Good Friday: suffering and/or sin?

Stupidly, I answered my phone just as I was heading out the door to the Maundy Thursday service and Vigil last night.  Bad news.  

I’d been wondering how I was going to fill  5 hours of silence (2 1/2 up till midnight then back for another 2 1/2 before morning prayer).  It turned out to be no problem at all; though crying in silence is a contemplative discipline I’ve not yet mastered!

And so it came to pass that in the early hours of this morning I was contemplating the distinction between sin and suffering, and wondering what proportion of which, Jesus is dealing with on the Cross this Good Day.

The cathartic power of Good Friday is surely indisputable.  Over the past 24 hours I have sat in silence with embodied stories that remain unknown to me, yet I am certain are full of hurts and disappointment: that is just what life is like, no-one escapes without scars.

As I slowly managed to redirect my prayer from my own pain to Jesus’ pain, I reread the gospel passages where he predicted his passion.   The language of sin is not there.  The Messiah was expected to usher in God’s judgement certainly, but a large part of this was justice: vindication for those wronged and suffering.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think ‘Good News for the poor’ outweighs ‘Severe Warnings for the sinner’ in Jesus’ earthly teaching.  Or is it just that I am so indoctrinated I no longer read myself in the part of the religious authorities and other powers-that-be whom Jesus condemns?

Having re-read the gospels, I went on to Paul’s Letter to the Romans, where the work of Jesus is explicitly tied to the dealing of sin, in order to bring people to righteousness. Indeed, this is something the cross achieves that the Law never could and reads much more individualistically, although that is perhaps an overly Western bias unintended by the original text.

Sin and/or Suffering: in what consciousness do I approach the cross?

I am a righteous woman burdened by the choices of another to my great grief and dismay.  Yet I am also a flawed woman who even in my determined holiness has impure thoughts and arrogance before my Maker.  I am irrevocably and irredeemably both, but is there a logical priority as I lay my prayers before God?

If I have understood him correctly, in his book titled Knowing Jesus, James Alison argues that the cross draws out our identification with Jesus as fellow victims, but it is the resurrection that startles us into the realisation that we would also have been numbered amongst the perpetrators of the violence against the Son of God.  Certainly, this has been the pattern of my own inward journey over the past few Easters.  I agree that it is the Resurrected Jesus who disturbs our psyche into true knowledge of God, rather than a frenetic arousal of guilt seduced by a sadistic emphasis on the cross as Jesus’ punishment for each individual sinner.

As I have struggled with injustices done against me, in the normal course of human living, I have come to believe that there is no forgiveness without justice.  That poses a significant problem because in most injustices such restoration is not present or even possible.  Hence, the only way forward I have found for myself, is to ‘borrow’ the justice of the cross.  Jesus ‘pays the penalty for sin’ – not my sin, but the sin of (s)he who hurt me!  In that moment when I am fully seen, I am restored.  And having been restored, I am free to turn towards my self and acknowledge my own transgressions.

Perhaps I am only describing my personal experience here, certainly I have not done the thorough theological work required to convince myself of my own thesis beyond dispute; but even if this is personal insight, it has guided me through Good Friday.  I needed the long hours of the night this day to wade through the rivers of tears and exhaust the self-absorbed rage of my woundedness.  Then, tended and strengthened by the angels, as Jesus in the garden of gesthemene, I am capable of fulfilling what is required of me.  But what is required of me by God is the full disclosure and repentance of my own manipulation and vindictiveness.

I acknowledge myself as sinner at the foot of the cross, but I find that I am only capable to do so, because Jesus has first acknowledged me as sufferer.  And into Your Hands Lord, I am happy to commit my Spirit.

One thought on “Good Friday: suffering and/or sin?

  1. Thanks Chelle, these are lovely vulnerable words you write. If only theology were regularly worked through in this way. Thank you. I look forward to chatting more on some theological buttons you’ve pushed next time I bump into you at Solace. 🙂

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