Today is not a Funeral

This is the text of the message I prepared for Good Friday, 14th April 2017, for the people of Lakes Entrance Uniting Church.

Psalm 22; John 18:1-19:42

Today is not a funeral, but is power for the Church.

Today is a day of sorrow, but is not a day of mourning.

Today is a day for the way in which the historian Manning Clark described the spirituality of the Australian People: today is a day for “a shy hope in the heart.”

Today we are “an Easter People”, yes even today.

Today is not a funeral, but is power for the Church.

This morning we heard the telling of a short story; a poem of thirty-one verses, a narrative which began with the words My God, my God why have you forsaken me?, went on to say I am thirsty and ended with it is finished.  It is a familiar story, but not just because it is a story repeated over six hours one dark Friday hundreds of years after it was first written down.  The Son of God is not alone among the daughters and sons of men in going through a time of seeming isolation from his God, his mates, and his senses. Abandonment, confusion, embarrassment and doubts assault each of us at times.  But…

Today is not a funeral, but is power for the Church.

This is a very private psalm, in scholarship terms it is referred to as a personal lament, more plainly it is one person’s whinge against the world.  But we have all been there, even Jesus: this is a sulk with good reason.

The biggest question this psalm asks is in Psalm 22:8, which in the Good News Bible reads if the Lord likes you, why doesn’t He help you?  (Aren’t you the Messiah?  Come down off the cross then! as the mocking scoffers of the Sanhedrin say.)  A good question: one I have asked on my own behalf many times.  Just because God was silent when Jesus was on the cross doesn’t mean I should like it when I am feeling tired and emotional.  Indeed, I remember asking this question in the company of my minister at a time when I was feeling like this, and he told me that it was a season of the Spirit which is sometimes called “the dark night of the soul”.  How many of you have heard that term before?  In fact, this dark night is not about being abandoned in blackness; as we have seen in the second part of this psalm God is, and always was, there.  The darkness is not about spiritualised depression; rather it is the steeping beyond the known and through the darkness of what is unknown to come to a new knowing.  Teachers know about that, that space is called “the Zone of Proximal Development” and describes where you can go next with a little bit of help.  This is the journey we guide our students along all the time; but it’s a lot scarier when God is doing it to adults.  Yet in the Contemporary English Version Psalm 22:21 reads don’t let lions eat me.  There’s no point saying that unless you think someone stronger than you is with you where the wild things are.

Today is not a funeral, but is power for the Church.

It is easy to feel confused and overwhelmed when God has forsaken you: I am sure that Jesus felt just those things, confused and overwhelmed.  But what we go through in these times of darkness is like driving at night along an unknown road, (or even a known road in a rainstorm), rather than choosing to sit stationary all night and wait the darkness out.  We can act in faith to move forward, and with conviction sourced from the deep roots of God’s record in our history step onward in squinty-eyed, squeezy fisted trust.  Darkness is mysterious, but that is the reality of our mysterious God.  Faith is hope without sight: blessed are those who have believed without seeing, as Jesus told Thomas.

Today is not a funeral, but is power for the Church.

We come to understand when the tenor flips in Psalm 22: 22 that the night of darkness in which a person may appear lost is the way which leads her to an even brighter light where she learns more about herself and the miraculous love of God more deeply.  The darkness is a way of progress, the tunnel at the end of the light that leads to even greater light.

Today is not a funeral, but is power for the Church.

On this Friday when our saviour allowed himself to be murdered we see dimly and with a mass of contradictory confusions: in time we shall see clearly.

Today is not a funeral, but is power for the Church.

When we go home in fifteen minutes’ time, and then on through Saturday, we will literally live in the time between times; the time between the commemoration of the death of Jesus and the celebration of his resurrection.  This can be a reminder to each of us that life’s dark patches come in bouts, and the more we grow and the keener we are to learn the more often these bouts will come.   It is scary, but like the wildest of rollercoasters it can also be fun when we remember that in God’s hands we may be spinning and ducking, but we are not crashing and burning.  When we are out of control, God is fully in control: and that is a good thing.  That is the confidence that lead Jesus to turn in Gethsemane to greet Judas rather than scramble away to hide at Mary and Martha’s place until the soldiers had gone.

Today is not a funeral, but is power for the Church.

The light of God is the only true light.  Sometimes God uses the darkness we have taken ourselves into rather than directing us into a dark place and we learn that where God is there is light; false lights will lead us astray.  I have heard it said it is better to be in God’s silence, than in the world’s violence; even if the world at least has neon and noise.

Life with God is thrilling: Easter shows that, and as Christians we know it ourselves.  The God of the gentle whisper that Elijah heard is also the God of the cloud of fire and smoke that Moses saw; so why can’t God also be the God of absence that Jesus experienced on the cross?  On Resurrection Sunday, we shall be reminded that God always comes through when all hope seems lost: that’s the testimony of my life.  Regardless of the tuneful talents of fat ladies, I have learned that nothing is over until God says it is.  “It is finished” when God has accomplished all that was intended; and that goes as much for God’s plans for my life, your life, and this Church, as much as it does for God’s plan to deliver and restore the universe through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Today is not a funeral, but is power for the Church.

What was achieved in darkness has been proclaimed in the light forever.

Amen.

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