Saturday, April 08, 2017

Between the Idea and the Reality: Saturday of the Fifth week of Lent 2017

There is grief work to be done in the present that the future may come.  There is mourning to be done for those who do not know of the deathliness of their situation.  There is mourning to be done with how who know pain and suffering and lack the power of freedom to bring it to speech.  The saying is a harsh one, for it sets this grief work as the precondition of joy.  It announces that those who have not cared enough to grieve will not know joy.

The mourning is a precondition in another way too.  It is not a formal, external agreement but rather the only door and route to joy.  Seen in that context, this is not just a neat saying but a summary of the entire theology of the cross.  Only that kind of anguished disengagement permits fruitful yearning and only the public embrace of deathliness permits newness to come.  We are at the edge of knowing this in our personal lives, for we understand a bit the processes of grieving.  But we have yet to learn and apply it to the reality of society.  And finally, we have yet to learn it about God, who grieves in ways hidden from us and who waits to rejoice until God's promises are fully kept.

--Walter Brueggemann

The context is the shadow of current events; that is always the shadow.  The concept is in the context of the story of Lazarus, from John.

The Biblical scholar in me wants to point out that Lazarus dies in the two gospels where he appears, although in one he is a fictional character, and in the other, only slightly more probably a fictional character.  It also wants to point out that the woman whose anointing of Jesus will be retold "in memory of her" in Mark and Matthew, and who becomes clearly a prostitute in Luke, becomes one of the sisters of Lazarus living in Bethany, and, except for Luke, all three stories of the anointing of Jesus are tied to the crucifixion of Jesus by prefiguring his death.  The literary critic in me wants to point out the story of Lazarus in John is a foreshadowing, too, that the story that alarms Mark's followers of Jesus is an expectation by the time of John's gospel.

But that is the shadow of another context.  The shadow here is the story in John.

Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.  When he heard that (Lazarus) was sick, he lingered two more days, where he was, then he says to the disciples, "Let's go to Judea again."

The disciples say to him, "Rabbi, just now the Judeans were looking for the opportunity to stone you; are you really going back there?"

"Aren't there twelve hours in the day?" Jesus responded.  "Those who walk during the day won't stumble; they can see by this world's light.  But those who walk at night are going to stumble, because they have no light to go by."

He made these remarks, and then he tells them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going to wake him up.

--John 11:5-11, SV
We are told that when Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick, he remained where he was for two days.  You see how he gives full scope to death.  He grants free reign to the grave; he allows corruption to set in.  He prohibits neither putrefaction or stench from taking their normal course; he allows the realm of darkness to seize his friend, drag him down to the underworld, and take possession of him.  He acts like this so that human hope may perish entirely and human despair reach its lowest depths.
Peter Chrysologus, Fifth century

When the Judeans, who hovered about her in the house to console her, saw Mary get up and go out quickly, they followed her, thinking she was going to the tomb to grieve there.  When Mary got to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell down at his feet.  "Master," she said, "if you had been here, my brother wouldn't have died."

When Jesus saw her crying, and the Judeans who accompanied her crying too, he was agitated and deeply disturbed; he said, "Where have you put him?"

"Master," they said, "come and see."

Then Jesus cried.

--John 11: 31-35, SV

This is an important point in the gospel of John.  Jesus sucks the air out of the room on more than one occasion.  He is a lecturer who can't stop lecturing.  The last night with his disciples, in the other gospels, passes quickly:  he sets the terms of the Last Supper, dismisses Judas, goes to Gethsemane.  In John, Jesus talks:  for chapter after chapter.  He washes the feet of the disciples, and talks some more.  He talks so much throughout John's gospel, you think John took the concept of "the Word" a bit too literally.  But then Jesus, who takes his time getting to Bethany, and tell this disciples before they get there that Lazarus is asleep:  that Jesus weeps.

Jesus is human.  That's a point we too easily ignore in the gospels.  The wondrous public announcement of the birth in Luke; the Magi reading the stars and being led directly to the place where Jesus lived; the acts of power (dunamis) and signs (semeia), the teachings, the fore-knowledge of the last week in Jerusalem; the resurrection.  We overlook Jesus' humanity.  Mark gets us closer to it:  Jesus dies in Mark, and the gospel ends with the disciples running, scared, away from the empty tomb.  John's Jesus is so in control of his own existence he talks, again!, hanging in agony on the cross.  Except he isn't in agony; he surrenders his spirit when it is time.  John's Jesus is the least human of the four gospels; and yet he weeps for Lazarus, and Mary, and Martha; and maybe for himself.

Jesus was human.  John stops to affirm that, here.  Jesus cries, because death is a human reality.  We do ourselves no good to deny that.  Attend a Christian funeral, and you seldom find rejoicing.  Death is a reality.  Confident of the resurrection, we may be; but death has a very awful finality about it, one we live as the days after the funeral pass.  Human despair doesn't have to reach its lowest depths in the loss of a loved one; but it often does, and there is nothing more human than that.

"We are at the edge of knowing this in our personal lives, for we understand a bit the processes of grieving.  But we have yet to learn and apply it to the reality of society.  And finally, we have yet to learn it about God, who grieves in ways hidden from us and who waits to rejoice until God's promises are fully kept."  Is grieving entirely personal?  Does Jesus grieve for himself?  Why not?  He is human.  Does Jesus weep in order to apply grief to the reality of society?  I don't know; what would that mean?  How would we apply grief to our society?  Should we mourn it because it is dying, because it is killing itself, because it is set on a path of destruction?  In the shadow of current events, people are rejoicing that bombs have fallen, that missiles have been launched, that damage somewhere in the world has been done.  Rejoicing why?  Because babies died, and will die again?  Because chemical weapons are worse than barrel bombs?  Because children in gas masks are an uglier sight than children covered in blood, or lifeless washed up on a shore?  Or not seen at all, merely tallied in death counts in accumulations over years?

If these aren't events to grieve over, if that isn't the reality of human society, what is?

Jesus is divine.  Does Jesus, outside the tomb of Lazarus, grieve and wait to rejoice until God's promises are fully kept?  Yes; certainly.  And what do we do with that?
We do not celebrate merely a Christ who rose without us.  During Lent we are empowered to rise with him to a new life--to become precisely those new people needed today in our country.  We should not seek just changes in structures because new structures are worth nothing when there are no new people to manage them and live in them.

--Oscar Arnulfo Romero

If we publicly embrace deathliness, rather than rejoice in the power of life to inflict death on our enemies who are, after all, just us; if we apply this embrace to the reality of society, knowing this will lead to a newness that is life itself; then we will seek new people first, and new structures second, because we will die with what is hold, and be resurrected into what is new, and rejoice when God's promises are fully kept.  Fully kept by us, who listened; and who grieved; and who died; and who rose again to rejoice.

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