Friday, April 6, 2012
Good Friday Paradox...
In 1963 the Vatican sent Michelangelo’s Pieta to New York City for display. People lined up for block upon block just to see it. The marble was bathed in a blue light. This the start of the World’s Fair that pointed to the future had one of the most striking images of the past, carved 400 years before that event, to show forth what occurred 1500 years before that.
What a statue it is! A mother holding the corpse of her son. It is the ultimate contradiction. Mothers hold babies with a future, not their dead children who future has been taken from them. Michelangelo captured well this contradiction. The mother lives. The Son dies. Though not representative of any Biblical text, it shows exactly what the cross is about. Mary held Jesus as a baby that He might become the Man who would hold the world on His shoulders on the cross only for us to hold Him in death as a people clinging to our hope, to our life, and to our redemption.
We are here just for that contradiction. We count on it. We confess it. It is like nothing else. The Innocent dies and the guilty live through His death.
In the death of Christ we see ourselves for who we are. Sins are not some little mistakes or failings on our part. They are not faux pas or breeches of etiquette. Sins are not screw ups or missed opportunities. Sin is death. Sin is death to us and it was death to Jesus. Sin takes the Lord of life and steals life from Him in order to undo the theft of life sin stole from us. All that was left at the end of it all was a body, a corpse, a trail of tears, and a borrowed tomb. Oh, yes. And redemption for all.
O day of dread! Our God is dead! We stand with the women who rushed the burial protocol. We only wish we had more time to deal with it all. We wish we did not have to be here. Death always issues a command performance and it never invites us at our leisure. No one facing a dead body wants to be there. Death is uncomfortable and funerals are uncomfortable. It cannot be any other way. To mask its terror is to deny its power and to make mockery of the cross.
I will always remember the first funeral I ever had. When I stood there alone to meet the grieving family, I wished I could have been anywhere else. We always wish that. But death will not be wished away or slip quietly into that dark night. As uncomfortable as we are with funerals, we understand them and we go to them.
Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus knew what they had to do. So with the women who accompanied them. They did not want to be there or do what they had to do, but they had to be there and they had to do it.
All the while Satan laughed in what he thought was his triumph. The devil danced at the funeral of Jesus. He giggled at the hastened burial of Jesus body. It was a party in hell that Jesus’ had a weakness, that this weakness was exposed, and exploited, and now Jesus was dead.
Death puts things into perspective. Looking at the body of Jesus tells us more about sin than we wanted to know. It also tells us more about love than we could have ever imagined. We dare not think salvation is free. It is a gift to us, to be sure, but it cost Jesus everything. He became nothing for us. The cold, dark grave that engulfed His lifeless body witnesses the steadfast love of God that endures forever. Even in death.
Yet, before you think it is over, remember. In the place of death... in the emptiness of the grave... hope still speaks. “And I shall rise again...” Jesus said.
By being killed, Jesus killed what was killing us. By rising again, He displayed for us the life that was ours, not yet, but our future and our destiny in Him. We wait for it in life, we sleep dreaming of it in death, and on the last day He will summon us to receive what He has prepared for us.
The only way we can face death without despair is to die in Christ and the only way we can embrace a life which death can no longer touch is to live in Christ. So we bring the death to their graves, not to forget them or to get on with out lives, but because Christ has sanctified death and the grave, that it may become for our loved ones who died in the Lord and for you and me, the door, the gate, the pathway to everlasting life.
The dead in Christ wait for their Easter just as we do... they count not the days in time as we count them, nor do they wait where we wait, but in the homes of the living in faith and in the graves of the dead in Christ, we look for that day when no more tears afflict us, no more fears hold us captive, and no more shadows threaten our light.
We come today to hold the body of Jesus-not with earthly arms but with arms of faith. To hold on to Him, the great paradox of the Innocent who dies for the guilty, the King who dies for His people, the righteous who dies for the sinner. We hold on to Him and faith will not let go. Our future begins with this solemn event in our past. Amen.