There is a strong strand in Christian spirituality that invites us to feel personally responsible for Jesus’ agonizing death. As a youth I was taught that if I was the only person in the world ever to sin Jesus still would have hung on the Cross for me. I was told that my sins are the nails that hold him to the Cross. It was led to believe the question, “is it I Lord?”, should be my question because I betray Jesus and I deny Jesus again and again and again.
Given this spirituality, it is easy to see how Good Friday becomes a day of extended confession for many. Each swing of the hammer and each drop of blood are meant to elicit in us deep remorse and complete remembrance of every wrong we have ever done. In some form or fashion the focus of this day becomes me and what I did to Jesus. Let me suggest we lay aside this strand of spirituality and approach this day and this moment in a different way: as a sign of love… God’s enduring love for us and our Christ-like love for the world.
During Holy Week I have been meditating on and praying over the poem “African Easter” by Abioseh Nicol, a writer from Sierra Leone. The poem consists of three parts: Good Friday, Easter Eve, and Easter Morning. Let me read Good Friday for you, which has the subtitle The Wounded Christ:
I am not your God
if you have not denied me once, twice,
if I have not heard you complaining,
or doubting my existence.
I am not your Love,
if you have not rejected me often.
For what then am I worth to you
if you are always sinless.
Pace these sandy corridors of time,
turn again and live for me your youth, listening
to the gently falling rain, the distant cock crow
then proceed once more to deny
that I had a part in your being. Say
that I am an invention to keep you held
always in thralldom. That I was
the avant-garde of your disintegration.
After me, the stone jars of cheap gin, ornamental
glass beads, the punitive expeditions, your colonial status,
I have heard it all before; hide your face,
bury it, for fear that finding me, you may find peace.
For in this hour when the dying night lingers
unwilling to surrender its waking darkness
over your face and fevered brow, my torn fingers
will stray bringing such comfort
as may claim your doubting heart.
From Nicol’s perspective, human sin and shortcomings are an inevitable; they are something God expects and accepts as inherent in the relationship between creature and Creator. To focus exclusively on our sin is to “hide our face”, to “bury it” – as Nicol puts it – so as to miss completely the depth of relationship God seeks to have with us. It would be like a child who knows nothing of the parent except “I told you not to do it, now go to your room and stay there.” Yes, this is a facet of the parent/child relationship, but only a small part. The relationship is so much richer than just rules, remorse, and reprimands.
“I am not your God if you have not denied me once, twice, if I have not heard you complaining, or doubting my existence. I am not your Love, if you have not rejected me often.” As a youth Nicol believed otherwise and it led him away from God. He embraced doubt and distraction because at a deep level he believed himself unworthy of God. His great fear was that he might learn God loves him and in that love would find peace with God and himself. Nicol says this day – Good Friday – is an invitation to do just that… to face not our sins, but God’s overwhelming, all-encompassing love for us.
Each year at this service I say essentially the same thing. The distinctive feature of the Good Friday liturgy is The Solemn Collects which we will pray in just a moment. These biddings and prayers are comprehensive; no person or need is left out. Placed where they are in the liturgy, the Collects suggest that once Christ’s work in the world is completed on the Cross, our work in the world begins. His love for the world becomes our love for the world. And the starting point for us as we seek to manifest this love is prayer.
As I said, Good Friday is many things. Certainly this includes the spirituality that was instilled in me as a youth. Today I add to it this… God saying, “O.K., I get it. You sin. I know it and I expect it. It is a part of the contract I signed on for when I created you. Don’t look away in shame. Don’t hide your face. Look at me and see the love I have for you. Look at me and find peace. And then look out and look around. See the world I love so dearly. See the world through my eyes. Help me show my love for the world by sharing my love for you with others.”