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Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday Message - 2014

God on the Cross (John 19:28-30; Psalm 69)
Friday, April 18, 2014 (Good Friday)

        As Jesus was dying on the cross he said “I am thirsty.” The author of the 4th gospel adds the editorial comment that he said this in order to fulfill the scripture.  That notion, that Jesus did things to fulfill scripture, is sprinkled throughout the gospels.  What scripture was fulfilled when he said, from the cross, “I am thirsty?”
          Psalm 69:21.  It is from a prayer of David who says in this verse, “they gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” 
          The Psalm begins “Save me, O God, from the waters that come up to my neck” (v.1).  Early in David’s life, he stared down lions as he protected his flock.  He battled the Philistine giant Goliath.  Then, as he rose to prominence, the jealousy of King Saul led him to repeatedly attempt to kill David. 
          After Saul’s death and David’s rise to the throne, problems continued.  He fell into deadly conflict with his son Absalom.  At times, Saul had armies hunting for David.  Later, it was Absalom with armies on the hunt.  More than once, surrounded by enemies David felt himself to be as good as dead unless God saved him.  And God did.
          The Messiah was to be a descendant of David.  Raised by Joseph who was in the line of David, Jesus met the requirement.  As a ‘son’ of David, Jesus had the qualification needed to be the Messiah. 
Jesus was also David’s Lord.   He lived differently than the great king.  David, in desperation, prayed that God would save him.  God did as David made it through many treacherous scrapes.  In the end, David died of natural causes.  In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus likewise asked God to take the cup of suffering from him (Luke 22:42).  This time, God did not. 
Another difference was the attitude toward tormentors.  Both had enemies intent on killing them.  Who was it that hated David (Psalm 69:4)?  The Psalm does not say but in his life, we see many candidates.  Any number of people might be opponents who David, in the Psalm, asked God to punish severely. 
Let their table be a trap for them, a snare for their allies.
23 Let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and make their loins tremble continually.
24 Pour out your indignation upon them, and let your burning anger overtake them.
25 May their camp be a desolation; let no one live in their tents.
26 For they persecute those whom you have struck down, and those whom you have wounded, they attack still more.[b]
27 Add guilt to their guilt; may they have no acquittal from you.
28 Let them be blotted out of the book of the living; let them not be enrolled among the righteous.

        When the mob came to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter using a sword, cut off the ear of one of the men.  Jesus healed the man as he rebuked Peter (Luke 22:51; John 18:10-11).  When the soldiers whipped Jesus, crowned him with thorns, and nailed him to a cross, he said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).  Unlike David, he did not pray “May their camp be a desolation … let them be blotted out of the book of the living.”  Jesus did not ask for God’s wrath to fall on those who were so cruel.  He asked God not to hold their sins against them.
          Yes, David lamented that his tormentors gave him vinegar.  Obviously he spoke poetically using metaphor to pour his heart out to God.  Yes, Jesus fulfilled that line from David’s poem, not in metaphor but literally.  As he hung dying on the cross he said “I am thirsty.”  A soldier jammed a vinegar soaked rag in his face.  The Fourth Gospel rightly sees the threads of Israel’s scriptures in Jesus’ story. 
          David was a man of his times, an era of visceral, up close violence.  He could not launch missiles that would kill his enemies who were 100’s of miles away.  He could not stay safely out of sight as warriors do today.  He had to look them in the eye as he stabbed them in the heart.  David’s prayer that God blot out his enemies may not sound holy, but it was honest.  The Bible calls him the one after God’s own heart; but not the Savior.
          That’s Jesus.  Yes, as John says, his actions fulfilled scripture.  What he demonstrated in word and deed and heart also re-imagined the Bible.  Jesus cast a new light on everything humanity thought about God.  In Jesus, we see God working in new ways.  People knew of God’s mercy and love prior to Jesus but he brought God closer than ever before.  Because of him, the path to God was opened to all people.
          “It is finished,” he said.  Then he died.  The old day was done. 
          In our somber remembrance we are painfully aware that like David we would like to call down curses on our enemies.  Like the religious authorities who killed Jesus as a matter of convenience, we would remove anyone who obstructed our path and foiled our personally made planes.  Like the Pilate, we are blind to truth.  Like the rage-filled Roman soldiers, violence pumps in our veins.  Jesus hangs crucified because of sin – because of my sins.
          Remembering, we grieve how our sins crucified him.  We also do well to set our hearts’ attention on the one who died for us.  Think about whom he was, who he is.  He did not die so much as he, as the gospel says, bowed his head.  Even in this moment, nailed to the cross, seemingly immobile, shamed, and beaten, it is Jesus who is in control. 
          Jesus provided for his mother’s care as he hung cross (John 19:25-27).  Nothing more happened until he determined it would.  He said, “I thirst,” and then scripture was fulfilled.  Jesus declared, “It is finished.”  Only after making that statement did he give up his spirit (v.30). 
Yes, God is the one who flooded the earth but protected Noah, split the Sea so Moses could pass through, stopped the sun in the sky for Joshua, and closed the lions’ mouths for Daniel.  God is the mighty God of the whirlwind in the book of Job, the God praised by the most powerful forces of nature in the most thrilling of Psalms, Psalm 148.
          God is also the humble savior who washed his disciples’ feet, who healed the ear of one of the guards sent to arrest him, who shared truth with the governor who tried to intimidate him, and forgave the soldiers who mocked and crucified him.  We can see God in the scriptures leading up to the Gospels but we are invited closer in the Jesus we meet in the Gospels. 
          Good Friday is a day to be as honest as David was.  We come fully clothed in sin and hang our sins on him as he hangs.  Naked we stand before him.  He drapes a robe of light onto us, his divine light.  We shine because his name is affixed to us.  It is a day of sadness on one level.  We enter that sadness and do not minimize it.
But, it is a remembered sadness, not a felt one.  We know where story goes.  More importantly, entering it at this point, at the cross, we know that is a day that we see God.  This is a day we understand how it is that God loves us. 
          The gospels tell us nothing of the Saturday after the crucifixion.  I do not know the proper spiritual practices for that day.  I do not believe there is any one way to observe ‘holy Saturday.’  I offer this.  Why not spend that Saturday quietly, fixing our minds on the crucified God.  Do it early, so that the sense of Jesus being for you sets in.  Do it intensely enough so that truth that you are forgiven and free becomes so real, you live it.  Saturday is a day for washing; Jesus cleanses our hearts, polishes our souls, renews our minds.  He brightens our smiles.  We are bathed in the redeeming, creating love of the crucified God.  We come out new because Jesus makes all things new including you and me. 


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