Sunday, 29 May 2022

Good Friday

We are moving through Lent with purpose, and we begin to approach Holy Week with reverence. Lent is long. Lent is long because it is a serious time of self-reflection. It ends with the most hopeful time in the Christian year, Easter, filled with celebrations, colourfully decorated eggs, special foods and general feasting. However, before we get to Easter we must make it through Good Friday. Many churches, ministers, and Christian Traditions, have attempted to get past Good Friday with as little notice as possible, often smoothing through the problems of the darkness of the day, or, as Paul put it, the 'Scandal of the Cross', as much as possible, focusing instead on the highs of Palm Sunday, ending on the even more triumphal high of Resurrection Sunday. Some of those in this group who still feel the need to give a nod to Good Friday often focus on the triumph of Christ even in the midst of defeat.

The Cross is an unsettling thing. Good Friday, or Holy Friday as some traditions call it, is a time of darkness, pain, and suffering, and it calls to us, as Christians. God demands of us something important in this act of the self-sacrifice of Jesus. Paul, writing only twenty to thirty years after the Resurrection of Jesus, gives us the earliest recorded Christian reflection on the theology of the Cross. He says in I Corinthians 1:17-25:

'17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.

18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe.

22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength.'

In her masterpiece 'The Crucifixion' Fleming Rutledge writes:

'The crucifixion is the touchstone of Christian authenticity, the unique feature by which everything else, including the resurrection, is given its true significance. The resurrection is not a set piece. It is not an isolated demonstration of divine dazzlement. It is not to be detached from its abhorrent first act. The resurrection, precisely, the vindication of a man who was crucified. Without the cross at the centre of the Christian proclamation, the Jesus story can be treated as just another story about a charismatic spiritual figure. It is the crucifixion that marks out Christianity as something definitively different in the history of religion. It is in the crucifixion that the nature of God is truly revealed. Since the resurrection is God's mighty transhistorical Yes to the historically crucified Son, we can assert that the crucifixion is the most important historical event that has ever happened. The resurrection, being a transhistorical event planted within history, does not cancel out the contradiction and shame of the cross in this present life; rather, the resurrection ratifies the cross as the way 'until he comes.''

(Fleming Rutledge, 'The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ', p.44 William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2017)

It is vital to go through Good Friday, and not try to bypass it to skip the challenge it offers us. We must live in it. We must find our life in and through the Cross, for it is our window through which we can interpret the life of Jesus, the works, and, especially, the resurrection of Jesus, in which we find life itself. We must own the scandal of the Cross and be owned by it.

This is not an alien concept for us Moravians, as we see plainly this attitude well expressed in our Good Friday liturgy (pp. 124-125), beginning with the words written by Erdmuth Dorothea Zinzendorf:

'Lamb of God! Lamb of God!
Thanks and praise to you are due;
O accept our adoration
For the blessings ever new
Flowing from your life and passion:
May our hearts and lips with one accord
Hail you Lord! Hail you Lord!'

And continues with:

'This is my Lord who as redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of evil; not with gold or silver, but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death, that I may be his own and live under him in his kingdom and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness, just as he, risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.'

We must never be in a hurry to rush past Good Friday, especially when we find life challenging and painful. When we are suffering, finding our place at the foot of the Cross gives us something real to hold onto. When we are feeling great about life, kneeling in humility at the foot of the cross gives us grounding we need to keep us anchored to the source of all life and the hope of our salvation. The Crucifixion is not incidental to the Resurrection, it is at the very heart of God's plan for the world to be reborn from death to life. For it is only through the death of Christ, we find life.

Br Jared Stephens
Minister at Cliftonville Belfast Moravian Church

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