Friday, April 22, 2011

Cross Promises

The Old Rugged Crossphoto © 2008 abcdz2000 | more info (via: Wylio)
Matthew 27:31-50
Philippians 2:5-11

As I was talking to my older children, who are 3 and 5 years old, about the things we do to get ready for Easter, Palm Sunday, Passion narratives, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, I ended up with a lot of explaining to do. Palm Sunday is pretty obvious from the story and tradition, but words like passion and maundy aren’t as intuitive. And then we have Good Friday. I told them we would have Good Friday worship, and they immediately got excited. “Yea! Good Friday!” Just the name got them happy and excited, but when I told them what happened on Good Friday their joy slipped away.

“Well, that’s not a good Friday,” my 3 year old said to me. And he’s right. It’s not. It's not a good day at all. Good Friday is the day that the corruption of the human spirit seems to win. Good Friday is the day when innocence is punished, when blamelessness is struck, when holiness is knocked over, to the ground, and even spat upon. Good Friday is the day when evil seemed to overshadow good and God ended up on a cross. What’s so good about Good Friday?

I’ve heard different answers, different explanations about why we call this day “good.” Most popular is the understanding that good just doesn't mean what we usually think it does. It means pious or holy. Others say that the day is good because although what happened is terrible, horrific even, it is ultimately good because of what was accomplished. Sure Jesus was beaten, tortured, mocked, and killed, but ultimately that's all good because by all of that our sinful lives were redeemed (hint of sarcasm, anyone?). Taking that understanding too far can be on the one hand dismissive of the very real experience of Jesus and on the other self-centered.

While they aren't in and of themselves bad explanations, I have never been completely satisfied with the answers I have heard, until this year. I heard a new one that helps to round the others out. It doesn't replace them, but adds to them, and at least for me, speaks a truth that is extremely relevant today. The explanation is a linguistic one, similar to the reason we use the word "maundy" for Maundy Thursday; it's an older Anglicized word that relates back to the word mandatum, commandment in Latin. The Good in Good Friday, according to this reasoning, may have come about in modern English from an older name for this holy day, "God's Friday."

God's Friday. Even this can seem a little counter-intuitive because if anything it seems like God hardly shows up on Friday. We hear that accusation in the voices of the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders, "If HE is God he could just get himself right down from that cross. If he really is the Son of God, where is God now? Where is the God he trusts so much? God sure isn't showing up for Jesus who hangs on a cross." God's Friday? But where is God?

Where is God when Jesus appears before councils and governors who accuse him out of fear? Where is God when Jesus hears the crowds shout for the release of Barrabbas and chant for his crucifixion? Where is God when Jesus is bound and marched up the hill to the place of his crucifixion? Where is God when Jesus is nailed to the cross and in his agony challenged and mocked and taunted?

Where is God when the doctor says cancer? Where is God when the boss hands over a pink slip? Where is God when a phone call comes in the middle of the night? Where is God when our children are hurting? Where is God when depression descends like a heavy fog? Where is God when the bully comes around the corner again? When the bank account is close to empty? When our faith is challenged by those who question, who mock, "Where is your God now? Why won't your God deliver?"

The people who surrounded Jesus while he was hanging on the cross, the religious authorities who made sure the execution was carried out, the centurions who hammered the nails and raised the cross, even the other bandits hanging on crosses next to him, all of them expected some kind of superhero God. All of them were looking for some mighty sign of God's presence in an act of power and dominion. They looked for a dynamic miracle, a flash of angels' wings, a supernatural intervention, to prove that God was present, that God could save Jesus from this very human, very tragic death. They thought, we think, that God's power only comes in dramatic flashes and epic rescues.

But this day, God's Friday, begs us to ask not that tempting question, that taunting and sneering challenge, "Where is God?" but it begs us to ask "Who is this God?" It's the question we asked in our congregation's worship on Palm Sunday - - Who is this Jesus? Who is this king who comes riding in on a humble donkey? Who is this master who washes the feet of his disciples? Who is this one who says he is this Son of God, yet he hangs on a cross? If this is Good Friday, GOD'S Friday, who is this God?

Jesus wasn't what the people expected. They expected a great and glorious king. They expected a powerful and dominating warrior. They expected someone who would stand up to evil and fight with might and force to win the battle for the chosen ones of God. But that's not w what they got.

They got a slave. They got a humble servant. They got a man who had emptied himself of the divine majesty and submitted himself to the human experience, willingly and obediently choosing every bit of the human experience, even to the point of death, even to the point of death on a cross. They got, no WE got this Jesus whom we call Christ the Lord, whose authority and love and credibility comes not from superhero antics, but from his compassion, literally from his willingness to suffer with us.

Good Friday, God's Friday, is so utterly crucial because it singularly reveals how far God is willing to go for us. It alone reveals how deep Jesus' love is for us. It on its own illumines the path which Jesus took to walk right next to us, right into our hearts and our lives, so that we would know exactly how perfectly he knows our experience. Good Friday, God's Friday reveals the heart of God. It reveals the radical humility of Jesus who goes to the depths of pain to align himself with the very humanity that betrayed him and mocked him, denied him and flogged him, crucified him and taunted him, watched it all from a distance.

He didn't jump down from the cross when obedience got difficult. He didn't call for angels to carry him away. Because God knows, really God knows, he could have. The Son of God who made the blind to see, who healed the sick, who cast our demons, who called Lazarus out of the tomb, out of death three days later, COULD have saved himself from the cross, but he didn't. He could have left this world and missed the agony of the cross altogether, but for some reason he didn't. "Nails were not enough enough to hold God-and-man nailed and fastened on the Cross, had not love held Him there," Catherine of Siena wrote.

Out of love Jesus didn't save himself. Out of love Jesus didn't abandon us. Out of love Jesus remained faithful to his call, faithful to us even to the point of death on a cross. Jesus didn't abandon us in his time of suffering which means he won't abandon us in ours. This is the promise of the cross. It is the promise that Jesus goes with us into our deepest despair. It is the promise that when we are brought to our knees in all manner of suffering the question is not are we strong enough to bear it? Because that answer is easy - - we aren't. No, the promise of the cross is that in the midst of our suffering we can ask with confidence "Who will bear this with us?"

Jesus. Jesus bears our pain with us. Jesus knows our hurts and sorrows. Jesus humbled himself to be one of us. Jesus limited his own divine power to strengthen us, emptying himself that we might have full lives. And in doing so he and the very cross on which he hung announce God's promise to us, "I know you. I love you. And I will carry you through."

Good Friday is God's Friday. It reveals to us the very heart of God who isn't above and removed from the pains and realities of this life we live, but who has joined with us right in the thick of it. Good Friday is God's Friday, and it begs us join every knee that bends and every tongue that confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord.

To the glory of God. Amen.As I was talking to my older children, who are 3 and 5 years old, about the things we do to get ready for Easter, Palm Sunday, Passion narratives, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, I ended up with a lot of explaining to do. Palm Sunday is pretty obvious from the story and tradition, but words like passion and maundy aren’t as intuitive. And then we have Good Friday. I told them we would have Good Friday worship, and they immediately got excited. “Yea! Good Friday!” Just the name got them happy and excited, but when I told them what happened on Good Friday their joy slipped away.

“Well, that’s not a good Friday,” my 3 year old said to me. And he’s right. It’s not. It's not a good day at all. Good Friday is the day that the corruption of the human spirit seems to win. Good Friday is the day when innocence is punished, when blamelessness is struck, when holiness is knocked over, to the ground, and even spat upon. Good Friday is the day when evil seemed to overshadow good and God ended up on a cross. What’s so good about Good Friday?

I’ve heard different answers, different explanations about why we call this day “good.” Most popular is the understanding that good just doesn't mean what we usually think it does. It means pious or holy. Others say that the day is good because although what happened is terrible, horrific even, it is ultimately good because of what was accomplished. Sure Jesus was beaten, tortured, mocked, and killed, but ultimately that's all good because by all of that our sinful lives were redeemed (hint of sarcasm, anyone?). Taking that understanding too far can be on the one hand dismissive of the very real experience of Jesus and on the other self-centered.

While they aren't in and of themselves bad explanations, I have never been completely satisfied with the answers I have heard, until this year. I heard a new one that helps to round the others out. It doesn't replace them, but adds to them, and at least for me, speaks a truth that is extremely relevant today. The explanation is a linguistic one, similar to the reason we use the word "maundy" for Maundy Thursday; it's an older Anglicized word that relates back to the word mandatum, commandment in Latin. The Good in Good Friday, according to this reasoning, may have come about in modern English from an older name for this holy day, "God's Friday."

God's Friday. Even this can seem a little counter-intuitive because if anything it seems like God hardly shows up on Friday. We hear that accusation in the voices of the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders, "If HE is God he could just get himself right down from that cross. If he really is the Son of God, where is God now? Where is the God he trusts so much? God sure isn't showing up for Jesus who hangs on a cross." God's Friday? But where is God?

Where is God when Jesus appears before councils and governors who accuse him out of fear? Where is God when Jesus hears the crowds shout for the release of Barrabbas and chant for his crucifixion? Where is God when Jesus is bound and marched up the hill to the place of his crucifixion? Where is God when Jesus is nailed to the cross and in his agony challenged and mocked and taunted?

Where is God when the doctor says cancer? Where is God when the boss hands over a pink slip? Where is God when a phone call comes in the middle of the night? Where is God when our children are hurting? Where is God when depression descends like a heavy fog? Where is God when the bully comes around the corner again? When the bank account is close to empty? When our faith is challenged by those who question, who mock, "Where is your God now? Why won't your God deliver?"

The people who surrounded Jesus while he was hanging on the cross, the religious authorities who made sure the execution was carried out, the centurions who hammered the nails and raised the cross, even the other bandits hanging on crosses next to him, all of them expected some kind of superhero God. All of them were looking for some mighty sign of God's presence in an act of power and dominion. They looked for a dynamic miracle, a flash of angels' wings, a supernatural intervention, to prove that God was present, that God could save Jesus from this very human, very tragic death. They thought, we think, that God's power only comes in dramatic flashes and epic rescues.

But this day, God's Friday, begs us to ask not that tempting question, that taunting and sneering challenge, "Where is God?" but it begs us to ask "Who is this God?" It's the question we asked in our congregation's worship on Palm Sunday - - Who is this Jesus? Who is this king who comes riding in on a humble donkey? Who is this master who washes the feet of his disciples? Who is this one who says he is this Son of God, yet he hangs on a cross? If this is Good Friday, GOD'S Friday, who is this God?

Jesus wasn't what the people expected. They expected a great and glorious king. They expected a powerful and dominating warrior. They expected someone who would stand up to evil and fight with might and force to win the battle for the chosen ones of God. But that's not w what they got.

They got a slave. They got a humble servant. They got a man who had emptied himself of the divine majesty and submitted himself to the human experience, willingly and obediently choosing every bit of the human experience, even to the point of death, even to the point of death on a cross. They got, no WE got this Jesus whom we call Christ the Lord, whose authority and love and credibility comes not from superhero antics, but from his compassion, literally from his willingness to suffer with us.

Good Friday, God's Friday, is so utterly crucial because it singularly reveals how far God is willing to go for us. It alone reveals how deep Jesus' love is for us. It on its own illumines the path which Jesus took to walk right next to us, right into our hearts and our lives, so that we would know exactly how perfectly he knows our experience. Good Friday, God's Friday reveals the heart of God. It reveals the radical humility of Jesus who goes to the depths of pain to align himself with the very humanity that betrayed him and mocked him, denied him and flogged him, crucified him and taunted him, watched it all from a distance.

He didn't jump down from the cross when obedience got difficult. He didn't call for angels to carry him away. Because God knows, really God knows, he could have. The Son of God who made the blind to see, who healed the sick, who cast our demons, who called Lazarus out of the tomb, out of death three days later, COULD have saved himself from the cross, but he didn't. He could have left this world and missed the agony of the cross altogether, but for some reason he didn't. "Nails were not enough enough to hold God-and-man nailed and fastened on the Cross, had not love held Him there," Catherine of Siena wrote.

Out of love Jesus didn't save himself. Out of love Jesus didn't abandon us. Out of love Jesus remained faithful to his call, faithful to us even to the point of death on a cross. Jesus didn't abandon us in his time of suffering which means he won't abandon us in ours. This is the promise of the cross. It is the promise that Jesus goes with us into our deepest despair. It is the promise that when we are brought to our knees in all manner of suffering the question is not are we strong enough to bear it? Because that answer is easy - - we aren't. No, the promise of the cross is that in the midst of our suffering we can ask with confidence "Who will bear this with us?"

Jesus. Jesus bears our pain with us. Jesus knows our hurts and sorrows. Jesus humbled himself to be one of us. Jesus limited his own divine power to strengthen us, emptying himself that we might have full lives. And in doing so he and the very cross on which he hung announce God's promise to us, "I know you. I love you. And I will carry you through."

Good Friday is God's Friday. It reveals to us the very heart of God who isn't above and removed from the pains and realities of this life we live, but who has joined with us right in the thick of it. Good Friday is God's Friday, and it begs us join every knee that bends and every tongue that confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord.

To the glory of God. Amen.

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