Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

"Jesus leads the way..."

Good Friday 7:30 pm - at the beginning of our Tenebre Service

Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts by acceptable in your sight, O Christ our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

They handed him over to be crucified. But first, before they crucified him, Jesus was mocked, beaten, spat on, and had a crown of sharp thorns thrust on his head. Before they crucified him, He carried his own cross-beam up a hill to where he was to be executed. Before they crucified him, they stripped him and cast lots for his only worldly possession. Before he was crucified, those who condemned him and also passersby made fun of him. AND THEN they crucified him.

Here was a man, cut off from every imaginable means of support. Here was a man who had ripped away from him everything in his life that grounded him. Here was a man who was truly left with nothing to hold on to.

As theologian Charles H. Spurgeon once said, “[Jesus] leads the way along the path of sorrow, and you could not have a better guide.”

Last night, as Jesus broke bread with his disciples in his last meal before his death, he ate with his own betrayer. In Gethsemane, he prayed in agitation and dread of this very day. His closest friends could not keep awake with him, and later deserted him altogether. His betrayer, Judas, one of his hand-chosen twelve, handed him over to the respected religious leaders who sought his death. These chief priests and scribes, in turn, handed him over to their Roman government oppressors, who in the end were all too willing to put him on a cross.

Here was a man, abandoned by his people, abandoned by the rule of law, abandoned by his own friends, abandoned even by his God.

Even in his cry of pain from the cross, Jesus is misunderstood. Jesus cried out the “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – The first line of Psalm 22 - and those around him misunderstood, and thought he was calling for the prophet Elijah. Others, either to help him or to quiet him, gave him sour wine, bitter like vinegar, from a sponge on a stick. Then, with the bitter taste of death in his mouth, Jesus cried out and took his last breath.

To have Jesus utter such a despairing word, even from the bitter suffering of the cross, is shocking to us. It is hard for us to hear God’s son, the anointed one, the Messiah, beloved of the father, accusing his Abba in such a manner. But then again, it is Jesus who is the one having to die on a cross, after all that Jesus had done.  Wouldn't anyone wonder the same thing? “Why has God forsaken me?”

Jesus did everything according to the will of his Father. He preached. He healed. He taught. He fed. But he made enemies. He rocked the boat. He changed the way “we’ve always done it.” He called into question everything that people had always thought about God. And he got into deep trouble for it. But he did not waver, even then. He did everything God wanted him to, and he was still meant to die.

It does not seem fair, not one bit. What kind of a God would do this, would allow the murder of an innocent man, his very own son? Shouldn’t being born Son of God, obedient in all things to the will of his Father, mean getting a few benefits at least? Could not at least his obedience have earned him a death is a little less agonizing and torturous?

Even Jesus struggled to understand this, despite in his complete and ultimate obedience. In Gethsemane, Jesus prayed in great distress for the cup to be taken from him. He received no answer, nor did he receive any peace or comfort whatsoever from his Father. And so perhaps it is not so surprising that on the cross, Jesus did cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Hoping against hope for an answer. But no answer comes. Only death.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus’s words can and often are our words, too, echoing like a taunt in our hearts. Many of us has felt what it’s like to cry out to God by day and night, but receive not answer. Many of us have felt more like a worm than a person, poured out until we have nothing left, pushed past our limits, and attacked by those who would eagerly rip us to shreds. Many of us have cried out, “Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is no one to help!” when it feels like there IS no one to help. Our friends betray us, our family abandons us, and God is nowhere to be found.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  “Do not be so far from us, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.”

But there is someone to help. It is the one who has tread this lonely and forsaken path before you did.

“[Jesus] leads the way along the path of sorrow, and you could not have a better guide.”
Behold the life-giving cross. Because there hangs the salvation of the world. He is the one who went before us. He is the one abandoned by his friends and attacked by his enemies. He is the one scorned and humiliated, crowned with a crown of thorns and a bloody purple robe. He is the one who was mocked and taunted, even by those crucified with him. He is the one whose body was beaten and broken on the cross. He is the one whose life was poured out for us. He is the one who faced utter abandonment in death, when no one was there to help him.

When you are suffering and in unbearable pain, Jesus is already there.

When you have been abandoned by everyone you love, Jesus is already there.

When you have been forsaken by God and can get no comfort from prayer and your faith has dried up into dust and blows away… Jesus is already there.”

Jesus lost his life so that our lives might be saved. When Jesus told his disciples to deny themselves, to take up their crosses to follow him, those were not just idle words. When Jesus calls us to follow him, he bids us to “come and die.” And so, to show us the way, he went first, alone taking up his own cross upon his bleeding, beaten shoulders. He cleared the blood-stained trail that he calls us to follow. And we can find comfort in the fact that this hard road has been traveled before. Even from the cross, we hear Jesus give us words of comfort.

“[Jesus] leads the way along the path of sorrow, and you could not have a better guide.”

Jesus traveled that path, so that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

That is why we call this day of pain, suffering, and demise of our Lord “Good Friday.” Because it was good, good for the disciples who ran away and are hiding. Good for Peter, who is weeping in shame. Good for the women, who stood near the cross and later stood outside the tomb in hopelessness, waiting for a Sunday they didn’t yet know was coming. Good for us, gathered here tonight.

So let us stand with them this night, and behold with them the life-giving cross, on which was hung the salvation of the world.

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