Bible Readings and Devotion for June 15, 2020
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Devotion for June 15, 2020
By Pastor David Tinker
When we are in the best of our humanity, we are most fully like what God desires for us. Jesus himself was and is the perfection of humanity, while, at the same time, he is the fully perfect God. By God’s power and grace, we are given what it takes to become the best of our humanity.
Sure, in our daily struggle to live into the life to which God has called us, we often do not live out God’s will. As St. Paul tells us in Romans 7:21-23, “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” We struggle in that situation, and we are reminded that is it by God’s power alone that we have life. Paul notes in verse 24-25a, “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
The rescue from this body of death is what leads us back to the best of humanity. In the best of our humanity, death is sacred. Death is not easy. It is even more difficult when death is brought upon a fellow person, or even on livestock for our food. Garrison Keillor, in one of his “News from Lake Wobegon” talks entitled, “Hog Slaughter,” told of the careful ritual and respect which his relatives and friends had when slaughtering animals for food. He was caught throwing small rocks at the hogs which were about to be slaughtered. His uncle strongly scolded him for the young Garrison’s disrespect and violation of this respectful ritual and ceremony of the slaughter. These animals were facing death so the people could have food to eat. This experience taught him reverence for the animals, as well as the reality of life and death.
In war and execution of convicted criminals there is a powerful sense of reverence in the matter. Decades ago an old WW II army veteran shared with me his struggle with the war. He told of how he jumped into a fox hole on a Pacific island. His job was to eliminate the threat of the Japanese soldiers in that hole. He sensed that he truly caught them by surprise. He fired three shots with his pistol, and these shots killed all three soldiers in a matter of seconds. When he told me that story over 50 years after the war, he said he could still remember all of their faces. He had a reverence for life and death, and in this he faced these three young men in their death.
Executions are not a laughing matter either. In places with the death penalty I sense there is a reverence on the part of the execution staff for those who are about to die. When I have read or heard accounts of such events I get that those present generally take these matters seriously.
In either war or execution, there are always some who don’t take it seriously. I suppose each person has to deal with these weighty matters in one’s own way.
In a much greater situation is the death of our savior, Jesus Christ. In today’s reading from Acts 5 we have part of a scene when St. Peter and the Apostles are arrested for telling others in Jerusalem about the good news of Jesus. They are ordered to stop, but they will not and cannot do so, for God’s command is greater than human. In talking about this, Peter notes, “The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree.”
This statement is a combination of ways of talking about death. In the Judean culture, this is how they spoke of crucifixion. It was a euphemism of sorts. It was a way of talking about crucifixion in their time without actually saying the actual words to describe it.
This word of Peter was also a reference to the statement in Deuteronomy 21:22-23, which read, “When someone is convicted of a crime punishable by death and is executed, and you hang him on a tree, his corpse must not remain all night upon the tree; you shall bury him that same day, for anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse. You must not defile the land that the Lord your God is giving you for possession.” The body of an executed person would be displayed on a tree. This was to deter future crimes by others. The law states that this is to be done, at most, for a very short time. It was a cursed and shameful reality to be hung up out in public as an executed criminal.
The death of Jesus on the cross, and his being publicly shown as dead at the edge of Jerusalem, was a mix of great reverence and great shame. Reverence, because execution was a thing of awe and respect, for it was the taking of a life. Reverence, for it is God the Son who went to his death. It was also a thing of shame, for at least two reasons. One is that noted above, that the Jews understood that it was cursed and shameful to be left up to die in public. The other is that the Romans reserved crucifixion for the lowest of people. This included those who were not Roman Citizens, slaves, and miserable criminals.
Jesus, God the Son, Lord of lords and King of kings, went to his death. To this day we look upon Jesus on the cross with immense reverence. He was without sin, yet he gave himself for us by death on a cross. In 2 Corinthians 5:21, Paul teaches us, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Our final death became his death. He was without shame, yet out of love for us, he took on the lowest shame of his time.
This shameful death is also something which we get to take with utmost seriousness and reverence. We get to observe it as the greatest act of self-giving for us and for the world. We get to see that he has acted for us, so that we may be given life with God, both now and forever.
Eternal God, your love is stronger than death, and your passion more fierce than the grave. We rejoice in the lives of those whom you have drawn into your eternal embrace. Keep us in joyful communion with them until we join the saints of every people and nation gathered before your throne in your ceaseless praise, through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Prayer from Evangelical Lutheran Worship. Copyright © 2020 Augsburg Fortress. All rights reserved.