Vicar's Talks - Tuesday Holy Week
Holy Week meditation: Tuesday 2017
Our psalms this evening (Psalms 2, 22 and 27) have much in common with one another but a starting point would be to highlight how the servant of God finds himself assailed by His enemies.
As we make our way through Holy week we cannot help but be reminded that Jesus’s ministry has been dogged by those who would oppose him. John’s Gospel, controversially, uses the shorthand of ‘the Jews’ – by which he means the Jewish leaders of the people rather than the whole nation. But the other Gospels record many instances of both confusion amongst the Jewish hierarchy and outright opposition to Jesus’ teaching. The opposition comes to a head in this Holy week but it has been there from the start. Who is this person who claims to forgive sins? What authority does he have to teach in this way? Why does he not observe the Sabbath…or the food laws? How can he be a prophet if he does not recognise the sin of those with whom he eats. The Pharisees, of course, come in for some harsh treatment by the gospel writers but they occasionally combine with the Herodians (those who supported the King) and the Sadducees to form an unholy alliance against Jesus.
The conspiracy widens: Lazarus may well have been raised from the dead but this last of Jesus’ signs only puts him in great danger – the Jews, John tells us, want to have him killed as well as Jesus. In the course of the week there are a series of secret meetings: prompted by Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, his cleansing of the temple and his teaching: teaching, that in the parable of the vineyard, suggests that Israel is under God’s judgement and that he (Jesus) sees himself as God’s son.
In time Judas will come good for those who want to silence the prophet from Nazareth. Annas and Caiaphas will convene the Sanhedrin, there will be a sham trial, mob rule will force the hand of Pilate, Herod and he will become friends as they allow the Christ to go to his death. At the foot of the cross the crowds will gather and shout abuse. Their leaders will mock Jesus: he save others, let him save himself.
‘The kings of the earth rise up, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his anointed.’ ‘Mighty oxen come around me; fat bulls of Bashan close me in on every side’; ‘The hounds are all about me, the pack of evildoers close in on me’. ‘False witnesses have risen up against me and those who breathe out violence.’
What comes across from both the Pasion Narrative and from our psalms is the calculated way that the leaders of the people act. They plan, they plot, they deliberate and manipulate. The story is one of power corrupting absolutely and what hope does anyone have when the levers of power are being pulled and used against them? We know this. We have seen it in our own national life: we recognise the way of speaking…and the way of not speaking that reveals that there is more in play than meets the eye. We watch political dramas and police dramas where corruption reaches to the highest levels and innocents are traduced…or imprisoned…or done away with for the sake of greed…or lust or power.
Jesus is fed to the wolves – had he not sent his followers as lambs in the midst of wolves. Now he takes on Evil in all its forms. A Disney version of the story would, by now, be coloured a luminous green. The eyes of Jesus’ opponents wide with excitement as their victory over Him comes into focus.
But for all their raging, for all their degeneracy and corruption, for all their abuse of power and strength those who encamp against the Lord’s anointed will be put to shame. In Psalm 2 the Lord ‘laughs them to scorn’: the Lord’s enemies are broken like a potter’s vessel.
We are only using the first half of Psalm 22 – but even it ends with a cry of triumph, ‘You have answered me’. Psalm 27 is shot through with faith in God: ‘The Lord is my light and salvation, whom then shall I fear?...of whom shall I be afraid? He (the Lord) ‘shall lift up my head above my enemies round about me’. ‘I believe I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.’
It was the Swedish theologian Gustav Aulen who reminded the church of what he called the classic tradition in Christian thought for understanding what took place on the cross of Christ. In his book Christus Victor he reminded us that one of the many images for understanding the Passion was one of conflict – of Jesus, the incarnate son of God, overcoming Sin (with a capital S) and Death (with a capital D). It’s there most especially in Jesus’ triumphant cry from the cross – ‘It is finished’. It’s there in Paul where the apostle speaks of the crucified Christ ‘disarming the rulers and authorities and making a public example of them, triumphing over them.’ It’s there in our hymns: ‘The strife is o’er, the battle done, now is the Victor’s triumph won. Death’s mightiest powers have done their worst and Jesus hath his foes dispersed’.
The idea is that everyone and everything that ranges against the will of God over reaches itself in crucifying Christ. Some of the early Fathers of the church describe the cross as God laying the bait for Death to take, that God (in Christ) might overcome it. Christ descends into the depths of human experience, even to death on a cross but then ascends to new life to the highest heaven – to ‘fill all things’ (as Paul in Colossians puts it). What we are shown is that there is no place where God is not present to us – he shares our Death. But more than this, he overcomes and transforms it and makes of it a new and living way into God’s presence.
So tonight’s psalms bring comfort and challenge. Comfort in knowing that Christ understands and shares every part of our lives. And challenge…challenge to trust, to stay true, to hold on to the faithful love of God even when darkness gathers and hope seems dim. ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation: whom then shall I fear?’