Sunday, March 18, 2012

Heart Shaped Whip

Have you ever stared at something for years, only have your eye catch something new, something you never noticed before? Like that arrow in the negative space between the "E" and the "X" on FEDEX trucks...or that tiny mermaid on those little plastic stir sticks at St. Arbucks. I had one of those "oh-you-idiot-how-did-never-see-that-before" moments this morning at church. The choir was singing a piece entitled, "How Deep the Father's Love for Us. There I was pondering the words of John's gospel, which would be read shortly. Today's reading for all you three-year lectionary folks, was from John 3:14-21. The famous snakes in the wilderness now hoisted and fulfilled in Jesus reading. The ever-popular football end zone trend, bumper sticker theology post-it sign: John 3:16. And then I looked down at my stole. I've stared at this purple, Lenten stole for 4 years now at Redeemer and not once did I notice this until this morning's confluence of events during the Divine Service.

Looking at the stole from the front this is what you see.

But take a closer look. Do you see it yet?

Try looking at it from the angle (more or less) that I saw it.

There it is, the heart-shaped whip cord. It is said that although the Babylonians invented crucifixion, the Romans perfected it. And you can see why, given the panoply of implements they had at their disposal to inflict as much pain possible while still leaving the subject alive enough to suffer agonizing hours (and frequently days) on the cross. Of course, this is a far more stylized version than the Romans actually used back in the first century, but the point remains the same. If you want a to see a historically accurate replica, watch Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ. They get it right, even down to the very stroke.

Now, a heart-shaped whip might seem strange at first. That's what initially caught my attention. I even began to wonder this morning whether or not the dear Altar Guild ladies at Redeemer planned that when they made these stoles. You never know, those church ladies are quite clever and profoundly thoughtful.

The adjectives "brutal" and "horrific" don't seem adequate to describe the scourging of Jesus. And you could pile them all up and still not encompass the cosmic reality of such suffering. But perhaps there is one word that envelopes all the mockery, the hurled spit, the slander and betrayal, the scourge and the spear, the nail and the thorns. Love. For Jesus this is not only adjective, but it's a noun, a verb and his own personal name. God is Love.

For God loved the cosmos in this manner: that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life. Or consider the words of Isaiah.

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

Lent is, above all, about this kind of self-giving love. For greater love has no man than this that one lay down his life for his friends. But Jesus goes one step further; he lays down his life in love for the unlovable. He loves his enemies as his himself. He gives them his cheek, his head, his hands and all. And he does it for you. Oh love, oh scars, oh heart-shaped whip - how deep the wounds of love for you and me and the life of the world.

Oh, love, how deep, how broad, how high,
Beyond all thought and fantasy,
That God, the son of God, should take
Our mortal form for mortal’s sake!

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