Note from Disrupt: we have been taken down by the flu and other life events. Please pardon our lack of timeliness -- and don’t get this flu. It’s awful.
CW: graphic depictions of atrocities of war and genocide.
by Rev. Elizabeth Rawlings
Focus: Mark 9:1-9
When I was 23, I was fortunate to be given the gift of a lifetime -- I got to spend 10 weeks traveling and learning in Guatemala after I graduated from college. In fact, I got to spend my 23rd birthday in a hot springs in a cloud forest drinking Gallo beer and eating papas. But I digress.
Before my travels, I was very weirded out by images of Christ on the cross. Growing up a protestant in a largely Catholic town, the images of (white) Jesus hanging on the cross were ubiquitous -- except for in my congregation. To quote George Carlin’s Cardinal from the movie Dogma, “It’s just so… depressing.” I wanted nothing to do with Christ crucified. I wanted Christ resurrected. I didn’t understand the point of focusing on God’s suffering when he was resurrected and, after all, wasn’t that what Christianity was about? Resurrection?
Then I spent two weeks with Witness for Peace in Guatemala learning about the long civil war. I heard horrifying stories of torture, of mass murder, of armies trained (by the School of the Americas at Ft. Benning, GA, to be exact) to do things like cut babies out of pregnant women and kill them before they killed the mother, march women and children up a hill to slaughter them while they corralled the men in a church and set it ablaze or shot it up. I went to the reclamation project, which was basically a house filled with boxes and boxes of bones and clothes, victims of genocide buried in mass graves waiting to be identified.
I visited a town of people who had been displaced from their land on the Rio Negro. Those left were survivors of genocide. Because the community refused to give up their land for the building of the Chixoy Dam, the military came in and murdered most of the residents. Those who survived were moved to a small patch of land right across the street the military base housing from the very men who killed their families. In order to force the military to see each and every day what they had done, the survivors built monuments. On these monuments were images of the various ways their families were slaughtered and, in the center of one, the three crosses we know so well from the tale of the crucifixion of Christ. This time, there were children hanging from the crosses and a Guatemala Christ crucified in the middle.
Over and over again I saw these images -- every town that I went to had some kind of crucifix with a Guatemalan Jesus in local traje (the beautiful woven patterns many indigenous Guatemalans wear, each pattern signifying where a person is from) crucified.
It was then I understood.
I understood the importance of the suffering Christ. The importance of the crucifixion. The importance of the knowledge that Jesus suffered, as well as the importance of the knowledge that Jesus stands with the suffering.
As a privileged, wealthy, white kid just out of college, I hadn’t experienced much pain at all much less anything close to what these Guatemalans I was meeting has lived through. I wanted shiny happy Jesus. I didn’t want to experience the discomfort that comes along with contemplating the cross. I didn’t want Friday. I just wanted Sunday.
Those of us who live in relative comfort and privilege have the option of leaning into Sunday. We can dabble in Christ crucified on Good Friday. We can think briefly about what it means to pick up our cross and follow Christ when the lectionary asks us to. But we prefer not to. We prefer to check out when the gospel gets difficult, or to make excuses when the words of Christ call us out and ask us to look inside of our hearts and at our lives and stand convicted.
The disciples are right there with us. Right before we hear the story of the Transfiguration, Jesus fed a lot of people, healed some people (both of these were cool with the disciples, and we are fans of this too), and then he told the disciples that he was going to have to suffer and die and then be raised again. Peter is not having it and pulls Jesus aside to rebuke him (seriously, can you imagine the brass on this guy?) and Jesus is not having it. He calls Peter satan and then goes on to tell the disciples that this journey is going to be very hard and he is going to suffer and they are going to be suffer and they need to get on board with that. At least in the gospel of Mark, Jesus is not in it for the glory. He doesn’t refer to himself as the Son of God, rather the Son of Man. He doesn’t want people to know he does these healings. He wants people to hear his message, to understand that God asks for sacrifice, that following God isn’t easy and will involve radical, uncomfortable change to individuals and to our social structures.
And yet, he knows he’s gotta give them (read: Peter) something. Something glorious to hold on to because, well, we prefer glory to sacrifice. So he tells them some of them are going to see some pretty amazing stuff and then takes a few up the mountain (which is where all of the cool stuff happens). There they are given sparkly Jesus along with Moses and Elijah and their response is to try to stay there. Stay with the glory. Stay on the mountain top. Stay away from the problems of the world. Stay away from the work of following Jesus. Bask in the glory.
But no. That is not the job of a follower of Christ. They descend the mountain, not allowed to tell anyone what they had seen until Christ is risen.
Jesus gave a precious few a glance into who Jesus really was/is. He allowed them to see him in all of this shiny, Twilight-themed glory alongside two of the major players in the Hebrew tests AND to hear God’s voice declare Jesus God’s son. I think he knew they needed a little something to keep them going, a little dash of proof. I also think he wanted God to tell them what’s up.
Listen to him.
Listen to him.
Listen to him.
As we enter into Lent, it does us well to both remember that most of us, need to push our people to come off of the mountain. Most of us need to drag our people down and into the muck of life, to remind them that we are called to give up what we have and follow Jesus and that’s not a metaphor. Most of us need to remind our people that the path to Christ goes through death. Most of us need to find ways to talk to our people about God’s presence with those on the margins and our call to be in community with those on the margins (ideally decentering our narratives, needs and very lives so that those on the margins have space in the center).
Some of us are in spaces where people are tired and are losing hope, and we need to balance the call to come down off of the mountain with reminders that the mountain is there, that there is a reason to hope. We might need to give our people a little shiny Jesus amidst the calls to repentance and reminders of death.
And some of us minister to/with/in communities that know the cross all too well. That know that Christ crucified is Christ in solidarity with their suffering and pain. And your communities are why we do this work.
As we enter into Lent, it is our difficult job as pastors/preachers/ministers to call our people into a time of repentance and self reflection that challenges them in ways that they can grow without being broken. And just before we begin, we are given a glimpse of glory as we are called to listen to Jesus and get off the mountain.
You’ve got this.
Let’s get our Lent on.