Eat this dream (part two, Good Friday)

Maundy Thursday                                                                                      Good Friday

Exodus 12:1-4, 11-14                                                                               Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12

Psalm 116.1-2, 11-18                                                                               Psalm 22.1-20

1 Corinthians 11:23-26                                                                            1 Corinthians 1:18-31

John 13.1-17, 31b-35                                                                               John 18.1-19.42

Eat this dream (part two, Good Friday)                        ©Suzanne Grimmett

He blessed it and broke open his dream,

one part in each hand.

To those on his left and those on his right,

he said the same thing as he handed them his dream, “Eat this dream,

and it will kill the dream that kills.”

Hands trembling, they wondered which of their dreams

would die and which would grow stronger.

Willie James Jennings, from After Whiteness: An Education in Belonging (Theological Education between the Times) Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

What is the dream that kills?

Christianity tells the story of the God who is the source of all being, the author of life, becoming part of enfleshed reality- a God who is with us and will go to extraordinary lengths to restore the divine dream of reconciling the world in love and peace.  Good Friday is a day when we bear horrified witness to these lengths…and theologians down the millennia have found different ways of explaining this crucifixion story that haunts our human imagination.

One of those ways is to say Jesus died for our sins.  While yes, this is a core tenet of our faith, what it means in practice is that we have a tendency to run through our minds for everything we have ever done wrong and then imagine God punishing Jesus for those specific sins. This leads us to not only divide the unity of God against God’s own being, but whips up guilt and divides us against ourselves and one another. God remains the great big Other in the sky meting out punishment. Further than that, because it is a story framed around judgment, it feeds into the human dream that tells us we will get on in the world if we are clever, work hard and try to do good, and those who don’t do good should be punished and those who don’t achieve get what they deserve. This is not so much a dream but is a way of thinking that is part of our make-up, a way of being in the world that circles around evaluation of ourselves and one another and a deep fear of the shame and punishment that is part of our social arsenal.

In thinking about sin, our own shaming and judgment tends to not come to our mind as readily so much as the litany of things like murder, adultery, theft, lying, etc. We come to Jesus on the cross almost with things we have packaged up as sin for which we are specifically sorry and forget that our whole way of being in the world leads us to judge and exclude. For example, Paul Neuchterlein reminds us to look at the history of the church where some people such as alcoholics were so shunned and hurt in their traditional churches that they needed to form their own untraditional church of sorts, a community of healing- Alcoholic Anonymous.[1] Divorced people and people diverse in gender and sexuality left the church in droves in the second half of last century because they were shamed and judged. Along with this hardwiring of judgement, we have retained a dream of reliance on our own self-sufficiency.  The dream of the success of the self-made man or woman appears on every motivational noticeboard, in every board room pep talk, and even in our church missional agendas.

The thing is that the dream many of us have held is a dream that some are right and have the right to lord it over others. That some are more important, and others…well, others need our charity or our sympathy. We are to cultivate the kind of self-sufficiency that means we are part of the group that gives the charity rather than receiving it. We may have stopped noticing that those in the self-sufficient group happen to be almost entirely white and from the upper and middle classes. A proper education has become part of our self-help project. Professional employment, the ability to be able to buy a house and maintain yourself in retirement are all markers of success in our culture.

The problem for the church is that it has been infiltrated by this same culture; a culture which colonises and excludes even as it invites all to enter and try their luck at climbing the ladder of achievement. Some of our dearest dreams will separate us from others and from the vision of a great table where all people are welcome and all are invited into fullness of life. Do you ever wonder how comfortably our desires align with the desire of God for the church? Throughout history and across the globe we have instances of invoking the blessing of God over human and national ambition and a holy justification provided for violence. The Russian patriarch in his support of the invasion of Ukraine is our most recent example.

But here’s the thing. It is only God on the cross that can save us from the wrong dreams. Perhaps our failure to see where our competing dreams of achievement have been taking us can make us blind to the way that we, too, could be capable of crying “Crucify him!”

Have we lost the insight to see that this self-sufficiency wrapped around a structure of perpetual judgment cannot stand a crucified God? What worth is Jesus on the cross when weighed on the scales of our own creation? A man rejected by his own people and hung naked on a Roman cross like thousands before him is an ugly witness to a failed life by our own measures. And to say that man is the son of God and the salvation of the world is surely the most extreme kind of foolishness.

And yet here we are.

To those on his left and those on his right,

he said the same thing as he handed them his dream, “Eat this dream,

and it will kill the dream that kills.”

We are caught in a web of our own making where the only way to make peace is through violence and the only way to rid ourselves of our shame is through sacrifice. Jesus comes to us saying, “Enough. No more of this.”

God is not just like us, perpetually judging and dishing out punishments to fit supposed crimes. At the heart of this story is forgiveness- forgiveness offered before it was required and offered freely even when it is not deserved. Jesus on the cross is not the violence of punishment but the loving action of God exposing our violence…and forgiving it. Eat this dream, says Jesus, and it will kill the dream that kills. We are set free to dream a stronger dream than our own desires for advancement and success…stronger than our fear of shame and punishment. It is a dream where we are all given back to one another, and together we can gather around one table.

Sacrifice has been replaced by sacrament and everyone is welcome.

+Amen.


[1] Paul J. Nuechterlein, Delivered at Prince of Peace Lutheran, Portage, MI, April 3, 2015

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