20 February 2008

Homily for Reminiscere Midweek Lenten Evening Prayer

GETHSEMANE - Part II of the Passion History

Last week we saw that our Lamb, our Jesus, was no unwitting victim, but that He choose to give His life as the ransom for all. In tonight's Passion account we see the Lamb struggling in prayer. Set before his very clear vision is what He terms "the cup." If you would understand the cup you must go back to the Old Testament.

David sang: "For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs." Psalm 75:8

Isaiah (51:22) foretold of a time coming when the cup would pass from the people: "Thus says your Lord, the Lord, your God who pleads the cause of his people: 'Behold, I have taken from your hand the cup of staggering; the bowl of my wrath you shall drink no more.'"

So the cup set before our Lord, our Lamb, for Him to drink and empty down to the bitterest dregs was the cup that held the wrath of God, the wrath of God against all your rebellions, all your lovelessness, all your passing of judgment upon others, all your selfish acts, and your indulging the flesh. It was set before Him and He saw it. And He knew exactly where it would lead. He quotes from Zechariah "I - that is the Lord - will strike the shepherd and the sheep shall be scattered." Make no mistake about it: our Lord receives His passion as entirely from the hands of His Father.

But how he struggled with it! None of us is nearly as frightened of hell as we should be. None of us has the first clue about the real terror of its empty and eternal loneliness. None of us can begin to fathom either its icy coldness or its ever burning and unsatisfied hunger and thirst. But He, the Eternal Word of the Father, made flesh of the Virgin - He knows. And before it, looking into that ultimate and eternal poison in the cup, He trembles.

He trembles and He begs the Father that if possible some other way be found, some different approach, something other than what is in this cup before Him. He looks over the brim of the cup into its fathomless depths and He shakes in terror.

We sin so blithely. "God will forgive" we say. "He is loving and merciful and kind. It's really no big deal." Go with the Lamb to Gethsemane tonight and see with your own eyes whether or not it is a "big deal." Look at Him as he shakes before the very portion that we foolishly choose for ourselves time and again. And see Him, as He lifts His eyes from the cup to His Father and pleads for some other way. But then see Him manifest that radical and ultimately difference between Himself and all the other sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. See Him lower His eyes to the cup again and say: "Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done."

Watch the sweat fall from Him in great drops like blood under the pressure of His "yes" to the Father's will. He will do it. He will go forward to meet this. He will do so trusting that having imbibed the poison of our whole race and experiencing in Himself the penalty of our disobedience, that His Father will not abandon Him - the Innocent Sufferer. See Him as He goes forth to meet His betrayer and face all that is in front of Him. Look into the face of the Lamb and what do you see there? You see peace.

The peace came from His prayer. The peace came from His trust in the Father. To submit to the One who has loved you with an everlasting love is not terror in the end, but joy. He knew that and so His head was held high as He went to hand Himself over. After Jesus prevents Peter and the others from fighting, their fear takes charge and they run away. But He strides on. "The cup my Father has given me" - he says - "shall I not drink it?"

Thus THE Lamb was led to the High Priest, in preparation for His slaughter. For the High Priest was to inspect the animal for faults before the offering - only unblemished Lambs were to be offered. But that is for next week.

For this week, let us learn from our Lord what it means to take with trembling hands whatever cup that our Father reaches us. This much you now know: "No poison can be in the cup that your physician sends you." You can know that it will not ever be what was in the cup He took and drank - that He did alone and for you and for me and for us all. None of us could have consumed that without being utterly destroyed. But He, true God and true Man, He could, and He did. That wrath is swallowed up in Him forever. Thus, when the cups come our way, when they are hard to swallow, remember the beautiful words of the hymn:

What God ordains is always good;
Though I the cup am drinking
That savors now of bitterness,
I take it without shrinking.
For after grief,
God gives relief,
My heart with comfort filling
And all my sorrow stilling.

The Lamb on the way to the Cross teaches us how to pray not just with our lips but with our very lives, and that prayer always begins and continues and ends with the words: "Father, not my will, but yours be done." Amen.

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