N is for Non-Violence (an alphabet for penitents).

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

-1 Cor. 1:18

For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. -1 Cor. 2:2

Non-violence is not passive pacifism. It is not a silent winking at injustice. Non violence is the way of the cross.

Violence is regarded both as a problem—gun violence, bullying, terrorism, war—and a necessity. How else are we going to quash terrorism, depose dictators, police inner-cities and create the conditions necessary for peace? While pacifism was the default position of the early church, Christian’s gradually accepted military service and war. Augustine’s famously articulated what has come to be known as Just War Theory— a statement on the conditions of when war is a moral good (or at least a moral necessity). John Howard Yoder rightly questioned whether the conditions of Just War have ever been satisfied, though even within the constraints of Just War theory, the cessation of violence is the goal, and war ought to be rare.

In the gospels, and in our celebration of Lent, we are reminded that Jesus’ answer to human violence was not war and violence but a cross. He didn’t kick-ass and take names. He rode a donkey foal into Jerusalem, knowing he would die there. He gave his life to bring an end to the cycle of human violence. Following Jesus means walking with Him on Calvary road. Our Model in life and conduct chose self-sacrifice over destruction and harm.

How do you combat the evils in the world? What should be our response to terrorism? The horror of ISIS and the refugee crisis? What about North Korean nuclear armament? Or Russia’s encroachment in Crimea? Or racial violence against African students in India?

Closer to home, what about policies like stop-and-frisk, the incarceration of minorities or injustice toward immigrant communities? What about the proliferation of hate crimes against Jews and Muslims? Violence How do we respond?

The answer is the cross. It was Jesus response, and it should be ours too.

Following Jesus means that our imagination is cruciform. We are shaped by Christ’s cross as we take up our own cross and follow him (Matt 16:24). Against the violence which pervades our culture and our world, we are being shaped into God’s non-violent people.

There are practical questions about what this means, especially as we aim non-violence at large systemic and trans-national problems.  But then again how was a crucifixion (a death sentence for failed revolutionaries) in a marginal province of the Roman Empire a decisive response to human sinfulness? The past century showed us several examples (Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela) of the power of non-violence to effect social change. But more than that if we participate with the Son of God in his cross, we can expect that God to continue his good work in us and our world.

 

 

The Seventh Word of the Cross

At this point, it was about noon, and a darkness fell over the whole region. The darkness persisted until about three in the afternoon, and at some point during this darkness, the curtain in the temple was torn in two.

Jesus (shouting out loudly): Father, I entrust My spirit into Your hands!

And with those words, He exhaled—and breathed no more.

The Centurion—one of the soldiers who performed the execution—saw all this, and he praised God.

Centurion: No doubt, this man must have been innocent.~Luke 34:44-47-The Voice

The words from the cross reveal to us of who this man/God is. We stood at the foot of the cross and heard Jesus extend forgiveness to his oppressors, promise salvation to a condemned man, express care for his loved ones, cry in anguish over his feelings of God-forsakenness, croak out thirsty complaint, shout victory and and now loudly proclaim his trust.

After all that Jesus suffered, physically and mentally, on the cross he was confident that he was in the care of God. The man who cried out “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me!” would shortly thereafter, with confidence say, “Father, I entrust my life into your hands” and die in peace. The one who was stretched out, broken on a cross, had not broken down. He had been severly beaten, but he was not beat. His last words betray nothing but confidence that his Heavenly Father would care for him.

It was this confidence in God’s care and sovereign plan which set his face like a flint toward Jerusalem. It is this confidence that carried him through the whole ordeal. When he died, he did not die in a state of despair and despondency. He didn’t feel for a moment that he had somehow miscalculated and that all this was in vain.

He died confident that the cross, somehow in the wisdom of God, would reconcile the world to Himself.

Jesus’ total trust in the Father exceeds the trust in God that we are capable of, but there is something instructive here for us. Despite all physical evidence to the contrary, the cross was God’s victory. The cross is how they killed failed messiahs, but this symbol of failure would become a sign of God’s ultimate victory over sin and the powers that bind humanity. Any onlooker would see total failure and tragedy in this death, but this death began to make new life possible. If we were there when they crucified him we would have maybe balked, jeered, cried, despaired but Jesus suffered it and he trusted.

All of us who have walked the way of the cross, and have entered into the pain and suffering of others know, that if we trust the physical evidence around us, it does not always seem that God is winning. The addict who ‘cleans up’ and resolves to surrender her life sells all his belongings buy drugs the next week. The mother who is picking up the pieces of a broken life, lets an abusive spouse return home for another round of destruction. We look and we cry, “How Long O Lord?”

Jesus suffers and dies with the weight of human sinfulness upon him and dies with trust on his lips.

Lord give us your confidence, that despite appearances, you are the victory and we can trust your good work in even the most horrifying of circumstances. Lead us into what it means for us to trust our lives into your hands.

The Third Word from the Cross

Jesus’ mother was standing next to his cross along with her sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. Jesus looked to see His mother and the disciple He loved standing near by.

Jesus (to Mary, His Mother): Dear woman, this is your son(motioning to the beloved disciple)! (to John, His disciple) This is now your mother. (John 19:25-27-The Voice)

Throughout the gospel narratives, Jesus’ relationship with his mother seemed strained. When he was twelve he ditched his parents to go to temple(Luke 2:41-49). As an adult, Mary approaches Jesus to help with a wine shortage at a wedding, he responds, “Woman, what has that to do with me?(John 2:4)” I know, from years of Bible studies and commentaries that ‘Woman’ was a common address during the time, something like “Dear woman.” But try as I might I cannot make this phrase of Jesus sound like he’s being nice to mom.

mary&JohnOnce when his mother and brothers came to get him, fearing he was off his rocker, he virtually disowned them. “Who are my mother and brothers? You here are my mothers and brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my true family (Mark 3:33,35).”

And it is this Jesus who uttered the words that warm every mother’s heart, “If you come to me without hating your own father, mother, wife, children, brother, sister, and yes, even your own life, you can’t be my disciple. (Luke 14:26).

But on the cross, Jesus took a moment away from dying for are sins to focus on the family. “This is your son. . .this is now your mother.” What does this mean? What is the significance of this little interchange?

Was Jesus taking time to make sure his mother is cared for in his absence? Was he giving his mom and disciple shoulders to cry on in their grief? Certainly there is an element of provision here for his grieving mother. A good Jewish boy would see that his mother was properly cared for in her old age. Augustine observes as much:

AUGUSTINE. (Tr. cxix. 1) This truly is that hour of the which Jesus, when about to change the water into wine, said, Mother, what have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come. Then, about to act divinely, He repelled the mother of His humanity, of His infirmity, as if He knew her not: now, suffering humanly, He commends with human affection her of whom He was made man. Here is a moral lesson. The good Teacher shews us by His example how that pious sons should take care of their parents. The cross of the sufferer, is the chair of the Master.

But this brief episode also invites reflection on the significance of Mary. As Stanley Hauerwas writes:

Mary, the Jew is in a singular fashion becomes for us the forerunner of the faith, making it impossible for Christians to forget without God’s promise to Israel our faith is in vain. When Christians repress the role of Mary in our salvation we are tempted to forget that God remains faithful to his promises to his people, the Jews. Our Savior was born of Mary, making us, like the Jews, a bodily people who live by faith in the One who asks us to behold his crucified body.

Jesus therefore, commands the disciple, his beloved disciple, not to regard Mary as Jesus’s mother but rather to recognize that Mary is “your mother.” Mary’s peculiar role in our salvation does not mean that she is seperate from the church. Rather, Mary’s role in our salvation is singular because, beginning with the beloved disciple she is made a member of the church. Mary is one of us which means the distance between her and us is that constituted by both her and our distance between the Trinity and us, that is, between creatures and Creator. (Cross-Shattered Christ, 53-54)

Mary’s yes thirty-something years before inaugurated the events that led to this moment. Her son, the God of the universe, was stretched out on a cross. With dying breath he honors her for her role and her love for him. He gave John to her as a son, reconstituting family. It is not an overstatement to say, that church is born at the foot of the cross. And the hopes of Mary, and with her all of Israel, are bound up in the Son she saw die.