s022words from cross Somerton Park 10/4/98 Good Friday
* On Good Friday we focus on Jesus on the Cross. We leave all that leads up to it - the reasons that made it happen - aside. Similarly what follows - the burial and later the resurrection - we leave for another day.
We focus squarely on Jesus on the Cross, and on the Cross each of the evangelists record Jesus saying different thing, seven in total.
"Father forgive them; Lk 23.34
"Today you will be with me in paradise; Lk 23.43
"Woman, here is your son; Jn 19.26
"Why have you forsaken me; Mt 27.46 = Mk 15.34
"I am thirsty; Jn 19.28
"It is finished, Jn 19.30 and
"Father into your hands I commend my spirit". Lk 23.46
Traditionally the meditations today have centred on these statements in turn.
1 "Father forgive them"
* The first three can be grouped together: "Father forgive them"; "Today you will be with me in paradise"; and "Woman, here is your son" - for each of these three deal with those around him.
The first deals with those who were actually crucifying him, and those who might have considered themselves responsible. They are forgiven. We too might feel things we have done in the past were really quite anti-God. We might have been active in our hatred towards what we knew to be good and right. We might feel that what we did really was not much better than hammering in the nails into Jesus' wrists too. All this is forgiven; and all are forgiven. First and foremost Jesus deals with those who consider that they have actively opposed God. It is important to realise that they are his first concern; not as we might think - his last. St Paul was the classic case of someone who was persecuting Jesus (by persecuting the Church) who was forgiven.
2 "Today you will be with me in paradise"
* The second group are the criminals crucified with Jesus. Jesus does not rebuke the first who derided him. In fact his forgiveness, if he was ever to look for it, is contained in the first of Jesus' words.
There are of course criminals and criminals. Some enter the criminal life through choice, but many enter through necessity. Some indeed know their actions are wrong, yet are in reality powerless to extricate themselves from the situation of life they find themselves in. Few would see their criminal actions as crimes against God - perhaps more's the pity. We are not to know what is the case with the second of the criminals who asked Jesus to remember him. Whatever, Jesus has a word of comfort, and the text does nothing to exclude the possibility that Jesus is speaking to both the criminals. And Jesus has a word of comfort for all who find theirs has been a life of crime, for whatever reason.
We need to realise that in many ways we are powerless, particularly in the arena of changing our own personalities, and if we are powerless even with the grace of God, others are even less likely to be able to do this. In the end we can (perhaps) accept that God made us, imperfections and all, and loves us, imperfections and all. God doesn't call us to change ourselves into something other than what we were created, even if that were possible, which it isn't. So God doesn't call us to change anyone else into something other than they have been created, which is even less possible.
We can, like Jesus, only love.
3 "Woman, here is your son"
* Then Jesus deals with those he loved. These two were looking on - his own mother and the disciple Jesus loved - and his words convey a message to all who love him. It is widely thought that the disciple that Jesus loved is the author, John, himself. Jesus' words to all who love him are indeed simple - we belong one to another. Nothing more.
Religion has for eternity been misused in an effort to avoid others. Sometimes this is necessary - shy persons like myself need strategies for self preservation. Yet Jesus gives to us the greatest gift of all, not himself, but other people.
Professional people, particularly in the medical profession in small country towns are sometimes criticised for not shopping in their local community. Yet such people, who deal with people every day need time apart, space to do the ordinary things of life without being bailed up for a quick consultation next to the freezers in Foodland, or contributing to the local gossip. The farmer on the tractor all day, on the other hand, looks for social activities, for human contact amongst the local community. We are interdependent, despite our completely different outlooks in life. The doctor cannot live without the farmer, nor vise versa. But neither can one change to please the other either. We can but accept that people are different. Living in one another's pockets is not a Christian virtue, when that involves trespassing on another's personal space.
4 "Why have you forsaken me"
* In some of the pictures of the crucifixion, you will see a small footrest attached to the cross. This is not for comfort purposes, it was to prolong the agony, to ensure that death did not occur too quickly. In the agony that Jesus experienced there, he cries out to God: "Why have you forsaken me?" We too find ourselves sometimes wondering precisely this. In the trials and griefs of this life, we look for answers, especially to our questions: "Why?" and "Why me?" God did not act to reassure Jesus he was there. He was not given the answer to the questions: "Why?" and "Why me?" any more than they are ever given to us. But in the final analysis, that which was achieved on the Cross - the redemption of the world - was achieved in those "God forsaken" hours. So when we feel "God forsaken", in fact it might just be that God is achieving something quite astounding in the precisely in those moments of extreme pain.
5 "I am thirsty"
* Jesus says: "I am thirsty". In the midst of all the activity, Jesus still fulfils scripture: from Psalm 69.21: "They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink." The words of the preacher, Ecclesiastes, come to mind: "There is nothing new under the sun" (1.9) The Cross is the inevitable outcome of creation, all the Old Testament points to it. The littlest of snippets here just reminds us of that. The whole of humanity since lies under the shadow of the Cross: "Who do you say that I am?" Yes - Jesus is human like anyone else; he hungers and thirsts like the rest of humanity. As Shylock says: when he is cut he - bleeds like anyone else. Yet why did humanity do this to one if only to one just as themselves? Was it not that indeed his goodness and purity showed up their greed and pettiness? And the words of unrighteous in the final parable of the kingdom come back: 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?' (Matthew 25:44). On the cross.
6 "It is finished"
* Jesus could do no more. In the end salvation is something Jesus has brought, not something we have achieved. Indeed, as Gethsemane alerts us, the Cross is of God, and Jesus recommits himself to God's task. Jesus asks nothing of us, for himself, either on the Cross, or indeed anywhere else. God and Jesus ask of us, not things for themselves, as we gaze on the Cross - but to do what we can for those around us. Their plea is not for us to become religious or more religious, but for us to become human or more human, amongst the rest of humanity, which has been created, redeemed and sanctified, in no different way to us and put around us. There will be a time for each and every one of us when we too will say: "It is finished". No one is indispensable. For all that our unique contribution to society is important, there comes a time when others need to make their own contribution, and we will need to give them space to bring forth their miracles, as well as latitude to make their own mistakes. As with St Peter, when we are young we walk where we would - but when we are old, we will be carried where we would not wish to go (Jn 21.18)
7 "Father into your hands I commend my spirit".
* I recall vividly a lovely lady I met soon after I went to live in a previous parish. She had contracted cancer, and was nearing the time of her death. My predecessor had ministered to her faithfully, and when I moved there, I continued seeing her with the Communion at home. Her constant question, indeed her justifiable anxiety, was "When?" How long was she to have to put up with the pain and the debility she was suffering. She shared the common conception that the time of one's death was in God's hands. One day I gently suggested to her, that the reality was that it was in her own hands. All of a sudden the anxiety left her, and she relaxed as she saw her situation in a completely different light. The number of times I have heard stories of people dying when the one closest to them has gone to get a cup of coffee is remarkable. They choose to die when that person is away, to save them just a little.
So Jesus, places himself in God's hands, and passes from this life. He chooses to not struggle. In the campaign against euthanasia I wonder if the Church is inadvertently alienating so many who express their desire to stop struggling and like Jesus, are simply ready to die.
This Good Friday, in whatever situation of life we might find ourselves in, hear the words of forgiveness and comfort that Jesus speaks. It may be forgiveness as the first two words contain. It may be of love and belonging - the import of the next. It may be of God's most powerful action when we feel most alone and hamstrung. It may be that he is reassuring us that Jesus is human too, he knows our needs. It may be that he is reassuring us that we are still loved even when our jobs are done, and we have nothing to offer. And finally may we too commend our lives into God's care, just as Jesus did, not just one the Cross, but from the beginning of his life. Whether we, today, are continuing to put our lives into God's hands, or making perhaps a fresh start, it does not matter; God is there to forgive, to welcome, to love and to provide for all our needs.
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