Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Good Friday 04/05/2012

They must have thought it was over.  The Roman authorities, the temple authorities must have thought it was over, this little disturbance caused by Jesus and his followers.  They had nipped it in the bud before much damage was done and now everything could get back to normal with the Romans running the show and the Jewish leaders comfortable with the knowledge that they would be left alone to worship as they pleased as long as there wasn’t any more trouble from people like Jesus. 

The people who thought and hoped that Jesus might be the answer were probably frightened by this display of power and violence, frightened by how quickly things had changed, now just resigned to the fact that this is the way things are and there’s nothing we can do about it.  Maybe after awhile someone else would come along who would get them and everyone else excited like Jesus had, but for the time being, it was over.  For them there was resignation, from the perspective of those in control, the trouble had been eliminated; things should be OK.  Maybe they didn’t even hear the last words that Jesus said before he died.  “Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit.” 

You wonder what was going on in Jesus’ mind at that point.  Obviously we can’t know for sure.  John’s gospel portrays Jesus as pretty much composed and in control throughout the trial and crucifixion, but I think the other gospel writers, including Luke, get closer to the reality of what was going on.  The Jesus on the cross is the human Jesus, emptied of power as we heard from Paul in the letter to the Philippians last Sunday, “Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself.”

What was that Jesus thinking, emptied of power, humiliated, life draining out of  him, seemingly abandoned by the God he called Father?  He had felt a special relationship with God, he knew that what he was called to do was different, that somehow it had to do with more than just him, it had to do with the world; he knew coming to Jerusalem would probably cause some trouble, it seemed inevitable; but was this how it was supposed to end?  Had it somehow all gone wrong?

Whatever he was thinking, and maybe in the agony of the moment he wasn’t thinking of much of anything, just wanting his suffering to be over; but whatever was going through his mind, Jesus makes a rather remarkable turn here.  One can imagine him being tempted like Job’s wife had tempted him to curse God and die.  But instead, stripped of everything else, emptied and spent, he turned again to the Psalms, that prayer book of the Jewish people that catalogues life in relationship with God, the good and the bad.  Psalm 22 had given Jesus words to express the sense of abandonment that he was experiencing, but in these final moments he’s beyond that as he commits his death to the Father just as he had committed his life to the Father, using words from Psalm 31.  “Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit.” 

It really is a remarkable statement of faith out of the depths of abandonment but in some ways we barely notice the significance of it  because, we think, it’s Jesus after all.  Of course he’s faithful.  What else would he say?  But remember that this is Jesus in all of his humanity and in the face of what he had been through, in the pain of what he had been through, this is a key moment in the whole story, a key moment in his relationship with the Father.   

Maybe those Roman and Jewish authorities didn’t hear him.  Maybe they didn’t care.  But they should have; because in commending his Spirit to God, things weren’t as over as they thought.  Things were in God’s hands and when things are in God’s hands, something new might happen, something the powers of this world that think they control everything can’t control.  Something new, not dependent on what the world thinks is possible, something new out of what looks like horrific loss.  If they heard what he said, they might have had at least a moment of…something twisting in the pit of the stomach; they might have, but probably not, because they knew how the world worked.  It worked for them.

The Roman and Jewish authorities probably did think it was over, but of course we know better.  We know about the new possibilities made possible when Jesus committed his Spirit to the Father.  With these words from Psalm 31 Jesus winds up playing the role of the teacher to the very end.  It’s often been commented that after spending his ministry teaching us how to live, with this verse Jesus teaches us how to die.  This is where we want to be when that time comes, confidently placing ourselves in God’s hands because in the resurrection of Jesus we have seen the future that awaits us.  There are a number of early saints of the church along with people like Martin Luther who have used this verse as a prayer as they drew near to death.

This isn’t just a verse about death though, it’s a verse about life.  We can be like the Roman and Jewish authorities convincing ourselves that we’re in control, that we can manage things.  We’re drawn to the desire for power and money and strength as the means to control things because we know this is how the world works.  Because of that, our reliance on God sometimes only comes as a last resort when we think we’re out of options.  How much better if in our approach to life we could say, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” 

We do it though, not so much to relinquish control in resignation or to say that we can’t help ourselves, it’s all up to God; it’s not that.  We are given gifts and abilities and by the grace of God we are called to use them.  Commending our spirit to God is more about opening ourselves to the new possibilities of God, possibilities that sometimes don’t seem very evident on the surface of things, like the possibilities that didn’t seem very evident at the moment Jesus spoke his last words.  Committing our spirit to God we acknowledge that we are not in control but also that we won’t be controlled by the way things are or by the usual power structures of the world.  Instead, we’ll live in the reality of God and God’s reality is always a source of hope.    

But today, as Jesus’ words from the cross come to an end, and as we come to the end of this worship service, it’s important that we not rush to the happy ending of Easter.  We need to be here for awhile, for the rest of today and tomorrow and tomorrow night.  We need to feel the loss, the abandonment, the absence.  We need to acknowledge it #1 because it’s real and it happens to us all, and #2 because without acknowledging the loss and the absence, we’ll never get to the new possibilities, we’ll just keep longing for what we’ve lost, longing for the way things used to be.

We are people of the cross, the mighty cross; we believe that it is in these moments of pain and loss and absence that God is revealed to us in surprising and new ways.  But sometimes you do have to wait and you know that as a culture we don’t wait very well.  We want it now, we want to feel better now. 

But sometimes, we have to wait.  Sometimes, not always, but sometimes we do need to acknowledge these feelings of absence and pain, not to wallow in them, not to just long for what was and isn’t coming back, but to wait for the God who makes all things new, the God into whose hands we commit our spirit.   Liturgically, we know it’s not long, just until Sunday, but until then, this is where we need to be.

Let us pray:  As we come to the end of this service, let us commit our life and our spirit to you.  Let us see more clearly the saving power of the cross, that through this instrument of death, you have indeed made all things new, for us.  We look forward to the joy of Easter, but for now let us continue to consider the meaning of this day, that even in death, your power is still at work, that Friday is not the last day.  So we wait, but we wait in hope. 

Rev. Warren Geier


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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