Good Friday: March 25, 2005.
Hebrews 10:16-25 or Hebrews 4: 14-16; 5:7-9
T: Though it hardly needs to be said, this is probably our most difficult day of the church year. Good Friday is a day that demands solemnity, darkness, piety. It is a day for weeping, for gnashing our teeth. It's a day we face things we'd just as soon look away from, thank you very much. Good Friday presents us with situations and dilemmas to which we don't have easy answers. "Who has believed what we have heard?" Isaiah asks. Who indeed could believe that God hung on the tree? Or who would want to face the gory details of breaking legs and piercing sides, the whole grisly parade of cruelty involved in crucifixion?
The first paragraph of Psalm 22 is the cry of a forlorn soul who has lost all hope. "My God, my god, why have you forsaken me?" This first paragraph is filled with the full pathos of human tragedy, of desperation and despair. "O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest." In this paragraph is contained the whole of human loneliness and depression.
The psalmist moves on, though, and the psalm is remarkable for its multiple changes of mood and voice. Immediately we turn to expressions of hope and faith, of God's history of faithfulness, before turning to words of abjection and humility. Over and over, we turn from despair to trust, from a forlorn cry to hope, and ultimately to triumph.
K: The most challenging task for us as preachers on Good Friday is to leave Jesus on the cross. Or, more succinctly, to preach a word of grace that doesn't resurrect Jesus. Jesus's work is over now. It is time for him to rest. Intent on Jerusalem, Jesus was vigilant in getting to this point. He is dead. The loneliness is palpable. We want to rail against that and rush the resurrection. The pathos of tragedy is tamed by the anesthetic of comfort. But I wonder, has God been silenced? Or is God silent?
T: I would say that's the question, the plea, the desperate call that lies behind that first paragraph of Psalm 22. "Why are you so far from helping me?" Where are you, God? Are you silent? Or have you been silenced? This question is the cry of anyone who has experienced despair, whose hope has seemingly left and been lost. It is the cry of anyone who worries that God is not just delaying an answer, but will never answer.
In John's account of the arrest and betrayal, Jesus speaks very little but seems to direct the whole scene. Judas arrives with police and soldiers and a whole mob, lit threateningly by flickering lanterns and torches. Jesus steps forward and takes the initiative: "Whom are you seeking?" When the crowd answers "Jesus of Nazareth" he replies simply, "I am" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). At this, the mob steps back and falls on their faces.
One of the puzzles for me for a long time has been the "why" of this passage. Why do they fall? The NRSV translates Jesus' response as "I am he," but strictly speaking, the Greek is "I am." It's clear that they fall because of Jesus' response. But why? Is it because Jesus' answer sounds remarkably like the name of God ("I am who I am")? Is it because they are surprised to have him step forward so readily? Jesus certainly knows what's going to happen (John tells us that explicitly), and so Jesus' answer is made in full awareness of its implications--pain, suffering, death. Yet he says, "I am." Is the crowd simply surprised that Jesus is so ready to be arrested, rather than running away, and thus they trip over each other?
K: A woman who struggled with the debilitating illness of depression once told me that she understood the "Good" in Good Friday. She lived with feelings of inadequacy, brokenness, and shame almost all of her life. Numerous times she attempted to commit suicide. The last time was during Lent, and she was released from the psychiatric hospital on the Friday morning of Holy Week. Her fearful family did not want to let her stay at home while they attended services, but they were unsure also about bringing her to "that type of service" that evening. So they considered sitting with her in the church nursery.
Instead, ashamed and embarrassed, she slid into the very back pew of the church. As she listened to the story of Jesus hanging on the cross, she tells of an epiphany. It was in that moment that she knew what goodness there was to be found in the broken body of the savior. "God knows what it is to be imperfect," she told me. Jesus' perceived imperfections hung him on the cross. Society's labels called him imperfect, and he was extinguished in a way that was only fit for the imperfect. "For the first time," she told me, "I understood that when Jesus stretched his arms out, I was included."
I suppose when God turns your world upside down right in front of you, it may be hard to stand.
A homiletician once said that we must always ascribe the action verbs to God. Too often we make God passive, ascribing the action verbs to us. When we do this, we become the agents of change in a sermon, not God. This is not good, she said, but common nonetheless. There is nothing passive about God today. In fact, this day is all about God's active agency. There is no room for us except to push in the crowds for a better or less graphic view of the cross. Jesus acts alone today. His work will be over before the night is out.
T: Our task today is to stand watch with him, to have the courage to stand still and witness. This is not our work, this is not our drama. Yet we are there, watching and wincing. We must have the courage to face our own culpability in this tragedy, to recognize our own hands holding a hammer, our own mouths cursing and mocking. Silence is hard for us in modern times, and so we may want to hurry past the tomb with its broken occupant. Yet we must leave him there today. As you say, we must preach grace without resurrecting Jesus. TK/KH
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|Title Annotation:||Preaching Helps|
|Publication:||Currents in Theology and Mission|
|Date:||Feb 1, 2005|
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