When Allen and I travel–we can’t help ourselves–we visit churches. And when we visit those churches–I can’t help myself–I climb into the pulpit.
The pulpit in a Presbyterian Church in Charleston is a large elevated structure in the center of an otherwise unadorned room. As we came through the church’s doors the first time–I think it was on our honeymoon in 1995–I made a beeline for the structure.
About halfway up the staircase to the pulpit was a brass plaque engraved with these words: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Except for the “Sir” part, I liked it. I stood in the pulpit and imagined how I might preach so that people might see Jesus. I still try to do that.
The people who approached Philip in today’s Gospel story wanted to see the actual Jesus, to be in his physical presence. For us, who aren’t able to be in the flesh-and-blood Jesus’ presence, seeing Jesus isn’t as clear a thing. Each of us sees Jesus from a different perspective.
Last week in Sunday School, we explored St. John of the Cross’ idea about the dark night of the soul. John was a priest who lived in the 16th century and was good friends with Teresa of Avila.
Once, when John was praying in the loft of the chapel at the monastery in Avila, he had a vision of Jesus on the cross. He sketched what he saw. Here’s what it looked like.
Kim: From his high perch in the loft, John was looking down on the chapel’s crucifix. He saw the crucified Jesus from a perspective he’d never seen before.
In our exploration of different theologies of the cross in Sunday School, we’re seeing Jesus, his death, and resurrection from many perspectives. As a Lenten practice, I decided to explore some of those perspectives by rewriting the old Gospel hymn, “Beneath the Cross of Jesus.” Rather than looking at the cross from only one perspective–from beneath it, as the original version of the hymn did–I chose to view it from several perspectives. That’s when I started playing with pronouns–beneath, beside, behind the cross of Jesus.
As I visualized the crucifixion and looked beneath the cross, I saw the beloved disciple and Jesus’ mother, Mary. Listen.
Wes: A reading from John. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing there, he said to his mother, ‘Here is your son.” Then he said to this disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that moment, the disciple took her into his household. (John 19:26-27)
Ty (and Betty):
Beneath the cross of Jesus
His mother, closest friend
Standing close, their heads bowed low
Hearts clutched with grief for him
Their loved one spoke with rasping breath
He gazed upon each one
“Friend, this is your mother now,
And Mother, here’s your son.”
Kim: Then my mind’s eye was drawn to the figure on the cross beside Jesus’ cross.
Wes: A reading from Luke. One of the criminals who hung there beside him insulted Jesus, saying, “Are you really the Messiah? Then save yourself–and us!”
But the other answered the first with a rebuke: “Don’t you even fear God? We are only paying the price for what we have done, but this one has done nothing wrong!”
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your glory.”
Jesus replied, “The truth is, today you’ll be with me in paradise!” (Lk. 23:39-43)
Ty (and Betty):
Beside the cross of Jesus
A man condemned to die
Judged a criminal by law
He, too, was crucified
As each one’s life drained fast away
The man sought Jesus’ eyes.
“Friend,” he said, “tonight you’ll be
With me in Paradise.”
Kim: Then I looked behind the cross and saw the executioners gathering up their death tools.
Wes: A reading from Luke. The people stood there watching. The rulers, however, jeered him and said, ‘He saved others, let him save himself–if he really is the Messiah of God, the Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him. They served Jesus sour wine and said, ‘If you are really the King of the Jews, save yourself!” (Lk. 23:35-38)
Ty (and Betty):
Behind the cross of Jesus
The ones who raised it high
Pawns within a power game
Created by a lie
As they drove the final nail
As they watched him die
Did they wonder what they’d done?
Did they wonder why?
Casey, Use this picture while WEs is reading and Ty is singing.
Kim: “Please, we want to see Jesus.” But when we look at Jesus, we all see something different, don’t we? Historically, different visions of Jesus have led to fractures within the Christian church–the Great Schism in the 11th century and the Protestant Reformation in the 16th, to name two.
But maybe the point isn’t to have just one understanding of who Jesus was and is. Maybe the goal isn’t to get everyone to see the same thing when they look at Jesus. Maybe the deeper understanding comes when each of us, having seen Jesus clearly for ourselves, shares what we have seen of Jesus with each other. And maybe our own visions of Jesus come into even greater focus when we hear from others how they see Jesus.
The hymn’s last stanza brings three perspectives of Jesus on the cross together.
Ty (and Betty)
Before the cross of Jesus
We stand and wonder how
Jesus’ cross so long ago
Has meaning for us now
When we question power’s aims
When we live God’s grace
When we love each other well
The cross has found its place
“Please, we wish to see Jesus.” So, how do you see Jesus?
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Video montage: Each of the pictures on screen for a few seconds. I’ll send some music.