Good Friday: A Love Like This
Who here has ever fallen in love? I want you to think back for a moment – remember those first inklings that there was something unique going on here, a little spark, something that drew you to that person. I remember the first time I fell in love. I know there was physical attraction, but this was so secondary to what she said, to how she saw the world and her own and other’s places in it. It was as if she were more than human – she was a spirit of truth and perfection so profound that she captured my eyes, my heart, my soul and my mind.
It was her wisdom – her capacity to simultaneously speak the truth and to do so with compassion – that drew me, not just to her, but out of myself and into seeing the world through new eyes, eyes filled by hope, grounded in truth and love. Somehow I managed to speak seemingly intelligible words – although I think her reception of them was due more to her patience and kindness than anything else. I remember staying up late at night or waking up early to see if she had responded to my verbose emails intended to both try and impress her and to draw out more of her wisdom. As we talked, I learned of her very real humanness, and I exposed my own to her.
I remember one day, as we were talking about meaningful life and death, after a year of dating that, my soul would shrivel if she died not simply because I would lose her, but because everyone in this world would lose someone who provides a glimmer of truth growing from a love so profound that our eyes - so often drawn to the dark things of this world - are illumined instead by the light of hope. How could there be a world at all without her? And now I want to ask a harder question: who among you has lost someone you’d spent your whole life with, or with whom you wanted to spend your whole life? How did you feel? I can tell you that when I lost her, the first thing I felt was shock. It felt as if my insides had been sucked out and only numbness remained. The world seemed suddenly confusing and foreign and without purpose.
When we read this account of Jesus’s trial and ultimate execution on the Cross, I am struck by how it immediately brings to mind that same feeling of shock that I imagine Jesus’s disciples, particularly the Mary’s mentioned in John’s Passion narrative, must have experienced. Jesus had called all of these followers and showed them the truth – God’s promise of healing and restoration, love so perfect that blind men could see and lame men could walk, the one promised by God not just sent to teach or prophesy, but sent to be the fulfillment who would deliver them from the anguish of pain, of loss, of brokenness, by reconciling them to the very God who promised these things.
How, how could he allow himself to be arrested? How could he allow a true criminal, Barrabas, to be released? How could he not fight back against the false accusations of those who said he blasphemed God? How could he build his followers up, create a fervent love in them such that they sought him no matter where he went, stir them to give up everything in order to follow them, and then willingly give up his life on the Cross, leaving them where? Back at square one? Waiting for another Messiah? Maybe this God in whom we have invested everything doesn’t really love us, maybe this hope of truth come into the world for us does not really exist. Maybe I should just give it all up and walk away from this love thing.
But it is just here in a state of shock – one that is so vital to remember this day – that the disciples and that you and I are brought face-to-face with the stark judgment of the Cross: our finitude, our suffering, our uncertainty, and our deep desire to love and to be loved. With those Marys who gather around Jesus, we are confronted with the question of whose we are, shall we persevere through the Cross to find hope in the resurrection, or shall we stop and cut ourselves off from the living fountain of life, that often seems so very elusive – one that the disciples would not see for at least three days?
And you and I are confronted, as I was after my first love left: can I sustain the faith to receive love and come to love, even when it seems so far off. For even now the light of love – one we will celebrate in three days – can seem impossible for us to take hold of given how we often sow our lives into the disappointments, losses, regrets, distractions, and frustrations of this world.
This Good Friday, we are asked to take stock of who we are before God at this moment on the Cross: Maybe you have come to realize that you engage other people with fear of something, rather than in faith that you are loved, held, desired, and given purpose by someone far more powerful than today’s Pilate. Maybe it makes you realize that you run from things because you have been hurt by those who taunt, who betray, who misjudge or mischaracterize you. Is that running really serving you? Or has it left you in the place of Jesus’s people here and Pilate: unable to see truth, to be held in that truth in love, to forgive yourself, or others, and to move on with hope? Or maybe you stand there with sure faith that might be shared more widely than you do now with those around you; how might you do that?
There are so many ways we fit into all the figures we encounter in the various versions of Jesus’s Passion. Over the next two days, I encourage you to read through the various Gospel narratives of Jesus’s passion to see which character you might fit into right now. Then take the time to pray to God to give you the capacity to endure the shock of a world turned upside down by Good Friday, and the potential it opens to be transformed, pulled up from the grave where sin leaves you, into the Easter Hope we shall celebrate Sunday. AMEN.