Good Friday reflections

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Stephen Billet,
21 March 2008

Go to dark Gethsemane

Go to dark Gethsemane,
ye that feel the tempter's power;
Your Redeemer's conflict see,
watch with him one bitter hour;
Turn not from his griefs away;
learn of Jesus Christ to pray.

See him at the judgment-hall;
beaten, bound, reviled, arraigned.
O the wormwood and the gall!
O the pangs his soul sustained!
Shun not suffering, shame, or loss:
learn of Christ to bear the cross.

Calvary's mournful mountain climb;
there, adoring at his feet,
Mark that miracle of time,
God's own sacrifice complete.
"It is finished!" hear him cry;
learn of Jesus Christ to die.

For me the Easter period gives a feeling of emptiness, loneliness and darkness in the pit of my soul. A sense of the Holy Spirit feeling abandonment, a sense of the pain in mind & body that Christ endured. A sense of exhaustion and fear! But most of all, the sense, of sadness. Christ knew what was coming, but nothing can prepare someone, anyone for the horror of such an outcome

Good and dearest Jesus,
We kneel before your face.
With all our heart's
we ask you
to place in our heart
more faith, hope and charity.
Give us a true sorrow for our sins
and a strong will to do better
With great sorrow and grief
we look upon your five wounds
and think about them.
Before our eyes are the words
that the prophet David said of you,
O good Jesus:
"They have pierced my hands and feet
They have numbered all my bones."


During Lent in my reflections, my feeling of sadness I began to forget about the promise to me, personally & dwell on the suffering of one man. I began to feel the importance of his message found in our prayer books.

'Hear O Israel, the Lord is One; You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' Jesus said: 'This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself.'

O sacred head

I have personally seen much of the dark side of this world, human nature and Christ's commandments cry out to me on a very personal level; let's really care about other people. I read to you the words of the hymn by Paul Gerhardt

O sacred head, surrounded
by crown of piercing thorn!
O bleeding head, so wounded,
so shamed and put to scorn!
Death's pallid hue comes o'er thee,
the glow of life decays;
Yet angel-hosts adore thee,
and tremble as they gaze.

Thy comeliness and vigour
is withered up and gone,
And in thy wasted figure
I see death drawing on.
O agony and dying!
O love to sinners free!
Jesu, all grace supplying,
turn thou thy face on me.

In this thy bitter passion,
good Shepherd, think of me
With thy most sweet compassion,
unworthy though I be:
Beneath the cross abiding
for ever would I rest,
In thy dear love confiding,
and with thy presence blest.
—Paul Gerhardt ,1607-76, from Salve caput cruentatum

Now was as we approach the end of this day I would like to give you a blessing: may you find in the crucified one the forgiveness of sins, the renewing power of love and the promise of life eternal.

Brian McKinlay

The seventeenth century divine, Thomas Watson said that it was a greater humiliation for Jesus to be incarnate as a man than it was for him to suffer the cross.

"Christ's taking our flesh was one of the lowest steps of his humiliation. He humbled himself more in lying in the virgin's womb than in hanging upon the cross. It was not so much for man to die, but for God to become man was the wonder of humility." (A Body of Divinity, contained in sermons upon the Westminster Assembly's Catechism, (1692) by Thomas Watson, IV.6.6)

Similarly, although the pain of the cross was surely appalling, the greater suffering for Jesus was his terrible isolation from his Father, voiced in his cry "My God, why have you forsaken me?"

To help us think about this a little, I have chosen an extract from the preface to the paperback edition of The Crucified God: the cross of Christ as the foundation and criticism of Christian theology, by Jürgen Moltmann, one the twentieth century's finest contemporary theologians. (Minn.: Fortress, 1993).

This was written some time after the book was first published; Moltmann shared his testimony of some responses to the book — a study of the theology of the cross, especially Jesus' question, "My God, why have you forsaken me?"

[For presentation in the church on Good Friday, I edited this for length and for inclusive language.]

The theological foundation for Christian hope is the raising of the crucified Christ. Anyone who develops a 'theology of hope' from this centre will be inescapably reminded of the other side of that foundation: the cross of the risen Christ. So after publishing Theology of Hope, the logic of my theological approach led me to work more deeply on the remembrance of the crucified Christ. Hope without remembrance leads to illusion, just as, conversely, remembrance without hope can result in resignation.

… Wherever Christian hope makes people active and leads them into the 'creative discipleship' of Christ, the contradictions and confutations of the world are painfully experienced.… One begins to suffer with the victims of injustice and violence. One puts oneself on the side of the persecuted and becomes persecuted oneself. In the years between 1968 and 1972 I discovered something of this both personally and politically. At that time the suffering of friends living under Stalinism in Eastern Europe and under military dictatorships in Latin America and South Korea moved me deeply. In 1970 I wrote,

As well as developing a political theology, I have resolved to think more intensively than I have done up to now about the meaning of the cross of Christ for theology, for the church and for society. In a civilization that glorifies success and happiness and is blind to the sufferings of others, people's eyes can be opened to the truth if they remember that at the centre of the Christian faith stands an unsuccessful, tormented Christ, dying in forsakenness. The recollection that God raised this crucified Christ and made him the hope of the world must lead the churches to break their alliances with the powerful and to enter into the solidarity of the humiliated." (Unikehr zur Zukunft, Munich 1970, 14.)

… I began to see things with the eyes of the Christ dying on the cross.… For me the crucified Christ became more and more 'the foundation and criticism of Christian theology'. And for me that meant that, whatever can stand before the face of the crucified Christ is true Christian theology. What cannot stand there must disappear. This is especially true of what we say about God.

Christ died on the cross with a loud cry, which Mark interprets with the words of the twenty-second psalm: 'My God, why hast thou forsaken me?' This cry of abandonment is either the end of every theology and every religion, or it is the beginning of a truly Christian theology — and that means a liberating theology. The criticism that emanates from Christ's cross exposes us theologians for what we are, like Job's friends. We want to produce an answer to the question about God with which Christ dies. But he dies with this open question. So a truly Christian theology has to make Jesus' experience of God on the cross the centre of all our ideas about God: that is its foundation.

… I saw that when God reveals [God's self] to us godless men and women, who turn ourselves into proud and unhappy gods, [God] does not do so through power and glory. [God] reveals [God's self] through suffering and cross, so [God] repudiates in us the arrogant man or woman and accepts the sinner in us. But then I turned the question around, and instead of asking just what God means for us human beings in the cross of Christ, I asked too what this human cross of Christ means for God. I found the answer in the idea of God's passion, which reveals itself in the passion of Christ. What is manifested in the cross is God's suffering of a passionate love for [God's] lost creatures, a suffering prepared for sacrifice.

But it was not merely the experiences of the years between 1968 and 1972 that led me to this theology of the cross. In addition, I experienced a very different 'dark night' in my soul, for the pictures of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and horror over the crimes in Auschwitz, had weighed on me and many other people of my generation ever since 1945. [Moltmann was a young soldier in the German army in WWII and a prisoner of war in England]… I perceived Golgotha in the shadow of Auschwitz… [T]he question about God for me has been identical with the cry of the victims for justice and the hunger of the perpetrators for a way back from the path of death.

The translation of The Crucified God into many languages brought me into the community of many struggling and suffering brothers and sisters. The book was read in Korean and South African prisons. People working in slums and hospitals wrote to me, as well as people who were themselves suffering under 'the dark night of the soul'. I came into contact with Catholic orders vowed to poverty and the mysticism of the cross, and with Mennonite congregations who are following the path of Jesus. I need not tell it all. What I should like to say is this… this book [The Crucified God] brought me into a great company. I believe it is the company of people under the cross. Beneath the cross the boundaries of denominations and cultures collapse.

The community of the sufferers and the seekers is an open, inviting community. It is about this community that I am thinking now… for it is there that I am at home.

St Philip's Anglican Church,
cnr Moorhouse and Macpherson Streets, O'Connor, ACT 2602.