“Greater love has no one than this:
to lay down one's life for one's friends.”
(John 15:13, NIV)
I have a hard time with Good Friday. I cannot buy into sanctification through the blood of another . . . that Jesus, hanging on a cross, gives to me new life and new hope . . . that through his actions he wiped the slate clean for me and everyone else . . . that through his blood I am cleansed, redeemed, and made fully acceptable in the eyes of God. Too often that seems to be the general understanding of Good Friday . . . and, I cannot buy into it. I cannot buy into it because it is too simplistic and misses the whole point of Jesus’ teachings and life.
To believe this is to take the easy way out.
Now I might be too simplistic in my understanding or interpretation of the whole “gospel” message as shared by Jesus . . . but, I cannot embrace sanctification through the blood of Jesus. I cannot buy into it because I believe that the crucifixion was not the end result, but the example . . . “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” In reading the gospels one sometimes gets the feeling that the people chosen to be disciples were dolts . . . not the sharpest knives in the drawer . . . because they were constantly misunderstanding what Jesus was attempting to teach and show them. In the end, being crucified on a cross . . . laying down one’s life for others . . . becomes the ultimate demonstration of all that he was attempting to teach and show the disciples. Jesus put his love one the line to show the disciples that to love means going the whole distance for another . . . even to the point of death. But, as I have stated, this might be too simplistic of an understanding.
"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another,” said Jesus (John 13:34, NIV) . . . even to the point of giving up one’s life for another. These words were spoken in that last meal that Jesus had with his disciples. What was to unfold in the next twenty-four hours was a demonstration of how far love should go for another . . . an example of the ultimate love for another. Jesus is not calling for us to step up and take our place on a cross . . . no, Jesus is asking us to love one another as he has loved us, even to the point of laying down our lives for others. The crucifixion is the supreme example of that love in action . . . Jesus was teaching us until the end.
Again, I am sure that this is too simplistic of an understanding . . . one that my fellow clergy will tear apart and declare me to be a heretic. Yet, I cannot believe or embrace that it is through the blood that I am saved. No, I believe that it is the same for me as it was for Jesus . . . it is in the acceptance of wanting to love . . . to love God completely . . . to love others . . . as I love myself and have been loved. Jesus calls us to love . . . not to the cross. The cross serves as a visual picture that asks us whether or not we get it. An outward expression of an inward decision that each of us must make if we are truly to be followers of Jesus.
Sadly, we haven’t gotten it yet.
On this Good Friday . . . as I reflect upon its significance in my own life . . . I weep. I weep at the foot of the cross because we . . . as God’s children . . . still have not gotten it. There are still wars. There are still those who do not have enough to live life in its simplest terms. There are those who are still hungry . . . dying of starvation in a world that could easily feed all the masses. There is still meanness and violence towards others. There is still prejudice. There are still those who are lonely and lost . . . those who are searching and desiring connection whether it is with others or some higher power. There are those who are sitting on the outside looking in . . . longing to be acknowledged and welcomed into the circle. There are those who cannot hear the cries of those who are oppressed . . . those who are persecuted. It does not take much to look around and see that the world in which we live is having a difficult time understanding and embracing the idea of “love”.
One of the popular sayings among the churches that makes up the denomination that I belong to is: “All are welcome.” That statement is especially prevalent when it comes to the Lord’s Table where it is emphasized that everyone . . . all . . . are welcomed at the table of Jesus. The saying is so popular that many of the congregations within the denomination post it on their signs, put it on their publications, and announce it every Sunday morning when Holy Communion is served . . . all are welcome. It is a great concept . . . that all are welcomed. When practiced it is an excellent demonstration of inclusive love . . . welcoming love . . . of hospitality. Yet, I wonder: do we really believe it? Do we really live it?
Well, in all honesty . . . sometimes we get it right, sometimes we get it wrong, and most of the time we wallow somewhere between to the two. Because of this I am constantly challenging the congregation I serve . . . a congregation that has embraced the motto of “all are welcome” . . . to really wrestle with what this means. It means that everyone . . . every stinking, conceivable person . . . has a place at the table and a place in the lives of each of them. If they are good enough for Jesus, then they should be good enough for the congregation. Easier said than done.
It is not easy to love.
It is easier to believe that Jesus stepped up and willingly sacrificed himself so that I do not have to worry about it . . . that he spilt his blood so that I wouldn’t have to. I cannot buy into that belief because I do not think that is what Jesus taught and lived. What he taught and lived was love . . . an unbelievable, awesome, embracing, and inclusive love that drew everyone in . . . to show us the way. To show us the way to the Kingdom of God. Jesus never thought of that kingdom of being “pie in the sky” . . . no, it was a “kingdom” that was possible now in the present moment . . . if people believed, embraced, and lived love as he loved.
But, we don’t get it.
Because we don’t get it we go through the same “song and dance” every year . . . with every generation. We nail Jesus to the cross and run to the tomb. What did the angel say? The angel said that he wasn’t there . . . and, he’s not! Jesus is not in the tomb. He is alive. He is living. He is living in us . . . and, we become the embodiment of Jesus in the world in which we live because we can love. That is the message of Easter . . . Jesus lives because we love.
I am not alone in having a difficult time with Good Friday. My experience as a pastor in a local congregation is that it is one of the poorest attended services because people just don’t want to deal with the richness of what the day represents in the spiritual journey. Even though I have a hard time with Good Friday, I appreciate what it represents, what it makes me think about. It gives me hope . . . not because I am sanctified by the blood, but that I have witnessed the greatest act of love . . . the willingness of another to lay down his life for another. It gives me hope that I, too, can learn to love in such a way . . . that the world may one day do so also.
Someday . . . we all just might get it. In the meantime all we can do is reflect . . . and, hope.