On Good Friday, Jesus cries out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps 22:1). When you hear those words, what do you think of?
In this article we follow the wise counsel of Lewis by giving ear to the past. We encircle the cross with a few of the church fathers. Stand between Justin Martyr and Cyril of Jerusalem. Listen for a few moments to Augustine and Irenaeus and Gregory.
Whether your native tongue is English, Icelandic, or Arabic, during Holy Week you'll share a handful of words in common with believers around the world. They are Hebrew words. By them the Spirit tells us what the Son of the Father has done—and still does—for us. Together they encapsulate what Holy Week is all about.
On this day all is good again. On the sixth day, a Friday, the God who made the first Adam, recreated us all in the second Adam.
If you like the wide open spaces of Nebraska, you probably don’t like the situations in which God often places you. For he hems you in on every side, presses you between a rock and a hard place, so that there seems no way out.
Two naked sinners, one a woman, one a man, retreat from the garden with breath that reeks of forbidden fruit. See them there, once perfect now flawed, leaving behind what would have been, to face what now is. The woman will scream in her birthing; the man will sweat in his toil; and together they will bury their second-born son, murdered by his brother’s hand. Welcome, O weeping sinner, to a post-perfection world. But see the hands of God, the left calloused with law, the right soft as grace, reaching out as a Father to clothe His naked fleeing children. He wraps their defiled bodies with animal skins. The beasts Adam once named are now named by God as sacrifices. For every sin there is a price, and blood is the only currency acceptable. From creator to priest, our God now moves, from forming animals to slaying them, all so that His Adam and His Eve might remain truly His. Gone are the fig leaves; present are the hides. The skins conceal the source of their shame and mark them as God’s own, bought at a price.
And so it goes in this world, with every woman, every man, every one of you, born naked in a world that has long forgotten Eden. There is only one way back, only one way back to perfection, to paradise, to God. It is a way that is marked by bone and blood, skin and flesh, spear and nail, thorn and wood.
Paradise is regained by the birth of an infant priest who is destined for the slaughter. His temple is His body, His vestments are His flesh, and the blood He will sacrifice is coursing through His veins. He knows the way back to Eden, for His are the hands that clothed the two naked sinners. And now He has come, naked from His mother’s womb to clothe her and you and all His fallen children with a robe worthy of royalty.
“It is finished,” He cries from the holy of holies, His priestly voice ringing through earth and heaven. “It is finished indeed,” His Church replies. The temple not made with hands has been entered; the mercy seat has been sprinkled; and heaven is painted red with the blood of God.
And yet He stands, upright, victorious, within the holy of holies. He stands alive forevermore, the veil rent in twain lying beneath His feet. He stands in the new and better Eden, the most holy garden, where the tree of life now grows. He stands ready to clothe you, His naked children, with His own flesh and blood, pouring His robes upon you with water from the font, dressing you with His own body as He places it on your tongue.
So eat and be clothed, all you Adams, and drink and be dressed, all you Eves. The price has been paid, Eden has been re-opened, and heaven’s angels are waiting to greet you at the gates of paradise.
Imagine a church where members are nicknamed for the most well-known sin they’ve ever committed.
Sitting on the next-to-last pew is Bob the Drunk. He’s now in his late seventies, and he's been sober for the last three decades, but up into his forties he was still hitting the bottle pretty hard. And everyone knew it.
A few pews up from him, surrounded by her doting husband and three children, is Backseat Betty. You see, her oldest child was conceived out of wedlock, when Betty was in her senior year of high school. It was the talk of the town back in the day.
The man in the starched white shirt and blue jeans is Mike the Thief. He served a prison term for holding up a convenience store. Although it was in a different town, and even a different state, the story had a way of catching up with Mike. So when he joined the congregation, the nickname was soon forthcoming.
Bob the Drunk, Backseat Betty, Mike the Thief, and other nicknamed sinners gather every Sunday with other sinners who are not nicknamed. They’re just Margaret, Paul, Cindy, John. It’s not that these others have not sinned; it’s just that their sins haven’t been big enough, or public enough, or scandalous enough to earn a nickname.
The preacher proclaims from the pulpit, to everyone assembled, that in the death and resurrection of Jesus, all their sins are forgiven. But in this particular church, all sins are forgiven, but some sins are more forgiven than others.
Every year, in the springtime, Christians around the world gather in their respective communities to celebrate Good Friday. It is the day Jesus was crucified to atone for the sins of the world. It is the day that he dies for Bob the Drunk, Backseat Betty, Mike the Thief. On Good Friday, they become Bob, Betty, and Mike.
Anyone who dares to attach a nickname to them seeks to uncrucify Jesus.
All sins are forgiven, and none are forgiven more, or less, than others.