Friday, April 14, 2017
I had a text message exchange this morning with my friend and colleague, Jack Alvey, about the challenge of Good Friday. What do we preach on this day? Do we act as if we do not know what Easter will bring? Do we ask our congregation to forget that they know how the story will end? Or do we preach the full message of the cross, which only comes clear in the light of Easter? I think Good Friday is the easiest and hardest day on which to preach--easiest because the cross almost speaks for itself and needs very little exposition and the hardest because we must walk that fine line between sending the congregation away in utter despair and robbing Good Friday of its identity by naming the cross as a place of hope.
There is no hope on Good Friday without Easter. Like a superhero drama unfolding before our eyes, we wait for Jesus to break free of his bonds, to snatch the whip from his tormentors, to come down from the cross and save himself, to triumph over the Roman authorities who have hung him there. We know a good drama, so we wait in agonizing anticipation as each scene follows the last. "Will this be the moment when he escapes?" we ask ourselves. We know the story cannot end this way. Because we have been to Easter, we know it does not end this way. But, when Jesus gives up his spirit, when the soldiers see that he is really dead, when his body is taken down from the cross and handed over to Joseph, when Nicodemus and Joseph place his spice-slathered corpse into the tomb and roll the stone in place, the part of us that is trapped anachronistically in that moment as the first disciples were wants to stand up and wave our arms and scream, "This is not right. It's not supposed to end this way. Jesus is our savior, our king. The hero doesn't die in the end. What kind of story is that?"
Good Friday is a day of total disorientation. Everything we thought we knew about God and Jesus and justice and righteousness and innocence and sin and death and victory and promise falls apart. This isn't how it's supposed to happen. If we take Good Friday seriously, we are supposed to leave the cross in utter bewilderment. We are supposed to leave church feeling lost and confused and angry and despondent. When Jesus dies on the cross, all our hopes die with him--those hopes that had taken shape in our pre-Easter logic. Our hope that the good guy would win. Our expectation that God would never let his chosen one die. Our belief that goodness is rewarded. Our confidence that the making the right choices leads to the right outcome. Our understanding that we are in control of our destiny. To encounter the cross in the darkness of the first Good Friday, to dwell in the real shadow of this day, is to experience complete and total deconstruction. In this act, we are dismembered, taken apart piece by piece.
Because we know that the third day will come, we can accept this disorientation without complete despair. We know that eventually God will (and, in fact, already has) put the pieces back together. We know that this disorientation is followed by reorientation. But we cannot be put back together by God unless we allow him to take us apart completely. We must start over. Our self-made hopes must die completely before new hopes--God's hopes--can be put in our hearts. If we do not encounter the real despair of Good Friday without even a ray of light from what is ahead, we cannot know the fullness of Easter.
This day accept defeat. Yield your spirit over to God. Die completely. Let your logic be put to death. Become completely disoriented. Dwell in that confusion--that lostness without a compass--and wait there until God finds you, reorients you, and puts you back together.