Within my life of ministry, Lent always seems to pick up speed as it moves along. Suddenly we are in the rich tradition of Holy Week and wrestling with the dynamics of life and death, justice and grace. We began our Lenten journey with those words that remind us of our mortality: “remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return…” We are constantly invited to make our peace with death and dying and then to live life to its fullest as the blessing intended by God.
Central to the peace that we are invited to hold within our hearts is the promise of God’s love that never ends. Our Easter proclamation embodies the power of love. I think that proclamation took on a very different character when I focused less on the language of a father sacrificing his son and started hearing the language of self-sacrifice – servant language. The ancient hymn that we encounter in the letter to the Philippians speaks so beautifully to a very different theology than that of a Father sacrificing his son (an act that has always sounded like it erred too close to abuse). That hymn proclaims: “Though he was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit. But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings. When he found himself in the form of a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5–8, CEB) The idea of God choosing to journey with us through suffering and death feels very different than offering your child for sacrifice. That solidarity becomes the antidote to a world that continues to be addicted to the myth of redemptive violence. God proclaims that the violence of the world cannot win – rather, servanthood, self-sacrificial love, this is the power that saves us.
At the center of this idea is a very early doctrine of the church, the incarnation. Rev. Holly Whitcomb in her new book “The Practice of Finding” writes about the incarnation in a provocative passage titled “say Yes to being vulnerable as God is vulnerable”. She references writer Melissa Tidwell who elaborates: “It is staggering to consider God's willingness to accept – or even God's desire to experience – a human form, living in a body like ours. It opens us up to marvel at the idea of a perfect, eternal God becoming perishable, harmable, capable of grief and pain, and finally, death.” Holly continues: “Most of us struggle with vulnerability. In our work or our personal lives we may be seduced by images of our virtue and personal power, thinking these will win us accolades or personal agency. But of course, we all know on a deep level that it is in fact not our perfection but our humanness and our vulnerability that are the bridges to other people. […] God became human in the incarnation, and we become human when we are open and vulnerable and less than perfect.”
The journey of faith is one that continually leads us to understand the power of a servant’s heart. The Roman Empire thought that death on a cross would serve its purposes. It thought that the death of Jesus and any other rabble-rouser or revolutionary would save the empire in somewhat the same way that Temple culture thought that animal sacrifice would save the people of faith. The Psalmist and the Prophets often voice that God doesn’t merely want the sacrifice; he wants changed hearts. God becoming human in Jesus shifts our understanding of power yet again. The vulnerable becomes the victor, love triumphs over violence, sacrifice to God is abolished through sacrifice by God. Love wins.
And it is the power of that witness that has us proclaim: Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!!!