Friday, April 6, 2012

Darkness at noon

Text: Mark 15 (trial before Pilate, the crucifixion, the burial)

"When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.  At three o'clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" . . . Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom."

We have arrived at the still point of the year. We have journeyed to Jerusalem and to the cross. We have retold the story of Christ's passion, death and burial. And now we wait . . . we wait through the rest of Good Friday, through Holy Saturday, through Saturday night, until dawn on Easter morning. At that time, we will gather again to hear the good news of the empty tomb, the good news that God has raised Jesus to new life.

This is our story, this is our tradition, and this is our faith. Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God and God's anointed Christ, has died on a cross. It is also our story, our tradition and our faith that Jesus will be raised as God's Christ on Easter Sunday morning. We celebrate the mystery of this story not only during Lent, Holy Week, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. We celebrate it every Sunday at worship; and the story forms us in the very core of our hearts and minds.

So as we wait today and tomorrow, a few thoughts about the Passion story . . .

For me, the main thing about the Passion is not what we learn from it or doctrines that we craft from it. I am not too concerned about putting into words what the story means, or what actions it moves us to take. To me, the main thing is the journey and its path -- the way of the Cross.

As told in the Book of Acts, the earliest followers of Jesus called themselves the People of the Way. The Way they followed was a path of faith, hope and love; and it was the Way of the Cross.

As is clear from the pain in the Scripture readings we have heard today, this Way is not an easy one. But the difficulties in the story, I believe, are also why it might speak to us. Life, despite all that we love about it and all the joys and wonders we experience, is often not easy. Because the Christian Way does not flinch from showing how painful the path to new life can be, it speaks truth to us in a way that a more sugar-coated path might not.

As a child, I thought our religion was nothing but sweetness and light. You needed only to be pure and good and do the right things, and God would make life come out right for you or your community. But when I returned to church as an adult, the pain of Good Friday showed me that the Christian Way was not an escape from life. Instead the Way of the Christ goes right to the heart of life, moves onto death, and then beyond death to new life.

I am not sure if new life always has to involve pain, even pain unto death. But based on my own experience, I am also not sure that it doesn't. Human individuals and institutions seem to have an in-built capacity to armour ourselves with illusions. We cloak ourselves in distractions and addictions of many kinds as we build our egos and create careers and families. Behind these distractions or addictions, we can deny much of the fear we might otherwise feel in the midst of fragile lives and in a fallen or violent society.

Breaking out of these distractions and addictions, if only for a moment, often comes from loss and pain. Touching reality more directly can bring great joy -- the joy of greater love and of union with God's Spirit. But in my life, these moments have also involved the pain of grief as I mourn life's losses or the difficulties of finding love in this society. New life is always worth this pain, I believe. It is a taste of the eternity that awaits us beyond our distractions and beyond ego. But pain has always been a part of it, at least for me.

It is often the case that the longer we live and the more that we love, the more loss and failure we also experience. Our losses flow from many sources: from the broken and fallen world into which we have born; from the human condition of birth, growth, maturity, and ageing; and from the inevitable mistakes and sins we commit.

New life comes from loss and death. This is part of the pain that is contained in the good news of the Way of the Cross. Pain is abundant in our lives, but Grace is even more abundant.

We do often feel joy on the path of faith, hope and love. Nevertheless, it is not an unrealistic path. The Way of the Cross reveals terrible truths about life; and so it is a Way that we can trust and love.

Jesus as the Son of God undergoes a terrible Passion. This is a key reason why we trust that God will be with us through wars and disease, through economic and environmental upheavals, and through lives filled with loss and suffering.

The Passion of the Christ shows that what we most value in life -- the God who is Love -- is present with us even on the worst days  And most mysterious and wonderful of all, it shows that this God of Love leads us to new life in the midst of pain and loss.

As so on a Friday many years ago, darkness came over the land at noon, and three hours later, Jesus breathed his last and died.

And now we wait. We wait with our fallen Saviour who lived and died in solidarity with all the best and worst of our human lives. We wait even as we mourn. And we wait in the sure hope for new life.

Our journey to Jerusalem and the cross has ended. Our time of waiting continues just a little longer.

This is the still point of our year. Into the stillness let us say once again . . . Come, Lord Jesus, come.


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