April 7, 2012

Good Friday

Some thoughts I shared with the extended faith family in town during our noon Holy Week services on Friday.

I wrestle with Good Friday.  It was not always this way.  It used to be a day out of school and a day to eat chocolate rabbits.  I used to make plans for some fanciful diversion; a fishing trip, a romp in the deep woods, a movie with some friends.  But no longer.  I find myself brooding and moody.  I've even taken to wearing dark colored clothing. 

I used to blow right by Good Friday with hardly a thought.  Now Good Friday comes and I can hardly think of anything else.  For instance, when I stepped out of our sanctuary doors Thursday evening and saw the full moon hanging there in the sky I was struck by the thought that it was under just this sort of moon that Christ and His disciples walked to Gethsemane; Passover is always celebrated on the full moon.  It was under just this sort of moon that Judas gave that fateful and fatal kill.  It was under this sort of moon that Peter betrayed Jesus with a curse only to hear a rooster crow.  And roosters...I have some.  Their usually joyous celebration of the new day was clouded with notes of condemnation this morning. You see, I too have betrayed the one I claim to devotedly love.

A bit of study tells me that I am not the 1st to be slow in embracing Good Friday.  Just over 100 years ago it would have been unheard of for Baptist's of any stripe to make much of Easter, let alone Good Friday, and certainly not a Thursday evening service!  After all, Easter was just a thinly veiled pagan celebration.

There were slow adopters before my stodgy Baptist fathers though.  C.S. Lewis cogently points out that the crucifixtion did not become common in art until all who had seen a real crucifixtion died off.  Perhaps there is good reason to want to hide our eyes and shield our emotions from such inhumanity.

Others join this parade also.  I am fascinated that the early church fathers forbade the depiction of the cross in art until the time of Emperor Constantine.  You will remember it was Constantine who had the vision of the cross and was told to conquer in that sign.  You may not be aware that it was Constantine who banned the use of the cross as a form of execution.

Even so, in my personal quest to embrace Good Friday I cannot fathom the indignity, the shame endured on my behalf.  No matter how many times I watch the graphic depiction of the cross in film or how often I comb over the accounts given in Scripture, I know I'm still not getting it.

For a time I focused on the physical side of the cross.  Certainly horrific in its own right; stripped naked, flogged, spat on, struck in the face, crowned with thorns, flesh and nerves impaled with spikes, the jolt of the cross being dropped into its hole, the suffocating effort and agony of each breath.  There is enough physical torment to cause the most stout among us to quail.

However, in recent years I've looked a bit further, past the bruises and blood, past the panting and pain, and have discovered, much to my dismay, that there is even greater suffering here.  Jesus' words from the cross give us the clue.  There is only one mention from His lips concerning physical matters.  Two simple words, "I thirst."  That's it.  After all He has endured physically it's not the welts and open sores on His back, it's not the spikes in His hands and feet, it's not the thorns pressing into His scalp, He is thirsty.

The other things He says from the cross tell us more..."Father, forgive them,"  "Take care of my mother," "Today you will be with me in paradise."  But there is one that grips me, that has already this day brought tears to my eyes and causes turmoil in my soul.  "Eloi, Eloi.  Lama Sabachthani!"  "My God, My God.  Why have You forsaken me?"  I fear that I know, all too well the dread answer.

"For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Cor. 5:21)

"4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:4-6)

That which pains Him the most, that which causes Him such unimaginable agony is my sin.  There, I've said it.  Surely now you can understand why I would prefer to forget Friday's gloomy darkness and move on to Sunday's lovely light. 

However, I must linger.

I've been instructed to remember and, lest I EVER forget, I am mindful that even in His perfected resurrection body He bears the scars.  Thomas' doubt was put to flight by the invitation to touch those scars for himself.  John's vision was made clear when the figure among the lamp stands in the opening chapter of Revelation was revealed to be " a lamb, looking as if it had been slain."

We who know the outcome in advance struggle ineffectually to recapture the dire-end-of-the-world feeling that fell upon Jesus' followers that 1st Good Friday.  Over the intervening centuries the story has grown familiar.  As best as you can, grasp the grief, hold the horror, feel the failure and descend into the darkness.  It make the Easter announcement all the more shocking and glorious!

Lord Jesus, I need to be drawn to your cross.  Help me to watch and wait there though I fear it may well break my heart.  If it requires my heart be broken to have You, then take my heart and break it, lest I miss having You and am never made whole. Amen.

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