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 8th: Psalm 31:9-16; Isaiah 54:9-10; and Hebrews 2:10-18. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
Today is the sixth Lenten Friday, the last one before Good Friday. In a liturgical season dedicated to the cross, Lenten Fridays are even more focused. Today we are asked to read from Hebrews. This is an amazing Epistle and one with a rather unique Christology, which is the study of Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah and Saviour, and as the Son of God. Hebrews’ Christology emphasizes the humanity that God accepts in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. It is this humanity that allows Jesus to be the unique and perfect intermediary between God and creation. In Jesus, God experiences our lives, and we share in the perfect revelation of God through Jesus.
The Incarnation, the full human nature that God accepts in Jesus, is not a notion limited to Christmas. It defines the entire life of Jesus of Nazareth, and a part of His life is His death. The Incarnation is just as powerfully a part of Jesus at His birth as it is on His cross. The fear Jesus experienced in the Garden of Gethsemane, the anguish He felt as His followers deserted and even betrayed Him, the pain He endured on the torturous cross, the humiliation He suffered as people mocked Him as He died slowly and publicly, and even the sense of doubt as Jesus yelled, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” are all experienced and remembered for eternity by God.
For the Incarnation to be authentic and meaningful, Jesus could not be protected from the vilest things that humans do to one another. Jesus is able to empathize with us in all aspects of life, the good and the bad. And this is what Hebrews conveys when today we read: “Therefore, [Jesus] had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.” Since Jesus endured even the worst of our human nature, now the glorified Jesus “is able to help those who are being tested.”
We are confronted with the brutality and savagery of people in a very direct way at present as we see pictures and hear stories out of Bucha, Ukraine. These are prime time news, but other atrocities such as these also happen and go unnoticed by the general public. We can wonder where God is at such moments. The cross is the lived, historical revelation that Jesus knows such pain so that Jesus can be turned to for comfort when such pain strikes. Jesus has endured human barbarity. And because of the cross, Jesus can offer at-one-ment to those who continue to endure such barbarity. We often hear of atonement, that Jesus forgives our sins, but many times the more powerful message is not atonement, but at-one-ment, that God in Jesus is at-one with us in any circumstance of life, including the most heinous.
The world can be better by following the example of Jesus’ lived gospel which was proclaimed right up to and through Jesus’ death, but in the meanwhile we have Jesus’ at-one-ment, that when we are most desperate, when people are their most despicable to other people, we have a Saviour who is as close as our next breath and remains close even after our last breath, which is God’s fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy: “For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”
On this sixth Lenten Friday, may we think about cross and how it brings Jesus so close to us in our lives that not even life’s worst nightmares can separate us from His steadfast presence, and that the cross offers us a route of escape from the worst consequences of the vilest depths of human nature if we choose to take it by following the gospel’s example of turning against our natural inclinations and towards are equally powerful inclinations as made in the image of God.
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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