It's been a difficult week. Again. Pictures of bloodied bodies on the ground in Brussels. Horrific violence.
Today is Good Friday and we remember a bloodied body on a cross. I prefer to look away. I don't like blood. Give me palm branches to wave, eggs to color, and candy to eat! But Matthew 27 is bereft of any hint of celebration; the palm's parade route led to the Place of the Skull.
Martin Luther King kept with him Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman, who wrote “whenever we disguise the violence and whenever we sanitize the grotesque image of a suffering servant, we again inflict violence on his identity and mission."
It was and is a violent and dangerous world. George MacLeod wrote in The Whirlwind, “Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves: on the town garbage heap: at a crossroad so cosmopolitan that they had to write his title in Hebrew and Greek and Latin: at a kind of place where cynics talk smut and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble."
We suffer and die due to circumstances beyond our control. Babies die. Mothers have strokes and fathers, cancer. Bombs are detonated. Guns are fired. There are enormous risks in choosing to live in full engagement -- refusing to let fear and sorrow keep us on the sidelines.
Jesus lived out his deepest passion, not in the safety of sanctuaries but in the messy, dangerous, ambiguity of the human community and... there Jesus refused violence even to protect himself or to save his own life! In a world undone by revenge, hate, and debates about torture, can Christians see the radical nature of Jesus? Do we really want to be like Jesus?
Today we watch as Jesus shows us how to do it -— how to live and passionately love . . . and how to die.
Yet often I have more questions than answers. I understand the incongruity of a loving god requiring the cruel murder of an innocent child; I do not agree with the Protestant Reformation's model of “substitutionary atonement”. Yet I need the cross.
Good Friday gives me the courage to tell the truth about life; it is filled with betrayals and struggles. Good Friday gives me the courage to look at the raw vulnerability of my mortal existence. Good Friday tells the truth about death; God is in it. The cross is the symbol of companionship and compassion. The Christ God prayed in Gethsemane for some way out of the pain; most have endured the night in that garden of tears.
We all, at least sometimes, feel deeply alone. Forsaken. Lost. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Žižek writes in Meditation on Michelangelo’s Christ on the Cross, “When Christ says ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?’ is he bluffing or not?” If he is in fact bluffing–and by bluffing I mean that he is simply saying this aloud but secretly knows that he is God–then the crucifixion is not serious. It is just a spectacle staged for humans. But if we take Christ’s statement seriously, then the implication is extremely radical. We must not forget that in Christian theology, Jesus Christ is not thought of in the same way as messiahs in other religions. Christ is not a representative of God; he is God. This means that God is radically split. A part of God doesn’t know what God is doing."
Paul writes, Jesus, “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself (Philippians 2:6).
If Jesus is God and Jesus died then God died on that cross. God experienced external evil, a violent death, internal brokenness and Godforsakenness. There is suffering in God; I find here a beauty and a love that makes me teary. Every time. As Kierkegaard wrote, "Love is all. It gives all. It takes all." Love is all God. God is all love.
When my world splits down the middle and all I can see is the darkness...and dead people walking -- as Matthew describes Good Friday -- when I feel forsaken by God and myself I hold to the hope that utter aloneness, pain, nor violence will have the last word.
But today is Friday. I hope Sunday will come again. Today's scripture ends -- with a terrified Roman officer who finally gets it, the faithful women looking on from a distance, and a forsaken God hanging on a cross.
And there is love.
"O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down...O make me thine forever; and should I fainting be, Lord, let me never, never outlive my love for thee."
May we find at the cross our source of hope and strength... calling us... to transformative love.
Preacher and Teacher