Judica (Saturday before)
March 28, 2020 A+D
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Judging by the flesh, the Pharisees were unable to recognize the Divinity of Jesus. They saw only a man making claims no mere man could rightly make: that He was light of the world, that those who follow Him, who abide in His Word, are in light and do not die in their sins, that He is one with the Father and sets men free for real and forever, that He pre-exists Abraham and that Abraham, still living, rejoices in Him. Earlier in this same exchange He had referred to Himself with the Name given to Moses in the burning bush. He told them “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I AM.” In our reading, a few verses later, He repeats that claim saying, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”
At the time of this exchange the Pharisees are confused. They do not understand that He speaks of the Father. They do not know the Scriptures. They consider themselves to be the sons of Abraham the way some of us consider ourselves to be Germans. We aren’t Germans. The things we think are German, drinking beer, eating sausage, and being stubborn, are common to all men. Being Lutheran is certainly not German. Good luck finding a Lutheran German! I am not saying they don’t exist but they are about as rare as believing Pharisees at the time of Jesus. They Pharisees don’t have the faith, values, or culture of Abraham but they think the are Abraham himself.
The disciples are better but barely. They are also confused about the Kingdom, not only famously obtuse about Jesus’ true mission and purpose throughout His Ministry and then failing at both Gethsemane and Golgotha, but even after the resurrection asking Jesus if He is about to come an remove the occupying Romans by force.
What is the problem? Sin. Sin makes us stupid. It is why we make so many bad choices. We think that we can lie, pretend to be things that we are not, and no one will know. We think we can steal from petty cash for the casino and pay it back on Monday with our winnings. We think we can have an affair and get away with it, that it isn’t simply lust and depravation and complete negligence of duty but that are hearts are so big that we 0are capable of loving more than one woman and people should thank us for it.
And what makes us morally stupid, makes us theologically stupid. It makes us think that our experience is the definitive, that we are experts in God. We know exactly what He is like and what He is thinking because it seems that He should be just like us – which is the ultimate idolatry. Repent. Do not judge by the flesh. Judge by the Word. Let God speak. Let Him define and explain Himself. Do not get about your station.
How is it then that we now know what even the disciples struggled to believe before Pentecost, that Jesus is the great I AM who created the world and who led His people through the Red Sea on dry land? We know because He was lifted up from the earth. There, in sacrifice and weakness, we see the face of the Father, the character of Divinity, Love Incarnate. This is not some Greek myth or Aesop’s fable. It is not even the Lord of the Rings where it all works out and eagles swoop in at the last moment or Gandalf is just fine.
This is horror. Shame. Disgust. This is no way for power to behave! No way to enact justice! A murderer is saved. The Prince of Life is slayed. Behold, not simply the Man, my brothers and sisters, but behold your God and His Lamb, offered by His own Father and consumed in His wrath. Behold Love, Forgiveness, Life. That Man is your Man, your Holy Substitute and Ransom, your Kinsman-Redeemer and God. Do not look away for the darkness did not overcome Him and in Him you walk in Light.
This is why we veil the crosses today. That is always a bit confusing to people. We are now in Passiontide, the last two weeks of Lent. The catechetical emphasis of Lent with his warnings against demons and its teaching of Grace gives way to more direct contemplation of Our Lord’s sorrows and suffering and ultimately His self-giving on the cross. Why remove it? Because it is the cross that reveals Our Lord’s Divinity. It is where we see Him, where He bestows His Body and Blood for the Sacrament, where He works out our salvation. There is beauty and joy and we are unworthy to look directly at it. In humility, we deny ourselves these depictions to draw attention to it and to remember that even now we see by dimly in a mirror.
We have many advantages over the disciples, including the benefit of their teaching and words in the New Testament, but we are not experts in Theology. We are all catechumens, students of the lilies, people of the Word. We are travelling together, in humility and sorrow, picking up our own crosses in the firm conviction that God is good and works all things together for good and knows what He is doing. We ask Him to lead us, to guide us, to remember us. We trust that He does and rejoice in His cross, embracing His resurrection, and waiting for our coming glory.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.