Who Jesus Is to Me

Some reflections I shared at our Good Friday service today:

On this Good Friday, I simply want to tell you the man on the cross is to me. And, as I have before, I borrow a phrase from an Anglican bishop [John A. T. Robinson] to tell you that, for me, Jesus is the human face of God. When I look at Jesus, I see what we are meant to be: fully, exuberantly, and joyfully alive; and freely, vitally, and complete engaged in the give and take, the dance and delight, of love. More than anything else, love—God’s love for him, God’s love for the world—shaped, moved and energized Jesus. His life burned and glowed with love: for God, for creation, and for human beings in all their mystery and messiness. Love clarified his sight and enabled his vision of the world ruled by compassion, and his unwillingness to surrender that vision to harsh religion or coercive civil power sent him to the cross.

Love for the earth made Jesus vibrantly grateful for the beauty and bounty of the created order; the wonders of nature were his teachers; flowers and birds and farmers were his guides; lakes, mountains, sunrises and sunsets replenished his soul.

He was ablaze with a passion for freedom, justice, and peace; so, he was impatient with pretense and suspicious of power, tender toward children and compassionate toward the broken. Though it was radical and unprecedented in his time and place, he considered women to be equal to him and not inferior. He welcomed, rather than excluded, the stranger and the outcast. He grieved and celebrated and laughed and lamented without embarrassment or hesitation; he entered without reservation the joys and sorrows that came his way. He promised abundant life, and people believed that he could deliver what he promised because they knew that he himself was gloriously and wondrously alive, more alive than any human being has every been. When Carlyle Marney was asked, “Just what is a human being anyway?” his drawled response was: “Well, we’ve only had one so far.” That one was Jesus.

I hear his humanity calling out to mine, beckoning me, urging me, encouraging me to be done with holding back and trimming and hedging; to claim God-given freedom from fear and shame and guilt, to lose my false self in the great mystery of God’s reality, and to take up my true life by serving something far vaster than my own small ambitions and far more enduring than my short span of years: the rule and reign of God. When I see Jesus, I see what it means to be human and what I see awakens in me a desire to be like him.

And shining from that face so radiant with humanity, I also see the bright light of God. One of the most breathtaking things Jesus ever said was: “The one who has seen me has seen the Father.” In other words, “When you look at me, you see what God is like.” That means that God is not aloof from us, detached and uninvolved, disinterested and disconnected. Instead, God is with us, one of us, sharing our lives, tasting our joys, feeling our sorrows. That means God is not vindictive and capricious, ready to pounce on every flaw and quickly punish every mistake and judge harshly every sin. Instead, God comes to us in our failure and lifts us out of shame and wipes the tears of guilt from our eyes and tells us, “I do not condemn you; instead, go and sin no more.” Reynolds Price said that, in Jesus, we hear spoken “that sentence all humankind craves from stories: The Maker of all things loves and wants me.”

The message of Jesus life and of his death is that incredible truth: The maker of all things love and wants us—wants me, wants you.

Thanks to the generosity of some people in our church, there hangs on the wall of my study a large print of Salvador Dali’s painting, The Sacrament of the Last Supper. From the day I first encountered it until now, it has shaped and expressed my faith. I happened upon the painting during an all-too quick dash through the National Gallery of Art in Washington, ,D.C., and it stopped me dead in my tracks. The disciples are seated around a large stone table, their heads bowed low in reverence for Jesus whose left hand is lightly touching his chest and whose right hand is pointed above. Behind and above him, through a set of large windows, you can see his arms stretched out as on the cross, embracing the the lake below him, the mountains encircling the lake, and the skies around him. Radiating from him is a pale but unmistakable stream of golden light.

The painting depicts my vision of Jesus faith. Somehow, this man who was born in Bethlehem, lived in Nazareth, preached in Galilee, shared the Last Supper with his disciples in Jerusalem and died on Calvary is also the embracing center of the universe. At the center of all things is the God like Jesus: arms and heart opened by love to the whole world.