Friday, March 21, 2008

Sermon for Good Friday 2008

I am his remains

Tom O’Loughlin, a priest, a writer and a professor at the University of Wales, says that most people only think of time in a few variations: bad times, good times, work time, time off and party time.

In the Church we look at time in a different way.
We have distinct seasons of the Church year—Advent, Lent, Pentecost—to name just a few.
We also have certain days that we set apart—
feast days and fast days and holy days.

Good Friday is one of those holy days.
The day of Jesus’ crucifixion
is the most solemn day in our Christian year.

It always puzzled me as a child
why a day on which such a horrible thing happened
was named GOOD Friday.

As an adult I have learned
that some believe that GOOD Friday is
a derivation of GOD’S Friday.
Others believe that the reason we call it GOOD—
despite the horror that occurred—
is because Jesus’ death was not really the end
but the beginning.

This is the day in the Church year
When we gather to confront the end.
It is finished.

Jesus is dead.
The struggle is over.
Not every story has a happy ending.
Jesus dies.

Some say Jesus was killed
because he was trying to liberate the Jewish people
from Roman authority.
Others say Jesus was killed
because he was trying to liberate the hearts and minds of all people
from spiritual bondage—from an attachment to things—
money, power, fame, security—
any thing that separates us from God.

Deep sorrow, anger, bitterness, fear, grief—
Jesus’ disciples, his friends, his family—
their emotions had to have been all over the place that day.
This man that had transformed their lives,
This man who they believed could truly transform the world—
Was gone. Dead.

Good Friday is not the day we leap forward into Easter resurrection.
It is the day we purposefully live with the caving in of our entire world.

I recently read a review of a book titled
Here If You Need Me.
It is written by a young woman named Kate Braestrup.
Kate is a chaplain for the Maine Warden Service.

Now what that means
(and if you are like me, you may have never heard of such a thing)
is that Kate goes out with a team on search-and-rescue missions
to find hikers and hunters lost in the woods,
or on a mountain or in the bogs of the state of Maine.

When those search efforts do not have a happy ending,
Kate is there to kneel beside and pray over the dead body,
to help place the body into the body bag with dignity,
and then to inform and comfort the family and friends
of the person who died.

The reviewer of Kate Braestrup’s book writes:

As a widow…Braestrup writes about bodies: her husband’s,
dead in a car accident, and her own and her four children as
they react to the sudden loss. Against the advice of many,
Braestrup insisted on bathing and dressing her husband’s corpse.
When the baffled funeral director inquired into her plans for
disposing the remains, she writes in characteristically simple
but gorgeous prose, her first thought was: “I am his remains.”

I am his remains.

We are the remains of Jesus Christ.
We are.

We gather today to pray over his dead body.
We gather to grieve.
We gather to ponder the human role in this death and this loss.
We gather to try to see God in this death, in any death.

Chaplain Kate Braestrup writes:

It doesn’t matter how educated, moneyed, or smart you are. When your child’s footprints end at the river’s edge, when the one you love has gone into the woods with a bleak outlook and a loaded gun, when the chaplain is walking toward you with bad news in her mouth, then only the clichés are true, and you will repeat them unashamed…If you are really wise— and it’s surprising and wondrous…how many people have this wisdom in them—you will know enough to look around for love. It will be there…holding out its arms to you. If you are wise, whoever you are, you will let go, fall against that love, and be held.

Good Friday offers us a time in the Church year
to abandon words or explanations,
and to just collapse into the love of God
and be held.

+ + +
I still have not figured out how to transfer footnotes into my blog. So...Tom O'Loughlin's reference to time is from his book Journey to the Edges(page 146). The paragraph about Jesus and theories on why he was killed is from G. Corwin Stoppel's book Road to Resurrection: Meditations on Walking the Way of the Cross (page 29) The reference to the book review of Here If You Need Me is from Christian Century, March 25, 2008, page36.

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