I. Breaking the Silence
“In the beginning….God said, ‘Let there be light, and there was light.’” And God called the light good. But now…there is darkness. Now…the earth will be shaken. At the Jordan River, in the beginning, when Jesus was baptized, the Father had declared, “You are My Son whom I love.” Now, at the end, there is silence.
If God is light, then darkness must mean that God is not present. If God speaks to declare His love, then His silence must mean His rejection. He has turned away. And then, piercing and punctuating this very logical conclusion come the famous words, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani!” “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”
But what if we’re wrong in our logic? What if all of our pet notions about God—notions cultivated by sentimental movies and pious dreams—what if our notions about God have utterly failed to grasp the truly profound nature of God?
What if darkness is not a sign of God’s absence, but of His glorious presence wrapped in the cloud of darkness? What if God’s silence is not a sign of His rejection but rather speaks thunderous volumes of self-revelation? What if that famous cry of God-forsakenness is, in fact, only possible because God is indeed hidden there in that cry, present to inspire the cry and to hear it.
Well, some would call such a God a monster, a divine tormenter. And people call Him precisely that! But we, in faith, call Him the Almighty, the glorious Father, whose ways are not our ways, whose thoughts are not our thoughts. He is the hidden God…Deus absconditus…hidden to our sight and sense but revealed plainly to faith by that hiddenness. And faith…faith is most truly faith when it is most severely put to the test by the ways of this hidden, silent God.
II. Going My Way?
“You shall conceive and bear a Son, and call His name Immanuel, God with us.” Advent. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Christmas. “And the Child grew in stature and in favor with God and men.” Epiphany. “He was in the desert forty days being tempted by Satan.” Lent. “‘Father into Your hands I commend My spirit.’” Good Friday.
A Man was born. He lived. He died. Of medium height. Of medium build. Brown hair. Brown eyes. “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him. Nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.” He was a very, very, very ordinary man. And that’s extraordinary!
Extraordinary, for Him, maybe. Not so much for us. We don’t like being human. We strain every muscle, every gray cell, every resource and fiber of our being to be more than human, to be larger than life, to be significant, to be immortal, to be a babe, to be a hunk, to be a someone! So we want our Jesus to be more than us because we don’t always like being us…us can fail, us grow older, get gray, us get weaker…us die!
“The Word became flesh to dwell among us!” No, not that! We don’t want Him going our way…we want us going His way! We don’t want the Word becoming flesh to dwell among us. We want us to become spirit to dwell with God! But the glorious, eternal Son clothes Himself fully humanity to show us how humanity is conceived in the mind of the Creator!
Tonight we see the Son fully human, fully, fully dead as we will be. Yes, on the Third Day we will see what is ultimately to become of human flesh as God intends for it. But tonight, tonight we see where Advent and Christmas have led, and Epiphany, and Lent. The Word made flesh. God with us. With us in death and burial.
Because that’s what we see. We see death. We see burial. But now…oh…now, even there, especially there, we see the Son. For even in death and burial, in our death and our burial, even there, God is with us. He goes our way. Immanuel!
III. In the Midst of Death, We Are in Life
On Pentecost, fifty days after Passover, the Holy Spirit will come rushing like a violent wind into the place were the disciples are gathered in Jerusalem. A wild, rushing wind. Tongues of flame will appear over the disciples’ heads. And words, a tidal wave of words, from every then-known language, will spill from the disciples’ lips in a polyphony of praise for the wonders of God the Father and His Son the crucified and risen Christ. On Pentecost the least-known member of the Holy Trinity makes a grand entrance.
Grand, yes…but it is not his first entrance into this world. The Holy Spirit has been present, hidden, and at work since He hovered over the waters of creation in the opening verses of Genesis. But the hidden Spirit was most importantly present and at work on that significant day when the destiny of humanity and all creation turned from death to life. This day, this Good Friday.
In the Upper Room before His betrayal and arrest, Jesus told the Eleven that He would ask the Father who would send a Counselor for them, the Spirit of truth. Jesus told them, “I will not leave you as orphans.” And He did not. And they were not. Not even between the Friday and the Sunday, when they felt so very alone!
St. John’s Gospel, the only one of the four, records Jesus’ death in the words, “He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.” That’s not just a poetic way to say He died. Rather, in His death, Jesus, as the words literally read, “gave out His Spirit.” “Spirit” with a capital S! What appeared to be the beginning of the disciples’ orphan-hood on that Friday was not. The coming of the Spirit is already there at the cross; the Spirit of life hidden in the moment of Jesus’ death.
This revealing of the hidden Spirit is a sign, a promise for us. In our darkest moments, in our most human weaknesses, there the Spirit is present and at work (because the Son is there, the Father is there). When darkness hides the presence of God to our sight and sense, the Spirit pierces the darkness by the Word and faith. When soul and body languish, and death draws near, when sense says that it is The End, the Spirit is hidden there with the promise to faith: It is not The End; though we die, yet shall we live.
Good Friday is all about the hiddenness of God. Where God is most hidden, on the cross…and in the crosses that bear down upon us…there the Spirit is given out, the Counselor who declares to us that nothing, neither death nor life nor things present nor things to come, shall be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. In the midst of death we are always in life! Faith hears. And faith confesses, “Amen! Yes…it shall be so!”