Tag Archive | Good Friday

Good Friday, 2016

“Behold the life-giving cross on which was hung the salvation of the whole world.”¹

Christianity may not mean anything without the resurrection, but the resurrection is dependent upon the crucifixion.  The crucifixion had to happen for the resurrection to happen.  There would be no new life without death.

And when we gloss over the death to get to that new life, then it doesn’t mean as much.  We need to stop here, at Good Friday, to sit and ponder.

It’s uncomfortable, but necessary.

So let’s sit with it for a few minutes, perhaps even an hour, as Jesus asked his disciples to sit with him – except they couldn’t without sleeping.

Let’s sit and ponder the life-giving cross on which was hung the salvation of the whole world –  the whole world means YOU.  And ME.

Jesus hung on that cross for YOU.  Jesus hung on that cross for ME.

It’s not some quaint symbol of long ago.  It’s here and now, RIGHT NOW.  Jesus dies for YOU.  Jesus dies for ME.

Through the cross God overturns all our definitions of power.  There is no beating or chest thumping over who is more powerful.  Jesus our king is our servant who would not defend himself.  Jesus our king is power made perfect in weakness.

Not very American.  Our rugged individualism and tough guy, pull ourselves up from our bootstraps mentality doesn’t like Jesus on the cross, but there he is.

There are too many Christians who view Jesus only from a triumphal point of view, like a general leading troops into battle.  The reality is far different.  To continue this example – Jesus is the general who went to the front line and told the enemy, “I give up.  Kill me so my people can be free.”

THIS is why the crowds shouted “crucify him!”  They saw Jesus as a loser.  BARABBAS was their winner – the insurgent trying to bring down the government and restore Israel.  But Jesus wasn’t coming to bring a new earthly government.

While his message of lifting up the poor, healing the sick, caring for those imprisoned, forgiving the sinner and loving the neighbor was political – it was also intensely, and more importantly, PERSONAL. For the political STARTS with the personal.

Jesus dies for YOU.  Jesus dies for ME.  Not for some political thought or philosophy or movement.

He dies because you and I screw up, ALL the time.  He dies because no matter how hard we try, we just can’t do it ourselves – we’re too self-centered, too self-important, too blind to how our thoughts, words and deeds hurt others and ourselves.

Jesus dies because left to ourselves we WILL die – and he loves us too much to see that happen.

He dies because he sees how utterly impossible it is for us to truly love God and neighbor.

I know I can’t.  When I’m honest I can admit that I love myself A LOT more than the person who makes me angry.  I love myself A LOT more than someone convicted of selling drugs.  I love myself A LOT more than the people who would blow themselves up because they HATE me.

I love myself A LOT more than God when God asks me to do without, so that the poor can have more.  I love myself A LOT more than God when I’m too busy with my life to give God an hour of my Sunday morning.  I love myself A LOT more than God when I can’t find time to pray.

We can’t do it, so Jesus dies.  He dies for YOU.  He dies for ME.

It’s a terrible thing to sit and ponder that WE – you and I – in the here and now – are responsible for his crucifixion.  It didn’t just happen 2,000 years ago, it happens every second of every day that we sin and fall short of the glory of God.  It’s a horrible thing to sit with.  Just give us Easter please so we don’t have to think too hard.

But our worship tonight won’t let us do that.  Our worship tonight forces us to acknowledge and confess our culpability.  We are called to sit with it.  We’re called to ponder it.  We’re called to grieve over it.

Tonight we sit and ponder.  We confront in ourselves, in the here and now, that Jesus dies for YOU and Me.

We wait with hope for God to bring us the light of Easter morning, but for now, we sit and…

“behold the life-giving cross on which was hung the salvation of the whole world.”

AMEN.

Cross-FS


¹”Behold the life-giving cross on which was hung the salvation of the whole world” is a verse chanted (or spoken) at the end of the liturgy as we adore/contemplate a cross that is placed before the congregation.  This chant has been part of the traditional Good Friday liturgy since perhaps the 7th century.

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4th Sunday of Advent, 2015

4th Sunday of Advent, year C, 2015 (preached 12/20/15)

first reading:  Micah 5:2-5a

psalm:  Luke 1:46b-55

second reading:  Hebrews 10:5-10

gospel reading:  Luke 1:39-45


Church of the Visitation, Israel, photograph by Deror Avi

Church of the Visitation, Ein Karem, Israel, photo by Deror Avi

Today’s psalm and gospel readings are part of the same story, what we call “The Visitation.”  Shortly after Mary became pregnant, she went to spend time with her cousin Elizabeth, who was also pregnant.

We learn earlier in Luke’s gospel that Elizabeth was about 6 months pregnant when Mary’s visit took place, while Mary was still very early on in her pregnancy. One author I read commented that The Visitation is a wonderful human interest story, but that its primary function is theological.  I disagree.

I think it’s a wonderful human interest story PRECISELY because it tells us a great deal theologically.  And I think it makes an amazing theological statement PRECISELY because it’s intimately involved in humanity.  I don’t separate human interest and theology.  Not only that, I don’t think GOD does either.

So, what is so profound about The Visitation?  WHY is it such a good human interest AND theological story?

The human part is pretty clear.

Mary had been visited by an angel, who told her she would conceive and bear a son even though she was still a virgin. Elizabeth, who was beyond normal childbearing age and up till then childless, was having an “unexpected” pregnancy herself, after an angel appeared to her husband Zechariah announcing that their child would be born.

Both women had concerns and fears I’m sure.  We read earlier that Mary was perplexed and pondering.  Her condition was not easily explained – and in that time and place an out of marriage pregnancy could be a deadly scandal.

For Elizabeth, the concerns and fears might also have been deadly.  Many women died in childbirth, and for older women the odds were even greater.  As thrilled as she was to be pregnant, I’m sure Elizabeth was also frightened for herself.

So we have two women with very unexpected pregnancies that were announced by ANGELS.  That makes for a definite human interest story.  Not only that, but for a religious book that is dominated by men, here the men are unseen and unheard, except for a little leaping in the womb.

This story is all about the women – and of course about God.

Intertwined with the human story of the women is the story of GOD – God choosing to become part of human history.  That’s the whole point of Christmas after all, isn’t it?  God taking on our flesh – our flesh holding God.

God chooses not only to preside OVER human history, but to become PART of it, to step into our lives.

And by choosing to do so, God makes Godself part of every moment, the good and the bad, the joy and sorrow, success and failure.  When God became one of us in Jesus, God became a part of Mary and Elizabeth’s joys and fears – and even their grief – OUR grief.

It struck me, as I prayed and pondered these passages, that the story of The Visitation isn’t only about two pregnant women – it’s also the story of two women who would bury their children.

Elizabeth and Mary would know the joy of motherhood, but also its unimaginable grief with the death of their sons.

As I reminded (one of our parishioners) when I visited with her on Friday – we need to remember that Christmas isn’t just the story of the happy baby – it’s the story of the baby who would die.  The joy of this moment of visitation is colored by our knowledge that John would be beheaded and Jesus crucified.

God through Jesus CHOOSES to become a part of this mess we call life.

Not just the line from the popular song, “God is watching us, from a distance.”  NO.  God is NOT just watching us from a distance, God is WITH us.  God knows it all, experiences it all, WITH us.

This is the gift of Christmas.  It’s not happy or sappy.  It’s not “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” or “Holly Jolly Christmas.”  It’s not about inflatable snowmen, or Santas, or mistletoe.  It’s more like “In the Bleak Midwinter,” and “the hopes and fears of all the years.”

It’s a couple with no place to stay.  A young woman with her husband, forced to give birth away from their family and friends – in a BARN.  It’s not about fancy nurseries and cribs – it’s a feed box filled with straw.  It’s what Mary sings in her song – that God has come to lift up those who are lowly and hungry – to bring MERCY.

Our culture puts a lot of pressure on Christmas to be happy and sappy, because our culture doesn’t want to deal with life’s underside.

People would much rather fight an imaginary “war on Christmas,” than look at their own shortcomings in loving their neighbors and themselves and God.

People don’t want to connect Christmas with Good Friday, but when we don’t connect the two – then the consumerism and the inflatable snowmen win.  When we don’t connect Christmas with Good Friday we feel guilt over our grief and/or sadness because we feel it doesn’t belong, that there is something wrong with US.  When we don’t connect Christmas with Good Friday then all we celebrate is a baby and we stay lost in our sin.

We need Good Friday to be part of Christmas if Christmas is to have any depth, any real meaning in our faith.

God CHOOSING in love to be with us in all our moments from life to death is a profound theological truth.

It tells us that God loves us, strengthens us and carries us no matter where we are.

It tells us that God understands our fears, our grief and our anxieties.

So, as we approach Friday, some of us with joy and celebration, some with sadness, grief, or anxieties and fears, let us remember that God holds it all, and is WITH us through it all.

Emmanuel has come.

AMEN.

Good Friday

Today is the day that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ hung and died on the cross for our sins.  Why in the world would we call this day “good?”  Why call a day good when it was filled with pain, suffering and death?  This day is good for us, (even called great in some traditions), not because of what happened, but because of what it accomplished.  Through Jesus’ death and resurrection you and I are rescued from death.

Different religious traditions commemorate this day in many ways.  Some communities hold a “way of the cross” where folks walk through town, with several people taking turns leading the group while carrying a large cross – symbolic of Jesus carrying his cross to the place of crucifixion.  In the Roman Catholic tradition the stations of the cross are an important component of remembering the day.  Even within the Lutheran tradition in which I’m a part customs vary.  Worship services may include what are referred to as the “Seven Last Words” or statements from Jesus on the cross, or larger readings from the Passion (reading from Jesus’ arrest through death), or some combination of both.  Some congregations will have a “Tenebrae” (Darkness) services in the evening, in which the church literally becomes darker as lights are turned off until the faithful are left in complete darkness (symbolizing the darkness that came over the land when Christ died).  It is generally NOT a practice to celebrate communion on Good Friday.  The altar is still stripped and bare from the previous evening.  Christ is gone from us, and we are to experience that loss.

Whatever our individual and congregational practices, the focus of Good Friday is remembering and making present Jesus’ suffering and death for you and me.  I find the service of darkness personally meaningful, and in my own family we have a tradition of saving our Christmas tree and cutting it into a cross on Good Friday.  It helps reinforce for us and our children the connection between Christmas and Easter.  Our little cross is displayed on our lawn until the festival of Pentecost when the Easter season ends.

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family traditions BEFORE Easter

Good Friday is a busy day for our family.  Even when both parents aren’t preaching, there’s a lot to do.

1)  After the kids came along, one of the rituals was cleaning the house.  With so many worship services it became clear right away that traveling to family was just too exhausting, so if family wants to see us on Easter, they have to come to us.  It’s also become a tradition to invite friends whose families are quite far away.  HOWEVER – having guests, even when they are family, means cleaning.  It’s wonderful to have a clean house but getting that way is definitely a chore!  Good Friday means starting the cleaning process that will continue into Saturday.

2)  photo(15)There is another cleaning ritual I started for myself quite a few years ago.  Both of my mother’s parents died before I was born.  I never met them, and my mother has saved precious little from them.  One of the things my mother passed along to me, after years of me complaining about its neglect, is my grandmother’s silver tea set.  In my mother’s pantry it was gathering not only dust, but turning a deep brown. When she finally relented to give it to me I promised her that I would keep it well – and I have.  It has a prominent place in our dining room, and while one of the handles needs to be fixed, I keep it in very good condition – and one of the times of year I ALWAYS clean it is in preparation for Easter.  For me it’s symbolic.  My grandmother is one of the saints of God, one of the souls I look forward to meeting when it is my turn to join the cloud of witnesses in the Church Triumphant.  Cleaning her tea set, holding these vessels that she held with her hands, helps me feel connected to her in a very profound way.  I think of her, the facts I know about her life, and wonder about the many things that are still a mystery to me about this woman.  Cleaning her tea set isn’t so much of a chore as it is a joy.

3)  IMG_1327Good Friday is obviously more than cleaning – it is also about our Lord’s death on the cross.  Many years ago, when our children were still small, my husband and I came across an activity that we immediately wanted to start practicing with our young family.  When Christmas is over we save our Christmas tree.  We bring it out to the edge of our backyard and we save it there.  On Good Friday we take this tree, cut off all the branches, then saw the trunk about 1/3 from the top, take the two parts of the trunk, and make a cross.  Then we use the Christmas tree stand to display it in front of our house – a reminder to all of the sacrifice our Lord made on this day.  As the children have gotten older, they help us with the pruning and nailing and it’s a great opportunity for us to remind them of the connection between Christmas – the birth of the savior – and Easter – the sacrifice he made for us.  For Christmas means nothing without Easter.

4)  A tradition that is my husband’s, although I join him when able, is to watch the movie “Jesus Christ Superstar.”  It is one of the few “Jesus” movies that doesn’t include resurrection.  It leaves you at Good Friday.  Not a comfortable place to be, but we shouldn’t rush too quickly to Easter morning – it’s important that we linger a bit in the chasm left by our Lord’s death.

5)  Of course there is worship.  In the evening we have a service of darkness – in the Latin “Tenebrae.”  The church starts in light, and as the worship progresses lights and candles are extinguished until the church is in total darkness – our lives without Jesus.  Then “the Book” is slammed shut – shaking us all – it is finished.  It’s one of my favorite services of the whole year, along with Maundy (or Holy) Thursday (but since the kids are usually still in school on Thursday our family “stuff to do” doesn’t start in earnest till Friday).

Saturday we will still be cleaning and finally starting to decorate for Easter (my autistic daughter is just about losing her mind wanting to decorate, and has been making me a bit crazy perseverating about it – but we do NOT get out the decorations until the day before).  We try to stay away from too many “bunny” things, but we hang plastic eggs from our front trees, and color eggs and have baskets.  We give presents too, although not as many as at Christmas.  Heck, if we get presents for Jesus’ birthday, shouldn’t we get some for him rising from the dead!  And of course there’s candy, because God’s love is SO sweet.  But before the baskets, candy and gifts, there is more worship.  Saturday night we will celebrate the Great Vigil of Easter.  And this year, it also happens to be the exact anniversary of our middle daughter’s baptism, who was made our sister in Christ 11 years ago at the Great Vigil.

Busy times, crazy times, good times.  Do you have any family traditions/rituals leading up to Easter?