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Be Ye Doers of the Word and Not Hearers Only

Good Friday – Year C

Thanks to religious fanaticism, anger, bitterness, and revenge, in the land of Jesus, Arabs and Jews are killing each other every day.

I read about it in the paper everyday, and I say, “sure glad I’m not there.”

Thanks to ultra-tribalism and a lust for power at any price, nearly a million Rwandans were systematically murdered in a matter of weeks, just six years ago.

I read about it in the paper years ago, and I said, “sure glad I’m not there.”

Thanks to the warped evil of Hitler and his Imperialistic sidekicks in Japan and Europe, fifty-seven million people were killed in World War II.

I watched Saving Private Ryan yesterday, and I said after the first twenty-six minutes, “sure glad I’m not there.”

I am glad that I have never “been there” when wars and human madness take the lives of many.

But it breaks my heart when I look at history, beginning with this morning’s newspaper, and I consider the hundreds of millions of people put to death by the claws of living sin in just the last century!!!

And what’s worse – so much of this blood, so much of this sin, is on the hands and in the hearts of people who claim to have faith in a God of love.

You hear alot these days about the extent to which the Church went along with the Nazis. Hitler’s Pope, and all that.

Well, forget the details about that debate, and focus on this question: “How could any Germans who called themselves Christians – and most of them did – buy into the Nazi cause?

Maybe you’ve read that in Rwanda, there were priests and bishops who led thousands of their flock to go into the streets and kill their neighbors. And while the entire Church was not behind the genocide in the Christian nation of Rwanda, how could any Hutus who called themselves Christians allow themselves to slaughter their Tutsi neighbors?

And likewise in Palestine – while not every Jew or Muslim supports the violence in Palestine – how can any Jews or Muslims who call themselves friends of God – and most of them do – allow themselves to kill babies, bulldoze houses and blow up buses?

You know, when you look at all the hatred running like wild bulls and packs-of-dogs in the streets of this world – and my friends we most definitely are “there” – it makes you wonder just how good “Good” Friday really ever was.

I mean, if Good Friday was so good – why do the bodies of the murdered keep piling up? If Good Friday was so good – then why are we still encircled by gangs of evildoers who stare and gloat over us?

Maybe you and I weren’t there in Palestine, and we weren’t there in Rwanda, and only some of us were there in World War II – but we have all lived in this world long enough to know that this is the kind of place it is.

We have seen evil. We have seen violence. We have counted all our bones by now, and felt our hearts melt within our breasts like wax. We have admitted to ourselves that it is not just a problem for those other people “who are there.”

Because we know that deep within our own hearts, “we are there too.” No, we are there in a painful and crucified world. We know how bad it can get – outside the walls, and inside our hearts. We are there, let me tell you, we are there.

And the question we’re all asking here, amidst the pain of this everyday human life, is the same one Jesus asked the day the religious men and the government killed him.

It’s not in John’s or Luke’s Gospels I’m afraid, but it is in Matthew and Mark.

And that question is – “God … are you there?”

I didn’t give up anything for Lent this year. I probably should have kept up the diet better – but I guess that’s not really the point.

But I finally did adopt a Lenten discipline which has really been good for me. I started reading the Psalms everyday.

I started opening up the prayer book, and looking in the back, and figuring out which Psalms are appointed for each day. And I found a few minutes each day to sit in quietness, and I didn’t just read the Psalms, I prayed the Psalms. I put myself in the position of the Psalmist, in the place of David, and allowed his words to be my own. I allowed David to speak to God for me.

And you know what began to happen?

As I read the Psalms to myself, the Psalms read me back to God.

It was as if I had looked through a window only to see myself on the other side in the arms of a loving God.

And that’s when I understood. That’s when I knew the answer to Jesus’ question on the cross. And I knew that the answer was built into the question.

When in Matthew and Mark we hear Jesus cry out on the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” He is clearly asking the question. But in addition, he is giving the answer. Following the custom of his day, by reciting only the first verse of a psalm, a man could refer to the entire thing.

When Jesus introduces the twenty-second psalm on the cross, he not only bewails the forsakenness he feels, but affirms also the deep knowledge that even still, God is there, to be praised until the end.

For even though Jesus “wasn’t there” when his ancestor David composed the Psalms – on the cross, Jesus the Christ bound himself as the Son of God into the cry of a bygone prayer, and made it present not only to him, but for the whole world.

He brought the past and the future of the human condition into himself.

My friends the door is narrow, and it looks like a cross. But it is open.

It is not a doorway out of this world, but rather it is a doorway into the world. The doorway through which Christ comes to suffer with us in every crucified moment of our lives.

It is the way in which Christ testifies to us that we are not abandoned upon our crosses – but God has joined us there.


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