If we read this story
of Jesus’ celebrity and fame
as it crashes and burns
into the cinders of torture and death
then we starve it of oxygen
and all that gives it life.
If on Sunday,
we read the story of Easter
instead of poetry
we will kill it
and rub it out altogether
before it has a chance to sprout.
So pease, please, let go of this story as history
and hear the poetry in it instead.
Please, please, open the pores of rationality
and allow imagination,
to seep into the hard, thirsty surface
of our thinking minds,
so that the brutal beauty of poetic image
is given a chance to come up for air.
Good Friday and Easter
For those who do not like poetry;
or who developed something like a math-phobia against poetry because a teacher once insisted
every poem had a specific meaning
and you just couldn’t see it,
no poem has a single meaning
and there is always
more than one way to look at a poem.
So think of a poem,
and this Biblical poetry we’ve heard today,
as fortunately rendered words
painting a picture
that defy words.
When words let the air out of the moment,
as when we try to describe a sunset
or what we saw on the mountain
or how much we love someone…
poetry, good poetry,
can sometimes deliver the whole experience.
Fortunately rendered words
painting a picture
that defy words.
threading the gospel narrative from John,
and revealing exquisite pain
while healing deep wounds, we have Isaiah 52.
Isaiah 52 not only belongs in the Passion story
it IS the passion story –
it is the heart
beating in the breast
of the Passion story.
The Gospel of Mark
was the earliest gospel written,
twenty to thirty years ahead of John’s gospel.
It became the pattern for the other gospels,
and Isaiah 52 was the pattern Mark used
to make sense of Jesus’ betrayal,
Isaiah 52 is the poem Mark had in mind
when he told the story of Jesus,
and as we heard,
the image of Isaiah’s suffering servant
is an image that also bleeds through John.
is the scaffolding
upon which the story
of the last week in Jesus’ life
is painstakingly bricked.
is the poem that Jesus’ friends remembered
when they witnessed his torture and death,
because Isaiah 52 was a deep and abiding communal memory to them.
is the poem that helped them
make sense of the senseless –
the torturous humiliation and death
of their Messiah.
is one of the four poems
we call the Suffering Servant Songs.
was the whisper of God
echoing to Jesus’ fellow Galileans and Judeans
as they witnessed the reversal of expectations
and the demise of dreams
at the foot of the cross.
was the poem they knew by heart
but had never imagined
would be their poem, or his poem.
already 500 years old when Jesus was born,
was a poem re-born
as Jesus died.
Just as there were many who were astonished at him
—so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance,
and his form beyond that of mortals—
so he shall startle many nations…
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their face
he was despised, and we held him of no account…
Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed…
This poem is a vortex pulling us into
an awful, horrendous
exquisitely beautiful divine paradox
of a wound that heals –
a bloody hole in the flesh
that is the pool where we are to bath.
attempting to explain with rationality
this stunning ugliness
into which grief and sorrow,
transgression and guilt is poured,
will only sound stupid to our logic.
It has no form or comeliness
as the poet says.
The suffering servant
who has borne our infirmities
and…was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon (whom is inflicted) the punishment that made us whole,
and by (whose) bruises we are healed…
makes no sense;
to the logic of our rationality.
The suffering servant
So Isaiah 52
is the first lens
through which the first generations
saw this story;
the poem that forms the scaffolding
underneath the prose narrated in the gospels.
It is the poem that was there
for five hundred years
and that cooed into the ears of his survivors
as they struggled to understand
and to tell us what happened.
To the poetry of Isaiah
we added another poem today,
another modern and contemporary lens
through which to see this story
of Jesus and death.
Not as lyrical as Isaiah
but elegant in its simplicity
made even more direct
from its translation into English,
it is the poem from the Guatemalan poet,
As with any poem,
we must not treat it like a creed,
or chew it as intellectual theology
because that will only gum it up,
twisting it into bizarre meanings
that become repugnant to our logic.
Instead, let’s hear it as the poem it is:
You emptied yourself completely,
keeping nothing for yourself.
Now on a rational, intellectual level
the concept of emptying ourselves
as if we were a pitcher of cream, is absurd.
We have nothing to empty
other than blood and pus and water.
But stutter for a moment
on that image of emptying – of self-emptying.
It appears over and over again
in New Testament letters
and later in mystical writings and songs.
Over and over
throughout the foggy fields
of a communal Christian memory
we hear the refrain of self-emptying,
and see the tumbleweeds of that idea
rolling over the landscape
from then all the way to now.
Julia Esquivel echoes
something that reaches all the way back
to Isaiah 52
and that streams through the story of Jesus.
It is a divine paradox, an oxymoron.
The Self never empties
because the Self takes all things it meets
for its own self.
The Self is selfish,
preoccupied with itself.
But the divine paradox
is of the Self emptying itself,
for someone else
and not for itself.
In the modern era
we have mostly imagined the Self
in classic Freudian terms, as
and the SUPER EGO.
If we believe that Jesus was fully human,
then he was built just like you and me
from the embryo up,
a Trinity of ID, EGO, and SUPER EGO.
That Trinity is interesting to think about
when it comes to Jesus and us.
ID is Latin, for “it.”
IT sits in over there, in that corner of the trinity.
The IT is composed of all the human basics:
a disorganized nest of snakes
writhing with instincts,
desires, pulsating passions,
and latent capacity for “me, me, me”
and “want, want, want.”
Then in that corner of this pyramid
is the SUPER EGO: The WE.
The IT is born into us
but the WE is added as we grow.
The WE is imposed upon us,
then hardwired into us.
The WE is the internal mold built by parents,
institutional and tribal values,
all poured into us
and hardened over time
as we grow.
Then, in the third corner of the pyramid,
is The EGO.
EGO is Latin for “I.”
is the organized part of the Self
the drive and desires of
along with the demanding requirements
The SUPER EGO.
The Ego gets a bad rap
but it’s the poor slob
sitting on top of two dragons
trying to ride them safely through life
without getting killed or killing anyone else.
If the Ego is weak or thin
it will be rattled, shaken, and throttled
by the powerful IT and WE
as the EGO rides those two wild beasts
If the Ego imagines it is a power greater
than its two dragons,
instead of a rider trying to manage them,
it will eventually be consumed
by the WE and the IT.
So that is how we have imagined The Self
in modern times:
The IT, The I, and The WE
vigorously at war and peace
living out a momentary existence
and getting all we can get
or being all we can be
and sometimes both.
But along comes Jesus
who empties that three-fold Self.
He actually pours out the Self –
literally empties itself of its Self
and on behalf of other selves.
Gone. Poured out. Emptied.
It is such a horrible image,
and so repugnant to our own trinity of selfhood,
that we need to come at the story
through the poetry it is
rather than pretending it is history
that happened exactly that way.
We also need to hear it in contemporary verse
and with modern voices,
even as we listen to the more ancient ones.
The impossible paradoxical images
show us what we cannot think;
show us what we dare not imagine;
show us what we dread to believe
is even possible for us to do.
Today, Good Friday,
the day we drag out the long story of The Passion
and read it one more time,
is a day we need more than one lens
to see what the intellect
to imagine what rationality
to hear the music
to which logic is tone-deaf;
to embrace the invitation the ID, SUPER EGO and
EGO fear more than anything to accept.
Today it is the divine paradox we need to hear
about a wound that heals us,
and a Self that pours itself empty, and an invitation to do the same.
It is an ugly beauty marred beyond semblance,
and repulsive to the logic of our Self-interest.
It is poetry
It is music
It is the moment of experienced faith