Selected Passion Verses from the Gospels
Good Friday, April 14, 2017
The Rev. Adele K. Langworthy, preaching
Have you ever been in a dark place that seemed ever so hopeless? Problems were burying you alive, pain was cracking your very core? Imagine what it must have been like for Jesus’ mother. Mary, having to view her Son nailed to the cross until the last breath escaped his body. It must have felt like her own death. [Sarah Jakes] She was beneath the cross of Jesus not knowing that his body on the cross wasn’t the end of the story.
Today, we come to the cross. We place ourselves beneath the cross of Jesus and try to put ourselves in his last hours. We need to pause in this moment of darkness, pain and seemingly hopelessness. To enter the human condition, Jesus came down from heaven. Then down further. He pierced into the saddest and lowest human conditions—grief, degradation, betrayal, and torture. Then he died in the worst way possible, his unimaginable physical pain accompanied by the mental anguish of being abandoned by God. There is no darkness into which a human being can descend that Jesus has not already descended. [Victor Lee Austin]
Ann Weems is a Presbyterian poet. She wrote a poem about the seasons of the church year. She writes of Good Friday:
The church is Good Friday:
Blackness burnt into blackness,
Abysmal absence of anything good.
We acknowledge that death is real
And we tremble for a world that would kill its God.
Our feet stand in quicksand;
Our voices echo sterile silence.
We huddle together to meet the dark and the death,
Forgetting what was taught us,
Forgetting that somewhere a seed is sprouting,
somewhere a child is growing.
All we see is Christ crucified.
Victor Lee Austin writes in the Wall Street Journal about caring for his wife as she struggled and then died from brain cancer and subsequent treatments: “She lost the ability to plan projects. She slept 10 or more hours a day. When awake, she retreated into a rich world of books and puzzles. Her mental acuity never disappeared, but she found it increasingly difficult to share her thoughts with the world … . Her physical condition continued to deteriorate, and she died in 2012 at age 57.”
Austin goes on to write, “About a year later, I found myself preaching on a sentence that Jesus spoke from the cross: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” The son of God, with that simple question, plumbed the depth of my loss.”
Victor entered that dark place. But what he found there wasn’t lifeless. It was life. In it he found God and God’s wondrous love for he and his wife. In daring to reflect on Jesus’ question, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” he grew ever closer to God.
Today is about growing closer to God. It is about coming to know God’s wondrous love for us even more than before. It is about finding hope in the midst of darkness. We can’t get to the fullness of the gift of Easter without stopping at the cross. We can’t experience the overwhelming joy of new life without facing the moment when Jesus felt abandoned by the one who gives life and enters into a crucifixion death for us.
Sarah Jakes writes, “Candy Lightner, the mother of three, had encounters with drunk drivers. Driving with her eighteen-month-old twin daughters, Serena and Cari, in the car, Candy was rear-ended by a drunk driver. Serena was covered in bruises and multiple cuts from broken glass. Six years later, an unlicensed driver who was under the influence of tranquilizers struck Candy’s son, who required several surgeries to repair his broken bones and suffered permanent brain damage.
“The accident on May 3, 1980, would be the final straw for Candy. Her daughter Cari, now thirteen years old, was headed to a church carnival when she was hit and killed by a drunk driver. Four days later in the den of her home, Candy created an organization named MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Candy expresses, ‘I promised myself on the day of Cari’s death that I would fight to make this needless homicide count for something positive in the years ahead.’ Though her daughter was no longer physically with her, the memory of her life has touched millions. “
As Victor found consolation in his darkness and Candy found meaning and purpose in hers, so each of us can find the grace of God in the midst of seeming hopelessness. There is no darkness that the one crucified Christ can not illumine. As it says in John 1:4-5, “In Christ was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
Therefore no darkness can overcome us. If we bring our dark moments to this day and give them over to God, hope will burst forth. That’s the promise that begins today and is sealed on Easter.
While in Seminary, I served as an intern with the youth at a suburban church, outside Chicago. I collapsed after a youth group Valentine’s Day party.
I was taken to a local hospital and it was determined that I needed emergency surgery. There was a terrible snow storm and it took a very long time for the surgeon to make it to the hospital to perform my surgery. My appendix ruptured, as well as an ovarian cyst. I was pretty messed up inside. The surgeon said after the surgery that I was probably within 15-20 minutes of dying because the poison of the ruptures had poured through my body.
When I was finally released from the hospital, I couldn’t return directly to dorm-living. I had to go live with a professor and his wife so they could keep an eye on me and help tend to my physical needs. The ironic thing about how this all went down, was just about 2 weeks before the surgery, I had been involved in a discussion in class with the very professor whom I would need to live with to recover, about whether someone needed to experience hardship to understand the fullness of the resurrection. I was making the point that one didn’t need to journey through extreme hardship to know the fullness of the resurrection. He advocated that we needed to not seek out hardship, but welcome it when it came. Embracing hardship would lead us to a place where we would become more faith-filled, more hopeful.
I was back living in the dorm in about a month and easing back into school and my internship. I wouldn’t be fully recovered until mid-summer, but Easter morning I was back to leading worship.
Even in our dark times, we can experience the loving supportive presence of the One who entered darkness for our sake and come to know Him more deeply though it all.
Let us find hope by living with the One who died for us.