All through these Lenten Sundays we have been walking with Jesus on His way to a cross and an empty tomb,
and all along the way sign posts raise questions that are meant to intrigue us into exploring the answers that will help us walk to the beat and pace of the life of Jesus.
Today the sign reads:
“What Do You See When You Look UP?”
On past Lenten Sundays the directions was IN, BACK, FORWARD, AROUND, now, today it is, “UP!”
Ovid, a Roman poet at the time of Augustus, who died when Jesus was still working with his dad in the carpenter shop in Nazareth, is known for his 15 books with more than 250 myths chronicling the history of the world from creation to the time of Julius Caesar, all published under the title: Metamorphoses
Whether we recognize his name or that title, what he wrote more than two thousand years ago is still inspiring writers, poets, sculptors, artists, and musicians whose works echo episodes in Ovid’s Metamorphoses…
with today’s question inviting us to quote the lines:
“Thus, while the mute creation downward bend
Their sight, and to their earthly mother tend,
Man looks aloft, and with erected eyes
Beholds his own hereditary skies.”
Curtis Beach, a United Church of Christ pastor and hymn writer has us singing present-day words that carry the echo of Ovid’s lines: (NCH # 8, stanza 2)
Praise to the living God, from whom all things derive,
Whose Spirit formed upon this sphere the first faint seeds of life;
Who caused them to evolve, unwitting toward God’s goal,
Till humankind stood on the earth, as living, thinking souls.
We humans are animals who are meant to stand erect, with head raised, and so today’s question, posted for all to read, is:
“What Do You See When You Look UP?”
with the setting being a graveyard where Lazarus has been buried in a tomb sealed with a stone, which Jesus orders to have rolled away.
When His order is followed…Jesus looked upward and said,
“Father, I thank you for having heard me.
I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here,
so that they may believe that you sent me.”
Then His piercing charge, “Lazarus, come out!” with His posture being: looked upward to God to Whom
He prayed, and Lazarus got up, stood up, raised from death to life.
It’s that scene draw in today’s Gospel, that invites us to join Jesus and “look upward” – in prayer, to call out to God, to let our cry rise up from deep within us, to the God Who has made us.
“What Do You See When You Look UP?” – in prayer raised to God?
The posture of standing tall and looking up lifts us out of ourselves and into the vastness above us, and feel the pull that moved the Psalmist to declare:(Psalm 19: 1, 14)
`The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork…
‘Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
Just as a modern hymn echoes Ovid’s poetic lines, some ad writers bring the Psalmist’s high moment under the night sky to TV viewers in an ad that shows a father and son sitting out under the star-filled sky.
As the father turns from looking up to take in the phenomenal sight, he says of his son bent down busy texting, that he looked up for three-and-one-half minutes.
“Look upward” into that expanse that carries the echo of the Creator-God, and the words the apostle Paul send in his letter to a threatened congregation of Christians surrounded by the military might and the opulent art and architecture of the Roman Empire:
` To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace…
the Spirit of God that moved over the face of chaos and brought forth order life and peace.
“What Do You See When You Look UP?” into space?
Today’s Gospel drama that fixes our focus on Jesus’ raised arm, to accompany His raised prayer will soon change to Good Friday’s cross when Jesus will look up and cry out the prayers, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing! It is finished! Into your hands I comment my Spirit.”
“Look upward” – on Good Friday; look upward to Jesus, raising His prayers to God to raise us into the new life, as in His death, He bequeaths His life to us.
In the bi-monthly magazine Christian Century, the publisher Pastor Peter Marty, reminds his readers that 57 years ago a six –year-old Black girl named Ruby Bridges walked into William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans, surrounded by federal marshals.
By the end of the day parents had removed their white children
as the act of a massive boycott, leaving only Rudy and one teacher who was willing to stay and teach her. The rest of the school year it was a school with one teacher and one student.
When the psychiatrist, Robert Coles, took up a study of children in the South caught up in desegregation, Rudy’s “strength, stoicism, and bright cheer in the midst of a daily hell puzzled him. He began to meet with her every week.”
He learned from her teacher that, as she walked to school, her lips moved.
Dr. Coles asked, “Who were you talking to, Ruby?”
and she answered, “I was talking to God and praying for the people in the street.”
“Where did you learn that?” he asked
and Rudy said, “From my mommy and daddy and the minister at church.I pray every morning and every afternoon.”
“But Rudy,” said Dr. Coles, “these people are so mean to you. You must have some other feelings besides just wanting to pray for them.”
“No,” said Rudy. “I just keep praying for them and hope God will be good to them…
I always pray the same thing, “Please, dear God, forgive them, because they don’t know what they are
doing.” (Adapted from Christian Century, March 29, 2017, p.3)
“Look upward” – with the upward look fixed on Jesus lifted up on the cross, raising His prayers to God, to raise us up, to lift us up from our flat life that will flat line in death, to lift us UP to live His life, through His breathed in Spirit that is “life and peace.” .
“What Do You See When You Look UP?” to the Cross?