Good Friday: Were you there?

(A post from last year, but i had a hard time putting it better this year, and it is a great preview for our week ahead in El Salvador)

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?This question sits heavy on our chests over the days of Holy Week. Today is Good Friday, and today the tomb is full. Jesus has died a miserable and tortured death.I just spent a week with students in El Salvador and every day we asked, “What was hard for you today?” There were a lot of answers to this question: watching our cook Mercedes cry as she explained that she hadn’t seen her daughter for three years because she had crossed illegally into the United States to try to better the family’s situation back home; listening to young people who were afraid to play in church soccer tournament lest they be caught up in gang violence; seeing depictions of bodies tortured and murdered during the war; the sights of the ongoing poverty throughout El Salvador.

David Moseley, a theologian who teaches at the Bishop’s School, has been giving a course on Jurgen Moltmann’s book “The Crucified God” during lent. Last night he preached for the Good Friday service at St. Paul’s Cathedral. His theme was theodicy the question: “where is God when people suffer?” Often we think about Jesus of Nazareth’s death on the cross as the “sacrifice to cover our sins” as if what was needed was a perfect man to die. Moltmann reminds us that in Jesus, God Himself suffers on the cross. God does not exact revenge on an innocent human, but comes to earth and reveals his love by suffering WITH us. It is God who is crucified, God who cries out in agony and feeling abandoned, God who dies. God enters into the absolute messiness of humanity and experiences excruciating loss out of a desire for relationship.

I was struck by one of the relics on display at the Centro de Mgr. Romero. It was here where in 1989 six Jesuit priests were martyred because they dared to write that God was on the side of the poor. On the night that the Salvadoran ejercito entered the theology center and executed the priests, one of them was reading “The Crucified God.” The book soaked up so much blood from the priest that it appears waterlogged. Now it is displayed in a glass case like the relics of more ancient saints, reminding us of God’s work through people who choose to follow.

The German Lutheran Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer who died in a Nazi Concentration camp wrote that grace is costly. 70 years ago Bonhoeffer wrote against a Spirituality that provided what he saw as “cheap grace,” salvation without struggle, supposed appeasement of the need to feel redeemed. This grace is not the salvation of Jesus, who calls on us to follow him in the way of the cross. Discipleship leads to suffering because the world still perpetuates the anti-Christian systems of oppression which diminish the humanity of the ones God created and loves. Those who follow Jesus are called to throw themselves into the gear-work of the world’s machine of oppression.

Were you there when they crucified my Lord? The disciples must have asked this question of God. Seeing him beaten, thrashed, bloodied, hanging by nails through his flesh. Jesus himself asks, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Where is God when those we love suffer? Our faith in the incarnation causes us to answer that it is God himself who asks that question, God himself who today suffers with us unto death.

God then is with the suffering of the world. The Crucified God died with the Jesuits in the UCA, He cries with the hungry children out in the campo, and is there when a teenager is murdered in the name of gang war.

Were you there? Will you be?

Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble…

Published by Mike Angell

The Rev. Mike Angell is rector of The Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion in St. Louis.

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