Opening the Kingdom of Heaven


Good Friday evokes many things for many people.  In surveying Facebook this morning, I found some people going to work without any observance of the occasion, some that came to an empty workplace, some who loved that school was out today, and then, in my priestly cohort, scores of pictures of stripped altars and bare worship spaces.  To some, it almost appears to be a celebration of Cromwell’s troops making off with the goods.  It occurs to me that perhaps both secular and sacred have sterilized the day.

Some ten or more years ago now, Mel Gibson’s, The Passion of the Christ debuted.  I recall watching it for the first time.  Much of the imagery was jarring.  We grow up (if we are in Christian circles) seeing Jesus neatly portrayed on  crucifix.  The image is often gilded, polished, or simple stained lindenwood.  It does not convey the graphic brutality of crucifixion.  But then, how could it?

So marred was his appearance beyond human semblance, and his former beyond that of mortals. Isaiah 52:14

I wonder, in an age of alternative theories of atonement, how we can escape the idea of blood shed for us.  The Old Covenant points to that promise – a covenant in blood.  The people of the first Passover in Egypt used blood as a sign of salvation.  The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews boldly asserts that without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.  No matter how unpopular the traditional blood atonement may seem to postmodern minds, it is this that I grasp onto with hope in the midst of my own cretain mortality.  I know I am secure in knowing whose I am based not on the Incarnation, not on the miracles, not on my participation, but 10 units of fully human and fully divine blood offered in exchange for my soul.

He entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. Hebrews 9:12

The old Gospel Hymn “Power in the Blood” echoes in me this day.  The same blood shed for an individual soul is also offered for congregations.  This is OUR story.  We find our humanity as congregations in this day.  Our voices cry out against the suffering servant. We are in the crowd.  Every time we attempt to run churches our way, or from places of power or influence.  Each time our churches make their place among the wealthy, powerful, and strong we need the blood.  When we fail to, in the words of Pope Francis, “Smell like the sheep” by finding our place among the marginalized and needy, we need the blood.  It is this blood, the new and more perfect covenant, that transforms us from being a self-seeking and self-serving country club into a missionary outpost for the salvation of humanity.

The human experience is subjective and myopic.  We often fail to see what is right in front of us.  The Cross is about more than just one event, it is our story, our inheritance.  This act of violence is also the gateway to knowing the power of God in resurrection.

Show me life, and I will show you death.  There is no Easter without Good Friday.  There is no new life in congregations without finding a new covenant.  All too often, we run our churches as though we still were working the sacrificial system.  Our offerings consist of our programs, our personalities, our liturgies.  The writer of Hebrews cuts to the point.  All these things point to a greater reality. Sadly, in our myopic view we fail to see the larger picture.  We are simply living out the redemptive plan of God among mortal people.  All that our congregations can offer is to present this loving act of Jesus to a society that often forgets that they are loveable.

So why do we still proclaim the gruesome reality of the day, because it is the path to life.  Show God death and he will show us life.




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