Sunday, September 13, 2020

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost - Proper 19 A - September 13, 2020

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY

Br. Josép Martinez-Cubero, OHC

Exaltation of the Holy Cross (anticipated) - Proper for Holy Cross day - September 13,.2020

Isaiah 45:21-25
Philippians 2:5-11
John 12:31-36a

Back in July, I led an associate’s retreat (a Zoom retreat, as we have been doing during this time of pandemic), during which one of the topics was Christianity as a religion of paradox. Christianity is not a set formula of holy propositions. We cannot live a healthy Christian life without embracing paradox, ambiguity and mystery. 

God is One and Three. Jesus is human and divine. The Scriptures are God’s Word and written by flawed humans. God’s Creation is good and broken. To give is to receive. To gain your life you must lose it. To reign is to serve. We are saved by grace, and faith without works is dead. We are in the world, but we are not of the world. The Reign of God is coming, and the Reign of God is here within us. 

Without these counterintuitive and irreconcilable truths Christianity cannot be true to the world we live in. Our world is complex, messy and full of contradiction. God will lead us to more truth and more wisdom if we have the courage to look at uncertainty without avoidance and to embrace mystery, which is that which cannot be apprehended by reason, but once apprehended, is not contrary to reason.

So today we celebrate the paradox of the Holy Cross, the instrument of a cruel, violent execution, and the symbol of our salvation, in other words, “mundi medicina”, the medicine of the world. 

Mortality is part of what it means to be human. God does not rule creation by capricious suspensions of the laws of nature. Natural death is part of created reality. Most cultures in the ancient world, including Israel, accepted this reality. But the violent and premature death of the righteous presented a challenge to Israel’s faith in a just and loving God. How could this just and loving God be reconciled to cases in which the virtuous died violently while the violent lived in prosperity?  The Book of Wisdom serves as a transition to the New Testament’s confrontation with the quandary of unjust death. The author’s distinction between natural death and evil death is crucial for the understanding of Jesus’ struggle against the “death that should not be”.
Do not invite death by the error of your life,
or bring on destruction by the works of your hands;
because God did not make death,
and God does not delight in the death of the living.
For God created all things so that they might exist;
the creatures of the world are wholesome,
and there is no destructive poison in them,
and the dominion of Hades is not on earth.
For righteousness is immortal. 
But the ungodly by their words and deeds summoned death;
considering it a friend, they pined away
and made a covenant with it,
because they deserve to be in its possession.
(Wisdom 1:12-16)
According to the writer of Wisdom, God did not create evil. God created all things good. There are two intertwined realities in human experience, God’s originally intended world of love and justice, and a world of evil whose primary result and manifestation is violent death and is made operative in the world through human choices. Physical death, in other words, is not truly evil, no matter how painful, because it is neither ultimate nor final. So the death the writer of Wisdom is referring to is the death seen as being brought into the world by “the envy of the evil one”.
But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,
and no torment will ever touch them.
In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died,
and their departure was thought to be a disaster,
and their going from us to be their destruction;
but they are at peace…their hope is full of immortality.
(Wisdom 3:1-4)
The righteous, whether living in this world or deceased, are alive in the hand of God and the wicked, whether before or after natural death, are dead because they belong to the devil. In John’s Gospel, Jesus confronts this final and definitive death that God did not create. By his crucifixion, Jesus enters the death brought about by the perversion of the persons, systems, and structures of the world, that is, the first century political structures of imperialism and institutional religion, in other words, law and order allied with religion. He was executed because by his teaching and saving acts of power, he announced and communicated eternal life. This was a threat to a domination system that used the violence of crucifixion to terrify, repress and strip its victims of all dignity. In John’s Gospel, God sent Jesus into the world because God loved the world and willed that humans not die the final death but have eternal life (John 3:16). This divine life, lived personally and communally, is what the Synoptic Gospels refer to as the Reign of God. By his direct confrontation with death as evil, Jesus addresses the realm of what in the Gospel of John is referred to as the Prince of this world and brings it to an end.

In her book, “Buying the Field”, Sandra Schneiders writes, “The central struggle in John’s Gospel is not defined primarily as a struggle between good and evil (although it is certainly that) but specifically as the struggle between life and death. Jesus did not come primarily to defeat evil in order to restore some kind of cosmic or ontological order to a damaged Creation. Rather, Jesus came primarily to give life, God’s own life, in all its fullness (cf. 10:10), by giving the power to become the children of God to all who believe in him (cf. 1:12-13). The life Jesus comes to give, which will cost him his own natural human life, is not immortality either as indefinite survival in this world or as a disembodied soul-life in some vague world outside of time. It is the indestructible and super-abundant life of the Trinity lived in our own bodily human mortality. Jesus, expiring on the cross, is glorified in the presence of God by the divine life that is revealed in his death.” 

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw everything to myself (John 12:32).” The Greek word is “pantas” – everything, not just people, but the whole of all that is. That Love that draws everything to oneness is the body of Christ. That Love that draws everything to oneness is what we commemorate every time we stand around the altar, when past, present and yet to come become the here and now. That Love that draws everything to oneness is what we receive at communion. Its symbol is the cross and as our Father Founder wrote in his Rule, it is not “the symbol of an event which has its place in the distant past, while only the memory of that event belongs to the present. Rather it is the witness of a fact of the eternal order…” The cross is the symbol of that Love that invites us to abundant and eternal life with a kind of consciousness that illuminates our experience of God, ourselves, the world, and human history with an entirely new understanding. May we glory in the mystery. ¡Que así sea en el nombre del Padre, del Hijo y del Espíritu Santo! ~Amen+  

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