The following was prepared and written by Don Troyer for Passion Sunday, April 5, 2020
Lectionary Texts for April 5, 2020
Isaiah 50: 4-9a: “The Lord God has given me
the tongue of a teacher
and skill to console the weary
with a word in the morning;
he sharpened my hearing
that I might listen like on who is taught.
The Lord God opened my ears
And I did not disobey or turn back in defiance,
I offered my back to the lash
and let my beard be plucked from my chin,
I did not hide my face from spitting and insult;
but the Lord God sand by to help me;
therefore no insult can wound me.
I have set my face like flint,
for I know that I shall not be put to shame,
because one who will clear my name is at my side.
Who dare argue against me? Let us confront one another.
Who will dispute my cause? Let him come forward.
The Lord God will help me;
Psalm 31 9-16: “Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress,
and my eyes are dimmed with grief.
My life is word away with sorrow
and my years with sighing;
strong as I am, I stumble under my load of misery;
there is disease in all my bones.
I have such enemies that all men scorn me;
my neighbors find me a burden,
my friends shudder at me;
when they see me in the street they turn quickly away.
I am forgotten, like a dead man out of mind;
I have come to be like something lost.
For I hear man men whispering
threats from every side,
in league against me as they are
and plotting to take my life,
But, Lord, I put my trust in thee;
I say, ‘Thou art my God.’
My fortunes are in thy hand;
rescue me from my enemies and those who persecute me.
Make thy face shine upon thy servant;
save me in thy unfailing love.
Philippians 2: 5-11
“Let your bearing towards one another arise out of your life in Christ Jesus. For the divine nature was his from the first; yet he did not think to snatch at equality with God, but made himself nothing, assuming the nature of a slave. Bearing the human likeness, revealed in human shape, he humbled himself, and in obedience accepted even death – death on a cross. Therefore God raised him to the heights and bestowed on him the name above all names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow – in heaven, on earth, and in the depths – and every tongue confess, ‘Jesus Chris is Lord’, to the glory of God the Father.”
John 13: 1-17, 31-35
“It was before the Passover festival, Jesus knew that his hour had come and he must leave this world and go to the Father. He had always loved his own who were in the world, and now he was to show the full extent of his love.
The devil had already put it into the mind of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. During supper, Jesus, well aware that the Father had entrusted everything to him, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from table, laid aside his garments, and taking a towel, tied it round him. Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash his disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel.
When it was Simon Peter’s turn, Peter said to him, ‘You, Lord washing my feet?’ Jesus replied, ‘You do not understand now what I am doing, but one day you will.’ Peter said, ‘I will never let you wash my feet.’ ‘If I do not wash you,’ Jesus replied, ‘you are not in fellowship with me.’ “Then, Lord,’ said Simon Peter, ‘not my feet only; wash my hands and head as well!’
Jesus said, ‘A man who has bathed needs no further washing; he is altogether clean; and you are clean, although not every one of you.’ He added the words ‘not every one of you’ because he knew who was going to betray him.
After washing their feet and taking his garments again, he sat down. ‘Do you understand what I have done for you?’ he asked. ‘You call me “Master” and “Lord” and rightly so, for that is what I am. Then if I, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example: you are to do as I have done for you. In very truth I tell you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor a messenger than the one who sent him. If you know this, happy are you if you act upon it.
When he had gone out Jesus said, ‘ow the Son of Man is glorified and I him God is glorified. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself; and he will glorify him now. My children, for a little longer I am with you; then you will look for me, and, as I told the Jews, I tell you now, where I am going you cannot come. I give you a new commandment: love one another; as I have loved you, so you are to love one another. If there is this love among you, then all will know that you are my disciples.”
In this global crisis of contagion during this season of Lent, we have been mandated into isolation and are experiencing a radical interruption of our usual activities. For most of us, the suddenness of all this carries a feeling of an unjustified punishing intrusion which we simultaneously fear and resent. The suspension of business life is stark and chilling. Then there is the enforced isolation from the sustaining support of group participation and process, especially gathered worship. Forced into home-based cubicles of cyber connection, we struggle with these surreal new realities. The psalmist speaks for us when he says, “I am in distress and my eyes are dimmed with grief. My life is worn away with sorrow and my years with sighing…I stumble under my load of misery.” (Psalm 31: 9-10)
Nature seems to be aligned against us, unleashing devastating droughts, fires, hurricanes, earthquakes and viral plagues! What is she trying to say to us in our encapsulated egotistical pride? In the ancient world the goddess Nemesis, imaged as a winged goddess wielding a whip or a dagger, arose to mete out implacable justice to “the frivolous insolences of mortals” who failed to acknowledge a properly respectful relationship to Nature.
When we are in such collective distress there are simultaneous pressures to choose from the extremes of forms of denial such as ‘It’s not as bad as they say’ or ‘I should be able go about my life without interruption’. Alternately, on the other end of the continuum of reactive response, we may find ourselves tipping towards a vat of free-falling fear of helplessness, scarcity, poverty and lack all of which thinly cover a deeper and ever-prevalent fear of death. This can be paralyzing. Even the neighbor now carries the alien threat of being the zombie or vampire-like carrier of contamination, which we are reminded of continually in the mandate to socially distance! The world seems to be playing a diabolical game of musical chairs and we don’t want to be among the ones without a seat (or hand sanitizer or the last roll of t.p.) when the music stops!
Isaiah 50:4-9 tells us that suffering causes our hearing to be sharpened and that that can be painful guidance. When the writer says, “No insult can wound me”, he is claiming spiritual protection against inner judgements of shame and guilt that accompany all threats of vulnerability. He affirms that the Lord will help him in his distress. So rather than the automatic knee-jerk responses in the denial or hysterical camps, there is at least the possibility of a more balanced middle ground not rooted in rationality or scientific knowledge alone, but underwritten by a sought sense of assurance and affirmation of the promise and hope of the Lord. “In the valley and the shadow of death, thou art with me.” (Psalm 23) Having this felt sense of not being only in vulnerability of our humanity but also loved and companioned render the sting of these threats less final and less triggering to our universal core fears.
Phil. 2:5-10 further teaches us that in these crisis “Let your bearing arise out of your life in Christ Jesus…who made himself nothing, a slave humbled even to death on a cross”, submitting to betrayal, humiliation and physical agony out of his relationship to God. So, a third response is not denial or hysteria but seeing the crisis as an opportunity to offer oneself in humble service. As Isaiah said, “Here am I, send me.” (Isaiah 6:8) The Christ invitation is one of humble service reflecting the ultimate values of relationship especially when threatened by fears of lack and death.
In contrast to this response, an overwhelming experience in times of global crisis is the power of the mob, those collective waves set in motion by the combined and unholy fears of manifested in denial and hysteria noted above. In response to the unsettlement of watching the evening news, we can be uprooted and swept along and get carried away, grabbing for that loaf of bread on the shelf. One that stands apart from this mass movement may seem oblivious, naïve or just plain stupid to the frenzied mass mind, but we are reminded that this was how Jesus was regarded as well.
Standing alone was an element of the supreme testing Jesus faced to honor his oneness with God and the Kingdom of eternal values (heaven) and the eternal significance of relationships. He entrusted eternal significance to his love for his fellow men and women. He entrusted eternal significance to his stand against insidious and overt lies and evil. To the seductions of argument with Pilate and Judas, he answered simply that “The words are yours.”
In other words, I believe he was saying, consider the import and intention of where your question came from. The power and glory of the Kingdom is not a vaulted edifice here on earth like the Acropolis in Athens or St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, but in the subtle inapparent implied golden thread of bonding that is born in human consciousness and relationships. This gossamer thread of recognition, acceptance, respect and love between persons and nature is the power of the Kingdom in the face of these great oppressive forces or viral fear of lack, death and each other coursing through humankind at the present time.
Our work is to believe in Jesus as the living bread (John 6:28-29) and cultivate expectancy, hope, availability, attentive listening, willingness, trust, faith and love. The current involuntary sabbath from outer activities and relationships offers each of us to turn into the “fount of every blessing” that resides within, awaiting attention and a listening heart. Hope in things unseen. Listen to the voice of the Spirt in your dreams and visions. Infused with these energies, our abiding hope and trust can be expressed in humble service to one another and the wounded world.