Friday, April 6, 2012

“It’s Good Friday now, but Easter’s coming!”

Lenten Meditation  6 April 2012

            “We are all saved in spite of ourselves—and for one another.  It never was a worthiness contest.  If God is love and if grace is true, then what exactly is the cutoff point?  “When is God’s arm too short to save?”  (Isaiah 50:2)  Are there any who have achieved worthiness and do not need saving?  Name them, please.”  (Page 218)

Fra Angelico, Christ Resurrected and the Maries at the Tomb in Cell 8

            Good Friday.  I remember as a child of perhaps 9 or 10 asking my mother why, if Jesus was so brutally killed on this day, do we call it Good Friday and not Bad Friday.  Her response was, as the British say, spot on.  “We call this day good because with Jesus’ death we are freed from sin and death.”  My mother was not theologically trained, nor did she know the nuances of the variety of Atonement theories, but she was grounded in a life of Episcopal Church worship and living that life as a nurse, wife, mother, and friend.  She did the best she could to answer my questions, although sometimes she would reply, “You’ll just have to find out when you are older.”

One of my favorite collects in the Book of Common Prayer, written at the turn of the 20th Century by Bishop Charles Henry Brent, sometime Episcopal Bishop of the Philippines begins, “Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace:…”  (BCP page 101)  Please note that salvation is not limited to only those who agree with a particular theological position or those who have earned God’s love, or even those who need it most.  Jesus’ whole raison d’être, his complete purpose in taking on human nature, was to show us perfectly how God loves every one of us regardless of our station in life or the depth of our sinfulness.  He came to BE love, not just as an example, but in order for our lives to shine with that same love for those who God brings into our lives.  Bishop Brent’s prayer continues, “So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name.  Amen.” 

As a young priest, I came to know as a colleague a fairly well known older priest named Curt Junker.  Father Curt was always wonderful to be around because he had a gift of making everyone he talked to feel like they were the most important person in the world.  He did have, at least for me, a difficult aspect, in that he was not a linear thinker.  I used to say that Curt “free associated” on the last word spoken, which meant that following his train of thought was next to impossible for me.  One mutual friend called him a “Trinitarian—able to talk in three circles at the same time.”  One conversation devolved to Curt’s raising the theological question of the “shelf-life” of Grace. His ramblings ultimately came back to posit that the shelf-life of Grace is eternal, because in eternity there is no linear time anyway.  Or to rephrase Father Rohr, when do God’s love and Grace expire?

The purpose of that story is to bring us back to a concept I discussed a couple of days ago of remembering, or more exactly re-membering as in putting back together, or in Greek anamnesis, bringing then into now.  There is a wonderful old Spiritual that is frequently sung on Good Friday, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”  We are called to be present with Jesus, to say “Yes, I was there”  as he is mocked, humiliated, stripped, beaten, crowned with the crown of thorns, forced to carry his own cross, nailed, pierced, murdered, and laid in the tomb, all for our sake.  Yes, the Christ event occurred 2000 years ago, but it happens for us today.  The best way that we can recognize the true glory of Resurrection is to walk with Jesus the Via Doloroso, to go down to the darkness with Him and there discover the light.  Or as a wonderful preacher from the African American tradition said, “It’s Good Friday now, but Easter’s coming!”

I pray for you the joy of God’s wondrous love through the death and Resurrection of Jesus.  May you know the outstretched arms of Jesus’ loving embrace in order that you can reach out with His love to that part of this broken world that so desperately needs the Good News that only you can bring.

Halleluiah!  Christ is Risen!

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