Power Redefined: A Three-Part Sermon for The Three Days

Inspired by John 19:23-20:10 

Maundy Thursday

Over the course of these three nights, we will explore three distinct ways that Jesus defined power. Let’s get right to it. As I’ve mentioned before, these readings from the Gospel of John haven’t been matching up really well with the church calendar, or at least, not the way that we are used to. For instance, we’ve been reading the Maundy Thursday and Good Friday stories for weeks now, in what has become a very extended Holy Week. But as I’ve also mentioned, I hope you have appreciated the way that this has caused us to slow down and digest these readings in a deeper way.  

Tonight, we would typically be reading the account of Jesus washing his disciple's feet, but we read that a month ago. We would also be reading the new commandment that he gave us, the new mandate: to love one another as Jesus loved us. But instead, tonight we find ourselves at the foot of the cross already, which is pretty profound in and of itself.  

Meaning, even at this point of the story, Jesus never stops. Even from the cross, Jesus continues to work. Which is why I find this story to be just as relevant for Maundy Thursday as those that we would normally read. In fact, this story might even be more appropriate to read tonight. Let me explain. As Jesus is hanging on the cross, I imagine he looks over and sees some soldiers dividing his belongings among them. And I imagine him thinking to himself, “Well, isn’t that ironic. As I hang here multiplying my love for the entire world, they are busy dividing.” It reminds me of an old Family Circus comic strip where someone asked the mom as she stood there with her four kids, “How do you divide your love among four children?” And the mom says, “I don’t divide it. I multiply it.”  

That’s how I see Jesus in tonight’s reading. Hanging there on the cross, multiplying his love for all, while the world scrambles to divide what they can, of something they do not understand. How Maundy Thursday is that! It’s a power that they were unaccustomed to. And maybe us too. But his ability to multiply his power, while amazing, is not what redefines power here, it’s what he does with it, while hanging on that cross. After Jesus is done watching the soldiers make fools of themselves, he looks over and sees his mom, and his best friend standing nearby. I can only imagine the state she was in. Even if we believe that she understood what was transpiring, on a spiritual level, which I do, even still, that was her baby boy. And those of us who had good moms know, ain’t no one gets in the way of a mom and her baby! 

But this wasn’t Mary’s time to shine. She had done her job, and done it well. Even in the darkness of that night, Jesus still shines, Jesus still has work to do, Jesus never stops. And here is the first of three ways that Jesus redefines what power is supposed to look like. With blood running down his body, he looks at his mom, looks at his best friend, and gives them to each other, as mother and son, making sure that his mom is cared for in her old age, knowing full well the misogynistic society that they live in, and maybe also to make sure that someone will be there for his best friend, giving him the best mom anyone could ever ask for.  

That is how Jesus decided to spend his last remaining moments on earth, in the midst of horrific agony. And that is what power is supposed to look like. Selflessly caring for others, even during challenging times. Caring for the future of others, even when you won’t benefit from it. Caring for others is the first way that Jesus redefines power during these three days. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Good Friday

Jesus continues to redefine what power is supposed to look like as we make our way to the tomb. Last night, power looked like caring for others, even when the chips are down. Tonight, it looks like vulnerability. Now there’s a state of being that no one likes being in. And I don’t think many of us associate vulnerability with power very often, if ever. But I think we might be missing something when we don’t. If you were to ask random people to describe a power move, these new definitions that Jesus gave us would not make the list. Caring for others selflessly? How is that a power move? Being vulnerable, that sounds like the opposite of power, doesn’t it! Who likes to be vulnerable? Especially for us introverts, ugh, it’s one of the worst feelings in the world! Because you can’t be vulnerable alone. It requires another to see it. 
Come on Jesus, can’t I just be vulnerable all by myself? I promise I’ll get really good at it, if you just let me do it by myself! Jesus says, “I’m sorry but that’s not the way vulnerability works.” As Jesus hangs there for the world to watch, for the world to gawk, for the world to judge, for the world to misunderstand. No, being vulnerable takes more than one person. And that’s partly what makes it so powerful, but also because it’s unnecessary. You can go your whole life without being vulnerable. But think of it this way, what would your relationships be like without vulnerability? How deep, how rich, would your relationships be with both parties being vulnerable with each other? I’m guessing the answer is, not very.
So, what do I mean by being vulnerable? Well, it’s more than just admitting that you could succumb to disease, or die at any moment like the rest of us. No, those are just facts of nature. Those don’t take any work on anyone’s part. The kind of vulnerability I’m talking about is being open about your weaknesses, your faults, the things you don’t know, the things you don’t like that most people do, or just plain ol’ needing help, admitting you are at times, dependent on others. Jesus’ last words as he hung there from those ancient gallows were, “I am thirsty.” And, “It is completed.” Thirst is such a human condition. I imagine his enemies heard that and thought, “Pssshht, get a load of this guy. Mr. King of the Jews, Son of God! Can’t even get himself a drink now!” 
Do they help him out? No, they give him sour wine instead but that’s beside the point. Jesus redefines power by admitting a weakness, plain ol’ human thirst. When he had every right to yell at his accusers, scream from the top of his collapsing lungs just how evil they were, just how wrong they were. When, in any other story, he could have slung curses their way! I mean, this was his moment to say, “You’re all gonna regret this!” But instead, all we hear is a weak, “I am thirsty.” One of the things I’ve always appreciated about being in a Christian community is all the helping hands around you. There are always people willing to lend a helping hand when you need it the most. All my life I’ve had people around me saying, “If you ever need help, just let me know!” I love that.
But you know what will help people ask you for help even more than that? Asking for help yourself. Being vulnerable enough to ask for help yourself. For some reason, that’s just the way we humans work, isn’t it. It takes someone to start that vulnerable ball rolling. But once it does, others around you feel a little more empowered to ask for help when they need it. Think of it from a parenting perspective, if a parent wants to ensure their kids ask for help when they need it, then parents need to model that for them, parents need to show them what that looks like, and ask for help when they need it. 
It’s a role reversal, I know, especially when the parent is supposed to be the authority figure in power. But that’s exactly how I see Jesus’ last moments on the cross, exemplifying ultimate vulnerability, and the power that it can behold. So, the second way that Jesus redefines power this week is, vulnerability. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Vigil of Easter

Jesus continues to redefine what power looks like for us, in three distinct ways this week, as we now stand on the other side of the cross, at an empty tomb. On Maundy Thursday, power looked like caring for others selflessly, last night power looked like vulnerability, and tonight, power looks like humility. Our story opens early in the morning, so early it’s still dark, symbolizing that the truth of the resurrection is still hard to see for the characters in this story. I love how mysterious and quiet this story starts out. Mary Magdalene is the first one to show up at the tomb in those early morning hours. And what she finds horrifies her. The stone has been rolled away. She assumes the worst and she runs to tell Peter and another disciple, that Jesus’ body has been stolen. The two disciples take off to go see if what she’s saying is correct.
What they find is an opened tomb. Just like she said. They go in and find it empty except for the burial cloths. The author says that one of the disciples believed. But don’t be fooled into thinking this is some grand statement of faith. He simply believed that what Mary said was true. That the stone had been rolled away, and someone took his body. John makes clear that neither of them understood the resurrection at this point. And with that, the two disciples leave, while Mary stays behind to have an encounter like no other but that’s for tomorrow morning. In the meantime, here we are standing at an empty tomb. No one knows yet what really happened. All we have so far is an empty tomb and some bloodied linens. And this is what I find fascinating about that and why I associate this with humility.
In any other story of a God who dies and comes back to life, the part where they come back to life, would be loud. The whole world would hear it, everyone would know what was happening! There would be no confusion! There would be no mystery! There would be trumpets and angelic choirs and lightning and fireworks and thunderous applause! If this had been Zeus or Jupiter, oh, you better believe that everyone and their dog would have known they had risen! But, even now, after everything he’d just gone through, no one would argue that he had earned some fanfare here. Not to mention the fact that this could have been his great “I told you so!” moment! And yet, Christ rises so quietly, so unceremoniously, so humble. This is next-level humility. Christ remained just as humble as Christ was in life, even after death. This is not a savior whose resurrection went to his head!

This is a savior who continues to exemplify how we should live, how we should treat others, how we should practice our faith. This is a savior that continues to redefine what power should look like. Tell that to the politicians of our day. But it’s not just a lesson for them is it, but for all of us. We all exercise power of some kind, over others in our lives, and in these stories, I hear Christ reminding us to exercise it with humility; to exercise it with vulnerability; to exercise it by caring for others selflessly. I think this world has had enough of the usual kind of power. Amen? Thanks be to God through Christ, that we’ve been given a new example of power, and though it may not be very popular, it is what this world needs. Amen and Alleluia!

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