Jesus Blinks

I have two confessions to make to you this morning. The first confession is that I am not a big fan of made for TV movies based on the Bible. Now you may find this surprising. You may think that as a pastor and priest, I would be excited to see the Bible being prominently featured on primetime television in front of millions of viewers. But, you see, that is precisely the problem. The Bible is featured on primetime television in front of millions of viewers and most of the time Hollywood gets it wrong. For example, we have known for a long time that Jesus was firmly rooted in the social and cultural life of the ancient middle eastern world. And yet, until a few recent exceptions, we persisted in depicting Jesus as a fair haired, blue eyed western European, who almost always speaks perfect Elizabethan English, as if Jesus somehow knew Shakespeare!

And there are some mischaracterizations of Jesus that go deeper than his accent or the color of his eyes. For example, in 1977, Robert Powell portrayed Jesus in the classic six-hour television miniseries simply called Jesus of Nazareth. In preparation for the role of Jesus, Powell practiced not blinking. And throughout the entire six-hour miniseries, in which Jesus is featured in almost every scene, he never blinks! The idea was Jesus should appear to be in control, constant in wisdom and strength. But what happens is that throughout the whole movie, Jesus seems somewhat disconnected from our humanity. He seems to be just one step removed from the reality of our world. He seems unaffected by the actually experiences of our lives. And he certainly never shows weakness or vulnerability or pain. Now most people would agree that Robert Powell’s portrayal of Jesus was powerful and persuasive, but there’s just one problem! It’s not the Jesus we encounter in the gospels. It’s not the Jesus that says to each one of us, “Come, follow me!” The Jesus we are called to follow is the One who enters into the reality of our lives. Into the reality of joy and the reality of sorrow. Into the reality of celebration and the reality of disappointment. Into the reality of life and the reality of death

The Jesus we are called to follow is the Jesus who shows up at the grave of his friend Lazarus. And despite the fact that Jesus knows himself to be the resurrection and the life. Despite the fact that he knows the power he has to bring forth Lazarus from the grave. Despite the fact that Jesus knows the end of the story. Despite of all of those things, Jesus grieves the loss of his friend. And in the face of that grief, not only does Jesus blink. He weeps. Jesus acknowledges the pain of loss and the devastation of death. This is not a Jesus who is removed from the reality of the world. This is not a Jesus who is unaffected by the actual experiences of life. This is not a Jesus who is refuses to show weakness or vulnerability. This is the One who has entered into the very fabric of lives in order to bring healing where there is hurt and hope where there is despair. Not only does Jesus blink. Jesus weeps with Mary and Martha and their whole community in the midst of their pain. 

My brothers and sisters, there are times in the midst of the chaos and confusion of this world when we need to know that Jesus weeps with us. Times like the present – when we pause to remember over five million lives lost in a global pandemic. Times when hate and fear dominate our discourse and diminish our capacity to love and respect our neighbor. Times when we are divided by ideology and separated by race and creed. Times when we face the experience of loss and grief in our own lives. Times when we, like Mary, cry out to God in despair and say, “If only you had been here, this would not have happened!” In all of these moments of brokenness and pain, not only does Jesus blink; he weeps. And he is with us in the midst of the confusion and hurt of this world. 

But, of course, we know that is not the end of the story. The same Jesus that weeps at the grave of his friend is the One who raises his friend to new life. The same Jesus that enters into the reality of death and despair is the One who overcomes the power of death once and for all. The same Jesus who experiences the pain and brokenness of our humanity is the One who heals us and makes us whole. Yet isn’t that the paradox of our lives? That we live in this place of tension. That we live in this “in between place.” The paradox is that in the spiritual life we experience joy and sorrow, hurt and hope, life and death all at the same time. And it’s messy!

Now, remember I said I have two confessions to make to you this morning. The second confession is that I have spent a lot of emotional and spiritual energy trying to figure out this spiritual paradox, trying to resolve this spiritual tension, trying to get out of this “in-between” place. For a long time, I thought at some point surely I will arrive. At some point, I will find myself living in the fullness of the abundant life that God has promised. And I still believe that day will come. But right now, the deepest purpose of our spiritual life is often found in the paradox, in that place of tension, in that “in-between” place.

And, this morning, on All Saints’ we gather to enter into that “in-between” place. In just a few moments we will gather at the font to celebrate the sacrament of Holy Baptism, a symbol of new life and new birth in Christ. And then only moments later we will name and remember before God those who have died in the past year. Life and death. Joy and sorrow. Celebration and grief. New and old. We find purpose in the paradox. We find meaning in the tension. We live in that “in-between” place. Like Mary and Martha, we resist it. We fight it. We anxiously want answers. We desperately want resolution. But when we surrender. When we let go. When we allow ourselves to enter into that “in-between” place, we discover that Jesus is already there. 

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