First of all, you have to hear this song. It was sung by Kristina Hughes and Danica Tempel on April 3 and accompanied by Randy Cline. It was at least as good as good as this:
I planned my service around this song. I used Psalm 22 as the scripture reading. The reflection follows:
Earlier this week our family was talking about how it was going to be very warm on Tuesday – 18 degrees and then cool off and get rainy and snowy. My daughter Laura said, “Why do we even live in this country?” I have to admit that she had learned that phrase straight from her parents.
This winter was much milder than last winter and yet I still wonder why we have to have winter at all. What is the purpose of all the cold? One answer I’ve heard is that the cold kills the germs and some nasty insects, but there is no real scientific answer. Some places on the earth manage very nicely without the kind of cold winters we get in Saskatchewan. And yet the time of winter puts me in mind of Good Friday and the following Saturday before Easter – the time after the death of Jesus and before the resurrection. The time of waiting, dormancy, grief. These times are difficult to endure, like winter, but also are the times when creativity and life are born underneath the winter’s snow.
Psalm 22 is the psalm that Jesus chose to recite while he was in agony on the cross. Or at least it is the Psalm that the gospel writers put into his mouth to describe his agony. It follows the usual pattern of psalms of petition: first a cry of help directed to God. This is the familiar “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But the psalm does not finish there. The next part is a promise of faithfulness to God. True the promise is usually dependent on God helping the situation of the psalmist—as the promise often goes, “I won’t be able to praise you if I am in the grave, God!” And then the most curious part of the psalms, a past tense praise of God’s help. In Psalm 22 it is in verse 24, “For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.” So the psalmist acknowledges God’s help in the past and promises praises for God’s help in the future but in the present there is only anxiety and agony.
It is the present that is the messy time for people of faith. We can often look backward into the past and see where God has been at work in the lives of people of faith. We can also look backwards into our own past and see where we have been guided by God. As the poem “Footprints in the Sand” puts it “Those were the times when God carried us through the trials of life.” It is often possible for us also to have a sense of hope for the future. After all, if God has been with us in the past, then we have reason to believe that God will be with us into the future. There is always room for hope for better times in the future. But it is the present that gives us worry and uncertainty.
This is the story of Good Friday. We don’t positively know why it is called Good Friday, although some sources say that it is a linguistic corruption of God’s Friday. Others claim that it was a good Friday because of what we understand in hindsight, that Jesus had to die to show us that love can overpower the forces of death and violence in this world. But the disciples didn’t have the advantage of that hindsight. They only had the agony of Jesus and then his absence. I find it difficult to even imagine how their lives must have unraveled when Jesus died. Many of them gave up their careers, homes, families all for a shot at following the One who would renew the world, the Messiah who would attract all people to him. And then he ended up disfigured on a cross, scaring away his followers with the fear that they might end up on a cross themselves. No wonder it says in the gospel of John that they hid behind locked doors. They had no place to go back to—they had burned their bridges. They had no hope for a future and their past with Jesus was all for nothing. There was just a messy and meaningless present left for them—a blanket of numbing snow.
And yet, love was alive underneath the winter’s snow. We can see that now from where we stand. The disciples had to mourn Jesus’ death to understand what it meant when he was raised from the dead. The resurrection was not just a bizarre April Fool’s joke or a hoax. Jesus was really dead and the forces of violence in the world really triumphed. But more importantly Jesus came back and the movement he created came back stronger. The victory of violence and death was reversed, so much so that we adopted the symbol of Jesus’ torturous death in our churches. Last Sunday downstairs the children asked me why we have the symbol of the cross at the front of our church. I replied that it is a reminder to us that God’s love is more powerful than the worst death you could ever think of. God’s love wins over violence, pain and death. I love Easter morning and I love to think about that victory—how we use love in our churches to transform our lives and the lives of those around us and indeed the world in which we live.
But it’s not Easter morning yet. We are still in the in-between time. Not in the glorious past. Not in the hopeful future. And in some ways this in-between time, this time where our hearts are covered in snow is a good metaphor for our world right now. We often look to the past for some kind of ideal time when things were better. We look to the golden ages—when churches were full, when our children were safe on city streets, when life wasn’t so complicated. Ultimately we might look back to the Garden of Eden, before Adam and Eve made the mistake of wanting the knowledge of good and evil.
We might look towards a hopeful future, too. We hope that our world might step away from the brink of climate change. We hope that technology can bring the world together and help us to understand one another better. We have some signs that crime is decreasing in Canada and that extreme poverty around the world has been reduced.
And yet there is still much strife in the world, much uncertainty, much danger. And there is no Messiah to look to solve our complicated problems. More people have been driven away from their homes right now in Syria than have ever been displaced from their homes since the Second World War. The gap between the richest and the poorest in our society continues to widen. Yesterday I was awakened by the radio alarm and heard the words, “shot, divided into Muslim and Christians” as they reported on the university shooting in Kenya. It is a frightening world and we wonder what might happen next. It is a time of agony and uncertainty.So what do we do in this in between time? Well what we do is what
**At this point when I was writing my sermon I was running dry on ideas and high on chocolate and caffeine so I put off finishing it until another time. When I told Ellen that I hadn't finished my sermon she suggested that I post the last line on Facebook and see what my Facebook friends thought would be a good ending. So I did.
The responses I got were phenomenally thoughtful, including:
We wait with a fragile but resolute hope; a hope that dares to dream of new life, of joy after sorrow, of a God who will never forsake us.
What do we do in this time between? What we tried to do before and will try to do after: Micah 6:8.
We hold the space - the tension between sorrow and hope, love and fear.
we honestly explore our deepest in'tensions towards others, life, self,
Pray and be kind.
I couldn't come up with better responses than those and it struck me that this is the whole point of the "in between" time. We are responsible for making our own response to the question - what do we do now? Like the gospel of Mark that ends "unfinished" the call of Christ from the cross is unfinished as well. It is up to us to provide the ending. So there was no formal ending to the sermon--the first time I had left one undone!