In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
When I was a kid,
My church really loved to sing some of those revival hymns
From the 19thcentury tent meetings.
Since I’ve become Anglican I don’t get that experience as much anymore,
But when you grow up
Singing those hymns,
Those catchy, upbeat hymns
Often intentionally set to drinking tunes,
They never really leave you.
And this week,
For some reason,
I’ve found myself whistling to Victory in Jesus.
I heard an old, old story,
How a Saviour came from glory
How he gave his life on Calvary
To save a wretch like me.
O victory in Jesus!
My Saviour forever
He sought me
And bought me
With his redeeming blood.
He loved me ere I knew him
And all my love is due him
He plunged me to victory
Beneath the cleansing flood.
The upbeat, triumphal tune to this song
Doesn’t at all match
The somber reflections we engage in today.
A dying man on a cross
Doesn’t at all match
What we think of
From our earliest days,
Christians have struggled to articulate
What exactly Jesus’s death on the cross means for us.
It has always been a source of mockery –
Archeologists have discovered ancient Roman graffiti
Featuring a man with a donkey’s head on a cross
With stick figures worshipping him,
Basically saying “Look at these dum-dums.
They worship an ass on a cross.”
Jesus’s death doesn’t look much like victory.
It looks like defeat.
Human beings have always been captivated by the power of story,
We look to narrative to shape our understanding of events,
And this is not what the story of a winner looks like.
Jesus breaks the cycle
Of revenge and violence
By refusing to conform to our expectations of what winning should be.
He declines to kick butt and take names,
He refuses to hit back,
He stands silent when condemned.
And he wins.
He holds firm to his relationships,
Even when it appears that everyone he loves has abandoned him.
With his final breaths, he gives the disciple whom he loves and his mother to one another, making sure that she is taken care of, inaugurating a new family even as he is dying.
This is what victory looks like.
Not an eye for an eye
Not turning our hearts to stone
For the sake of some imagined prosperous future
That can only be gained by shutting out
Those who are a drain on our resources
Not making sure we get ours
And too bad everybody else who’s left behind.
Victory looks like reaching out
From within suffering
To knit together
Rather than to tear apart.
To look out,
Even at those who have hurt us
And call them brother.
Victory looks like rewriting the narrative
That has driven human society for millennia
And declaring that all our criteria for what counts as winning are worthless
For Christ alone
Has plunged us into victory
That we had previously believed to be loss.
As a great theologian has said,
“In the cross,
Jesus transvalues our values.
He turns them upside down.”
In other words, he tells us that we have been looking for victory
In the wrong direction.
The cross stands in judgment
Of all the achievements for which human beings strive
Of our continual quest for power over
Rather than power with.
The same theologian writes,
“The Christian knows that the cross is the truth.
In that standard he sees the ultimate success of what the world calls failure
And failure of what the world calls success.”
And so today, we acknowledge our failure.
We lay down our arms.
We give up on the idea
Of trying to be a success.
We stop trying to achieve a perfection
That the world defines
That we can never quite reach.
And in letting go
Of what the world calls success
We are plunged into Christ’s victory
Over death itself.