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Think Differently: Seven Perspectives on Lent

Revised Common Lectionary Year C

Good Friday

April 15, 2022

Highlighted Text: Psalm 22

Summary of the Text

What is “Good” about Friday? 

For the work-a-day world in the United States of America, Fridays are good. TGIF, “Thank God It’s Friday!” is an interjection we use to convey relief that the work week is coming to a close and a weekend of rest is upon us. Figuratively speaking, we’ve all been there, haven’t we? For preachers, though, it may literally be, TGISA, “Thank God It’s Sunday Afternoon!” one more sermon down, now time for a nap. 

But, the general goodness of the Friday of Holy Week is “sus” (as my teen-aged children would say). 

I’ve often wondered how the passion of Christ could be rendered as good. 

Theologians assert its goodness lies in the salvific nature of the sacrifice and have built a whole enterprise around theories of the atonement. I’m all for such endeavors, but they don’t answer the question for me on why Friday could be termed good. 

Only Easter and subsequent post-resurrection reflections could suggest that Friday is good. That “goodness” is retrospective or perhaps it might be said, “retroactive.”

Was the D-Day invasion on July 6, 1944 good? Depends on how one looks at it. On the day of the invasion, the mass casualties would say otherwise. For the parents who lost a son or a soldier who lost a comrade, there was nothing “good” about the day. It is only after the battle to storm the beaches of Normandy that one can retrospectively talk about the good, when the tide began to turn in favor of the allies. Even then, the loss of life is still not in any way diminished and its goodness qualified.

If one does a quick look at the liturgical use of “good” to describe the Friday before Easter in the English language, she will note that the original meaning of “good” is a now extinct use in modern-day parlance of that which was once understood as “pious or holy.” 

I can respect that idea of Friday as good. Holy Friday, Pious Friday, a day set apart and distinct from others because of the significance of the suffering of Christ on the cross. Having said that, I rather like the way the German language describes Good Friday,  

Karfreitag or the lesser used Stiller Freitag are more in line with what I believe is the emotional embodiment of the day of crucifixion. The first word’s prefix comes from an old, high German word “chara” which means “lament, wail, sorrow,” and the first word “Stiller” of the lesser used term means “silent.” 

The Friday of Holy Week is a day of lament, sorrow, and silence. It is a day in which the conquering king of Jerusalem along with his entourage is made still and quiet. It is a day in which the incarnate God laments his unjust suffering as a representative of all of humanity. It is a day of death and sorrow. It is actually not good but it contains a glimpse of goodness.  

I know that seems to contradict my objection, but Jesus himself hints at its goodness when he cries the  opening line of Psalm 22 from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 

The Significance of First-Lines

There are certain “first-line” quotes one may use that evoke a larger narrative full of meaning. 

“To be or not to be…” 

“Death, be not proud…” 

“Four-score and seven years ago…” 

“I have a dream…” 

“The Lord is my Shepherd…” 

Each of these bring to mind a broader literary, historical, political, social, and spiritual context: 

Hamlet’s soliloquy on existence in Shakespeare’s drama…

John Donne’s poetic vanquishing of the enemy, Death…

Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, a turning point in the American Civil War…

Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 speech at the Lincoln Memorial envisioning racial equality… 

David’s Psalm of the Good Shepherd’s deliverance and protection in life… 

First lines are literary allusions that cast far longer shadows than their simple shape. 

When Jesus cried the first line of Psalm 22 (Psalm 21 in the Hebrew Bible) from the cross, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” (See Mark 15:34 and Matthew 27:46), he cast the shadow not just of the first line of Psalm 22, but of the entire Psalm, a Psalm of individual lament that had been used in corporate worship for centuries. 

James Mays, in his commentary on the Psalms, says, “Citing the first words of a text was, in the tradition of the time, a way of identifying an entire passage” (Mays, 105). Jesus’ cry interpreted his current condition of suffering within a tradition of the past, a tradition of worship. 

This is significant in the way of goodness because Psalm 22, apart from its harrowing plea for God to be not-so-distant, recognizes the absolute power of God in both the past, present, and future to deliver and to protect. 

The God who appears to forsake, to rob Jesus and this Friday of any goodness is the one of whom the Psalmist declares, “For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; and he has not hid his face from him, but has heard when he cried to him. From you comes my praise in the great congregation…The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied…” (Psalm 22:24-26a). 

Jesus’ forlorn cry of abandonment from Psalm 22 is also a cry of certain hope in the God who saves. Paradoxically, it is both empty of goodness and abounding in goodness at the same time for as the Psalter declares elsewhere, “weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5). 

Scott Bullock is a Board Member and Contributor with The Pastors Workshop. He is an ordained Presbyterian minister who has served churches in Illinois, New Jersey, and California. He holds an MA in New Testament Studies from Wheaton College, an MDiv from Fuller Theological Seminary, and a ThM in New Testament from Princeton Theological Seminary. Scott is married with three teen-aged children.

Sermon Resources

Key Quote

God should Resign if…

Rabbi Harold Kushner tried to explain suffering by saying God too is pained by death but cannot do anything about it. Elie Wiesel once said in response to Kushner, “If that’s who God is, he should resign and let someone competent take over.”

John Ortberg, Faith and Doubt.

Key Illustration

God Forsaken by God

Psalm 22:1 was on our Savior’s lips on the cross, and it is in that context a mystery: God forsaken by God! Christians have been trying to unravel this mystery for centuries, without reaching consensus. So Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem, “On Cowper’s Grave,” is only one of those efforts, but an intriguing one and quite in line with biblical theology. Her interpretation is that our Lord’s cry of dereliction on the cross was the ultimate and absolute cry of despair that had no echo in the universe so that no human being would ever have to make such a desperate cry again.

         Deserted! God could separate from His

                     own essence rather;

         And Adam’s sins have swept between

                     the righteous Son and Father;

         Yea, once, Immanuel’s orphaned cry

                     His universe hath shaken—

         It went up single, echoless, “My God, I

                     am forsaken!”

 

         It went up from the Holy’s lips amid

                     His lost creation,

         That, of the lost, no son should use

                     those words of desolation!

         That earth’s worst phrensies, mar-

                     ring hope, should mar not hope’s

                     fruition,

         And I, on Cowper’s grave, should see

                     His rapture in a vision.

Introduction by Hassell Bullock, Source Material from Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “Cowper’s Grave,” The Poetical Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (London: John Murray, 1914), 143. “Cowper” is the hymn writer, William Cowper (1731-1800), who wrote such hymns as “God Moves in A Mysterious Way His Wonders to Perform” and “There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood.”

Additonal Sermon Themes

Liturgical Elements

 

 Call to Worship                   

 

Psalm 22:27 & 28

All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him. For dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations.  

 

Prayer of Confession

Adapted from “The Precious Blood” in The Valley of Vision

Leader: Blessed Lord Jesus, before your cross I kneel and see the heinousness of my sin, my iniquity that caused you to be made a curse, the evil that provokes divine wrath.

All: Show me the enormity of my guilt by the crown of thorns, the pierced hands and feet, the bruised body, the dying cries. Your blood is the blood of incarnate God; its worth is infinite, and its value is beyond all thought.

Leader: Sin is my sickness, my monster, my foe, my enemy, born in my birth, alive in my life, strong in my character, intermingling with my every thought. Sinner that I am, why should the sun give me light?

All: Yet your compassions reach over me, your heart rushes to my rescue, your love endured my curse, your mercy bore the stripes I deserved. Let me walk in humiliation, bathed in your blood with a tender conscience, triumphing gloriously as an heir of salvation.

Submitted by Dustin Ray

 

Assurance of Pardon

Hebrews 10:16 & 17

This is the covenant that I will make with them, after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds…I will remember their sins and misdeeds no more. 

Leader: In Christ you are forgiven 

All: Praise be to God

Benediction 

Hebrews 10:19-25

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way which he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Amen.