Thursday, April 2, 2015

Take This Cup (Holy Week II)

Take This Cup from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.

Exodus 12:1-14
1The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: 2This month shall mark for you the beginning of the month; it shall be the first month of the year for you. 3Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. 4If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. 5Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year old male; you may take it from the sheep or the goats. 6You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. 7They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. 8They shall eat the lamb that same night; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 9Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. 10You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. 11This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the LORD. 12For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD.

This is the Word of the LORD

Thanks be to God

Mark 14:22-25, 32-42

22While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” 23Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. 24He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. 25Truly, I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

32They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. 34And he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.” 35And going a little further, he threw himself on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” 37He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? 38Keep awake and pray that you may not come to the time of trial; for the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 39And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. 40And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. 41He came a third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”

This is the Word of the LORD

Thanks be to God.

After the noisiness of Palm Sunday fades, our expectations of the LORD sour us against Jesus of Nazareth. Against the backdrop of Passover, the shared story of God freeing our spiritual ancestors and us from oppression, Jesus’s apparent tolerance of the empire that reigns is all the more offensive. We almost accused accuse hm of being who we want him to be, ignoring who he is, and attempt to box him in with our expectations. We accuse him of being the Moral Absolute that represents the silent majority. We accuse him of being the socially reforming rebel who overturns those who would hold us back from our version of justice. We place him in a box that fits our own biases. Yet he doesn’t fit in any of those boxes, and has broken all of them between Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday. So by the time we reach the Passover celebration, the bitter herb reflects both the tears we wept while we were slaves in Egypt and the bitterness in our own hearts that Jesus of Nazareth has not done as we expected.

And yet, beneath the surface, the Passover and Passion Pageants are playing out just past what we can perceive, beyond what we expect. At the edge of despair, God is bringing us together to celebrate the Passover, and to participate in the way God sets us free from our bondage to sin.

Jesus gathers his disciples together at a table where the dishes from Passover have not even been cleared. There’s a little leftover bread, a little leftover wine, and a cup. We have all told the story of how once we were slaves in Egypt, but God brought us out with a mighty hand. “Then Jesus took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.’” The same Jesus who has systematically avoided all the titles that prophets and crowds have hurled at his feet now becomes the lamb who will be slaughtered for Passover. In his last days, Jesus of Nazareth meets us around a table.

From the Passover table, we travel to the Garden of Gethsemane, and once again we encounter Jesus in a more intimate way than the gospels have shown us previously. We meet him in agony. Many commentators suggest that Jesus’s prayer gave him encouragement, or strength. However, God whom Jesus calls “Abba, Father,” is utterly silent. There is no voice from heaven proclaiming “This is my son, the beloved.” Only the darkness of the garden, and only Jesus’s voice is heard. “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.

A brief prayer in the midst of distress, agitation, and deep grief, even to death.  Jesus reaches out with an honest plea, like many of laments we have reached for over our Lenten journey, and they bubble up again here in Jesus of Nazareth’s final hours. Jesus is bound to know what awaited him, he knows what the cup “of the covenant, which is poured out for many” would look like.

Yet, like the psalmist’s laments, he remains faithful, and chooses to obey God’s will for him. “The agony of Jesus’s prayer lies…in the irony that what God wills is what Jesus’s own enemies are conspiring.” The betrayal cannot, will not be averted. For God has chosen this Jesus of Nazareth, and has chosen to strike him down with the cross.  “Fully human, Jesus knows the inner struggle of the will. He refuses to abandon the will of God, and in this decision the die is cast.” Jesus is obedient to the will of the LORD, even if God’s will means Jesus joins the firstborn of all the Egyptians and is struck down, by being lifted up on the cross.

No matter the cup, salvation, new covenant, or the cruciform suffering and death that awaits Jesus of Nazareth, it’s too much for a person to handle all at once. Here in the garden, Jesus has to stop taking from this cup and come up for air a few times. Maybe the good news of Maundy Thursday is that we do not have to suffer through despair alone. After all, Jesus gathered us around the table and invited us to the garden together. Maybe the good news is that we don’t have to do it alone?

And yet, that’s not the cup which Jesus is given. Jesus must enter into this despair alone. Jesus reaches out to his disciples, leaving them a short distance away as he struggles with the cup God has provided him. He returns three times to them, weary from struggling over his impending suffering.

God has given us the story of Passover so that we might remember that God brought us out with a mighty hand. God has given us the Psalms of Lament so that we might faithfully grieve and struggle with a world that does not know how to be free from sin. God has charged us to take this cup, which is the “blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many.” Even God remains silent as Jesus struggles by himself, with the fate of the world in the balance. 

One thing is certain: only Jesus of Nazareth is capable of taking this cup. And we, the disciples, cannot even help him along the way.

Yet we are connected to it nevertheless, because it was our cup to begin with.

The cup is past taking though, and so Jesus returns from his grieving-prayer and finds us sleeping. “Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed unto the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”

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