March 21, 2018

Wednesday after the Fifth Sunday in Lent

It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left.   Mark 15:25-27

 

We often assume that Jesus was executed for blasphemy: that the religious authorities simply couldn’t tolerate his claims of divine authority. Two facts belie this assumption. For one, there was a punishment prescribed for blasphemy, and it wasn’t crucifixion. Crucifixion was reserved for enemies of the Roman state: those who had challenged the emperor’s supremacy. It was a public spectacle, an explicit threat to any would-be rabble rousers. Furthermore, as Mark notes in this passage, the accusation against Jesus read, “The King of the Jews.” Only the gospels according to Mark and John include a reference to the inscription of the charge against Jesus. While John tells us that the religious authorities objected, saying to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, ‘I am King of the Jews,’” Mark allows the charge to stand on its own. In Mark’s gospel, in other words, Jesus was crucified, not for blasphemy, but because he was the “King of the Jews.” This is a subtle, but crucial distinction. Rome decided that Jesus needed to be destroyed not because he violated the Jewish tradition, but because he embodied it completely. Jesus did this by putting his whole trust in God’s saving power. This represented an existential challenge to the emperor’s supremacy, because it fundamentally disrupted the Rome’s ability to secure its position of authority. Most tyrannical regimes coerce obedience by threatening death. By putting his trust in God and going willingly to the cross, Jesus nullified the tyrant’s ultimate threat.

When Jesus is crucified, he demonstrates how the gospel frustrates the powers of the world. The gospel we proclaim is deeply and quietly subversive. It insists that those who claim worldly authority have no real power over us, because Jesus Christ has neutralized their ultimate threat. The season of Lent is an opportunity to acknowledge this truth and recognize that there is nothing we have to fear.

 


For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For if we live, we live unto the Lord, and if we die, we die unto the Lord. Whether we live, therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s. Amen.

 

The Rev. David F. Romanik
Church of the Redeemer, Bryn Mawr

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March 8, 2018

Thursday after the Third Sunday in Lent

Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?” But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus said, “I am; and ‘you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,’ and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.’” Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?” All of them condemned him as deserving death. Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” The guards also took him over and beat him.  Mark 14:60-65

 

As the parent of a three year old, I have seen Moana, Disney’s latest animated feature, more than a few times during the last few months. In the film, the title character, a restless teenager torn between her wanderlust and her responsibility to her people, is called to journey from her home to save the world. Though she encounters challenges along the way, her mission is most threatened by her own self-doubt. Just before the climactic scene, Moana is asked, “Do you know who you are?” Moana’s response allows her to overcome the shadows of self-doubt and fulfill her destiny, revealing how powerful it can be when we know who we are.

We see a similar revelation in this passage from Mark. Throughout Mark’s gospel, Jesus’ true identity is kept hidden from most of the people around him. In this passage, where Jesus is questioned by the high priest, Jesus finally reveals who he truly is. When the high priest asks if he is the Messiah, the one anointed to usher in the reign of God, Jesus, recalling the language God uses at the burning bush, responds, “I am.” In a gesture of deep lament, the high priest tears his clothes. The high priest’s reaction is less about his anger and more about the threat that Jesus’ claim represents. Jesus’ true identity is a fundamental challenge to the status quo. It reveals that God’s purpose will be accomplished irrespective of the religious or political authorities.

We are often reminded that our purpose as Christians is to proclaim the good news. While this true, it is helpful to remember that the truth of the gospel is not contingent on our participation. In fact, this passage from Mark’s gospel reveals that we can find our true identity by framing our lives within the the mission and destiny of Jesus the Messiah.

 


Almighty and most gracious God, in your son Jesus Christ you revealed your true purpose for creation. Help us to find our identity in his life, death, and resurrection, so that we may know who we are. Amen.

 

The Rev. David F. Romanik
Church of the Redeemer, Bryn Mawr

February 14, 2018

Ash Wednesday

It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him; for they said, “Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people.”      Mark 14:1-2

 

The Gospel of Jesus Christ brings a new Light into the world and into our lives. It is a light that reveals the face of the God who is gracious and forgiving; the God who is present with us at all times and in all places; the God who rejoices with us in the goodness of our lives; the God who suffers with us in our brokenness and struggles; the God who offers a way of living that brings real life and the power to become the persons God created us to be; and the God who offers us life now and a new life beyond the door of death. It is a light that shines in the darkness of our lives and gives us hope.

The Light that has come into the world and into our lives also reveals the shadows. Like a lamp in a room that brings light, the light casts shadows wherever that light cannot reach. It is not the intent of the Light to cast shadows, but there are shadows wherever we block the light. And we all block the light in areas of our lives where we are unwilling to turn to the life that Christ is calling us to live, especially when it means we will have to surrender our lives more completely to God.

Like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day who are looking for a way to arrest and kill Jesus, we, too, look for ways to block the light and to hold onto our power and our less Godly ways of living, choosing to live in the shadows rather than in the fullness of Light.

 


May God grant us the desire and the ability to surrender our lives completely so that the light of Christ may shine in us and through us, removing every shadow, and setting us on the path of the life that is truly life. Amen.

 

The Rev. W. Frank Allen

Saint David’s (Radnor) Church