"Crushed" - April 18, 2019 (Maundy Thursday)

 Psalm 143:1-10

            Crushing is a major part of preparing food.


            To make bread, you need flour, and flour is made by taking grain and crushing it to powder between two large, heavy millstones.  To make wine, which was a staple part of the diet in ancient Israel, grapes had to be put into vats and the liquid crushed out of them for fermentation and storage.


            The bread and the wine that were on the table at the Last Supper, the items that Jesus designated for use as an ongoing reminder of his continuing presence among his disciples, were items that intrinsically bear the message of what happened to him in the course of his suffering and death.  His body was beaten, like grain is beaten with a flail to separate the kernels of wheat from the husk, and ground by the weight of the cross that he was forced to carry.  His breathing would be cut off by his own weight pressing down against his lungs and diaphragm in his hours on the cross.  His blood would go everywhere, not just from the nail wounds, but from being whipped and having thorns pressed down onto his scalp, from abrasions and bruises, and eventually from a spear being jabbed into his corpse.


            In the course of all of that, there would be the attempt to crush him not only physically, but also emotionally and mentally. 


“For the enemy has pursued me,
   crushing my life to the ground,
   making me sit in darkness like those long dead. 
Therefore my spirit faints within me;
   my heart within me is appalled.”
[Psalm 143:3-4] 

When Jesus cried out at one point, “I thirst!” it was the physical thirst that comes to anyone with the terrible loss of blood and being exposed in the sun for hours.  I cannot believe it wasn’t also the thirst of the spirit that comes in the midst of torment.


“I stretch out my hands to you;
   my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.
Answer me quickly, O Lord;
   my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me,
   or I shall be like those who go down to the Pit.”
[Psalm 143:6-7] 


            Yet on that table, too, had probably been another crushed item.  All around the Mediterranean, fresh olives were harvested and taken to presses where they were crushed and the oil that came off them was captured and used for cooking or to dip bread into or just poured onto other food like we might use butter.  And the olives were put through not just one pressing, but were crushed a second and maybe a third time.  Crushing the olives gave oil not only for food, but also to be used in lamps to give light, as Jesus spoke about in his parables.


Moreover, the oil was used ritually by the people of Israel.  Poured on the head of a king or a priest or a prophet, anointing designated someone to a role in the establishment of God’s will upon earth as it is in heaven.  One who was anointed this way was called, in the Greek language of that day, Cristos, “Christ”.  It’s a title of honor, but dependent on the act of crushing, and when applied to Jesus in the way that we have come to apply it to him alone, it connects to what he bore for us.


Only because Jesus also underwent the crushing presented again and again in the broken bread and the full cup would he fulfill his place as the Christ, the Anointed One, as a prophet of God, as the priestly one who offered a sacrifice equal to the sin of the world, as the king who rules from a cross instead of a throne and with love instead of fear.


            Isaiah had spoken of the Suffering Servant, the Christ, the Messiah, as one whose pains would bring healing to others. So


“he was wounded for our transgressions,
   crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
   and by his bruises we are healed.” 
[Isaiah 53:5]


He would face the injustice of the world’s judgment, and it would crush him, but it would also lead to the judgment of the world by God, and that would in turn bring a restoration far beyond what anyone could have foreseen.


“By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
   Who could have imagined his future?
For he was cut off from the land of the living,
   stricken for the transgression of my people. 
They made his grave with the wicked
   and his tomb with the rich,
although he had done no violence,
   and there was no deceit in his mouth. 

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain.
When you make his life an offering for sin,
   he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days;
through him the will of the Lord shall prosper. 
   Out of his anguish he shall see light;
he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge.
   The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous,
   and he shall bear their iniquities. 
Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great,
   and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;
because he poured out himself to death,
   and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
   and made intercession for the transgressors.”
[Isaiah 53:8-12]