When someone dies
we need to make sense out of it.
When it is George Floyd
or Martin Luther King, Jr.
or Bobby Kennedy or Abraham Lincoln,
or a refugee child washing up on the shore
with the waves,
it is no small thing to make sense of it.
At times of grief and outrage
people in community with one another,
who already have a shared story
from a long history,
seem better at making sense
of the senseless.
The death of Jesus
did not just get told the way it happened,
it got told from the point of view
of a long history
as understood by a tight community
that was living out that history.
So when we hear this story from John
he is telling the story of Jesus
sixty to eighty years later.
That is three or four generations
after Jesus was dead.
Now think back.
Think back four generations in your family.
Anyone left from eighty years ago
who tells the stories of those years
as it was given to him or her as a child?
Maybe that person remembers
some of what happened in the world around
when they were very young,
but memories are also shaped and preserved
by the community helping us to remember
and adding its communal interpretation
to our own memories.
In other words,
there are no pure memories.
Both in our own hearts and minds
as well as those shared on the lips of history,
memory gets enhanced
over the years
and through the re-telling.
When those memories are traumatic
and have deeply influenced history
or the course of someone’s life,
or the self-identity of a community,
they get told in such a way
as to lend understanding
to what seemed so senseless at the time.
As we could see in our reading of John’s Passion
laid out alongside part of one of Isaiah’s
Suffering Servant songs,
Isaiah offered a mold
in which to tell the story of Jesus.
If we read Isaiah’s four Suffering Servant Songs
we will hear
the story of Jesus’ Passion
told in poetry
by five hundred years.
Does it mean the story of the Jesus’ Passion
No, absolutely not.
Does it mean the details of the story
are not exactly what happened?
What Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John
when telling the story
was how to make sense
out of what happened.
Why, when this was Israel’s Messiah,
did he end up on a cross
tortured and put to death
at the hands of merciless state power?
How could the Messiah
for a capital offense
and put to death by execution?
It made no sense…until
that community remembered
the memories handed down to them
of the Suffering Servant.
Suddenly it made complete sense
in the twisted, paradoxical way
that sacred Wisdom delivers.
The Suffering Servant
was a lens through which Jesus’ friends
and later followers of ‘the way’
could make sense
out of what happened.
The question for us, in 2021,
is how to make sense of it
for us…in our time…knowing what we know
and remembering what we remember.
So I invite you to think about this story of Jesus
and use your own lens
to interpret it.
Use the George Floyds
and the MLKs
and Jonathan Daniels — or anybody you have known
who walked the walk unto death.
How do we make sense of a death
that wasn’t supposed to happen,
that didn’t need to happen,
that should never have happened?
Well, that’s what I am thinking about today and I invite you to join me.