Good Friday

Every year on Easter Friday we have a Shadow Service at Te Wairua Tapu. At 10.30am the bell is rung ten times and seven participants dressed in black make their way up to the altar during the singing of one of our Maori hymn. Setup on the altar is seven lit candles and then each participant steps forward to a reading lectern situated in front of the altar and presents their appointed shadow. They deliver a five or seven minute reflection based on their understanding of betrayal, inner agony, loneliness, accusation, desertion, mockery and death. In addition, they take into consideration what Jesus may have experienced as he faced each of these shadows on his way to the cross at Calvary and ultimately his death on it. When they have completed their reflection, each participant goes up and extinguishes one of the candles burning on the altar. As this service unfolds it becomes noticeable how very sombre, solemn and sad it must have been for Jesus.

Today in Sydney, 10 April 2020, it’s cold, cloudy and wet. A day that truly reflects what Christians know to be, a dark and gloomy day for followers of Jesus Christ. I am not going to reflect on all the shadows but reflect on the shadow of death.

Theologian Jurgen Moltmann, in his book The Crucified God, he quotes Elie Wiesel, a survivor of the Holocaust, who writes of his experiences in Auschwitz, a prison where thousands of innocent Jews were executed during World War 2. Wiesel tells of a gruesome execution which all the members of the concentration camp were forced to watch. 

The Nazi SS troops hanged two Jewish men and a youth in front of the whole camp.  The men died quickly but the violent death pangs and convulsions of the youth lasted for half an hour. 

Someone behind me asked, ‘Where is God? Where is he?’  

As the youth still hung in torment in the noose after a long time, I heard the voice call again, ‘Where is God now?’ Where is he? And I heard a voice inside me say: ‘Where is God? God is here. God is hanging there on the gallows…’

As Christians, we get to experience the pain and suffering of God.  Where is God? He is hanging on a cross in the form of his Son Jesus? Just as the sign above Jesus’ head states at Golgotha, “This is the King of the Jews” and the insults yelled at him by one of the criminals, “aren’t you the Messiah? Why don’t you save yourself and us?”

In the same way, when we lose loved ones to death, especially those that are unexpected or sudden, deep down inside of us we scream, why? Why us? Where is God? God is with us…God is dying with us…When someone dies, so does God!  And that pain we feel, that pain is God! That is God dying inside us!

Jurgen Moltmann states: ‘To speak of a God who could not suffer would make God a demon.  And any other answer would be evil.’  

But why must God suffer?  Because it’s all about love! God’s love takes place in the world not outside. ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish or die but have eternal life.’ It may seem a contradiction but God is even more present with us, when we try to do without God.  Golgotha and Auschwitz show what we often tend to forget. God is not present because of something we do.  God is present in spite of what we do.  It is in our human nature to sin.  Yet, in spite of it, God is present!

When I witness others suffering from the pain death causes, it’s so hard in some situations to say to them, God loves you and God is with you because at that time, death is so overpowering that there is no room for God and they lose sight of God.  But the reality is that God has not lost sight of them.

Today, with the loss of life globally for thousands of people, many deaths will go unoticed, many families will never get to grieve but God knows and God grieves with every life lost and every single person suffering from the sting of death because God is present with us in and through Jesus Christ. On this day, let us remember that the death of Jesus on the cross was the death of our king.  It was something he had to do not because he wanted to do it but it was and is the ultimate expression of God’s love for us. We know what takes place on the other side of the cross but it’s not time to go there, just yet.

Archdeacon Karipa