This is the radio devotion I recorded for Good Friday of Holy Week 2020.
Thanks to KCNI/KBBN for airing devotions by the Custer County Ministerial Association.
Good morning. This is Matt Fowler from Broken Bow United Methodist Church. With the spread of the COVID-19 virus, everything seems a little uncertain right now, and so, this week, I’m exploring five historic spiritual practices, or disciplines, that can help us experience God’s presence in the midst of our daily lives. And because it’s Holy Week, I’m going to be looking at Jesus’ last words spoken from the cross. Adam Hamilton develops these ideas in his book, The Walk, which my church has been reading during Lent.
Before jumping in, it’s important to note two things. First, the seven last words are collected by reading across the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Each include different statements from Jesus. Second, because of the brutal reality of crucifixion, saying each of these things would have increased Jesus’ pain during crucifixion, and yet he found it important to say these things. These two things add weight or importance to these statements: they cost Jesus dearly to say them, and the early Christian gospel writers thought they were so important that they included them in the gospels.
As Jesus was placed on his cross between criminals, Luke tells us that Jesus prays, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Lu 23:34, NRSV). We might hear in this Jesus praying for the people whose actions have brought him to this place: a betraying friend, a mob of angry people, fearful religious folks, a detached leader, or barbaric soldiers. But Hamilton suggests another way to hear Jesus’ prayer. Since Jesus is fully human and fully God, and God exists beyond time and space, it seems at least likely that Jesus sees all of past, present, and future humanity and prays for all from the cross. In this, Jesus prays for us, for you and me, seeing us fully. He sees our failures and faults, he sees our faith and our faithlessness, and he prays for our forgiveness. In this pray, with his outstretched arms, he’s proclaiming, “God loves you, God loves us, this much.” Jesus, in his prayer, and in his crucifixion, bears witness to God’s unending love.
Then, in case we miss his point, Jesus replies to one of the criminals’ request for mercy, saying, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lu 23:43, NRSV). Again, Jesus proclaims forgiveness, restoration, and salvation for all. At the very end of his life, Jesus is still proclaiming God’s character: God is the God of second, and third, and fourth, and unending chances to experience forgiveness, wholeness, and union with God.
I wonder about the line, “for they don’t know what they’re doing.” Lately, I’ve felt more than a little lost, off-kilter, and out of sync. Have the rhythms of your life made you feel like this too? In this, I wonder if Jesus is also inviting us to take stock of our lives and determine again what all we’re doing, and why we’re doing it. Could Jesus be inviting us to experience Jesus today by re-ordering our lives around our walk with Jesus? Could pondering the meaning of life lived with Jesus, and then sharing it with others, help us to experience God’s presence in the midst of our lives today?
In the cross Jesus reveals God’s relentless mission of drawing all creation to Godself. On this Good Friday, may we find in Jesus’ death a renewed sense of mission and purpose, and may God give us words to share our life’s deepest purpose – receiving and sharing God’s grace – with others.