THE CHALLENGE OF THE CROSS
Good Friday 2010
How far would you go to ensure the well-being of someone special to you — someone you really loved?
Lovers speak of swimming oceans or climbing the highest mountains for their beloved . . . yet typically, once the romantic or infatuation stage has worn off, love can barely drag them off the couch for their beloved.
In 1995, a 37 year old Italian woman began having attacks of vertigo, numbness, vision loss and overwhelming fatigue. The diagnosis was MS – Multiple Sclerosis. At the time, there were no known cures, and even existing treatments were largely useless. The outlook was progressive decline. But her husband just happened to be a doctor, and his response to her condition was to make it his vocation to find a cure.
Years of research later, Dr Paolo Zamboni was confident he had found a solution to reverse the effects of MS. His findings suggest that MS may be a vascular disease, rather than an auto-immune system issue, which has been the traditional view. The initial studies done in Italy were small but the outcomes were dramatic. In a group of 65 patients with relapsing-remitting MS (the most common form) who underwent surgery, the number of active lesions in the brain fell sharply, to 12 per cent from 50 per cent; in the two years after surgery, 73 per cent of patients had no symptoms. His wife, who had the surgery three years ago, has not had an attack since. His startling breakthroughs are still being tested, of course, but he may have saved not only his wife but countless others, and his story itself is redemptive.
In the story of this husband dedicating his life to finding the cure for his beloved, I see the Gospel being embodied – made human — and the story of Good Friday becoming real.
The Cross says something about the extent of God’s love. The story we remember and re-enact this weekend tells us that God would go to the depths of Hell to find us. The life of Jesus speaks of one dedicating his life to finding a way to heal the rift between the human and the divine – between the material and the spiritual – between body and soul — finding a cure for a different disease – the disease of division, which is what sin is: separation from others, separation from creation, separation from our true selves, and separation from God.
I’ve always wanted to have the song “Bridge Over Troubled Water” on Good Friday. Without mentioning God, this Simon and Garfunkel song is deeply and profoundly spiritual. That is what good friends are about; that is what God is about: a bridge over troubled water. I believe that is also what the Church is meant to be about. The early leaders of the Church were called pontiffs, which suggested their role as bridges. The pope was called Pontifex Maximus – which literally means, the supreme bridge-builder. When the Church is not building bridges (and I don’t mean literal ones, of course) it is not doing its job.
Jesus spoke of God as One who yearned to find the lost,yearned for the return of the prodigals, yearned to bless and heal even those outside the traditional realm of religion and morality, and willing to give life to those who didn’t seem to deserve it. Jesus, with this universal message of Good News for all people, and of God’s good will to all, was a threat to those who wanted to keep the existing categories of separation intact. He was crucified because people like Herod and Caiaphas and Pilate refuse to accept a world where the poor are the blessed ones; the strong are the weak; the rich are the poor ones; and the last shall be first.
Jesus died not so much for sin, as though that was what God demanded. Jesus died because of sin, due to the resistance of the world to the vision of life that he proclaimed. Good Friday painfully reminds us of the unfairness and malice and cruelty in the world. But in that faithful act of personal sacrifice, even though Jesus himself clearly was not sure of the outcome, we see how trusting in God is validated – because Good Friday would be depressing and pointless without the awareness of Easter and the new life that is on the other side of the cross.
Many have problems with the traditional theology of sin and redemption. Fair enough. But pretending sin (separation) and evil don’t exist would be as foolish as Dr Zamboni pretending his wife didn’t have MS. The fact is things like this are going to happen – trusted friends will turn on you, your religion will fail you, the legal system will fail to deliver justice, God will seem to be absent or non-existent, you will have to let go of everything you love, you will become acquainted with grief, and you will face death. And the question is, how do you respond? What do you do about that?
Listen to this poem by a man who is a survivor of the Holocaust:
I have lived
in a world gone mad
and I have seen evil
unleashed beyond reason or
I was with them.
We drank from the same
I hid with them
Feared with them,
Struggled with them
And when the killing was finally done
I had survived
while millions had died.
I do not know why.
I have asked many questions
for which there are no answers
And I have even cursed
thinking I could not
endure the pain.
But a flame
refused to die.
I could not throw away
What had been ripped away
from so many.
In the end
I had to choose life.
I had to struggle to cross
the bridge between
the dead and the living.
I had to rebuild
what had been destroyed.
I had to deny death
As people of the Jewish religion teach us, remembering is essential. Just so, Good Friday confronts us and will not let us forget the evils that we are capable of committing or condoning. And when we remember and reflect upon Jesus being crucified, we are very aware that this is not God in the abstract, as is so often is the case. The Apostle John spoke harshly to those who glibly say “I love God . . .” but persist in hatred toward others whom they should see as their brothers and sisters. He says such people don’t know God at all, because they refuse to see God in front of them and at their side in the form of other people. Good Friday is God with a human face – God with us – down to earth — revealing to us the pain we cause not only to each other but to the Spirit of God – and revealing also the true glory and nobility in being human. Despite the anguish and abandonment we see and hear in Jesus, it is in his willingness to push through the rejection, the ignorance, and the suffering the world offers, that we are given a glimpse into the heart of who God is.
In the life and death and resurrection of Jesus we see, revealed, a way of being – a way that the world (even the Church) has yet to embrace fully. But we see glimpses of it in those who act out of the conviction of love, like Dr Zamboni; like those amazing people who work directly with the homeless and addicted; like those inspiring people who go to places like Haiti and New Orleans in the wake of disaster; and we see it closer to home, in those ordinary people who somehow find it in themselves to get up in the night with a sick child; or get to work to provide when they themselves don’t feel like it; or caring for spouses with Alzheimer’s, cancer, MS, etc..
There are no easy absolutions this day, no easy answers. Good Friday is a call to return – to get back on the path — to reclaim a sense of the harmony, peace, beauty and dignity that human beings have always believed was their true destiny. It is a call to sit with the cross of our own futility and pain, and contemplate, and wait upon the Lord, believing that, despite appearances, God’s intentions for us are good. Good Friday is a call to align our intentions with those of God, whose will for us is a life beyond our capacity to imagine. The goodness of Good Friday is in what it reveals about God, and what it reveals about the capacity within human beings to persist in the way of grace and compassion despite their disappointment and suffering.
The Rev. Grant Rodgers
Somehow or other, we’re all looking for the power of the resurrection – the strength, the will, to get up, to rise again in the face of the injustices and cruelties and disappointments of the world.
Good Friday is not an easy thing to face. But if we have the courage to face it, it gives us a direction, an orientation, that helps us to face into the depths of the desolation in the centre of the human soul – instead of denying it or constantly distracting ourselves from it or attempting to stuff it with something else — and to realize that there is not just disappointment and death there, but life. God is at the heart of Good Friday, and God is about life – and that is why we call it “good.”
(which is why it is not our most popular service – and why most people much prefer to skip over to Easter). Our temptation is to look away – keep it at arm’s length. But I think if we look away we are choosing to become blind and oblivious to the deeper mysteries and essential questions of human existence. Our life cannot be better for choosing the way of unconsciousness. As painful as awareness is, ignorance is not bliss.
the determination to face into our ongoing challenges cf KUSHNER p. 127
. In fact most people, on this holy day set aside to honour the sacrifice of Jesus, are likely engaged more with chocolate bunnies than with the Cross.
Though the image it offers of humanity is not very flattering, it speaks to me of the great compassion of God.
Deuteronomy offers powerful spiritual advice – not to start believing that it is only by our own power that we succeed – not to convince ourselves that we are on our own – everyone for themselves. Deuteronomy suggests there is always a choice – and the essential thing is to choose life.
Ancient orthodox theology suggested, Christ became human that we might become divine. God offers an essential aspect of his own being in order to draw us to himself. That aspect of God we saw manifested in Jesus we call the Christ. Jesus manifested the Christ persona of God – that aspect of God that redeems and reconciles and above all, LOVES.
And if you don’t identify the issue and you leave people as hopeless or as passive victims who never take responsibility for the evil they do or consent to.
Rather than the approach which suggests God petulantly demands suffering in retribution, Jesus spoke of God as loving and gracious. It seems to me that Jesus embodied and personalized this aspect of God – that is one of the reasons why people designated him as the Christ.
QUOTE from Mystics of Early Church re unity – many who have that vision pay a price for it at the hands of those who see only division and thus reasons for conflict.