Here with a version of today's Good Friday address...
Just over a year ago, a bright, vivacious young man was waiting at a bus stop with his girl friend. Some lads appeared over the other side of the road shouting racist taunts. The young couple decided to avoid confrontation by walking down to another stop. The lads followed. The chase ultimately led into a park where the young man was confronted and beaten to death with an ice axe. The young man was Anthony Walker.
As she left the court flanked by her daughters following teh tiral of her son’s killers, Gee Walker said, ‘Do I forgive them? At the point of death Jesus said, ‘I forgive them because they do not know what they do’. I have got to forgive them. I still forgive them. It will be difficult but we have no choice but to live on for Anthony. Each of us will take a piece of him and will carry on his life.”
I knew a couple once whose son had died in a tragic military accident several years ago. They never spoke of the detail of what happened but the emotion was aleays only just beneath the surface. Years later, their son was still spoken of very highly, he could still do no wrong. Both parents were so caught up in the tragedy of the past that they failed to see that their focus on their dead son was alienating them from their other children and their friends and they remained locked in the angry and bitter past, unable to move on into the future, our present.
Today is about the grief of a parent, whose cry of anguish at the death of their son still resonates in the empty caverns of eternity. Today is about the grief of a parent - not just at the death of their son - but that they willingly allowed them to die feeling abandoned, alone, in the darkest abject hell.
Today is about a father that knows the depths of unimaginable grief in the death of a child. We underplay the horror of what was going on for Jesus and his father on this day at our peril. Jesus’ cry of ‘My God! My God, why have you forsaken me?’ is not the cry of a child who knows that despite having been lost in the supermarket, a call for their father has been put out on the tanoy, and he is on his way. This is the cry of someone completely alone. This cross is a dark and desperate place because here we witness the distance between God the Father and God the Son. Jesus has known and people have witnessed the pressence and power of God in him throughout his life and ministry. But here at the cross, God is torn in two. The distance between God and humanity normally present because of our fraility and sinfulness is revealed on this cross in Jesus the man as an unimaginable gulf in God himself. Today God stands speachless with Gee Walker, and millions of other parents worldwide who’s hearts have been torn from their bodies in the death of a unique child, their love, their flesh and blood, gone...
The cross is the ultimate darknes. And yet according to the Gospel, that darkness is not tragic. The gospels show Jesus not as a tragic figure haunted by fate, but as a faithful and trusting though at times terrified figure who moves towards his death with courage and conviction. He enters this darkenss of his own free willI and in full awareness of the outcome.
In the cross, we discover a God acting with finality and surety, yet with a tear streaked face. The cross is not God’s last ditch rescue mission of humanity, but part of the mystery of salvation for the whole world, formed in the mind of God since before Creation itself was and there was only God. The cross also does not explain away the suffering of Gee Walker and countless others. But on the cross God bears in his broken heart all wounds. So desperate and dark is our situation that God has to it enter to begin to see it transformed into a place of healing. Christ’s wounds are ours; his pain is mine. Our Father loves this hurting world this much - there surely must have been a calvary in the heart of God before it was planted on Golgotha’s hill.
Today we are called not to imitate Christ. Today he imitates us. He enters our suffering, our brokeness, our pain, our death. Until we meet the forsaken, sorrowful, and mutilated Christ of Good Friday here there will be no facing up by us to the sorrow, forsakenness and mutilation of real people in society, nor will we be capable of a passionate love affair with a God who really knows us.
The cross is a paradox - 'para' meaning near to and 'doxa' meaning glory because somehow through the cross we are innaugurated into the new life of God. The cross stands between our fallenness and our fulfillment, between the dust from which we come and the glory towards which we move, between Eden and the New Jerusalem, between that which is good and that which painful and broken in us. And yet we know too well that these are not different places: for sin and grace, hate and love, dust and glory, Eden and Jerusalem make up each one. The cross of Christ meets us at these points of conflict of our own fragmentation and longing for wholeness. It is the point of our most profound brokenness, at the shaking of the foundations of our being, that Christ’s cross becomes for us forgiveness for hurt and hope in the face of brokenness and death. Here we are indeed close to glory.
Today we are called not to imitate Christ. Today he imitates us. He enters our suffering, our brokeness, our pain, our death. ‘I have got to forgive them. I still forgive them.... It will be difficult but we have no choice but to live on for Anthony. Each of us will take a piece of him and will carry on his life. Gee Walker may have imitated the Christ of Good Friday in her forgiveness of her sons killers. Today God imitates Gee Walker and others, knowing the pain of the loss of a son, forgiving and in the face of death offering life.