Good Friday – John 18:1 – 19:42
I am not exactly sure when or how it happened but over the last several years I’ve lost interest and faith in an all powerful, can do anything, kind of God. Some would say that’s a maturing of faith. Others would say it’s a lack of faith and a turning away from God. Maybe it’s both. Or maybe I’ve just grown weary of seeing the pain of the world. Maybe it’s our history of wars, genocides, and holocausts. Maybe it’s the string of mass shootings across our country. Maybe it was the death of our son. Maybe there has just been too many funerals the last couple of years. Maybe it’s any one of the thousands of tragedies, sorrows, and deaths that run through our lives. Maybe it’s all of those things. Or maybe it’s what the Psalmist says today :
“O my God, I cry in the daytime, but you do not answer;
by night as well, but I find no rest” (Psalm 22:2).
So before I talk about Good Friday I want to talk about Bad Friday. That’s the Friday that I struggle with. Don’t you? How are we to make sense of an all powerful, can do anything, kind of God who seemingly chooses to do nothing? That’s the Bad Friday question.
Bad Friday is our story of suffering and loss. It’s the day when it feels like your heart can’t break anymore than it already has. It’s the day your loved one dies. It’s that day when the pain never goes away. It’s the day your world comes to an end. It’s the day when you are powerless to save another from her or his suffering. It’s feeling forsaken by and distant from God.
Every one of us here could describe the Bad Fridays of our life. I think we are always struggling to make sense of them, to understand them, and find some meaning. Today is the pinnacle of that struggle. Today holds before us all the Bad Fridays of our lives. Where is God in all this? What is God doing?
I have to be honest. I don’t like this day. It’s the most enigmatic day of the church year. We come here and glory in the cross of Christ. That makes no sense. Jesus is dead. How can we glory in violence, injustice, pain, suffering, death? Some will say that this is God’s plan. I cannot, however, accept that divine violence is somehow better or more acceptable than human violence.
There’s just no way around it. This is a tragic and difficult day. And I don’t want to be here. Neither did Jesus’ disciples. They fled. Peter denied. Even Pilate tried to release Jesus and get away from this day. “Take him yourselves,” he says. Three times he declares, “I find no case against him.” You know as well as I, however, that we can never outrun or escape suffering and tragedy. We can’t run far or fast enough. There is no way out of it. We can only go through it.
That’s where I get stuck. I just don’t understand how God can be all powerful, capable of doing anything, but chooses to do nothing. Did an all powerful God refuse to extinguish the ovens at Auschwitz? Could God have deflected the bullets in Parkland, Florida, but elected not to? Does this can do anything God just look the other way when a child is beaten? Does this all capable God simply refuse to intervene in your and my tragedies and suffering?
That God has no credibility with me. If that’s what this Friday is about then there is nothing good about it. We should not glory in that kind of cross. So maybe the cross of Christ is showing us a different kind of God. Maybe this day offers the truest image of who God is. Maybe “the only God worthy of our belief is a vulnerable and powerless one who suffers with us” (Richard Kearney, Anatheism, p. 61).
Isn’t that really what Emmanuel, God with us, is about? Jesus is never more real, more human, more embodied, more identified with us, than he is on the cross. It’s not at his birth, or in his teaching and preaching, or the miracles he performs, or even at his resurrection. It’s on the cross. It’s in his suffering and dying that he is most like us. It’s in our suffering and dying that he is most present to us.
That’s what is good about this Friday. It doesn’t make the day any easier or more acceptable. But it’s all we’ve got. It’s the faithfulness of God to God’s people in life and in death. That’s why we cling to and glory in the cross of Christ.