Lent 2 B
The Long Shadow of the Cross.
by Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones
So weâ€™ve barely got into our stride for the long Season of Lent, (6 Â½ weeks, including Holy Week)
and already Calvary â€“ the Cross of Jesus – is casting its shadow.
Now, we have a cross we love in this sanctuary
an empty cross, infused with the gold of Easter Resurrection light.
Ours is a victorious cross,
and when the winter sun
plays through its panes,
it spangles our carpet (and our eyes) with
the brilliance of Godâ€™s victory
and our eternal hope.
Thatâ€™s not the cross Iâ€™m referring to.
The cross that casts its shadow today
is dark, foreboding,
and way too soon in our Lenten Journey.
So soon, I had for most of this week elected to ignore it,
and instead play with the blessing texts of Genesis and Romans.
But curse Mark, and that dark shadow of his.
It has cast itself over the week,
and has resisted my pastoral and homiletic urge to ignore it,
or colour it with blue and purple and gold.1
The World day of Prayer Service held here on Friday was the last nail in the cross.
Malaysian women had provided the words and prayers for this yearâ€™s
internationally observed service of prayer,
and they were words shadowed by lots of crosses;
the crosses of their own lives,
of human trafficking, misogynistic legalized injustices,
unfair trading practices that reward the conglomerates
rather than the workers.
The prayers were pleas for God and the world
to take notice of suffering, and to do something about
In places and situations as diverse as Burlington, Ottawa and Homs, Syria,
there have been cross-shaped shadows across our news landscape all week.
And what about that shadow on the ultrasound scan, or the lung x-ray,
or the shadow cast by the death of a dear, dear friend?
Whether we like it or not,
Markâ€™s long-shadowed cross and its prolific progeny of are part of our
And we donâ€™t like it.
The Gospel of Mark seems to have anticipated this, for his own time, as well as ours.
Itâ€™s as if he knows itâ€™s going to take a lot for us to jettison
our determination to assume that suffering is exceptional, rather than endemic.
So, less than half way through his Gospel,
while Jesus is geographically â€“ and culturally â€“ at the farthest point
from Jerusalem, in northern Galilee, in the Roman outpost of Caesarea Philippi,
and while we are still four whole weeks from Holy Week,
in he marches with a big black marker,
furiously drawing with as heavy a hand as Mel Gibson
the relentless horror of rejection,
Whether we like it or not,
the shadow of the cross is the birthmark of Markâ€™s Messiah.
And Peter hates it.
He wants no part of it (and if weâ€™re honest, weâ€™re right there with him)
He, like us, wants Godâ€™s Anointed to look like one.
Why canâ€™t this Messiah, this Christ,
be bright and shiny, powerful like the emperors of Rome?
(archeological discoveries show that Caesarea Philippi was well decorated
with iconic representations of its emperor-gods)
Okay, if not like that (which after all has plenty of problems),
canâ€™t the Christ be peaceful, clad in clean calmness?
Canâ€™t Godâ€™s redeeming, healing, forgiving, curing, cleansing One
do this work of God with latex gloves and a laparoscope,
deftly excising earthâ€™s evils without disturbing the surrounding tissue?
Save the world without mess?
Peter doesnâ€™t get it, not here in this passage.
He doesnâ€™t get it til fifty days after Jesusâ€™ death,
not until he has this overwhelming bone-deep knowledge
that dying didnâ€™t win, that the life of Jesus is somehow now resurrected in him
(But Iâ€™m getting ahead of the story).
Today weâ€™re confronted with a cross before weâ€™re ready for it,
and we are with Peter on this.
We canâ€™t, wonâ€™t stomach the notion that
God is going to abandon Jesus to Roman execution, just to make a point,
or to satisfy some twisted divine thirst for atonement.
But thatâ€™s not the point of Markâ€™s long-shadowed cross,
hovering over the Gospel, and our Lent.
Itâ€™s his – Markâ€™s – attempt to help us see God where,
for some reason, weâ€™ve come not to expect to see God.
Where human systems
(and regrettably, some forms of Christianity, particularly here in North America)
have so successfully convinced us
that weakness, sickness and trouble are signs of the absence of God,
Jesus was convinced, and spent his entire life, every last agonizing breath of it,
showing and telling that God is to be found
not in palaces, or churches even,
but precisely in the mess, the horror, the helplessness and hopelessness,
and confusion and chaos that get pushed as far away as possible from
palaces and churches.
Way back in the Fall,
here we discovered in the pages of The Good Book,
repeated examples of
â€œGodâ€™s active, passionate, eternal commitment
to create diversity and abundance out of the mess of chaos,
to sustain, to uphold,
to be in relationships that heal the weakest
and the most vulnerable.â€2
Famous preacher at New Yorkâ€™s Riverside Church,
William Sloane Coffin was as outraged at the notion that God is somehow
absent from suffering and tragedy and the worldâ€™s pain, as Jesus is in this passage.
His youngest son Alex was tragically killed in a car accident, and many tried to
comfort him with a cleaned up God and Gospel,
until with as much vehemence as Jesus,
he rebuked this pablum with the thunderous affirmation
â€œWhen my boy was killed, God was the first one who cried!â€3
Godâ€™s been here.
It is into those places on the margins, in the depths of secret shame,
in the fractures of a broken heart, or mind,
the tragedies on road or rail, sea and sky,
graveyards, and sweatshops,
that God comes closest.
And if thatâ€™s where God is,
then, Jesus rebukes Peter, and those of us who donâ€™t like it,
thatâ€™s precisely where Jesus is going to be too.
Going all the way into the depth of trouble to redeem it with sadness, and presence.
And itâ€™s where we who choose to follow him, are supposed to go also,
as the hands and feet of Christ, walking alongside tragedy and pain
all the way through the shadow of that cross,
holding on to the promise
of the gold and purple and blue.4
Oh, and one more thing, this Second week of Lent,
If weâ€™re the sufferer, the one whose heart is breaking,
the one whose head is bowed in sorrow,
this shadowed cross is a reminder that Jesus has been there before us.
If weâ€™re the one in trouble, we have this cross reminding us that Jesus walks
every step with us,5 holding a shadowed cross, that is tinged with purple, and blue, and gold.
Â© Elisabeth R. Jones March 2012
1Peter Gomes, in The Good Book, (Harper, 1996, p.228) writes: â€œProtestants have long beguiled themselves with the notions that they worship a victorious risen Christ, and thus an empty cross,â€¦. and so their churches are filled on Easter, but empty on Good Friday. This Easter -biased faith, he says â€œis one that is unfamiliar with suffering, incapable of enduring it, and unable to recognize the work of God in it.â€
2Quote from my sermon, â€œLoving Godâ€™s Neighbour,â€ Pent 19A(Oct 23). See also â€œDilemma and Promiseâ€ (August 14) and â€œBurning Bushes and Broken Breadâ€ (Aug 28).
3Peter Gomes refers to the story in The Good Book, , p.216, but you can also read Coffinâ€™s sermon after Alexâ€™s death, in which he states. â€œWhen the waves closed over Alexâ€™s sinking car, Godâ€™s heart was the first of all our hearts to break.â€ http://www.pbs.org/now/printable/transcript_eulogy_print.html
4For those who are reading this on the web, this is a reference to the beloved window that graces our chancel, a brilliantly coloured (empty) cross.
5A reference, by quotations, to the Anthem which follows the sermon, by Larry Shackley, â€œI want Jesus to walk with me.â€