From Empire to Cross

(The Wine Before Breakfast community is journeying to the cross this Lent with Mark as our guide on the way. This is how I introduced this pilgrimage to the community.)

It all turns around at Caesarea Philippi.


The way Mark tells the story,
Jesus has been on the move … north.
As far from Jerusalem as he could get.

Until he gets to Caesarea Philippi.
An ominous place for someone proclaiming a “kingdom.”
A dangerous place for someone who comes to fulfill dreams of liberation.

Caesarea Philippi.

The very name of the place says it all.
This a settlement of Caesar.
This is an outpost of the Roman empire.

And it is here, in the empire’s backyard as it were,
that Jesus reveals his subversive identity.

“Who do people say that I am?” he asks.

Well, there’s some confusion out there, Jesus,
but names like John the Baptist and Elijah have been thrown around,
or at least you are one of the prophets.

“Who do you say I am?” he pushes the matter further.

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

You’re the one
You are where all our hopes rest.
You are our liberator.
You are our king.

So keep that to yourself, Jesus replies.
Don’t go blabbing this all about,
or our hand will be forced before it is time.

But let’s be clear what all of this means.

“Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”

Not surprisingly, this didn’t go over too well with the lads.
This wasn’t what they were thinking of.
This doesn’t match any notion of kingship that they had ever imagined.

So to push the matter further.

You’ve got to get this kingdom business clear,
not only do I bring a counter-kingdom to his empire,
I turn it all upside down.

I’m not just a threat to Caesar,
but I totally change the rules by which Caesar plays the game.

This is a kingdom of denying oneself and picking up a cross.
This is a kingdom of losing your life in order to save it.
This is not a kingdom of grasping the world in order to control it,
but of losing it all in order to set it free from its oppression.

And so Jesus turns it all around.
He turns all notions of kingdom upside down.
He turns all normal expectations inside out.
And he literally turns around and heads south.

From this point in Mark’s gospel (8.27-91)
the story is on the move to Jerusalem,
to betrayal and denial,
to a trial and torture,
to an imperial execution …
and only then, to an empty grave.

So for this Lent we are going to pick up on that journey
from Caesarea Philippi to Jerusalem,
from the empire’s backyard to the empire’s justice,
from confessing “you are the Messiah” to shouting “crucify him.”

We are going to allow our communal Lenten pilgrimage
to be shaped by this journey of Jesus and his disciples.

I encourage you, dear sisters and brothers,
to be intentional about Lent.
Make this a time of discipline and reflection,
of biblical meditation and contemplation.

Perhaps Mark 8.27 to 16.8 could be a place
where your meditation can be focused.

Welcome to Lent.

In Christ,

Brian Walsh,
Campus Pastor.

Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian, a retired CRC campus minister, the founder of the Wine Before Breakfast community, and farms with Sylvia Keesmaat at Russet House Farm.He engages issues of theology and culture, and has written a couple of books you might want to check out. His most recent offering is cowritten with Sylvia Keesmaat and entitled Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice.

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