Saturday, April 19, 2014

With These Hands

This is my post for Thursday and Friday, and it will deal with events that lead up to and include the crucifixion.

The song I've chosen for today is "My City of Ruins" by Bruce Springsteen. In keeping with my overall theme of rising for this Easter, I chose something from his album, The Rising. Springsteen put out this album in the wake of September 11, 2001. "My City of Ruins" is very much a response to those events, and he performed it live on television as part of the benefit concert America: A Tribute to Heroes. I remember I didn't much like the song at the time, mainly because everything was wall-to-wall 9/11 and I grew tired of it. And the song started being used too often on television and such. But a few years later, I came to really like it. The point is, the song was born from a time of confusion, loss and despair. And that's the sort of place we find Jesus' disciples on Good Friday.

Springsteen gives us an image of a church with music playing and open doors, but there's no one inside. Similarly, the disciples who began the night together having seder were soon scattered, and their mission forgotten. Without Jesus, they didn't know what to do next. Some followed after and watched him die, others ran home. How do you go on when things fall apart? It's easy to say "I'll die with you!" but when the moment comes, fear takes over.

Jesus himself had his moments in Gethsemane of prayer to at least ask if there was some other way. He had to pray for the strength to follow through just as any of us do, and his task was a lot harder.

My favorite part of the song is the final repetition of the chorus. "With these hands, I pray for the faith, I pray for the strength, I pray for your love." The hands of Jesus did a lot over that day. With those hands, Jesus washed his disciples' feet and taught them humility. With those hands he served them supper, and instituted a memorial for himself. With those hands he confronted his betrayer, when they both dipped the bread. With those hands he healed the servant's ear which Peter cut off. With those hands he prayed for his disciples even before praying for himself. And with those hands he hung and bled for the redemption of sins.

It was a dark time for Jesus as well as for his disciples, and it's important not to make light of that or forget it. He cried out "My God, why have you forsaken me?" Now, scholarship and opinion on whether God actually forsook him that day differs and I'm not going to get into that debate here. But Jesus certainly had to be feeling much of what the Psalmist did for him to quote Psalm 22 (and he was well-versed enough in Scripture to know he was quoting it). And yet despite all of that, he still said, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." He prayed for the people. That's the faith, and the strength, and the love of God.

One thing I like about the live version of "My City of Ruins" is that there's a minor lyrical difference from the album version. On the album, it's "I pray for the faith, for the strength, for your love" and then they repeat. But on the live version he also sings, "I pray for the lost, Lord." And that encapsulates Christ on the cross.

Times of ruin are scary and it can be hard to focus on what to do next. The disciples were chosen by Jesus to do his work. But it was hard to remember that mission that day, when they were in fear for their own lives. "Tell me how do I begin again?" It was literally a dark time, with the sky being unnaturally dark in the middle of the day. But Springsteen reminds us, do some praying and rise up. We all grow weary of watching and praying, but the time comes to rise up. Easter isn't about sinking into darkness; it's about rising up. "You do not have to go down in defeat for one split second," said healing evangelist Kathryn Kuhlman. The church was designed to be the hands of Christ on earth. So with these hands, we can pray, and build, and heal, and serve, and meet, and save. If you need strength today, ask for it.

Paul writes about all these themes in Romans 8, and I would encourage you to read that whole chapter, but in his concluding points he reminds us, "Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us." How does one become more than a conqueror? Perhaps because we don't just confront our enemy and overcome him; we then go out and heal. We aren't just taking, we are taking back and restoring. We cast down the evil overlords, and we work to free the people who were enslaved. We conquer not only our own oppressors, but are empowered to help others.

It's important in moments of despair that feel like Good Friday to remember it is not the end. Good Friday was an end, but it was not a bad end. It was God besting the devil at his own game. Things don't just stop when Jesus was laid in the tomb, not matter what the Jefferson Bible says. Jesus said, "It is finished", but he didn't mean, "Oh well, I guess that's all over now." The word "finished" there is more about a sense of completion. Some versions may read "accomplished". There are Jewish translators that use the Hebrew word "nishlam" which means to bring to completion. Interestingly, from the same root you get a verb for paying back a debt. (You can read more about fascinating insight into these roots here.) The crucifixion was the culmination of Jesus' work, not his destruction. I like the final lines of Nikos Kazantzakis' The Last Temptation of Christ, where he writes (and this is probably not the exact quote, but very close): "Jesus said, 'It is accomplished!' and it was as if he had said, 'It has just begun.'" Think whatever you want about the rest of that work, but that's a killer last line, and it's true. It began the work of new life that would be fulfilled on Sunday, and it began the new age of redemption for all men.

So don't be despairing in your city of ruins. Rise up! I'll conclude this piece with a song I used to use for closing Good Friday services. Remember that when it seems like Friday night, Sunday is on the way!

(This one's a cute animated version.)

1 comment:

  1. I have always read "more than conquerors" as being emphatic. It never occurred to me that "more than" actually meant "more than". I think your interpretation of what "more than conquerors" means is especially fitting.