04/05/2020 For Christians, the central truth of existence—our ultimate concern, is depicted through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Today is Palm Sunday, the day when Jesus claims and demonstrates to his people that he was here to fulfill the ancient prophesy. As we know, Christ rides into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey, obeying the instructions of old. The crowds embraced him, shouting, “Hosanna, Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” It was a day of celebration, festivity, and anticipation, because the age-old words described a new King, a solution to their oppression, an answer to the Roman tyranny. They expected this king to change their physical lives and outer circumstances. They did not expect, nor could they anticipate, a King to alter their inner lives, their perceptions and awareness of a God not only of ‘out there’, but ‘in here’. As the week progressed, and their awareness and disappointment grew regarding Jesus, the people changed their attitudes toward him. This was not unexpected; Jesus knew all of this before that ride into Jerusalem for the annual Passover celebration. He knew the outcome, his role and responsibility before he ever made that long walk through the towns and villages of Palestine. He knew the people would turn on him and knew he would be crucified. He also knew he would rise again. But knowing all of this would not make the journey any easier. I want to talk about something we rarely get to consider on Sunday-only services. We call it Good Friday, because it was the beginning of the good that God would give to us through the crucifixion of Jesus. It was the greatest physical challenge Jesus would face, and the greatest overcoming as he fulfilled his mission on earth. Without Good Friday, Easter is just another celebration. Without Easter, there is no triumph of light over darkness; without the triumph of light over darkness, there is no victory of truth over ignorance, of love over hate, of life over death. In 30 AD God set into motion a plan that would affect billions of hearts, but not all. God knew that many Jews would not receive this message into their hearts. Neither would all the Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, the followers of Confucius, the Greeks, or still later the followers of Islam. God has the means to reach all hearts, and each is opened in its own way, in its own time. Everyone hears the still small voice of God in their own way: the words, the dialect, the syntax of those whispered words are composed uniquely and individually for each of us. I trust that God continues to ‘do His works’ in the hearts of His Children. We each have a road to choose, and I have chosen mine; one that speaks to my heart, my mind, and my awareness. Ultimately, as our scientist brothers and sisters will tell us, there is no proof of the existence of God. There are only ambassadors who have made the spiritual journey to the other side, those powerful souls who have pierced the veil with their consciousness and witnessed God’s realm firsthand. Even today, God speaks to our souls directly and uses these Ambassadors of Spirit as beacons. Jesus was such a beacon; not just a beacon, but the shining Son of God whose journey illuminated a planet. Through Jesus, the still small voice of God became a magnified and profound call to the soul, a song to the heart. Today, some hear the call, others respond with a doubtful, “Pshaw,” while others endeavor to hear it still. At this time, what speaks greatly to my mind and heart is what happened on Good Friday. Christ was sent to death by a process controlled by the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate. The details of how Jesus arrived at the resurrection site and hanged on the cross are unimportant to me today. What is important are the words ascribed to Jesus while he was enduring his final physical ordeal. I say ascribed, because just as it is by faith that we are Christians, or Jew, or Hindu, since there can be no scientific proof of God, it is also by faith that we read the words of the Bible. They were translated from original Hebrew texts, into Greek, from Aramaic, the language of Jesus, and finally into English. They were written in highly political times, when anti-Roman sentiment caused bloody confrontations, by authors who were interested in not only providing an historical basis, but in furthering a specific agenda. Their writings were often in literary forms, poetic, prophetic, and using methods of discourse with a unique perspective. So, the words ascribed to Jesus through the Book of Luke are rife with underlying meaning, and rich in overtones. We are meant to read them with our hearts, minds, and an openness to Spirit’s influence, using faith and reason to guide our understanding. With that in mind, the first words that Jesus spoke were, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” This is so Christ-like: to forgive the Romans for the harms they caused upon him. To forgive the disappointed Jews for not seeing him as the king they had envisioned. To forgive is one of Christ’s primary messages: to love and forgive others. What a powerful message to impart as this body was being ripped from his soul. Yet, as some scholars point out, if this was the plan all along, that Christ was born to live, teach, love, forgive, and to die on the cross – that was the plan from the beginning – then why do the various participants in that plan require pardon for the part that they played? These first words of Christ served not only as a representation of the teaching that Jesus exemplified, but simultaneously as a means of spreading the early Christian movement. By absolving Romans, Jews, and anyone who thought ill of Jesus, these words made the early church that much more attractive; the words allowed people to release their shame and guilt and to follow the example of Christ. Could that have been on the mind of the author of Luke as it was written in 90AD? The second words of Christ are, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” Along with Jesus, two other “criminals” were executed on the same day, which demonstrates the political climate of the time. In a recent rebellion, not only had the two insurgents alongside Jesus been held, but so had Barabbas, who had committed murder and sedition. In a political decision, Pilate released Barabbas in the place of Jesus. Although Jesus had disturbed the Roman political order, he didn’t do it by violence, but by preaching the Kingdom of God, and by attracting large crowds at the Jerusalem Passover celebration. This second sentence of Jesus was directed toward one of the men hanging with him, who said, “Lord, remember me when You come into your kingdom.” “Today you will be with Me in Paradise.” This moving, personal, and compassionate response is a gift, a gift of life, of redemption, of Grace, of everything. Jesus demonstrated that God’s mercy is available to all, when we ask. The third word was uttered as a few loved ones stood by the cross. There was the disciple John, and the Three Marys: Jesus’ mother Mary, Mary, the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. Referring to John, Jesus remarked to his mother, “Woman, behold thy son!” Then he said to John, “Behold thy mother!” Jesus did a couple of things in this instruction. Of course, he was tending to the welfare of his mother, and he also was setting a model of how to love each other and how to be loved. The ego would have us only see after ourselves. What Jesus instructed was to not only hear his words of love but put them into action. Part of the power of Good Friday is that we are given the opportunity to embrace a way of life that transcends the ego, the world, time, space, and conventional human thinking. We are invited to take a new perspective. Like John, we have the occasion to accept the charge and care for each other. The fourth words of Jesus rip our hearts out. “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” Christ was divine and human, and many of us have felt the absolute alienation expressed in these words. We have experienced the separation and we fear the abandonment. I can imagine that as Jesus hung on the cross, his mind would wander to what was familiar to him, and that would be the gospel. His words of agony are from Psalm 22. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Those are the words he cried out. Although the rest of the Psalm led to salvation, trust, praise, and adoration, those words remained unspoken, but I am certain they were alive within him. It is the human condition to suffer yet endure, to encounter darkness yet hope. In our challenges it is hope that connects us to Christ and the cross. It is hope that brings us to the Light. The fifth word, “I thirst.” We really have no idea what was going through the mind of Jesus as he hung, naked, bleeding, and in agony on the cross. His earthly body was dying and in shock. He was probably delirious; his mind wandering. Again, Psalm 22 may have still been on his mind. In verse 15 we read: “My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.” His words can be seen from various depths. At the human level, Jesus is stating a physiologic need. He was thirsty and needed liquid. At the divine level, perhaps his soul was acknowledging that he was thirsting for the new humanity for which he came to deliver – one born of love and forgiveness. We can only conjecture. What we do know is that when Jesus thirsted, he was given a sip of vinegary wine; when we thirst, we are given abundance. The sixth word is equally as brief, and equally as cryptic: “It is finished.” So, what is finished – his life, the suffering? As earthly beings, that is where our minds go first: to the cessation of worldly pain and suffering. Yet Christ was so in tune with his Divinity that we must assume there was more to those words than the obvious. Certainly, the first part of his mission was completed: to come into this earth, teach love, and give up his life. That was finished. But there was so much more to come. This is one of the messages of Good Friday: that despite the pain, suffering, and challenges, there is so much more to come. The ways of the Divine One can be infuriating and frustrating, vague and disconnected; certainly mysterious. We can always be certain that there is more Good on the way. Good Friday teaches us to stay the course, keep moving forward, perform the work at hand, and be open to what is next. The seventh and final words of Christ are: “Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit.” This is the final surrender. We are all asked to surrender to Spirit, so that God’s ‘more’ will flow to and through us. The next stages of our lives and our soul awareness are ready when we are. It takes active participation to move past the darkness, sadness, and chaos. That was what the disciples and lovers of Christ faced at his death. They could not see the more. Their perceptions of the kingdom they had envisioned were dashed. The light had not yet shone upon the lasting truth and eternal kingdom that Christ came to share. But it was coming: the ‘more’ was coming, the victory was coming. The lessons of Good Friday prepare us for the ‘more’ that God has in store for us. To forgive, to be expectant, to open our awareness to others, to hope, to anticipate, to endure, and to surrender … these are some of the lessons of Good Friday. It is my prayer that we will implement these qualities, accept them into our lives, and know that whatever we are going through, whether individually or as a global community, let us face our challenges together, with a willing surrender to God’s Good that is coming.
Each of us is going through, or have gone through, or will go through a crucifixion experience. Some of these experiences are self-determined: we bring so much pain into our lives through our choices of thoughts, habits, behaviors, words, beliefs, attitudes, and reactions. Other challenges are beyond our involvement, and part of our human condition, part of what the World offers us. I pray that at our soul level we know that the ‘more’ of God is on the way, and that the trials we face cannot stop our victory, cannot separate us from the Love, Light, and Strength of Spirit. Good Fridays shows us that we can endure, we can hope, we can expect to get through our difficulties. Christ set the example for our ultimate salvation and paved the way to Paradise. “Into Thy hands I commend my spirit.” May that be our constant prayer. My God, into Your loving hands, I entrust my soul.