God in Good Friday

I don’t typically blog sermons, mainly because sermons and blog posts are a different kind of writing. I also figured that in any case I missed the window to post a Good Friday sermon, since we’re back to alleluias. But when I heard the news of the bomb blast in Pakistan on Easter, I realized the sermon was still fitting. There are Good Friday moments and Easter moments in every day.

I’m also behind on writing blog posts (not to mention everything else), what with last week being holy week and all. So, then, find below my thoughts on Good Friday.

mosaic-jesus

Everybody knows Easter. Easter is color and light and joy. Easter is spring and new birth and new growth. Easter is Easter bonnets and new clothes and a big dinner. Easter is trumpets and songs of joy and that word we haven’t been saying all Lent. Easter is fun. Everybody knows Easter.

So where does that leave Good Friday? I mean, when you know you’re just days away from celebration, who wants to take the time to go down into the depths of suffering, abandonment, disillusionment, and death? That doesn’t sound like very much fun at all. There’s a reason Easter and not Good Friday has become a secular holiday.

It’s a mistake, though, to jump too quickly to Easter without pausing here in the dark, because in addition to being an integral part of the Christian narrative, the story of Good Friday has a lot to say to us today.

Imagine being the disciples, or others close to Jesus, on the day of the crucifixion. I mean, not everything had been a piece of cake with Jesus. He asked questions and challenged authorities and got into some trouble, and life wasn’t always comfortable for his followers. But even so, they had Jesus with them. Jesus took care of them. They knew they were part of something important.

On Good Friday, Jesus’ followers lose this assurance. The trial must have felt like a dream at first. Sure, Jesus had been saying some strange things about being betrayed and going to his father, but how could it really be happening? And what about the moment of his death; what then? These men and women had dedicated their lives to following someone who had just been executed. Where were all the things they’d hoped for, that they’d hoped Jesus would bring about?

Now, we all know how the story ends—like I said, everybody knows Easter. But Jesus’ followers didn’t know. For them, there was only death. Only chaos. Only uncertainty about the future, about their purpose, about what in their life was true and what was not.

It is important to remember this, because while we are a people of the resurrection, we are also a people of the cross. We are living in Easter, but we are also living in Good Friday—or perhaps, rather, in the space between these two days. We are not without hope. We don’t want to have Good Friday without Easter Sunday. But at the same time, we can’t have Easter Sunday without Good Friday.

This may seem like a bad thing, but it’s a very real thing in our world. We live with our share of fear, confusion, and disillusionment.

We’ve seen a lot of Good Friday recently. We see Good Friday in acts of terror, like the bombings in Brussels on Tuesday. If you’ve watched the news or read a paper this week, you’ve probably seen images of violent destruction, seen chaos, heard screams and cries of terror. Coverage of the attack has dominated news coverage this week. But Brussels is by no means an isolated event. In fact, there have been 71 terror incidents so far this month, resulting in over 400 deaths. Four of these incidents involved over 20 dead. And that’s just March.

We’ve seen Good Friday closer to home, too. The political dialogue as we approach the next presidential election might be humorous if it wasn’t so ugly, mean spirited, and sometimes downright scary. We talk about building actual walls to keep people out, about policing groups of people based on their religion or ethnicity. We see Good Friday in institutionalized racism and in the needless deaths of people of color.

We see Good Friday in the faces of refugees who don’t know where (or whether) they will find another place to call home, and in the stories coming out of Flint, Michigan. We see Good Friday in reports on how climate change is affecting our planet and its population. We see good Friday in hunger, in poverty.

We see Good Friday in our own lives and homes. We see it in the breakdown of relationships, and in relationships that harm instead of nurture. We see it in the death of loved ones, whether that death was expected or sudden. We see it in fertility issues and miscarriages. We see it in depression and mental illness. We see it in worry and anxiety, in the temptation to operate from a mentality of scarcity.

We all have times when we don’t feel very much like an Easter people. When we feel like the sky is coming down around our heads, like we are down at the bottom with no one to help us up. These are not pretty times, but they are as much a part of the Christian story as the times where everything seems to be falling into place, where God feels immediately present and our lives are filled with abundance.

We know how the story of Good Friday ends, but we don’t know right now how many of our own difficult stories end. In so many of these stories, we are still in the Good Friday portion of the narrative, still crying out “Lord, Have Mercy,” still saying with the psalmist, “O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.”

It would be easy to wrap things up and end the sermon on a high note. To say, yes, things can be bad, but don’t worry—Easter is coming! The arc of the Christian story is always pointing to resurrection; just hang in there a few more days and the joy and sunshine will be back.

It is true that the Christian story is one of death and new life. Jumping to Easter too soon, though, cheapens the Good Friday part of the story, so I don’t want to end with a Resurrection message today. I want to stay here, in the depths, in the place of doubt and fear and confusion. I want to stay in this moment where meaning and words and reason fall short. I want to stay with Jesus’ followers who didn’t know how the story would end, who didn’t know if there would be any meaning in Jesus’ death, who didn’t know if they should be foolish enough to hold on to hope.

I want to stay here because God is here, too. I want to stay here because today is a reminder that nothing is beyond God’s reach and experience—not suffering, not death, not doubt, not confusion, not despair. Today is a reminder that being a Christian is not some sort of inoculation against bad things happening. It is the antithesis of a prosperity gospel: on Good Friday everything is lost.

Jesus has been tortured and executed in the clutches of a flawed political system and mob mentality. His followers scatter. They are feeling heartbreak, betrayal, confusion, and doubt. They are not just trying to hold out for three days until a joyful resurrection. They are trying to hold out as long as they can: a day, an hour, ten more seconds.

But they are not outside of God’s reach—and neither are you. That is the Good News for today. Life is full of Good Friday moments and seasons—some longer than others; some harder than others. Being a Christian does not mean having a life that is free from these seasons of suffering and confusion. Being a Christian means that these seasons are part of the story. Being a Christian means having a God who has been down to the bottom, a God who will reach us even in the darkness.

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