Can you preach whole chapters of the Gospel or the prophets? Well, you can, but it isn’t advised. Of course, it might be argued that today isn’t a day that needs preaching anyway. This is a day that needs tears and awe. It is better to stand silent and merely point to the cross on this wonderful, terrible day.
Yet, how does the preacher stand silent when the church comes to hear. Maybe today, the congregation is more alert to the Word than at other times. So, to be silent is to miss the opportunity to gather the people into a deeper experience of faith. But how might we do that?
One way would be to focus on smaller pieces of the whole. Instead of trying to capture the whole experience and interpret the whole event theologically, grab hold of a small piece – like clinging to the shirt tail of the running back trying to bring him down; like seizing on a line of an epic poem as if it captured the whole of the lyric; like singing the refrain because the verses are too obscure to be grasped. Just a piece.
From the prophet, “by his bruises we are healed.” We’ve often heard it as wounds. Translations differ, of course. This is from the fourth Servant Song passage of Isaiah. You can share, if you wish, how this is part of what is called “Second Isaiah” and how, in this section, the servant might be the whole nation of Israel or how it might be a king or leader who would represent the glory of God in sacrifice. You could mention how the king was thought to be God’s representative, more than the people’s leader, and how his life was to be the sign that God was present with God’s people.
Or you could let all that go and simply stand in awe of the servant we see as Jesus. And because it was Jesus, now it is us, the church called to be bruised for the hurting in our world, called to be wounded from our striving for hope and transformation. No, we aren’t the Savior, but we know the Savior and therefore represent him to the people today. This is the sign that we are who we say we are and God is who we say God is. By how we love, how we sacrifice, how we take the wounds in defense of God’s beloved, the oppressed, the outcast, the poor and the orphan and widowed. All those society says aren’t worth much, we say and show are precious in God’s sight.
Because that is what the Servant of God did for us. Jesus gathered us up and bore wounds and bruises for our sake. And we are humbled into gratitude and action. This gift we’ve been given isn’t ours to keep to ourselves. We weren’t saved for ourselves. We were saved to give the bruised one glory. And so we live, risking bruises in his name.
But not alone. We can turn to the Gospel of John and see that. If we focus on one word. Out of all those words, all that terror and all that glory. Just focus on one word, a word from the cross:
“When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, 'Here is your mother.' And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home” John 19:26-27.
Why that word out of all the words, all the drama of the story? Why not? It seems to capture something significant about the event. It humanizes it. The seven last words from the cross are significant, yet some seem to carry more weight than others. Some seem more domestic than others, smaller perhaps. The Words from the Cross begin with a word to God - Father forgive - on behalf of all of us guilty ones. Then came a word of welcome to a sinner. Now a word to a mother and a son. But before that word, they were not mother and son. Well, she was a mother and he was a son, but they were not mother and son. If you follow.
For most of his ministry, Jesus seemed unconcerned about family as family is traditionally understood. It began when he was twelve years old and got left behind. When mom and dad found him, Mary's comment to Jesus was, "Your father and I were worried." Jesus' response was, "I was with my father" (Luke 2:49). Uh oh, that must have hurt. Don't you think?
Later, when Mary and the boys showed up to take Jesus home because people thought he was mad, word was sent to Jesus: "Your mother and your brothers are here!" Jesus responded with, "Who is my mother, who are my brothers?"(Matt. 12:47-48). That must have hurt.
Jesus told that guy to leave the dead to bury the dead when he said he wanted to stay with his father. Jesus said he came to set mother against daughter and father against son. You can’t help but wonder sometimes if those guys who are always preaching "family values" ever read the New Testament. It almost seems as though Jesus were anti-family.
Bishop William Willimon tells of how he would get phone calls from angry parents when he was Dean of the Chapel at Duke University. He said that he never got calls from parents asking for help with children who had gotten into trouble with alcohol or casual sex. His calls came from parents who said, “Help, my children have become religious fanatics and want to spend their lives helping the poor, and it is ruining their lives!” What the parents meant was that their children were ruining the plans they had in mind for their children’s lives. Darn that Jesus, messing with families again!
It is as if Jesus had a different purpose for families in mind, different from what most of assume when we talk about family. We feel that blood is thicker than water. But Jesus wants us to understand that water is thicker than blood; that is, when the water is the water of baptism. Willimon says that in baptism we are rescued from our families. That is a pretty contentious statement. Many of us would argue that our families are really pretty good folks. We might bump heads now and then and disappoint one another from time to time, but overall, our family members are pretty good folks, and we love them.
After each baptism, you take a few moments to carry the infant into the new family – the family that brought him or her into the church, but also the new church family. Child, here are your mothers, your fathers, your brothers and sisters, here is your family.
From the cross, Jesus was creating a family, because, he would argue, we need one. We need to be connected to one another. We need to belong to one another. We need to care for and be cared for by one another. We need community. With his dying words Jesus creates and continues to create community. In Jesus ’culture, family was everything. Your place in society came from family; your purpose came from family; your inherent worth came from family. Jesus knew we needed family; he just argued that there was another way to create a family. That locus of meaning, that sense of place was to be found not from an accident of birth or a legal transaction, but from an act of will in a covenant community. We are who we are because of the family that Jesus puts us in. Woman, here is your son. Here is your mother. And a new family is created.
At the first and the second word, we discovered that the purpose of the cross was to put us back into right relationship with God. Now at the third word, we hear that the purpose of the cross is to put us into a right relationship with one another, to build community, which is a place to be bruised, to be sure. Yet, some bruises are worth bearing. Some bruises might even be healing, not that abuse is ever condoned even in “good families.” That isn’t what this is about. These are the bruises we receive from loving, making ourselves vulnerable, building community, creating family.
That is what Jesus was doing, even as he died for us. By his bruises, we are healed. Thanks be to God.