Let me begin where I believe we must begin on every Good Friday. Jesus did not die upon the cross to save us from sin. Jesus is not some sort of cosmic bargaining chip offered up in our place to a wrathful, judgmental quid pro quo god, who demands a blood-sacrifice in order to forgive us so that he and I do mean he can usher us into heaven. Jesus did not die alone on that first Good Friday and we have not gathered here simply to grieve something that happened nearly 2000 years ago. On this Good Friday, we stand in the shadow of the cross to grieve the death of LOVE; and there is one thing we all know about LOVE and that is that LOVE dies over and over again, each and every day. Each and every day people all over the world grieve the death of LOVE. Indeed, the death of LOVE is omnipresent. The death of LOVE causes us to tremble, tremble, tremble. So much so, that as LOVE dies all around us, something in us knows that we must insulate ourselves from the reality of death’s omnipresence or the sheer intensity of trembling will surely cause LOVE to die in us. Good Friday is the day that we set aside to lament the death of LOVE; an attempt, if you will, to confine the trembling to a more manageable time and place. On Good Friday, we gather together to tremble, tremble, tremble.
I was barely five years old the first time that I can remember this kind of trembling. These early memories of the trembling are lodged deep in my psyche and I confess to not knowing what actually happened. All I can tell you is how visceral these memories are and how formative they have been when it comes to shaping who and what I have become. It was 1963, I was just five, and my personal memories are but flashes that over the intervening decades have lodged themselves in and amongst the black and white footage that has become our collective remembering of this particular death of LOVE. There’s a surreal image, not exactly an image, more of a feeling prompted by my own mother’s sobbing and the impression of my Dad’s tear-filled eyes as together, with millions and millions of others, we attended the funeral of John F. Kennedy. Reflecting on my first experience of the death of LOVE, I can see now that the hopes and the dreams of my parents’ generation died again, just like LOVE had died for my Mom when the bombs fell all around her childhood home and again and again each night my Dad sought shelter from the bombs. As children of World War II, my parents’ generation witnessed LOVE’s death over and over again. They were all too familiar with the trembling that accompanies LOVE’s death.
As I was growing up, as each of you grew up, LOVE was assassinated, executed, snuffed out, bombed, napalmed, starved, murdered, and left to die over and over again. There were far too many funerals, too many opportunities to lament as LOVE fell victim to death. We all share countless collective memories of LOVE dying over and over again. We can add to that our own personal memories and it is clear that LOVE dies over and over again, each and every day.
I remember watching a young father carry an ever so small coffin that contained his newborn son. I can still see that young man ever so gently laying that precious box in a tiny grave. I can see and feel LOVE dying upon that day, so much so that my entire being trembles, trembles, trembles. I can see a long line, far too long a line of people with their hands held out in expectation and I can feel their anger mingle with my frustration and fear as LOVE dies in the midst of their colossal needs. I can still feel the tears streaming down my face as I surveyed the dying forests of my beloved British Columbia turned deathly brown as a result of climate change; millions of acres of dead and dying trees, causing me to tremble tremble, tremble.
If only Good Friday only rolled around once a year. What a shame it is that Good Friday happens each and every day, over and over again. We have all endured far too many Good Fridays. Our Good Fridays are the Good Fridays of the privileged and so many of us have the power to mitigate our trembling. But far too many people all over the world are sacrificed as LOVE dies from abuse, neglect, greed, selfishness, indifference, and violence, leaving millions more to tremble, tremble, tremble. The sheer magnitude of sacrificial suffering is more than we can bear. So, we box it up, seal it away, and peer at it from time to time lest the trembling shake us unto despair.
We have all endured far too many Good Fridays. But there are many more people whose Good Friday sufferings are simply unimaginable. That which we cannot imagine we mold into a symbol and so today the symbol upon which you and I thrust our trembling psyches is the symbol of the cross. Today, our trembling causes us to hit the pause button so that we can look upon this symbol, as we cling to in the hope that the cross can somehow contain our suffering as we bear witness to the death of LOVE. Sadly, the cross cannot suppress our trembling. The cross only confirms our need to tremble. For in the trembling our various attempts to deny the reality of death are shaken off and we come face to face with the contradictions of what it means to be human. Life and death. Compassion and loathing. Happiness and suffering. Abundance and scarcity. Sacrifice and selfishness. Freedom and captivity. Justice and injustice. Peace and violence.
In the life and teachings of Jesus we see these contradictions play themselves out as Jesus’ passion for life, for freedom, for justice, for peace and above all for LOVE leads Jesus to oppose the domination of empire as he embodies the DIVINE MYSTERY which he defines, with his very life, as LOVE. There is no DIVINE plan, no cosmic quid pro quo, no deal that gets us off the hook. Just an all too human death upon a cross erected by humans who seek to deny that LOVE is the way. So here we stand, trembling as we always do in the shadow of the cross.
Often in the past, Good Friday has left me trembling as I try to cling to ideas or beliefs that quelled the tremblings of past generations. It’s not easy to look upon the death of LOVE realizing that there is no cosmic escape plan designed to stop the trembling. The deconstruction of these doctrines and the dogma has deepened my own trembling. I know that God did not orchestrate or demand the death of Jesus. I know that the mantra-like response that most of us learned which insists that Jesus died to save us from sin, was born out of our discomfort and distaste for the trembling. I know that the various theories and theologies that went into creating this mantra were not part of the early followers of Jesus’ recollection of Jesus’ death. I know that the limited number of biblical verses used to create the various theories of atonement actually point to the reality that it was Jesus’ passion that got him executed; his passion for justice and his compassion for those who suffered injustice lead Jesus smack dab into the very place where the forces of empire dominated the very ones Jesus’ could not abandon. I believe what Jesus passionately proclaimed in what he taught and confirmed with the way he lived and died. I believe the vision of the DIVINE that Jesus portrayed as LOVE, a LOVE that is beyond our ability to imagine or define. I believe that we live and move and have our being in the LOVE that is God. This means that, just as Jesus insisted, we are ONE.When one of us suffers we all suffer. If we all suffer then surely the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being also suffers. In this way, we can say that the ONE that Jesus taught is LOVE, the ONE in whom we live, and move and have our being, suffered in Jesus, and suffers over and over again.
LOVE dies again and again and again, each and every day. It is meet right and salutary that we should at all times and in all places tremble in the face of LOVE’s death. Good Friday cannot contain the magnitude of our suffering. It can only offer us a moment or two to grieve together. But as we tremble, let us also remember what the apostle Paul steadfastly insisted: “we do not grieve as those without hope.” For just as surely as LOVE dies over and over again, death cannot contain LOVE, for LOVE rises over and over again.
But for now, we grieve in the sure and certain knowledge that in LOVE we live and move and have our being. Jesus’ death on the cruel instrument of the domination system that was the roman empire shows us what LOVE looks like. If we want to see how LOVE overcomes the fear of death we have to look elsewhere. Last night some of us gathered here to commemorate the events of the night before Jesus died. Maundy Thursday commemorations revolve around a meal, a meal at which Jesus gave us the new commandment that we are to love one another. Now the loving one another part was nothing new. Many people had expressed the DIVINE commandment that we love one another long before Jesus did. The new part of this commandment was that we love one another as Jesus has loved.
Jesus loved by showing solidarity with the poor and the marginalized. Jesus loved by refusing to walk away when the forces of empire dominated the people Jesus loved. Jesus loved refusing to allow fear to separate him from those he loved. Jesus taught that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for those we love. Jesus didn’t sacrifice himself in order to save us from sin. Jesus loved so fully and completely that he was not afraid to love in the face of everything that the forces of empire could dish out. Jesus saw the suffering of those he loved at the hands of the powerful and he did not walk away. Jesus followed love into the very heart of empire and spoke out in solidarity with the oppressed and the down-trodden, the oppressed and the persecuted. Jesus insisted that the peace of the Roman Empire, the pax romana that was achieved through violence was no peace at all. Jesus insisted that justice is the only way to peace, justice for the poor, for the oppressed, the down-trodden, and yes justice even for our enemies, justice is the way to peace. Jesus refused to walk away, and Jesus’ insistence upon justice for all, did not sit well with the domination system of his day, any more than justice for all sits well with the domination systems of our day.
Jesus’ love led him into solidarity with those who needed him, and Jesus’ love is the reason he was executed. As we tremble in the shadow of LOVE’s death, we do so knowing that not even death could contain such LOVE. So, let us tremble at LOVE’s power to reach beyond the grave to empower us to be LOVE here and now, in this place and time.
Dear sisters and brothers we do not grieve as ones without hope. We know that LOVE dies over and over again. We know that LOVE rises over and over again. So, let us tremble, tremble, tremble at LOVE’s death wherever and whenever LOVE dies. Let us tremble with the sure and certain knowledge that not even death can contain LOVE. Let us tremble as those who have hope that LOVE will rise again, and again, and again. Let us tremble at the awesome reality that LOVE even now, seeks resurrection in, with, through and beyond us, now and always. Amen.