Friday, April 14, 2006

Good Friday

According to those who calculate such things, it was probably April 7, AD 30, that Yeshua Ben Joseph, Jesus, son of Joseph, was crucified outside the walls of Jerusalem.

"It was springtime in Judea; the olive trees were in bloom and the hills to the west of the city were turning green. In the Garden of Gethsemane, the first flowers were pushing up through the earth and pollen covered everything like fine gold dust. The birds sang and the winds blew. The air smelled sweet as the world came to life. But up on Golgotha, from noon until about three, something was dying." (BBT Believing What we Cannot Understand)

So much suffering amidst so much beauty. Life and death, beginnings and endings. Splendor and pain. It’s as if the relentless march of life is indifferent to death. When people suffer, shouldn’t the backdrop shade what’s happening around us? To me, flowers at funerals, and cemeteries in the spring, mock our suffering and bereavement

I’m wondering of that’s what Jesus’ disciples thought as they watched their friend hang from a cross as the sweet sent of lilacs wafted passed their sorrowing noses. I wonder if that’s how Jesus felt as his life slipped away from him.

Maybe that’s why he cried out in frustration, My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me? Why do you mock me? Why don’t you answer me!?

You can understand Jesus’ frustration. Throughout his life he was used to having the ear of the Almighty. At Jesus baptism God’s voice roared like thunder, “You are my Son, the beloved.” And again on the mountain of Transfiguration God spoke for all to hear, “This is my beloved Son: listen to him.”

But now – nothing. God’s silence came to Jesus in full sight of a world bursting into life, just as his was coming to an end.

He didn’t need the religious leaders or the Roman soldiers mocking him. It looked like God was doing a fine job of that already. Where is the miracle worker, now? Let’s see work a miracle for himself! Where is the healer? Let’s see him heal himself! Where is great one who could cast out evil, let’s see him cast out death!

How could anyone who came from the all-powerful, all-mighty God come to such horrific end?

In his book Silence, the Japanese writer Shusako Endo tells the story of a 17th century Portuguese missionary named Rodrigues, who goes to Japan to save souls. Preparing himself for this mission, he spends a great deal of time contemplating the face of Christ, in which he sees every quality he himself wishes to possess: courage, serenity, wisdom, faith. It is an altogether noble image, only it remains just that for Rodrigues – a silent image that does not offer him guidance or consolation. When he arrives in Japan he is quickly in need of both.

Walking right into a national uprising against Christians, he soon finds himself in prison where his captors order him to renounce his faith. Sustained by the brave faith of Christ, he refuses, hoping to be martyred on the spot. Instead, he is returned to his cell, where he listens for some word from the Lord. All he hears are the cries of his fellow prisoners – and a strange, snuffling sound he assumes is the snoring of the guards.

When he is yanked from his cell again the next morning and refuses once again to renounce his faith, he learns that the strange snuffling sound he heard in the dark is the laboured breathing of Japanese Christians. They have been crucified upside down, their heads half buried in pits of excrement. They will hang there like that, the guards tell him, until he renounces his faith. Rodrigues is paralyzed. Shall he betray Christ or the Christians? That is his choice. If he chooses Christ, he leaves his fellow Christians in unimaginable suffering. If he chooses the Christians, he turns his back on Christ and just may lose his soul.

While he agonizes over the decision, the guards bring a metal image of Christ into the room and place it a Rodrigues’ feet. They tell him to trample, to put his foot in the middle of the Christ image and grind it with his toe. Looking down at it, Rodrigues sees that it is already crushed and soiled by the feet of those who have gone before him. It bears no resemblance to the face he has adored all his life, the silent face to whom he has prayed his desperate prayers. Torn between his loyalty to Christ and his loyalty to those snuffling in the dark, he is hung between the two when he hears the voice of Christ, coming to him from the image at his feet. “Trample! Trample! I more than anyone know the pain at your foot. Trample! It was to be trampled on…that I was born into this world.”

The silence of God is broken. Christ speaks, not from some safe place outside of human suffering, but from the very heart of it. He is the trampled one, soiled and crushed, whose loyalty to us leads him to endure all that we endure – right up to and including the silence of God. (BBT, When God is Silent)

But despite all appearances, Jesus did not suffer alone. God suffered with him and in him. In Jesus, God was killing the enemy from within. God was killing death. When Jesus closed his eyes and gave up his ghost, this was no defeat. This was no mockery. This was a triumph. This was a victory.

It was a victory for all of us who don’t have the strength or the courage to be heroes. It was a victory for those of us who fail. It was a victory for those of us who grieve, who suffer, who die. Jesus makes sacred our pain and he hallows our death. He speaks from the heart of God’s silence, and cries out on behalf of a suffering world, My God My God, why have you forsaken me?

Then, Jesus closes his eyes, breathes his last, and wins a victory for us all. Amen.

2 Comments:

Blogger Steven Carr said...

'Maybe that’s why he cried out in frustration, My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me? Why do you mock me? Why don’t you answer me!?'

Didn't Jesus know that he was God , and that there is only one God?

10:39 AM  
Blogger Apostolic Linemen said...

I think that Jesus was praying like any good Jew... using the psalms. I think that he started to say this psalm and maybe even said the whole thing but they didn't write it down:

"NIV Psalm 22:1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?
2 O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent.
3 Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel.
4 In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them.
5 They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed.
6 But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people.
7 All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads:
8 "He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him."
9 Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you even at my mother's breast.
10 From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother's womb you have been my God.
11 Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.
12 Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
13 Roaring lions tearing their prey open their mouths wide against me.
14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me.
15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.
16 Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet.
17 I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me.
18 They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.
19 But you, O LORD, be not far off; O my Strength, come quickly to help me.
20 Deliver my life from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs.
21 Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen.
22 I will declare your name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise you.
23 You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
24 For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.
25 From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear you will I fulfill my vows.
26 The poor will eat and be satisfied; they who seek the LORD will praise him-- may your hearts live forever!
27 All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him,
28 for dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations.
29 All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him-- those who cannot keep themselves alive.
30 Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord.
31 They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn-- for he has done it."

8:38 PM  

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