Good day to you on Good Friday 2020

I wonder What Good Friday means to you ?

Why do we call the remembrance of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ a “Good” day ?

When Tim and I served in the Wigan Circuit, the people from Queens Hall Methodist Mission went out onto the streets of the town giving away hot cross buns wrapped in a serviette

on which was posed the question “Why is there a cross on the bun ?” with a brief explanation of the meaning of Good Friday for christians.

When being offered a bun, one shopper spotted the question why is there a cross on the bun? and quick as a flash he quipped :

 It’s so the wiganers will know it’s not a pie!

I wonder what you think about the symbolism of the cross on the bun?

What is the significance of Good Friday for you ,

not just in general terms like an answer to a question for GCSE RE but personally,

what does Good Friday mean to you ?

Good Friday 1986 was the day my beautiful sister Maureen died of Leukaemia . She was 44 years old and her three sons were still adolescents.

The sadness of her loss rests in my heart and mind every Good Friday.

I was with her the day before and witnessed her suffering. For many years I struggled with that visual memory of seeing her so frail, ravaged by cancer and the effects of treatment.

 Its hard to come to terms with why a loving God allows people to suffer and die so painfully and to leave grieving children and family behind, especially in this case, my brother in law Trevor who was devastated and was only just rebuilding his life when he himself was diagnosed with cancer and died just 5 years later.

My Mum and Trevor’s Mum never really recovered from losing a child, maybe you have known such grief, as people all over the world are experiencing today, mourning for loved ones on Good Friday 2020, even more because self isolation means they cannot visit sick relatives or be hugged and comforted by loved ones.

Why does a loving God allow this to happen?  

I get very vexed when people offer trite answers, trying to simplify such a complex issue, almost as if we have to make an excuse for God and find a way to justify suffering and death, to explain it somehow.

God has given dominion of the world to human beings and we have consistently failed to care for ourselves, one another and God’s creation.

All of this has fractured our relationship with God and is what we christians call sin.

But even that doesn’t explain why an individual innocent person suffers nor does it give suffering intrinsic purpose and meaning in itself.

Nevertheless in the midst of suffering, good things can and do happen, acts of kindness and a spirit of solidarity all of which are evident today and are indeed Good outcomes but they don’t make the disease a good thing. It doesn’t mean this virus is God’s will or some kind of punishment on humankind. 

So Where is God in all this ?

and where is he now as thousands of people are suffering and dying not just from Covid 19 but from other diseases and conditions which may not impact on you or I, or normally affect us sufficiently to even reflect on other people’s suffering, yet alone to modify our lives.

I believe that God can and does bring good and things out of evil, and for me strength, courage and hope are found in looking at the Cross and knowing that Jesus suffered and died for all humankind and that in him we can find Salvation. Salvation has its root in the word salve, which means healing.

I am going to read some verses from Isaiah chapter 53 which Christians see as prefiguring the death of Jesus and as we listen again to familiar words, I invite you to have an image of a cross in mind.Picture a crucifix, a cross with a figure or shape on it representing the suffering and death of Christ.

So often we focus on the victory of the empty cross but Good Friday is a day to reflect on Jesus on the cross.

I invite you to do that just now:

Read Isa 53: 1-5.

Who has believed our message
    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
    and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
    nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by people,
    a man of sorrows, and familiar with grief.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our infirmities
    and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
    smitten by him, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
    each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him (Jesus)
    the iniquity of us all.

If we were in a church building today probably as part of a service, we may add nails to the Lentern Cross,  the final symbolism before the cross would be triumphantly transformed with flowers on Easter Day.

 At this point in the liturgy, I have often used an old African American spiritual song written by slaves in 19C:

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

This hymn is beautiful and haunting and composed by people who suffered so terribly badly from man’s inhumanity to man and from loss of liberty, yet they kept their faith and dignity even in captivity. They knew what it was like to be rejected, to be whipped, bruised and beaten and shamed.

They found as people have done throughout the centuries, that in the suffering of Jesus, they encountered forgiveness, salvation, hope and healing and despite their cruel circumstances.

When they sang were you there when they nailed him to the cross? They knew what it was like to have chains chafe their ankles and wrists.

When they sang were you there when they laid him in the tomb, they knew what it was like to feel enslaved, trapped, powerless, longing for release .

They found a friend and a Saviour in Jesus the Man of sorrows aquainted with grief and suffering and they chose to trust in his promise that he would never leave them or forsake them.

They experienced Jesus power, presence and healing in their lives, as people have done throughout the centuries -even in concentration camps or prison, as Nelson Mandela did on Robbin Island, as Terry Waite found in Beirut, that even when their bodies were wounded and held captive and constrained, that every human being can choose how we respond, that our mind, heart and soul can be free and we can find courage and inner strength. We are not alone in our suffering, God is with us in the presence of Jesus Christ through the power of his Holy Spirit.

Even in solitary confinement, even in self isolation, even in lockdown, you and I can similarly encounter Jesus, sense him suffering alongside us, gently holding you and giving you courage and strength to cope and face an uncertain future.

I wonder were you there when they crucified my Lord, your Lord ?

Have you ever been there?

Have you ever Pictured in your mind the suffering of Jesus and allowed yourself to really experience the power of what God did for you on the Cross?

Have you ever realised that the sacrifice was for the forgiveness of your sin and my sin and that of people of all time, creeds and races , not just a one off historical event but a timeless gift of grace, of atonement, of at one ment, wholeness and healing.

In the making of the film the Passion of the Christ, the Director Mel Gibson chose to be the one whose hands nailed Jesus to the cross.

He is a man of faith but admitted he was very flawed and he chose not to ask an actor to nail Jesus to the cross as he wanted to acknowledge his own part in the crucifixion.

What we remember today is not just a something which happened nearly 2000 years ago

The Cross conveys a timeless message.

We , you and me, we nailed Jesus to the Cross, and we continue to do so whenever we are arrogant, hurtful and proud, whenever we make selfish and foolish choices.

You may never have thought about this or you may have believed this all your life, but together let us allow this truth to lead us to stand at the foot of the cross, to acknowledge our individual part of the sins of humankind and the mess we have made of our world.

As you open yourself up to be there with the crucified Jesus please seek God’s forgiveness and be restored into an unbroken relationship with God, with yourself and others.

In this waiting time, waiting for the joy of Easter for when the seal of the tomb is broken and the stone is rolled away ;waiting for the crisis of Covid 19 to pass and the lockdown to be lifted;

I invite you to allow yourself to take the time and opportunity to reflect on this gift of salvation, given freely by grace through the sacrifice of Jesus, and to be thankful, not to take it for granted.

Just as we are more aware and appreciative of the sacrifice being made by others putting themselves at risk during this pandemic that we may be safe and well.

It is through the suffering and death of Jesus that we can see the love and forgiveness in God’s eyes and his heart and hear Jesus words for us, for you and me: Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.

The final verse of that hymn is were you there when they raised him from the dead?

We can only call Good Friday good because in hindsight we know the end of the story, the joy and triumph over death in Christ’s Resurrection.

This isn’t just a promise for Life after Death, but for Life in all its fullness now even in the midst of suffering. Knowing we are not alone and seeking the presence of Jesus in our hearts and our homes. He will never leave us or forsake us.

I invite you to pray together with me now:

Lord Jesus we come to your cross afresh today, may the significance and meaning of your sacrifice and your love and mercy real to us in this present moment .

We come as we are, sometimes tossed by doubt, pain, anxiety and grief, often looking for answers to make sense of our lives and the life of the world.

Thank you that you shared our human nature, and understand our suffering and grief.

Please be with us in our hearts and our homes to bring comfort, courage and hope and peace.

Lord help us to see the love and forgiveness in your eyes and to experience the unconditional love and acceptance in the heart of God the Father for each of us and for all people in our fallen world.

Through the power of your Holy Spirit at work in us give us the assurance we need to open ourselves to receive your forgiveness and to experience your healing and wholeness .

Touch those who are especially in need today (silence to think of someone you know or a situation you have seen in the news- pause)

Lord grant us the grace to reach out to others and be channels of kindness and peace. Help us to make long term changes for good in our behaviour as individuals and as community that good things may come out of the impact of this current crisis.

Lord enable us to seek in this time to actively work to restore broken relationships in our own families, our churches and our community and in our world.

Amen.

May the Lord bless you and keep you, cause his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you, and may he grant you his peace. Amen.

 

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