Our time of preparation has ended. Lent is over. As you know we are well into Holy Week. I like to think of Holy Week as sort of this liminal space, a space that is neither here nor there. We are not on the Lenten journey any longer and we have not arrived at Easter.
Today is a day of great solemnity and sadness as we recall the crucifixion of Jesus. We are called to follow him and in true discipleship we are here at the cross, watching and waiting for we know that the ultimate cost that anyone can pay is to lay down his or her life for another. Jesus has done that for us.
Today is Good Friday and we all know the end of THIS story – this story of passion, of betrayal, of denial, of chaos and darkness, of Jesus’ death by crucifixion at the hands of the Roman Imperial officers. The Jesus of history will become the Christ of our faith because somewhere in between death and life, transformation happens.
This passion story is the basis of our Christian lives. Through the person of Jesus we are grafted onto and into the promises of covenantal love that God made with the house of Israel. God love us and greets and we are forgiven, reconciled and transformed through this miraculous event of Jesus’ resurrection.
But, let’s not rush to fast toward the end of the story; it’s much more complex than wrapping Palm Sunday up with a happy ending. You will be cheating yourself, denying yourself, if you do.
We began our service hearing Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings”. Barber was a 20th century American composer who wrote this beautiful and haunting piece. The rich sound of the base foundation allows the upper voices speak their compelling and mournful theme. The piece builds and builds through a number of phrases into a climax. The soft string Celeste pipes cease. You are suspended with no resolution. The piece is undone. Those eight seconds seem like an eternity; they are painful and difficult. There is no closure; it begs answers but there are none for the time being. You exist in its tension, and then you are released by hearing the familiar motif of the opening phrases.
Like the “Adagio for Strings”, Good Friday is a day of conflict and difficult tension…suspension. We must not, cannot, will not rush to its conclusion. It is in this suspended interval that transformation happens, where God’s work in us is best accomplished, in those intervals of our raw humanity we are made whole.
Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross are, in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s works, “not fortuitous but necessary”. It is necessary to understand the pain of our humanness, the sins of our heart through the pain of the cross, because we are forever yoked together with Christ and are reconciled to God. It is necessary, indeed critical to live in the tension of the cross today because Jesus’ suffering is our suffering, it is the anguished cry of humanity that is nailed to the cross today.
On Good Friday we are faced with our OWN betrayals and denials, our own chaos and confusion, our own suffering and rejection. It is part of who we are, what we have done to one another, and what has been done to us. Do not be so quick to judge because we are not unlike Judas, or Simon Peter, or Caiaphas, or Pilate. We have just as much been victimizers’ as we are the victims.
To recognize and acknowledge this is not comfortable. In fact it is filled with pain, it is sharp and cold like the nail you hold in your hand today. It is not what we mean to do, but it is, sometimes, what we do. These are the dark extremities of the human condition.
It is essential to hear and to feel the lament of the Psalmist, “do not be far from me, O Lord, do not forsake me, come quickly to my aid”. In the cry of our laments, the tears of our soul, through the death of Christ, God hears us and enacts the covenant to remember our sins no more. All this Christ takes to the cross with him.
Our sins, our doubts, our fears, our cry’s hang too with the one who ultimately, finally brings our salvation. We are not alone in our torment but we are fully embraced by God who has shared our common lot, and who knows our pain and the sting of life.
Herein lies the tension that we must sustain today if we dare to sing Alleluia on Sunday morning. We are suspended in the tension of the cross. Do not move forward yet. Do not take that leap of faith yet. Feel the pain, acknowledge the suffering, ask for forgiveness – hang all that you have on the cross of Christ.
We live with the cross because it is not the end, it is the beginning, somewhere between death and life, transformation happens. We will leave today, the passion of Jesus not done, our Adagio unresolved.
So be it.