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We have focused all throughout the Lenten season on wildernesses. As Jesus went into the wilderness at the beginning of his earthly ministry to be tempted by Satan, so we find ourselves in wildernesses as individuals and as a community. We looked at the wildernesses of
- The Disenfranchised
- And Rootlessness.
There are plenty more:
- The bereaved
- The addicted
- The disabled
- The poor
- People marginalized by reason of race, religion, country of origin or sexual orientation
There are lots of ways that we as humans find ourselves wondering where our bearings are and what they should be.
Wildernesses always highlight two major aspects of the human condition. First, we are radically alone. We suffer alone. We walk life’s path alone. Others may walk close to us, or even imagine that they are treading our own footsteps, or that we are treading in another’s, but it is not the same. Second, we are radically powerless. We are born, we live and we die. We are cast into reality in the place we are, and though we might be able to change our position in life, our relative wealth, and even our gender, we cannot stop that inexorable march of time, and we cannot step outside of time or the human condition. In one sense, being human is its own wilderness.
Last week I mentioned that theologians often look at the life of Jesus through the lens of the Passion. That wilderness was a warm-up session, practice for this biggest of all ordeals. Here Jesus is rejected and marginalized to the point of being illegally executed. He is the archetypical scapegoat, sacrificed so that the rest of society doesn’t have to face its own wilderness. But then, does it really work that way?
In the Epistle reading today another way of seeing this is laid out, one that has persisted throughout the life of the Church from the beginnings of Christian thinking. On the Cross Jesus was radically alone. Even his own mother, watching her son’s death, did not really enter into his experience. He was the one unjustly strung up between heaven and earth. He was the one taunted by the authorities. He was the one willingly giving his life for the world in spite of the fact that the world didn’t understand or care. His mother and the beloved disciple were caught in their own grief.
On the Cross Jesus was radically powerless—the foil for Roman power, the scapegoat of the Pharisees and Sadducees, the toy of the powerful, Pilate even said to Jesus, “Do you not realize that I have power of life and death over you?” In terms of this world’s power structures, Jesus was a total, complete, disastrous failure.
In surrendering to this, the greatest of all ordeals the Christian God is a God who suffers with creation. Because that suffering is willingly taken and done from self-giving love it is redemptive, and if it is redemptive, then all of our own wildernesses can also become redemptive. When God becomes human the powerlessness of being human is transcended. When God hangs on the cross the radical alienation of humanity is overcome.
Jesus can look at us in our wildernesses and say, “Yes, I know what you are going through. I have walked that road myself.” There is no wilderness in which we might find ourselves that Jesus does not also know. If the message of this day is that God suffers with us, the end of the story of the Temptation records angels coming and attending Jesus, a foretaste of the victory of resurrection. and a glimpse of the hope of the Christian.
It is OK to sit in the darkness on this day. God is to be found in the wilderness with you. No wilderness will swallow you up. Even though you do not see it, there is always a way out, even though all hope is lost, there is always hope to follow despair.
The meaning of this day is that there is always a resurrection lurking behind every crucifixion.