A Guest Post by Patrick Franklin
This is the tenth in a series of posts engaging with the sermons in Leaps of Faith: Sermons from the Edge. This post is a reflection upon a Lenten sermon entitled “The Road to Calvary Passes through Flossenbürg” (pp. 92-102). The Scriptural text for the sermon was Mark 8:27-9:8.
In his insightful sermon, “The Road to Calvary Passes through Flossenbürg,” Robert Dean gives us much to ponder. But he doesn’t leave us pondering our own thoughts, or his; instead, he leads us to be silent before the Word, before Christ himself.
The sermon begins and ends with the example, or – better – witness, of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose life and thought reminds us that all genuinely theological thought and praxis begins with silence before the Word. Of course, for Bonhoeffer, true Christian spirituality finds its expression in concrete action, yet the point of such spirituality is not simply to get on with the pragmatic doing of things. Rather, it is to encounter personally the Crucified Lord to discern how he is calling us to walk the way of the cross in our present circumstances.
The way is neither obvious to find nor easy to tread. Peter, aided by the Spirit, made some progress toward finding it, but then immediately lost the way. Importantly, he was able to recognize (at least in part) WHO Jesus was (“You are the Messiah!”), but then made the common, idolatrous mistake of assimilating this WHO – this transcendent Word of God – into his own immanent commonsensical understanding of how the world works (“Surely not, Lord!”). The other disciples fared no better. As Rob poignantly puts is, “They are correct in recognizing Jesus as the Messiah, but at this point they have no understanding of what true Messiahship entails.” None of us has; we are all idolaters at heart, preferring the world’s strength and glory over the weakness and shame of the cross.
Bonhoeffer writes, “The figure of the Crucified invalidates all thought which takes success for its standard” (Ethics). Amen! But this cruciform way of thinking is not normal to us. It must be formed in us (Rom 12:1-2), which requires personal and communal intentionality to resist the world’s values, assumptions, and mindsets, to indwell instead the biblical narrative, and to participate in Spirit filled practices that gradually conform us to the image of the Crucified.
Which brings us to Lent, the liturgical road that leads us, as Christ’s followers, to the cross of our Lord each year.
As Rob proclaims so fittingly, “It is only in traveling with Jesus to the cross, through the season of Lent and through the seasons of our lives that our idolatrous tendency to cast God in the image of our own aspirations is purged. It is only through looking in silence upon the figure of the broken body of our Lord hanging upon the cross that our eyes are opened to the disorienting reality that God saves the world, not through the exercise of sheer power, but through the exercise of suffering love.”
On Good Friday, two thousand years ago, the whole land became dark, as if in brooding, waiting silence. Let us again be silent before the Word, as Peter and the disciples were silent on the Mount of Transfiguration. When the light and splendor and glory of heaven had dissipated, and the booming voice of the Father had stilled, they were left alone with eyes fixed upon Jesus and ears ready to hear his voice. Let us, by the gracious enabling of the Spirit of God, endeavor to do the same.
Patrick S. Franklin is Associate Professor of Theology & Ethics at Providence Theological Seminary in Manitoba, Canada. You can read more of his writing and become familiar with his work at: https://patrickfranklin.wordpress.com.