In Matthew 27, verses 45- 50, we hear that after such an excruciating ordeal: mocked, spit upon, beaten, and pierced that Jesus is finally dead—all that is left is preparing his body, putting him in the tomb, finally saying goodbye.
45 From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. 46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli,[c] lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).[d]
47 When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”
48 Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. 49 The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”
50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.
In many ways it reminds me of a funeral. I want to start tonight off with a little confession, something just between us: I dislike funerals. I don’t look very good in black, usually they are sad occasions, and death seems to mess up everyone’s plans. I am guessing I am not alone in that sentiment. You probably remember being a kid and thinking “I’m going to live forever and boom, you find out death is a real thing!” Even though we know death is real, it is only in the back of our minds as we live to avoid death, to be the one exception to the rule. Heck if someone actually can hit the power ball, there has to be an exception to everything. We eat fat free brownies, my wife forces me to go to the gym, we go to doctors from time to time to push death off, but it always seems to be looming—life insurance, emergencies, sudden diagnosis. Tonight seems to be the very embodiment of humanity’s failure to push off death.Why in the world would we gather together to celebrate a death? As a friend of mine asked me, “Why is Good Friday good? She continued, “Every Friday seems pretty decent to me…TGIF but why is this one special?” FAIR QUESTION. It can seem like such a secret, obscured and uncertain.
In our culture we rarely talk about death, we hide impending death away in nursing homes or hospitals, talk in whispered hushes, and turn from that which seems so distasteful. BUT What if all along though, we’ve missed the purpose entirely? Author Fredrick Buechner asks the profound question in the same vein, “Is the truth beyond all truths, beyond the stars, just this: that to live without him is the real death, that to die with him the only life?” The Psalmist wrote about a life of intimacy with God (66:20)—“Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me!
I’m reminded of the old story often told of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson on a camping trip. They were sound asleep after much imbibing woke up in the middle of the night. Holmes looks at Watson and says, “Look up, what do you see?” Watson said, “I see stars, stars, and more stars!” Holmes said, “What does that tell you Watson?” The Dr. said, “Well that depends on what you mean. Astronomically, it tells me there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Horologically, it tells me it is quarter to 3 in the morning. Meteorologically, it tells me that tomorrow will most likely be a beautiful day. Theologically, it tells me we are in a huge universe and we are only a small part of a greater whole. Why Holmes, what does it tell you?” He says, “Watson you idiot, someone has stolen our tent!”
Some look into the Gospel of Christ as if staring into the vastness of the starry sky and see a failed revolutionary, others see a great mystery, If you’ve been to Barnes and Nobles recently you can always find books around this time of year “Secret Lives of Jesus” to books: Unknown Life of Jesus Christ or The Messianic Secret., others a great moral teacher, and yet all along they miss the most obvious and impactful, God has withheld nothing from us in his love—he sent his son, to be the tent by which we would find refuge in a raging world, that death would be defeated, ironically, by the death that was sufficient—God in human form. Some things are secrets; Area 51, Coca-Cola’s secret recipe, what is exactly is in hot dogs?
Why is Good Friday good? That is no secret. We can see it in the greater context, Friday always leads to Sunday. It is Good Friday because it reveals the truth…” beyond all truths, beyond the stars, just this: that to live without him is the real death, that to die with him the only life.”
Tonight, we gather together because this is where the race begins, not where it finishes. Instead of the funeral this is the way to the pediatrics floor. A lot of the time, when we see pictures of the crucifixion, artists or movies will portray Jesus as high above those who had come to mourn, mock, or marvel. The cross seems to have been pulled into the heavens. History, however, tells us a different more compelling reality. That the Romans T shaped piece of wood actually rested about 4 or 5 feet in the air! It was a picture that the Romans wanted to stick in the brain of everyone who saw it, that they could never forget what occurred, the smell, sweat, blood, moans, and groans. They wanted each person to envision in the face of the crucified themselves. Yet, God also, wanted the moment to be seen and experienced, not just in the 1st century, but every passing century. This was the climax of God’s love being poured out rather than held back. This was the moment where life became livable. Paul said, “(Romans 5:6-8) You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
The shadows of death still try to linger over us, death still tries to intimidate us, and some of you have experienced the grief and pain of loss firsthand. Yet this is the very moment where each of us have an opportunity to find an enduring truth and rekindle that childlike dream—“I’m going to live forever! That we find greater odds than the Powerball, we find the one in whom all power rest: Jesus Christ. Finding a truth beyond all truths, beyond the stars, just this: that to live without him is the real death, that to die with him the only life.” Tonight, instead of celebrating Jesus death, we get to celebrate our own, our death—breaking away from selfishness, breaking away from loneliness, breaking away from meaninglessness, to find that as we follow him, new life through the Holy Spirit, allowing us to live for him and with Him! Whoever would come after me must take up their cross, deny themselves, and follow me!
As we leave here tonight, we the followers of Christ can begin to live differently—instead of living to avoid death, we celebrate the death that brings all life—the truth beyond all truths, beyond the stars.