Friday, March 29, 2024

Good Friday, 2024-B: Wait and trust

Lectionary: Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9; John 18:1-19:42

I admit it - these are hard Scriptures to read. A few years ago, when the pandemic suddenly shut our churches down, we had to scramble to get our Holy Week services pre-recorded so our congregations could experience the Holy Week journey to Easter.

I had just begun serving as the Interim Rector at Calvary Church in Columbia, and we hadn’t figured out the technology yet, so we kept having to start over. Dcn Janet ended up reading the Good Friday passion gospel three times before the recording was successful. Each time she read it, I could see her drooping a little bit more. As we started that third attempt, Dcn Janet said to me, “I hope we get it this time. I’m not sure I can read it again.”

These are hard Scriptures to read.

Pilate said to the gathered crowd: Here is the man! Look, here is your king! Behold him, beaten and bent… bloody where the nails have pierced his flesh.

Behold him breathing his last, his head dropping to his chest, as his body goes lifeless. Look, here is your king.

We try to look - to picture in our minds the events of that first Good Friday, but it's a surreal experience. It's like that movie trick where the world is buzzing around in fast motion in the background while the main character in the foreground is moving slowly.

As we journey together through Holy Week we are standing in the vortex of two realities of time: chronos time, measured by clocks and calendars, and chairos time, sometimes called “deep time.” This is time outside of time, the time appointed by God for God’s purpose. As the world happens all around us, our Holy Week includes this “deep time” not only for us, but also for all who came before us, and all who will come after us.

We walk together slowly and liturgically through the Triduum of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday aware of our tendency to want to run quickly through the hard parts and head straight for the relief and joy that Easter brings.

But instead, we choose to allow ourselves to be shocked and saddened by the unjust and horrible execution of the Innocent Lamb of God. We join ourselves to the throng whom Isaiah said “were astonished at him so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance” and we let that break our hearts again.

At our Christian Formation last Sunday led by Mandi, I was reminded of an experience I had while doing some mission work in Romania. I visited a monastery in Suceaviţa, where I saw an ancient tapestry of Jesus' crucifixion. Above his body were four angels who were crying and covering their faces which were contorted in grief and absolute horror. (Photo: close-up portion of the Passion Crucifixion by Giotto, Scrovengi Chapel, Padua)

While part of me must have known this before, that day was the first time I let myself really know and experience the reality that heaven was also shocked and horrified by our execution of the Messiah.

These are hard Scriptures to read.

God knows how hard it is for us to wait in the discomfort of our shock and sadness and frustration over injustice. It's normal to want to escape from it, to turn it all off and stop listening. But we also know where this story is ultimately going, so we know that we must learn to wait through this difficult moment and trust the promises of our faith.

Some of you have heard me tell this story before, so please indulge me the repeat. (It probably won’t be the last time I tell it either!) One of the best pieces of advice I ever got on this was from the rector of my home-church in Valdosta, GA. I was experiencing a spiritual crisis like I'd never known before. It was the darkest of nights for me spiritually. I was ready to run away from God, from the Church, from everything.

My rector, Fr. Stan White (may he rest in peace), said to me, "I hear you, Valori. God hears you. Be willing to wait in the discomfort. Trust. Remember, God has already acted to redeem."

On this Good Friday, I commend Fr. Stan's advice to you: be willing to wait in the discomfort. Trust, for God has already acted to redeem, all things, always.

This is what Jesus demonstrates for us from the cross. As he was dying, Jesus quoted from Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me, and are so far from my cry and from the words of my distress?”

As a rabbi, Jesus was employing a common rabbinical technique, saying the first verse of the Psalm he wanted his followers to remember in its fullness. Even as his body was dying, Jesus was connecting his followers to the promises of their faith: the liberating love of God who knows their suffering and is already acting to redeem.

I offer to you tonight this meditation I wrote some years ago on Psalm 22, reflecting on my own experience oƒ misery: 

Where are you, God? I feel so alone. Why have you abandoned me? Do you even hear me? 

My ancestors have trusted you for generations. Scripture tells me of your redeeming love for others. Where are you, God, for me?

It’s me, isn’t it? I’m not worthy. They scorn me, despise me, laugh at me, and lie about me. They obviously know that I’m not worthy of love, of friendship, of justice.

But then again, God, you brought me to this life, and you’ve kept me safe upon your breast so far. Stay close to me, God! I’m so afraid.

They’re like snarling beasts coming to tear me apart. They’re drooling for my destruction.

I’m twisted; melting into a puddle of nothingness. I’ve cried so much by now that I’m all dried up. I’m dying and I feel like you’ve left me alone at my dusty grave.

But I’m innocent! They’re the evil ones and they surround me like packs of dogs. They taunt me and gamble my value away like it’s some game. They torture me and it’s working; I’m fading into nothing.

Where are you, God?! Come and help me, please! Save me. Save my tired, wretched body. Save my weary soul.

Do I matter at all to you? … because you matter to me. You are the only strength I have left; the only hope there is for me.

I can’t help but praise you even now, God, because I know you. So, I praise you in the presence of your people gathered for worship.

Praise God, all you people, I call out! Because God does not hate or despise anyone, and God hears our cries. We will be satisfied, justified, and we will live in eternal love because God is servant of ALL.

Everyone, everywhere, and for all time will hear these words and know that God is God - and I choose to serve Her.

Hear me when I say it is to God alone the whole earth bows in worship, remembering and respecting our Creator who formed us in the power of Her love.

I know this absolutely, and my children and their children will know it too, because I will make this known to them and they will make it known to our lineage yet unborn. 

That is my purpose. That is my promise.

On this Good Friday we, as a congregation and as individual members of it, step willingly and fully into this chairos moment trusting that God is present with us through whatever forms of death we may be facing right now and is already leading us into new life, transformed life, eternal life in Christ our Savior.

That is God’s promise. Amen.

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