Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ produces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for Monday, March 30th: 1 Kings 17:17-24; Psalm 143; and Acts 20:7-12. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
In the Elijah story, the prophet has seen the despair and suffering that the divinely ordained drought has wrought on people Elijah calls his own. The drought’s severity after some three years is frightening. There is a private oasis in the home of the widow of Zarephath as God provides miraculous nourishment. Then, tragedy strikes even here and her son dies. She believes his death is God’s judgment for some forgotten (and trivial) sin. The prophet himself, already wearied by the burden of invoking the divine punishment of drought, lashes out at God’s perceived indifference to human suffering, to human life.
How understandable is this reaction to tragedy if we accept that God has called it down upon us, that God doesn’t appreciate human life?
I’d like to wish my eldest daughter a happy birthday today. Life is a precious gift. Elijah returns life to the widow’s son. Paul returns life to Eutychus who had fallen asleep during church and fell out a third-story window. (Every preacher has a fun Eutychus story.) Life is a precious gift – as it was also for Jesus of Nazareth.
No matter how consciously I try to observe Lent as culminating in the cross and grave, I can’t help but anticipate Jesus’ return to life on Easter. Lent, though, isn’t only preparation for the coming joy of the resurrection mystery. Lent is the unpleasant work of processing Jesus’ suffering and death. It is coming to terms with Jesus’ offering of even His life for us – for me.
I try to separate Lent from Easter in order to foster a stronger connection with the reality of Jesus’ experience of human mortality. Not a morbid preoccupation with death-mortality, but a mortality that knows honestly of human limitations. This is the unfamiliar godliness of Jesus. That the Father raises the Son from the grave is a familiar godliness, but the cross is the epitome of the unfamiliar godliness that makes God real for me in Jesus.
Jesus doesn’t go to the cross thinking glibly that He’ll just endure this and then wake-up ready to be enthroned in heaven at God’s right hand. In the Garden of Gethsemane, He experiences the convulsive fear of the prospect of crucifixion (Luke 22:44). Jesus is not an actor imitating what it must have been like to be tortured to death intentionally and publicly. When He yells to heaven, it is no longer the closeness of “My Father.” It is the more formal and official, “My God, my God …” When He dies and screams, we don’t do heaven any favour by minimizing the physical pain and spiritual anguish of our Saviour. Life is a precious gift, and for us, Jesus sacrificed even that.
The life and death of Jesus are God’s answer to the fallacy of divine indifference. Jesus tears down the difference between us. Jesus knows how precious life is, but even more valued than His life are our lives. This is why He goes to the cross.
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