April 3, 2015, GOOD FRIDAY, Year B
This is a most serious and sad day. I have , since I can remember, felt confused by this holiest of holy days. It never seemed clear to me why, as the church states, Jesus died for our sins. The terms Atonement, redemption, sacrificial lamb, were also disturbing and sometimes hollow to my ears. What did they mean and how was I to respond to these truths?
When Mother Tasha was here, I attended her Lenten adult ed series. One of the assignments was to read the four passion narratives. Since I procrastinated, I read all four at one sitting. What followed really surprised me. A dark and deep gloom entered my being. Not knowing what to do, I had to stay with it for awhile. Before or since, I have never felt such darkness. Finally I was able to take action and somehow knew to ask God for help and to lean on my faith. The darkness lifted and I promised myself never to do that again. Also, I realized that it wasn’t Jesus’ physical torture that most disturbed me and caused pain but his loneliness. It seemed to me that his friends and the people, had become so confused and fearful that they deserted him. I think that I felt that sadness and loneliness for some reason and why is still a mystery to me.
Today I ask, what is redemption, what is atonement? Why did Jesus die for our sins? What was our sin? I hope to offer a small glimpse into the mystery of this day.
Not only did Jesus suffer extreme torture for us but he felt all the sadness that God feels about us, the people, losing their way, forgetting that we are all God’s creation. We humans experience our own pain, our loved ones’ pain and even the pain of a total stranger but of the whole world’s? By doing this for us all, Jesus showed us the Truth. He showed us God’s Love for all. God so loved the world that he gave us Christ in the flesh, we call him Jesus, to teach us that we are made in God’s image. The message of God’s love is so powerfully deep and a part of us all that it can seem impossible to believe. John writes in his gospel that Jesus came into the world to testify to the Truth?
What is God’s Truth? Is it a dangerous message?
The Christian mystics have seen it. Teilhard de Chardin, the 20th century French scientist, mystic, Jesuit priest saw this in the WW1 trenches. He was a stretcher bearer and medic. He experienced that God’s love for us and ours for Him unites all people and all creation. He saw that when we offer all our sorrows, pain, mistakes, struggles to Jesus along with all our Joy and life that Jesus offers in return, his love and life. Maybe this is Jesus dying for our sins. Is this what is meant by offering it up? Teilhard spoke about the heart of Jesus being within us. This divine within connects us with all of humanity and with God even in the bloody trenches of WW1.
Hildegard of Bingen, the 12th century healer, poet, composer and saint also knew through experience, that the Truth Jesus came to show us is that we are all One. We are united by the same Love that God has for us. There is a beautiful union in this inclusive love .
Of course there is danger in this message. How can we kill anyone if as St. Paul explains to his Christian Communities, we are created with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit? How can we not offer a fair wage for a fair days work? How can we destroy countries and their cultures through warfare? How can we work only for profit while we damage the environment? How can we send people to prison for having an ounce of pot in their pockets, when often their only crime is not being white skinned? Jesus came to tell us, “No more of this unloving behavior to my people”. Jesus died because his message turned the world of power and control upside down. It is a dangerous truth.
Looking at the stations of the cross over there, I’m moved by Simon of Cyrene who for awhile carries Jesus’ cross. We are all asked to let others carry our crosses for a while as we step in and do the same for someone else. Then there is Veronica, the woman who wipes Jesus’ face. As a friend recently commented, “Veronica couldn’t determine the outcome of Jesus’ walk to Golgotha, but she could show him love along the way.”
A few days ago I was ordering tea at a corner coffee shop and when I went to pay I learned that some unknown, to me, person had already paid. Seems that money had been left for a stranger’s cup of coffee or tea and I pulled the lucky straw. I had my money on the counter when the customer next to me suggested that I offer it for another stranger. I considered and decided, “No”, I wanted to enjoy this gift and just say thank you. Later I remembered that we are told that God’s grace is a gift given freely, no strings attached. It had felt freeing to accept the tea with sincere gratitude and a smile inside.
Now I know that comparing God’s gift of grace, love and faith to a cup of tea might seem inappropriate but learning to say thank you and learning gratitude without obligation was big for me. The beauty of love received, can’t help but overflow into our own acts of love. Was this God’s message to us through Jesus? Is it the awareness that all the love flowing from God to us and through us to each other and back to God will bring the Kingdom of heaven to earth? Did Jesus die a torturous and lonely death to show us that the world needs transforming, that we need transforming? Is this what we mean when we say Jesus died for our sins and God’s will be done? Maybe we could pray, “Thy will be done and Thy Kingdom will come, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Let us not forget, that in our stations of the cross on these walls, Jesus falls three times on his way to Golgotha. We too have fallen many times and can learn from the child who is just learning to walk. The small child gets up again and again and finally masters the art of walking.
Let us also remember that Peter wept when he realized that he had betrayed his great friend Jesus in difficult times. We too weep because of our sins but as Peter asked for forgiveness, so do we. Forgiveness is always there in the form of God’s mercy.
I am thankful that five years ago, my husband Dave made a path for me to enter into life and communion with you here at the Church of the Resurrection. I felt right away that this was a holy place where even when we are struggling as a community, we show love and caring for each other. When Dave died you all held me and my family together with you caring concern. You fed us and prayed for us and loved us. Reaching out beyond our church community also happens and it’s in a “You are part of us” caring way. Of course we are human and make mistakes but we do often recognize the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in each other. Thanks be to God.
I end with a prayer from our Stations of the Cross
Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the
hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the
reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that
we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring knowledge of
your saving mercy to the world, for the honor of your name. Amen