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Good Friday, April 18, 2014

Scripture Reading: Matthew 27:32–56
As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross. And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; then they sat down there and kept watch over him. Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”

Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, ‘I am God’s Son.’” The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way.

From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.” At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”

Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him. Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. (NRSV)

Those of us gathered for worship last night once again heard the powerful and stirring words of the old hymn, “Were You There?” There is perhaps no more pertinent question asked of us during this or any other season of our Christian year. It is a question that invites us to an immersive experience of our sacred story.

Who are you in this story? The man compelled to carry the cross of Jesus? The bandits crucified on either side of him? The ones who mocked and taunted him? The authorities who carried out his sentence? The centurion who recognized the truth unfolding before him? The women standing faithfully at a distance?

While I very much value the thoughtful approach to faith expressed in our community, I wonder if sometimes we are a little too cerebral for our own good. We are adept at talking about God and theologizing about Jesus, but how often do we allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough to experience God and feel the story of Jesus? The extended drama of Holy Week is our best opportunity for just this kind of immersion, and the profound pathos of Good Friday gives us access to the most intense encounter with the brokenness and pain of the human condition that our sacred tradition has to offer.

On this Good Friday, God invites us to not rush too quickly to the restoration of Easter morning. As we live in the darkness of this day, let us also not be too quick to objectify the story we share and spend our time speculating about what it might mean for us theologically. Instead, do your best to feel the gravity of this day. Do your best to be there.

When I open myself to it, God, this can be an uncomfortable and painful day. Give me strength to abide in darkness, and help me to recognize that you are present even there. Amen.  

Written by John W. Vest, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry

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