Friday, April 22, 2011

The Friday called Good.

For those of us unversed in the rambling routes between Olde English and modern, the held-over label for today – “Good” Friday – must seem a tad odd. As it happened, it was in fact a bad Friday.
For Jesus’ disciples it certainly was. A very bad Friday.
Jesus didn’t die peacefully in his sleep at the Jerusalem Home for Retired Prophets. His life ended violently and publicly in a prolonged and deliberately brutal execution. Russel Saltzman: “This is the final meaning of crucifixion: repudiation of a way of life so complete as to be a caution to anyone foolish enough to try it for themselves.”
So what were a rag-tag band of holy fools to think? Here’s their Lord, teacher, friend, Master; hung-up to die between two criminals. Shamefully, helplessly, bleeding and suffocating; in the kind of pain that defies explanation. What’s ‘good’ about that?
On that Friday which we call ‘good’ it would appear that God, the one this dying man so shockingly called ‘Father,’ was either just a dream or as good as dead himself.
And for those standing around watching, that is exactly the conclusion to which Jesus himself seemed to have come: Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?
Had God forsaken this moral genius? What’s ‘good’ about that? What ‘good’ is a God who abandons such a man?
Such a God is no good at all. Or no God at all.
Elie Wiesel recounts a day in Auschwitz when an extra piece of stale bread was stolen. The man in charge decided to ask the offending prisoner to confess. As an alternative, and as some incentive, he threatened to kill six prisoners if no one stepped forward. A man confessed. He was hung. And to reinforce his point, the man in charge had the six other prisoners hung too. One of these prisoners was a child so light that his own body weight was insufficient to collapse his throat in the noose. He hung for five, ten, fifteen and twenty minutes – while the inmates were forced to watch him – gasping and dying.
“Behind me, I heard a man asking: 'Where is God now?' And I heard a voice within me answer him: 'Where is He?' Here He is — He is hanging here on this gallows.”
This could have been the disciples remark on that first ‘good’ Friday. Jaded and redundant: Where is God now? One look at this sight and the conclusion is obvious: God is dead. Or as good as dead anyway.
If all that sounds too much like sacrilege, it should. On a day when it would seem the universe had finally dropped the veil from its morbid face, what’s the point of religion? On such a Friday, either God is not worthy of our religious effort, or there isn’t a God to waste the effort on.
As far as most of our world is concerned, Jesus is dead. And though there is much goodness in life, if death wins then ultimately it is all swallowed by a total, endless, eclipse. Like a day that never ends, with a night that never comes. No Holy Saturday; no Easter Sunday. Only the sustained darkness that covered the earth on the day that Jesus died: Empty, meaningless, void.
Friedrich Nietzsche: “Where has God gone? … I shall tell you. We have killed him. … Whither are we moving now? Away from all suns? Are we not perpetually falling? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? … Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become gods simply to seem worthy of it?”
There is a word for ‘perpetually falling’ and ‘straying through an infinite nothing,’ for ‘the breath of empty space’ and ‘becoming gods ourselves.’ It is a small word, often peppered like punctuation through trivial babble: Oh, what the Hell?
The Friday Jesus died – the one we call ‘good’ – was Hell on earth. Everything backward, twisted, in-bent, dark and desolate was above ground and on display that day. It was on earth between the two hands nailed to some wood stood-up on a mound on the outskirts of town. Piled on him without mercy, until there was no backwardness left, anywhere else.
For those six hours, it was all there. Condensed and firmly in place, on him.
When I think of how that might look, I can’t even picture it. But still, I tremble. Hollow. Aching. Nausea. My God, my God… why have you not forsaken us?
Where is God now? He is there on the gallows. Right there. With all of the worst and not-good-enough we’ve ever done.
Where is God now? He is there on the gallows. And we have killed him.
If that is true – and, God help me, I believe it is – then everything is on the table. Everything hangs on whatever comes of this day.
Evil – ‘the Man in charge’ – he thinks he’s made his point: Put-down the mutiny of hope. Finished it, finally and for good, on that Friday.
As it happened, that would make it about the worst possible day imaginable.
But – as with all Fridays so far – a Saturday followed it. 
And after that?
… Sunday.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Pemberton Revelations.

Somewhere in the second half of the first century, John of Patmos heard from the risen Jesus in some of the most graphic and powerful images the Church has ever been given.

Stuck alone on an Island for God only knows how long, John received a vision that has struck more fear, more bewilderment and more sheer awe into the hearts of the faithful than any other book in the New Testament. 

Although some of us cannot resist adding an ‘s’ to it’s end, the book is called “Revelation,” and it is indeed packed with that. One of the most revealing of its parts comes early, in the second and third chapters, where Jesus speaks directly to specific churches of the day. Seven local bodies get his special attention – words of correction, challenge and comfort from the Head himself.

Along with three other pastors in the Province, I have been invited by the British Columbia Conference of Mennonite Brethren to write a letter in the style of Revelation 2-3 to my own church. These letters will be read at our annual convention later this month as a creative effort to hear from God and better understand what he is doing in B.C.

I have stuck pretty close to the style of the addresses in Revelation. I’m not trying to sound especially prophetic or dramatic with this, I’m just trying to allow the Biblical model to shape my own prayerful imagination about our church. As ever, I’d be very grateful for your responses and comments.

To the angel of the church in Pemberton write, These are the word of the One who strides across peaks and whose Spirit rolls through valleys:

By some standards you are small, but by mine you are large. You have held the course through difficult terrain and have become stronger. You welcome the stranger and embrace the newcomer. I am with you. And I am pleased with you. Remain faithful to me and I will remain faithful to you.

There are, however, two things I hold against you:

I hear what you are saying but I also see what you have refused to do. You sing and preach and pray with your mouths but your feet and hands are too quiet. I love those you do not notice and I look quickly past the things that hold your gaze. You borrow against my plans for your tomorrows to fill your homes today. The false fullness has shrunk your souls and the excess has made you heavier and slower than you realize. Now comfort and ease stalk you like confident predators. I advise you to re-evaluate.

Do not let your faith land short of the target. The Bible is my gift to you for knowing me, be sure that it does not become an idol that distracts you from its purpose. Misplaced zeal is worse than none at all. I am the One Who Saves you! This is also true for those who trust in a nameless ‘God.’ Do not mistake a puddle on the path for the Ocean at the end of it. You have pitched your chairs too soon. I am the Way. Get up! and continue the journey.

If this is something the Spirit is also saying to your church, then you should listen to it too.