Our congregation participated in a joint Good Friday service. We, the clergy, shared the responsibility of brief meditations on the last 7 “words” of Jesus. I was responsible for the 1st, 4th, and final “word”
The First Word: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” – Luke 23: 34a
As I pondered these words from Jesus, a much less pious Country Song begun to play in the back of my mind. The song is “Pray for You” by Jaron and the Long Road to Love. The lyrics begin:
I haven’t been to church since I don’t remember when
Things were going great ’till they fell apart again
So I listened to the preacher as he told me what to do
He said you can’t go hating others who have done wrong to you.
Sometime we get angry, but we must not condemn.
Let the good Lord do his job and you just pray for them.
It continues with prayers for harm, pain, and suffering to come to his former lover. Then:
I’m really glad I found my way to church.
Cause I’m already feelin’ better, and I thank God for the words.
Yeah, I’m gonna take the high road and do what the Preacher told me to do.
You keep messin’ up, and I’ll keep prayin’ for you.
And more prayers for harm, pain, and suffering to come her way.
The preacher’s advice is solid and we often do feel relieved once laying down our troubles in prayer. But, I do wonder when we are offered the advice to pray for our ‘enemies’; if these are not the prayers mulling in the back of our minds. After all, we are just human. Perhaps, the prayer spoken is not malevolent but carries the tone of “Lord, please change them to be more like me”.
Perhaps, this is why I am intrigued and in awe of Jesus’ first action and word upon the cross. This first word is intercession on the behalf of those causing him pain and suffering, while they continue to mock him hanging on the cross bearing the weight of their and all human sin. His prayer is simple and freed from a sense of hate, revenge, or even impending judgment; in fact it is quite the opposite, it is a prayer for forgiveness. Similar to this intercession, Christ continues to intercede for human kind, for each of us, with the comforting tones of love, grace, mercy, and non-judgment for the knowledge that we lack or, at least, lack the embodiment of.
This prayer is Jesus practicing what he preached: the art of forgiveness. This art was emphasized in his life, teachings, and death. May we, at least seek, to respond so lovingly to the people and this world that can be so harsh, judgmental, and unforgiving. Amen.
The Fourth Word: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” – Psalm 22: 1
A recurring theme in my preaching and teaching is that the Triune God entered into our human history embracing the entirety of human experience. The Triune God wished for humanity to intimately know God; but the Triune God also desired that no human experience be foreign or unknown to God.
Although the Triune God as incarnated in the man named Jesus was without sin, he was required to experience the consequence of sin. The consequence of sin is the sensed separation between ourselves and the divine presence of God. As Christ hung upon the cross, people have argued that God (the Father) distanced himself in order to experience the pain and suffering of this spiritual separation. Jesus’ cry “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”, is his complaint, which like the saints and our own, is actually a sign of spiritual life being exercised.
How is this spiritual life exercised? God promised to be ever-present. When we feel spiritually separated from the divine presence, we may become angry and voice our displeasure asking “God, why have you forsaken me?” First, we are more comfortable expressing anger with those we are closest with for we believe our relationship can survive it and perhaps thrive afterwards. Second, God can handle all of our anger. Lastly, as I was sharing with someone the other day, anger is an indication that you are not “ok” or “content” with the situation. And we should NOT be content sensing this separation from the divine presence.
Jesus voiced his complaint. He experienced the physical suffering of his passion, crucifixion, and death. He experienced the mental and emotional anguish as he was betrayed, forsaken by the disciples, and mocked. But now, he also experienced the spiritual torture of a sensed distance from the divine presence.
May we find comfort in the knowledge that the Triune God as incarnated in Jesus the Christ embraced this entirety of human experience. He even experienced the soul-torturing separation from the divine presence, in order that the Triune God can honestly say “I have been there and done that. I will be ever-present with you even in the darkest of times”. Amen.
The Final Word: “Father, into your hand I commit my spirit.” – Psalm 31: 5a
The common, perhaps more traditional, commentary argues that the crucified Christ uttered this phrase to offer his spirit, his entire being, as a free-will offering. The free-will offering was his life laid down as a ransom for all of human sin: past, present, and future.
Although Jesus was a willing participant, I have struggled with this traditional language because it lacks acknowledgement of the human participants in his passion and crucifixion. In essence, it has let humanity off of the hook.
Therefore, I hear this utterance differently.
During the course of my life, I have had the unfortunate experience of attending the funerals, memorials, and burials of numerous family, loved ones, and friends. In the relatively brief time I have been serving at Gloria Dei, I have unfortunately had the honor of presiding at multiple memorial services. You might say that I am no stranger to death and the religious services that accompany it. These services conclude with a committal prayer, which is when we (the family, loved ones, and friends) commit the spirit and being of our deceased loved one into the loving arms of our Creator, a gracious God.
So, when I hear Jesus’ final word, “Father, into your hand I commit my spirit”, I hear a committal prayer uttered by and for Jesus. In this way, Jesus shared with his loved ones that he, spirit and body, was being committed into the loving hands of God (the Father).
May this final word and action of Jesus provide us with comfort and remind us from who Jesus came and was returning, a Gracious God (the Father). Amen.