april 10th – good friday



As with our liturgy yesterday, there will be opportunity to partake in communion. (In the flow of the liturgy, the song Your Love Remains signals the opportunity for communion.)  If this is something that you wish to participate in, feel free to pause the liturgy and take a minute get some bread and wine or juice ready.
As we begin, let us pray together:
God all loving and all caring,
     we come before you with hesitant steps
   and uncertain motives.
We want to sweep out the corners
     where sin has accumulated
  and uncover the places 
      where we have strayed from truth.
We ask for courage to open our eyes
     and unstop our ears,
   that we may be aware
     of all that distracts us from
  whole hearted commitment to Christ.
We want to see ourselves as you do
   and live our lives as you intended.
Expose in us the empty and barren places
   where we have not allowed you to enter.
Reveal to us where we have been indifferent
   to the pain and suffering of others.
Create in us a clean heart, O God,
   and put a right spirit within us.
Nurture the faint stirrings of new life
     where your spirit has taken root
   and begun to grow.
We long for your healing light to transform us,
   for you alone can make us whole.


In your mercy shine upon us, O God,
   and make our path clear before us.


Come As You Are  (click here for audio link)
Come out of sadness
     from wherever you’ve been
Come broken hearted
     let rescue begin
There’s rest for the weary
     rest that endures
Earth has no sorrow
     that Heaven can’t cure
So lay down your burdens
     lay down your shame
All who are broken
     lift up your face
O wanderer come home,
     you’re not too far
So lay down your hurt
     lay down your heart
Come as you are

Some of the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into their headquarters and called out the entire regiment. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him. They wove thorn branches into a crown and put it on his head, and they placed a reed stick in his right hand as a scepter. Then they knelt before him in mockery and taunted, “Hail! King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and grabbed the stick and struck him on the head with it. When they were finally tired of mocking him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him again. Then they led him away to be crucified.


Along the way, they came across a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene, and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. And they went out to a place called Golgotha (which means “Place of the Skull”). The soldiers gave Jesus wine mixed with bitter gall, but when he had tasted it, he refused to drink it.


After they had nailed him to the cross, the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice. Then they sat around and kept guard as he hung there. A sign was fastened above Jesus’ head, announcing the charge against him. It read: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”  Two revolutionaries were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left.
The people passing by shouted abuse, shaking their heads in mockery.  “Look at you now!” they yelled at him. “You said you were going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. Well then, if you are the Son of God, save yourself and come down from the cross!”
The leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the elders also mocked Jesus. “He saved others,” they scoffed, “but he can’t save himself! So he is the King of Israel, is he? Let him come down from the cross right now, and we will believe in him! He trusted God, so let God rescue him now if he wants him! For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” Even the revolutionaries who were crucified with him ridiculed him in the same way.


At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”


Some of the bystanders misunderstood and thought he was calling for the prophet Elijah. One of them ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, holding it up to him on a reed stick so he could drink.  But the rest said, “Wait! Let’s see whether Elijah comes to save him.”


Then Jesus shouted out again, and he released his spirit.
                                                                         Matthew 27:27-50 New Living Translation

 “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”  Of all the words Jesus that speaks from the cross, none are more heart-wrenching or perplexing than these, and yet, none reveal more clearly the gravity of sin and the depth of his love. 
Anyone who has experienced some form of abandonment by a loved one – a parent, a spouse, a child, a friend – such a person knows the devastation that such an act creates in one’s being. To be rejected and deserted  – abandoned – is to experience a desolation unlike any other.  It can rightly be called hell.  And that is what Jesus experienced and endured on the cross. 
Both Matthew and Mark record this cry of abandonment in their account of Jesus’ crucifixion. It is the only statement that each of them reports Jesus saying from the cross, and it is the only “word from the cross” that is recorded twice.  Luke reports three other statements, as does John, and in one way or another, most of those other statements temper the shock and horror of this one.  For Luke and John, it would appear that crucifixion was horrific enough an experience for Jesus without having to contend with his experience of abandonment by God.  
Given the intimacy that the Gospel writers portray between Jesus and God (in the Gospels, Jesus almost always refers to God as “Father”) – given the depth of love that is depicted between them – it is shocking to hear these words from the mouth of Jesus. And to go a little deeper into the mystery of this cry of desolation from Jesus, consider what it suggests about the relationship that Christians affirm to be at the heart of reality – the Trinity. To say that Jesus was abandoned by the Father is to suggest that there was a break, a breach, a rupture, within the Trinity – that the unity that has characterized the Triune God from eternity was disrupted and broken on the cross; that the communion in which the Father and the Son participated in and enjoyed for all eternity was curtailed – cut short – at the cross.  Here, we are already peering into things beyond our comprehension.
Some, for whom such a proposition (i.e. a rupture in the Trinity) is a bridge too far to cross, insist that the abandonment was not real – that Jesus only felt abandoned, that that was his perception, not the reality.  And I would acknowledge that there is some merit to that perspective.  But for most of us, to feel something is to experience it as reality; for most of us, perception is reality.  So even if Jesus merely “felt” abandoned, that was his experience, his reality, and what an awful reality to experience on top of the horror of crucifixion.  As Dale Bruner observes, “There is no doubt a difference between real abandonment and felt abandonment, but to the sufferer, at the moment, is this mental nicety much help?” (Frederick Dale Bruner, The Churchbook: Matthew 13-28, 748).
Others note that these words of Jesus is the first verse of Psalm 22, a psalm of lament, in which a righteous sufferer cries out to God from the depths of his suffering and despair.  His cries, however, seem to go unanswered and he feels God has abandoned him. Nevertheless, as the psalm proceeds, the psalmist turns from lament to praising God for not ignoring the cry of the needy or turning his back on them.  It is then suggested that, in quoting from Psalm 22, Jesus intended to call attention to the whole psalm, and to the confidence of the psalmist in God’s help and deliverance.  Since Psalm 22 ends in faith and not despair, then in quoting Psalm 22, Jesus intended to express his confidence in God’s care for him and in his ultimate deliverance from God. 
However, as more than one commentator point out, if Jesus had wanted to express trust in God, he could easily have quoted Psalm 23:1, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want”, or any of the hundreds of verses in Psalms that express confidence in God. But he did not. He quoted Psalm 22:1, one of the most despairing statements in the Psalms.  And the most straightforward reading of his cry is that that was how he felt and thought at that moment – abandoned by God.
So why would God abandon Jesus at this moment?  Or, at least, why did Jesus feel abandoned by God at this moment?  Why, after all that Jesus has endured to this point, would God abandon him?  Think of all that Jesus has borne thus far: the betrayal of one of his disciples, the denial of another, the desertion of all of the rest, his unjust conviction by the religious leaders, his sentence to death by Pilate who did not believe he was guilty, the scornful mocking of soldiers and crowds, the cruel whipping and crown of thorns, being stripped naked and nailed to pieces of wood and suspended between heaven and earth to the jeers and ridicule of his own people, fighting for every breath as your body slowly goes into shock.  After all of that, why would God heap abandonment, or the feeling of abandonment, on top of all of that? 
Neither Matthew nor Mark offers any reasons. They give no indication that Jesus received any answer from God to his question, not do they offer any rationale for his cry.  They simply report the cry, along with the confusion of those who heard it. We must therefore tread carefully in attempting to offer any rationale as to why Jesus was abandoned.
Nevertheless, the apostle Paul, Christianity’s earliest theologian, offers a couple of hints that I think shed some light on the issue, and so, to make some sense of this cry, we turn to Paul.
There are two images, or metaphors, in Paul’s writings that offer some help in understanding why God may have abandoned Jesus, or why, at the very least, Jesus felt abandoned.
The first is found in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The “him” there is Jesus. Paul has been talking about the work of reconciliation that Jesus accomplished through his death – through the death of Jesus, we are reconciled to God. In verse 19, Paul says that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.  This was a collaborative work between Jesus and God. The cross was not something that God the Father imposed upon an unwilling Jesus. At Calvary, the Trinity was united in their work of reconciling and restoring all things.  And then, in verse 21, Paul gives this cryptic elaboration on how this reconciling work was accomplished: “God made Jesus who had no sin to be sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God.”
Paul does not tell us how Jesus was made sin for us and none of us can say for certain. Paul simply suggests that at the cross, there was an exchange – Jesus who never sinned, took on our sins, and more than that, became sin for us. 
There is an image from the Old Testament that I believe may be helpful here – it’s the image of the scapegoat. In the Leviticus 16, we’re told that the scapegoat was one of two goats chosen on the Day of Atonement. One was killed as a sin offering to atone for the sins of the people, and the other was led away into the wilderness, where it was left – abandoned. But before it was taken out, the priest laid his hands on its head and confessed the sins of the people, thus putting their collective sins on the scapegoat.  Leviticus 16:22 says, “The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a remote place; and the man shall release it in the wilderness.”
Here’s what I think Paul is saying here: At the cross, God laid the sins of the whole world on Jesus and Jesus willingly took our sins upon himself – to the point of becoming identified with our sin.  He became sin for us! 
Now, if, as the Bible tells us again and again, God hates sin and is opposed to sin, how might God respond to accumulated sum of the sins of all humanity being placed on Jesus? It may well have caused him to turn his face away, as the hymn writer says, or to withdraw his presence from Jesus. In some way, we could say that Jesus became an object of horror, worthy of rejection, when he was made sin for us – so that we could share his righteousness.  What a gracious and glorious exchange.
The second image is from Galatians 3:13, where Paul writes: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.’” There is much here that we don’t have time to get into this morning, but in talking about redemption, another aspect of salvation, like reconciliation in 2 Corinthians 5, Paul says that the law given through Moses had pronounced a curse on anyone who did not obey the law. And since we are all in that condition because of sin, since none of us can keep the law, we are all under a curse – subject to condemnation.  But Jesus became a curse for us by being hanged on a tree, and, in doing so, he redeemed us from the curse of the law. He set us free from the curse by becoming a curse. 
To be accursed was a horrific sentence, one that each of us deserved because of our sin. But Jesus took our place and assumed each of our curse – he took them all on himself – thereby becoming a curse for us.
As she explores all of this in her brilliant book, The Crucifixion, Fleming Ruthledge writes, “… Jesus exchanged God for Godlessness.  He was in the form of God; he took the form of a slave (Philippians 2:7). He emptied himself of every prerogative, including sinlessness … By making himself ‘to be sin,’ he allied himself with us in our farthest extremity…Thus he entered into our desperate condition… God, in the person of his Son, put himself voluntarily and deliberately into the place of greatest accursedness and Godlessness … for us” (102-3). 
These two images from Paul, Jesus becoming sin and Jesus becoming a curse – for us – offer us a hint as to why God abandoned Jesus at the cross, or at least why Jesus felt himself abandoned.  Such was the gravity of our sin, such was the magnitude of its power and the grimness of its consequences, that it required Jesus to “become sin” and “a curse” – for us.  And in becoming such an object of horror, something happened in his relationship with God – some sort of rupture – that could only be described as abandonment.  Jesus felt alone in a way he never had before.  He experienced the absence of God – an experience that was foreign to him until that moment.  Hence his cry! 
But such was the depth of his love for us that Jesus was willing to experience and endure all of that – for us.

When I Survey The Wondrous Cross (click here for audio link)

When I survey the wondrous cross
     on which the Prince of glory died
My richest gain I count but loss,
     and pour contempt on all my pride
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
     save in the death of Christ my God
All the vain things that charm me most
     I sacrifice them to His blood.
See from His head, His hands, His feet,
     sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
     or thorns compose so rich a crown
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
     that were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine
     demands my soul, my life, my all

I’ve been thinking lately about how so much of our understanding of Jesus is shaped by or is encapsulated in paradox.  A paradox is a statement that seems to be impossible or difficult to understand because it contains two opposite facts or characteristics. Jesus used them often to paint pictures of the kingdom of heaven, or to describe what following after him entails. Statements such as the least are the greatest, the last are the first, weakness is strength, brokenness is wholeness, giving is receiving, and dying is living.  Maybe Jesus was drawn to using them because he is the ultimate paradox – fully human and fully God – both things, at the same time, physical and divine joined.  The poet John Keats coined the phrase negative capability, defining it as of having a certain willingness to let what is mysterious remain just that.  I’m not saying that we shouldn’t work at trying to understand God, but I do believe that any such pursuit requires embracing mystery.  Sitting in the tension, holding space for two seemingly contradictory notions or experiences, creates potential to find our way into deeper places with God.


You may be wondering how this fits with Good Friday.


Brendon pointed that as we work at trying to grasp Jesus’s experience of being forsaken by his Father there will be an element in which we will be peering into things beyond our comprehension.  (Brendon is bright, he is well-read, he knows his theology, so if he’s suggesting that we won’t ever be able to fully comprehend this, that’s saying something.)  But I appreciate the acknowledgement of the deeply divine mystery that shrouds the cross.  At cross where the mutual and profound love between the Father and Son created an arc by which Jesus, who had never sinned, somehow became the sin for all of us and thus led him to a place of abandonment and death. 


But what do we do with this tension?  Are love and abandonment mutually exclusive?  Does rejection and death seem like a fitting birthright for a perfect son?  What does this mean for us?


We just heard, perhaps even sang along, to the hymn whose opening line is ‘When I survey the wondrous cross…’  The words familiar in our mouths, sung from our hearts, acknowledge that our gain cost Jesus his life.   Every time we ask Jesus to forgive our sin, every time we come to the communion table to eat the bread and drink the wine, we actively involve ourselves in this story of love begetting abandonment.  We ask for it.  We benefit from it.


I understand how this tension has potential to fade into the background.  We use the cross as a symbol to remind ourselves of Jesus’s sacrifice and love.  But then, in our familiarity, there is an unintentional disconnect from these divine implications.  We become so accustomed to seeing crosses used as decorations, or for the purpose of religious identification, that we forget that they were once an Empire’s choice instrument of death. Often the story becomes abbreviated, maybe even inadvertently, as something that ‘had’ to happen – after all that’s why Jesus came to earth – to die.  We acknowledge that humanity gained from His death but at a personal level we don’t closely associate with any of the responsibility for it.  We forget about the agonizing choices that were made by Jesus and His Father and what it cost the Godhead – the Father, Son, and Spirit.


So for a minute let’s think about what it means to be abandoned.  Abandonment is to find yourself deserted, abandoned, renounced.  I think all of us can recall a time when we were abandoned or felt abandoned – a time when someone, or some group of people, or some organization quit on you.  You found yourself in a place of isolation and loneliness.  You were hurt by it, angered by it, have questions about it.  Maybe it was a moment when you felt like God quit on you.  Or quit on all of us.  You prayed and felt nothing.  You prayed and didn’t receive.  Trouble and turmoil became your story.  Perhaps you are in that place now.  You’re asking, ‘Why God?’  Why won’t you end this pandemic?  A lost job, financial loss, isolation and aloneness.


In all of the stories people have told to me – whether a story of being abandoned or feeling abandoned – no one has ever cited love as being the root cause their abandonment.  No one has ever said to me that a person loved me so deeply that they abandoned me.  Rather, what is most often articulated is that at the core of their story of abandonment lies some form of betrayal.  I get that.  It resonates with me.


So how then do we begin to make sense of the Father turning away from His Son, abandoning Him to die alone while at the same time acknowledge that the God the Father and His Son Jesus had a deep and mutual love?  Are the two mutually compatible?
I’m not sure I can answer that question.  But I think the place to start is by trying to hold space for both, in their tension and seeming contradiction.  To try and live into the mystery of what seems impossible that we might find a deeper place of relationship with our God.


Jesus emptied himself, taking on the nature of humanity, to break into our space in order to demonstrate the love of His Father.  He came to do the work of repairing the brokenness caused by sin, to set things right, to restore the relationship between Creator and creation.  The love Jesus had for His Father and the love He has for humanity is on par.  Jesus loves humanity with such depth and scope that He was willing to do whatever it took to make things right.  At the same time Jesus loves His Father with such depth and scope that He was willing to do whatever it took to make things right between His Father and humanity.  Love is what put Jesus on the cross.  He became sin, and ultimately died as of sin, but it was love for His Father and love for creation that moved Him to subject Himself the shame, rejection, pain, and abandonment.
In parallel, the Father had such a great love for humanity that He was also willing to do whatever it took so that the brokenness of relationship could be restored.  In mutual agreement, underpinned with love, the Father and Son put into a motion a plan whose trajectory required a willingness to sacrifice all for the sake restoration. 
Jesus, was fully God and fully human.  In His humanness, he knows and identifies with what we experience.  He knows firsthand the brokenness that sins results in.  He knows the feelings of being abandoned and struggling.  He knows what it means to truly love.  In whatever place we find ourselves in, Jesus offers His presence.  He is with us, always.  It’s not that He promises to remove hardship or pain or loss from our lives.  Rather it’s that in all situations He promises His unyielding love and fiercely devoted presence.  He was willing to give up His life so that we could find new life in and through him.  No matter where we find ourselves He will be there with us. 
Today as we take inventory of our hearts there is forgiveness found in the work of Jesus.
Today as we take inventory of our places of hardship and feelings of loss and isolation there is presence found the Spirit of Jesus.
Today as we find ourselves scattered and unable to gather in person there is togetherness found in common bond of the community of Jesus.
During the following song there is opportunity to take communion.  In the tangible action of eating and drinking we are embracing the mystery of meeting Jesus in the bread and wine.  In doing so we give space for His nature, forgiveness, and love to recreate us. Today, we are especially reminded of what it cost Jesus to make it possible for us to be reconnected with our Father.  Whether we participate in communion or not let’s take a moment of silence, In this time, let’s take inventory of our hearts – acknowledging sin, giving thanks for the sacrifice, and resting   in the love of Jesus, though it is too wide, and long, and high, and deep for us to ever fully comprehend.
Let us eat and drink in remembrance of Jesus.

Your Love Remains (click here for audio link)
Through the darkness, through the fire
     through my wicked heart’s desire
Your love remains, Your love remains
Though I stumble, though I falter
     through my weakness  You are strong
Your love remains, Your love remains


Oh my, my soul it cries
     oh my, my soul it cries out
Soul it cries out, soul it cries, it cries out


Through my failure, through my heartache
     through my healing, in my pain
Your love remains, Your love remains
Though I stumble, though I falter
     through my weakness  You are strong
Your love remains, Your love remains
Oh my, my soul it cries
     oh my, my soul it cries out
Soul it cries out, soul it cries, it cries out

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.  Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.
Luke 23:44-46 


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