March 24, 2013
Karin I. Liebster, Associate Pastor
Christ the King Lutheran Church
The Readings (New Revised Standard Version)
Luke 22:14- 23:56
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
On this day, March 24, in the year 1980, 33 years ago an archbishop was shot and killed as he raised the chalice during the Holy Eucharist in a small hospital chapel. His name was Óscar Arnulfo Romero, of the Central American country El Salvador. The country had suffered for decades under repressive, dictatorial governments, right wing and left wing. A civil war began in 1980. People were not excited when Romero was appointed arch bishop because he was of a conservative nature, unsupportive of liberation theology, feared to be siding with the power elites.
When a personal friend, a Jesuit priest was assassinated shortly after Romero became arch bishop, he was compelled in response to his friend’s death to live compassion for the poor, denouncing the continuous violation of the most basic human rights of El Salvadorians. His sermons were broadcast on radio every week and it was the most followed radio program in those years. On the day before he was assassinated, he had called on soldiers to disobey the orders of their superiors carrying out violence against innocent people.
The gospel of Luke tells the story of Jesus of Nazareth, an innocent man who was accused by the leaders of his own people for leading Israel astray and being seditious against the Roman government, and who was consequently put to death by the Roman authorities. As we heard the story today, it becomes clear that there was a miscarriage of justice. This execution should not have happened. Despite the motives of the accusers, no one in authority actually thought that their charges were valid. In the end, however, Pilate caved in and went along with the wish of the leaders of the Sanhedrin and the crowds.
Weeks earlier Jesus had started his journey to Jerusalem. Luke reports: When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to Jerusalem. (Luke 9:51) Luke says, Jesus knew what was going to happen. Jesus’ mission as savior of the world went beyond his death, he was to be taken up in his resurrection and ascension.
Throughout the events of trial and crucifixion Jesus remains true to how he has embodied God’s love and mercy in his life. He has brought to individuals the forgiveness of sins like to Zacchaeus. Now on the cross, entering his glory as Son of God and enthroned as Lord, the forgiveness of sins is available from him to all nations. “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
The other core feature of Jesus which Luke emphasizes throughout his gospel is Jesus’ compassion. Compassion for those in need of healing, food, a word; compassion for those who society often viewed as somewhat defective human beings, women, children and those ill in body, mind or spirit. Many women followed Jesus, and Luke tells us that they not only sponsored him but followed him to the cross and stayed. From the cross Jesus speaks to the women addressing the apocalyptic, eschatological significance of this moment in time under the cross.
The forgiveness of sins and the compassion of Jesus have carried over, dear friends, through time and the rising and passing of generations to us. Compassion was the key to Archbishop Oscar Romero’s work of love. He witnessed the compassion of his friend, and out of compassion for him he in turn became compassionate, which became such a provocation that it cost him his life.
Compassion is the key to every work of mission – here, in your places of life and work, in the work of our partners in Peru, Mexico and the Central African Republic which we have had the privilege to see with our own eyes. In mission, we do not start out by first laying down the law, the definitions, the theology, the This-is-what-you-must-believe, before-we- can-do-anything-for-you. First is compassion because of Christ’s compassion.
Compassion is suffering together. Not pity, but suffering together. Living compassion changes things. It is a very active mode of being by which we reach out, see a person in a new light, articulate and act upon the need we perceive. Compassion is a creative force, one which makes community and widens the circles of life. – And compassion creates trust. It is a precious place, a vulnerable place. When trust opens like a flower it is full of beauty and joy.
Receiving compassion from the body of Christ in the life of a congregation has a sacramental quality which makes me time and again trust the witness of women and men two millennia ago that Jesus Christ did not stay on the cross, he did not even stay in his tomb. He was raised by God, the giver and sustainer of life.
We may die, but we already died. In the font, at baptism. It is the same place where we received life. Buried at the bottom of our font is the name of Jesus, arranged around a cross. In each quarter are two letters, and they read: Jesus Christ, victorious.
From the deepest place of suffering, suffering with us and for us, Christ overcame death, and in baptism has taken us on the path of life and compassion. We may trust, and we may rejoice in trust’s beauty and fullness.
This Holy Week may we be renewed for our lives of compassion and receive strength, even as we do not know where God is leading us, only that God’s compassion and love are supporting us.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Amen.