jesus walked the earth. These markers came along a half a millennium after the life of Jesus as a monk by the name of Dionysius Exiguus attempted to count back to the days of Jesus – and he was most likely off by several years. Therefore, scholars must make inferences based on the occasional important historical events that overlap with the story of Jesus.
Meier has bone fides that I trust as a biblical scholar. He argues that the Passover of Jesus’ final days was the one in 30AD. On Thursday evening, April 6th, Jesus shared a solemn final meal with His disciples. Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of April 6-7 and then handed over to the Roman governor Pilate in the morning of Friday, April 7th. Pilate condemned Jesus quickly. He was then scourged and crucified outside of Jerusalem, dying on the cross before evening of Friday, April 7, 30AD. Today, according to this scholar’s reckoning, is, therefore, the 1,992nd anniversary of Jesus’ death.
The first believers in Jesus, this marginal Jew, were people who were also Jewish, and who looked upon Jesus as the long-awaited Jewish Messiah, which by definition made them marginal Jews, as well. As we have mentioned several times this Lent, none of them ever expected a crucified Messiah. They were forced to reconcile their faith in Jesus with the theology of God’s Saviour. As they struggled with this dilemma, they were drawn immediately to the passages about the Suffering Servant found in the book of Isaiah.
One of those passages is shared with us today: “The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. … Because he poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” These writings from the time of Israel’s Babylonian exile came to give meaning to the cross. They offered context for those first believers who were bewildered by the crucifixion. It helped to transform Jesus’ execution from scandal to sacred.
For remember, in the oldest Gospel account, everyone abandons Jesus on April 7th. They all believed Him and His ministry to be finished on April 7th. There are indications that His closest followers returned quickly to their previous lives in Galilee, the lives they led prior to meeting the Marginal Jew. This abandonment, for me, adds to the authenticity of the empty grave experience. The ones who had given up on Jesus become the ones who evangelize for Jesus. Something extraordinary must have happened to generate such a radical change, and the Gospels tell us that the something extraordinary was Jesus’ resurrection.
On this possible actual anniversary of Jesus’ crucifixion and death, let us struggle still with its meaning for us and our lives. Let us search for the ways in which it can be transformative for us. 1,992 years ago believers realized that all God’s promises had not been fulfilled, and yet there was Jesus. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews says, “As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, but we do see Jesus …” There is much that needs to be done in Jesus’ name and through Jesus’ grace, but hopefully, especially at this holy time of the year, “we do see Jesus.” We’re but ten days from the mystery of Easter, let’s not let these days pass by without our efforts to come closer to the cross so that we can also come closer to the empty tomb.
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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