Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Good Friday Homily - Last of the 7 Last Words of Christ

Hello, anyone and everyone. I have never participated in a 7 Last Words of Christ service before, and so I am not sure what the meditations are normally like. Here is my first draft of my thoughts for Friday evening, and my portion for the 7 Last Words is, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit."

If you care to leave feedback, I would really appreciate it! I am worried that I am not ending the service on a "dark" enough note...what do you think?

Sometimes my children seem so trusting of me that it breaks my heart. It breaks my heart when they are walking toward me and trip over something on the floor (yes, almost always the case in our house -- a toy, a book, a stuffed animal) and they fall, on their way to me, while I am sitting there with my arms open. How could I have failed to catch them? It breaks my heart when we are looking forward to doing something, and then for whatever reason, our plans must change, and I see real tears, not just crocodile tears, but real tears, pouring from their eyes and I have to explain to them that we’ll need to do something other than we had planned. It breaks my hearts when we are running late and I am stressed and I turn from “fun, engaged mommy” into “stressed, short, snapping mommy” and can see the distress on their faces. In all three of those examples, we could say, “Well, that’s life, get used to it,” but as the parent, the one somehow put in charge through biology of protecting them and modeling responses for them and educating them, it breaks my heart.

And it especially breaks my heart, though I guess in a good way, if you can say that about a broken heart, to see them go right back and trust me again. To see them pick themselves up off the floor and come rushing into my arms to be comforted, because even though I’m the one who “allowed” them to fall, I’m also the one who comforts. To see them look forward to the next outing I offer them, because even though I’m the one who had to break the news about the cancelled event, I’m also the one they count on to provide something new. To see them try to engage me, or laugh when I attempt to be funny, or tell me the answer when I ask them something about their day, even though I was the one who, a few moments ago, was distant, or distracted, or short with them, because even though I temporarily withdrew my attention from them, as soon as I can give it back again, they crave it and lap it up like cats drinking milk.

This is what children do, and do over and over again, at least assuming that for the most part the parents in the equation are mostly nurturing and provide some degree of love and warmth. Actually, children will even return again and again to parents who mostly fail to provide nurture and support and warmth, again because of that parent-child bond and love. It is in extreme cases that there is a true severance in the relationship, that there really is no further interaction or care.

And since all of us are children, even if we are not parents, we know what this might be like, to run to our parents for comfort, for support, for healing, in the worst moments of our lives, when we feel most vulnerable and as though the rest of the world has turned on us.

Perhaps this puts us in the right frame of mind to hear these last words from Jesus, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Jesus’ final breath brings into play this parent-child relationship, the beyond-theological relationship, the ultimate trusting relationship.

The famous Scottish theologian, Dr. William Barclay, writes, "Jesus died with a prayer on his lips. `Father, into your hands I [commend] my spirit.' That is Psalm 31:5 with one word added-- Father. That verse was the prayer every Jewish mother taught her child to say last thing at night. Just as we were taught, maybe, to say, `Now I lay me down to sleep,' so the Jewish mother taught her child to say, before the threatening dark came down, `Into your hands I commit my spirit.' Jesus made it even more intimate, for he began it with the word Father. Even on the cross Jesus died like a child falling asleep in his father's arms."

Whatever our theological beliefs about Jesus’ crucifixion, the how’s and why’s of it, God’s involvement in it or distance from it, Jesus assures us in his dying breath that he trusts his father completely, in life and now in death.

In one of our funeral prayers, we say the words, “For whether we live or whether we die, we belong to Christ who is Lord both of the dead and of the living.” Jesus asserts the truth of this in his belonging to his Father even upon his death.

What wondrous love it this: to know that Christ is our Lord, to know that God is also our Father, and that even in our dying, we will be received into God’s loving arms. For this trust and this freedom Christ came to us, died to save us, and goes before us. In his loving name, Amen.


Stephanie Anthony/She Rev said...

I totally get your worry about ending "too upbeat." I have that worry about my own Good Friday plans (as I have every other year I preach on Good Friday). The same way we say you can't have the celebration of Palm Sunday without know the cross is coming, I have a hard time being at the cross and ignoring that resurrection is coming, too. I just don't have it in me to have a complete downer. I sometimes worry that I make the turn "up" too soon, but I don't think you need to.

Like you mention toward the end, there are lots of different understandings about crucifixion theology. I think you do a great job of preaching an angle on it that everyone can grab a hold of. It's a good sending meditation because it doesn't assume a certain understanding of the cross, but pulls out a universal message that will engage folks of all different theological leanings.

Sarah said...

Hi Stephanie/She Rev,
Thanks so much for stopping by and taking the time to read the meditation and leave a comment; I really appreciate it with the busy week I know everyone is having! I love your comment that it's hard to preach Good Friday without knowing that Easter is coming...I feel the same exact way!

I also wanted to say that regarding what you had posted over at RGBP, I think that if you are feeling an urge to preach on a kind of "alternate" text for Easter, go with it! That sounds like the Holy Spirit talking to me!

Barefoot Preacher said...

Hi Sarah,

I agree with Stephanie/SheRev that it's hard to preach good friday without recognizing that Easter is coming. I think it's fine to hint at the resurrection even in the midst of Good Friday. After all, it's the resurrection that gives us the strength to stand face to face with Good Friday. It's the resurrection that gives us the strength to look death in the face, both Jesus' and ours.

I like your emphasis on the parent-child relationship and how Jesus called God Father. My one suggestion is that you spend a lot of time talking about the parent side of that but then at the end sort of switch to the child perspective for a short time. You might consider putting a more balanced emphasis on them.

I really like the reflection!