Watershed Formation Studies

Chapter 10 - Cross

In chapter 9, we found ourselves with a group gathered in a house church, 200 years from the events of the Old Testament. A woman was telling the story of Jesus to a local merchant, who was curious about this strange new group of Jesus followers. Who were these people? They didn’t go with the flow and serve the emperor. What bound them together was Jesus.

Now in chapter 10, the merchant continues to ask questions. Why didn’t they just serve their Christ and the emperor? Not only that, why would they even serve a Christ who died on a Roman cross, the worst kind of shame there was? As it was, the Jesus followers were beginning to pay the consequences by taking this risk, losing their businesses, their status in society and even their lives.

As the hostess tells the story of Jesus, he realizes they are risking it all for love. A love that is worth living, and maybe even dying for. They got their example from Jesus, God’s son who set aside the privilege of deity and became human, taking on the status of a slave. Jesus was not a king who came riding in as a conquerer on a war horse, but weeping on a donkey. His kingdom was not established by violent coercion, but through love. Jesus was a king who served people.

The merchant was shocked to hear that Jesus’ ministry led to his death. However, the woman tells him, what if Jesus’ death was not the end of his story?

Questions for Discussion

1) How do Jesus' last days connect to the First Testament?
2) How do you see Jesus as Redeemer?
3) What is the connection between love and suffering?


There are a number of associations made between the last events of Jesus’ life and earlier meaningful stories of faith found in the first testament such as the parable of the vineyard, the passover, the exodus, the destruction of the temple, and the tearing of the veil before the holy of holies. Reflect on one or more of these associations and what it might have meant to the early church (or for us).

Linda Tiessen-Wiebe:
In thinking about these questions I found that I was sort of answering 1 and 2 together. In the first question, there are powerful images from Israel's past that take on a deep significance for his followers after they witness the resurrection. Each of the stories that are re-interpreted involve suffering and/or sacrificial love. It seems that in reflecting on Jesus' life and death the early Christians (as Jews) couldn't help but make the connection between the suffering love of Jesus and the prophet's promise of God in these stories. Their own suffering as a people as well as the suffering love of Jesus come together.

Both the first disciples after his resurrection, and the early ekklesia which experienced Jesus as alive knew the long-suffering love of God, which resonated deeply with their own experience, both of the stories and of Jesus. This experience helped the early Christians in times of suffering because they felt themselves accompanied and strengthened by Jesus and encouraged because they were living the pattern of suffering love which he embodied. It gave them a reason to risk and to love. They must have experienced liberation from fear to be able to live like this.

Sometimes I wonder whether I could say the same, that I no longer fear death. And of course I can't honestly say that, but at the same time I've experienced a sense of being liberated from patterns of sin. Not for all time, it's "more than less" but I can't deny that sense of being freed to be myself. Regarding my relationship with my mom, I see how deeply ingrained patterns in me have made me feel hopeless. Experiencing Jesus as alive has helped me to feel free from these patterns (and from the hopelessness) and act out of love towards her. The "more than less" qualifier is important because it's tempting to get all triumphalistic. I know that at times I have slipped back into old ways. And while there hasn't been reconciliation between us (a mutual confession and repentance), I can't explain why I've been able to act in new ways towards her except because of Jesus' liberation. That gives me hope to continue to enter this and other ambiguous situations, knowing that Jesus will be there somehow even if I can't imagine it. "More can be mended than we know.”

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Marilyn Heidebrecht: I find "the destruction of the temple" to be an intriguing association with the last events of Jesus' life. First of all, he made a stand in the temple as prophet, bringing an interruption to the daily sacrifice. This action pointed to the judgement that would fall on the temple if the trend towards Messianic-violent-revolution against Rome continued. Its interested how we choose our leader to match what is in our hearts. And so Jesus was rejected because he didn't embody the expectations and violent assertions of his people.

The gospel also witnesses to Jesus as the "dwelling place" of God amongst her people. And so, the Temple entered the temple and even as he spoke out its destruction, brought destruction upon himself. In the crucifixion, we see the Messiah, who led a revolution against the powers, also under the judgement of Rome. Question: What is the difference between Jesus enduring destruction and the temple being assaulted by Roman soldiers?

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Lydia Penner: I had fun looking at different stories about Jesus and tracing the First Testament allusions in them. Check out these associations.

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Jesus is pointed to as a liberator and redeemer, “Jesus’ death brings the new exodus — deliverance from the power of sin and death, and from the separation from God that all humanity has experienced since we were exiled from the garden of Eden.’ How do you understand this to be true? Do you have a story from your own life?

Bev Patterson:
The sentences that struck me most in this Gladding chapter were these:

Storm clouds rolled in, and the sky grew dark. Jesus cried out to the heavens, 'Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachtani', which means 'MY God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'. .... "Jesus dying on the cross, took up the cry of all humanity, the cry of exile, the cry that escapes us, living as we do, so far east of Eden". ...

I have really appreciated being able to see more and more connections between the 1st and 2nd testaments (Old and New Testaments). In other words, the exodus story has become much more relevant and significant as a symbolic way into our own pain of displacement as well as gaining a deeper understanding into the Jewish faith and the tradition Jesus was born into. Jesus was a perpetual stranger in the land helping to lead those he touched back to their true home. The threads between the two parts of the bible need not be broken.

To link the life and work of Christ using the garden of Eden seemed new. In a sense, the image of Jesus on the cross brings home the weight of what it means to be expelled from the Garden. This expulsion is what we all feel at our ontological core and so Christ's cry from the cross and the abandonment he felt are not a result of sin in that behavioral sense. In his cry of "why have you abandoned me" we hear our own cry and the cry of creation, sentient as well as non-sentient. In the cry of the cross we hear our core longing to come back to the father and creator and to make a return to our essential selves.

We cry to have God's image re-stamped on our hearts. In our estrangement from our true identity and our true sonship/daughterhood in God, we wander and have become desert dwellers, never quite feeling the union that comes from being at home — physically and spiritually. As an answer to the expulsion we feel in our hearts and souls, Jesus takes up our rallying cry in the hopes that the Father will hear us and in his love he will welcome us back to the garden.

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Cal Wiebe: For some reason when I started thinking about this question I connected Jesus' incarnation as a way that God came back to walk amongst us. It is a way in which God once again tries to overcome the separation that we have experienced and walks with us in the garden again, calling our names, and asking how we are doing (just like God talking to Adam and Eve in the Garden). I know that the account of Jesus' resurrection in John 20 makes a big deal of the fact that Mary after seeing the angel at the tomb mistakes Jesus for the gardener. In terms of the story we are back at the beginning again and we experience a new creation. But the resurrected Jesus is no longer limited by his physical body and so he can send his Spirit on all people so that all people can be able to walk with God on a daily basis without a deep sense of separation.

I have been thinking about this lately as it relates to prayer and to the fact that God promises to be with us in all of our experiences (even paradoxically when we experience that presence as absence). Even when things are at their worst and we feel abandoned by God we can pray with Jesus; "My God, My God why have you forsaken me?" Because Jesus has prayed that prayer before us he is with us, accompanying us as we pray it. I think of the many ways each day I try to tell God what is going on for me, releasing to God my concerns and trying to listen for what God would say back to me. This experience of prayer doesn't always give me direct answers but there are enough insights and intuitions that come from beyond me that I am reassured that I am not alone.

In terms of exodus I think of the meeting the guys of the Thursday night group had with Paul and Bev yesterday. We gathered to find a way forward and I don't think anyone had any idea how it would turn out. But God was present and God delivered us from a way of relating that wasn't helpful. Our imaginations were opened to new possibilities and that felt like a new exodus.

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Lyle Penner: It seems like we live in a giant chasm, the one between ‘already’ and ‘not yet’ with regard to our exodus from the power of sin and death. In the remarkable life, death and resurrection of Jesus we see most powerfully that this exodus is truly divine intention, not only for the small tribe of Israelites back in Exodus, but universally for all people in all times. Often we live close to the ’not yet’ side of the chasm, anxious about conflicts unresolved in ourselves, each other and in the world. Ways of being that are harmful and destructive. Sometimes we get a taste of the ‘already,' when we feel really grateful for God’s healing presence. Not that God isn’t present in all those ‘not yet’ situations, but his absence seems so ‘clear’ in our human ways of understanding, yet in faith we hope that God is working tirelessly anyway.

I have a couple of stories today. Like Cal and others, I sensed God’s presence in our meeting with the guys at Paul and Bev’s house on Sunday. The focus was not on our 'rock-solid' human judgements of our interactions and perceptions, but in prayer, and a Word from God that Paul mediated, we hoped for a spirit of honest dialogue and healing. We all ended up confessing something that contributed to the ‘problem’. We all realized that there was more to the story than what we previously had imagined. We all left, I think, feeling energized that hope was something tangible, and that we could lean into the way of Christ if we so desired. I know that I felt relieved and accompanied.

Even in the news today I find hope in the US Senate releasing its report on torture particularly during the Bush years. The report outlines detailed ways the CIA tortured prisoners since 9/11 (and how little benefit came of it). Nothing political may change as a result, but the fact that many people risked a lot to just make this extremely awful, messy truth come to light, made me think today there was hope working in the world. “The truth shall set you free,” came to mind.

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Love and Suffering

The early church seemed to have seen Jesus’ crucifixion and their own decisions to be followers to be motivated by love. What is the connection between the path of love and suffering?

Bev Patterson:
It could be said that, out of love, God in Christ chose the path of suffering. He lived out the story arc of being expelled from communion with God, being a slave, lowest of the low, to fleeing to the desert and all its temptations; forever wandering as one of the remnant exilic few who kept the vision of God's new kingdom alive. This ultimately ended up in a cry of desperate hope that both he and we would not be completely left out of God's love and company.

Personally, it is this storyline that keeps me hoping or wanting to want hope. There are big and little moments of estrangement. Sometimes the isolation I feel is circumstance, something out of my hands. But often I feel these lows because of poor choices and selfish acts and attitudes. To know that all that falls under the umbrella of the cross is to know that my cry of Why can be heard by a wisdom beyond my understanding. And in answer to my innocent and sinful cry is the promise to restore me back to the garden with both a guidance that corrects me when I have fallen from the path and with a love beyond measure that meets me when I feel the sadness of being lost. This I know because I live with others who cry the same cry.

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