Tag Archives: good friday

Good Friday

I was taught that when Jesus died on the cross, that somehow he took the sin of the world upon himself and because God is righteous, and cannot stand to be near to sin, God turned God’s back of Jesus when Jesus cried out while hanging on the cross, “My God my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Crucifixion

This teaching became something I struggled with when a friend of mine told me that while reading a children’s book to his daughter it painting the same picture as above, only his daughter asked why God would turn God’s back on God’s Son. Was it because God didn’t love God’s Son? Was God angry at Jesus? Why would God turn away?

Sometimes it takes the curiosity and insight of a child who is not intimidated to ask the hard questions to reveal how destructive our own thinking can be.

How one understands Good Friday deeply shapes how one pictures God – for better or for worse.

Good Friday has become an important day for me, and the words of Jesus on the cross, “My God my God, why have you forsaken me?” have been deeply comforting in my own Fridays. It is comforting because I no longer interpret this to mean that God’s back was turned and Jesus suffered alone. Think about it, what kind of picture does this paint of God?

Does God leave us when we endure our own Fridays? Does God turn God’s back every time I mess up? What about times I mess up a little? How big does my mess up need to be? If God turned God’s back on Jesus, God’s Son, how can I trust that God will be with me when I endure a crisis of my own?

If I understand Good Friday to be the day God turned God’s back on Jesus, and God did this because God can’t be close to sin, that means God’s back is turned toward me a lot of the time. This will deeply form one’s psyche and will affect the way one lives in very destructive ways!

So, what is meant when Jesus cries out on the cross? First, it has helped me to understand that Jesus was echoing a lament found in the Psalms. Psalms 22v1-2 say, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.”

Have you ever felt this way?

This is a powerful lament filled with emotion that echo my words every time I go through a Friday of my own. Each of us has gone through our own Friday, and many of us have gone through several. In our Fridays, we endure loss, grief, pain, confusion, etc. If we are honest we all have asked two questions: “Why is this happening?” and “Where are you in the midst of this God?” This, I think, is the very heart of the Psalmists lament.

So, when Jesus cries out on the cross, “My God my God why have you forsaken me”, he is not giving a statement, but expressing a very human emotion, “God, where are you?”

Have you felt alone? Have you felt like God has rejected you, or turned away from you? Have you ever felt lost because you just didn’t understand why something was happening?

Good Friday is powerful because it reflects that Jesus felt the same way you and I do when we go through a difficult season in our lives. Jesus understands our pain, suffering, confusion, and loneliness that each of us has felt and some of us are feeling right now.

As we know though, the story doesn’t end there. Somehow, in a very mysterious way, God was working in the midst of Good Friday to bring about reconciliation. In the midst of death, God worked to bring about new life.

This is the Christian Hope. The Christian Hope then, is not that we have all the answers, or that we never falter in our faith or never doubt that God is present. The Christian Hope is that even when we feel alone, confused, lost or frustrated that somehow, in someway, God is working in the middle of all this to bring about new life.

May you experience this Hope in new and fresh ways this Good Friday.

 

How Holy Week reflects our individual stories

This past Sunday was Palm Sunday which began Holy Week. For anyone unfamiliar with Palm Sunday, it is the day when Christians celebrate the time Jesus entered into Jerusalem and people shouted,

“Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

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Now, what’s going on here? A little context I think has helped me.

If your living during this time, you are shaped by the Hebrew Scriptures and the narratives found there. Primarily though, you are shaped by two major narratives; that of exodus and that of exile.

Exodus is familiar to most people, even those not raised in a religious tradition. According to the narrative, God, through Moses (i.e. Christian Bale:) brought about salvation (read liberation) and set the Israelites free from Egyptian oppression.

Exile, is less familiar to most people, but it is no less important and may actually be much more important to the Jewish mind. In 587 BCE, the Babylonian Empire, under the reign of Kind Nebuchadnezzar, conquered Judah, destroyed the temple, and took thousands of the most influential leaders and most of the young people and brought them back to Babylon to assimilate them into their culture. This exile lasted for about 50 years until the Persian King Cyrus the Great conquered the Babylonian’s in 539 BCE and allowed those in exile to go free. It was actually during this time that much of the Hebrew Scriptures were written. This was because the Jewish people were forced to wrestle with who they were and were God was in the midst of this. They had been conquered, their sacrificial religious system destroyed with the temple, and how they understood God was through God’s presence in the temple. Now they had to think about where they came from, who was God, how did God bring about salvation before, and how the heck did they wind of in Babylon?

In both of these narratives, God brought about salvation through a person who set the Jewish people free from oppression.

So, in the Palm Sunday narrative we see the first century Jews expecting God to bring about salvation in the same way that God had in the past, by sending a Messiah/Savior who would bring about salvation by overthrowing the Romans and establishing an earthly kingdom…only this didn’t happen.

Several days later, what Christians now call Maundy Thursday, one of Jesus’ closest friends betrayed Jesus and on Good Friday Jesus was crucified. Imagine you were one of the disciples, you have left all family and friends to follow this Jewish Rabbi for the last year, and you wholeheartedly believed that this Rabbi was the coming Messiah/Savior who would bring about salvation. In other words, Jesus was the warrior king who would overthrow the Romans!…only something went terribly wrong.

Within a matter of several days, your whole world was shaken, and you were left confused, frustrated, uncertain, and dumbfounded. You have given up everything. You deeply believed that Jesus was the Savior and now he was just killed. Your whole life was headed in one direction, and then all of a sudden the ground was ripped out from under you and you didn’t know where God was or why this was happening.

Have you ever felt like this?

Have you ever asked, “Why is this happening?”

Have you ever asked, “Where are you in the midst of this God?”

You’re not alone!

Holy Week reflects the human drama. In other words, each of us can share in this week, because I have never met anyone who didn’t go through a Friday of their own. Everyone one of us has felt lost, betrayed, hurt, wounded, alone, frustrated, uncertain, confused at some point in our life. If you are human and your heart is still beating, you have endured a hardship, a time of grief or suffering of some sort. You have experienced a crisis or loss, you have loss a job, a relationship, someone has passed away, someone close to you has been diagnosed with a life threatening illness, you have moved, someone has spoken something to you or about you that has wounded or hurt you, you have tried to obtain something – a job, a school, a grade, or even pregnancy, and it didn’t happen…we all share in this story because Holy Week reflects each of our stories.

Two simple things I have learned from going through seasons like this in my life and seeing others go through them as well. They are very practical, but I think very powerful.

1. Admit it

To admit that your struggling is not easy, but it is the first step to healing. Many of us, myself included, struggle with this because it feels like admitting that we are weak. Also, among many Christians, there can be a sort of pressure to always seem like we  have it all together and to always be “more than conquerors.” The problem is, we don’t live our entire lives in Easter…we spend our lives journeying from Palm Sunday – where everything seems to be going great, through Good Friday – where everything comes crashing down, to Easter – where God works to bring about new life among the ashes.

By admitting it, we are not admitting we are less human, less mature, or less spiritual. We all have and will endure seasons of hardship, just because you are struggling doesn’t mean that you did something wrong or aren’t good enough or strong enough. When we admit it and openly walk through difficult times, our souls expand. Have you ever met someone who seems like they were a deeply centered person? Chances are they walked through a very difficult Friday and resisted the temptation to try to skirt around it or try to pretend it’s not there. I think the key here is realizing it is a season of your life and it doesn’t define who you are.

2. Surround yourself in community.

Friends matter. Relationships matter. As much as we try to do things on our own, when we experience Fridays (i.e. times of crisis) in our lives, we often need to rely on others. This has been true in a number of different seasons of my life. As much as I would like to always have faith, hope, perseverance, and strength, I don’t. I doubt. I don’t always have hope. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed and want to give up.  We need those around us to have faith for us when our faith falters, to have hope when we don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, to continue to walk alongside us and be our strength when we feel like giving up and surrendering.

Holy Week is a reflection of each one of our stories. By reflecting upon this we can  be encouraged to know that we are not alone!

Oh…and the most powerful part about this is that God is working amidst our Fridays (loss) to bring about Easter (new life)!

Lent – the death of the old and the rebirth of the new

So this Lent season I have been thinking about what Lent means to me and what it says to the world we live in today.

I was not raised to pay much attention to the church calender. Of course Christmas and Easter were always a big deal, but following the church calender through Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, and ordinary time where never on my radar.

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Lent is that time of year where Christians prepare for the death and resurrection of Jesus. Often times this comes with giving up something in observance of this season.

I have specifically been thinking about the time between Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter.

What happened in this time is one major faith shift.

I have gone through some pretty major faith shifts, but the biggest faith shift has been my picture of God.

I still remember very clearly not long ago someone on pastoral staff at a church who was suggesting that God brought about a recent hurricane to judge the “wicked”. This person quoted texts in the Hebrew Scriptures (Christian Old Testament) to prove that God had done this before and that God was doing it again.

I also remember during this time wrestling through different texts, their interpretations, and who God was when an old friend firmly tried to “rebuke” me (that’s a Christian way of saying your wrong) and declared that we should not wrestle with the Bible or God but we are to accept both as it is. Really? What this person was actually saying is that I needed to accept their interpretation of Scripture and their picture of God.

I also remember during this time hearing from an influential lay leader at a church that not only are Muslims wrong, but that they are evil and Christians need to be aware and stand against them or else they will take over our nation. This person had a very clear picture that America is a “Christian” nation and that any other religion is our enemy to be fought against.

I also remember during this time hearing from several about the importance of getting people to say a “sinner’s prayer” so that they do not go to hell and burn throughout eternity.

I remember thinking through these four examples (and many others) and realizing that I just don’t see things the same way. Each of these examples could be argued (and were) using the Bible. I didn’t have the words, or the theology, but I was going through a season of Lent. The old way of seeing and understanding God had died – I just hadn’t made it to Easter yet!

Jesus was suppose to be the Messiah (anointed one) and the Savior who was suppose to free Israel from the Roman Empire. Palm Sunday is a clear example of this as the people shouted Hosanna which means “Lord save us” – literally they were anticipating salvation from the Roman Empire just as God had saved them from the Egyptians in the book of Exodus and from the Babylonians during the Exile (587-539 BCE). So to them Hosanna clearly meant Lord save us from the Roman empire.

This makes perfect sense. As they understood God was a mighty warrior who conquered and defeated their [Israel’s] enemies. Yahweh was a God who brought about calamity, commanded genocide, and fought for Israel and would send people to hell in a moments notice.

Here comes Jesus, the one who was suppose to represent all of the descriptions above. Jesus would to be a mighty warrior who would conquer and defeat Israel’s enemies, the Romans. Jesus would bring peace to Israel through violence and the sword and would condemn to death those who oppose him.

  • Palm Sunday – people celebrated and expected this Jesus.
  • Good Friday – this Jesus was put to death.
  • Easter – Jesus was resurrected and shows a new way of seeing God.

I have recently heard that each serious Christian has one primary text that acts like a lens through which they read the rest of the Scriptures through.

During this time, and today, one of the biggest texts that I use is found in Colossians which says, “He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God”. Also a similar text found in Hebrews 1v3, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being…”.

I understand not everyone believes that Jesus is divine, but it’s difficult to argue for a more beautiful way of seeing God. The one thing, above all others, that makes Christianity unique, is this idea that God entered into our humanity and showed us who God is and how to be fully human.

Now, I realize a lot of violence, destruction, oppression, and hatred have been used in the name of Jesus (much like it has been used by a few Muslim extremist today), but when one reads the life and teaching of Jesus it is very difficult to get a picture of a God who is violent, vengeful, angry, full of hate, and ready to torture people throughout eternity.

In fact, it seems to me that one gets the exact opposite picture of God. In my experience there are many people who do not believe in God, and when they talk about the God they do not believe in, I realize that often I do not  believe in that God either.

What does this mean for today?

I wonder if we need a season of Lent in our culture. I think that there are some very horrible and destructive ways of seeing God that should be put to death.

I have a feeling, that there is a growing number of people, like myself, for whom the old ways of seeing God no longer work. These people have entered into a Good Friday, and similar to the first followers of Jesus, it is easy to experience a disequilibrium of sorts.

During this time it is tempting to through the whole thing out the window (this is what the first followers of Jesus did and what we often do as well). While some are atheist because this seems to be the most rational way of understanding the world, I think some people are atheist because they have been presented with a god that doesn’t make sense and that is actually not worth worshiping and have rejected this god.

I think the invitation during this season of Lent for today is to hold on and continue the journey. While you may have gone through a Friday, the promise is that Friday does not have the last answer – Easter is just around the corner!