The Friday We Call Good

Last Sunday, we sang the hymn “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”

Were you there when they crucified my Lord? (Were you there?)
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
O! Sometimes it causes me to tremble! tremble! tremble!
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
And, the hymn continues, detailing the torture undergone by Christ--the nailing and the piercing of the body--and culminating with the idea that Jesus’ death moved all of creation-- ”were you there when the sun refused to shine”.

Tonight, in our liturgy, we are reminded that the answer to the question poised in this Spiritual, composed by African American Slaves in the 19th century, is “yes”.

“Yes” we were there, “Yes we witnessed the flogging and the nailing, the scourging and the taunting”.  “Yes” we were there, we denied Christ and we stood by Christ.  “Yes” we were there, we wept at the cross and held the wine to his lips.  “Yes, we were there when they crucifed my Lord”. 

In participating in this liturgy, by enacting the passion through our own participation, we are reminded that what we recall in this liturgy is not some historical moment, or quaint and instructive embrace of historical reenactment, but rather, a claiming of our place in God’s story.  The story is now, the story is still happening.  

And in the story that is now, we find ourselves participants in a world in which powers and principalities exploit and deny the belovedness of all of God’s children.  In the now, we live and die in the midst of broken relationships.  In the now we experience the betrayal of those who once stood with us and the denial of those who swore never to leave us. In the now, we hold vigils for the dying.  In the now, we care and love.  In the now, we suffer. 

This is our now, it is our past and our future, but it is not the end of the story.  Because the broken now has been healed by a reconciled then.  The broken now holds the hope that healing will come.  All those things which separate us from God and from each other will be rendered powerless at the foot of the cross.  

Theologian Jurgens Moltmann upholds this moment on the cross--this poignant moment of silhouetted form hanging still against the sky--as the moment out of which our faith is born, “Our faith begins at the point where atheists suppose that it must end. Our faith begins with the bleakness and power which is the night of the cross, abandonment, temptation, and doubt about everything that exists! Our faith must be born where it is abandoned by all tangible reality; it must be born of nothingness, it must taste this nothingness and be given it to taste in a way no philosophy of nihilism can imagine.”

So, tonight we are invited to taste the nothingness.  Tonight we are given the gift of time to sit with our regrets and our sorrows.  Tonight we hear the gasp of forsakenness.  Tonight we cry out crucifixion.  Tonight we stand at the cross...

And, as we stand still, I am struck that the journey to Jerusalem has come to a close.  That, tonight, the way of the cross has ended with crucifixion.  That, tonight, the disciples will scatter...leaderless and directionless.  Tonight, the story ends.

But, if we are to believe Moltmann--tonight is the night upon which the story begins, “with the bleakness and power which is the night of the cross, abandonment, temptation, and doubt about everything that exists!”  And, so even in this story of death we find the signs of new life.  

Joseph of Arimathea who had kept his love of Jesus a secret and Nicodemus who had first come to Jesus by night (ashamed to be seen seeking the son of Man), these are the ones who use their power to make the request.  They use financial privilege to purchase the spices for anointing.  They take the risk of loving him to the end.  

“After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Judeans, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.”

If God calls us to transformation, to repentance and reconciliation. I can only wonder that the first act of reconciliation following Jesus’ death on the cross is that those who were secret followers of Jesus are the ones who step forward to claim his body.    

Anointing it, wrapping it, and giving honor to a man from whom all honor had been stripped. This is the power of the cross...that even on this night, love wins. 

That even on this night when we cry, “crucify him” and name and own our own complicity...even on this night of death, we are transformed by what we have witnessed.  


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