Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday 2011 - Is This Justice?

Psalm 22:1-11 Isaiah 52:13-53:12 John 18:28-36a

It is written: "You say, 'The LORD’s way is not fair!' [Hear Me, says the Lord]: Is it My way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair? When someone virtuous turns away from virtue to commit iniquity and dies, it is because of the iniquity he committed that he must die. But if the wicked, turning from the wickedness he has committed, does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life. Since he has turned away from all the sins that he committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die." (Ezekiel 18:25-28)

It is a strange thing to observe the many churches and traditions that skip Holy Week observances, especially Good Friday, and seem to run straight from Christmas to Easter. It is strange to me primarily because I grew up in a tradition that observes these many holy days year after year. Good Friday seems dark and a little more sorrowful than a redeemed believer should have to endure especially within the context of the "future reality" of eternity, but we should also be aware that there can be no redemption if there is never any sorrow.

But for the enduring mercy of the Holy God, it is very important for the faithful to remember always that the gruesome death we remember and witness each year at this time was, in fact, our own. It is the "death sentence" from which we have been spared, though the penalty itself still had to be paid. When we get this image of Jesus hanging as He did while His life slowly and painfully seeped from the stripes on His flesh and from His sacred head, we must recognize what is the senseless, unjust, and brutal nature of sin; and what it took to redeem us. When we remember the historic context of Jesus' crucifixion, we would acknowledge that the death sentence imposed upon this Innocent Man was the worst form of punishment reserved for the worst form of criminal. And as the thief on the cross has testified, Jesus did not deserve to be there though the thief had it coming. Yet there was Jesus right beside him.

Docetism is a strange thought system that was deemed heretical in the early Church, but it does offer an interesting perspective on the crucifixion itself. Very simply put, Jesus became the Christ at His baptism when the "Spirit descended as a dove". Then the divine nature of the Christ departed from Him at the moment we experience His anguish of having been forsaken. What is compelling about this moment in the Passion, according to Docetism, is that the divine Christ manifest from the Almighty and Holy God cannot be destroyed, much less by humans. Such a thought is inconceivable, so what Docetism claims at this moment makes sense - at least according to human intellect and reason.

So then in this moment of despair, Jesus the human person is literally feeling the full and crushing weight of the sins of the entire world upon His very soul. It is not unlike when we know we have truly failed the Father in our own lives and can feel every ounce of guilt and shame when we fully realize how we have let down the Only One we can always count on. We feel alone, we feel ashamed, we feel virtually naked and completely exposed. It is our conscience informed by faith that we by our own acts, our own conscious choices, our own failures have sinned. Persons of faith in these moments of despair are not "afraid" of what might come. Rather, it is purely by our faith and the love of our souls that convicts us of the pain we have caused our Holy Father. O, how we have let Him down when perhaps He counted on us the most!

So if we can imagine this kind of pain in our own lives, we can get but a small taste of the bruising despair and crushing anguish that was upon Jesus in this moment. There are a couple of significant problems with Docetism's concept: (1) Jesus' death becomes a human sacrifice, and this cannot be accepted because we remember that the Holy Lord declared such practices as "abominations", and (2) the blood spilled at Calvary was not divine blood - that is, "perfected" or "holy" - having come from an inherently imperfect human being. In Docetism there was no divine sacrifice; there was only a Man falsely accused by religious authorities and handed over to secular authorities so that the only punishment the religionists demanded - death - could be carried out.

I think we can see the comparisons in our own lives especially when we hear things we don't really want to hear, though I have a hard time believing we could become so overwhelmed with hatred that we could actually see to someone's torture and death. I have, however, spoken to pastors who felt "persecuted" and Sunday school teachers who felt "shunned". Though their bodies were not destroyed by the hatefulness of the "persecuting" or "shunning" crowd, their spirits were "crushed" which is, as we have surely all experienced to one degree or another, a fate worse than death itself.

It is easy to say we cannot imagine the pain the Lord endured for us because we cannot envision a culture that would do such a thing, but in fact it is a pain we inflict upon Him and upon others each time we neglect all Jesus taught us. It is a pain inflicted upon unbelievers when we fuss and fight amongst ourselves and defies the peace which has been imparted to us. It is despair and anguish upon all human souls, persons who don't look like us or act like us, who desperately NEED to know that such an unconditional love actually and truly exists, and that such divine pardon is not only possible but completely desired by our Lord, our Master, our King.

It is hardly fair to look upon the scourge of the Cross and know why it had to happen. It is not fair because it should have been us; it could have been us. But for the Lord's enduring and perfect Love, it was Him instead. AMEN.

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