Tag Archives: Good Friday

Were you there? A meditation for Good Friday 2015

Were you there?

We sometimes sing, ‘Were you there when they crucified my Lord?’

Were you there?

Pilate was there, trying to work out what to do to keep the crowd quiet. They say that politics is the art of the possible. Pilate merely looked for the way of least resistance.

Barabbas was there, who had been arrested during an uprising. He was on death row, but that day he couldn’t believe his luck. They were letting him go and getting rid of someone else.

Were you there?

Simon of Cyrene was there, a passer by from the place we call Libya, possibly a black man. He was made to carry Jesus’ cross; Jesus was too weak after his flogging.

Other passers by taunted him, along with those who were crucified with him. Even the priests joined in. Jesus was the scum of the earth.

Were you there?

A centurion was there, who would have supervised the operation. When he saw how this worm of a man died, this prisoner who had not even defended himself died, he said

Truly this man was God’s Son!

Were you there?

And there were women there, standing at a distance. These were women including Mary Magdalene who had followed him and provided for him when he was in Galilee. There were other women too, who had come up with him to Jerusalem.

The men had gone. Peter had denied him, Judas had betrayed him, the rest were in hiding.

Were you there?

There is room for all of us there, even if we weren’t born at the right time to be ‘there’. We are there represented by the politically expedient, the onlooker dragged in, or by those who jeer and mock.

Or perhaps we identify more with the women, who watched from a distance. Or the men, who were cowards or much worse.

Maybe we see ourselves in the centurion, who saw the truth too late but could also begin to make sense of what he had seen.

Were you there? Are you there? There’s room for you there because God is there. God is in the Saviour who died for you, and invites you to find in Jesus the love, the forgiveness, the grace and the peace of God.

Let us sing: Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

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Bright Sadness (A Holy Week sermon)

Readings
Isaiah 50.4–9a
Philippians 2.5–11
Matthew 27.27–61

 

This time last year, some of us were in Israel, walking streets that Jesus walked and gaining new inspiration for our journeys of faith.

I found one of the greatest places to be was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. It’s a sprawling place, with surprises around every corner. It’s one of the sites associated with the crucifixion of Jesus. Perhaps it really is where he was put to death, and buried; perhaps not.

It was pretty crowded, and it was frustrating to navigate; so I think my report of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre might strike a note of disappointment if it wasn’t for one wall, a wall of mosaics. It is a more contemporary mosaic, which was placed by the Greek Orthodox Church.

I took a few photos …

This scene depicts ‘The Deposition from the Cross’. We have Mary the mother of the Lord and Joseph of Arimathea supporting Jesus’ body, Mary Magdalene and the Apostle John kissing his hands, and Nicodemus removing the nails while the other women stand, weeping.

Mosaic 1

 

In the next part of the mosaic, Jesus’ body is laid out on the burial cloth ready to be shrouded.

Mosaic 2

In the third and final scene, Jesus is being laid in the tomb.

Mosaic 3

This is a stunningly beautiful mosaic. I stood before it in speechless wonder for a long time.

Let me point out two things. The first is the sorrow. Just look at the faces.

Closeup 1

 

Closeup 2

 

Closeup 3

 

Even the angels weep!

Angels

 

The sorrow of Holy Week is profound. The loss is absolute, and it is felt even by the powers of heaven.

Jesus had healed the sick and brought sight to those who could not see.
But they crucified him.

He was the promised Messiah.
But they crucified him between two thieves.

He was going to bring in the kingdom of God.
But they crucified him on Golgotha, the Place of a Skull.

Now everything was gone. It had seemed so wonderful at the beginning of the week, but now it seemed a strange dream. What were all the palms for, all the cheers and the crowds and the shouts of ‘Hosanna, Save us Lord!’?

Save us? He couldn’t save himself.

The sorrow of Holy Week is profound, and we shouldn’t try to downplay it.

Remember I said I had two things to point out about this mosaic in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre? The deep sorrow is the first.

The second is this: the vibrant colours. This mosaic is a complete riot of colour. There are reds, blues, greens, oranges, purples. Oh, and lots and lots of gold.

Don’t you think it really should be more subdued?

I mean, come on, this is a scene of unrelenting sorrow, of cosmic sorrow. But it’s ablaze with colour!

What’s that about?

It’s about Easter. We can imagine that as Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, John and the others took Jesus’s lifeless corpse from the cross and laid it in the tomb that there was no light for them. Everything was grey. Perhaps Mary wondered if the sun would ever rise again.

Yet the dawn of Easter Day was just a few short hours away, it was just over the horizon.

What we see in this mosaic is no created light. It is Easter light, the light of the resurrected One. We see utter and inconsolable sadness, while the light of Easter shines upon the people without their being aware of it.

Some people speak of Lent as a time of ‘Bright Sadness’. Bright sadness.

It’s a time of sadness, which we should not try to diminish or avoid. Christ went to the cross to save his people. He died to being us back to God. He died on our behalf.

How can we minimise the death of God’s very Son? Well, we can try, by ignoring it, by commercialising Easter, by only going to Easter services if we feel like it. But we shouldn’t try to do that. And really, nothing we do or fail to do will ever truly minimise the horror of this week.

But Lent, and above all Holy Week, is a bright time too. Over it the light of Easter shines. Salvation is ours. Our sadness is illuminated by the joy of Christ’s resurrection.

Bright sadness is not optimism. It’s not about being a ‘glass half full’ kind of person. It’s not ‘looking on the bright side of life’, or ‘walking on the sunny side of the street’. Bright sadness is faith that the light of Easter shines in all situations. Bright sadness is faith that even death itself is not a full stop, but only a comma.

Bright sadness doesn’t avoid the sadness! It means that at this time of year above all others, we recognise the great price our Saviour paid, we acknowledge our shortcomings and sins, and we lift our voices in grateful praise. And this time of year reminds us to live to God at every time of the year.

This wall mural speaks to us of bright sadness. Can we embrace this bright sadness? We surely can, and we must. It is God’s gift to us, for the sake of Jesus our Lord and for the world that needs his peace, his justice and his reign as servant-Lord of all.

 

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God is Christlike (Good Friday, Year B, 6 April 2012)

Readings
Isaiah 52.13–53.12
Mark 15.16-47 

Thank you for being in church today. I mean it! Thank you for being the church today, Good Friday, with the crucified Lord. We live in a word of pain—and also the avoidance of pain. Today, there is nowhere to hide from the painful reality that Jesus died on the cross, his body already broken by torture.

As we gathered today, I said there were two unexpected things that Jesus’ death brought to birth:

The first thing: in the Cross, we see the eternal and infinite love of God for us. We didn’t see that coming. And the second thing: Jesus died as a criminal, but overcame death for us. Death is defeated, and he is risen for evermore! We didn’t see that coming, either.

We’ll talk about the second unexpected thing tomorrow evening at the Easter Vigil, and on Easter Sunday. Let’s talk about the first today:

In the Cross, we see the eternal and infinite love of God for us.

We couldn’t have expected that. The cross was a degrading instrument of death, used for the very worst criminals. People sometimes took days—agonising days—to die, but the torture Jesus received before his crucifixion considerably shortened his time on the cross.

It was commonly understood that anyone who died on a cross was under God’s curse. Why else would they be there? That meant that Jesus must be under a divine curse.

So you can see that the Cross was a genuine embarrassment to the early Christians; it’s not something they’d make up. Following a crucified criminal, calling this criminal ‘Lord’, was like being part of a lunatic cult.

So why did the Christians not hide the details of Jesus’ death out of sheer shame? Why did they remember it? And why do we still remember it 2000 years later? We remember this man of out all the crucified victims for this one unexpected thing: he conquered death on the third day. Jesus rose from the tomb, with the scars still on his hands.

And Jesus also showed the heart of God the Father. He forgave those who ran from him, those who denied him, even those who killed him. This is God’s heart for us.

The Bible says (John 1.18),

No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

It is God’s Son Jesus who has shown us what the heart of God is: the heart of God for us is mercy, grace, peace and forgiveness. But it’s not just for us—it’s for all people. No exceptions. That’s another thing we didn’t see coming.

The late Michael Ramsay, one-time Archbishop of Canterbury, once said:

God is Christlike, and in God there is no unchristlikeness at all.

In other words, though we can’t see God, we can truly know God through Jesus Christ. God is Christlike. Jesus Christ is the perfect image of God.

So where is God when Jesus gives himself for us on the Cross? Sometimes, it seems people think that God is high above in heaven safe from it all. But that’s not the Christian teaching.

We teach this: God is Christlike. God is there with Jesus. Suffering with him. Enduring the Cross with him.

 

A picture is worth a thousand words. This sketch by William Blake shows the Father embracing the Son in his agony, and the Spirit hovering between them.

God the Father isn’t a long way off from the sufferings of Jesus; he shares the pain of Jesus and with Jesus, God forgives us. In the same way, God is not distant from our ordinary suffering; the Cross shows us that God is with us at all times, even when it seems he has gone. The Cross declares that God is Christlike, full of grace and mercy. Christ has passed God’s judgement upon us, and that judgement is this:

Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.

Thank you again for being in church today. Thank you for staying with Jesus in his hour of need, and opening your heart to him. Keep your heart open to this loving, living Lord who perfectly shows us the forgiving and reconciling mercy of God. Amen.

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Why do we call this Friday ‘good’?

The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood—
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.

Those lines are from Four Quartets, by T.S. Eliot. Why do we call it ‘Good’ Friday? What do you say when a child asks you if Jesus died today, why don’t we call it ‘Bad Friday’?

We have quite a mixed attitude to the Cross of Jesus Christ.

We hear words based on Psalm 22, and are reminded that Jesus felt abandoned by his Father God on the cross, saying:

My God, my God,
why have you forsaken me?

The physical torture of the cross was surely more than enough for Jesus to endure, but he also experienced the absence of God for the first time in his entire life. For him in those moments there was no vindication. No rescue. Just the sheer agony of godforsakenness.

But we also sing,

When I survey the wondrous cross…

How can an instrument of sheer torture be ‘wondrous’? Are we mad?

The Cross is an absolute scandal. Yet we see in it the deep, deep love of God:

See from his head, his hands, his feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down;
did e’er such love and sorrow meet…

And we see also a great victory here:

or thorns compose so rich a crown?

This is something like no other thing on earth. This is something that we have no comparison for. It stands alone.

Why do we call this Friday ‘good’? Why do we remember this man who died on a cross above all others who died on crosses, and above every other victim of injustice, terror and political envy?

Quite simply, we remember this man because God our Father raised him from the dead.

His friends and followers were totally demoralised when Jesus was betrayed and arrested. Peter denied him, the others scattered. A few women looked on from afar. It was all over.

Their world was shattered. Their hopes were gone. There could be a knock on their door at any time. They might be dragged away too. Nails could also be driven into their hands and their feet.

God hadn’t just abandoned Jesus. God had abandoned them too.

Before long, though, these same people were saying, ‘We have seen the Lord!’ And they were filled with a new energy and power that they recognised as God’s Holy Spirit.

How on earth…?

The resurrection.

They had to grapple with what the cross meant. It could no longer only be an instrument of shame—we see sorrow there, yes, but also love.

As they looked back, they saw that God had brought something supremely good out of an absolute horror. Jesus lives—Jesus forgives those who had left him in the lurch, and even his killers—and Jesus is alive in them.

They began to see that death does not have the last word. The life of Jesus overwhelms death. Death is the second-last thing to happen; the last thing is resurrection to new life in God with Jesus Christ.

They saw that Jesus died for them, and they were transformed.

That same transformation is there for us today. We too can know the life of Jesus within. We can know too that the deepest, darkest losses and disappointments of life are never the last thing. The last thing is resurrection to new life in God with Jesus Christ.

And it starts now.

Easter Sunday isn’t a postscript to an ugly death. It isn’t a happy ever after ending. It’s a new beginning, a second chance at a new life. Don’t hang back from the Crucified One—he is risen!

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Fifth Sunday in Lent (Year A, 10 April 2011)

Blessed are those who mourn

Readings
Ezekiel 37.1-14
John 11.1-45

Blessed are those who mourn, 
for they will be comforted.

Matthew 5.4

Our community has mourned lately, and we’ve seen grief. We’ve mourned the damage done by the floods, and we see people continuing to grieve at the slowness of action to help them repair their homes. We’ve seen people mourning because of the damage done by Cyclone Yasi, in Christchurch and in Japan.

Yet Aussies are still not all that attuned to mourning. We seem to see it simply as a problem to be solved. We expect to be able to fix things up, or replace them. We want to keep moving forward.

A widow went to her doctor. She said she’d been told by her friends she was grieving too much for her late husband, and that she should be getting over it. The GP asked how long since he had died…her reply was Six weeks ago.

He was barely cold, and her friends wanted her to ‘move on’.

Blessed are those who mourn, 
for they will be comforted.

I don’t know about you, but ‘they will be comforted’ sounds like a very modest promise to me. It reminds me of Sigmund Freud’s rather unassuming aims in psychoanalysis, which were

to transform neurotic misery into common unhappiness.

Now that’s a promise even a pessimist could trust!

‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted’ is a message that would never get Jesus a gig in one of the big mega-churches these days. If he were there, I think his message would have to be less modest, more like this:

Never mourn again!
You can be happy all the time!!
Your life will be wonderful every day!!!

Just come to our church, accept what we say, and put your money in the plate!

To be ‘comforted’ in a future time seems a little anaemic really. Yet it is Jesus’ promise to those who mourn. We shall be comforted. And this is the kind of world we live in, a world of hope and a world of promise, grounded in God’s word. The comfort may come in the future, or in the next life, but it is assured.

That said, it is a future promise. The Beatitude doesn’t claim that those who mourn are comforted now. As I said, it seems to be a modest kind of promise. Those who mourn, whatever they mourn for—

their own brokenness and sin;
the state of the world as it is;
or the loss of someone dear to them—

they will be comforted.

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At the cross

A meditation by Revd Rod Horsfield, from Journey

**************************

ONE OF THE traditional ways of presenting the death of Jesus is to describe it as a sacrifice. That is problematical for many people in contemporary society.

The church’s great theologians through the centuries proposed various theories to explain how the death of Jesus saves us.

Some of these old theories survive today and are still used to test a person’s orthodoxy.

For myself, I find those old atonement theories brave in trying to explain the mystery of the cross. But I find none of them completely satisfying.

The fault in most of them is that they drive a wedge between God and Jesus.

They make it sound as if a ruthless God had to be bought off by the sacrificial death of Jesus.

As if God made the demand that “someone’s got to pay for the sins of the world”.

They make it appear that God then let his Son pay the full price God demanded to “save people from their sins.”

I find that offensive.

Any wedge between God and Jesus does not help my understanding, nor is it faithful to the whole witness of Scripture.

So what are we left with? We are left with Jesus on the cross.

We are left with a man in whom God was fully present, dying as a result of our shared human evil and the feral ways that flow from our alienation from the Creator of life.

On the cross, I believe that God is fully present in Jesus Christ to the bitter end.

On the cross I see God in a man who experiences not only physical agony but spiritual desolation.

Therefore I am left with a God who will die for us. A God who, in loving us, will bridge the gulf of alienation at all cost.

After many decades of faith, and professional theological study, I still do not understand the “mechanics” of God “reconciling the world to himself”.

I have no neat theory to replace the old ones, though people like Jürgen Moltmann, James Allison and other contemporary theologians are attempting new “theories of the atonement”.

At the cross I am forced to live with a wonder I cannot explain.

Many of our old hymns have atonement theories that less than adequate. However Brian Wren’s graphic hymn, ‘Here hangs a man discarded’ (Together in Song 356) is worth contemplating.

Can such a clown of sorrows
Still bring a useful word
Where faith and hope seem phantoms
And every hope absurd?

Life emptied of all meaning,
Drained out in deep distress,
Can share in broken silence
My deepest emptiness;

And love that freely entered
The pit of life’s despair
Can name our hidden darkness
And suffer with us there.

God with us and for us. A gulf bridged, a world saved. I cannot comprehend it or explain it, but I dare to believe that much.

Thanks be to God.

Rev Rod Horsfield is a minister in the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania. This article first appeared in Crosslight, the newspaper of the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania

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Seven Words: A Good Friday Meditation

The First Word

Luke 23.26, 32-34

As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus… Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’

‘Father, forgive them;
for they do not know what they are doing.’

Is that the end, then? Are we there already? Is it time to leave? Father, forgive… Is that how it happens? We’re forgiven, and that’s it?

On the cross, Jesus forgives his enemies. Their slate is wiped clean. I can’t leave the cross just yet; I don’t know how to forgive my friends, my family—let alone my enemies.

Forgive me, Lord, that I may forgive others.



The Second Word

Luke 23.39-43

One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’

‘Truly I tell you,
today you will be with me in Paradise.’

Jesus is dying, but the kingdom is still coming. It will not delay.

What did the thief say to him? ‘Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.’ This are dying thief may have spoken the greatest words of faith in the whole Bible; this dying man looks upon another dying man, and believes that this man will bring in God’s kingdom.

If that is faith, do I believe yet? Lord, I believe—help my unbelief.

Forgive me, Lord, and increase my faith.



The Third Word

John 19.25b-27

Standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 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.

‘Woman, here is your son.’

If I were in your place, Lord, I doubt I’d be thinking of others. Every little pain and discomfort directs my attention inward. Yet on the cross, you see your mother and you see to her welfare. You know the pain she feels and will always feel, and you provide for her.

Forgive me, Lord, and show me how to care for others.



The Fourth Word

Mark 15.33-34

When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’

‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’

I cannot fathom what it meant for you to say those words, Lord, what agony of spirit you were going through, what it was like to be separated from the Father when you had never before known such separation.

I know what it is like to feel cut off from God. But I made that choice. I turned away from God and went my own way. Yet you too made a choice, Lord—you chose to endure being cut off from your Father so that I too might know the Father’s love.

Forgive me, Lord, and turn my face towards my Father God.



The Fifth Word

John 19.28-29

After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfil the scripture), ‘I am thirsty.’ A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth.

‘I am thirsty.’

We sometimes think you are above these things, Lord. Thirst. Hunger. Tiredness. When a child says ‘I’m thirsty’, we know what to do. We get a glass of water. But you, Lord—you are the one who gives us the Living Water! Yet you thirst.

What difference does it make if we help you? You’re going to die anyway. How can we make a difference? And when people die of cholera in Zimbabwe because of lack of clean water, or where women walk for hours just to draw water, what can we do?

Yet you said it, Lord: ‘Anyone who gives so much as a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because they are disciples of mine, will certainly not go unrewarded.’ (Matthew 10.42 REB alt.)

And you said it, Lord: Anything you did, or failed to do, for one of these, however insignificant, you did—or failed to do—for me. (Matthew 25.31-46)

Forgive me, Lord, and turn my face towards those in need.



The Sixth Word

John 19.30

When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

‘It is finished.’

Lord, you didn’t say, ‘I am finished.’

It is finished.’ The work you had come to do was done. You had returned to the Father, the awful pain of being cut off was gone. You were victorious; you had done what you set out to do. You remained faithful to death, you loved your own unto the very end.

You promised that those servants who keep your word will one day hear the words, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’ First and foremost, these words are for you.

Lord, forgive me, and keep me faithful to you.



The Seventh Word

Luke 23.44-49

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last. When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, ‘Certainly this man was innocent.’ And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.

‘Father, into your hands
I commend my spirit.’

Having done all, you take your last breath, and entrust yourself to your Father.

So often, Lord, I stand at a distance from you. I avoid obeying you if it might cost me; I fear that I do not possess a commendable spirit.

You said, ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.’ You were pure in heart; that promise is for you.

Forgive me, Lord, and purify my heart, that the promise may be mine too.

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