March 10, 2013

Semicolon Crisis

Mark serves up a stunning situation in 14:32-51.
late in the evening
on the heels of the supper
feet have been washing
Now he takes some of those disciples outside
and asks them to sit and wait
in his own words
I feel bad enough right now to die.
Stay here and keep vigil with me.

Three years of ministry, now behind him
all the encounters
all the teaching
all the miracles
and of course
along the way
a growing controversy
a grumble that turns into an sabotage
as Jesus’ words and way with others
the authority by which he demonstrates
the Father’s power and purpose
these become
an affront
an insult
to the leaders of his own faith family

And so by the time of this encounter in the garden of Mark 14
the seniors pastors and ruling elders have conspired to do him in
Turns out the Session is his biggest problem
one of his own posse
short-sighted and hungry for the money
Judas helps them bring him down

The point is:
all of this is bearing down on him in the garden
He knows what has already taken place:
the plans for his demise
Worse: he knows what is about to take place
a religious electric chair

No wonder Mark can say
Jesus is
“He plunged into a sinkhole of dreadful agony.”

Mark has Jesus praying down on the ground
which is to be noted
since good faithful Jews of Jesus’ day usually prayed standing up
arms lifted to heaven
So there on the ground
three years of showing them God now behind him
the culmination of their sabotage now before him
Jesus prays an astonishing prayer:
Abba, Father,
(an intimate address)
for you all things are possible
(not so much a theological fact as a precious naming of trust)
And then it comes:
Remove this cup from me;
yet, not what I want, but what you want.

Have you known the crisis of wanting the cup to pass to someone else?

Of wanting to go over
any direction but

Here’s the astonishing thing:
Jesus did
Jesus does
that crisis
of wanting the cup to pass to someone else

Father, for you all things are possible
remove this cup from me
(Did he say cup?  I’m sure he meant cross)
Remove it
Take it away
Give it someone else
It’s too much
It’s too hard
It’s going to be the end, I know it
Let this cup pass from me
Let me turn back from this
Let me go around instead of through

One of the reasons I trust the teaching of the four gospels
is because they show us such unexpected sides of a “Savior”

Who sets out to produce propaganda for a successful religious movement
only to show us a Messiah who
on the night before his terrible ending
wants out of the deal
wishes it on someone else
wants the cup passed?

It makes for a terrible propaganda piece
But it sure does show us the gospel

Hebrews 4:
We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested and tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Ours is not a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin.

Make sure you have room in your faithful imagination
for a Jesus who wants out of his contract
because only that Jesus can save me and you
only that Jesus take our death upon himself, and therefore into God
only that Jesus can show God what it is like to be us
Father, remove this cup from me

even so
everything depends on what happens during the semicolon
A semicolon!
Such a miniscule sort of punctuation
for marking such a massive space in Jesus’ prayer

Remove this cup from me
yet not what I want, but what you want.

How long must that space have been?
30 seconds?
30 minutes?
30 hours?
(Long enough for his entourage to fit in a power nap.
He should have bought them Red Bulls)

Do not be deceived
by the deceptively small and pragmatic semicolon;
invented by an Italian in 1494;
for separating words and phrases of opposed meaning

Remove this cup from me
yet not what I want, but what you want.

What takes place in that little space?
What brings forth that turn from one clause to another?

What transpires between eternal Father and struggling Son
bound together in the elasticity of the Holy Spirit
such that Jesus can move from
cup passing
“have thine own way, Lord, have thine own way”
from I don’t want to do this
I will do what you have for me to do
Count me out
Count me in

I was struck by a line in a manual on punctuation:
“A semicolon is used when a sentence could have been ended, but it wasn’t.”

Jesus’ role as messiah could have ended right here.
But it wasn’t

This crisis of calling could have derailed the entire gospel train.
It didn’t

This night of anguish and despair and loneliness
it could have brought God’s entire unlikely work to a halt
But it didn’t

Remove this cup from me
yet not what I want, but what you want.

Entering into a space of honest, earnest, soul-searching prayer
(Is there another kind of prayer?)
the divine son is put back into a position
to rediscover the faithfulness of the father

He trusts that
although the father takes no pleasure
in the suffering that is about to commence
Such suffering, for faithfulness’ sake
will be allowed
for the greater good
so that the suffering of a senseless sort
the kind with which we are all afflicted
and with which we so often afflict others
so that this can be put to death
and raised to new life
(the original sequester)

This is not just mere acquiesce
As if a son loses a fight with the father
and simply most learn to cope

It is more like fresh fresh
living trust
growing again where only fear was taking root

Across and around this semicolon moment
Jesus shows us again
what it looks like
to love the Lord your God
with all your heart, mind, soul, strength