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Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Last Taboo (Lent 5A)

The Easter Sequence, one of the three sequences not suppressed when the new missal came out in the late 1960s, is a beautiful, dense poem. In one particular strophe, especially, words push and tumble against each other, imitating the combat alluded to in the text: 
Mors et vita duello
Conflixere mirando
Dux vitae mortuus
Regnat vivus.
“Death and life clashed in an astonishing duel - Life’s leader was killed, and is reigning, alive.” 

Jesus, in his trek through Galilee and Judea, has been preaching and living the reign of God. His intuition is that God’s existence and self-revelation demands a re-imagination of the universe, a new awareness that all persons are beloved children of one abba, and therefore brothers and sisters to one another without borders. God’s holiness is not only mediated through channels of rite and order, but is freely available. Imagining God as abba leads him to proclaim that forgiveness is present and providence is for all persons, without reference to money or status. 

Imagining God as abba has been a conscious choice that precludes imagination of God as a king, general, or judge like those of this world, whose often corrupt ways are frequently parodied in the parables. His practice of eating and drinking with the ritually impure and socially untouchable, the leper, the prostitute, the collaborating tax collectors, as well as with those of unquestioned ritual purity, underlines his egalitarian view of humanity and further distances him from those whose livelihood and power depends upon the observance of purity laws and the collections of tribute to the occupying power. 


Lazarus, by Vincent van Gogh
Sunday’s gospel pericope for those who celebrate the third Scrutiny on Lent 5 brings us to the edge of the final taboo, past blindness and sickness, past sin and bad reputation, past kosher laws and Sabbath restriction: the final verdict of humanity, the place of utter corruption and human oblivion. The story of Lazarus brings Jesus, and the discipleship community with him, to the world of the dead. It’s enough to give Jesus a stomach ache, gut-wrenching grief for the state of humanity since God pronounced the harsh death sentence for human disobedience in the Genesis garden. On this day, Jesus will demonstrate that the reign of death is over, that God’s forgiveness is complete. Soon, the death sentence of Eden would be revoked completely, and creation begun anew. 

Life begins with metanoia, the turning-around required to face the reign of God. It is the turning by which we move from allegiance to the reign of Caesar and the kings like him, toward Christ and the reign of God. It is the turning from accumulation to kenosis, from force of power to agape, in Isak Dinesen’s mystical phrase, “the supreme triumph of unconditional surrender.” As Jesus put it, “Unless the grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains nothing more than a grain of wheat.” Still, death does in fact await everyone. People still use death as a threat to enslave others, to get their own way, to take what belongs to another person, or tribe, or nation. We still delude ourselves that death can be staved off with more stuff, money, sex, and power. Jesus, the resurrection and life, is somehow the way out of this downward spiral into the violence, oblivion, terror, and waste that is death. Life, life here in this world, matters. What lies beyond is a gift, unknowable, unseen. Life without the Way, that is, life without Christ’s vision of a God who makes of every other person a brother or sister and not a rival or enemy, is nothing but death, disguised, prolonged, pain-making. 

That is the church's prayer in the third scrutiny: show us the Way, give us life, deliver us from death and all its glittering, flag-waving, bible-thumping masquerades.

(Other posts on Lent 3/4/5 Year A and the Scrutinies here.)