Friday, April 18, 2014

Shadowy Places: Good Friday Sermon 2014

This evening's Psalm is Psalm 22. If you would like to read the passion narrative that was read after the sermon, you can find it in Luke 22:39-23:56.

 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”[1]

We’ll be reading the Passion from Luke this year, but I think many of us are familiar enough with the story of Jesus’ death that we seem to kind of hear him say that anyway. It’s only recorded by Matthew.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

That line always used to bother me. I know what it feels like to say, “My God, why have you forsaken me.?” But how could God forsake Jesus? Isn’t Jesus God? Can God forsake God’s self?

It’s the sort of thought train that makes your brain feel like someone’s tying it in knots.

What is going on here? Jesus said some pretty baffling things, but this. . . this bit about being forsaken. . . this one takes the cake.

As with the other baffling things Jesus says, there is so much more to this than we see on the surface.

In Luke’s account of the crucifixion, we will hear Jesus quote a Psalm – Psalm 31 - “Into your hand I commit my spirit;[2]” That sounds much nicer, right? It feels like some sort of resolution. . . and it is. . . but it’s also a help to understanding what Jesus is quoted as saying in Matthew. While in Luke’s account of the crucifixion, Jesus quotes Psalm 31, in Matthew’s account of the crucifixion, he records Jesus quoting Psalm 22 – the Psalm we just read.

On the cross, Jesus is quoting the Psalms. In his darkest hour, he is calling out to God with the words that he surely sang and recited as a child. Words that many of the people around him had surely sung and recited as children.

Have you ever felt like all you could think of to say at a hard time was to sing a familiar hymn?

Have you ever sung or quoted a familiar hymn to a friend in a time of need or sorrow?

There’s something about a Psalm. They speak to even the darkest corners of our hearts, expressing the full range of human experience from great jubilation to massive sorrow.

The Psalms talk about human experience in a way that most of us have great difficulty expressing. Music and poetry speak to our souls. That’s why they are so comforting, so fitting for moments in which we’ve lost all our words.

A couple years ago, my mom’s oldest brother died after  a year and a half of battling pancreatic cancer. He was “that” uncle: the goofy corny one that everyone loved. My sister and I loved him. My children loved him. The faculty and students at Trinity Seminary where he worked loved him. He was just a lovable guy. Levi was 3 when Uncle David died. If you’ve ever had to talk about death with a small child, you know that it is even more difficult than talking about it with adults. Children are so honest. They say and ask whatever happens to be on their minds without filtering it first.

It was interesting how Levi processed Uncle David’s death. At first, he would start up the same conversation with me at least once a day.

“Mom? Uncle David is dead.”

“Yes, Levi. He’s dead. He was very sick and his body stopped working.”

“So now he’s with Jesus.”

“Yes, Levi. Now he’s with Jesus.”

“Someday I’ll die and be with Jesus too. And so will you and Daddy and Lexi and Gloria.”

And so on. Eventually the conversation became less frequent: weekly. Then monthly. It wasn’t until I was writing this that I realized that we haven’t had that conversation in a very long time now.

It was a really uncomfortable conversation, especially the first few times. A few weeks ago, Cathy talked specifically about how hard it is for us to talk about death and I was reminded of this incident. I just wanted to stop having the conversation. Every time we had it, I was forced to confront the idea of death head on and address it very plainly. I wanted to move on to talk about something more comfortable.

Good Friday is so hard. All too often, it becomes little more than a quick stop on the way through to Easter because we want to avoid the shadows. Perhaps we are afraid we will never find our way out of the dark again.

Thank God Jesus wasn’t afraid of the shadows!

Those moments in which we don’t know how to talk about our sorrow. . .

Jesus knows them. From experience. Jesus just doesn’t know sorrow and suffering on an academic level.

Jesus experienced those shadowy places we are so afraid of.

Our Messiah walked through those shadowy places where the only words that seem to work are the mournful words of these Psalms.

In those moments where we feel we’ve been forsaken by God. . . God is there.

Sitting in the emergency room with your child, parent, or best friend. Hearing a frightening diagnosis. Losing your job.

Jesus walked through that very sorrow.

Let’s not rush through Good Friday as a holy obligation, but rather take it to heart that we have not been forsaken. Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior went to the forsaken places to be with us.

He walked through those shadowy places not just for us,  but also with us! He walked through them with us to get us to the later part of the Psalm that cries out,

“You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him” (vv. 23–24).”

Jesus walked and walks through the shadowy places with us so that we can move through Psalm 22 in order to more appreciate the rest and comfort we find in Psalm 23: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.  . . Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will FEAR NO EVIL.”

Jesus suffering on the cross means that God knows our suffering. He has experienced our suffering – has experienced personally our pain and our sorrow as is evidenced by the connection to this Psalm.  In quoting this Psalm, Jesus is saying, “I know what you know in your suffering.”

That, my friends, is a story worth telling – a story worth not rushing through. Psalm 22 ends with the words: “future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.” We will proclaim God’s deliverance because he has done it! It is finished. He walks through the shadows with us in order to deliver us from them.

Jesus Christ on the cross is a story worth telling. Not because it’s good story telling or good cinema or even good evangelism, but it’s worth telling because it’s earth shaking. There is so much more to the cross than we give it credit for. The salvation that Jesus brings is of tantamount importance, for certain, but let’s not forget there is more depth to Jesus than we to allow when it becomes simply a transaction. Jesus didn’t just affect our future, he affected our past and our now.

On the cross, Jesus experienced those shadowy places of deep dark, heart wrenching, soul crying out at God sorrow and pain.

That is why we come together tonight. We’re here to tell the whole story. When we gather again on Sunday morning, let’s remember the whole story because Sunday’s bright light is so much more astonishing after walking through Friday’s shadows.

The path from Good Friday to Easter is difficult and it can be frightening. The passage from suffering and shadow to freedom and light is scary. But we don’t travel that passage alone. Christ travels it with us. Not just as an observer or a guide, but as a real traveler.

As you take your nail on your way out at the end of the service, let it be a reminder that Jesus traveled to the shadowy places.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Mt 27:46). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Ps 31:5). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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