Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion ~ April 19, 2019
Like a sapling he grew in front of us,
Like a root in arid ground…
a thing despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering ….
And yet ours were the sufferings he bore,
ours the sorrows he carried.
But we thought of him as someone punished,
struck by God, and brought low.
Yet he was pierced through for our faults,
crushed for our sins.
On him lies a punishment that brings in peace
and through his wound we were healed
–excerpted from Isaiah 53.
I was blown away by an article I pondered in the volume of Lenten readings that sustain me every year called Bread and Wine. This one is by a German theologian Jurgen Moltmann who was a prisoner of war in WWII. It’s entitled Prisoner of Hope . . . .
The night before his crucifixion, Jesus went into the garden of Gethsemane, taking only three of his closest friends with him and “became greatly distressed and troubled” as Mark writes. “My soul is very sorrowful even to death,” he said, and begged his friends to stay awake with him.
Often, Jesus would withdraw at night to pray alone in order to be united with God whom he so intimately called “my Father.” Here, for the first time, Moltmann suggests, he doesn’t want to be alone with God. He seeks protection among his friends. Protection from whom?
And then comes the prayer that sounds like a demand, “Father, all things are possible to you, remove this cup from me.” (Mark 14:16)—spare me this suffering.
Christ’s request is not granted. God, his Father, rejected it. Elsewhere, we are always told “I and the Father are one.” But here Christ’s communion with God breaks down. Christ’s true passion begins with the prayer in Gethsemane that was not heard.
Of course, there was the simple human fear of pain, But Moltmann believes it was a quite different fear that the only begotten Son could be “forsaken’, “rejected”, even “cursed’ by the Father. He’s not afraid for his life. He’s afraid for God and the Father’s kingdom whose joy he had proclaimed to the poor.
This suffering from God himself is the real torment of Christ’s passion. Martin Buber called it the eclipse of God. Who could not be paralyzed by it? His friends were protected from it by a profound sleep.
Moltmann says the Luther bible heads this chapter with the title The Struggle in Gethsemane. The struggle with whom? Christ’s struggle with himself? His struggle with death? It’s the struggle with God. This was the real agony. He overcame it through his self-surrender.
That was his victory—and our hope.
At the end of Christ’s Passion, on Golgotha, the place of execution, we hear a despairing cry to God . . .
“And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice ‘Eloi, Eloi lama sabachthani
MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME!’”
For three hours he hung nailed to the cross, apparently in silence, locked in agony and waiting for death. And then with this cry, that expresses the most profound abandonment by the God on whom he pinned all his hopes and for whom he was hanging on the cross.
What Christ was afraid of, what he wrestled with in Gethsemane, what he implored the Father to save him from, was not spared him. It happened on the cross. The Father forsook ~ abandoned the Son and “God is silent!” The Son was forsaken by the Father, rejected and cursed, as Professor Moltmann suggests in this article. He bore the judgment in that everyone is alone and in that no one can stand.
(If you’re getting bored with this reasoning—please hang in there! I think you’ll be astonished how it will apply to you personally!)
Is there an answer to why God abandoned him? Is there an answer to the agonizing questionings and disappointment of death: “My God, Why? Why?”
As a priest I know that a real answer to that question cannot be a theoretical answer beginning with the word “Because . . .”. It has to be a practical answer—an answer from experience.
At the center of the Christian faith is the history of Christ’s passion. At the center of the passion is the experience of God endured by the godforsaken Christ. Is this the end of all human and religious hope?
Or is it the beginning of the true hope, because it is the beginning of a life that has death behind it and for which hell is no longer feared!
At the point where men and women lose hope, where they become powerless and can do nothing more, the lonely, assailed and forsaken Christ waits for them and gives them a share in his passion.
The passionately loving Christ, the persecuted Christ, the lonely Christ, the Christ despairing over God’s silence, the Christ who in dying so totally abandoned—for us and for our sakes—is like the brother or friend to whom we can confide, because he knows everything and has suffered everything that can happen to us—and more.
In our hopes about life, in our love in living and our activity, we participate in his passion for the kingdom of freedom.
Our disappointments, our loneliness, and defeats don’t separate us from him; they draw us more deeply into communion with him. And with the final unanswered cry, “Why, my God, why?” we join in his death cry and await the resurrection.
This—is what faith really is: believing, not with head or lips or out of habit, but believing with one’s whole life.
Good Friday is the most comprehensive and most profound expression of Christ’s fellowship with every human being.
In him the despair that oppresses us becomes freedom to hope. The arrogance with which we hinder ourselves and other people melts away, and we become open and vulnerable as he was.
What seemed so meaningless and irreconcilable—our hope and Christ’s cross—belong together as a single whole, just as do the passionate hope for life and the readiness for disappointment, pain and death.
Beneath the cross of Christ, hope is born again out of the depths. The person who has once sensed this is never afraid of any depths again. His hope has become firm and unconquerable: “Lord, I am a prisoner—a prisoner of hope!”
As I said when I introduced this article, I was blown away by it, and I hope you have been nourished by it as well. It has changed my whole perspective on Good Friday and my own understanding of Christ’s passion and my own participation in it. I hope it will help to deepen your faith.
And now my prayer . . .
Today everywhere in the world there are people
who are forsaken, abandoned, alone, afraid, dying ~ mourning the loss of loved ones.
And we cry: “Why, God, Why?” Be with them, Lord. Help us to help them.
And this Good Friday I feel closer to you because of what I’ve read, Lord.
May it deepen our faith and strengthen our solidarity with our sisters and brothers.
Thank you, Lord, because you’ve did it! It’s done! You saved us. Thank you ever so much!!!
And now, before you go, here’s the hymn from Bach’s Passion “O Sacred Head Sore Wounded” ~ Click here
Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.
And here are the readings from today’s service of the Word, including the Passion story according to St. John. Click here.
Jurgen Moltmann / “Prisoner of Hope” / Bread and Wine – Readings for Lent and Easter Plough Publishing House / Walden NY / 2003