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Reflection April 16, 2017 (EASTER)
Good Friday Reflections
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
While this edition of the Advance is for Easter Sunday - I need to state clearly that we cannot get to Easter Sunday without going thru Good Friday. As I mentioned last Sunday: Without Easter Sunday, Good Friday is not good!
I asked Sunday: Was it God’s will that the Son of God be savagely executed by the Romans? The answer: No, it can never - ever - be God’s will that a righteous person be executed.
How could we worship a Father who would demand such a cruel death for his most beloved Son? This cannot be God’s will! Did God the Father, bring good out of this terrible sacrifice of Jesus Christ? Absolutely!
God brings good out of all the evil - all the sins - to which we humans are heir. Did God the Father bring good out of his beloved Son’s death? Yes, yes, a thousand times YES!
But I do not - I cannot - believe it was the Father’s will to have Jesus die so brutally. Yes, the Gospels make it clear that Jesus dies because of humanity’s sins. But not to pay back some debt owed to God.
My God does not hold grudges! My God does not keep a record of how deep in debt I am. My God, the Father of my Lord, my Savior, Jesus Christ is not a God of wrath - whose anger needed to be placated by the spilled blood of his beloved Son!
Did God the Father bring good out of his Son’s death? Yes, yes, a thousand times YES! Easter Sunday is the Father’s awesome answer to the horror of Good Friday. So let’s ponder again that awful day!
Judas is a name that will always live in infamy. Traitor! Betrayer! Why? Why did Judas sell out his Master? For some few silver coins?
We find something similar in the life of King David when his son Absalom tried to take over his father’s throne. David fled eastward across the Kidron Valley to the Mount of Olives – the same place where we find Jesus early on Good Friday morning.
David also was betrayed by one of his closest and trusted counselors, Ahithophel. He wants Absalom to give him 12,000 soldiers to pursue and kill David (see 2nd Samuel: 15-18). His request is denied – so he goes back to his home city where he hangs himself.
Thus Jesus was not the only one betrayed in Scripture by a close and trusted friend. And Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss! At that time, there were three levels of closeness – a public handshake revealed the lowest level of intimacy and closeness – followed by an embrace – followed by the highest level of intimacy and loyalty – the kiss. To betray someone with a kiss would be seen and has been seen throughout the centuries as the worst form of betrayal.
Why did Judas do what he did? Was it only for money? Had Judas grown disillusioned with Jesus? Did he want to somehow force Jesus’ hand? We will never know this side of the veil but we can ponder our human propensity to betray those people and things dearest to our hearts and souls.
Good Friday is a good day to ask whether we are truly trustworthy. Do we always seek and speak the truth? Do we always seek the way of honesty over against the way of deceit? Can our word always be trusted? Are we always faithful to what we have promised? Are we always faithful to our life as disciples of Christ Jesus? Are we always loyal to our beloved congregation of sisters and brothers in Christ?
Late Thursday or very early Good Friday, the apostles, minus Judas, accompany Jesus to the Garden of Gethsemane. The apostles Peter, James and John – go with Jesus to the place where Jesus will pray on this last night before his death. Jesus asks Peter, James and John to pray for him and with him. But what do they do? They sleep.
In Mark’s Gospel, the three-favored apostles fall asleep three separate times and need to be awakened again, again and again. They are unable to do what Jesus asks them to do.
We too must ask ourselves if we can do what Jesus asks us to do. Can we share in his healing of our world? Can we share in his proclamation of the Good News of God’s Kingdom? Can we stay awake?
Jesus is in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane and is in need of comfort and consolation. Yet he finds no comfort – no consolation. Instead, he finds only sleeping disciples.
Do we, as Christians, comfort those who need comfort? Do we, as Christians, console those in need of consolation? If we claim to be disciples – we must comfort and we must console. We must neither judge nor bully. We must stand with all who feel alone in our wounded world. We must hold hands together as brothers and sisters in solidarity. We must not sleep when Our Lord asks us to stay awake!
Then the arrest! Jesus is brutally hauled away under the cover of night. The disciples flee in panic. The trial will soon commence. It will be a trial like so many others. Lies will be spoken under oath. Those sitting in judgment will decide on the basis of what is politically expedient rather than what is right and just.
Those sitting in judgment will imagine themselves possessing the power needed to condemn a man of peace – a man of God – to death. With deadly arrogance they sit in judgment on the Prince of Peace. They will give the crowd what it wants – a spectacle. They will allow the shouts of hatred to deafen them to considerations of compassion and righteousness. They will allow cruelty to overcome justice once again.
Yet in all of this Jesus trusts. He trusts without hesitation in God the Father. He has placed himself totally in the hands of God’s goodness and love. Will not each of us – in the end – have to do the same? Do we – as faithful followers of Christ – possess the courage to face our own agonies – our own Gethsemanes? My beloved Beth possessed such courage. I am not sure if I possess such courage myself!
And where are Jesus’ friends? Where are his followers? They are cowering because of fear. Simon, nicknamed – “the Rock” – isn’t very rock-like. He succumbs to that great destroyer of hearts and souls – fear – and three-times he denies Jesus!
It’s easy to feel compassion for our brother Peter. Who among us has always been fearless? Who among us has always done the right thing in the face of ridicule – in the face of peer pressure – in the face of punishment – in the face of death?
Yes, Peter’s denial resonates in our hearts. Peter, who boasted of his willingness to die for Jesus, is discovered to be a coward. Yet I know in my own heart that such a label could as easily be given to me because of what I have failed to do in my own mediocre attempts to follow Jesus. Faith and fear make uneasy traveling companions.
The day we call Good Friday, is filled with every kind of horror – ever kind of injustice and cruelty – every kind of betrayal. Yet it is a good day to wonder if we truly follow the Prince of Peace. How often will Christians continue fighting Christians before we see the horror of it? How often will Christians continue condemning other faith families in the name of Jesus Christ? How much longer will Christians justify hatred and enmity? How much longer will Christians defend the indefensible?
We see our Savior – silent before his accusers! Yet before the chief priests he is asked if he is the Messiah – the Son of God. Jesus could have said no and the trial might have ended. But Jesus speaks the truth. He could not lie even if it meant his release. Jesus says “yes” – he is the Messiah. And this truth seals Jesus’ fate. He will be given over to the Romans for execution. The cross has now become a certainty.
Pilate, the Roman procurator, beholds Jesus before him. The priests and members of the Sanhedrin know Pilate will not listen to any talk of blasphemy. Pilate would send them away with a warning not to bother him over such religious matters.
Pilate was reviled by the people of Palestine for a terrible history of cruelty and oppression. Pilate would finally be recalled to Rome to stand trial for his brutality in the year 36 – just a few years after Jesus’ trial and death. Legend has it that Pilate kills himself in the end.
Jesus stands before him innocent yet already condemned by hatred. Jesus came to us as the one without sin – filled only with the love of God – yet the world could not accept what Jesus offered. The question remains: Can we accept what Jesus offers? Will we live our lives in peace and love instead of violence and hatred?
Jesus is crucified – to reveal once and for all time how far God’s love is willing to go. God’s love is willing to be nailed to a cross for us. As Professor Arthur Vogel notes in Radical Christianity and the Flesh of Jesus: “God so loved the world that he sent his Son to submit to the judgment of the world, to enable the world to know what its ego-driven power does (it kills) and what God’s other-directed power does (it gives life).”
Good Friday is good – it is life-giving – because in Christ on the cross – we witness an all-consuming love. We witness a Love willing to be wounded for us – a Love able to be pierced asunder with a soldier’s lance – a Love willing to be executed for the sake of love. It is this Love which saves us! It is this Love which redeems us!
Golgatha compels us to enter the wounds of Love-Incarnate. If we enter those grace-filled wounds, we will find a new way of life awaiting us. We will find ourselves freed from our fatal propensity towards prejudice and perdition. Standing beneath the cross, we will wash in the blood and water flowing from the side of our Crucified God. This bath will cleanse us from the cancer of condemnation; this bath will heal us from the scourge of self-inflicted hatred.
Normally those crucified on that great instrument of Roman oppression were left to rot on the cross. This was part of the punishment of crucifixion: to be devoured by the birds of prey and wild animals until there was nothing left. There would be no body to bury. No body to mourn. But Jesus’ body, because of the political power of Joseph of Arimathea, finds rest in a tomb! Easter awaits - HALLELUJAH!
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor