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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Good Friday, April 19, 2019              

Today’s 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)

Today is day two of the Holy Triduum, and if yesterday’s Maundy Thursday experience allowed us to retain some hold on the good going on—the life and covenant and joy of Jesus’ communion—then today that’s all gone and we are knee-deep in wrong, wrong, wrong with the water still rising.

Simon is compelled to carry his cross—it’s up to our waist;

They offer him sour wine to drink—it’s rising still;

They’re dividing his clothes (even his clothes!)—we’re pointing our chin to the sky;

They’re mocking him and deriding him—this of all things feels like stasis. They’ve been mocking him his whole life; maybe the water stopped.

But no.

His broken voice is crying out in abandonment to his God now—“Why have you forsaken me?”—and we are submerged, nowhere left to go. His dying breath and the cry it propels isn’t even as bad as this.

And yet we don’t avert our eyes. Why? Why do we look on at this scene in the same way that the faithful women looked on from a distance?

Because here is humanity—damnable, broken, glorious humanity—and if we look away we miss the truth about ourselves and our part in reenacting this scene on street corners and board rooms still today.

And also because here is God, in the same figure and at the same moment, refusing as always to let us wriggle away from this love that will not let us go, even when we are killing it. Here is God taking on the worst, just to be with us and to be for us.

The church looks at this scene with compassion and horror and even awe, and with one voice the church calls it “Good Friday.”

Gracious God, the comfort of all who sorrow, the strength of all who suffer, hear the cry of those in misery and need. In their afflictions show them your mercy, and give us, we pray, the strength to serve them, for the sake of him who suffered for us, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Prayer from Book of Common Worship, 1993.)

Reflection written by Rocky Supinger, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry

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