Good Friday

The journey was at an end. Jesus was quickly thrown backward with His shoulders against the wood. The soldier felt for the depression at the front of the wrist; he drove a heavy, square, wrought-iron nail through the wrist and deep into the wood. Quickly, he moved to the other side and repeated the action, being careful not to pull the arms too tightly. The title ‘Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews’ was nailed into place, and the crossbar lifted into position. The left foot was pressed backward against the right foot. With both feet extended, tows down, a nail was driven through the arch of each, leaving the knees moderately flexed. The victim was now crucified.

I am at a loss to think of a more horrible way to die, nor can I fathom willingly choosing to do so and I assume that I am not alone in that sentiment. However, no matter how horrible it was, Jesus’s death alone has no meaning. People die in horrible ways all the time, both 2000 years ago and today and most of the time our feelings of horror last no longer than it takes us to scroll to the next story or move on to the next task, and that is how most people treat Good Friday.  It is treated as just another day, the day that marks the death of Jesus, something to make note of in passing, but nothing more. In an attempt to get more people to pay attention, we could try make the argument that what makes Jesus death special is that he willingly chose to die out of obedience to God, but again thousands of people in human history have chosen to go to their death for many reasons and we don’t pay any more attention to their deaths than we do anyone else’s. So, if the death Jesus isn’t made significant or even special by the fact that he chose death, why are we here? Why do we choose to gather to remember this event, year after year?

The short response to these questions is that we gather to remember the death of Jesus because we know it is important enough for us to give time and energy to it, even though we may not be able to explain why. The slightly longer answer draws our eyes to Easter. The reason the death of Jesus is so important is because he did not remain dead. It is in Jesus’s resurrection, not in his death, that we find hope for the future. But if that is the case, why not just skip to Easter, like most people do? Most people treat Good Friday as just another day and then put on their Sunday best for Easter; but attempting to celebrate Easter without Good Friday is like trying to bake bread without yeast. The bread will cook, it might even resemble bread, but it will not be the real deal.

Good Friday is not only about remembering Christ’s death, it is about preparing ourselves for Easter, it is also about taking count of the things that separate us from God, as well as the things that cause us to suffer. Once we have taken count, then we must make the conscious decision to allow those things to die because it is in letting those things die that we can fully experience the joy of an open and loving relationship with God, which we gain through the resurrection of Jesus. The death of Jesus has meaning because of the good that comes out of it. With his resurrection Jesus proves that with God even death can be defeated. But yet, with our own relationship with God we expect the life-giving Joy of Easter without the death. If we want to have a true relationship with God, then we must learn to let go of the things that separate us.

Last night the altar was stripped of all its trappings to remind us that God is not found in the fair linens, in the candlesticks, or even the altar cross. God is not found in any man-made thing; God is not found in our anxiety, in our fear, in our suffering or in any other idol we create, whether it is physical or emotional. God is found in every one of us and is waiting for us to die to the idols in our lives and to turn ourselves over to the power of the Holy Spirit, so that we can fully know God’s love and be the creatures of Love and compassion we were created to be. God gave us the gift of free will and because of that gift God will not take away our suffering because God did not cause our suffering, God gave us the ability to choose because love without choice is not love and in return for that gift we choose to replace God with idols. It is our actions and our words that cause all of creation to suffer and it is our actions and our words that separate us from God. Even though we have rejected God’s love, time and time again, God has not given up, instead God came among us to show us the path back. The story of Jesus’s death and resurrection is a package deal and our lives need to be the same. Jesus had faith that if he put his trust in God, no harm would come to him and he was right. We have the same choice to make, do we cling to the world the way it is, or do we trust God to lead us to a better life? If we truly want to know God and let God into our lives then we must let go of the things that interfere with our relationship with God, we must let go of our pain, of our suffering, of our anxiety, of our love of things, of our obsessions, of our need to be in control and let them die with Jesus on the cross, so that we too can experience the resurrection in all its glory. Amen

Relationships

I recently heard a TED talk about a 75-year study conducted by Harvard University. In this study they followed the lives of more than 700 men beginning in 1938. They began by looking at two groups, the first being Harvard students at the time and the second being a group of young boys from the south end of Boston, which at the time was one of the poorest areas in the city. For the next 75 years the participants were interviewed every two years to gather data about all aspects of their lives. The purpose of the study was to determine what causes happiness in a person’s life.

What the study found was that it is strong relationships that lead to happiness. Based on the data the researchers could trace periods of happiness and unhappiness back to their root causes; but more importantly what they found was that over time they were able to predict how their subjects would be feeling based on the data they were gathering. When the subjects were in strong and loving relationships they were happier regardless of what other things may be happening in their lives.

Our faith can seem overwhelming and complicated, but this often because we are our own worst enemies. In our, seemingly, infinite desire to understand and have control we lose sight of the fact that the purpose of our faith is relationship. It is, at its core, about the relationship between people and God; people and the church; people and people; and people and creation.

Through the words of Exodus, we hear that it is through their rescue from Egypt that God establishes a more permanent community and relationship with the people of Israel. God is the source of the relationship between the Hebrew people, it is their belief in God that brought them together to form that community and it is their belief in God that keeps them in relationship with one another. The Exodus story is highlighting the style of relationship God wants to be in with all of us. It is a relationship based on mutual love, where both God and you spend your time and energy on building the relationship with one another.

Today’s reading from John highlights the establishment of a new relationship, a relationship also rooted in love; Love for God and for all of humanity. With a simple act of humility, we are given a glimpse of what a relationship with God is truly like. Like the Exodus story, John’s account of the last supper establishes the kind of relationship we are to have with both God and one another. When Jesus kneeled before his disciples to wash their feet he was symbolically demonstrating the love of God, who’s love is so vast that he is willing to lower himself to his knees, which is a position of reverence, submission, and complete surrender to the situation. When we kneel we are not only defenseless and unable to flee, but we are also placing our trust in the person before us. God has placed his trust in us to be the instruments of his love and mercy in creation and he established that when Jesus knelt before the disciples, all twelve of them, even Judas whom he knew would betray him, and washed their feet. He then told them to do the same for one another. Now the story of the foot washing may very well be just that, a story. Whether or not it occurred is irrelevant though, what matters is what we can learn from it. What is God calling us to do? The answer to that question is found in today’s Gospel. At the very end of the passage Jesus says “as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” Every single action we are told Jesus did and every parable he told was rooted in this.

God loves his creation so much that he was willing to put himself, in the form of Jesus, in harm’s way so that he could show us firsthand how to experience his love. Until his last night on earth Jesus had spent his time showing his followers, and through them, us how to experience Gods love by living the way God has called us all to live. He did not judge others, he did not withhold his compassion, he simply lived his life with humility, empathy, and love. When he came to the end of his life he knelt before his friends and washed their feet. He could have fled into the wilderness and probably lived a long life as a refugee and wanted man, but he didn’t. He accepted his worldly punishment with the knowledge that he never wavered in his devotion to his Father and that his father’s devotion to him also never wavered.

In the beginning, I talked about the importance of relationships to being happy. When people come from a loving and supportive home, they are happy and that allows them to thrive and grow as people. The sad reality is that many people do not come from loving and supportive homes. There are many people in the world who do not have a network of relationships to fall back on in hard times. And when you are in that lonely and dark place it is easy to forget that God is always present, because you can’t see him. It is also easy to fall into bad habits, with the hope that they will help you feel better. Some people turn to alcohol, some to drugs, and in many cases far more risky behaviors in the hope of either becoming oblivious to the world or at least covering the pain and loneness they feel. The problem is that these things give you nothing more than false hope. There is no real chance that these behaviors will improve their lives, which means they are engaging with nothing more than wishful thinking. There is hope in relationships, whether that relationship is with another person or with God.

In both the old and new testament we are called us to “Love the Lord your God will all your heart and with all your mind and with all your soul.” and to “Love your neighbor as yourself”. We are called to be Gods representatives in the world. In Exodus, Moses was Gods representative. It was through Moses that God led the people of Israel to the Promised Land and established their lasting relationship. It is through Jesus that God has established a relationship with us. It is now on us to be Gods face and ahnds in the world, it is up to us to reach out to the people who don’t have strong relationships and allow God to reach them through us, because he can’t reach them on his own. He can’t reach them because they can’t recognize him; but if we reach out and offer them friendship, they will come to know God through us and with the help of the Holy Spirit, eventually be able to be aware of God on their own. We have the ability to do this because we already do Love God with all of our hearts, mind and souls. We are aware of his love; we can feel it and experience it. Now is the time to be brave and to take the next step. We need to spread God’s love to everyone around us by engaging in the world, we need to build relationships based on trust and understanding. It is through this type of engagement that God will be able to reach everyone, and it is through that relationship that many people will find the kind of love they are searching for. Even if they never fully experience God’s love, they will at least have had yours.

I recently read a book called “The Love of God: Divine Gift, Human Gratitude, and Mutual faithfulness in Judaism” By Jon Levenson. In it Levonson discusses the Hebrew understanding of God’s love and how it appears in scripture. He argues that God’s love in based on the relationship between God and the Israelites, much like Christian scholars argue that divine love is based on our relationship with the trinity. Towards the end Levenson says “The life focused on the love of God…is a life lived actively in the world yet focused on the Creator and drawing its energy from all-encompassing love for him.”

So as we come together tonight to wash one another’s feet and to celebrate the Lord’s supper remember what these two acts symbolize. They symbolize the love of God and his willingness to kneel before us in humility and love. They symbolize the relationship we have with God, as well as with one another and all of creation. God wants nothing more from us than to love him and to use his love to help us love others.