Good Friday–April 19, 2019
Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Psalm 22, Hebrews 10:16-25, John 18:1-19:42
Some people don’t have a clue about this day we call Good. I think of a couple in London I heard about years ago that was looking at some jewelry when the man pointed and said to his girlfriend, “Look at that cross with a tiny man on it.”
But we think we know the story. We’ve been coming to church and reading the Bible since we were kids so of course we know the story of Jesus, Judas, Peter, the High Priest, and Pilate. We know the story begins in Bethlehem and ends on an ugly hill outside Jerusalem with an execution and seven last words.
Yet, that telling leaves out the central character in the story.
Oh God, you say, we know all about God: God is the omni-being: omni-present, omnipotent, omniscient. But those are concepts without content. Just because we know someone is big and strong, or cute and smart, doesn’t mean we know who they are on the inside, what their character is—what they value and how they love.
We are more in the dark about God than the ant is about that enormous figure next to it in the yard.
If we start with the omni-God and work down from there we end up with Jesus as a Super Hero, who is no more human than the computer generated superheroes we watch at the movies.
So instead of starting with God and working down to Jesus, we go in the other direction: we must start with Jesus, with his life, ministry, and character and work back up to understand the nature of God. And what he did on this day is central to our understanding as Jesus shows us that God is the one whose is vulnerable and loving and willing to suffer and die for the world.
That vulnerability and compassion are right in front of our eyes but something in us can’t stand it. So some in the Church concocted the story that says the omni-God, The Father, sitting in splendid isolation faraway in heaven, is so angry at our sinfulness that we must be punished and killed. Then Jesus steps in to take God’s anger and hatred onto himself. God is violent and without pity while Jesus is peaceful and loving, which renders the whole story incomprehensible with God and God’s Word possessing different characters, values, and love.
Jesus steps in on our behalf precisely because God is vulnerable, serving love. Jesus is not being punished by God, but by human sinfulness. We are the ones who crucify Jesus, in public, for the entire world to see. Even though we are the kind of creatures who scapegoat the innocent in order to make them carry our darkness and sin, God and God’s Word, Jesus, still comes to our rescue.
As Paul writes in Romans 5:8, “God shows his love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The problem isn’t in God, but in us.
I hesitate to be simplistic on this holy day, so forgive me when I say we have an image of Jesus in Arland D. Williams, Jr.
You may remember the story: on January 13, 1982, Air Florida flight 90 takes off from National Airport in Washington, DC but minutes later falls out of the sky and crashes onto the 14th Street Bridge and then plunges into the icy waters of the Potomac River.
Of the 79 souls on board 73 died almost instantly, leaving 6 folks who end up in the water hanging onto the separated tail of the plane. The Washington Post wrote: “To the copter’s two-man Park Police crew Williams seemed the most alert. Life vests were dropped, then a flotation ball. The man passed them to the others. On two occasions, the crew recalled last night, he handed away a life line from the hovering machine that could have dragged him to safety. The helicopter crew – who rescued five people, the only persons who survived from the jetliner – lifted a woman to the riverbank, then dragged three more persons across the ice to safety. Then the life line saved a woman who was trying to swim away from the sinking wreckage, and then the helicopter pilot, Donald W. Usher, returned to the scene”, but the last man in the water was gone. He was 46 years old, a divorced father of two, and engaged to be remarried. He was a bank examiner for the Federal Reserve.
Jesus sacrifices his life, so we may live. He rescues us, not from an angry God, but from drowning in sin and death, violence and hatred. He enters the icy waters with us and gives up his life for us. Jesus says at the Last Supper: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.”
His death, just like his life, draws us out of ourselves and into God. Just like we see him do on the cross: “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.”
After this, when Jesus knew that all was accomplished, he says, “It is finished.” Then he bows his head and gives up his spirit.
The rescue is finished, as the “tiny man on a cross” reveals the true character of God as vulnerable, suffering Love that saves the world from itself. The rescue is finished, but our response is ongoing as Jesus calls us daily to be filled with his Spirit that lives through us, manifesting the character of God as vulnerable, suffering love.