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Good Friday, Year B

Dear All,

You may find helpful one of my previous sermons for Good Friday: "Christ Our Passover: Our Exodus from the Narrow Place." The Witness also has a wonderful piece for Good Friday from Reid Hamilton, "Loving Provocateurs," and for those of you looking ahead to Easter Sunday, a powerful piece from the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson entitled "The Missing Stone and the Empty Cross." I hope they're helpful to you.

And here's my reflection for Good Friday this year:

Isaiah 52:13 - 53:12 - link to NRSV text
Psalm 69:1-23 - link to BCP text
Hebrews 10:1-25 - link to NRSV text
John 18:1 - 19:37 - link to NRSV text

Good Friday is a hard day for a lot of us. It's often hard to think of what's "good" about it. Are you against capital punishment? Good Friday is a day when we remember it. Do you think of Jesus as someone who was clearly and absolutely innocent of any crime, whether against humankind or God? Good Friday is when we remember that Jesus was executed as a traitor in a manner many would have said demonstrated that it was God and not just the Roman Empire who had judged him disgraced. Are you of the general opinion that people who are good will also be successful and left at peace? Good Friday would seem to speak against that.

It's a hard day, and many of us only contemplate it in the context of a line Tony Campolo (whose work I deeply respect, don't get me wrong) uses -- "It's Friday ... but Sunday's a-comin!" We want to rush ahead to Easter, because Good Friday is about pain and humiliation and desertion, and at least in upper-middle-class American culture, we're all about denial of suffering, and above all denial of death.  But Good Friday just isn't pretty. It doesn't fit in well with the Flash-animated slideshows on our church websites that show an endless parade of mostly young and always smiling faces. For us, Good Friday is an image problem, a downer that makes us comfortable.

But in my travels, I have met many, many people for whom Good Friday and the image of Jesus suffering on the cross is a time and an image of profound consolation. And when I've thought about what was different between those people and communities consoled by Good Friday and those distressed by it, my thinking keeps coming back to this:

Good Friday is a day when those who are suffering what Jesus suffered enter into the mystery:

God's suffering with them.

God knows the suffering of those who could read with all integrity and from their own experience the "suffering servant" passages of Isaiah as THEIR story, the Psalms of lament as THEIR songs. God knows the suffering of the poor, of the refugees and the displaced, of those who live in fear in occupied territories, of those who feel constantly vulnerable to economic, political, and military forces beyond their control, or even of their whole family or village or perhaps even nation. God knows the suffering of the hungry and the outcast, of those taken advantage of because the world sees them as meek. God knows the grief of the grieving, the pain of seeing betrayal at the hands of those from whom you expected solidarity. God knows the anguish that just might be the hardest of all to bear -- the terrible loneliness of one who is suffering all of these things, and who feels torn from or abandoned by everyone who might provide consolation -- even God.

God knows all of the pain, personally and profoundly, because God suffered it all in the person of Jesus.

Our Lord naked on the cross, vulnerable to insects and birds, to sun and wind, and to the most predatory animal of all -- human beings whose humanity has been twisted by violence -- is an icon to the poor, suffering, and vulnerable that says:

You are not abandoned.

This is not just the well-intentioned "I feel your pain" spoken by someone in a position of comfort to someone suffering; it's not some more pious version of "I've been there, and I remember just how much it sucked" that expresses at least as much relief on the speaker's part that it's over.

The broken body of the Christ is not some garment that God tried on, didn't like, and tossed aside to put on some more festive Easter duds; it is an icon of who God is in God's eternal nature. God was and is and always will be -- until the day when every tear is wiped from our eyes and sorrow and sighing shall be no more -- present with, one with, suffering with the suffering, the outcast, the poor. When we say "God identifies with the poor," we're not just talking about actor's empathy; we're talking about the core of who God is, how we best understand God's identity.

I'm reminded of a scene from The Quarrel, one of the best and most profound movies I've ever seen. The film follows two friends over the course of one afternoon -- the day of Rosh Hoshana. Both are Holocaust survivors: one has become a rabbi and founder of a Torah school; the other has abandoned his faith because of his experiences. The question that drives both of them is "Where was God?" Hersh, the rabbi in The Quarrel, is like Eli Wiesel's fellow-prisoner in Night, who can cry out when asked where God is amidst the suffering in the concentration camp, "God is in the muck with us!" Because Hersh finds God in the muck, he can say with all integrity that as he lay in the mud of the concentration camp as the guards kicked him, he could say whole-heartedly that he would not have traded places with the guard for all the treasure and comfort in the world.

That's the strength and power that comes from seeing God in the midst of suffering. If God is with us in the muck, in the most painful and painfully lonely moments of those abandoned and tortured by the empires of this world, then even in those moments, we can respond with compassion as deep as integrity, for we have seen in the suffering of the poor the very face of God.

Jesus taught this with words and deeds in the weeks before he set his face on Jerusalem, toward the cross. He said that the poor, the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers, and those who are hated and reviled and persecuted were blessed, honored by God; he spoke woes to the rich and the comfortable and to the elites of Jerusalem at whose mercy he was, and found none. But he spoke even the woes with true and deep compassion, because he knew God's face, and would seek it even to death on a cross.

It's hard sometimes in our culture to live out Jesus' compassion. Many of us have been taught from before we could speak to fear anything and anyone who reminded us of our vulnerabilities -- to illness, to age, to misfortune, to grief, to loneliness, to death. We are tempted to surround ourselves with icons of perfect wholeness, of the cleanliness that Ben Franklin (NOT any biblical writer) claimed was next to godliness.

But God gave us Good Friday. We have the opportunity, however hard we gulp before taking it and however uncomfortable it makes us, to seek God's face in the suffering of someone this world -- our economies, our religious authorities, our empires and our fears -- took away everything: dignity, health, friends, family, and even life itself -- and we are invited to look in the muck to see God's face.

It isn't easy. There are reasons the writer of the spiritual said, "sometimes it causes me to tremble." But there is peace and forgiveness, the wounds that declared an end to anyone's right to wound, the death that declared an end to anyone's need to kill, the strength and courage and compassion to be naked before the powers of this world and to see in that the power of our suffering, dying, and living God.

April 13, 2006 in Hebrews, Holy Week, Isaiah, John, Psalms, Year B | Permalink

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Dylan's lectionary blog: Good Friday, Year B

« Maundy Thursday, Year B | Main | Easter Day, Year B »

Good Friday, Year B

Dear All,

You may find helpful one of my previous sermons for Good Friday: "Christ Our Passover: Our Exodus from the Narrow Place." The Witness also has a wonderful piece for Good Friday from Reid Hamilton, "Loving Provocateurs," and for those of you looking ahead to Easter Sunday, a powerful piece from the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson entitled "The Missing Stone and the Empty Cross." I hope they're helpful to you.

And here's my reflection for Good Friday this year:

Isaiah 52:13 - 53:12 - link to NRSV text
Psalm 69:1-23 - link to BCP text
Hebrews 10:1-25 - link to NRSV text
John 18:1 - 19:37 - link to NRSV text

Good Friday is a hard day for a lot of us. It's often hard to think of what's "good" about it. Are you against capital punishment? Good Friday is a day when we remember it. Do you think of Jesus as someone who was clearly and absolutely innocent of any crime, whether against humankind or God? Good Friday is when we remember that Jesus was executed as a traitor in a manner many would have said demonstrated that it was God and not just the Roman Empire who had judged him disgraced. Are you of the general opinion that people who are good will also be successful and left at peace? Good Friday would seem to speak against that.

It's a hard day, and many of us only contemplate it in the context of a line Tony Campolo (whose work I deeply respect, don't get me wrong) uses -- "It's Friday ... but Sunday's a-comin!" We want to rush ahead to Easter, because Good Friday is about pain and humiliation and desertion, and at least in upper-middle-class American culture, we're all about denial of suffering, and above all denial of death.  But Good Friday just isn't pretty. It doesn't fit in well with the Flash-animated slideshows on our church websites that show an endless parade of mostly young and always smiling faces. For us, Good Friday is an image problem, a downer that makes us comfortable.

But in my travels, I have met many, many people for whom Good Friday and the image of Jesus suffering on the cross is a time and an image of profound consolation. And when I've thought about what was different between those people and communities consoled by Good Friday and those distressed by it, my thinking keeps coming back to this:

Good Friday is a day when those who are suffering what Jesus suffered enter into the mystery:

God's suffering with them.

God knows the suffering of those who could read with all integrity and from their own experience the "suffering servant" passages of Isaiah as THEIR story, the Psalms of lament as THEIR songs. God knows the suffering of the poor, of the refugees and the displaced, of those who live in fear in occupied territories, of those who feel constantly vulnerable to economic, political, and military forces beyond their control, or even of their whole family or village or perhaps even nation. God knows the suffering of the hungry and the outcast, of those taken advantage of because the world sees them as meek. God knows the grief of the grieving, the pain of seeing betrayal at the hands of those from whom you expected solidarity. God knows the anguish that just might be the hardest of all to bear -- the terrible loneliness of one who is suffering all of these things, and who feels torn from or abandoned by everyone who might provide consolation -- even God.

God knows all of the pain, personally and profoundly, because God suffered it all in the person of Jesus.

Our Lord naked on the cross, vulnerable to insects and birds, to sun and wind, and to the most predatory animal of all -- human beings whose humanity has been twisted by violence -- is an icon to the poor, suffering, and vulnerable that says:

You are not abandoned.

This is not just the well-intentioned "I feel your pain" spoken by someone in a position of comfort to someone suffering; it's not some more pious version of "I've been there, and I remember just how much it sucked" that expresses at least as much relief on the speaker's part that it's over.

The broken body of the Christ is not some garment that God tried on, didn't like, and tossed aside to put on some more festive Easter duds; it is an icon of who God is in God's eternal nature. God was and is and always will be -- until the day when every tear is wiped from our eyes and sorrow and sighing shall be no more -- present with, one with, suffering with the suffering, the outcast, the poor. When we say "God identifies with the poor," we're not just talking about actor's empathy; we're talking about the core of who God is, how we best understand God's identity.

I'm reminded of a scene from The Quarrel, one of the best and most profound movies I've ever seen. The film follows two friends over the course of one afternoon -- the day of Rosh Hoshana. Both are Holocaust survivors: one has become a rabbi and founder of a Torah school; the other has abandoned his faith because of his experiences. The question that drives both of them is "Where was God?" Hersh, the rabbi in The Quarrel, is like Eli Wiesel's fellow-prisoner in Night, who can cry out when asked where God is amidst the suffering in the concentration camp, "God is in the muck with us!" Because Hersh finds God in the muck, he can say with all integrity that as he lay in the mud of the concentration camp as the guards kicked him, he could say whole-heartedly that he would not have traded places with the guard for all the treasure and comfort in the world.

That's the strength and power that comes from seeing God in the midst of suffering. If God is with us in the muck, in the most painful and painfully lonely moments of those abandoned and tortured by the empires of this world, then even in those moments, we can respond with compassion as deep as integrity, for we have seen in the suffering of the poor the very face of God.

Jesus taught this with words and deeds in the weeks before he set his face on Jerusalem, toward the cross. He said that the poor, the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers, and those who are hated and reviled and persecuted were blessed, honored by God; he spoke woes to the rich and the comfortable and to the elites of Jerusalem at whose mercy he was, and found none. But he spoke even the woes with true and deep compassion, because he knew God's face, and would seek it even to death on a cross.

It's hard sometimes in our culture to live out Jesus' compassion. Many of us have been taught from before we could speak to fear anything and anyone who reminded us of our vulnerabilities -- to illness, to age, to misfortune, to grief, to loneliness, to death. We are tempted to surround ourselves with icons of perfect wholeness, of the cleanliness that Ben Franklin (NOT any biblical writer) claimed was next to godliness.

But God gave us Good Friday. We have the opportunity, however hard we gulp before taking it and however uncomfortable it makes us, to seek God's face in the suffering of someone this world -- our economies, our religious authorities, our empires and our fears -- took away everything: dignity, health, friends, family, and even life itself -- and we are invited to look in the muck to see God's face.

It isn't easy. There are reasons the writer of the spiritual said, "sometimes it causes me to tremble." But there is peace and forgiveness, the wounds that declared an end to anyone's right to wound, the death that declared an end to anyone's need to kill, the strength and courage and compassion to be naked before the powers of this world and to see in that the power of our suffering, dying, and living God.

April 13, 2006 in Hebrews, Holy Week, Isaiah, John, Psalms, Year B | Permalink

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