“Father, forgive them: for they know not what they do.” – a plea for mercy and wholeness.
“I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” – a promise of abundant life lived in God.
“Woman, here is your son. Son, here is your mother.” – a commandment to love one another.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – a cry for God’s Presence in a dark hour.
“I thirst.” – a yearning for communion
These are the words the gospels put on Jesus’ lips on the cross. It is remarkable that there is no bitterness or resentment attributed to him as he suffers a revolutionary’s execution. Instead he pleas, promises, commands, cries, yearns, and declares his faith in the Holy Mystery we call God.
Where we suspect our words under duress might be panicked “cross” words filled with anger and fear we find Jesus to be calm and spiritual. Maybe it’s just good writing, or maybe he really was on another spiritual plane than other people – maybe he really did have such an indescribably powerful communion with God that even in this time of utter despair he trusted that this wasn’t the end.
Maybe Jesus lived in such absolute oneness with God that he knew that pattern of dying and rising, like the flow of night to day, of winter to spring, of sleep to awakening – that pattern that he saw revealed in every aspect of creation around him and within him was really, fully, ultimately true even as he faced such a cold, non-metaphorical dying.This dying reminds us that renewal is brought about only by dying to what was, and that dying is not to be taken lightly.
It is painful.
It is hard.
It feels like the end of everything, so we try everything to avoid it.
That’s why there will be 200 people here on Sunday, but there are only 90 people here today.
This day, this Good Friday, is arguably the most honest thing we have in our religion. It’s what makes Christianity so persuasively compelling, if we have the courage to experience it. The physical death of Jesus shows us the cost of our transformation metaphors. Transformation really is a dying to something. It’s as final as a physical death is.
We’re fond of saying “it’s not the end, it’s just the beginning of something new” – but that’s not true.
It is the end.
The beginning of that wonderful something new only happens after the end.
But even when we’re talking about metaphorical transformation we are still talking about a death. In order to embrace that new thing you have to die to your current thing. And it will not be easy or pleasant. If it was, you would’ve done it already and it wouldn’t be a transformation.
If you need to die to a bad habit or an addiction and be transformed into better health it is going to hurt. If you need to die to a character trait, or a negative pattern in your life, or an unhealthy relationship, or a ‘way you’ve always done it’ it will feel like death.
If you’re in the process of shedding a theological worldview that no longer seems adequate for the reality you’re experiencing it is going to knock the legs out from under you, make your head spin, and frustrate, anger, and infuriate you as you lay down that baggage.
It will feel like death.
Try as we might we cannot escape the death part.
And that’s good.
That’s why this Friday is Good.
Death has to happen before new life can begin.
Jesus is physically living out the message of the cross which is that transformation only and always follows death.
THEN, after the end, is the beginning.
After the death comes the rebirth.
After the old thing is dealt with the new thing can take root.
You have to live the death before you can live the new life.
We are an Easter people, and even so while resurrection looms we cannot go there yet, not until we have experienced the dying that must come before it. We cannot skip over the dying because we prefer the renewal; to do so cheapens the journey, and robs it of any of its transformative power.
Jesus’ cross words were words of hope and life and faith and spirit, but make no mistake, even Jesus – who perfectly embodied spiritual union with God, and said all the right words, and believed all the best things – even Jesus did not escape the dying that precedes resurrection.
And that is where we stop today.
On the cross.
In the midst of the dying.
Yearning for the renewal, but unable to go there until we have completely and finally experienced the end of what was.
And that leaves only three words left to say:
“It is finished.”