Good Friday Reflection
By the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
April 3, 2015
University Baptist Church
For 2000 years, faithful Christians have been trying to make sense of Jesus’ death on the cross. Was it to appease an angry God who is bent on punishing all of us for our sinful behavior? Was it because Jesus’ ministry was one of such activism that the powers that be deemed him too threatening to keep alive? Did his death remind us of others’ deaths? Certainly. Was his death unique and salvific? How do we make sense of all of this?
I think these are not questions to deal with on Good Friday. On Good Friday, it’s an evening to consider grief. It’s to wonder at the world that is bent on destroying itself even as we kill our saviors. It’s to wonder at a world that does not want to mess with the status quo, even when the status quo is violent and death-producing—something about the comfort in the devil you know. And it’s to be so moved by death that we are going to do something to make sure that it doesn’t happen before it’s time to those we love.
I think about this as I think about those who mourn the death of Jennifer Houle and who search for Barway Collins. I think about this as families mourn the deaths of 147 students in Kenya, and all those in war’s dreaded sightline. For the past two Good Fridays, we have read the names of all those who have died by homicide in Hennepin County in the past year. And tonight we remember all deaths as we remember Jesus’ final hours.
My colleague Cindy Maybeck posted the following on social media knowing clergy were trying to come up with something profound to say on this night. “Did you hear of someone's death - or of a cancer diagnosis? Take a breath. This week we walk with Jesus into his passion, suffering and death. No grief or pain is too heavy for him to bear - and he will carry you when you are tired or distraught or beside yourself. Walk through this valley of the shadow of death - there will be joy again. God bless you and keep you.”
How do you enter Good Friday?
Twenty-five years ago, inspired by Jesus’ going up against the powers and principalities, hundreds of Christians spent Good Friday protesting at Lawrence Livermore Labs and their proliferation of nuclear weapons. One Good Friday, 500 people were arrested, including a large percentage of San Francisco’s DSBC. When they were arraigned, they asked for their names. They all said “Southern Baptist Convention.” Nothing like being provocative, so the newspapers would notice. That’s power meeting powers with creative force. But the point was, no more killing on our watch or in our names.
So what is up with reading these letters to the seven churches on Good Friday? Well, in the midst of awful reprisals from Rome, multiple crucifixions by their followers, the book of Revelation offers hope to the people pushed and burned by the great powers of empire. And these seven letters give us clues about how we are to live in the midst of apocalyptic times.
Revelation is not for the weak-hearted. It is not for the mentally unstable. It could cause you to do things and think things that are beyond reality, like a beast with seven heads and ten horns.
But when Revelation is read from the perspective of the poor, the outcast, the downtrodden, those without power who have been told all their lives that they are nothing, that they are worthless, that they are a stain on the good name of the city or the family. Those who see wars and rumors of wars everywhere and an empire like Babylon, like Rome, like the military industrial complex, like those who control the media and even have preachers on hand to hock their sense of reality; when the whole world seems drunk by the wine of this beast and everyone seems to be against us, Revelation is written to tell us a secret. There is another reality at work when crucifixion seems to be the norm. There is a heavenly chorus singing praises to God, not the Dragon. There are angels and elders and trumpeters and lamp-stand holders who are not beholden to the beast. They are the ones who have already conquered. They are the ones sing to us Holy Holy Holy is God, not Satan. Worthy is the Lamb that was slain. This is real power and wisdom and honor and glory.
And you dear people, who are on the side of the Lamb, will receive the great reward: a new heaven and a new earth. The great city of Jerusalem, where Shalom is in its name shall overshadow everything and it will be good indeed. There will be no more crying and pain and even death itself will be put to rest. The book of Revelation is written to those who are at their wits end and tells them, us, to hang on, do right and keep ourselves unstained by this world.
And so on this night, we keep the faithful witness. We witness Jesus’ death and mourn. But it doesn’t stop there. We are given the keys to conquer death. We are to hold tight to a force more powerful than the cross. Whoever have ears to hear, listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
Founder and president of the United Farm Workers, Cesar Chavez said, "Jesus' life and words are a challenge at the same time that they are Good News. They are a challenge to those of us who are poor and oppressed. By His life He is calling us to give ourselves to others, to sacrifice for those who suffer, to share our lives with our brothers and sisters who are also oppressed. He is calling us to "hunger and thirst after justice" in the same way that we hunger and thirst after food and water: that is, by putting our yearning into practice."
And so we enter this evening, we see the cross—ever our shadow. We remember those who have fallen. We embrace the challenge given by the writer of Revelation and the words of Jesus from the cross. And we remember and imagine how we could be more faithful, more loving, more courageous, more grace-aware, more humble in the midst of this ultimate sacrifice. It was a calculated sacrifice that Jesus made so that we could have the opportunity to rise in newness of life. It’s a hard road, and it’s so worth it.
And it only comes by bearing this cross: a cross that Jesus did not bear alone. The members of the seven churches in Revelation bear it and we bear it too. So enter the darkness. Feel the pain, the confusion, the grief, the silence. And listen, listen, listen to what the Spirit it saying.