The Brave New World Good Friday Brings

Posted: April 22, 2011 in Spirituality
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“One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.” Psalm of David

Tonight many of us will go to services to worship and hear about the saving message of the cross: that God incarnated, walked among us, taught us, loved us, and died a horrible death to purchase for us a way to God, a relationship with God. I wanted to share today about another thing I have contemplated on the cross, specifically its messages of inclusion, freedom and otherworldliness.

We have to understand the message of Jewish temple worship to fully appreciate the message of the cross. Not that I have gotten there or anything of course. What I do understand is that all peoples in those days had temples and sacrificed animals to their gods.  All of them saw it as worship and atonement for sin. In addition, in Solomon’s Temple were several courts – women over there, Jewish men there, Gentiles over there, priests there, and for the high priest one court, the holy of holies, and that only once a year. The temple of God – access to the one and only God – had been parceled out based on sex, ethnicity, and class. Women could not draw near to God. Dark and fair men could only hope to gain a peek into the mystery of God. Those of a different class could never hope to be a minister of God, either to him or for him.

From my perspective as a Gentile and 21st century descendant of ex-slaves, the message of the temple not terribly exciting. It excludes and restricts. The message of the cross is of another sort.

Matthew, a follower of Jesus, tells us near the end of his gospel that at the very moment Jesus died on the cross the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and rocks split. Tombs broke open and the bodies of long dead saints (Hebrews 11) were raised to life and walked among us.

Crazy, right? This, among other things, tells me that the message of the cross is one of otherworldiness, of inclusion, of freedom.

Working backwards, I posit a seemingly strange theological thought: that the cross freed both man and God from bondage. I know that sounds odd, but I like to toe the line sometimes.

Consider how in Deuteronomy 5 the Israelites begin to separate themselves from God because of how awesome God is, saying that they would die if he continued to speak to them. So they said to Moses “Go near and listen to all that the Lord our God says. Then tell us…” And God laments in response, “Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children, forever!”  God continued to lament his inability to draw near to us because of our sin – God, de facto, was in bondage because of our sin.

The tearing of the curtain in the temple was symbolic of what happened for real – we were free to enter the temple and be near our God. God was also free to be near us, not separated from us by sin and the religion of man.

After the cross, God and we are free: He is free to be with us, and we are free to be with him. This freedom comes without distinction – He loves to be freely with us no matter if we are man or woman, Gentile or Jew, priest or lay person, slave or free as Paul said (Gal 3:27-28).

Lastly, the cross makes everything otherworldly. Unfortunately today we cannot completely appreciate, as we celebrate Holy Week, the unexpectedness of the cross and the resurrection. Some of us can appreciate its seeming foolishness however. We ask – how could the political execution of God guarantee us freedom to be with God? But the reasoning of God is not the reasoning of man – that’s the essence of faith. After the cross the kingdom of God was fully free to inbreak into the kingdom of man. Then that kingdom set about turning everything upside down. Our world is an other world now – nothing has been nor will ever be the same. Those who live in God’s kingdom are aliens in this one, journeying out of this world, and on their way to God.

Not everything is as we think it is after we contemplate the cross, and realize what happened there. In fact, some people recognized that – one of the Romans who crucified Jesus saw what happened at the moment of his death and exclaimed “Surely this was the Son of God!”

In Mel Gibson’s magnum opus The Passion of the Christ, Jesus on the way to the cross says “I will make all things new.” He did. God and people were freed to be with each other, and the world became something else entirely. The cross truly is a powerful message.

And we haven’t even gotten to the best part yet ya’ll.

Wait until Sunday morning comes.

  1. […] The Brave New World Good Friday Brings […]

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