Good Friday, April 6, 2012
The Rev. Dr. Brent Was
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? and are so far from my cry and from the words of my distress? O my God, I cry in the day time, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.”
On Sunday we talked about the fact that we cannot have Easter without Good Friday. We cannot have resurrection without death, we cannot have new life in God without that descent into the dark night. It is tragic, the need we seem to have for that suffering, but it does seem that our need for this descent is the nature of things in this world as we know it. It is imperative, however, that we remember that our need for this darkness is nothing to be celebrated or glorified, it is not to be sought out, suffering will come of its own accord. Rather, we need to remember the suffering, steel our resolve to remove its root causes while strengthening ourselves to bear it for the foreseeable future.
Today is that dark night in the church’s journey. We have to remember the tragedy of today, not the triumph. We have to remember the horror of today, not the glory. Jesus did not die for the sins of the world; Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior died because of the sins of the world. The sins of the world are the sins of humanity and chief among them is our tendency to allow civilization to time and time again devolve into Empires. In our complacent lack of resistance, we bring upon ourselves overwhelming imperial violence and greed, ever present collaborationist avarice and myopia, and at the hands of us, we who are at least passively complicit, we experience spectacular mindlessness and a remarkable, a truly remarkable ability to look the other way.
We have to be very careful not to glorify the suffering of Christ because there is a terrible corollary to the law that says we cannot have Easter without Good Friday. That corollary is that we can have Good Friday without Easter.
Good Friday is the Good Friday we remember because of Easter. On Easter something phenomenal happened. But Joseph and Nicodemus did not know what was in store as they prepared Jesus’ body for burial. They could not have known. On that Friday, before it was Good, they did not expect resurrection. The world changing events of Easter backfilled meaning onto that horrid Friday. That backfilling of meaning made it God’s Friday, the Good Friday we remember right now.
But how many anonymous Good Fridays have people of this world suffered through without the saving grace of Easter in their wake? How much pain has been suffered, how much evil has been borne, how many people have righteously cried, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” and not heard an answer?
Across the world today, thousands will perish in their own personal Good Fridays. Thousands of men, women and children were hung today on the crosses of famine, war, preventable disease, unclean water, hatred and fear. Someone will be crucified on the deserts of Arizona or Texas fleeing towards a better life El Norte. Someone will be crucified in an industrial accident in a poorly regulated Bangladesh, China or Thailand. Someone will be crucified on an IED in Afghanistan, and on an apply named Hellfire missile in Pakistan. Someone right here in Eugene might be crucified on the cross of homelessness like Tom Eagan was, or on the cross of domestic violence like too many women and children are year in, year out in this and every community around the world. And the sun sets on these Good Fridays like that first Good Friday, without apparent meaning, feeling forsaken, in despair. And without an Easter to follow, this suffering is meaningless, the deaths are meaningless. They have no power to change the world let alone give solace and strength to those left is such suffering’s wake.
That is where we come in; the faithful. We must bear witness, for only in bearing witness can meaning be made. And where meaning is made there is a chance, a small chance maybe, but a chance that redemption will occur. Because in the absence of meaning, grace is hard to come by and we are redeemed by grace alone. It is clear, at least, that without witnesses, without meaning being made, without grace, redemption can never happen. Fortunately, by the grace of God, terrible suffering, needless death, and great injustice always have witnesses. The women standing by the cross and the men who placed Jesus in the tomb, they were the witnesses two thousand years ago. And through whatever happened on Easter, that stupendous thing God accomplished over those two days, their witness continues to echo.
We, the faithful, we need to be the women standing near the cross. We need to be the Marys: Mary, mother of our Lord and her sister; Mary, wife of Clopus and Mary Magdalene, Christ’s most faithful disciple. We need to be Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus crouching in that tomb. We need to witness with eyes wide open the cruelty we heap upon each other. We need to witness with eyes wide open the injustices of the world. And through righteous witness, we may begin to come to conclusions, we may begin to make meaning, we may begin to see that most suffering is preventable. We will see clearly that abuse and depravation are not God’s will; but that justice and life are. We will become invigorated, maybe angered, possibly stirred, something, we will be moved to action, moved to say “Not in my name”, or “Enough!” or simply “STOP!” There are so many Good Fridays without Easters to follow, but it does not have to remain that way.
Closing the gap between all of those anonymous Good Fridays and Easter… Maybe that is the mission we are on. Maybe that is what God intends for us. Maybe we are to witness fully the horrors that occur across the world. Maybe we are to witness them and to recognize them for what they are; that is unnecessary, inexcusable, forgivable but inexcusable. When we recognize the horrors of the world for what they are, what choice do we have but to pray and ask, “How may I help?”
Getting involved, actually putting yourself into a situation to relieve suffering, to give comfort, to heal, to befriend, to accept, to have and to hold, so often that is a sacrifice. Intercession, genuine prayer, this too is a sacrifice. And as Evelyn Underhill teaches us, sacrifice always costs something, it always means some suffering, “even though the most deeply satisfying joy of which we are capable is mingled with its pain.” Our vocation of Christians is to love God with all of our hearts, all of our minds, and all of our souls; and to love our neighbor as our self. We could do no better on both accounts to witness the Good Fridays occurring both near and far, and sacrificing what we have that others may live the lives God intends for them. As we emerge from the darkness, may this be our Eastertide prayer. AMEN