So why are you here?
Why did you come to church on Good Friday?
Why did you come to listen to this story of a man who dies on a cross?
This story of Jesus’ death is a story filled with: betrayal, denial, indifference, torture, brutality and deep sorrow.
What sort of masochistic tendencies do we have as people to want to embrace this macabre spectacle?
What brings us together on this day?
Why are you here?
Why am I here?
One of the reasons that I remain a Christian; one of the reasons I continue in ministry; one of the reasons I am here this day and this story remains important to me; is that I am continuing to search for meaning in life and in death. I am trying to understand the purpose of my life and a sense of meaning for the life of the world.
The story of Jesus as the centre point in history gives to us an overarching narrative, a grad story, a story of a life lived in the world that can help us explore the meaning and purposes of our own lives.
This day is not about having all the answers but sitting with uncomfortable questions in hope before the mystery of God; before the mystery of life and the mystery that is death.
Each one of you as you contemplate Jesus hanging on the cross, as you consider Jesus’ death, will be connecting that death to your own life. Jesus’ death might evoke a range of emotions for you. It may even give you glimpses into the meaning of your life of the world. Each one of you will have a sense that as you witness this event something is occurring for you at a personal level and in this you are given purpose and meaning for your own life.
But here on the sacred ground of this day, as we sit and contemplate Jesus life and death, we should be wary of thinking that we have got God’s plan tamed.
It is too easy for us to move quickly and say ‘yes we understand the violence and hope of this day’. To suggest that you or I have fully understood the nuances of this story is to domesticate it to something which suits us.
You and I have been filled up with interpretations of the atonement and simplifications of God’s plan in such a way that the mystery of life and death and eternal life is overtaken. The answers we arrive at when we say that this death means good news can often be alienating and confusing to others.
Our simplification of the story can just as much exclude others from it as it can invite them in to it. Our simplification of the story can avoid the hard questions we still have or at least that we should be asking of ourselves.
So often our understanding of the story conforms God to our existence. It makes sense to me, it makes sense to you, but it makes little sense when weighed against the fullness of God and the mysteries of life and death.
Jesus death, the cross, defies our domestication.
Life, suffering in life, death and what lies beyond death are mysterious.
I am not suggesting that God does not have an overarching story or that this story is not central to who we are. Rather, what I am saying is that we can only see and understand this story of Jesus’ death and our place in it in a very limited way from our human perceptions.
For me on Good Friday we are called to step back. We are confronted with mystery. We are onlookers at this violent moment in history. We, like the disciples and the women, like Pilate and his soldiers, like Caiaphas and his priests, are trying to make sense of our place in the world. We are trying to make sense of life in the face of suffering and cruelty and death.
Why are we here? We are here because we still have questions. What meaning and purpose is there here at the cross? What purpose does my life serve? What meaning will my death have? How can I make sense of suffering in this world? The suffering we cause each other and the suffering that appears to be ay worst the result of decisions made by a capricious God, or, at best, completely meaningless and random.
We look on but we want to look away. No theology can encapsulate this mystery well enough. No explanation covers the whole gambit of what is occurring. Our human minds cannot contain the enormity of this event, of death. Of the death of God. Sorrow and love flow mingled down as we who watch on are swept up into the emotions of this day.
Is there someone to blame? Can we point a finger? Historically Christians have blamed the Romans, have blamed Judas, have blamed the Jews and have even blamed each other and ourselves. And when this hasn’t worked we have reduced it to God’s responsibility – we have blamed God’s decisions and methods. But the suffering of Jesus, the suffering of those who seem to die needlessly, should not be simply causally related as if there is someone to be held to account.
The God who stopped Abraham from killing Isaac is the same God who declared that he does not desire sacrifice. Why then would we even think God would sacrifice his son? Why then would we distort the words of the Psalm to suggest God would turn away from Jesus on the cross?
Jesus had shared a deep secret with his followers and with us: he and the Father are one. Whilst Jesus guttural cry of desolation rings out God is present – the Psalm speaks to us of hope, “he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.” The story of the cross is the story of God with us, sharing in suffering and death, entering into the mystery of mortality. God is with us.
Is there guilt? Maybe. And maybe there should be. Jesus’ death is about setting you and I free from guilt and sin so maybe guilt is not quite right but when I look upon the world and into my life suffering is all around us. I know the words that I have said which have torn others down rather than build them up. I know the people I have neglected to respond to though I am aware of their deep needs. I look upon humanity and I see our tribalism, our greed, our hunger to preserve our way of life even if it costs others. The politics and the religion swirling about Jesus’ death swirl around us still and more than one life is lost in this gyre. If looking at the cross with a sense of guilt causes you or I to question our own lives, to change who we are, to become fully human and to love others then maybe guilt is not a bad emotion to have on this day.
Is there confusion at the cross? Confusion when we see death? Yes, and yes, and yes again. Who can explain to the people of Brussels why they have to mourn the loss of so many? Who can tell why a child dies of cancer or some other disease? Who can give a reason for our inhumane decisions that lead people to suicide in refugee detention centres? Who knows why the grief of watching a parent, a spouse, a sibling or a child die has to be played out again and again so painfully? The cross does not answer all these questions and we must be wary of our platitudes but if it is God who hangs there in Christ’s body then maybe, just maybe there is hope in knowing this God who knows how we suffer as he dies on the cross.
The emotions of the cross overwhelm us because here we are confronted by and contemplate life and death in all its fullness. Where is God in this moment? Where is our Creator?
“I and the Father are one”.
If this event is the moment of God’s death then no explanation is adequate. No attempt to comprehend this mystery will suffice. Yet somewhere, somewhere, deep within ourselves we know there is love and there is hope in this story.
Yes, there is sorrow; yes there is fear; and there is guilt; and there is confusion. But more than that, there is hope; and, there is love.
What do we come for? Why are we here? Why on this so-called ‘good’ Friday? Why did you come? Why did I?
We long for meaning. We long for hope. We long to understand the purpose of our lives and more importantly the purpose of our deaths.
On this day of mystery, of life and of suffering and of death, we cling to this mysterious hope:
“He did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.”
Love and sorrow flow mingled down from our God, who is broken and dying on the cross and it touches our lives. It sneaks in to our souls. Grace and mercy in the moment of death. Is it any wonder then with this hope that the words of the Psalmist ring so true on this day, “I shall live for him”.
No easy answers, no complete explanations, faith in life and death: I shall live for him. Amen.