Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour.

Matthew 27: 48

 

Noon to three in the afternoon. These are the peak hours of the day, especially in the courts of the temple in Jerusalem on the eve of the Passover Sabbath when the sacrificial sheep were slaughtered. Now something profound was happening. Here was the final lamb, the ultimate sacrifice that would end the need for there to be any more, and He was hanging in the agony of crucifixion on a Roman cross. God’s desire for reconciliation with His creation was gaining its full expression in the pain that the human form of Jesus was enduring in His flesh and in the agony that His spirit attained as the separation from the Father was fully realized in those moments when the penalty for the sinful rebelliousness of humanity were placed onto the innocent back of the Messiah. Nothing that we can endure in our most desperate experience of life comes close to the sorrowful anguish that must have filled Jesus or the deep grief that overtook the Father in this hour.

 

The sky became supernaturally darkened as the shroud of loss obscured the source of all light, and then everything turned in a new direction. The deathbed vigil ends as Jesus surrenders the life-fight of man and enters into the rest of the fallen. Yet, this death is victory, and this loss is humanity’s gain. The fatal divide between God and people is no longer present, and even the classes and categories of people that our sinful desires had produced were abolished and dissolved in a moment. Here on this hill in an insignificant land at the far end of the earth’s greatest empire occurred the holy reconciliation that no human could have produced and that nothing else in history has come close to matching in its significance or impact upon what life in this world means. The people of this earth are granted the gift of grace that opens the door to forgiveness for all that we have thought and done in opposition to God and to His righteousness. In this crucified Jesus, this risen Christ, we are all taken out of the living death of our births and placed by Christ into life in the total and full expression of its loving embrace.

 

For it is true that the human tools that broke the body of Jesus did nothing more than free creation from the slavery that had encased it in its icy grip of death. The body that surrendered to that sacrificial death was soon raised by God into life, and the life that Christ enjoys has become the same life that fills the souls of all who turn to Him in repentance and in submission to our Lord. In so doing we enter through the cross of Christ into the tomb of surrender and submission of our selves to God’s righteousness, and in our own experience of His resurrection we are given a new and transformed form of existence that now begins to accurately reflect the God-image design of God’s original intent for humanity. In Christ we are taken out of the darkness of the fallen world so that our hearts, minds, and spirits no longer dwell in that fearful shadow land. Now we join with our risen Lord in His victory over all that oppresses and destroys in this world, and our lives can sing out the praises of our God who saves all who come to Him.

 

 

Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me!

Psalm 35: 1

 

In the Christian church and throughout its traditions we have generally looked at Psalm 35 as a statement of faith and trust in the way that God would defeat our enemies through the use of might, force, and even by empowering our own military skill and campaigns. However, as I reconsider these words that David gave us, I am wondering if there isn’t something else, something much greater on view here. Although David seems to have had a prophet’s view into a future when the Messiah would come, he did not possess the post-cross perspective that we do. His words dealt with the reality of his life, and they shared a glimpse into a potential future, but they could not interpret our world in light of Christ.

 

In Jesus we see a man of peace and of service. We are told to control our responses to personal attacks and to seek out our enemies in love. We are, in fact, told to lift them up to God in prayer with a sincere desire to see them come to know Christ and thus to be joined with us in community. This is not just a directive to be fulfilled in a grudging, grit our teeth and get on with it manner. Instead, Christ tells us that we should be praying in earnest for those who are trying to destroy us so that they can join us at the banquet table of God’s holy Eucharist. We are granted Christ’s direction to love all people with fully and to seek for all of them to come and dwell with us as equally adopted in children of God’s own choosing.

 

None of this suggests that we are seeking their destruction. I am wondering if the Psalmist’s words about shame, dishonor, entrapment and defeat are not to be interpreted with Christ on the cross in view so that we are seeing a picture of the way that God works in the hearts of all of us to show us the futility and the lostness of our natural way. In that case, death for our enemies is not the desired outcome. Neither is defeat unto subjugation; for, Christ calls upon His people to have no fear of the forces of this world. Rather, we are to pursue the hearts and the minds of our enemies as the shepherd does the lost sheep. This requires us to have faith in Christ and in His protection for us. It also demands that we set aside anger and hurt so that we can love others with the passion and the sincerity of one who desires to greet them with the holy kiss of fellowship.

 

I will give you peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid. And I will remove harmful beasts from the land, and the sword shall not go through your land.

Leviticus 26: 6

 

This promise from God is a part of a list of conditional covenants that the Lord made with His people, Israel. They did not keep their side of the deal, and not much has changed since then, either. Humans are not good at keeping our bargains with God or with each other. What God asked them to do was not all that complicated. He wanted them to worship Him fully and totally and follow His statutes absolutely. That was it. There were no silly rituals or oppressive acts of subservience. There was much to gain and nothing to lose. Yet, we always think that we know a better way or that God left something out when He gave out the instructions for living; so, we humans need to interpret and to fill in the missing pieces.

 

Those ideas have never worked very well. That kind of thinking and the actions that it leads to got us removed from the perfection of God’s original creation. It has continued to plague our travels through life ever since. Today we live on a violent planet where life is often considered as a commodity at best and where some people view others as something less than fully human in order to use and discard them. Those harmful beasts have not been eliminated; instead, they lurk in the shadows of many of our streets, and they openly feed on our young in some places where we attempt to dwell. Because of our own disobedient and violent tendencies, weapons are everywhere in our societies, and they are employed under the pretense of bringing about peace.

 

Over the course of human history, all of this has caused God great anguish and grief, and He has responded to it with His righteous judgment. Although this judgment has and does include the removal of blessings and of protections, it also includes a significant outpouring of the Lord’s redemptive mercy and grace. This outpouring reaches its pinnacle when God allowed us to extend our violent natures to His Son on the cross and God’s rightful anger against humanity was placed upon the one being who deserved none of it. Now, in Christ, we can have a peace in our souls that persists over and against the ways of this world. Through Christ and in His power and strength we can and must stand against the violence and the oppression that travel through our streets so that peace can rule our land.

And Pilate said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him.”

Luke 23: 14, 15

 

We all know how this story goes from this point. If anyone in history was not guilty of a crime, that person was Jesus. Everything that He had done and said was directed toward the well being of all of humanity. This was true for the Roman governor Pilot, the false Jewish King Herod, and the crowd that demanded His life. Yet, justice, the one thing that seemed to be Jesus’ due, was denied Him. He went through the torture that was to follow these mock trials and the brutal death that ensued with grace and the love of God on His lips.

 

So, the one person who has walked this earth who deserved justice becomes history’s greatest example of injustice tendered. In so doing, however, Christ takes upon Himself the righteous judgment and the resultant justice that we all truly deserve. The reward for righteousness that Christ deserved is gifted to all people who follow Him. There is more to this courtroom drama. For, as Jesus was being denied what was due Him, Christ granted that which He had been denied to others around Him. His words from the cross still echo across our world, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

(Luke 23: 34)

 

We may think that we live in a world that does not treat us justly. The need to cry out against the rulers and the rules of our times is often strong within us, and our reasons for this drive to speak out are real and come from the Word of God. However, we do not truly deserve justice. In fact, we should not want to receive the just sentence that we have earned, and, as Christ has freed us from that punishment, we will not. Yet, in setting us free, Christ does call us to follow Him in all of life. His disciples are to be people who bring justice and peace to our world. We are to grant the grace of God to others so that we will be known to our neighbors as people who speak and live in the center of Christ’s cross-bound proclamation of forgiveness and grace.

You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.

2 Corinthians 9: 11

 

God is very generous. He gives us everything that we truly need and more. In fact, God’s generosity is very interesting to consider. He gives to people who ignore Him and even to those who reject Him, and He waits like an impatient grandparent at Christmas to give all of Himself to everyone who enters into relationship with Him. God fills His people with all that we are willing to accept; then, He keeps on presenting His bounty of love to us to accept even more. Yet, God’s granting of Himself to us is quite different from the way that most of us operate as He gives to us so that we can give it all away to others.

 

Christ poured Himself out on the cross so that all of humanity would have the opportunity and the ability to know God. This great gift of life is the culmination of God’s plan for the redemption of people from the condemnation of sin. However, a person’s acceptance of this gift is only the beginning of Christ’s infilling of that person with the totality of the gift that we can call true life. This new life reaches toward its highest and best function when we accept these gifts of truth, wisdom, understanding, love, grace, mercy, and acceptance as ours and then, in Christ’s name, grant all of them to the world.

 

Christ does not give to us so that we can possess and hold. He gives to us so that we can bless the world with the presence of God in tangible form. We are to be people who love all other people and all of creation with the same sort of uncompromising and sacrificial passion that Jesus demonstrated for us. He entered into the lives of the people who crossed His path and gave all of Himself to them without precondition or qualification. Jesus knew that many if not most of the people that He engaged with the Father’s message of truth would reject Him. However, Jesus did not cease in His absolute giving. As a follower of Christ, this is a difficult example to follow totally, but committing my life to being a giver of God’s gifts is one of the greatest ways that I can express my thanks to God for the life that I have in Him.