Posted by ParishAdmin on April 6, 2012 under Sermons |
Good Friday has been and remains one of the most difficult days in the liturgical life of the church. How does one find meaning and theological significance in the death of a fellow human being? How can the death of human being be a central feature of a religion? And of course these questions don’t even consider the metaphysical confusion and conundrum. After all, as complex, complicated, and contemptible the violent death of a human being might be, Jesus was not only a brother, but he was and is the one in whom God is fully revealed. Jesus is God. And as such, on Good Friday we face the truth that in Jesus, God is arrested, mocked, spat upon, flagellated, and dies on the hard wood of the cross. Try as we may to make sense of this, this is outrageous and ungraspable. It just does not make sense.
Of course, many have tried to find meaning for this day. And of course, I will try my very best to find words to fill the void of this day, too. Yet, I do so fully aware that it is a vain effort, a useless act that will raise more questions than offer answers.
Maybe at one time, when life was rough and tough, when violence, misfortune, and horror could strike at any moment, maybe then Good Friday made more sense. Maybe back then the sight of Jesus on the cross brought comfort to a suffering world. Maybe back then the fact that through a human death God had torn down the wall between God’s eternity and our reality provided answers. Maybe back then the reality of Christ’s sacrifice brought real comfort to those who experienced life and themselves as fragile, finite, and failing.
These days, many of our contemporaries do not experience life as a struggle. Yes, death is a reality. But when doctors can perform miracle-like cures and when life-expectancy is close to 80, life does not seem so random anymore and a suffering, crucified God is just an abomination, an apparition from a distant past.
Furthermore, people just do not experience themselves as distant from God’s will either. Sin has become a dirty word that has lost its meaning.
And if we are honest, to some extend this is the church’s fault.
In the past, we misused guilt and shame to subject people to our views and our power games. Sin was a tool to ostracise, exclude, and marginalise – and not just ethnic and sexual minorities had to suffer the consequences. We indeed had forgotten about preaching love and acting out of compassion – as Jesus himself had commanded. In fact we were afraid of the liberating force of this very love. No wonder we are ignored and despised by many these days.
When modernity finally allowed people to stand upright, the oppressive yoke placed on their shoulders was thrown off. Yet, so was also any understanding of our need for redemption. The pursuit of happiness, self-fulfilment, and fun has replaced any honest self-searching.
And this begs the question: Is there a place for Good Friday in our society?
No, there isn’t!
There is no place for the cross in the world around us. Good Friday is everything the world is not. Good Friday runs counter to the world, and leaves many of our contemporaries disgusted and uninterested.
But maybe this then is not even the right question to ask. Maybe the question should rather be: Is there are place for Good Friday in the lives of individual people? And I would argue: yes, very much so.
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Our society has accomplished a lot. Modernity liberated us from a constricting system that at times unfortunately included the church as an agent of repression.
However, there is a dark side to modern accomplishments.
Many are left behind. The global economy does not offer redemption for all. Modernity is not salvation.
Far from it.
Too many of our sisters and brothers struggle, and struggle deeply. The collateral damage of our economic system is visible not just in the slums of Calcutta or on the Horn of Africa, but it can be experienced on our own streets too.
And as children starve to death and as we cannot seem to find lasting solutions to homelessness, addiction, and poverty in our city, the cross indeed does offer comfort. The cross offers comfort as it speaks about a God, who does not shy away from death and darkness, from hurt and despair.
While others flee, avoiding the reality of pain, God does not run. God is all in.
When after a good day’s work do-gooders, myself included, return to comfortable homes, God does not leave. God stays around.
Jesus struggled with what lay ahead of him. But in the end, he entered darkness and death with all that he had and all that he was – unlike even his disciples.
Jesus let himself be nailed to the cross. Jesus stayed. Jesus is all in.
And God still doesn’t run, still does not abandon any of God’s children. But God goes into the pain, sleeping alongside the hurting and desolate in dumpsters and hospital beds, and dying with them in trenches and in gas chambers.
Good Friday proclaims that God can be found on the cross. God can be found with those in pain, those dying, and those without hope. The darkness of the cross is where God lives and moves and has His being. God is found among those walking in darkness, whatever that darkness might be.
And this does include those, who – despite a life full of success and even fun – question and yearn for more.
In our justifiable rebellion against religious oppressors, many think that turning away from God provides the means to be true and genuine and provides the freedom to live life without restrictions and repressions. Shutting up and shutting down religious voices seems like a good solution to our misery and confinement. “As long as nobody gets hurt and all is consensual” Right?
However, our efforts to send God to a fairy-tale land fail to kill off the voices of desperation, doubt, fear, hopelessness, meaninglessness, and loneliness. The frantic search for life-giving community in our neighbourhoods seems to be an indicator that the world cannot offer lasting and eternal answers.
Yes, we try our darndest to get rid of God. We take every shot at God we can. We nail God to a cross over and over again. When will this God finally shut up?
And how does God respond?
God does not let go of us.
God does not abandon us.
God holds on to us with compassion and love. God holds on to all of us, whoever we are and wherever we find ourselves on the journey. Even when we have turned away or done things that are heinous, ugly, and dark, God does not walk away. On the cross God opens wide God’s arms for a radiant and life-giving embrace. On the cross God is vulnerable so that our wounds are healed. And despite of what some religious professionals have claimed: There is no condemnation in these open arms. They are open wide in love.
Now this would make a good ending to a good Good Friday sermon, right? There is lot of good, comforting news here, which indeed is at the heart of the truth revealed on this day.
But, on this day, when questions and doubts outweigh any definite answers – and so they should – I need to remind you that the church’s job is to comfort the afflicted as much as to afflict the comfortable. Good Friday is a “skandalon,” is a scandal, as the Apostle Paul writes. Yet, Good Friday is a scandal not just for the world. Good Friday is also and must remain an outrageous scandal and challenge for us, who follow Christ’s Way. We miss the point, if we forget that the cross is disgusting and that it lacks any easy, any saccharine solutions to our struggles. Today we must leave this place shaken to the core, as much as the disciples were shaken to the core when they saw Jesus hanging dead from the cross. We might remember what will happen on the third day, but there is no way around the cross. The scandal of Good Friday cannot and must not be by-passed.
So, let me show you another slide
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But this is exactly the point.
If we use the cross for religious self-gratification, and if we consequently think of ourselves as the better members of the human race, or think we have it all figured out, or give in to the temptations of vanity, pride, arrogance, superiority, ignorance, moralism, and judgemental behaviour, then we miss the point, and miss it completely.
The cross is not an instrument of self-gratification.
And neither is the cross an avenue to heaven.
Rather, the cross is a way to life, life abundant for ourselves and equally for those around us. The cross is way to life that will last for ever in God’s presence, but that starts here and that beckons to be discovered around us.
If we are not willing to stay at the cross, in fact if we are not willing to be crucified with Jesus, we are no better than the disciples who run away. And dying with Jesus means dying not only to our self-indulgent appetites, but it also means joining God as God dies in Auschwitz, Hiroshima, Verdun, and on the Horn of Africa; it also means suffering with God as God suffers with drug addicts, with the homeless, with HIV-victims, and with cancer patients; it also means weeping with God as God weeps with the lonely, the neglected, the mourning, and the forgotten.
Yes, of course, we fail in this calling: constantly and all the time. This is yet another conundrum of it all. Yet, this failure does not mean we can just shrug our shoulders and move on or even put our hands into our laps.
No, God offers us and calls us to all kinds of personal Good Fridays. God gently nudges us on to discover and claim those moments when we are called to stand with Jesus, in fact, when we are called to die with Jesus by witnessing to God’s redemptive love and by standing with the oppressed and the marginalised – even when all run away and all abandon us. Because, remember this is indeed at the heart of Good Friday, at the heart of the cross:
God never runs away.
God never leaves us alone.
God never ever abandons any single one of us.