I consider myself to be something of a spiritual pilgrim. By this I mean that I continue to press on toward a fuller, deeper, richer understanding of God’s involvement in human affairs. The bible, of course, is the primary source of my understanding. It articulates God’s interaction with a particular people over a long period of time culminating with the coming of the Messiah and witness of the early Church.
The rich tradition of the Church provides yet another resource for spiritual pilgrims. We can learn much, and be stimulated in our learning, by the experience of the faithful down through the ages. In more recent times, a host of theologians, historians, and devotional writers offers even more insight and guidance.
But beyond all of this, every spiritual pilgrim must learn to value his or her own experience of God. That which resonates as true in your prayers, your worship, your study, the liturgy in which you participate, and in the day-to-day events of your everyday life matters. This personal component is essential because God is not just the God of way back then. God is not found solely between the covers of dusty books or exclusively contained by the experiences of the saints and monastics of long ago. God is alive and active and present with each one of us here and now… today.
So as a spiritual pilgrim I strive to know God by looking at my own life through the lenses of Holy Scripture, tradition, the teachings of the Church, and what I can learn about God through the lessons of my own encounters with God.
All of this is a long way of saying that much about this day… Good Friday… puzzles me.
The bible and the Church could not be more clear about what this day means. Our sins have been laid on the innocent Son of God. He dies for us and in the process becomes the Savior of the world. As the early Church listened to the Holy Spirit in an effort to understand the Cross, it could not help but see the Cross through the metaphor of the sacrificial system of their religion. Rather than offering to God some grain or oil or pigeon or lamb as a substitute sacrifice for personal sin, Jesus offers up his sinless self on our behalf. Once and for all we are made whole and clean through his sacred offering.
The notion behind the entire sacrificial system was God demanded some act of violence in order to abate God’s just wrath elicited by humankind’s disobedience. It is this notion I question as a spiritual pilgrim. Does God demand an act of violence as a substitution for deserved punishment evoked by our sins? If the answer is no, then how are we to understand this day?
More and more on my spiritual pilgrimage the focus of my Good Friday theology revolves around two thoughts.
First, this day is a symbol of what God always endures to be in relationship with us. In the core of God’s very being, in the heart of the Holy Trinity, in the midst of that perfectly harmonious relationship, there is a cost to be paid for being in relationship with that which does not completely share in God’s perfect harmony.
It is similar to the cost every parent pays to be in relationship with a child… the uncertainty of allowing the child to explore and develop, the frustration at failure, the pain of rejection. All of these are a part of the parenting experience. It is the cost the parent pays to be in relationship with the child. But it is only a part. This cost is far outweighed by the joy of the relationship between parent and child.
If this is the experience of parents, how much more must it be the experience of God? The Cross is the symbol of what it costs God to be our parent. In this sense it is more than a historic event that took place at Golgotha, it is an on-going experience taking place within the heart of God.
This understanding of the Cross raises an essential question… will God grow tired of bearing this pain? The Cross offers a definitive answer… no, never! On this dark day God absorbs the absolute worst humanity can do to God. In a sense we might say God tests the limits of God’s own love and discovers not even the Crucifixion can diminish God’s willingness to be in relationship with the human family. Just as Abraham tested his absolute devotion to God by being willing to offer his only son, so God offers the only begotten Son to test the limits of God’s love for the human family. God discovers divine love endures through the worst we can do to it.
I do not offer these thoughts as a finished theology, but as the musings of a spiritual pilgrim. I do not know where they will take me or how they might stimulate your own thinking, but I am confident in God’s love for me… even if I stray from accepted and acceptable understanding.
Here is my second thought about this day. It is one that haunts me. As a parent I know I am more tolerant of my children when they rebel against me than I am when they hurt one another. I am more tolerant of their indiscretions against me than I am of those directed at people outside the family. So while the Cross tells me God can absorb the worst things we do to God, I wonder if God can absorb the worst things we do to one another. Certainly the history of the human family suggests we are capable of unbelievable acts of violence and hatred toward one another. God can bear our ugliness directed at God, but can God bear our ugliness directed at one another?
Somehow the Cross suggests God can bear this pain as well. Still, the liturgy for this day helps us to remember the pain we cause one another may be a greater pain to God than the pain God endures on the Cross. The Solemn Collects we will pray in a moment suggest the Cross begs us to relate to the world in a new way. And so through our biddings and prayers we seek to enter into relational harmony with God by seeking relational harmony with all those whom God loves.