Text: Luke 22 and 23 (denials, trials, crucifixion and burial)
"When it was about noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon . . . And the curtain of the Temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, 'Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.' When he had said this, he breathed his last."
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 and Holy Saturday 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 morning. We celebrate the mystery of this story not only during Lent, 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 death and new life . . .
Good Friday may bring to our hearts and minds the pain of other losses -- the death of a spouse, the death of friends and neighbours, perhaps the searing pain of the death of a child. And so we may identify with the people who weep as Jesus climbs the hill to his death.
Luke, unlike Mark whom he otherwise copies, does not focus on Jesus' agony. In Luke alone, Jesus says, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children." In Luke alone, Jesus at the end does not cry out, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me." Instead in Luke, Jesus says, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." So perhaps when we read from Luke on Good Friday, the focus should be mostly on our pain and loss.
While Christianity does not shy away from the pain of loss or death, it proclaims that new life arises it. This includes our sure hope that each of us has come from Love and returns to Love at the end of life. It also includes our hope for new life in any moment.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son, which we heard and discussed a few Sundays ago, provides an example of the latter. In the Parable, the Father twice says of his youngest son, "he was dead and is now alive; he was lost and now is found." Death is used here as a metaphor for sin. Repentance of sin leads to new life.
It seems so easy to lose our way in life. Every wish or desire we have can also become a trap. We want security and money but then devote ourselves to career at the expense of our family. We rail against injustice and oppression but then find ourselves caught up in various kinds of dead-end politics. We want companionship and belonging but then find ourselves sacrificing our self-respect in distorted relationships. In the midst of all these traps, how do we find the way home?
For me, Good Friday has been key. Twelve years ago, I surprised myself by joining a local United Church. Although I liked the minister, the music, and the spirit of that congregation, I joined it mostly as a place in which to ride out the pain of a disintegrating marriage. The moment when my commitment to God became serious was during the first Good Friday service I attended at Kingston Road United Church in Toronto in 2002.
I don't believe there was a sermon at that service. Instead, there were rituals and music during which I felt my heart being broken open. The focus on suffering and death seemed achingly authentic. Afterwards, I told the minister that the beauty of the service seemed enough to break an old atheist's heart.
When a religious path looks deeply at death -- the death of illusions, the death of loved ones, indeed, the death of God -- it seems like a true path to me. On that Good Friday, amid tears for broken relationships and dashed dreams, I saw a glimmer of Love on the horizon. God had died. But if this was a god of illusion, or of imperial power or of personal ambition, then why shouldn't this god die? The good news is that a god who dies can also become the True God who is raised to a new and purer form -- Love refined of its imperfections.
Gods die, and so the One God who is Love shines clearer in our hearts and minds. Much dies in our lives, and each individual life ends in death. But out of these many deaths, Love continually arises. On Good Friday, we weep in sorrow that Jesus is dead. On Easter, we proclaim that the God who is Love is alive in a new form, both now and always.
Joyous moments of new life in Christ this side of the grave do not mean that we are now free from any future sin. The prodigal son may stumble again. We will surely stumble again.
Resurrected moments motivate us to keep walking the Way of the Cross with Jesus, year after year, Lent after Lent, Good Friday after Good Friday.
Jesus dies in pain, as do many of our foolish illusions and distractions. Jesus dies, as will all human individuals. Jesus is raised to new life on Easter, as was the prodigal son in the Parable and as we all will be.
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 for 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."