A Cross-Shaped Throne

Good Friday 2013

Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said,
“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
Having said this, he breathed his last.
Luke 23.46

An amazing thing, really: Jesus breathed his last. His last!
He didn’t hold his breath so that it merely seemed as though . . . .
No, “he breathed his last.” He died. He died dead.
No divine pretending. No heavenly sleight of hand.
No holy magic show. Jesus died. No more breath. Dead.

So, too, those from this community called Immanuel:

Doris Jorgensen Esther Nelson
Edith Sorensen Art Steffensen

They have breathed their last. No breath-holding, no pretending.
I think of still others; I suspect you do, too.
Despite our wanting it otherwise, they are dead.
And so is Jesus.

Today is the day of death – God’s death.
And, finally, our own too.
Which frightens us more?
I suppose we might flip a coin to see.

Dead. Such an ugly word.
Crude; much too blunt.
Even offensive.
We make up euphemisms to try to soften its harshness.
Grandma’s “passed away.”
Uncle Bert has joined the “Church Triumphant.”
Aunt Betty has “gone to be with the Lord.”

But death’s reality can’t be prettified.
Smoothing it over only cheapens it.
The thought of death scrapes roughly across the heart.
We suffer many little deaths before our life ends.
Often, new ones cause us to remember other past endings.
Or to fear the big one that is yet to come.

And above our own deaths – both big and little – stands Jesus’ death.

Jesus died dead. Do we believe this REALLY happened?
I can understand our reluctance to believe this to be true.
We resist, preferring to think that Christ’s divinity
somehow snatched him away at the very last millisecond
before death could squeeze everything, every last ounce from him.
It would be fitting, in our minds for God to do that.

After all, Jesus had suffered enough already.
If you’ve watched Mel Gibson’s movie the Passion of the Christ
of the History Channel special this month called The Bible
you may have a very clear mental picture
of what Jesus’ suffering and death looked like.

We can rationalize him wanting to avoid
the depths of such pain and suffering.
Such a last second escape would both cheat death
and preserve the regal stature that rightfully belongs to
the one we describe in the Creed as “true God from true God.”

But it’s just not so.
The truth is, there was no escape.
Every last ounce of life was squeezed from him.
Death wasn’t cheated, and royal dignity was.

Why wouldn’t Jesus, at the last possible moment, save himself?
It surely would have pleased the dying criminal
who desperately raged at him.
It might have been enough to finally get serious attention
from the gamblers looting his clothing and
from the pitiable living-dead who only stood by and watched.
And wouldn’t OUR tongues wag with delicious revenge
at the shock of it to the rulers and the obnoxious soldiers!

That last minute escape from death would be okay with us. . . .
No, it wouldn’t. Not ultimately.
For the time would come
when death would whisper to the depths of our heart:

I win! For at the last possible moment your God couldn’t take it!
Your God retreated to the safety and finery of his kingdom.
Your God didn’t have the courage to endure
what you have to endure. I win!

If we think about it, Jesus’ escaping death
would be a supreme illustration of divine cowardice, not divine dignity.
Christ had to die, die dead as you and I one day shall.
For unless Christ dies, and dies completely,
our own deaths and those of our loved ones will be the horror,
the futility, the absolute waste we sometimes fear them to be.

Compared to this, no other divine act matters.
Nothing else counts. Not the deliverance from Egypt.
Not the leper cures. Not one sign or wonder or miracle counts
unless Christ dies.
He must go all the way with us.
If Jesus wasn’t one of us completely, he wasn’t one of us even partially.
That one last ounce of life lost with us counts for everything!

It may seem absurd, but the truth of our faith
hangs on the truth of Jesus’ execution, a cross-shaped throne.
How incredible! It makes little sense to us — Christ dying.
God’s don’t die. That’s what makes them gods after all, isn’t it?!
It makes so little sense for us to worship a God
who suffers every bit as much as we, and who dies just as dead as we.

Every other religion’s god is untouched, even by pain let alone death.
Other gods cause death.
But the Christian God enters death, embraces death,
endures death to the very end.
The absolute, total end.
Christ steps in front of the firing squad. For us.

That’s the lunacy, the folly, the blessed, holy,
stammering folly of this day, this “Good Friday.”
We recognize for ourselves and we proclaim to the world: Our God dies!
Every time a bridge falls, an avalanche smothers or a car is crushed — God dies.
For every womb that wants but does not bear — Christ is there.
Good Friday shows us and the world beyond a shadow of a doubt
that God will endure anything, everything, in loving us.

Today is not merely a momentary speed bump in the race to Easter Sunday.
Let’s not zoom past today; otherwise, the holy importance of this day
may be left behind.
We cannot deny the reality of death in own lives;
we dare not deny it of God!

Think of it. Think of the whole remarkable, wonderful truth of it.
We worship a king whose throne is a cross, not an ornate chair.
A pauper in the end whose only clothing was torn for rags.
A God who prefers the experience of his people –
as tragic and painful as it can be –
to the distant safeties of heavenly comfort.

By enduring the worst we shall ever know or ever lay upon others,
Jesus displays the best of God, which is far better
than all the thrones and lands and finery possible.
In the end, Jesus has changed the very definition of God.
Our God is unlike all other gods.
Our God bears every bit of our pain and death with us and,
by that endless gesture of love, we dare have the audacious faith
that this God is above all other gods.

Near the end, Jesus’ love for one of the criminals becomes very clear.
What about the rest of us — the watchers, the profiteers,
the powerful and their agents who carry out their dirty work?
What about us? It’s for us Jesus stayed a little longer.
For us, he stays to the bitter, blessed end. Amen

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About Allen

Child of God, husband, father of two brilliant daughters, pastor and recent dmin graduate at George Fox University near Portland OR. My spiritual home is in the North American Lutheran Church, where I am currently between positions and upgrading my landscaping and home repair skills. "diakonia" (pronounced "dee-ak-on-ee'-ah") is a word found in the Greek New Testament used to describe (variously) either a specific kind to help any people in need, or a more general serving at table or the distribution of financial resources. In Acts 6, Stephen and others are chosen to serve the early Christian community there in Jerusalem, and the Church has had a "deaconate" in one form or another ever since. I've given my blog this title as a reminder that our faith is lived out where our faith and our service intersect.
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