Readings: Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 1:68-79; Luke 23:33-43
A little joke about pandemic life. Dogs are getting stressed and confused because they’ve noticed their owners are now wearing masks. They don’t quite know what to do with that. Cats are unaffected though, as they’ve yet to notice their owners at all.
Seasons of Stress
I know I’m not alone in feeling like the last few years has been one prolonged period of stress. COVID-19, and now RSV and a potent version of influenza, are afflicting so many that hospitals are overrun and there is talk of renewing masking mandates and other health measures. Churches have been decimated by the pandemic, with the most vulnerable of us hit the hardest. So of course, we’re concerned about any possible further disruptions to our life together. We worry about our future viability and whether ministry will continue in the long-term in this parish. Many of us have had other stresses on our plates as well: grieving over lost loved ones, caring for our vulnerable family members, job stress, parental worries (including a potential CUPE strike hanging over us), just to name a few.
This seems to be one of those seasons when we feel the excruciating pain of our vulnerability and mortality. Do you know where we get that word, ‘excruciating’? It is derived from memories of actual crucifixions (note these words have the same root) – and it expresses the deepest kind of torturous pain.
An Excruciating Story
In today’s gospel, Luke is telling Jesus’ story of excruciating pain. A striking feature we may not be aware of, is that Luke makes it clear that the Jewish family stays with Jesus throughout his ordeal. On the way to the torture site, the daughters of Jerusalem mourn for Jesus, claiming him as their brother, their son, as the grandson who reminded them of the hopes of their youth. When the procession of torturers arrives at their chosen spot, Luke makes sure we notice the Jewish host, (or crowd that represents the people of Israel), stands watching. The word translated as ‘watching’ implies they know exactly what they are looking at. They look and they understand: Rome is doing what Rome does, and Jews are doing what Jews do in response: they gather, they bear witness, now and in every century.
Even up on the hill of crucifixion, Jesus finds a faithful Jew, one who is crucified with him. One bandit taunts Jesus in the same manner as the Roman soldiers, calling him bitterly ‘Messiah, King of the Jews’. But the other victim, knows that Jesus really is a king who reigns over a unique kingdom. These are things that, in Luke’s story, only faithful, expectant Jews know.
The Romans Should be Worried
I love the way preacher Richard Swanson puts it, “If the Romans are paying attention, they should commence worrying at this point. Crucifixion was torture intended to teach a political lesson: Rome can crush the humanity out of you. Remember that. But this crucifixion scene is loaded with Jews who cannot be crushed. This is trouble for oppressors. Rome should worry. The centurion who observes Jesus’ death seems to have figured this out.”
Everywhere Jesus turns there are People of Faith
As the narrative camera pulls back, we discover Jesus is surrounded by mourners, followers, family members, men and women. Even observant Jews from the Jewish Council are present. Everywhere Jesus turns there are people of faith. Years ago, the comic, Woody Allen, said that eighty percent of life is showing up. Luke’s storyteller appears to know that. No matter what happens to the messiah, the King of the Jews, the Jewish family shows up.
Maybe this is what Luke means to suggest when he talks about expecting the Kingdom of God? Many Christians believe this expectation will ultimately be realized in the great Day of Resurrection. But until such a day comes, it’s vital for the people of the kingdom to continue to show up. They can show up to help, to repent, to wait, and to watch. They can show up to argue, to learn, to support, or to challenge. Sometimes they can only show up to beat their breasts and mourn. But they show up.
We are a People who Show Up
In trying times, I take heart when the people of God’s kingdom show up. We are beginning to see the crucified Christ in all those enduring excruciating pain. I’ve only been with you a few months, but I can hear the pain of worry over the future of this church in your voices. We can all bear witness to the devastating effects of global warming upon our planet, with those living in developing countries facing the brunt of its effects. We continue to witness the devastating effects of poverty in our communities, doing what we can to support local food banks and missions.
We’re learning to take responsibility for the role we played in the systemic racism against indigenous peoples in our country. We’re starting to see the cracks in our political and economic systems that oppress the vast masses of our society.
Praying through the Pain
We’re opening our eyes to the woundedness in our world. We open God’s Word in the context of tragedies, and approach God, day after day, and week after week, in worship and song. We’ve sat at bedsides of the dying, we’ve rallied around the sick in prayer, we’ve provided food for the hungry, we’ve made our presence known in times of grief and sorrow. We’ve experienced a lot that would crush the humanity out of us these past few years, but we’ve still shown up.
Longing for a New Day
Like all of you, I’m longing for the day when God finishes renewing the world, as prophesied in the book of Revelation. I long for the day when tears will be no more – when there will be no need to grieve and weep and cry out for justice. But until that day, I will grieve. I will weep. And I will cry out. With you. With the people of God’s Kingdom. We honour Christ as King when we gather as a united people, claiming citizenship of a peculiar Kingdom. We worship Christ as the One who calls us, heals us, forgives us, and commissions us to be his emissaries.
As his witnesses let us have eyes opened to the suffering Jesus endures in the lives of all those who suffer. As we anxiously await the King’s triumphant return, let us continue to show up, as the people of God have in every age, to watch and wait and work to see the fulfillment of the prayer he taught us:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.