We are missioned by the Eucharist to be as available for gracious service as in the Eucharist itself. We are dis-massed to move from our private prayers leading us toward the liturgy of the Eucharist and then handed-over to extend the Eucharist in our living.
We pray for the freedom to receive the comfort and the challenge of Jesus in the Word and Sacrament of our communal gatherings. We do not need much instruction, but encouragement to serve God’s people in the many events which make up our days. In our private prayer we will always be moved outward into the public-prayer of giving and receiving God’s blessings.
For every suffering or calamity, or tragedy we look for, demand reasons and causes. When there is a plane crash there is a big search for the Flight Recorder contained within the “Black Box”. Somehow we feel better when we know the roots of things so that we will be comforted by the prospect of how things will turn out. Mechanical malfunctions are easier to forgive rather than human fragility or mental disturbance. Today in the news we read of a young man who shot and killed six little girls in a school in Pennsylvania. He was upset at something which happened twenty years ago. That is the reason and cause, but the suffering of the families remains and the little girls are dead.
It is not exactly a tragedy when one-person’s injury or fault leads him/her to cause their own personal disturbance or destruction. The tragedy is really when, through that fault, others are destroyed. It is within this context that we read the First Reading for this weekend’s liturgy. The reading is brief and is taken from the larger “Suffering Servant Song” of the prophet Isaiah which is the usual reading for Palm Sunday. This “Servant” will suffer for being God’s servant. It will appear that God decided to “crush” and punish this particular person. There must be a reason!
There are several interpretations of just who this “servant” might be. It could be Israel itself, punished in exile for its infidelities. It could be the prophet Isaiah himself who has to suffer the punishments of being a prophet of hope within the exiled people of Israel. It could be a symbolic person whom the prophet projects will bring about peace and restoration. What is important here is that the prophet is finding a cause for the suffering and that cause is God. God has punished or crushed this servant, but the good results will be a hope for the people. There will be “descendents in a long life”. There will be light of fullness, many will be justified, and the guilt of the people he will take away.
This continues the hopeful songs, reflections and prophesies of these fifteen chapters. The book of Consolation within the larger Book of Isaiah, is set as a call to the people of Israel to have hope in their God and in their future return to the Land of Promise. There is a reason for their exile, they know that very well. There is now, because of the suffering of the Servant, a reason to hope.
The Gospel continues some themes we have been offered in the past few weeks. Jesus is Servant, He came to serve us and if we desire to follow Him we first allow Him to serve us and then we serve others. This being servant will cause suffering of various kinds, which Jesus drank, but there is a future Kingdom of God. This Kingdom will be like the Land of Promise for the exiled people of Israel. James and John ask Jesus if they could be granted a special place in this kingdom. Jesus invites them into the kingdom through the “emersion” or baptism of suffering as servants first. They would like to take the Jerusalem bypass and Jesus asks them to stay faithful to their living out their days by going right through their own personal Jerusalems of suffering.
The Central Mystery of our faith is His continuously offering us life through His death. It is not God Who caused Jesus to die. The reason, the cause, the thing which makes His death real, is our need for reunion, re-creation, conciliation. This is our hope then, that our Land of Promise is as real as His death and Resurrection is for us. What makes Jesus’ being Servant real depends on our awareness and acceptance of our various experiences of exile and the rebellion which gets us there.
Jesus is not a spectator nor a wait-er who stands back in admiration or disgust. He came and now does again come to bring us to the awareness of who He says we are which our sinful attitudes and actions un-name. The question always remains about why He had to suffer and die. He did say that He had a love so great that He, as servant, would lay down His life for His friends so that they would know how much they are loved. To these friends, Jesus offers them, not the thrones of glory, power, and distance, but the royal dignity of being close to Him in the drinking and baptism experiences of being a served servant. John and James did not know what they were asking for, but they learned. In the New Kingdom, the upside is down. The great one appears at first, to be first, but lives her/his life attentive and available.
“See how the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those who hope in his love, that he may rescue them from death and feed them in time of famine.” Ps. 33, 18-19
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