Friday, December 14, 2007

Study Notes for Chapter 7 -- The Scars of God

The 7th Word From the Cross -- "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit."

1. Only Luke of the four gospels records these words. Matthew and Mark tell us that they were said loudly, as a cry. The normal human tendency is to civilize the words, to show Jesus as confident, with very even emotions as he says them. What do you think? Why did they come out as a "loud cry"?

2. We are adopted brothers and sisters of Jesus (p. 231). His cry on the cross as he crossed into the darkness of death (what to us is inspite of our faith, the Great Unknown) is the cry we all make. What we know about eternity we know by faith, by trust, ....... but by definition these things imply a degree of doubt. What does this say -- if anything -- about the degree to which Jesus identified with our humanity? ("Faith can be holding fast to the promise even as we are haunted by the thought, 'Maybe I just imagined it.' This is not blind faith but faith with eyes wide open to all the evidence to the contrary.") (p. 233). "It follows that the story of Jesus is not about the exploits of a Superman whom we call true God and true man, it is the story about us." (p. 245-246).

3. Respond to this statement from p. 232: "There are grown-ups who pretend, and then there are those who have grown up to know the 'second naivete' of our utter dependence."

4. "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me" was a cry of desolation. "This Seventh Word is a cry of trust, hurled almost defiantly, into the absence of the One of whom Jesus spoke when he said, 'Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me." (p. 232). If you agree with this statement from Neuhaus, at whom or what was Jesus "almost defiantly" hurling these words?

5. "Stumbling our way toward home, we worry to ourselves about the unworthiness of our love, only to discover that it has already been attended to. It was taken care of in that representative moment, that vicarious moment in which he cried out, 'Father, into your hands I commend my spirit,' ......." (p. 235). "To fret about the quality of our love is to miss the point?" (p. 235). HOW SO? And what is "re-presented in the Eucharist until the end of the world...." (p. 235)

6. Read the remarkable paragraph on p. 239 which begins, "The scars of God, the Second Person ........." Share your thoughts regarding it.

7. What do the following statements mean: A. "Faith is assent" -- p. 240. B. "Faith is trust" -- p. 241.

8. Respond to the following statement: "'Into your hands I commend my spirit' is finally a cry of triumph, and it is more believably that because it does not simply come after but catches up and comprehends the earlier cry, which is also the cry of broken humanity, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (p. 247). (See also -- "The defeat and the hope must be ever held together; the hope is not finally hopeful unless it has taken into account everything that contradicts hope." (p. 248).

9. Discuss the meaning of the following statement: "Then the body of Christ was on the cross, and now the Body of Christ, the Church, is on the cross, and with it the whole of humanity." (p. 252). (Remember the assertion of an earlier chapter that the way of the cross for any of us is cruciform shaped).

10. As Jesus uttered these last words from the cross, the veil of the temple was torn from top to bottom. Discuss the possible meaning of this: (see pp. 253-255).

11. What has "always been, and is today, the great offense of Christianity"? (p. 256). Why?

12. If "God who is love is identified by his scars" what muist be said about the modern tendency to downplay the significance of the cross? ("We must not turn away from what we have done to God, lest we be found to have turned away from what he has done for us." -- p. 257).

13. Let's end this semester's book club with the beautiful, descriptive words found on pp. 259-260: "The silence of that silent night, holy night, the night when God was born was broken by the sounds of a baby, a mother's words of comfort and angels in concert. Holy Saturday, by contrast, is the sound of perfect silence. Yesterday's mockery, the good thief's prayer, the cry of dereliction -- all that is past now. Mary has dried her tears, and the whole creation is still, waiting for what will happen next." "Meanwhile, if we keep very still, there steals upon the silence a song of Easter that was always there. On the long mourners' bency of the eternal pity, we raise our heads, blink away our tears and exchange looks that dare to question, 'Could it be?' But of course. Tht is what it was about."

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Study Notes for Chapter 6

The Sixth Word from the cross: "It is finished."

1. This statement should be taken to mean "it is consummated, fulfilled, brought to perfection." (p. 187). The remainder of the chapter deals with what this means. As you read, focus on the material regarding the subject of sacrifice as it relates to this consummation. What has been finished? Why did it require the death of God?

2. What does Neuhaus mean when he says, "The outcome of the human project is incontestable, but it is still contested ........." (p. 191)? How does his phrase "It is finished but it isn't over" affect your answer? (Also see the two beautifully worded sentences near the top of p. 193 which begin, "It is finished" does not mean that suffering and loss.........").

3. Although these words from the cross certainly are triumphant and although they represent a victory by God in behalf of mankind and a world God loves, life on the earth continues to often be a "slice of hell." (p. 194). What does Neuhaus (and by extension Peter De Vries in The Blood of the Lamb) mean in saying that life's realities "mock any response other than rage and despair."? (p. 194). Why did Jesus finished work leave the world in such a tragic state?

4. What do you picture in your mind when you read the words of Peter De Vries (again in The Blood of the Lamb) "..... how long, how long is the mourners' bench upon which we sit, arms linked in undeluded friendship -- all of us, brief links, ourselves, in the eternal pity." How is the cross and Jesus' assertion "It is finished" spoken there to be seen in relation to the mourners' bench and the eternal pity? (Consider the following two sentences from p. 198 as you consider these things: "In the experience of abandonment by God we are most securely embraced in the love of God." "Every heartbroken cry of 'Oh, my lamb" is taken up and finally overtaken in 'Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi,' in whom is our peace.").

5. Respond to the following statements from p. 203: "We are participants in this drama, although exactly how we do not know. We have not seen the entire script; our lines are given us one at a time." "Clear laws of cause and effect are thrown into consternation." " .....God's loss of everything on the cross ........ is our only hope that all is not lost."

6. What does the phrase "redemptive suffering" (p. 207) mean to you? As it relates to Jesus? As it relates to us?

7. Neuhaus argues that "Neither the liberals nor the existentialists nor the liberationists do justice to 'It is finished.'" (p. 215). What he believes they miss (and miss greatly and significantly) is the biblical concept of "sacrifice" which he argues is at the heart of this word from the cross. "Remove the idea of sacrifice, the reality of sacrifice, from Christianity and it becomes something other than Christianity." (p. 216). He says a number of things on p. 216 which help us to undertstand the concept of sacrifice. Two are that a sacrifice is "an act of ..... worship" and an "act that intends to change a relationship by way of making reparation or making amends." How did the finished work of Christ, which included the cross, accomplish those two things?

8. What is so-called "critical consciousness"? (p. 217). How does it tend to "deconstruct" everything we believe? What do its proponents mean when they say something we believe is "culturally constructed"? How might they judge believers naive regarding the "primitive" notion of sacrifice? What is the grace of "second naivete" (an understanding reached on the far side of critical analysis and debunking)? (p. 217).

9. Why does God (who by definition is self-sufficient, needing nothing) need us so much that the finished work of the incarnation led Jesus to the cross? Why does he bind himself to his people ........ making himself "vulnerable, as it were, to his own creatures"? Neuhaus says "The only answer is _______" (p. 223).

10. What does the phrase "O necessary sin of Adam" (p. 224) mean?