Some of you know that when I was 30 years old I have a brush with death. While visiting the emergency room to check on issues related to my heart I flat-lined. The good news is that the medical staff was able to resuscitate me and the only problem with my heart is an electrical one—one that requires a pacemaker but won’t effect my life expectancy. Whenever I share this story I seem to get the same question. Did you see anything… did you see the light while you were “under”? Did you get a glimpse of something heavenly? The truth is, I didn’t
But this question that consistently comes my way is one that reveals something about who we are as humans—whether we are practicing people of faith or not. What it seems to reveal is this curiosity that we have about transcendent things—things that are beyond this physical existence that is our “day to day” living.
The more I study the words of Jesus, the more I realize that he was interested in the opposite. He spend very little time focusing on transcendent things—things beyond this life. Instead, he focused every ounce of his very being on the imminent things of this world. He cared about flesh and blood… earth and soil. And he sought not to transcend the things of this earth BUT to care for and honour the things of this earth.
Good Friday is not an easy day. It forces us to look upon life in all its messiness. It’s rooted not in transcendent things BUT the imminent things like flesh and blood… pain and agony. All those things that we seek to avoid in life… but ultimately things that make us human.
The privileged few of this world (I being one of them) can avoid looking upon the things of life that we see on this day… we can steer clear of pain and misery and drown out the cries that come from other people in this world whose existence reflects the judgement and betrayal we see on this day. There are those who know what it means to feel the pain of denial; to be bruised and broken. This is why this day is so important to our faith. We can’t simply transcend this moment. We must look at the experience of Jesus and remind ourselves that this happens each and every day.
Liberal churches (like our own United Church) tend to steer clear of certain aspects of Christian tradition. You won’t hear too many preachers and leaders in our tradition talk about things like HERESY. The word itself conjures up images of those dark days from the church’s past. Days we would soon rather forget. But, I think it can be helpful to consider some of these things that were established by the early church as official doctrine.
One of the earliest Christian heresies was “Docestism”. As you might know, there was much debate about the nature of Jesus amongst early believers.Was he fully human? Fully divine? What was his connection to God? Some believed that his humanity was simply a facade. He only seemed human when in fact he was fully divine. The early church decided that it was against Christian doctrine to believe that Jesus was not human. In order to be Christian one must believe that Jesus was human. If there is one heresy that we need to uphold within the church it is this. For to deny Christ’s humanity paves the way for us to deny our own humanity and the humanity of others.
Throughout his ministry—and most especially on Good Friday—we see a Jesus that sees the humanity in others and seeks not to transcend this life but to honour every piece of the earth and all its inhabitants. His death comes as a result of his belief that all life—that all creation—is worthy of love and is blessed by God. The words he speaks from the cross reflect that belief.
Looking upon his mother and seeing her pain, seeing her need… connecting her with his beloved disciple. His words, “I thirst” reflect a man who understands what it means to be human. Jesus does not die because God needs something transactional to happen in order that humanity might be blessed and welcomed in God’s eyes. Jesus’ living announces our blessing, a blessing that precedes his death and resurrection.
What he does for us is remind us of the importance of honouring the humanity of others and the blessing of flesh and blood. God longs for us to embrace our humanity, to reject anything that might have us deny it.
The question we must ask Jesus is not what he experienced in his DYING, but rather what he saw in his LIVING. He saw all people as worthy of love. All people worthy of grace and forgiveness. All people with sacred flesh and bone.
Remember what the soldiers do with Jesus clothing? They choose not to tear it. They cast lots for it and gamble to win this Good Friday "souvenir". They, like so many of us on this earth, treat a lifeless/meaningless garment with more dignity than they treat the human who wore it. They pierce him, but not the garment.
On the other side of this day, we are called to re-member Jesus. We do that by working for the wholeness of all creation. to see every creature, every person as part of God… part of us.
Let me close with these words... St. Francis of Assisi once said that "The result of prayer is life. Prayer irrigates the earth and heart."
Often when we think about things like prayer we think about a transcendent moment that we have with God when true prayer is prayer that gives back to the earth. It roots us back in the world (and our humanity). And so, a life of faith—a life that honours Good Friday—is one that roots us more in this earth. To see more clearly. To live more dearly. To live more fully. Not seeking to transcend but seeking to dwell in this very moment.