We do not know what’s coming in the morning: A Good Friday Meditation

IMG_3304This is the night we gather to remember the crucifixion of Jesus.

It is a hard night. And a hard story.

Traditionally, the scripture that is read when we gather to remember this night is the Passion account from the Gospel of John.

John’s account of the Passion is a hard story for many of the reasons we assume. The bone chilling violence of the crucifixion. Our grief at the death of Jesus. Our fear, echoed by the Disciples, that the Kingdom of God faces extinction as Christ faces death.

But John also marks a period in the long, painful divorce between Judaism and Christianity. Though all the Gospels reveal this tension, With Matthew, Mark, and Luke often depicting the conflict between Jesus and other religious leaders—“The Scribes,” “The Sadducees,” “The Pharisees,” “The Priests,” John simply uses the term that we have translated into English as “The Jews.”

Scholars debate the exact connotation of this word—does it echo a theological division during John’s time—roughly 60-70 years after Jesus’ death—between those who followed Jesus and those who followed Torah? does it reflect a more of a geographic or ethnic division among Jewish and Gentile Christians? Does it connote something subtle that would have made sense to a first century Christian but makes less obvious sense to a 21st Century Christian?

Regardless, the implication of the ways increasingly gentile church reading the gospel, over the centuries was often tragic. The Church, throughout the centuries, utilized the Gospel of John to teach that Jews were collectively responsible for the death of Jesus—as if Jesus didn’t himself practice the Judaism of his day, and as if there is some division between the Jesus we claim to be fully human and fully divine, and as if there is Jewish responsibility for Jesus’s death at the hands of the Roman Empire.

It gave theological justification to pogrom, and provided a relaiogous rational for the holocaust/Shoah.

So on this day, as a way of confronting the implication of how we have told the story of Jesus’s death in the face of our divided traditions, I choose to read an important piece of scripture shared by the Jewish and Christian traditions. Remember, the first followers of Jesus had no Gospel Accounts of Jesus’s death. They had no New Testament scripture. The earliest books that we count as scripture—Paul’s letters—came 10-20 years after Jesus’s death. Instead, they poured through the Septuagint, the Greek Translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, looking for something that reflected their experience of Jesus’s life and death.

One of the most prominent scriptures comes from the prophet Isaiah, and is known as one of the Servant songs.

This scripture, which was likely was written during the Jewish captivity in Babylon, has been interpreted in various ways in Judaism. The “Suffering Servant” it describes was likely meant to symbolize the nation of Israel in exile, whose suffering would somehow bring forth a restoration of the nation of Israel, rebuild its temple, and give it new life, again. Following the Return after the exile, the rebuilding of the temple, the occupation of the Roman Empire, some later Jewish interpreters did see this passage as a reference to a Messiah.

Followers of Jesus, since those first years, have seen Jesus in the suffering servant. It has framed our experience of how Jesus died and his death’s redemptive quality, and has rooted our Christian Faith in the Scriptures of Ancient Israel, as well as in the Scriptures we call the New Testament.

Our earliest Christian forebears looked to the scriptures they held dear, but they also looked to their own experiences of Christ and to their very own lives to tell the story of Jesus’s death.

So I invite you to do the same as we listen for God’s word in these words: Isaiah 52:13-53:12

There are things you don’t get over.

He used to listen to Johnny Cash.”
Johnny used to sing those songs about being
hungover and sad in the morning
but Johnny never stopped singing about the cross
even when chasing the pills with the whiskey

just like he would do.

He had seen the cross
Up close.
When a buddy died right in front of him.
When the Napalm made its presence known.
In the nightmares
In the throbbing of his head.

There are things you don’t get over.

“Let me die a Good Man.”
That had been his prayer
Ever since he had come home
Ever since he had lifted up the cross
of his country and carried its weight
overseas and back,
past the violence, the injury, the welcome
home he hoped for that wouldn’t come for decades and even
then felt half-hearted

He hated that he carried the cross back to his family,
dropped it in his mama’s lap, tried to get better
like an animal licking its wounds, only succeeding
in chewing off his own leg.

Trashing another apartment, losing another job
Not keeping the rage and the fear down
His heartbeat quickening, then quieting again.
“May there be a purpose to my death, because there seems so little to my life.
“Let me at least die a Good Man.”

There are things you don’t get over.
Like an Exile
Like watching the hope you had in God
crushed under the weight of a cross on
a hill crowded with death.
Like a war.

You still see those things. The Cross is always there
The one Johnny Cash sang about
The One Jesus died on
The One you used to look up to
The one that takes the shape
of a Gun
a bomb
a drone
a lethal injection
You see it still
out of the corner of your eye.
You don’t get over it.

We don’t know what’s coming in the morning
As we gather here.
We know some ancient words
that we’ve grafted on our hearts.

And words we speak aloud
about our own suffering.

Perhaps we pray the words
of a not-quite-boy-who-never-became-a-man,
who asked for a peanut butter milkshake
his favorite from his own hometown
once on leave
while the tasty-freeze owner looked at him like he was crazy
and the kids behind him laughed.

“Let me die a good man
Or because of.
The ways I’ve suffered with you.
Have you, O God, suffered with me?”

Ancient stories.
We remember them like a speck of something
in the corner of our eye.

A God who was present with us so that our sufferings might be God’s sufferings, too.

We do not know what will happen
as the sun goes down
Will that thing in the corner of our eye
fade into the dark
subsume us
Subsume even our prayers.

There are things you don’t get over
because there are things that do not end.

What will this night be?


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