Easter people and “good” Fridays
July 1, 2013
5For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 6For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
7 But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. (2 Cor. 4:5–7, NRSV)
Sunday through Saturday—in every season of the calendar year—there are “good” Fridays, “Good” Fridays, and the “Good Friday.” The first is the TGIF kind, where we might go to happy hour, hang out with friends, eat out, and celebrate the end of a hard, long week. The second variety involves the hard stuff: the little deaths, the definitive Good Friday experiences. A “Good” Friday entails those circumstances and events in our lives where death and despair and disappointment rear their heads and butt into our lives: a messy divorce, a bad sermon, an unkind insurance company representative, the death of a loved one. Whether big or small, these “Good” Fridays are forms of death that suck from us our vitality and joy in living, that usher in moments of action, prayerful reflection, tears.
Because “Good” Fridays are so extensive and exhaustive, they affect all of us, from our sisters and brothers in Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt, who give powerful witness to the gospel in places of persecution, to people in small-town America, where disappointed parents struggle to provide for their children’s future needs and instead find that their investment doesn’t necessarily guarantee the hoped-for outcomes later in their lives.
In both contexts, there is a persecution of the heart and soul. In the former, it’s more visible, since blood is being spilled and Christians are being imprisoned and/or fined. In our context, it’s a persecution that stirs the heart and soul to human suffering, to basic human need, to the fragility of human life, like so many clay jars.
In teaching my seminary preaching classes, I always ask my students the question, “What is the purpose of preaching?” And then I ask, “What is the gospel?” Beyond the main purposes of teaching, encouraging, and comforting, the primary purpose of preaching is to do what the ancient heralds did. A herald was a messenger designated to run from the battlefield to proclaim to a waiting city that the king had freed his subjects from the enemy and that henceforth they could live as free citizens, able to live their lives in a manner worthy of their calling as citizens of his kingdom. The herald’s sole responsibility was to tell of what he/she had seen and heard at the battlefield, to tell what the king had done on the battlefield. What the king had done to win victory is the gospel, the Good News. That is what theologian Douglas John Hall calls the indicative of the gospel. The imperative of the gospel is the consequences of that gospel, when the gospel takes root in our lives and transforms us to love God and love another, to work for a better world. But first and foremost, the gospel—the Good News of what the king has done—is to be told and retold again and again.
Whether in the Middle East or small-town America, the persecution of heart and soul occurs when the despair of darkness obscures the sure light and extraordinary power of God in Jesus Christ, whose very life, death, and resurrection sets us free from the tyranny of evil, death, and sin, in all of its forms. Hear and believe the Good News. King Jesus is victorious in battle and we are free! We are free at the Good Friday and, three days later, at the empty tomb, and weeks later, at Pentecost, with the gift of the Holy Spirit.
In these remaining 348 days of my time as your General Assembly Moderator, I will continue to do what I have done in these last 366 days, and that is to call us to live into the Holy Spirit of Pentecost as an Easter people in a Good Friday world.