Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Moment in Time

Good Friday Reflections 2011
Saint Timothy's School
Chaplain Kirk Kubicek

The earliest Christian traditions, predating the writing of what we now call the New Testament or Christian Scriptures, was some version of the narrative just read. We have early accounts of early followers of Jesus gathering in Jerusalem each year to commemorate the last events of our Lord's life, his death and his resurrection. These were and are to be seen all as one event, not separate events - one continuous divine intervention on the part of the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus. We must leave it to those in the physical sciences to resolve the question of time - is it continuous, is it a single moment. I have come to think we do a great disservice to have all these separate worship traditions during Holy Week, carving it up into small bites, constituent parts, since perhaps we lose our focus on the main result of it all - Christ is risen! This was an early Christian greeting: Christ is risen! To which one would reply, He is risen indeed.

But here we are on what has long been called Good Friday. Since the earliest days of the Christian Community people of faith have pondered several questions about this day we call Good Friday. They all tend to fall into three areas: Why did Jesus die? What does his death mean? Why do we call it Good Friday? There are no clear or single answers to any of these, despite two millennia of attempts - just a lot of ponderings, theories, ideas grounded in people's experiences.

Why Jesus died is perhaps the easiest question to answer. He had become a great nuisance to a lot of people who had positions of power and authority. Add to the fact that he was causing the great throngs of crowds gathered in Jerusalem for Passover to become overly excited that perhaps the end of the Roman occupation was near. Perhaps this young man from Galilee would lead the revolt. Pilate, the bureaucrat appointed by Caesar to keep things calm in Jerusalem, was persuaded that something had to be done to settle things down. Rome, like the Babylonians before them, and other ancient empires, made examples to citizens and non-citizens alike by executing people by the side of the roads or just outside a city - the message: this could happen to you if you do not obey our laws.

The odd thing is that after much research and scholarship on all of this, no one has found a law Jesus had broken, either by Jewish law or Roman law. It appears that he was just on the verge of causing too much trouble - perhaps an insurrection, which is strange for one who taught the kind of pacifism that has inspired the likes of Ghandi, Martin King Jr, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu to use nonviolent means to bring about change.

As to what it means, the standard answer is that Jesus, who we believe to be God incarnate, that is God come to us as a man, was lifting a debt from all the rest of us - the rest of us being understood as people who had fallen into so much sin that there would be no way to "pay the debt" by ourselves - so God graciously, charitably settles the debt giving us a chance to begin again - to start over - to go and sin no more. This we refer to theologically as atonement - our at-one-ment with God. Fortunately for us and for the whole world quite a few people have responded positively to this offer to begin again and dedicated their lives to making the world a better place. We call them saints, although not one of them ever thought of themselves as such. They were just ordinary people like you and me who see in Jesus a better way to honor God and honor one another.

As we heard him say on Wednesday, we are to love one another as he loves us. Then he dies. But we are those people who know the rest of the story. And we know that he did not stay dead for very long. We say three days, but from noon Friday to dawn Sunday is a very short three days! He was ready to get back to work - his work being to show us the Way - the Way of Love for the whole world- to love God and love neighbor as He loves us.

Which is why Good Friday is Good. We are not meant to focus much on the pain, the agony and the shame of it all - and believe me, for his earliest friends it was a shameful scandal to see their Lord and Master hanging on a Roman cross.

We are meant to see that no greater love has any one man had than to lay down his life for his friends - and, as we heard Wednesday, we are his friends if we love one another.

I will close with a poem that sort of sums this all up: It is by Scott Cairns, a Professor of English and Director of the Creative Writing Program at the University of Missouri - titled
Blood Atonement:

This much we might say with some assurance:
a crucifixion occurred, apparently
gratuitous, but a harsh intersection -
tree and flesh and some iron. We might add
that sufficient blood resulted to bring about
a death, the nature of which we still puzzle.

As to why? Why the blood? Why the puzzle?
It seems that no one who knows is saying,
which is not to say we lack opinion.

Still, while we suffer no shortage of dire
speculation, hardly any of it
has given us anything like a clue.

All we dare is that it was necessary,
that we have somehow become both culprit
and beneficiary, and that we

are left to something quite like a response
to that still lost blood, to the blameless world.

from Scott Cairns, Compass of Affection, (Paraclete Press, Brewster, MA: 2006) p.72

We are here now to ponder the events of this day - and then to resolve: just how ought we respond? Amen.