Summary: The real wonder of Jesus is that he gave up the glory of God to become human.
Today’s location is not really a mountain, per se. It is a hill, across from Jerusalem’s Damascus gate, probably once a stone quarry. At some point someone noticed that the rocks in the side of the hill looked like a skull, and so it was named in Hebrew, Golgotha, which means the place of the skull, or in Latin, Calvary. It is, of course, the place where Jesus was crucified.
Millions of sermons have been written about this event across thousands of years, and in many ways it remains as much of a mystery as ever. I’ve read books about it, studied it in seminary, and have thought long and hard about it. What exactly does the crucifixion of Jesus have to do with me...or with any of us...here and now, 2000 years later? The traditional answer goes, “Well, Jesus died to save us from our sins. Sin is so bad that it requires death as a punishment and Jesus took the punishment for us, so we could live. That’s called the “Substitutionary theory of the atonement.” It’s not the only theory of what the Cross is about, but it is a primary one in our day and age.
When I teach a Disciple class, we usually get around to that question at some point or another. And while it’s easy to state the theory...or any of the other theories out there...it is much more difficult when people want to know the mechanics of exactly how that works, or why a loving God would be demanding death in the first place. At that point it’s not so easy anymore, even for those of us who have studied it closely and thought about it all of our lives.
So I’m not going to stand up here and perfectly explain it to you. But something did happen to me last week that gave me one small picture of what Jesus’ life and death might be about.
I was out at my new little cabin. I had been out on the porch, enjoying the sound of the river, and at about 9 pm I blew out the citronella candle and came back inside. The main living space of the cabin is really only two rooms...a bedroom, and one larger room that serves as kitchen, dining, and living room. Across the far wall is the kitchen, with smaller versions of your usual appliances. Above the little gas stove is a hood and above the hood is a shelf where the microwave sits. Beside the microwave is the place where I keep the little gas candlelighter, and as I came in from the porch, I went to put it back. Something moved.
On the shelf, just in front of the microwave, something small was moving around. I came to look closer, and as I looked, I saw a baby mouse. Baby mouse maybe gives you the wrong image. This was an infant mouse. A no-fur-yet mouse. It was about an inch long with dark spots where there would be eyes in a few days. It’s skin was a translucent pink, so that you could see it’s little organs inside. It was rolling around, trying to right itself, and very close to falling about five feet down.
I looked for others, but could find none. I saw only a hole up in the corner, where I guessed this little fellow had a nest from which he had fallen. I picked him up and put him in the palm of my hand. Very tiny. Ten of him could easily have fit in my one hand. He rolled and crawled around my hand a bit, sticking his tiny nose into the crevices of my fingers, trying to find a place to nurse. I became a mouse mother.
I will spare you most of the details of the next 36 hours as I made it a bed, and experimented with ways to feed my new charge and to keep him warm. I took the microwave down and he spent his first night up on the shelf in his bed...a piece of cheese beside him, in the hopes that his real mother would come to fetch him. She didn’t.
The next day, I was sitting in the rocking chair with the little mouse resting quietly in the palm of my hand after another exasperating round of trying to feed a creature that can’t see and who wants to suck on something but must learn to sip instead. Some of it got in, because I could see it’s stomach and I could see it was full of white stuff. But still, it was not the kind of milk it should have been getting. It may have been fortified with vitamin D, but it wasn’t mouse milk, and I doubted it would be the same.