God’s Bloody Hands 5: Peace Prayer - thrive UMC Official Blog

God’s Bloody Hands 5: Peace Prayer


Luke 22:39-53

When I was about 12, I went and saw a movie called Apollo 13 with my parents.  I had thought it sounded cool because it was supposed to be about a space-mission going terribly wrong.   And on top of that, it was also starring Tom Hanks and Gary Sinise, who had both been in Forest Gump the previous year.  And so my anticipation of Apollo 13 was this: what could be more awesome than Forrest Gump and Lieutenant Dan blowing up in a space-shuttle?  I mean, throw in a couple of space-suit fart jokes, and some girls in bikinis and that movie would win all the awards every seventh-grade boy could throw at it.

But, about half-way through the slow, almost 2 and a half hour movie, it became clear to me that nothing would be blowing up.  They weren’t actually going to make it to the moon; and they weren’t really going to die either.  In short, it was a movie about nothing actually happening.  So, in my best know-it-all voice, I lean over to my dad and whisper: ‘this movie is sooo predictable.’

At which point, my dad turns to me and just squints, with one of those ‘where did I go wrong in parenting’ looks, and whispers back: “you knew that this about a launch that happened in 1970, didn’t you?”

And that little bit of new knowledge changed how I should have watched that movie.  But by then it was already too late.

Of course, you could imagine my sister’s delight when the movie Titanic came out a couple of years later.  She went around telling everyone I refused to watch it because it’s ‘too predictable.’  And then there was Saving Private Ryan, which was set during World War II –‘hey Jeremy, who do you think is going to win the war?’

Because not all stories are told the same way, for the same reasons, right?  And for most of us, the best stories are the ones that are so rich that we can go back to them again, and again, and they always tell us something new.  Even after we’ve watched or heard them before, and even after we know how they end, that film or that story still has something more to offer the second, third, or even the hundredth time it’s shared.

Which is why we should take some time to re-examine the ending of the story of Jesus of Nazareth.  Probably most of us, if we know anything about the story of Jesus and how he ends up dying on a cross, have also heard the explanation that ‘he died so that our sins could be forgiven.’  And this truth that he died so that our sins could be forgiven is indeed at the very heart of Christianity’s good news.  It says something very powerful, and good, and deeply beautiful about who God is and how God loves us.  But lately, as I’ve been watching other people as they encounter this part of the story, I’m starting to notice a lot of bored and puzzled looks.  Because a lot of people haven’t made the connection yet that this is a true story. They know just enough to not be surprised, but too little to stay tuned.  And for other people, it’s like, hey maybe it is true –and if it is, that’s great.  But it was true for other people in a different time, in another world; but, uh, let’s be honest: it’s irrelevant to my story.

After all, what sins do I need to be forgiven for?  It’s not like I’m a terrible person right?  I don’t kill people.  I’m not a thief.  I use my turn-signal when I’m changing lanes  –I’m not a degenerate who doesn’t know how to use an Oxford comma properly.  And besides, what does a guy who died almost 2,000 years ago have to do with my, or anybody else’s, forgiveness anyway?  Instead of fixing stuff, isn’t he just one more dead guy among a whole innumerable pile of dead men, women and children amassing over the entire course of human history?  Isn’t the very ground we walk on composed of the dust of all the dead that came and went before us?  We live; we laugh; we suffer; and we die –that’s the story of human history –right?  And did that one alleged God-guy change any of that?  Did his death put an end to genocide, or cure any disease?  Did it stop people from being evil, or make us immortal?  Take a look around buddy, and get a new story because that one isn’t even interesting any more.  So let’s go watch Season 3 of House of Cards or something instead.

Today it even seems like Christians have a hard time facing the cross.  So often we treat it like the great eye-sore before Easter –as if the death of Jesus were just some ugly, unskippable commercial on Youtube that has to play all the way through before the bit we want loads.  So we go through Lent gritting our teeth and closing our eyes, and like humming words to that Rihanna song, FourFive Seconds, we made up for ourselves.

‘I’m just four five seconds from smilin.’ We only got like 2 more scary sermons.  I just want to make it back here for Easter morning I swear some chocolate bunnies, mm-mmm, that’s all I want…’

…By which I meant a resurrected savior… did I say chocolate bunnies?  I totally meant Jesus.  Because I’m a Christian, and that’s what Christians say.

Meanwhile, has it ever struck any of you that the predominant symbol for Christianity isn’t an empty tomb?  That would be the proper way to emphasize the triumph of Jesus’s resurrection, and the glory of God Almighty, wouldn’t it?  If our message is ultimately just about God’s goodness and power, and the final victory of love, life, and forgiveness, shouldn’t we lift up an imagine of a holey Jesus –that’s H, O, L, E, Y an image of a post-crucifixion Jesus alive with holes in his hands, feet and side?  Shouldn’t we wave the banners of a grave that couldn’t hold him?  And a lot of Christians have tried to do just that.  At this point in history, this is exactly what almost all of the preachers preach 95% of the time–and they’re not wrong.  But it’s only half of the true story of Easter.

To find the fuller, richer, more complete story, we have to return again to the question: why did Jesus die?  This is at the very heart of the Christian story and the Christian experience.  Here we were, with our very savior in our midst.  And he was healing, and teaching, and casting out demons, and leading, and encouraging, and spreading the message of a God-sized love… and yet he dies in the most horrible, humiliating way that human beings could imagine.

Back at the beginning, in the Christmas story, we have this amazing miracle of God breaking into the human existence in this unexpected, intimate and unspeakably powerful way.  God actually became flesh, which was something completely new and inconceivable to the ancient Hebrew understanding.  Again, we have to acknowledge that it would be blasphemy to speak of God becoming a person if hadn’t God hadn’t actually done it. So in the event of the incarnation, we have this beautiful, miraculous, holy trespass that God makes into human skin and life.  God loves us, and is so invested in us as individuals and as a species, that he literally became our neighbor –he became our brother.

And up until this point, it’s an awesome, rich, relatively uncomplicated story.  Up through the moment of the Last Supper, being a disciple was relatively easy.  Jesus called you, and you came along.  Sure you had to give some stuff up and there were uncomfortable moments along the road –but relatively speaking, it’s all good right?  Last week we celebrated our First Brunch, to try to remember –to be re-collected back into participation in Christ’s eternal, universal life –and it was good.  The food was awesome, we grew a little closer to those at our table, and God in our midst, and even to others across tables.  There were great songs and a few good stories exchanged, which are some of the best things this life has to offer.  And that’s a lot like how I imagine the Last Supper went –except for the likelihood that the disciples who shared the historical table with Jesus shared a much deeper bond.   Well, and the wine probably played a much more visceral role in experience for them too.  But otherwise, could you imagine what it must have felt like for them?

There they were, these ex-fishermen and no-longer nobodies, strutting around with the greatest teacher on earth, shaking up the greatest city of their culture.  Jesus is winning over the crowds and making the pompous know-it-alls look like fools in public.  This was the big time, folks.  They could smell the tides of history changing.  And they were right at the forefront –right in the center of where all of the action was about to take place.  You can tell this because, if you read the story, before the Last Supper is cleaned up they’re already talking about who in the group is the greatest.  And it’s the little details like this that make me positive that this story is real.  Here they are sharing a meal among friends, in the house of a stranger –because they’re that big of a deal.  All they had to say was, ‘we’re with the teacher’ and the doors were opening.  Then boom, they brought the party.  And there was wine.  Probably a lot of it.  So of course they’re sitting around talking about who is the most awesome –they’re guys.  What could be better?  If they had had Twitter back then, you can bet all of their tweets that night would have ended with #winning.

However, when Jesus enters the argument, he says “Instead, the greatest among you must become like a person of lower status and the leader like a servant.”

But if we read carefully the full story of the Last Supper we find that all is not well in the Jesus camp, even then.  There is a traitor in their midst.  The pride of the disciples is erupting.  And Peter, the rock, is about to falter.  Jesus gives them power, and authority in God’s kingdom, but speaks of preparations requiring swords, and anticipations of suffering to come.

Then, in almost the next moment, he’s arrested.  Judas marks him with a kiss, and he’s hauled away, tried, given up, abandoned by the crowds and executed.

Even today, we must learn to live into the shock of those disciples.  We have to recover the horror and terror they experienced when their teacher, lord, and friend died.

They were so close.  For years now, they had completely invested themselves in the mission and the life of their teacher.  They’d given up everything else.  Everything.   And in turn, they were becoming new people.  They were finally becoming somebodies.  They made it all the way to the destination where everything was supposed to change.

They were with Jesus.

And he was so good. Jesus was the best man they’d ever met –there was just something about him.  His wisdom was inexhaustible.  His touch was gentle and renewing.  His heart for the poor and the despised was miraculous.  His courage and authority made them feel like they could do anything.  Even now, in an age so cynical of Christianity and the entire enterprise of religion, it’s hard to find anyone who tries to say that Jesus wasn’t good.

But before the disciples know it, before their belief can catch up with their eyes, there he is, hanging on a cross.  There he is dead.

What the hell?  What in the name of God could possibly come from that?  There were all of their dreams, and all of their hopes, and everything good about this life that they knew ripped open and emptied.  The very heart of their love was hung up at the gates of their sacred city and turned, in a heartbeat, into shame.   All that they gave, and all their work for a future peace was laid bare and slowly choked to death to the applause of a jeering crowd.  And that, brothers and sisters, is what it means to be a Christian.

Before any resurrection, before any serene assurance, before any lasting peace, there is the cross.  That is the center of the Christian experience: not an answer, but a gaping, bleeding question.  And that question is this: why, good God, this?  Is this your plan?   How could you let this happen?  Who ARE you?

And in the midst of it, who are we?

Of all that we could imagine, and of all of the possible futures, presents, and pasts, why this one?  Why this suffering?  Why this death?   And what are we supposed to do in the midst of it now?   Couldn’t this have gone a different  –a better way?   Why, God, why?

Although we don’t’ get to hear all of it, it’s a conversation Jesus had with God in the garden, in between the feast and his fate.  We don’t get to hear all of it, but we get to hear enough.  We’re going to pick up our reading in Luke, chapter 22, starting in verse 39;

[Luke 22:39-53]

“Father, if it’s your will, take this cup of suffering away from me.  However, not my will but your will must be done.”

To me, this is a unique and beautiful depiction of prayer.  It shows us that even Jesus had wanted things to go differently.  The suffering wasn’t a part of his will.  This death wasn’t what he wanted.  Yet the Divine Will did not spare him.  It sent a messenger to give him strength, but unlike the first-born of the slaves in ancient Egypt, Jesus was not passed over.  The text goes on to say how Jesus then continued to pray even more passionately, until ‘his sweat became like drops of blood.’

But then when he finally gets up, he finds of the disciples asleep.  Before going up to the Mount of Olives, he had told them “pray that you won’t give in to temptation.” But by the time he comes down, they’re out.  “Why are you sleeping?” Jesus says.  “Get up and pray so that you won’t give in to temptation!” But already it’s too late.

His adversaries have already arrived.  Their knives and clubs are already drawn, and he’s already arrested.  The trial hasn’t happened yet, but he’s already condemned. His fate has already been set, and in a way, he’s already dead –with nothing else remaining but the agony and the dying.  And we have to stop and ask the essential question: why?  Why did this happen?  Was this what God had wanted –for his son?  I

And first, before we approach the cross, we have to admit: no.  Jesus didn’t want this.  God did not want this.  God wanted to help us live in his kingdom.  God wanted love to reign, and for peace to prosper.  That was always his plan, and that’s clear throughout all of the gospel stories.  So why, then, did it fail?  Why did Jesus die?

And here’s the other part of the story –the part we all try to sweep under the rug, because it’s our part of the story.  It’s where we enter the scene – it’s the human part of the story.

And the human part of the story is this: when faced with God’s plan, and when faced with God himself, we said no.  We have always said no.   Not only did the only Christ die for our sins, but more immediately, he died because of them.  Precisely because he didn’t fit into our plans.

The religious leaders wanted their profits from the sacrifice; the masses wanted freedom from Rome and vengeance; the disciples wanted honor and fame; and the Romans just didn’t want to be bothered by any of it.  That’s why Jesus died.  Because there was a clash of wills and the human way to settle things is, and has always been, through payments in blood.  Jesus was bringing our tensions and the sources of our conflicts to the surface, so we could examine ourselves and start the long, difficult but lasting work of peace; but we didn’t have time for it.  There was no room in our plans.

So as soon as we found out that he didn’t have what we wanted, or offer any magic fix-alls, we did what we could to send him to hell.  What, you’re not going to help us kill our enemies, the Romans? What good are you?  What, you’re going to disrupt our temple?  That’s what makes us feel good, so we’ll show you! What, you want us to be servants instead of masters?  Pass the wine; I need a nap!  What you want us to pray?  What, you expect us to know your story?  What, you expect us to love our neighbors and even our enemies?  No thanks, I’m busy.

That’s the other, really ugly side of the cross story: that God so loved the world that he gave us his only son, and we murdered him.  God gives generously and abundantly but we horde to create a controlled market.  Because we said, and still say, ‘not your will, but mine be done.’  That is, and always has been, the human way to pray. We want to push our own wills and our agendas absolutely as far as we can make them go. And we’ll keep shoving and hammering until the blood comes out.

And that, brothers and sisters, is why God’s hands are so bloody –because we treated Jesus just like we treated the ancient Midianites –as an obstacle to the things our hearts truly desired: land, money, pleasure, and power.  Because it’s us against them, and one of us has to go.  Because we don’t know even how to be ourselves without violence.  We can’t feel good about ourselves without putting someone else down.  We can’t be satisfied with what we have unless it’s more than at least somebody else.  We can’t be a community without something to stand against.  We can’t feel fully alive until we’re watching something dying.   That’s the human story –the one that’s shown to be true over, and over, and over again.  Watch any and every movie, and see that there are only two story-lines: fantasy and horror –‘pretend this is you’ or ‘watch them pay’ –and all of them are just reflections of ourselves. And the only difference from one movie to the next is the audience, because Hollywood is a factory that feeds our wills, and our wills are always hungry.

All of this insatiable yearning, and all of this unqualifiable suffering happens because our spirits never truly learned to pray like Jesus: ‘not our will, but yours must be done.’

You see, the cross story is a reflection of ourselves.  It shows us that, not only in spite of all of our best efforts, do bad things happen –but it’s precisely because of them.  All of our working and striving and planning and conniving, when it’s about what we want for ourselves, will end in destruction.  When we’re guided solely by our own selfish wants, there will always be a price, and there will be blood.  When our desires are disconnected from the needs of others, and from God, there can be no peace.

The cross is a sign and a reminder of the cost and the end of all isolated, individual will –regardless of political orientation, or religious worldview- will always be violence against the other.  And then end will be death.

The cross is a call to return to prayer, which is to be open and calls us to listen to the God who is true –the God who works in the movement of real history.  First, we have to take the time to listen to the will of our own hearts, and then turn them over to the God of all human hearts, the One who has been made human.  Because we don’t know even how to will Good, we have to lift our desires up before God in every moment and say: ‘this is what I want God –what about You?’  And then we must always end our prayers with, ‘but your will must be done.’

Otherwise, we’ll have only the cross.  And there will be no peace.