• The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. (Luke 4:18-19).
  • Sunday, 17 March 2013

    Scriptural Views: Seven Words from the Cross

    There is a green hill far away,
    Outside a city wall,
    Where the dear Lord was crucified,
    Who died to save us all.
    We may not know, we cannot tell,
    What pains He had to bear;
    But we believe it was for us
    He hung and suffered there.
    He died that we might be forgiv’n,
    He died to make us good,
    That we might go at last to Heav’n,
    Saved by His precious blood.
    There was no other good enough
    To pay the price of sin;
    He only could unlock the gate
    Of heaven and let us in.
    O dearly, dearly has He loved,
    And we must love Him, too,
    And trust in His redeeming blood,
    And try His works to do.


    “He died to make us good.” What an exquisite summary of the benefits of Jesus’ Passion Cecil Alexander has given us in this lovely old hymn. Note that she doesn’t say “he died to make us be good.” It isn’t just because she needed to conform a rhyme to a meter. No, the gospel, the Church, and the creeds are clear: He died to make us good. There is nothing we have to do, nothing we can do, no incantation or magic formula to get Him to make us good. His blood atones for all transgressions. He died and that is how He makes us good. Throughout Christendom today — Good Friday — as the Gospel of John’s account is read, recited, or intoned, this is the point of it all: He died to make us good.
    We at lgbt-BJU.org are a diverse lot. Many of us have found faith since leaving Bob Jones University. Some of us have always had our faith and have become free to grow in grace since leaving BJU. Others have lost their faith or their faith has lost them. All of us are well-acquainted with the gospels’ accounts of Jesus’s trial and death. Each of us is on an individual path to goodness; all goodness comes from God.
    A long-standing Good Friday tradition in the universal Church is to read, ponder and expound upon each of the seven last words of Jesus on the cross. I asked seven of our board members, each of whom has a unique perspective, to ponder one of these seven last words and offer her or his own impressions for this Good Friday post. Here follows what they have to say. I hope you will find their words as thought-provoking and moving as I do. — Jeffrey Hoffman
    Then Jesus said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

    Christ on the Cross,
    Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)
    We all think we know what Jesus did, but what did he feel? What did Jesus feel when according to Luke’s story he offered forgiveness on the premise that his accusers and tormenters had no clue what they were doing? Over and over we’ve heard about the healing power of forgiveness and we’ve read some sappy account of the abused forgiving the abuser and miraculously all becomes well again. We hear Christ’s perfect Queen’s-English accent from some melodramatic cinematic epic and we think “how nice of Christ to offer forgiveness in his dying breath.” And then we imagine all the times we think we’ve taken the higher ground and forgiven and we get a bit judgmental when we can’t figure out why so-and-so can’t forgive their abuser.
    What if Jesus said “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” differently than the way we’re conditioned to imagine it. Try it out for yourself. Make it angry, sad, heartbreaking, sarcastic, painful, despairing, or hopeless. Find your own passion in the words and feel it another way than how you’ve always said it. We think we know how to forgive until the passion is ours.
    As gay people of faith and reason, most of us have had ample opportunity to practice forgiveness however we felt it made sense. We have faced the hopeless misunderstandings, broken relationships, and violent language. We have come to that point of no return where we knew that nothing would be the same ever again and our constructed self would die — we watched it die in most of our coming-out encounters. And in that moment of despair, we didn’t know what to say. We felt our words more than we thought them.
    I want to believe Jesus wanted healing and peace for his abusers — that’s how I am and I do believe that in the Spirit of Jesus we all are whole. But I wonder, more importantly, if this story calls us to begin the path of forgiveness with the acknowledgement of all our feelings, positive and negative. And before the forgiveness even reaches our abusers, we’ve already forgiven and healed ourselves.
    I offer this Prayer of Jesus for the LGBT-BJU Community:
    Dear God, the continued anti-gay rhetoric in our government and society is ignorant, senseless, and stupid. Please forgive them. Please forgive us, and help us all to find a better way. Teach us to enjoy the beauty, dignity, and worth of every human being. Help them to come around. Help us to be ready if and when they do. We can all do better. In the Name of Jesus we pray. Amen.
    And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

    This is one of the great “It Gets Better” moments in the Bible. Whether one sees it as literal history, symbolic narrative, or just a good story, this word from Jesus couldn’t be any more clear and full of hope and encouragement.
    Consider the setting. These two men are in the throes of an excruciating execution. The man who said to Jesus, “Remember me when you come into Your kingdom” is described as a thief. Not just an outcast from polite society, but a criminal in the eyes of the Roman occupiers. But Christ cut through all that baggage, every label that society had given to that man. Jesus saw a human being in pain and need and assured him that his final destiny was not death. It was a paradise transcending all pain and suffering. Christ treated that man the same way He treated everyone that sincerely sought Him during His lifetime: with acceptance and love.
    Brothers and sisters, some of us have endured great suffering, rejection, and pain. Some in society, including many of our families and friends would even label us outside the law of God. But He says to us instead, “You are Mine. You will be with Me. And I am with you now.”

    Jesus saw his own mother, and the disciple standing near whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold your son”. Then he said to the disciple, “Behold your mother”. And from that hour, he took his mother into his family. (John 19:26 – 27)

    Christ on the Cross between Mary and John,
    I grew up in a tight, loving family. Our home was filled with laughter and good times. When I was born, my parents were 20 years old. So my young parents were always fun and “cool.” We took holidays together, we always shared our evening meals together, and we stayed connected to my extended family of aunts, uncles, and cousins. The sense of comfort, security, and love that was present in my family has been a cherished gift that I carry with me to this day.
    That gift was challenged when I came out to my family as gay. My mother and I still conversed although in strained tones. My father refused to speak to me for about 9 months after I disclosed my sexual orientation. Everything I held dear regarding my relationship with my parents was threatened during that difficult time. The surprise blessing during those complicated times was the comfort, encouragement, and love of an unexpected new family around me. A family of choice. A family of love. While the future of my biological family was uncertain, the care and comfort that my newfound family gave me was literally life saving. This family was comprised of friends from my community of faith. Friends who truly knew me. Friends in whom I confided my hopes, dreams, and fears. Friends who truly loved me and accepted me without conditions. These friends were now my family – as close and committed as any biological family member could be.
    The statement by Jesus in John 19 is traditionally called “The Word of Relationship.” In it, Jesus entrusts his mother Mary into the care of “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” This intentional act in the midst of great pain is a powerful reminder of the importance of family and relationship in our lives. I particularly love the phrase “and from that hour, he took his mother into his family.” Mary was welcomed into the care of another family when the family she had always known was no longer to be. We are people of relationship. And the promise is that we will always be cared for and sustained by the relationships and families that surround us in all their various forms. No matter the changes, no matter the dark nights of the soul, and no matter the joys in our journey, God is faithful to gift us with family just as Jesus gifted Mary with family to love and support her. Blessings to you this Holy Week as you continue the journey to the empty tomb.
    Around the ninth hour, Jesus shouted in a loud voice, saying “Eli Eli lama sabachthani?” which is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27: 46)

    At this point in the story comes an anguished cry of rejection. As an agnostic, I feel unqualified to write about such a poignant moment in the Christian narrative. Yet this Word jumps out and grabs me: I empathize, despite–because of?–my agnosticism.
    After leaving Bob Jones University, I lost Christianity. It started out with questions: did God exist? What was God like? Was Christianity a correct religion? What about other religions? Was the Bible accurate? Where were these questions coming from and why could I not stop asking them? Since I had been taught that God was all-powerful, but I still had all my questions even though I desperately asked for answers, that must mean God was choosing not to give me belief. Something was wrong with me. God did not want me. I was going to Hell.
    It is difficult to communicate the inner turmoil: the pervasive fear, the deep hurt of this ultimate abandonment. Eventually, I discovered a different Christian God. Looking back, I think it is more accurate to say a particular strand of Christianity lost me. I never found faith again, but I did learn – like so many others at LGBT-BJU.org – that there is a more loving Christian God. In this Word, I now see a question challenging God, screaming the pain of rejection. Why? The question is part of the story.
    He said, “I thirst”. (John 19: 28)

    According to historical records, almost no one survived crucifixion. Crucifixion was intended to provide a death that was very slow, excruciatingly painful, extremely gruesome and devastatingly humiliating. Death often did not come for hours or even days. When Christ said “I thirst,” it was the expression of the physical suffering His human body was experiencing on the cross. It had been hours since his scourging. He had lost an extreme amount of blood. He was experiencing extreme dehydration. He was at the height of the anguish intended by crucifixion.
    Since crucifixion was meant to inflict a slow and painful death, there is no logical reason to give a condemned person water during the actual execution process. And yet Christ was shown compassion when he was given something to drink. Historical records tell us that people of that period purified water with sour wine (or vinegar as it was sometimes translated). It stands to reason that the Roman soldiers used the sour wine or vinegar from their own supplies to show compassion to Christ. It was not something they had to do. It was something they chose to do.
    In today’s modern world, many around us are in pain needing to have some of their basic human needs met. Many people (including LGBT people) “thirst” for love from both family and friends. They “thirst” for self-esteem and the respect of others. They “thirst” for safety. They “thirst” for self-actualization.
    Quenching these “thirsts” of people is not something we have to do. Maybe we’re even carrying out “orders” from leadership to ignore their pleas and to leave them to their pain just like the crucifixions of old. Or should we be like the Roman soldier, who hearing Christ’s anguished plea, pulled from his own supplies and chose to show compassion to our Lord in the hour of his greatest pain?
    Jesus said, “It is finished”. (John 19: 30)

    It is a case of mistaken identity. We see what we want to see. We assign our own fears and lack of understanding and bias to him. In the dark of night, we hunt him down, uncertain of the crime, but positive of his guilt. Our prejudice justifies our decisions and we execute an innocent man. In this time and in this place, like all others, our actions should ignite a war. Justice demands restitution, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life. In the moment of silence that lies between action and retaliation, one voice is heard. It is finished.
    This is the crux of the gospel, the fulcrum on which Christianity rests. Jesus spreads out his arms on the cross and opens his heart and himself to take in all our pain, hurt, injustice, violence, anger, and fear. On the cross, in that moment the cycle of violence for violence and hurt for hurt is ended. There is no retribution. There will be no reckoning. It is finished.
    He frees us to move outside of our normal interactions. Rather than returning evil for evil, we find the grace to love those who hate us and to pray for those who wish us ill. It is not just some flippant slogan—this idea of loving our enemies. We are the bloody hands of Christ working towards peace, offering an alternative to hatred and racism and sexism and homophobia. Promising the world that, really and truly, our divisions can be… finished.


    And speaking in a loud voice, Jesus said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”. (Luke 23: 46)

    God became human in the form of Jesus Christ.
    But what does it mean to be “human”? What is it that separates us, not only from the animals, but from every known thing in existence? Galaxies, supernova, nebula, asteroids, oceans, plants, microbial organisms. One thing we have in common is that everything dies. Someday the entire universe will collapse, so the astrophysicists tell us, and everything in it will be gone. The difference between humans and everything else is that we alone know this. The stars don’t know they are dying; neither does the moon. Your cat and your dog don’t know their lives end. But you know it. So do I. It’s a lesson that every capable-minded child learns at some point in her or his development. We all die.
    This time of year people talk about Christ’s suffering on the cross. I grew up as a fundamentalist so I’m aware of it and can still recite whole passages by heart. I’ve seen Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ.” But the Romans crucified thousands of people during their long rule over the earth and a crucifixion is over relatively quickly. To me, worse suffering would have been if Christ had been imprisoned for fifty years, beaten, starved and tortured daily, and then crucified over a period of days. I’m not writing this to minimize what happened to Jesus in any way. Like everyone else, I want to die peacefully, blissfully unaware in my sleep. A crucifixion is a horrible, tragic death.
    My point is that when most people discuss Christ’s suffering, I believe they are missing the main ingredient of the suffering. God isn’t going to die; therefore, in order to completely know what it is like to live with knowledge of death, God had to become human. THAT is the ultimate suffering. Our level of awareness is a blessing – only we are aware of ourselves and of each other, fully aware, of the love and friendship, beauty and ecstasy that exist in the world. But that awareness comes to us at a steep price. We are aware that it all ends.
    Most of us live our lives in active denial of our own demise. Ernest Becker won the Pulitzer Prize in 1974 for his ground-breaking work, Denial of Death. But Jesus did not deny his death, either consciously or, as most of us do, unconsciously. He knew every waking second of every day what was coming. The events immediately preceding his death would be painful, true – but the death itself, any death, is incomprehensible in its agony. Twelve years ago, I lost a close friend and I’ve lost many loved ones since, including my father, three grandparents, an aunt and my best friend. I have a difficult time these days not thinking about mortality.
    So when I read “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit,” it speaks to me now in ways it never did when I believed its literal truth. Regardless of whether or not Jesus actually uttered those words immediately before his death, the fact is that they exist in the text of the most widely-read book in human history. That matters, precisely because it indicates that we all share the same longing, the same passion to transcend the one thing that unites us more than any other – death. The Savior’s last words – even after “It is finished” were to acknowledge the act of surrender. “I am through with this life, there is nothing more I can do about it, my control is gone. Whatever is left is no longer mine, but returns to the place of my creation and of my Creator.”
    The word “Islam” means surrender. Born again Christians have also surrendered themselves to Christ and God. Millions of people in twelve-step programs surrender their lives and their wills to the care of God as they understand him. These are just three of the many cultural examples of the concept of surrender. If this idea of surrender weren’t so important to the human condition, it wouldn’t proliferate as it does across the globe.
    The beautiful aspect of the story of Christ, of course, is what happened after his final words. The resurrection. The ascension. Two thousand years of Christianity (for better or worse, depending on one’s belief). I’ve written some heavy words here today but this is a heavy topic and I was asked to write about what this phrase means to me. The lesson that I take away is this: in order to live a full and realized life, we must first acknowledge and then surrender to the imminence of our own death. That doesn’t mean consigning ourselves to a gloomy existence. On the contrary, by acknowledging the reality, rather than denying it, we accept it…and can place our trust and our faith in a higher being, that whatever happens next is truly out of our hands. And that’s a good, and blessed, truth.

    • Father forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34).
    • Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43).
    • Woman, behold your son: behold your mother (John 19:26-27).
    • My God, My God, why have you forsaken me, (Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34).
    • I thirst (John 19:28).
    • It is finished (John 19:30).
    • Father, into your hands I commit my spirit (Luke 23:46).
    These seven words that Jesus spoke in the throes of dying anguish offer comfort, hope, and perhaps a new understanding that because of what He did, we don’t ever have to be alone again. You are not alone. You are loved. Just as you are. Wherever you are on your journey, He died to make you good.


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