Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Reflection on Good Friday, 2020

Good Friday
When I first began my pastorate at Faith Lutheran, the congregation had no tradition for observing Good Friday. The worship space was left open for prayer for anyone who wished to take advantage of it (which no one did), but there was no formal liturgy. To me, this was a serious omission for the worship life of the congregation.

True, there are those who have said to me that they find the observance of our Lord’s suffering to be “too depressing.” To this I say, “That’s the point.” Good Friday is a day to contemplate our lostness and the suffering we’ve inflicted on others and on ourselves. This year, when covid-19 forbids us from attending a liturgy, we have little choice but to reflect on human sorrow as we hear the numbers of those stricken with this illness and those who have perished from it continue to rise.

I don’t see this pandemic as either a scourge from God or a harbinger of apocalyptic cataclysm. But, like all tragedies, it has its roots in human sin, in our “missing the mark.” The scientists are telling us that this coronavirus is another zoological virus, the inevitable consequence of humanity’s poor stewardship of the earth God entrusted us to maintain. If we indulge our appetites and encroach on areas we don’t naturally require, nature will visit repercussions on us. God does not protect us from the consequences of our own poor judgment. But God does call us constantly to repentance, and God is always provides us with healing. Our current situation is yet another call to heed the words of the prophet Joel: “Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.” (Joel 2:13)

Our Good Friday story (Matthew 26-27) is also a call to repentance, for in this saga we see just about every sin our self-involved natures commit. We see in the elders and the scribes who condemn Jesus greedily keeping score of wrongs, delighting in iniquity, and longing for a reason to justify their jealous hate. How often have we looked for reasons to stoke the fires of arrogant contempt for those we dislike?

We see also Pontius Pilate and his indifference to injustice. He cares only about his own position. He can let the innocent suffer and simply wash his hands of the problem. How often have we seen the pain of others and said, “It’s not my problem?”

See, too, the riotous crowd with a choice between two men—both accused of the same crime of sedition. One would rule by love, mercy, and high ideals. The other would rule by force and violence. How often have we chosen the way of this world over the things of God?

In the crucifixion itself we see nothing but our capacity for cruelty. As if the desire to kill were not enough, we hear the mocking of the elders, the guards, and even the other condemned prisoners. It is bullying at its worst—condemning the weak for their own weakness, kicking the beaten when they are already down. How often have we blamed the victims for their own misfortune and neglected God’s words of pity and comfort?

Here also are the soldiers at the foot of the cross, shooting craps for the garments of the condemned, profiting from the misery of others. Haven’t we heard of child laborers working for a pittance in third world nations to make us less expensive garments?

Finally, we see the body of Jesus hurriedly placed in a tomb in order to satisfy the religious code which prevents work to be done after sundown on the Sabbath. Those few faithful are given no time to mourn him, their feelings must be locked away as the stone is rolled over the tomb’s entrance. How often have antiquated religious notions locked out the feelings of others, condemning the divorced, the LGBTQ community, or those who have had abortions?

We need to look at this gospel on Good Friday. We need to feel the pain of it. We need to see ourselves in this dark mirror and pray for the grace to be penitent. We need to pray for God’s mercy on ourselves and on the whole world. Perhaps this time of enforced isolation will be good for our souls, and our Lord, who has given us and the earth we live on the tremendous power of healing, will make us better citizens, and more worthy of our membership in the Kingdom of Heaven.

For a short video version of this message, click Good Friday

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