Good Friday: April 19, 2019
Year C, Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 10:16-25; John 18:1-19:42
There was no recording of this sermon. The text is below.
In his book Night, Elie Wiesel describes the gruesome execution of a boy in the concentration camp. He talks about other prisoners being forced to watch him hang in prolonged suffering and eventual death on those gallows, about another prisoner asking the question any one of us might ask: Where is God?
Indeed. Where is God, in moments like that?
It’s a question I am asked often, in my life in ministry. Sometimes it’s hurled at me, sometimes it’s angry – as in: “If you believe in a loving God who created and ordered the universe:”
- Where is God, when school children are gunned down in their classroom?
- Where is God, when a gunman opens fire on innocents at a Jewish synagogue?
- Where is God when black churches in Louisiana are burned to the ground by a man filled with hate?
- Where is God, when an apparently mentally ill man goes into Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC with an intention to burn it down?
- Where is God when Muslims are killed for being Muslim and Christians are being killed for being Christian?
- Where is God, when we God’s creation destroys the same Creation that God entrusted to our care?
- Where is God, when the news every day depicts the ways that God’s people are killing others of God’s people in towns, cities, and countries around the world?
- Where is God when we see children suffer and struggle?
- Where is God, when we see the signs of someone we love succumbing again to the force of her addiction?
- Where is God, when we hear the diagnosis from which we or a loved one will not recover?
- Indeed, where is God when Jesus died on the cross?
In fact, on this day of all days, as we remember Jesus going to the cross, as he falls under the weight of the cross they force him to carry, as the people ridicule him and the nails go into his hands and his feet, as he hangs there struggling to breathe and hears people argue about accuracy on the signage of the Cross, it’s a fair question: Where is God?
The mystic, Julian of Norwich, suffered through the plague in the spring of 1373; along with that disease came serious fever. She recovered slowly, went on to write the first book in English ever authored by a woman. Julian titled that book Sixteen Revelations of Divine Love; in it, she included the visions she saw during her fever while fighting her way through the plague.
In the Eighth Revelation, on the Cross and Passion, Julian asks: “Is there any pain like this? Here I saw a great ONE-ing between Christ and us (a great connectedness): for when he was in pain, we were in pain…all creatures that suffer pain, suffer with Him…and the firmament, the earth, failed in sorrow.”
In preaching about Dame Julian, the writer Diana Butler Bass claims “the cosmic circle of grief, emanating from Jesus’ passion, reveals that Jesus not only suffered for us; but he suffered with us – his death occurred for the sake of kinship and love with all that was, and is, and will be.”
So which is it? For, or with?
For gives us something to make sense of. We understand contracts. We’ve all negotiated trades of some kind or another. God dies for us, so we trade Hell for Heaven. We recognize the logic and proportion, even though it might make us feel guilty. Maybe that’s the price we pay for the contractual obligation.
But with is messy. It asks something more of us that the contract outlines. It dares to ask: have we suffered with others? Have we sat with friends or strangers through a space without answers? Have we walked with others through the valley of death?
Choosing with offers an entirely different perspective on the question: Where is God?
Where is God? Right here with us. Right there with those who suffer. God is with us in the Emergency Room or the courtroom, or the Intake Center. God is with those who suffer and, yes, even with those who inflict suffering on others. God is with the runners and with the cheering and then with the screaming crowds at this week’s Boston Marathon. God suffers with us – not separated from us, but in kinship that knows no stopping point.
What if Wiesel is right, as he looks at a young Jewish boy hanging in his agony, hears another prisoner ask: “Where is God?” “There,” Wiesel points, at the one who suffers and dies.
God is “There. Here. Right here. With us.”
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