Preached at the Good Friday Service on March 25, 2016

Text – Mark 15:16-39

The news, Dear God, the news. This week, and every week lately.

An ever growing list of terrorist attacks, most recently in Brussels, Yemen, Turkey.

An ever growing list of mass shootings in our own country

Endless political rhetoric on the news, on talk shows, on social media.

The anxiety so many people feel about Donald Trump, what he says, what he does, that he keeps winning, and what that says about the state of our country.

There’s also the refugee crisis in Europe, growing anti-Muslim sentiment there and here, and in the US the ever-present problem of racism, and the latest backlash against LGBT people.

Closer to home, I was disheartened this week to read about the apartment complex in Iowa City that is one of that offers affordable rent in that city, essentially evicting tenants in order to renovate. Where will these families living so close to the edge financially go?

And, we’ve had a rash of burglaries in our area. Sometimes while people are in their homes. Many of us choose to live here because we haven’t felt like we had to lock our doors and windows. Until now.

The news, dear God, the news. It’s been disheartening for weeks, for months.

I’ll admit something to you—I have been incredibly grateful for the season of Lent in the midst of all of it.

Because Lent is a time during which we are encouraged to take a careful, honest look at ourselves, our families and communities, our world. Are we living as Christ wanted us to live? How are we missing the mark? In what ways have we failed God and each other? We turn to God in prayer, asking God to show us what we might do differently, how we might live and think and view things differently, more in tune with Jesus.

It is also a time—Holy Week, especially—in which we acknowledge the suffering and injustice that continue to exist.

I was tempted to have us sit with the suffering tonight, but I feel like we need to get to the hope part. At least a glimpse of it. And here again, this season offers that as well.

We started Lent with ashes, a symbol of death, the reality that none of us gets out of here alive. From dust we came and to dust we shall return.

More than that, ashes are a symbol of the worst we human beings can do to one another, to our planet. But they are not the last word, the final word because God makes beautiful things out of dust. So these ashes are both honest and hopeful.

That’s how the season of Lent begins, and now we reach the end today, on Good Friday—the day when everything went wrong. Jesus was betrayed by Judas and abandoned by the remaining 11, those who were supposedly closest to him; the most powerful in the land—the religious elites, the ones who operated hand in glove with the Roman Empire—removed the threat Jesus was to them through the official channels—and unjust trial, trumped up charges, and horrific violence meant to terrify everyone, with a healthy does of humiliation thrown in for good measure.

For Jesus’ followers, the bottom dropped out of their world and it appeared that all hope was lost.

It is this last experience of Good Friday—the bewilderment, the disappointment, the fear for the future—that I think many of us can relate to right now. Am I right? Do you feel we’re somewhere in between Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, everything shifting and appearing to have gone terribly, terribly wrong? Afraid of what the future might bring?

Honestly, because I have felt sparks and embers of hope in this season. I almost hate to have Holy Week and Easter be in the rearview mirror.

Because in them I feel less afraid. This story does not end with Good Friday, with Jesus’ death on the cross and his body laid in a tomb. This story promises that what seems like the end of the world is not, and that even when all seems lost God is up to something we can neither see nor imagine. God is on the side of life, of love, of hope, of goodness. Always. Whether we can see what God is up to or not.

Let’s be honest for a moment, as we take a peek ahead to Easter Sunday. In spite of the empty tomb, the risen Jesus, the bewildered disciples, do you know what still remained? The Roman Empire. The corrupt religious authorities. They were still there. By some inexplicable divine power, God raised Jesus from the dead but the earthly powers remained in place.

And yet…the world, the balance of power was different.

After the truth of the resurrection had a chance to sink in, after the disciples trusted the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in themselves and in the world around them, they were no longer afraid. And they got to work, following in Jesus’ footsteps, living with love and mercy.

So here is the truth: On the face of things, the resurrection changes nothing. And yet, it changes everything.

Mark tells us that at the very moment of Jesus’ death the temple curtain, that heavy fabric that marked the boundaries of where it was believed God lived—God’s very address—that curtain was torn in two from top to bottom.

The implication? God was on the loose, no longer contained in the temple (if God ever was) but out there and active in the world.

Here is the truth of this day:

God is with us, at work in us and in the world. This is where we can place our trust.

When all seems to have gone wrong, when the world seems shrouded in darkness, placing our trust in hope, in God, in the promise that since God is for us, who can be against us—

this is the ultimate act of faith, it is the ultimate work of faith.

Let us pray:

O God who never lets us go, whether in times of darkness and fear or times of joy and gladness: You are in the present moment, working your purposes out. Be with us now (or rather, help us to be present with you). Help us not to fear shadows, whether those around us in the moment or the ones we fear may come to pass. Help us to listen for your voice as we walk through the valley of darkness. Give us the courage, strength and faith to trust you, to follow you, to hang on to hope. In Christ’s name we ask it. Amen.

light in the darkness photo

Photo by B.S. Wise