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Diving into the Easter Story: Good Friday

Good Friday

Although it is called “good,” Good Friday is a solemn day for the Church. It commemorates the betrayal, unjust trial, and brutal crucifixion of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  As Christians in the 21st century, we know the rest of the story and understand that a huge celebration is coming; however, we encourage you to enter into this time of grief, uncertainty, and deep sadness so that you may experience what the earliest followers of Jesus went through.

John 18:28-37 NRSV

Christ in front of Pilate by Mihali Munkacsy

33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35 Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” 

 

 

Psalm 22:1-2, 12-19 NRSV

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
    and by night, but find no rest…

But I am a worm, and not human;
    scorned by others, and despised by the people.

All who see me mock at me;
    they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
“Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver—
    let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”…

14 I am poured out like water,
    and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
    it is melted within my breast;
15 my mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
    and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
    you lay me in the dust of death.

16 For dogs are all around me;
    a company of evildoers encircles me.
My hands and feet have shriveled;
17 I can count all my bones.
They stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my clothes among themselves,
    and for my clothing they cast lots.

19 But you, O Lord, do not be far away!
    O my help, come quickly to my aid!   

Artwork by Josefa de Ayala

John 19:38-42 NRSV

38 After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. 39 Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. 40 They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. 42 And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.  

  • Questions: 
    • Have you ever felt distant from God, especially in times of deep stress and anguish?  Do you know of others who have had this experience? How does Jesus’ experience, all the way from his agonizing prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane to his crucifixion at Calvary, comfort and sustain us during these moments?
    • Why do Joseph and Nicodemus, who are experiencing both fear and grief, spend so much energy, time, and precious resources to properly bury Christ’s body?  What does this burial teach us about faith and worship in times of grief and anxiety?
  • Challenge: 
    • If you are experiencing distance or isolation from God’s presence or know of someone who is, we encourage you to pray through these passages and reflect on the reality that even Jesus Himself, the only begotten Son of God, experienced deep pain and that he is with you in your suffering.
    • Even when we enter into seasons of grief, fear, and waiting, the example of Joseph and Nicodemus shows us that we are still called to tend to our relationship with Jesus and lavish him with our worship.

New City Writing Team

 

Waiting in the Spirit

“Be still, and know that I am God!
    I am exalted among the nations,
    I am exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10 (NRSV)

Have you ever been forced to sit in silence? Most people today fall somewhere on a spectrum between being aware that they hate every excruciating second of silence and simply being unaware how much the quiet bothers them because they have never had to experience it.

If you have been in the church for any length of time, you have probably sat through some youth group or leadership training that uses this fact about people as a sort of parlor trick. It usually starts with the leader asking, “Have you ever noticed how we can’t sit in silence anymore?” and then proceeds to make everyone sit in uncomfortable silence for minutes while pretending they’re immune or very spiritual.

My first experience with this of silence idea was in college. I was taking a class on Christian spirituality—a crazy, fun, and sometimes boring dive into some of the ancient practices of the Christian faith. Our professor wanted to expose us to various means of interacting and communing with God. We dove into fasting, scripture reading and memorization, study (duh), and even celebration. However, far and above anything else, our professor wanted us to experience silent, contemplative prayer. We would begin every class with 5-10 minutes of unmoving, penetrating silence. He claimed being able to sit in this would lead us to a quieter inner-self through which we could commune with God.

I could not imagine a worse, more boring fate.

I became a Christian in a charismatic church, and, at the risk of generalizing, if there is one thing we are not especially good at, it is silence. It might be hard to understand if you haven’t experienced it. It’s not that we think silence is bad, it’s just that, in a church movement that places special emphasis on things like speaking in tongues, giving words, prophetic speaking, full praise bands, 24/7 prayer rooms, and extemporaneous worship, there isn’t a lot of room for us to sit in silence. We’re busy! The buzz words for us are “activity,” “manifestation,” “works,” “power,” and, perhaps most of all, “expectation.” These aren’t words that often coexist with words like “silence,” “waiting,” and “stillness.”

So now it’s 2018 and I’m reading a book on contemplative prayer, having traumatic flashbacks of what seemed like endless silence I was forced to sit through in college (thankfully, I had my smartphone to entertain me), and wondering how the author could claim that this type of prayer, prayer that calls us to simply listen and focus on a phrase or two, could possibly help us hear from the Lord when we have good worship music, books, and sermons that help us do that. Despite my skepticism, I decided to give it a try.

My first go at contemplative prayer started like most. I found a quiet place to sit comfortably for 20 minutes and started breathing deeply, focusing on the oxygen going in and out of my body. I meditated on these words:

 (Breathe in) Be Still and Know that I am God

(Breathe out) Be Still and Know

(Breathe in) Be Still

(Breathe out) Be

(Start over)

For the first 5-10 minutes, my thoughts flew to a million places. The conversation my wife and I had yesterday. The stuff on my to-do list. The homework that was literally piling up as I sat being “unproductive.” Boredom. Anxiety. Fear. Self-doubt. Pride.

And then, out of nowhere, I felt God’s presence. I refocused on the words I was meditating on.

Be Still and Know that I am God

Be Still and Know

Be Still

Be

It was so different from what I had experienced before. I had received words for people that proved accurate, spoken in tongues in joy and mourning, and been brought to tears in loud worship rooms, but never had I felt so in tune with the Holy Spirit than in that moment.

Some of you will read that as a critique of the charismatic or supernatural gifts and either be disappointed or satisfied. It’s not that. Some stopped reading the moment I started talking about contemplative prayer because you think it’s mystical nonsense. That’s fine.

What I’m learning is that we need the charismatic and the prophetic in its robust pneumatology that brings heaven to earth in profound and mysterious ways as the Holy Spirit moves. We need to look for the Spirit’s very real guidance in our lives and be expectant so that we may fill the world with praise for His glory.

However, at times we also need to stop, sit down, and acknowledge the Spirit’s smaller, more intimate voice. We need to give ourselves permission to stop moving and producing and know that He accepts us without all of that. We can quit filling our minds with movies and TV shows and music and noise and take a moment to hear that He loves us in the loud and in the quiet.

Glory to God. Amen.

 

 

 

Jordan McCain, New City Stories Contributor

The Importance of “Why?”

Everyone experiences loss in their life–loss of a loved one, a job, an important possession, or even simply the way life was before a major event. Really, loss is any transition that disorients us, causing us to work towards reorientation and form a “new normal.” This is why grieving is often so difficult–we will never get back to the way things were before, no matter how hard we try.

Why do these painful losses have to happen?  Everyone can agree that our fallenness makes us feel alone and absent from God. When confronted with a loss, we often feel further from His goodness, experiencing anger and indifference because we simply cannot understand how God’s goodness can overcome the present grief. Unlike God, we are inside of time, so we cannot comprehend the vastness of His plan or how any loss could be used for overall good.

The good news is that we do not need to understand. In fact, it is good to admit that brokenness exists and that we can’t understand it. Even in the psalms, the writers going through disorientation express frustration and anger with God—they don’t understand the losses they are going through, and they are questioning. Psalm 22:1 exemplifies this kind of anguished questioning:

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.”

David understands that trying to make sense of or justify any loss on our own will simply not hold ground. In fact, we often cause more harm than good by trying to be optimistic in the face of loss and explaining it away as “God doing everything for a reason.”  Instead, David is honest about his experience and honest about God’s relation to that experience, even if he is limited in his understanding.

Indeed, this idea of questioning God seems wrong to many of us, even though it is a very natural thing during times of grief. “Why me?” “Why did God let this happen?” Even Jesus on the cross, praying David’s words from the psalms, cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). In his deepest moment of grief and darkness, Jesus questioned the presence of his Father in his suffering.

However, what we often fail to realize in asking the question “why?” is that the questioning itself is putting God foremost, knowing that He is the only One with the answers. Sorrow itself needs God to validate it. Both complete confidence in God and asking God “why?” are equally Christian ways of handling loss. Both responses admit that God is in control of our lives even though we can’t necessarily understand His reasoning.

We ask “why?” because we do not understand or agree with evil, but we still know that God is in control and is able to redeem the brokenness of this world for His good purposes. This is why David, right after he questions God’s presence in Psalm 22:1-2, affirms God’s character in verses 3-5:

“Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.  To you they cried, and were saved…”

Jesus provides us with the ultimate example of simultaneously wrestling with and trusting God in suffering.  Despite his anguish on the cross under the weight of the world’s guilt, Jesus trusted in His good Father and His plan for him and for the world (Matthew 26:39).  God’s overarching plan of redemption and restoration has and will continue to come to fruition, and we must take that into account when we experience loss.  

Optimism is claiming that we know what God has in store for us and we can explain away each instance of loss. Hope, however, is admitting that we hate and question loss—we are angered by it, but we don’t give up our faith in Christ, the One who redeems suffering and overcomes evil. Loss may lead us to a confusion of identity, but if we look to Christ during times of loss and suffering we are reminded of our identity in Him.  This fact will lead us and help us be with others through the dark times of disorientation into reorientation.

 

Autumn Terry, New City Stories Contributor