"It all begins with the cross, because this is the place where God begins."
April 3, 2015
Joint Worship at Comox United Church
"The Torn Curtain"
Rev. Ryan Slifka
A few years ago, Lillian Daniel, an author and minister in the United Church of Christ in the USA, wrote a controversial article about problems she has with contemporary spirituality. She fears sitting next to people on airplanes, she says, because someone inevitably asks what she does for a living. That’s not the problem so much that when they find that out, someone will, inevitably, tell her how they don’t go to church. And that they don’t need to go to church to experience God. “Sunsets,” Daniel says, “they always see God in a sunset. Or long walks on the beach.” Or when their kids say the darndest things.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with seeing God in a sunset. Read the Psalms—the heavens declare the glory of God. But what Daniel is getting at, is that spirituality in modern North American society is more often than not focused exclusively on the nice, the beautiful, and the pleasant in human life. With book titles like the “Hidden Art of Happiness” and “Your Best Life Now,” you get the sense that the life of faith—any life of faith—is limited to how it might help us achieve happiness. Daniel notes that, so far, no one sitting next on a plane has told her that they see God in cancer.
Which brings us to today, Good Friday. Today we commemorate one of the least pleasant parts of the Christian story. The trial, suffering, and crucifixion of Jesus according to Mark’s story of Jesus. It seems counterintuitive. Counter-cultural by North American standards. Today, there are no sunsets. No long walks by the beach. And no displays of affection or kindness. Today we see the worst that human life has to offer. Jesus has been abandoned by those closest to him. Betrayed by a friend. Arrested and convicted on false charges. Persecuted by the state and failed by the legal system. He has been brutally tortured, mocked and shamed, spit on by a whole battalion of soldiers. And nailed to a cross. Left to hang, sneered at by passers-by. To make matters worse, God seems to be missing in action. “Let the Messiah come down from the cross now,” say the Pharisees and scribes “so that we may see and believe.” And another says, “let us wait to see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” All around expect that God will rescue this man from suffering if he is who he says he is. But there is no sign. If there is anything bereft of niceness, beauty, and pleasantness, this is it. No God to be seen.
Yet, Mark tells us, this is precisely where God is. Hidden. As Jesus breathes his last. The story says that the curtain of the temple in Jerusalem is suddenly torn in two. That the divine presence, that normally lies hidden is finally exposed for all the world to see. And when a soldier who stands facing him sees his last breathe, he declares “Truly, this man was God’s Son!” His declaration is the first time in the whole story that anyone actually says this about Jesus. This is the first time that the truth actually comes out of anyone’s mouth. The definitive revelation in the whole story is found not in Jesus’ ministry. Or even in triumph at the resurrection. It’s found in the cross. In the midst of such ugliness, abandonment, terror, and death. God is found hidden in the cross. And God is closer than ever.
And this is, perhaps, the good that comes out of Friday. That in the cross, we discover that God is not just present in the good in our lives, but powerfully present in the worst that the world has to offer. Truth be told, anyone can see God in a sunset. But it takes something incredible to see God in the midst of cancer. It takes something incredible to see God in the midst of family breakdown and personal bankruptcy. It takes something incredible to see God in the midst of a world that seems overcome with war, environmental destruction and greed. To see God’s power and presence in the midst of the broken and hurt places in our lives and our world. Yet, to walk the Way of Jesus Christ is not to escape the troubles of our lives, our neighbors and our world. But it enables us to love more deeply. To be able to face them head on, and with courage, knowing that the love and power of God is and will always be greater than anything we might ever face.
Friends. Brothers and sisters. Today we see the curtain torn, and from behind it pours out a love so deep, powerful, and unbreakable that will never abandon us, or our world in its suffering and pain. This is why we call this Friday “Good,” though it appears to be anything but. This is the gift of Good Friday, the gift of the gospel. And the gift that Christ has brought to us, so we might bring it to the world:
See from his heads, his hands, his feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
or thorns compose so rich a crown?
 This illustration is gathered from two places—one from the United Church of Christ’s daily devotional called “Spiritual but Not Religious? Please Stop Boring Me,” and the other from her Christian Century article “You Can’t Make this Stuff Up,” both from 2011.
 John Newton, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.”