“Good” Friday Revisited

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Tonight we enter the “shadows” of Holy Week through a service of Tenebrae.  (“Tenebrae” comes from the Latin for “shadows” or “darkness.”)  During a series of readings, hymns and choral anthems, twelve candles will gradually be extinguished and the Christ candle remov

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Tonight we enter the “shadows” of Holy Week through a service of Tenebrae.  (“Tenebrae” comes from the Latin for “shadows” or “darkness.”)  During a series of readings, hymns and choral anthems, twelve candles will gradually be extinguished and the Christ candle removed to a sepulcher.  It is our most solemn service of the year; after the solo of “Were You There,” we depart in silence to wait the dawn of Easter.

As part of the days of “awe and mystery,” the service has great meaning for me.  Out of reverence to the Christ to whom I have taken sacred vows of service, I will remove my stole, the sign of my vows, and place it on the Communion Table while the Christ candle is entombed.  I don’t lead any worship services until either Easter Vigil or Sunrise.

I’m reminded of an afternoon tea I had with a good friend, a child psychologist, several years ago on Good Friday.  He grew up as a “nominal Catholic” and now is a very engaged Unitarian Universalist.  After making sure that he understood the basics of an “orthodox understanding” of the theology of Good Friday, “God the Father sent God the Son to be crucified for the sins of humankind,” he coyly inquired how it is that he, as a mandatory reporter of child abuse, is not required to file a report against “God.”  His point was playfully, yet powerfully, made.

To come straight to it, I do not believe that “Jesus died for our sins.”  However, I do find a powerful salvation and liberation in the narrative of the cross.  To some, that confession might be shocking; to others, it is saving word.

On the Second Sunday in Lent (March 4), the pericope for preaching was Mark 8:31-38.  In it, Jesus said “quite openly” that the Promised One “must undergo great suffering and be rejected.”  In response, Peter and Jesus have an exchange that results in Peter being called “ha-Satan” (“the opposer”) by Jesus; “you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

The debate about Jesus began with the first disciples; those of us who wonder, doubt, and even misunderstand the Jesus mission stand in a long tradition.  It doesn’t make us unfaithful or unbelieving.

I found it a curious calendaring this year that Palm Sunday was also April Fools’ Day.  I know, April Fools’ Day is neither a liturgical holiday nor even a banking holiday; but it reminded me of my fondness of the literary motif of the “wise fool.”  The wise fool is the blind seer, the mute who speaks the truth, the court jester that confronts power, the clown who mocks us all.  It is the child that says, “The Emperor has no clothes.”

On Palm Sunday, the narrative (Mark 11:1-11) indicates that during a makeshift palm parade, the people hailed Jesus as a military leader, “blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!”  They believed that he was coming to lead a military uprising against the occupation of Rome.

The people, however, fail to notice what he is riding; the text actually takes pains to make it clear—a lot of words are used to describe the “vehicle of transport.”  A military leader would have been riding a military horse; Jesus rides a colt.  No one seems to notice; a wise fool might have been helpful.  What are we to make of Jesus?

As another calendar coincidence, the 44th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. King (4 April 1968) was Wednesday, right before we enter our days of awe and mystery.  At 6:01 p.m., on the balcony of room 306 of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, a great prophet fell.  But a prophet knows they are not the message, only a messenger.  The work continues, still, to see us wake from our nightmare to a dream of justice for all.

Years ago, while studying Buddhism, I was introduced to a concept that transformed my understanding of Jesus, Dr. King and other prophets:  they are bodhisattvas.  A “bodhisattva” is an “enlightened one;” similar to a Christian saint, but not exactly the same.  They are ready to enter “paradise” or become a Buddha, but many choose not to do so.  One of my favorite bodhisattva legends is of Jizo Bosatsu, a protector of children.  He refuses to enter paradise until all of human suffering is relieved; and, he knows this is going to be a very long time.  He is committed to wait and to work for that day.

The narrative of the cross, for me, directs us into the suffering of the world as the pathway to salvation and liberation—it is a long journey.  It is not a tale of a military leader that comes to meet oppression with violence; it is not the story of a God who saves us by the sacrifice a child, any child.  It is the account of God’s absolute declaration of solidarity with us—a willingness to enter our suffering.

The pathway to liberation and salvation, indeed to the Light and realm of Lovingkindness, is through the shadows, the darkness and sometimes a tomb.   It is the course for wise fools and bodhisattvas; it is how misguided “hosannas” move through cries of “crucify” and finally to the “alleluias” of resurrection.

 

Read more http://whereheartandmindmeet.ccuccatl.com/2012/04/06/good-friday-revisited/

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