Whew! That was a lot to read. And painful to read as well.
Why do we call it GOOD FRIDAY when so much bad happens?
Christ dies, painfully, in agony on the cross. For the only time in John's gospel Jesus shows some humanity when he says, "I thirst". Then his side is pierced and he is laid into a tomb.
And before that Peter denies him three times. Pilate has him flogged and turns him over to be crucified. What is "good" about that?
I preached a sermon years ago on the feast of Christ the King, but it mentions Good Friday. I want to share that with you today.
CHRIST THE KING
Here we are, on the Sunday before the first Sunday of Advent, poised on the edge of preparing ourselves to receive the Christ Child into our hearts, and what is the reading we get? Something from Luke about Good Friday….Something about the crucifixion.
A little jarring and ‘out of time’, it seems to me.
I’m reminded of how the Council of Churches—which became the Interfaith Ministry—used to have a Good Friday service here at St. John’s.
The service was “The Seven Last Words of Christ” combined with our Book of Common Prayer Good Friday Service. There were always 7 sermons—talk about a way to make Good Friday dismal and BAD!!!—and I was in charge of making sure the whole thing fit into the hours between noon and 3 p.m.
Dealing with 7 preachers and a set-in-stone time frame was always an adventure! Preachers, by-in-large, don’t like to be given limits but I would limit them to no more than 7 minutes for their sermons, knowing full well most would go past 10 or 12. I’d built in enough silence to manage that. But the last one of those we had, the preacher on the 6th word had gone on for almost 15 minutes about the crucifixion, when he said: “Now let us go back to Bethlehem….”
“Oh no!” I said to myself, with expletives deleted, “we’re going in the wrong direction!”
That’s rather how I feel today. We’re preparing to embark on the journey to Bethlehem and Luke has jerked us to Golgotha and the conversation between Jesus and two other dying men.
Since it is what we are given by the Lectionary, it is what we will attend to—Jesus talking with the two thieves.
What is interesting about the exchange, in my mind, is this: the first thief parroted the slurs of the crowds and jeeringly called on Jesus to save himself—and to save the two other condemned men as well. Not only did that first thief by into the “conventional wisdom” of the leaders of his day, he was thinking of ‘himself’ above all. “Save yourself and US!”
The second thief had another view of the situation. “We have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds,” he tells the other man. “But this man has done nothing wrong….”
The second thief is not thinking of ‘himself’. In fact, he has a realistic understanding that, for him, ‘the punishment fits the crime’. Instead, that second thief, bleeding and dying, is thinking of the one beside him, who is innocent in his mind.
That is a place well worthy to begin Advent—thinking of the one beside you, the ones around you, those even far away…instead of thinking of yourself.
That could be recommended for all of us as a way to prepare our hearts for the visit of the Child of Bethlehem.
But the conversation is not yet over. The second thief has one more thing to say to Jesus.
“Jesus,” he says, life slipping away from him, “remember me when you come into your Kingdom….”
That is certainly a second recommendation for all of us as a way to prepare our hearts for the visit of the Christ Child.
REMEMBER ME….REMEMBER ME….REMEMBER ME….
Memory is one of the most precious gifts God gives us. Memory is our anchor in the angry sea, our Rock in the storm, our Hope in the times of Trouble. Memory ties us to our identity—to WHO we are and WHOSE we are as we continue our journey.
WHO we are and WHOSE we are is clear. We are the children of God, and as we move through the shadows and darkness of Lent we should pray God to “remember us”. And God will….
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus tells the thief, “today you will be with me in Paradise..”
There’s a third recommendation to us in today’s readings as we verge on the preparation of Advent. It comes from the Psalm of the day—Psalm 46, my favorite Psalm of all. After that Psalm tells us that we need not fear the changes and chances of life, the song reminds us of this: Listen—“BE STILL, THEN, AND KNOW THAT I AM GOD….”
Next Sunday, Advent begins—one of the great and wondrous seasons of the Church’s year. And today we are given advice on how to prepare to prepare our hearts and lives to receive the gift of God at Christmas.
It’s not hard. It’s not rocket science or heart surgery. It is, in fact, as simple as ABC.
Think of others, not yourself.
Pray to God to ‘remember’ you.
Be still…find time to be still…and in that you will know God.
That’s the advice I’ll seek to follow.
I invite you to do the same.