Yes, it’s Good Friday.
Yes, I pondered as a child, how going to church on a Friday night, listening to depressing music, and hearing the familiar story of Jesus’ death, told with excessive attention to each gory detail was, in any way, “good”.
Yes, I’m now the guy up front talking on Friday night, as other little kids are forced to go sit with their parents to once again live the ritual of remembering Christ’s death.
But, No! I’m not going to be recalling, in gory detail, the bloody death of Jesus, or what it feels like to be beaten and whipped to near unconsciousness. I’m not trying to skirt around the issue, but I’m overwhelmed these days with gratitude for one small sentence Jesus spoke on the cross, and it’s that phrase that I’m thinking about, at least this morning.
The thing that stuns is me is Jesus, hanging on the cross as the climax of an unjust trial and a sleepless night punctuated by people in power abusing and mocking him in every way, says this to his tormentors: “Father forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing.” This is right in the midst more more verbal abuse as people shout, “He saved others! Let him save himself if this is the Christ of God, His chosen one…”
The new “F” stands for preemptive Forgiveness. Think about it for a minute. Right in the midst of all the beatings, insults, and false accusations that are coming his way He thinks to offer, out loud, a prayer asking God to forgive the people who are the embodiment of evil. He goes further still, offering a sort of ‘justification’ to God as to why God should forgive when he says, “they don’t know what they’re doing”.
Now I don’t want to make too much of this, and I’m sure there are some theologians who’ll write me off because of what I’m about to say, but I need make sure we take a moment to notice this particular prayer, invoking forgiveness, without confession or even agreement that a crime has been committed. Indeed, in the moment, we might posit that everyone (save a few women, but that’s another story for another post) thought they had the moral high ground as they executed this false Messiah, this insurrectionist, this rebel. After all, the Jews and Romans, though they hated each other, all agreed on one thing: the man Jesus, must die! It’s these people, convinced that they’re protecting the established order of things by executing Jesus, for whom Jesus asks that God impart forgiveness.
This is where things get tricky, because if they didn’t know what they’re doing, we need to pause and ask ourselves if Jesus has also offered forgiveness for us because we too are sinning in ways to which we are completely blind. Of course, we ask the question, but come up, perhaps empty, as we say, “I don’t see any blind spots in me” which of course is a ridiculous statement because if you could see them, they wouldn’t be blind spots. The thing about living in this fallen world, though, is that it’s so dirty we all find ourselves caught in muck and mud of sin, often without even knowing it. For example, I wonder:
2. If my flying some 30k miles a year is what God had in mind when he made me a steward of the earth, and called me to care for it, or if I’m called to a different paradigm of environmental stewardship, because the affects of our changing climate are hurting the poorest of the poor far more than hurting we who are creating the problem.
3. If my failure to actually love, and be in relationship with, my real neighbors, is a major failure to embody the character of Jesus, since Jesus said that’s one of only two things we need to make sure we do.
Please don’t debate these issues with me today, because the I could argue either side. I really don’t know the answers. I can justify each of the three things above and use the Bible doing it. I can even justify not knowing my neighbors well by turning ‘neighbor’ into some sort of metaphor for all the people I DO know well, and serve. Still, might they be blind spots? Of course. In fact, my life faith can be described as God peeling away layer after layer of sin, so that after 40 years of this, I’m amazed at how much God has revealed, and more convinced than ever that I’m still a long way from the summit of perfection. There are things in my I need to conquer that I don’t even know about yet – and I’ll be that’s true for you too.
The outlandish good news of good Friday includes the truth that Jesus forgive the sins of people who didn’t even know they were sinning. Wow. There are several implications we can celebrate:
1. God grace is an infinite ocean– The forgiveness offered by Christ on the cross to his murderers and tormentors gives me a confidence and certainty he’ll forgive you, and me when I’m out of my mind, walking in blindness, and don’t know what I’m doing. Of course, confession of sin when I know if it, is still vital. But the ocean of issues bubbling under the surface will never cause God to walk away.
2. We can be patient with ourselves– The word pictures used in the Bible to describe what it means to grow in Christ are all slow: we’re an ear of corn, growing imperceptibly day by day. We’re on a journey and God’s driving out enemies (like lust, greed, maybe even consumerism) little by little. Were being transformed, not instantly, but ‘from glory to glory’.
3. We can believe God is at work in the world even when we don’t see anything but injustice, and accusations, insults and violence, crosses and wars. God’s not done. He’s forgiven. He’s revealing. He’s reconciling. Be patient. The story’s not finished.