Tuesday, 22 April 2014

"Good" Friday


      TGIF- Thank God it’s Friday. That’s what most people are saying today. To many people “Good” Friday is “good” because it begins a long weekend. So what are we strange people doing here? … It is good that we are here. We are here for a funeral. And like a funeral we gather to be together. We are here to support one another in a difficult time. We are here to remember a death. Our Lord, our teacher, and our friend has been crucified. But, that in itself is not extraordinary. There are plenty of people who have been crucified.
          There was a slave rebellion between 73 and 71 BC called the Third Servile War. About 120,000 rebel slaves were led by a man named Spartacus in revolt against the Roman republic. This led to about 6000 of his followers being crucified along the 200km stretch of road between Capua and Rome as a warning to those who would oppose Rome’s power.  
            Josephus tells us that after the death of King Herod in 4BC there were revolts which were put down by Rome. This led to the crucifixion of two thousand. This was another warning to those who would oppose Rome’s power.
          Judas the Galilean led a revolt in the year 6 AD over the issue of taxes to Rome. Judas’ three Son’s were crucified. Yet, another warning against opposing Rome.
          Josephus also tells us during the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD many were crucified before the walls of Jerusalem to terrorize those inside and to get them to surrender the city. Josephus states that they crucified 500 people a day until they ran out of wood for making crosses. Do not oppose the power of Rome
          There are other examples, but I think we get the point.
          Most of these people we don’t have names for. They join the masses of people through out the ages that have come up against the powers of this world and lost. They join those in unmarked mass graves. They join the masses who died by the hands of the Nazis. These people die because the powers of this world cannot stand to be challenged.
          We gather today to remember one of these deaths. To the powers he was a nobody. It was expected that he would disappear into the nameless grave the way so many others have before him.
          The Theologian David Bentley Hart in his book the Atheist Delusion imagines what it was like when Jesus was brought before Pontius Pilate. Pilate is responsible for imposing the Pax Romana- the Roman Peace. This is a peace enforced by a very large stick. Pilate is responsible for imposing the Roman Peace on a barbarous population that was often given to religious fanaticism in the region of Palestine.
          Pilate sees before him a poor and possibly demented man. When asked questions he gives “vague and enigmatic invocations of a kingdom not of this world and some mysterious truth to which he is called to bear witness.
          Hart continues, “In the great cosmic hierarchy of rational powers- descending from the Highest God down to the lowest of slaves- Pilate’s is a particularly exalted place, a little nearer to heaven than to earth, and imbued with something of the splendor of the gods. Christ, by contrast, has no natural claim whatsoever upon Pilate’s clemency, nor any chartered rights upon which he might call; Simply said, he has no person before the law. One figure in this picture, then, enjoys perfect sway over life and death, while the other no longer belongs even to himself.” 
          Christ is then scourged and is mockingly dressed in a cloak with a crown of thorns pressed into his scalp by bored soldiers. He stands before Pilate having been humiliated and Pilate asks him- “where do you come from?” Hart continues, this question “would almost certainly have sounded like a perfectly pertinent, if obviously sardonic, inquiry into Christ’s pedigrees, and a pointed reminder that, in comparison to Pilate, Christ is no one at all.” Pilate continues, “I have the power to crucify you.” “ Christ’s claim, on the other hand, that Pilate possesses no powers not given him from above would have sounded like only the comical impudence of a lunatic.”
          In the order of the ancient world “Pilate’s verdict is essentially a just one: Not because the penalty it imposes is somehow proportionate to the “crime” [which means nothing in this world], but because it affirms the natural and divine order of reality, by consigning a worthless man to an appropriately undignified death, and by restoring order through the destruction of the agent of disorder. For, in the end, the gods love order above all else”
          In the second chapter of Philippians Paul quotes an ancient hymn of the early church:
6[Christ] Who, being in very nature God,
      did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
 7but made himself nothing,
      taking the very nature of a servant,
      being made in human likeness.
 8And being found in appearance as a man,
      he humbled himself
      and became obedient to death—
         even death on a cross!                     

          We are told that God became human, but not an emperor, a child born to a young woman in a stable. He was born into poverty. God was born into a family that would have disappeared with many other unnamed and forgotten families into the mists of time. God became one of the nameless ones. God became one of the petals resting on the surface of the water powerless against the waves and ripples. He became one of the powerless people. Jesus stands before Pilate, a representative of the greatest power of the day- the Roman Empire. His cry will be the cry of the abandoned and rejected nobodies of the world- “My God, why have you forsaken me”. God, in His humanity, will be abandoned by himself. His cry is Job’s cry- “My God, why have you forsaken me”.
           But not only did Jesus become one of the nobodies, he also took on those parts of us that we don’t want to let into the light. The dark, selfish, slithering, hissing, corrupted parts of us. In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians he says, “For our sake God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). Here Paul highlights why God has done such a thing.           
          If Christ was to absorb the evil and corrupt powers that influence this world, he could not be a bearer of those powers. It would not do to be an emperor. The moment Jesus uses the powers of this world to defend himself he enters into their game and loses the battle. As soon as he plays on their terms, with their powers of violence, then he has lost. Jesus has to stand on the outside of those powers and be a recipient the way that the majority of humankind has been. He joins the nameless and faceless masses to endure the powers of sin and death that have been oppressing them since before anyone can remember. 
          Jigoro Kano was the founder of Judo and it has been said that wrestling him was like wrestling an empty jacket. He just went with whatever force was being used on him. If you wanted to push him, he could use that force. If you wanted to pull him, well, he can use that force too. He would just go with it, absorb it, and use it to his advantage.
          Whatever evil wanted to throw at Jesus, he was willing to take it and use it. Whatever evil force was thrown at him, he could absorb it and flip it to his own advantage.   
          This is what theologians normally call the atonement. There are many theories about how this works. Some have tended to think of the atonement as a victory, and surely it was. In this view Jesus takes on the powers of evil, sin, and death. He defeats them and we share in his victory. Some theologians will imagine Jesus’ humanity as a bit of bait on the end of a fishhook. The Devil, being unwilling to resist the tempting bait grabs hold and is hooked and destroyed by Christ’s Divinity. Others have imagined that that we have been held hostage, and Christ offered himself as a ransom payment to have us released.
          There are other theories of atonement called substitution. In this theory Jesus takes our place in death, and does what we are powerless to do. Sometimes we imagine substitution as satisfying the honour of God that we have offended through our disobedience. Sometimes Jesus is thought to take our place when we are on trial for our sins. He takes the punishment in our place. It is a punishment we would not be able to survive.      
          C.S. Lewis puts it this way, Who is better at repenting- a perfect person, or a corrupt and selfish person? (…) The corrupt and selfish person may not want to repent, they might rather drown their sorrows in a bottle to forget about the wrong they’ve done rather that try to right them. Even if they wanted to, their repentance might become a subtle selfish manipulation of the one approached for forgiveness. Repentance is hard for a corrupt and selfish person. On the other hand, a perfect person is perfectly able to repent. There is nothing to stand in their way of being truly repentant. There is no selfishness or corruption to manipulate the action. So, only a perfect person can repent perfectly. The paradox is that a perfect person does not need to repent. It is the corrupt person who needs to repent, but only the perfect person can repent perfectly. The more you need to repent the less you are able to do it because of your corruption. So Christ, the perfect person steps in and endures the cross as our repentance that we are unable to do for ourselves.
           There is also the example form of atonement. In this view Christ’s action on the cross is a demonstration of God’s love for us.
          There are numerous varieties of each of these theories. There are different forms that have different emphases, but the thing that matters is not the theory. C.S. Lewis says that people were eating and digesting food quite well before theories of nutrition and theories of digestion came about. What matters is eating food, not understanding the theory of nutrition. Eating food will keep you alive, the theory will not. The important thing is that Christ died for us- and that makes this a Good Friday. The important thing is that what Jesus did was atonement. Christ’s work on the cross brings us to a state of at-one-ment with God.

          It is important to attempt to understand this, but what is more important is that we are overwhelmed with gratitude for what God has done for us through the cross of Jesus Christ.  Thank God it’s Friday 

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