Friday, April 10, 2009

Sermon for the Ecumenical Good Friday Service

The Seventh Word: Father into your hands I commend my spirit. A reading from the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 23, beginning at the 44th verse. It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last.

It can be a challenge to us, as 21st Century Christians, to hear and grasp all of the symbolism in a biblical text. The words were written nearly 2000 years ago, or more, in many cases. Cultural mores have changed. Religious practices have changed. Jesus and his followers were faithful Jews. So some of the mores and practices described are Jewish, rather than Christian, and predate the founding of Christianity. We can be forgiven for not catching the references!

There are two references in this text that we, as 21st Century Christians, might miss. The first is what Jesus says. The second is the event that immediately precedes it.

Jesus says: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” It is a quote from Psalm 31. A psalm which, in my New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, is called, “A Psalm of Prayer and Praise for Deliverance from Enemies.” How fitting that these would be Jesus’ final words.

One biblical scholar stated that Psalm 31 was a psalm that Jewish mothers taught their children at a young age. It was to be recited by faithful Jews each and every night before they fell asleep.

It says volumes that Jesus’ last words came from a Psalm that Mary taught him when he was very young. Jesus learned these words long before he fully understood what would be asked of him. What we teach our children matters.

Karl Barth, a well-known 20th century theologian, was asked at the end of his long career, about the most important thing he had learned in his life’s work of studying theology. His response: Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. What we teach our children matters.

When I was a child, it was usually my dad who tucked me in at night. Over a few years, we developed a ritual. We prayed certain prayers together. And then we said good night in the same way, each night. There was comfort in those prayers.

What did you learn about God when you were a child? A young adult? Do you still carry those lessons with you? Do you still pray the prayers that you were taught when you were young? Do you have words of comfort to draw on in the face of pain or loss or terror?

And then, there’s the event. At the moment of Jesus’ death, the curtain of the temple was torn in two.

That curtain, a feature of the Jewish temple, was designed to keep the people separate from God. Jews believed that God could be found, literally, in the place in the temple called The Holy of Holies.

Only a High Priest could venture back there, and even then only at certain times and under certain circumstances. The curtain was the dividing line. It was sort of a No Trespassing sign. God lives here, and no one else is worthy to enter.

At Jesus death, that curtain, designed to keep humans and God separated, is torn. Torn by Jesus’ death. We are the beneficiaries of the tearing. God is no longer distant. No longer locked in a room. No longer separate and apart. God is free and we are able to be directly in relationship with God. In Jesus’ death, God and humanity are reunited.

Today, we feel the pain of Jesus’ death, remembered and recollected. Today is a somber day. And this is as it should be. But, as today passes into tomorrow and then we come to the dawn of Easter Sunday, we can recall the grace of the Good News of this day.


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