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Maundy Thursday Meditation

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I have a memory of doing youth ministry in my Evangelical Christian days. Decades ago, we wanted to teach the kids about atonement – how Jesus paid the price for our sins by willingly dying on the cross – how God loves us so much and hates sin so much that God put Jesus to the cross so we wouldn’t have to be punished – how it should have been us on the cross instead of Jesus. To teach them these deep and complicated concepts, we made a video of the youth group kids. We got footage of their hands and feet. We dubbed over the video with a song – Sandi Patty singing:
It should've been my hands where the nails were
It should've been
It should've been my feet where the nails were
It should've been
It should've been my side that was opened
My heart that was broken
It should've been my hands
It should've been my feet where the nails were
When we showed them the video, we felt touched and blessed, condemned and anguished over our sins, and full of gratitude to God, because we knew that Jesus died to save us from our sinfulness. Like so many who have gone before us and like so many who will gather on Holy Week, we believed God sent Jesus take our place and pay the price for our sin. Like the words of the old hymn, “Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe. Sin has left a crimson stain, he washed it white as snow.” We accepted this as God’s grace. We believed the theology that God would sacrifice God’s only Son to satisfy the debt we owed on account of our sinfulness.

I wish I could do it over again, because I don’t believe that stuff anymore. Jesus was not crucified because God needed someone to pay. The crucifixion didn’t cleanse us of our sin. It wasn’t what God needed to do to forgive us. The crucifixion is what happens when we become separated or alienated from God’s aims for the world. Crucifixions happen when we forget that we are with God and one with each other. Crucifixion happens when we are lost in our incompleteness, our brokenness, our alienation, lost from the truth that we are one. Crucifixion happens when some people are given more worth than others. It happens when a small group of powerful people are given social control over others. It happens when we turn our backs on the inherent worth and dignity of all living beings, when we by ignore justice, equality and compassion and try to live off the energy generated by anger, fear and hostility.

Tonight begins a few days of weeping. We weep not just for Jesus, but for ourselves. Each of us have experienced deep losses. There are times when we are cut off, isolated and desperate. We know the desperation that comes when we feel that there is no way out. We have cried out to God claiming that we have been abandoned, wondering as Jesus did, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

We weep not just for Jesus, but for all the unjust, unnecessary, and untimely deaths that still go on in this world. We weep for the thousands of children in who will die this very week of starvation, and for the infants who are born into poverty or abuse. We weep for the children who grow up in war torn lands, collecting mortar shells like some kids collect baseball cards, and for those children of our own cities who have been victims of random violence. We weep for young people in this community who will never be safe in their own homes and for those who do not have a home to go to. We weep for the young woman who would rather die than suffer any more abuse, and we weep for the young gay man who takes his own life when those he loved the most couldn’t accept him for who he is. We weep for those we love who have died and for those who we have lost because of anger or misunderstanding. We weep knowing that the crucifixion did not happen once and for all, way back when. Crucifixions happen all around us every day.

I have to admit something to you. I’m not proud of what I’m about to say, but honesty is the first step to healing. When I see crucifixions, my first impulse is not to run and help, but to turn away. I am not naturally drawn to relieve those in need. I will go, but it takes a lot of effort. Touching the agony of the world is uncomfortable to me. I weep over my own sin –  the sin of neglect, my own culpability in the sick systems that separate and crucify others, my own willingness to turn away when my community needs me the most. How do I repent? How do any of us? How do right?

We do not weep without hope. Sometimes it is in our brokenness and loss, or tears of remorse, that we can come closer to the sacred. Sometimes in our suffering we can see larger truths that have eluded us. Jesus showed us that life without fear frees us from the powers of darkness that dominate the world. Life without fear is the first step toward justice. And justice is the way to peace. The powers of darkness will have their day. But the cries of the crucified will not go unheard. Christ will come again and again, embodied in all those who work for peace through justice, grace and love.

If I could, I would film a new video with those youth group kids. They are not kids anymore, actually. They are all about 30 years old, now, most with jobs and families of their own. I would get them all together and make a new movie and show them what God’s love and sacrifice means to me these days. This time, there would be no swooning and crooning Sandy Patty, no debt to be paid, no substitutionary sacrifice that to be performed, no manipulative guilt trips. I would ask them to take off their shoes, and I would kneel down, and take out a damp cloth and wash their feet. Then I would capture their expressions. They would be mystified, because they all know how I think feet are disgusting and I don’t like touching those things. Maybe some of
them would laugh at the thought of me washing their feet. Maybe some would wonder what it was all about. Maybe some would refuse. Maybe a few of them would go and wash someone else’s feet in return. You know what I’d really like to capture on video? After a good foot washing, I’d film those men and women who used to be our youth group members arise and let their newly-washed feet carry them to the crucified ones: the grieving, hurting, needy, lonely, and friendless, to the prisoners, to the poor and oppressed – to anyone and everyone who needs to know that God’s grace and our faith can make a difference. And I’d sing my own soundtrack. I’d sing along with the prophet Isaiah, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” I’d pray that their feet would carry them, and that those young men and women would carry me along with them.



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