Holy Friday

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 22; 148, Lamentations 3:1-9, 19-33, 1 Peter 1:10-20, John 13:36-38

Readings for Good Friday:
Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Psalm 22, Hebrews 10:16-25, John 18:1-19:42


If “Good Friday” seems like an odd name for a day commemorating a crucifixion, understand that good used to mean holy. All over the world, Christians re-enact Christ’s journey to Golgotha (also called Calvary) and his terrible execution. From congregations reading the passion together, to prayer groups walking the stations of the cross in troubled neighborhoods, to entire towns becoming Jerusalem for the day, Christians feel compelled to relive the story.

Because we know how the story turns out, we may find it easy to judge the crowds whose cheers turned to condemnation, or Peter, who – as Christ predicted – denied knowing him not not once, not twice, but three times. Certainly we would not have shouted “Crucify him!” We could never deny him … could we?

Let’s assume we could. Actually, let’s assume we have – because it’s true. None of us lives perfectly. That being the case, isn’t it comforting to know the person Jesus hand-picked to found the church was as flawed as we are? Maybe that’s why in passion stories most of us play the angry mob: to be reminded each of us is in need of forgiveness, and so don’t have the right to judge anyone. Christ later assured Peter he was still loved, but surely the knowledge of that moment of fear, weakness, and betrayal never left him. And almost as surely that memory helped forge the compassion and mercy for others that would have been necessary to speak for Christ.

When we feel like judging, let’s remember Peter – weak, frightened, impulsive, imperfect Peter. Then let’s remember Christ forgave him, as he forgives us, and calls us to forgive. It was the sin of the world that Christ forgave on that cross, including the sin of our own imperfect mercy and tarnished compassion.

From noon this day until Sunday morning, the disciples were without Christ. They thought the story was over, and despaired. This holy Friday and Saturday, let’s contemplate what it would mean to live without hope of forgiveness for ourselves and others. Today Christ hangs on the cross. We shouted “Crucify him!” Now we weep.

Comfort:

Challenge: Pray for forgiveness.

Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Discussion: What does Good Friday mean to you?

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Hope. Always.

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Readings: Psalms 90; 149, Amos 5:18-27, Jude 17-25, Matthew 22:15-22


Ever since the world began, people have been predicting its end. For many that “end” is not so much a final obliteration, as a renewal when the evil, violence, and injustice will be swept away to make room for something better. The prophet Amos speaks of the day when God will “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” When we read headlines and watch the news, don’t we long for the same?

We can react to adversity with despair or with hope. While we may naturally tend toward one or the other, it is ultimately a choice. In the midst of suffering hope may seem futile or naive, but it has real consequences. Repeated studies show that a positive attitude promotes healing from illness and surgery. On a fundamental level, hope is essential to survival; hunger, thirst, and fear may seem like negatives, but they are hard-wired into us with an assumption that we will continue to live.

Though hope is more than a belief in continued existence. Despair also assumes existence but resigns us to inaction and victimhood, where hope spurs us to positive action. Hope makes charity possible, because it allows for positive change. Without the promise of hope could we even contemplate mercy?

In an age when tragedy around the world is broadcast into our homes 24 hours a day in high definition, hope can be hard to maintain. The truth is that on the whole violence in the world has been decreasing steadily for decades. Data and statistics are not necessarily comforting in the face of immediate crisis, so how do we work (and it is intentional work) to maintain hope? Minister and children’s television host Fred Rogers famously quotes his mother who told him the best thing to do in times of disaster is “look for the helpers” – people who move toward a tragedy to improve the situation. While it seems counterintuitive, could the Kingdom actually be ushered in when we move nearer to tragedy, where we are also nearer to mercy and charity? That is the end we hope for.

Comfort: We are closer to the promises of the God’s Kingdom every day.

Challenge: You can’t help everyone, but somewhere nearby there is a tragic situation waiting for you to inject hope into it. Find it and act.

Prayer: Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved. (Psalm 80:7)

Discussion: Is hope something that comes naturally to you?

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Forsaken

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 65; 147:1-11, Judges 3:12-30, Acts 1:1-14, Matthew 27:45-54


“Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” That is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Every year during the Passion narrative, this verse moves me more than any other. Although the Gospels tells us Jesus suffered and was tempted like any other person, he seems so wise, so confident, and just so plain good it can be hard to believe. These words, though, contain every bit of despair and doubt I’ve ever felt – and then some. If Jesus, of all beings in creation, can feel abandoned by God, our own doubts and fears condemn us not at all.

All of us sometimes feel forsaken by God. In times of illness, financial hardship, failing relationships, and many other situations, we can feel let down or deserted by God. The last thing we need is a clichéd assurance us of God’s loving presence. Reason tells us everyone suffers, but our distressed hearts may be difficult to convince. We can dispassionately dispense platitudes about someone else’s problem, but our own problems are somehow different.

Doubt, disbelief, and anger at God are almost inevitable. Knowing Jesus felt the same way (at least once) puts us in good company. The psalmists were able to feel faithful and forsaken at the same time. Psalm 119:82 says “My eyes fail with watching for your promise; I ask ‘When will you comfort me?’” How poignant! We must not confuse doubt with the absence or end of faith. Classics of Christian writing like The Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross help us understand the ways doubt and darkness can transform our faith. While our instinct is often to reject doubt, we need to embrace and explore it. Burying it beneath denial or easy answers undermines the development of true, enduring faith. When we see someone struggling with doubt, offering easy reassurance can actually be a terrible disservice. Better to be present for our struggling friends, and let them reap the benefits of working through their own spiritual struggles.

A moment of doubt did not thwart Jesus’ triumph, and it doesn’t have to destroy our faith.

Comfort: Doubt can be the turn in the road that leads us to new understanding.

Challenge: Invite someone you trust to discuss each other’s doubts.

Prayer: Merciful and loving God, thank you for being bigger than my doubt. Amen.

Discussion: What do you do when you experience doubt?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!