Friday, April 06, 2007

Good Friday

Mark 15: 33 - 39
33At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"—which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
When some of those standing near heard this, they said, "Listen, he's calling Elijah."
One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. "Now leave him alone. Let's see if Elijah comes to take him down," he said.
With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.
The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, "Surely this man was the Son of God!"

Who has the power?

Sometimes we imagine that we have the power. We make decisions—large and small—and congratulate ourselves on our ability to discern and the use the power we have. Most often, if asked the question, we would claim that we have the power.

Once and a while, we bump up against something or someone with more power. Cross a border or prepare your taxes and discover who has the power. Yet even in the face of bureaucratic power, or the power of the state we imagine that we have the power to live within the rules and render powerless those who choose not to.

Still later, we are confronted by the power of illness or some unforeseen event in our lives and we find all sorts of ways to reclaim our power—and failing that—to at least reclaim our dignity. Voices surround us insisting that we can fight whatever it is—and in fighting we can regain the power.

We imagine that we have power over nature. We confess that we made a myriad of mistakes in the past, and in the misuse of our power we created a crisis that seems larger than the world has ever known. But wait, we are told, we have the power to fix it, to arrest the warming, to change our destructive ways and (by extension) reassert our power.

Who has the power?

In our more candid moments, we can admit that we are often feel powerless. We feel powerless in the face of “the way of the world” and powerless in “unsolvable situations.” We rehearse a litany of things we cannot change, and carry on doing the things we do because we imagine we are powerless.

Like most Canadians, I oppose the war in Iraq, and feel rather powerless to do anything about it. I grieve for the Iraqi people and the chaos that was foisted on them, knowing full well that my opposition or the opposition of Canadians amounts to little in the minds of those who continue to pursue this terrible course.

So why do we participate? Why does one company in Quebec supply 300 to 500 million bullets a year to the U.S. military? Are we really powerless bystanders when we make the bullets that kill Iraqis? Manufacturing generates jobs and consumers and tax revenue and an entire web of ways in which one small company in Quebec makes me a participant in the Iraq war.

Who has the power?

To say we have a complex relationship with power would be a dramatic understatement. God gave us free will, which by definition means we have to power to choose. At the same moment, we seem largely powerless in the face of sin. I only need a moment to ponder those bullets destined for Iraq to feel pain and revulsion at my complicity and ignorance. Why did it take the creation of this sermon to prompt me to google the phrase “Canada supplies Iraq war” and find one example among many? The war has been happening for a while, but like many, I can only feel so bad for so long and then I turn off. Is it power or powerlessness?


Judas thought he had the power to end something, but didn’t.
Pilate thought he had the power to govern and control the events that unfolded around him but didn’t.
Peter insisted that he had the power to remain loyal to his friend but didn’t.
Ciaphas and the religious leaders thought they had the power to end a claim and kill some ideas but didn’t.

Who has the power?

Listen to an ancient hymn, recounted by St. Paul:

Christ Jesus,
being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God
something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Paul, the first and perhaps greatest theologian sets aside his own words to sing a hymn on the topic of power, a hymn about God’s decision to enter human experience. Christ did not cling to the power of heaven, but chose instead to become Word to us, to give up power to become as us.

Christ became a servant, fully human with the same ambiguous relationship with power that we all have. And he made choices:

He had the power to remain on high, but chose to walk among us.
He had the power to be a ruler of all people, but chose to be with the powerless.
He had the power to command armies and destroy the might of Rome but preached peace.
He had the power to rule nature and raise Lazarus but went to the cross.

Who has the power?

In Christ Jesus we find the mysterious power to defeat death. On the cross we are confronted by the one who would choose death over escape, suffering instead of the urge to save himself.

One name for this mystery is love. The power that defeats death, the real power that is not subject to the ways of this world is love. God’s love for us is so profound that God was willing to die at our hands and in doing so free us from death itself. It was and is our only glimpse of the only power to save us: the power of love revealed in the cross. Jesus’ answer to the power of the world was a willingness to die for the sake of the very people who misuse power, in other words, to die for all of us.

I conclude with another anonymous poet, describing the gift before us:

What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
to lay aside his crown for my soul, for my soul,
to lay aside his crown for my soul.


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