Maundy Thursday, March 29, 2018
Living into the "Uns"
Plenty of sermons preached down through the ages present this as the story of a martyr. Such sermons emphasize Jesus’ heroism; he’s a kind of brave soldier who goes off spiritually prepared to face his death. These sermons tend to have take-aways like “may we, like Jesus, hold nothing back, not even our very life” or “and so might we manfully face our own trials.” There are a lot of “man-up!” sermons out there based on this text, and while I am not saying they are wrong (a dramatic, climactic story like this may give rise to a number of different approaches), heroic themes are not what draw me to this passage these days.
I’m more interested in the uns here. The uncertainty, the unseen, the unresolved. From that point of view, this is a story about the Jesus who lived into the uns. Who set off after one or three or some unknown number of hours (the text is unclear) in prayer, putting one foot in front of the other toward the unknown. To me that makes this a story about trust – holy trust – the very opposite of uncertainty. Or as Eric Elnes (Gifts of the Dark Wood, Abingdon Press, 2015) puts it, trust is “the gift of uncertainty.” In Mark’s terms we might say trust is the gift of uncertainty prayed through.
If I sound like a preacher recommending prayer, I am. But I am also touting uncertainty and celebrating trust. Like the writer of the Gospel of Mark I am struck with the beauty of trust and by the people who embody it – a healed woman in chapter 5, the father of an epileptic in chapter 9, Blind Bartimaeus in chapter 10. If “hope is the thing with feathers” to Emily Dickinson, to Mark trust is the GE9X turbine engine on the Boeing 777X. It flies. It flows. It fills. It’s a deep, rich and sustaining river. It has its own beauty, a beauty that must be something like what the Scripture describes as “the beauty of holiness.” If you have ever pictured something golden flowing from the throne of God, that thing you’re picturing might be trust. If you have ever seen in your mind’s eye what strength looks like, that thing you’re seeing might be trust. If you have ever marveled over a sense of calm or expectancy or Presence, those things might be brought to you courtesy of something called trust.
When the great homiletician Lucy Rose was in the last days of her struggle with cancer, her prayers were filled with a liquid, colored light. One night she saw her veins coursing with yellow, the next suffused in orange, the next red and so on through the colors of the rainbow. On the second to last night, her inner eye was seeing her own body drenched in light, whiter-than-white. On the last night of these visions, it was black, a deep syrupy black that coursed through her system and, she reports, that filled her with a sense of wonder. And trust.
Trust is the thing that makes the impossible possible (9:23; 11:23-24). The thing that fills the life of the ordinary… and the unmanly.
Rev. Dr. Jana Childers
SFTS Dean, Vice President of Academic Affairs,
and Professor of Homiletics and Speech Communication