Friday, April 18, 2014
"The Long Obedience"
I have to admit it. I was distracted at last night's Maunday Thursday worship service, not because the worship was somehow off-key or because I was out of sorts. We celebrated communion, as did Jesus on the night he was betrayed; and it was moving, more so maybe than ordinarily. Once upon a time I thought it was gimmicky to walk to the front of the church to receive the elements; now I think passing them out in the traditional manner is nowhere nearly as effective as our having to walk up front to receive Christ (as our Roman Catholic friends might say).
The pastor talked almost exclusively about the Passover meal, reflected on what was happening that night as Judas took the bread furtively and drank the cup with the others. The Passover itself, bloodiness and all, has always seemed a triumph of the ages to me--free at last, great God a'mighty, free at last. The liberation of God's chosen people sets hearts on fire.
There's a scene in Gone With the Wind that stretches our understanding of the great appeal of human liberation. Is it after the war?--I don't remember when it happens, exactly--but a group of freed slaves are on the move somewhere outside Atlanta, apparently unsure of where they are going and what they are to do, suggesting that freedom is one thing, but knowing what to do may well be another.
Now Gone With the Wind has been greatly criticized for its romantic depiction of slavery, including the charge that the movie perpetuates an image that freed slaves had no clue what to do with their newly discovered freedoms.
But the story of wandering ex-slaves is repeated in a thousand circumstances, or so it seems; the wicked witch is dead, but that doesn't mean that with the next dawn life gets rosy. Get rid of a dictator, get liberated; but, often as not, old rivalries and conflicts raise their ugliness because the recently liberated, no matter how happy, have to find their way in a brave new world--which isn't easy.
Once the Berlin wall fell, I remember good Christians making the case that Russia was ripe for the love of Jesus because the Russian people were clueless about how to live in open society. With despotic communism gone, they needed to know how to be.
I was thinking about the character of Passover because David Brooks spoke so eloquently about it in the New York Times this week, in a piece he titled "A Long Obedience." If you have the time, I think you'll find it interesting. What Brooks argues is Americans scratch an itch when we think of the Passover because getting freed mixes so richly with our national narrative.
But there is another side to the biblical account, forty years worth, in fact. For an entire generation, a mightily generous God determined that his people needed to learn how to be a people before they were ready to alight, as a people, on the land of promise. The Pentateuch isn't always exciting reading because so much of it is the new code for a freed people, a thousand laws that require obedience. A new nation had much to learn about how on earth they were to be a godly nation. They had to learn a "long obedience."
I think Brooks has a point, quite frankly, and I'm not sure it was in the mix last night at the Maunday Thursday service--which, as I can't say enough--was perfectly wonderful. I was the one distracted. Brooks distracted me.
But honestly, He knew, didn't he? As he sat there with the troops at the table, as he broke the bread and poured the wine, Jesus Christ knew it wouldn't be long and the whole bunch of them would desert, turn their backs on his naked self nailed to a blasted, crooked tree. In fact, they'd be gone long before he hung there.
It was being freed that He and the disciples celebrated that night, freed at last; but Jesus knew painfully that an immense price for freedom would have to be paid because he understood that those who promised their allegiance, knowing nothing about obedience, would, in a twinkling of an eye, get lost into the crowd.
Life is a long obedience, a long and mostly often difficult obedience.
That's there too, in a cross, this Good Friday.
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 6:48 AM