On Maundy Thursday, 5 April, I was honoured to be the guest speaker at the Sydney Metropolitan Community Church's Last Supper. Had I been preaching instead of speaking about BGBC and a few tidbits from my life journey, the following post is what I would have shared, for it is what is most on my mind on Maundy Thursday. MCC Petersham is a wonderful and beautiful community of people and I thank them for their support, love and encouragement.
Stille Nacht! Heil'ge Nacht! Alles schläft, einsam wacht
Silent night, Holy Night, All is calm, all is bright.
idea that all is calm, all is bright as we sang in remembrance of his birth.
It's Easter, my favourite time of the Christian calendar. There's nothing like Easter to focus my mind on the things of God and how I fit into them. In this post I want to look at something that gay Christians have often wondered about - the humanity of Jesus. We are told that Jesus is fully God and fully human. Was he really just like us? We do not understand how this can be, how this can possibly work. It seems that divinity would preclude humanity and vice versa. Yet, Jesus the Nazarene became Jesus the Christ. And this did not happen magically, some how imbued by God to Jesus on the cross. No, it was not some magical or divine moment that caused Jesus to be the Christ. It was his very humanity that allowed it. Let me explain what I mean by looking at just these two days - Thursday (sometimes called Holy or Maundy Thursday) and Friday, usually called Good Friday, and then let me say a few words to finish about how this
impacts the gay world.
You see, on Thursday, Jesus has already been in Jerusalem the best part of a week. In that week he certainly makes waves. To put it basely, he seriously pisses off the temple priests and their acolytes big time. He shows them up for what they are and they spend the week in secret meetings planning to plot against him and bring him down. Their plan is to make the Romans do it. All they have to do is deliver him into the hands of Rome with a trumped-up accusation and let the occupiers do what they do when anyone resists the might of the Empire - kill them. This is all going on behind the scenes in the lead-up to Thursday.
On Thursday evening, Jesus celebrates the Jewish Passover meal with his disciples in an upper room. In the earliest written Gospel, the one closest to the time of the actual events, the Gospel of Mark, several key things happen: he is betrayed by Judas, he celebrates the Passover meal and invests the bread and wine with new meaning, and he prays for deliverance in the garden of Gethsemane. The evening is punctuated with a series of betrayals and abandonments and that Thursday evening turns out to be the worst night of Jesus' life. In this day he suffers as he will never suffer again.
- He is betrayed and abandoned by Judas - for money
- He is betrayed and abandoned (denied) by Peter - for shame and his own safety
- He is betrayed and abandoned by the rest of the disciples - they leave him and make a run for it
- He is betrayed and abandoned by God - God leaves him to the dark night of the soul and does not answer his prayer
The old Sorrowful Mysteries of the Catholic Rosary call this scene quite fittingly - the agony in the garden. And this is precisely what Jesus went through - a profound, merciless, pitiless, heartless, cold, silent agony. Everything he believed in, his healing, teaching, supporting, loving, caring - even a loving God who hears and answers prayer - everything is gone. It's all lost. There is nothing of his life left. His ministry appears futile and meaningless. The years he spent with his disciples eating, drinking, laughing, sleeping, as a band they travelled the country to be with the little people, the weak, the marginalised, the unloved - all gone, all come to nought. He is alone. His mission has come to this. Utter failure, betrayal and abandonment.
He knows he will be executed most cruelly by the Romans. They are infamous throughout the ancient world for not doing anything by halves. He will be nailed to a Roman crucifix publicly like thousands of others before him. He does not want to die. He fears the cross and the pain it wlll inflict. It will be a merciless and torturous death. He is frightened out of his wits, confused, scared, isolated and in the depths of human misery. He prays that if 'that this cup might be taken from me.' But God remains silent. There is no answer. God is deaf to his calls.
In this profound psychological crisis, Jesus regresses to a childlike state, something that humans often do when we are faced with unalterable withering pain and grief. He calls out to God - Abba - Daddy, Papa - as modern linguistics has determined it. But there is nothing. Not even the plaintive cry of the child rouses the voice of the loving Father. Just impenetrable silence. He is left to suffer. Silent night, holy night.
It is in this moment of weakness and failure that Jesus says one of the most powerful things in the entire record. He says with resignation in a broken voice to a silent God, 'not my will but your will be done.' I will do this. I will go and do this. And do this he did.
On Friday, Jesus was taken by the Romans and they did to his body what had already been done to his mind, his soul. They killed it. And it is because of these two days, because of the total identification with weak confused frightened humanity that Jesus was able to show up what Biblical scholars call the world's 'domination systems' - governments, politics, the military, corporations, religion, the church, inequity, occupation, power over others - as being morally bankrupt. The world's ruthless tribal divisions that exploit the less powerful by the more powerful. He defeated the evil of the domination systems by surrendering to them and showing up their character for the fakery, cruelty and greed that is their essence. The world's domination systems that have caused so much horror, so much heart-ache, so much pain. The domination systems that always end in estrangement - from the self, from others, from the Eternal. Jesus does not defeat them with violence or aggression or even on their own terms, in power, but through obedience to his mission by his willingness to give up the life that he loved in order to effect this defeat. And in so doing, he changes from Jesus the Man into Jesus the Christ on Easter Sunday. Christus Victor. Or to use the words of the New Testament, the power of sin is defeated. The domination systems are annulled. He exposes them utterly and publicly - they would torture and murder a kind, caring, innocent man in order to retain power. This is their ethic. This is their morality. Their exposure is complete. He does this for you , for me, for the whole world. This is our salvation - saving us from estrangement from ourselves, from each other and from God.
He institutes a new beginning, what St Paul would later call the new creation. The new creation has only one rule, one law, the law of love. In John's account of the Last Supper, he has Jesus say the famous words "a new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you and by this love, the whole world will recognise you as my disciples.' The word Maundy in Maundy Thursday comes from the Latin for new commandment - novum mandatum. And so it is really 'love one another Thursday. And we are to love 'as I have loved you' to emptying ourselves if necessary. The power of the cross is the power of love. It is stronger than all the world's domination systems, for Jesus showed them up as he was lifted up.
This is what Easter is about. The new creation. A new meal. A new law. A new world. A new you. A new me. The radical Paul in Galatians actually says that nothing else matters. Nothing else is important - just the new creation.
And for gay people? Well there is much resonance here for gay people coming out of the darkness of the closet into the light of truth and freedom and authenticity. As we learn to accept and like and love ourselves, banishing shame from our psyche, we are made new creations.
But also, many of us have suffered the dark night of the soul just as Jesus did in the garden. I know I did. Twenty years of a silent God not answering my prayer to change me from being gay, to heal me of my great shame and secret. My suffering and my agony were palpable too, perhaps like yours.
Yet God, who does not answer in those times, is still there. His life and His Spirit are in and around and through us though we may not feel Him. He knew better all the time - that I didn't need healing, that I did need setting free from the old creation in order to be the real me, the real Stuart whom God had created to be in this world.
And for gays of faith, well perhaps too, we have a special understanding of the Lord who allows the little ones to come to him, the weak, the marginalised, and also an understanding of his identification with the whole of what human life can offer. And he invites us too to walk with him in the new creation. The new creation of his defeat of domination and the new creation of being able to accept and love ourselves as gay disciples as we journey with him.
Jesus was truly human and truly divine. He understands the heights of human joy and the depths of human sorrow. He is both Jesus the Man and Jesus the Christ. Easter allows us to engage him in both ways. It's Thursday and Friday. Sunday is to come!
Pax et Amor - Stuart