This is the text of the message I prepared for the people of the Morwell and Yallourn Cluster for Good Friday, 30th March 2018.
Psalm 22; Hebrews 5:7-9
So, you good? How’s your Friday been so far? How’s it looking for this arvo? Good Friday can be one of those days when you can’t get your head around much else, if you really get in to it. It can also be one of those days that is best skipped over. Go to church, sing “The Old Rugged Cross”, look sad for a bit and then go home to watch Channel Seven for the Royal Children’s Hospital Telethon, or since 2017 some AFL. It’s a day of mixed emotions: bewildering and contradictory to say the least.
Psalm 22 begins with a cry of desolation in the midst of an episode of feeling forsaken. Why is God acting so much out of character as to abandon the one who is screaming out to the deliverer, with faith, for deliverance as we read in Psalm 22:1-2. Yet, there is praise and acknowledgement that God is exalted in Psalm 22:3-5, and humanity is not, even at the best of times, let alone from the place of despair we are told in Psalm 22:6. So, despite how its opening line has been perceived this is actually a prayer of faith and confidence in God. The desperate one is so confident in God’s ability to deliver that he is ashamed of his own situation because it is causing God to be mocked. The unbelievers see the believer shamed, the deliverer has patently not delivered, and blasphemy is arising we read in Psalm 22:6-8. Think of the Pharisees with their “he saved others, why doesn’t he save himself” taunts. Today Christians face similar mockery when life stumbles for us and the secularists cry “ha-ha, he believes in the flying spaghetti monster, but now he’s bereft and there’s no pasta-ral care forthcoming for him. Wattanidjit!” Still, according to Psalm 22:9-11 the desperate man believes, and he believes because of God’s prior record of faithful deliverance. On and on the man describes his predicament, and on and on he reasserts his praise for God and his absolute confidence in God’s faithfulness to deliver. This is seen in Psalm 22:12-21a. God is capable, and God is willing, and I shall be delivered, and when I am delivered I shall praise you all the more says the man in Psalm 22:21b-31.
When Jesus prayed Psalm 22:1 out loud from a Roman cross every Jew who heard him would have been reminded of the Psalm, even the positive bits. I wonder what it means that this whole prayer is in the mouth of Jesus as he crucified. I wonder what is actually going on for Jesus here, and what we are supposed to learn from this. Well, in Hebrews 5:7-9 we read that while Jesus was alive as a man he prayed boldly and loudly to God, with passion and volume, and that because of his faith God was faithful to Jesus and responded to Jesus prayer. Jesus was a Psalm 22 sort of person, a man of relentless, resilient, resolute hope in God. And we are assured that Jesus understands humanity because he lived as a man among women and men; Hebrews 5:8 clearly says that Jesus learned about human life through living a human life of his own. So, the perfection in Jesus that we read about in Hebrews 5:9 is not only that Jesus completed the work of salvation; that he submitted to God at Gethsemane and held that commitment right through all that occurred at Golgotha, and that by dying on the cross as a bloody sacrifice and representation of all created things he opened a path to human reconciliation with God and the possibility that we might be made perfect. Yes, there is that, but there is more because Jesus understands perfectly. Jesus has completed and perfect experience of all created things because he lived like a created thing, a man. So, the message of Hebrews 5 is that we are perfected by redemption because Jesus perfectly understands us; and he understands us because he was one of us. See? Do you see?
To think of God as “friend of sinners” is to assert that the pure and righteous God is not so far removed from the impure and unrighteous. We don’t need to protect God or God’s reputation from dirt, as if God lives in some Oxy-Action brightness and turns into a Dickensian gentlewoman at the sight of dust: the crucifixion tells us how God in Jesus got right down into the mud with us so as to lift us out. That’s what the cross is about; the holy one who embraced lepers and allowed unclean women to embrace him, the foot-washing rabban, got bloody and muddy to rescue us from the grot and snot; even the grot and snot of our own making.
But don’t believe that this wasn’t hard. Even with the faith that Jesus expresses and how he never drops his dependence and confidence in God The Father, Friday hurt. The word “excruciating” was invented for this day, ex-Crucis literally means out of (or from) the cross. Jesus died of shock and asphyxiation after six hours of excruciating pain as he hung all his bodyweight from nails through his wrists and ankles. “Ouch” doesn’t come close. His back from neck to knees had been torn open to the bone from the Roman flagellator, and you’d better believe that that would not have been comfortable. Add to that the psychological, emotional pain of anguish and shame of hanging naked and alone while the whole city spits abuse at you and your sobbing woman friends (including your mum) who scream with broken hearts at the foot of your cross. It was hard, bloody hard, bloody and hard for Jesus to die like that.
And God The Father? Evangelicals like us often sing of how “the Father turns his face away”, but I cannot believe that. I have no doubt, no doubt and every confidence, because I am a Psalm 22 person, that The Father watched every livid second of Jesus’ last 24 hours of mortal life. I am sure you’ve been told before about the torn veil in the temple, shredded at the very moment of Jesus’ last breath, as a prophetic sign of access. Our traditions teach that with Christ’s death we can meet the Father at any time, and God is now on the loose in the world never again to be domesticated behind a curtain. We have access to the holiest place, and God has access to the rest of the world: we can enter in and God can run amok. But perhaps the tearing of the veil was also a prophetic sign, or even an actual physical manifestation of our interventionist God’s anguish as the grieving Father, Abba Daddy, rends his garments in grief at the sight of what has been done to his beautiful and best-beloved son.
Or maybe it means that on a day like Good Friday that no place is holy, no place at all. After all, how can our priests conspire to murder God yet hope to maintain a holy of holies in the temple of the holy city? And if our priests can’t maintain a temple, how on earth can we scum-of-the Earth poor sinners lay people manage to achieve such a thing?
It’s a day of mixed emotions: bewildering and contradictory to say the least.
So, how’s your Friday going?