Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from an Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal

Good Friday Special

Volume 5 No. 276 April 2, 2015

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Cimabue after Disney by the Rev. Dr. Dennis McNally, SJ.
"Cimabue after Disney" by the Rev. Dr. Dennis McNally, SJ.

See the discussion of this painting in the article, Good Friday, A Reflection by Fr. Rick Morley.

TABLE OF CONTENTS
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1. Foreword

The beauty of Syriac Orthodox Liturgy is that it is "experiential" - we experience the events as if we are there that day watching what Jesus was going through. This gives us a better appreciation of what Jesus went through than reading several books. It is often said that a picture is worth 1000 words; but an experience like what we have in church on Good Friday and during our Holy Qurbana, the Living Sacrifice, is worth a million words in my opinion. That is what is special about the Syriac Orthodox Liturgy. ...

Good Friday in Church

2. Bible Readings for Good Friday (April 3)

3. Sermons for Good Friday (April 3)

Sermons for Good Friday

http://www.Malankaraworld.com/Library/Sermons/Sermon-for-Passion-week_Good-Friday.htm

4. Malankara World Passion Week Supplement

Malankara World has a supplement that provides detailed information about Passion Week including articles, prayers, sermons, etc. You will find it here:

Passion Week Supplement in Malankara World
http://www.MalankaraWorld.com/Library/Lent/Passion/Default.htm

Malankara World has developed a daily plan of bible readings, meditations, reflections, and prayers for Passion Week. You will find it here:

Today in Passion Week
http://www.MalankaraWorld.com/Library/Lent/Passion/Passion_Today_archives.htm

Features

5. Mary at The Foot of The Cross

There may be times when we are tempted to think Jesus does not care for us. Satan whispers that God is not interested in our sorrows or difficulties. This is not true. Even on the cross, Jesus was still saving lives and thinking of others. ...

6. Good Friday, A Reflection

When Jesus uttered those great words "It is finished," it wasn't he that was finished. It was the curse of Eden's backdoor that was finished.

Thus, Good Friday IS good. It is a triumph. For death is defeated, and we can choose Life. And Eden's front door. ...

7. Appointment with Destiny: Betrayal in a Quiet Garden

Matthew's account of what transpires in Gethsemane and before the Sanhedrin shows that, in an odd inversion, the "victim" dominates all that takes place. Jesus - not Judas, not the mob and not the high priest - acts like the one truly in control. "Are you then the Son of God?" the chief priests demand. Jesus finally answers, simply, "You say that I am" (Luke 22:70). ...

8. Good Friday: The Victory of the Cross

Good Friday was the D-Day of the human race. Since Pentecost, the power of Christ's obedient, humble, unstoppable love has been made available to all who are willing to share it, producing martyrs and saints in every generation, down to the Maximilian Kolbe's and Mother Teresa's of our own era.

So the cross is not only victorious, it is fruitful. It bore the fruit of salvation in the loving act of Christ but has kept bearing new fruit throughout the ages. ...

9. Good Friday - Arrest and Crucifixion of Jesus

Jesus of Nazareth shows us, in His life and in His death, that the meaning of existence is not the struggle to survive at all costs, but sacrifice. That is how life comes to its fullness - not in living for oneself and for one's own interests, but in sacrifice; not by hanging on, but by letting go - laying aside the choices and preferences which one's own will makes and clings to, no matter how costly that may be.

Sacrifice, not survival. That is the deepest law of life, for it rises out of the heart of GOD Himself, and is focused for us on the screen of history in the life and death of the obscure Carpenter of Nazareth, who 'having loved His own who were in the world, loved them to the end' - 'to the end', for that is love's will, that is love's way...

10. Poem: High On A Hill

11. Christ Forsaken by God: For Good Friday Meditation

Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ had a body susceptible to suffering, and a soul susceptible to suffering, just as we have; and just as He wished to take upon Himself and experience all pains of the body, so also all distress of the soul. Even on Mount Olivet, at the beginning of His Passion, we hear Him moan: "My soul is sorrowful even unto death" (Matt. 26:38). The climax of His suffering, however, is reached on the Cross.

There all that can embitter, sadden, depress, and crush the soul rushes in upon Him: disgraceful indignity, extreme helplessness, profound compassion with His Mother consuming herself in pain; sadness induced by the cowardice and faithlessness of His disciples; sorrow caused by Judas, the son of perdition; sadness because of all those whom His love cannot reach, His blood cannot save. But one torment is so frightful that even He, the great Silent Sufferer, cannot bear it in silence, that He must shout it complainingly for all the world to hear. His countenance furrowed by grief, His lips quivering, His burning eyes raised in horror to Heaven, He cries: "God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" ...

12. Some Very Eerie and Prophetic Words Spoken by Jesus on the Way to The Cross

There is an important "logion" (utterance) of Jesus on his way to the cross that speaks powerfully to this modern age of ours, and is fulfilled in a gruesome manner in our times.

It is the word of Jesus to the women who lamented him as he made his way to Crucifixion. ...

13. Who's to Blame for the Death of Jesus Christ?

People have for centuries argued about who was to blame for killing Jesus. Sadly, some have even used the issue to justify anti-Semitism, blaming the entire Jewish race for the death of Jesus Christ.

But ultimately Jesus was not a victim of either Rome or the Jewish leaders. The apostle Peter says in Acts 2:23 that Jesus was "delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God." The Jewish leaders and the Roman official who carried out His crucifixion undeniably bear guilt for the sin of what they did, but God Himself had foreordained how and when Jesus would die. ...

14. About Malankara World

Foreword
These are the holiest days of the year for our church. On Good Friday, we spend the whole day in church meditating and contemplating on what our Savior went through on Friday of His Passion. Syriac Orthodox Liturgy beautifully goes through the passion hour by hour: From the Agony at Gethsemane, to Questioning at Temple Square, Questioning by Pilate, Questioning by Herod, Judgement by Pilate, Beating and scourging of Jesus, Carrying the Cross to Calvary by Jesus accompanied by weeping women, Crucifixion, the agony on the cross and suffering humiliation at the hands of people around the cross, Conversation among the thieves who were crucified beside Jesus, Jesus' conversation with the thief on the right and promise of paradise, conversation with Mary and John and entrusting the care of His mother to John, Death of Jesus, Taking the body down from the cross and taking it for burial, and the Burial of Jesus.

The most moving scenes are the two processions in my opinion. The first one recalls the Journey of Jesus to Calvary carrying the cross and Jesus falling several times on the way from the weight of the cross. And how can we forget the weeping of St. Mary? Let us take a look at the commentary from the Syriac Orthodox Liturgy during the procession:

As Jesus was coming out from the city, carrying His cross on His shoulder, the Hebrew women were gathered weeping over Him bitterly. His Mother was standing afar, with all her friends and acquaintances.

With a trembling voice, like a dove, His mother began to moan with grief and sorrow:

My Son, my beloved One, where are You going?
Where are they taking you away?
Why did You give up Yourself in the hands of the ungrateful, lawless and wicked people?
Woe is me, my Son.
Woe is me, my beloved One.
What happened to You, today?

Blessed be Your Passion for us and Your humility on our account.

There will not be anyone in the church on Good Friday walking in the procession without moist eyes. The liturgy summarizes the horrible events of the day:

How mournful was the time when Christ went out from Jerusalem, led by the insolent to be crucified in reward for healing their afflictions and sicknesses.

How grievous and bitter was Mary's voice, when she said to her only begotten:

Whither my beloved One?
Where are they leading and taking You.

How sweet was the voice of the Son of God as he was saying to His Mother: I am going, Mother, to be crucified for the sake of the world and to return Adam to his inheritance.

How grievous was that hour when they lifted Him up on top of the Cross to be crucified while the Jews were mockingly crying out: Save Yourself and we will believe in You.

We have an opportunity to redeem ourselves during the "sleeba vandanam" or adoration of the cross:

We bow before the Cross by which we received
salvation for our souls and with the thief we cry out:
Remember us, O Christ, when You come.

The second procession recalls Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus taking the body of Jesus down from the cross and taking it to a newly carved cave for burial.

Although we would normally expect that this is the time we all should cry as the dead body is being taken for burial, the mystery of the Syriac Orthodox Liturgy celebrates this event by giving a full ceremonial funeral service. We celebrate because, Jesus has completed his mission of redemption He came into this world for. He will be rising on the third day as He predicted, winning over the death. Satan is defeated.

We pray:

May Your Cross, O Lord, be unto Your Church an armor of salvation and an impregnable arm by which to pierce the mystical powers who fight against her. When she comes out victorious in the fight, then her shepherds and doctors may rejoice in the power of Your Holy Spirit, her priests and deacons may minister in purity, the kings and their armies may lead a life of peace and tranquility and all the faithful may enjoy abundant blessings. To You we offer glory, honor and dominion, with Your Father and Your Holy Spirit, now and forever.

The experience ends with us drinking the sour drink (chorukka) as Jesus did that day.

God's plan for redemption of mankind is complete. We have to wait till Easter Sunday to learn the continuation of the story when Jesus wins over death. Light replaces darkness.

What a day! What a Liturgy!

The beauty of Syriac Orthodox Liturgy is that it is "experiential" - we experience the events as if we are there that day watching what Jesus was going through. This gives us a better appreciation of what Jesus went through than reading several books. It is often said that a picture is worth 1000 words; but an experience like what we have in church on Good Friday and during our Holy Qurbana, the Living Sacrifice, is worth a million words in my opinion. That is what is special about the Syriac Orthodox Liturgy.

As we ponder over all God did to redeem us, a logical question that comes to our mind is, was all these really necessary? Did Jesus had to die to save us? Surely God could have done it without having His only begotten son to be sacrificed. These are delving into the mystery of God, which we are not capable of doing and sometimes dangerous too. I found a possible discussion of that question from the Meditations of St. Francis de Sales. Let us take a look:

But could God not have provided the world with a remedy other than that of His Son's death? Certainly, He could have done so, and by a thousand other means. Could He not have pardoned human nature with absolute power and pure mercy, not invoking justice or the intervention of any creature? Doubtless He could, and who would have dared to question or criticize Him? No one, for He is Sovereign Master and can do all He wills. Besides, if He had wanted some creature to undertake our redemption, could He not have created one of such excellence and dignity that, by its deeds or sufferings, it could have satisfied for all our sins?

Assuredly, and He could have redeemed us in a thousand other ways than that of His Son's death. But He did not will to do so, for what may have been sufficient for our salvation was not sufficient for His love; and to show us how much He loved us, this divine Son died the cruelest and most ignominious of deaths, that of the Cross.

The implication in all this is clear: since He died of love for us, we also should die of love for Him; or, if we cannot die of love, at least we should live for Him alone. [2 Cor:5:14-15]. If we do not love Him and live for Him, we shall be the most disloyal, unfaithful and wretched creatures imaginable. Such disloyalty is what the great St. Augustine complained about. "O Lord," he said, "is it possible for man to know that You died for him and for him not to live for You?" And that great lover, St. Francis, sobbed, "Ah! You have died of love and no one loves You!"

He died, then. But although He died for us and was lifted up on the Cross, those who refuse to look upon Him will surely die, for there is no other redemption but in this Cross. O God, how spiritually beneficial and profitable is a consideration of Your Cross and Passion! Can we contemplate our Savior's humility on the Cross without becoming humble and having some affection for humiliations? Can we see His obedience without being obedient? Certainly not! No one has ever looked upon Our Lord crucified and remained dead or sick. On the other hand, all who have died have done so because they were unwilling to gaze upon Him, just as the Israelites died who were unwilling to gaze upon the serpent that Moses had raised upon the pole.
(Source: Lenten Sermons by Saint Francis de Sales)

Think about that great sacrifice by our savior as you relive what Jesus suffered on Good Friday for us.

Dr. Jacob Mathew
Malankara World

Good Friday in Church
Bible Readings for Good Friday (April 3)

Sermons for Good Friday (April 3)

Malankara World Passion Week Supplement

Malankara World has a supplement that provides detailed information about Passion Week including articles, prayers, sermons, etc. You will find it here:

Passion Week Supplement in Malankara World

Malankara World has developed a daily plan of bible readings, meditations, reflections, and prayers for Passion Week. Please click on the link below for the day to read the reflection for that day.

Maundy Thursday

Good Friday

Gospel Saturday

Easter

Malankara World Journal Specials on Good Friday:

MW Journal Issue 212 - Good Friday Special (April 2014)

MW Journal Issue 134 - Passion Week Special 4 - Good Friday and Holy Saturday (2013)

MW Journal Issue 69 - Holy Week Special - 3 (Good Friday - Holy Saturday) (2012)

Features

Mary at The Foot of The Cross

By Michael Youssef, Ph.D.

Imagine the anguish of Mary's heart as she looked up into the face of her dying Son. Jesus had been beaten so seriously that He was probably unrecognizable. Yet, Mary would have known Him anywhere. She was His mother.

She could close her eyes and remember what it felt like to hold Him as a baby in her arms. No one has ever held the Son of God this way. She was there when He took his first steps, and she was with Him when He took His last breath.

A strong bond remained between them, and also an understanding that He must do exactly what His Father had called Him to do. She never thought His life would lead to this moment. Simeon had warned her, "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many ... And a sword will pierce your own soul too" (Luke 2:34-35). But no one is ever prepared for the loss of a child.

On the evening of His arrest, Jesus was with His closest followers; His disciples. Throughout the night and into the next day, John followed the Savior from mock trial to mock trial. Then Mary joined John at the cross.

There may be times when we are tempted to think Jesus does not care for us. Satan whispers that God is not interested in our sorrows or difficulties. This is not true. Even on the cross, Jesus was still saving lives and thinking of others: "Dear woman, here is your son," and to [John] "Here is your mother" (John 19:26-27). In other words, "John, My mother is now your mother; take care of her for Me."

Prayer:

Lord, forgive me for doubting You and Your care for me. I know that no matter what I am facing You are beside me, giving me the strength and wisdom I need. I also want to thank you for the people you have placed in my life to care for me. I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.

"Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you." (1 Peter 5:7)

Source: My Devotional. © 2013 Leading The Way  

Good Friday, A Reflection

by Fr. Rick Morley

I have this wonderful painting hanging in my office, "Cimabue after Disney" by the Rev. Dr. Dennis McNally, SJ. [See the cover image of this issue of MWJ for a section of the painting.] Jesus is muscled, teary-eyed, and dead. Blood trickles down his hands and feet.

He's also naked, and exposed just enough that that's the one thing people notice when they see it for the first time.

Subtly, at the bottom of the painting is a less-known feature. A mouse, with a dark halo, lapping up some of the blood of Our Lord, and in the not far away from a trap with the door open. It's an allusion to St. Augustine's statement: "The Lord's cross was the devil's mousetrap: the bait which caught him was the death of the Lord."

Ever since we left by Eden's backdoor we have been stalked by death. Its grip and stench hangs on us like humidity on an August evening. We mourn and weep for those who are taken from us. We avoid it for ourselves at almost any cost. We've even developed machines that can keep our heart beating and our lungs breathing long after our brains cease functioning.

But, while sometimes we may delay its onset, we can never avoid it.

Death and the forces of Evil even took God Incarnate. The ultimate insult to God. Not even He could protect His Son from the ambitions of evil men, and the inevitability of death.

And yet…

The trap was set. And it was sprung.

For with that death, death was defeated. The rat took the bait, and the gig was up.

In the early days of my ministry I regarded Good Friday as a somber day, where we were to remember the grisly horror of Jesus' death. I thought we were to leave church that day with the same hopelessness and despair as the disciples and other followers of Jesus did on the first Good Friday.

However, the disciples may have felt hopelessness, but without hope they were not. It was the Rat who was hopeless. It was evil that was hopeless.

When Jesus uttered those great words "It is finished," it wasn't he that was finished. It was the curse of Eden's backdoor that was finished.

Thus, Good Friday IS good. It is a triumph. For death is defeated, and we can choose Life.

And Eden's front door.

Appointment with Destiny: Betrayal in a Quiet Garden
Gospel: Matthew 26

Matthew 26:39 "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will."

In a stroke of bitter irony, the intimate scene of the Last Supper butts up against the brutal scene of betrayal in Gethsemane. The ordeal begins with Jesus praying in a quiet, cool grove of olive trees, with three of his disciples waiting sleepily outside. Inside the garden, all is peaceful; outside, the forces of hell are on the loose.

An armed mob makes its way toward the garden to seize and torture Jesus. He feels afraid and abandoned. Lying facedown on the ground, he prays for some way out. The future of the human race - more, the universe - comes down to this one weeping figure whose "sweat [is] like drops of blood falling to the ground" (Luke 22:44).

Blustery Peter is prepared to fight evil in the traditional way - by force. When he hacks off a guard's ear, however, Jesus stops the violence and performs, notably, his final miracle: He heals the guard (see Luke 22:50–51).

No Rescue Plan

Although Jesus has the power to defend himself - he could dispatch squadrons of angels to fight his battles - he will not use it. When the disciples realize that they can expect no last-minute rescue operations from the invisible world, they all flee. Fear extinguishes their last flicker of hope. If Jesus will not protect himself, how will he protect them?

Matthew's account of what transpires in Gethsemane and before the Sanhedrin shows that, in an odd inversion, the "victim" dominates all that takes place. Jesus - not Judas, not the mob and not the high priest - acts like the one truly in control. "Are you then the Son of God?" the chief priests demand. Jesus finally answers, simply, "You say that I am" (Luke 22:70).

That single admission condemns Jesus to death, for the members of the Sanhedrin have a different expectation of the Messiah. They want a conqueror to set them free by force. Jesus knows that only one thing - his death - will truly set them free. For that reason he has come to Earth.

Life Questions

How would you respond if your life were threatened because you were a follower of Christ?

Good Friday: The Victory of the Cross

by: Marcellino D'Ambrosio, PhD

Terrorism is nothing new. It's probably as old as the human race.

In fact, the cradle of civilization, now Iraq, was the home of the most infamous terrorists of antiquity, the Assyrians. Their goal was to conquer their neighbors in a way that would minimize initial resistance and subsequent rebellion. To do this, they knew fear would be their greatest weapon. Simple threat of death for those who resisted was not enough because many would prefer death to slavery. So the Assyrians developed the technology to produce the maximum amount of pain for the longest amount of time prior to death. It was called crucifixion. This ingenious procedure proved to be very effective terror tactic indeed.

It was the policy of the Roman Empire to adopt from conquered peoples whatever appeared useful. They found crucifixion an excellent tool of intimidation. The humiliation of being stripped naked to die in a public spectacle was particularly loathsome to Jews for whom public nudity was an abomination. Incidentally, crucifixion was deemed so horrible that Roman law forbade that it be carried out on a Roman citizen, even a traitor. It was reserved only for slaves and conquered peoples.

Non-Christians have often asked a very good question - why do Christians adorn their churches, homes, and necks with a symbol of abasement, terror, and torture? Why build an entire religion around the cross?

St. Anselm (12th century) explained it this way. Our first parent's sin was all about pride, disobedience, and self-love. Deceived by the serpent, Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit in defiance of God because they wanted to exalt themselves as His equal. The results were catastrophic - loss of communion with God, each other, and the created universe. The history of the human race has been a story in which each one of us, weakened by the impact of this sin on our nature, have followed its pattern, proudly refusing to obey God and love our neighbor.

Anselm pointed out sin constitutes an infinite offense against the goodness and honor of God. Having been created free and responsible, bound by the law of justice, our race is obliged to offer acts of love, humility and obedience to God powerful enough to cancel out the long legacy of disobedience, pride, and unlove and restore our friendship with him.

The problem is, our wounded race could not begin to attempt such a task. So the Father sent His Eternal Word to become man and accomplish the task in our place, to substitute for us. For the immortal, infinite God to empty himself and unite himself to a limited, vulnerable human nature was already a feat of unimaginable love and humility. But for redemption to be complete, the hero would have to withstand the greatest fury that hell and fallen humanity could hurl against him - the cross.

Surely, after the crowds he had healed and fed cried "Crucify him!" and his own apostles fled, Jesus would realize it wasn't worth it. Surely he would curse the ingrates and use his divine power to free himself as many suggested in their taunts. But no. His was love to the end, love to the max (John 13:1). His death was the clear and undeniable manifestation of the triumph of obedience over disobedience, love over selfishness, humility over pride.

Good Friday was the D-Day of the human race. Since Pentecost, the power of Christ's obedient, humble, unstoppable love has been made available to all who are willing to share it, producing martyrs and saints in every generation, down to the Maximilian Kolbe's and Mother Teresa's of our own era.

So the cross is not only victorious, it is fruitful. It bore the fruit of salvation in the loving act of Christ but has kept bearing new fruit throughout the ages. That's why, if you go to the Church of San Clemente in Rome, you'll see one of the most stunning mosaics in the Eternal City. The ancient instrument of subjection and death, wrapped with verdant vines supporting fruit of every shape and size, the triumphant cross become the tree of life.

Source: Crossroads Initiative, A Ministry of Marcellino D'Ambrosio, PhD

Good Friday - Arrest and Crucifixion of Jesus

by Fr Eric Simmons

The Arrest

'Friend, why are you here?'

The question startles us, disconcerts us: not only by its directness, but also because of the context - the place and the circumstances - in which it is asked.

This is Gethsemane (Matthew's account). Jesus is the speaker, and the person He is addressing is Judas Iscariot.

And it is the question which confronts us at the beginning of the Passion. Why are you here? What have you come for? What are you expecting?

And in Jesus' response to what the hour has brought upon Him, and in the way in which He goes forward to meet it, we see something of the meaning of faith.

Many people - perhaps including ourselves - have a fantasy about faith. They think that having faith means knowing all the answers to the problems and difficulties of life; that having faith means being protected and safeguarded from the perplexities and heartbreak of our human condition. 'I wish I had your faith'.

Now there seems to be in all of us an instinctive groping after making sense of our existence and of our world. We long to be able to understand its contradictions and confusions, to see it redeemed of its evils and made whole. We want to make sense of it. We look for some kind of assurance that our small destinies are in GOD's hands, and that the world and its tumultuous events are somehow held within his purposes, and that those purposes are purposes of love, and are for our good.

So we look for clues which will confirm our hopes, only to find that the trail peters out. We pick up threads which look promising, only to find that they lead nowhere. We try to make fresh beginnings in our understanding of GOD, only to find that they are false starts. We grope for a sense of meaning in our lives, we try to discern some sense of purpose running through the story, but we can never be certain that we are on the right track, or that we are not fooling ourselves.

But that is precisely what the life of faith is all about. Faith is not certainty; it is not a matter of knowing all the answers. Faith is much humbler, much more tentative, much more vulnerable, than that.

And in what are we to have faith? A political program? A party manifesto? A theological system? An ecclesiastical structure? But GOD does not seem to have given us anything like that. He has not given us something; rather he has given us Some One - not a thing but a Person; and it is to that Person that we are to give the assent of faith: our trust.

But Jesus does not cow or compel our response. He does not overwhelm us by dazzling proofs or cogent arguments. Whatever it is He wants from us, He wants us to give it freely. So He waits for our response; He will not force it out of us against our will.

And that is why He is content to keep to the shadows and half-lights. That is why He evades all our attempts to get Him into a clear focus, or to pin Him down. He does not answer our questions: He does not tell us who He is, or what He is doing. He remains silent. But in fact it is as we listen to that silence, and try to receive it into our hearts, that faith comes to its full realization in us - in the simple response, the single word ''Yes''. ''Yes'' - ''Yes'' to GOD: that is the word of faith. There is much that I do not know. There is much that I do not understand. There is much that puzzles and confuses and hurts - but ''Yes'' - ''Yes'' to the GOD who in Christ has said ''Yes'' to us.

For in Christ GOD has turned towards us decisively and unconditionally. In Christ GOD has acknowledged us, affirmed us, and come to us; He has shown that He wants to be with us: not over us, but with us, 'bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh', sharing our existence, our condition, made one with us, that we might come to the fullness of life which He intends for us.

That fullness of life is the meaning of GOD's ''Yes'' to us given in the life and destiny of Jesus of Nazareth. And faith is our response, our ''Yes'' to that - and it turns out to be not at all what we had expected. For GOD's ''Yes'' to us 'made flesh' - not in a national hero; not a political leader; not a philosopher; but in an obscure Galilean Carpenter - radically calls into question all that we assume to be the meaning and purpose of our human existence.

We instinctively assume that what matters more than anything else is that we should survive - survive at all costs - and consciously or unconsciously we bend all our energies towards that. And not just physical survival - all our strategies and techniques for getting our own way, all our tricks and tactics for self-promotion and self-advancement and self-fulfillment, are all fuelled and energized by our drive for survival.

But Jesus of Nazareth shows us something else. He shows us in His life and in His death that the meaning of existence is not the struggle to survive at all costs, but sacrifice. That is how life comes to its fullness - not in living for oneself and for one's own interests, but in sacrifice; not by hanging on, but by letting go - laying aside the choices and preferences which one's own will makes and clings to, no matter how costly that may be.

Sacrifice, not survival. That is the deepest law of life, for it rises out of the heart of GOD Himself, and is focused for us on the screen of history in the life and death of the obscure Carpenter of Nazareth, who 'having loved His own who were in the world, loved them to the end' - 'to the end', for that is love's will, that is love's way.

To say ''Yes'' to that is to surrender ourselves, to yield ourselves, to His kind of loving, His way of loving. Faith is our baptism into His sacrifice, His death and resurrection. That is what He invites us to when He calls us His 'friends'; 'servants' no longer 'but friends [...] for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you'.

And such faith is not achieved once and for all in a single moment. The ''Yes'' of faith must be renewed each day, probably in ever more costly and demanding ways. For love, real love, sacrificial love - love that seeks nothing for itself - is without limit, without safeguard, without condition.

Jesus said, 'whoever would save his life will lose it': the struggle to survive at all costs is self-defeating. But 'whoever loses his life for my sake, and the gospels, will save it'. That was the message of His life, fulfilled in the manner of His dying.

''Wouldst thou learn thy Lord's meaning in this thing? Learn it well. Love was all his meaning.''

And He invites us to make with Him the venture of faith; invites us to say ''Yes'' to the pattern of His life and death and make it our own; invites us to see all our uncertainties and bafflement and pain as the signs of His Passion in us. We in Him. He in us.

For in our experience of all the hurts and confusions and perplexities of life, the Christian differs from the unbeliever, not in having any reason to expect a miraculous intervention of celestial power which will take 'this cup' from us; but in the faith that, whether it passes from us or not, GOD Himself is with us, keeping company with us, sharing it with us, to the last bitter drop.

It is the response to circumstances and to what life brings us to be which is decisive. Jesus reveals the true response. He does not call for revenge. He does not rail against GOD or lay accusations against him. He does not give way to self-pity or despair. He says ''yes''. He trusts, and He loves. He goes through the fire, and He prevails.

The Crucifixion - (i)

The cross-beam is lifted from the Carpenter's shoulders, and He stands waiting for what is to be done with Him. They offer Him 'wine mingled with myrrh', but He refuses it, preferring rather to feel the fullness of His pain with unclouded senses. Around Him are the soldiers, bustling about as they prepare for the job in hand. Then there are the priests, and busy mockers, and an assortment of idle sightseers and casual loungers, drawn by the prospect of a spectacle gruesome and entertaining. And further off a few women - among them His Mother.

They lay hands on Him and strip Him naked before everyone; naked as He created Himself; naked as He created us. Naked as the Man and Woman in the Garden when they sought to cover their shame. Naked as Abel slain, as Noah drunken; naked as David in his adultery. He carries the guilt and shame of it all - only His is the guilt without the pleasure, the shame without the guilt. 'Behold the Man', and see how in Him all the falsehoods, all the murders, all the adulteries, all the shameful pleasures, all the degradations and exploitations of Adam's seed are exposed. This is Everyman - abused, abandoned, humiliated, waiting for death.

He is stripped of His garments and stands there on display for all to see. He has nothing now which he can call His own. He has relinquished everything, surrendered everything, let go of everything: he clings to nothing. And this, remember, is the one who not so long ago told us not to fret over the body, how to keep it fed and clothed: that GOD who clothes the grasses of the field will do as much - and more - for us. See now the result of His childlike, improvident, trust. This is the man who told us that if anyone would take our coat from us we should let him have our shirt as well. See how the world has taken Him at His word, and He must go this last tortured mile of His life dispossessed and stripped, utterly defenseless and powerless in the hands of others.

The Gospel writers tell us that Jesus was not the only one to be executed that Friday morning: 'two others were led out to be executed with Him [...] two others [...] criminals'.

Such were His companions in death. But that is entirely consistent with the company He had so frequently chosen in life. He had made a point of seeking out men and women of dubious character and doubtful reputation, preferring to be known as the 'friend of publicans and sinners' rather than being with those 'who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others'.

He is to die - not only as a criminal; He is also to die a slave's death. Crucifixion was the punishment reserved under Roman law for slaves and other low-class criminals. But that was all He had ever claimed to be: He had said that He was in the world 'as one who serves' - a point which He underlined at the Last Supper when He had 'laid aside His garments and girded Himself with a towel' and had taken 'the lowest place'. Kneeling before each of His disciples, He had washed their feet. It was the most menial task, and He did it.

That one act focused into a single point the meaning and significance of His life and identity - that 'although He was in the form of GOD He did not cling to equality with GOD, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave'. At one stroke GOD, as it were dispossessed and disinherited Himself, divested Himself of 'all rule and authority and power', and came to us to live in our world, not just as one of us, but as a slave, content to be 'last of all and servant of all'.

He came as a slave. And a slave, remember, has no rights, can make no claims. A slave possesses nothing, not even himself. He belongs to another, is someone else's possession: part of the household furniture; an item in a list; a nameless cog in the machine; a thing.

So Jesus goes to His death - a criminal's death, a slave's death - naked and stripped of everything: a stark reminder of all that He said about divesting ourselves of self-regarding preoccupations and self-serving ambitions.

From the beginning He had sought only one thing - to be 'about the Father's business'. 'I do not seek my own glory,' He said, 'If I glorify myself my glory is nothing'.

Unlike the Pharisees who practised their piety publicly in order to be seen and admired by others, for they 'loved the praise of men more than the praise of GOD', Jesus is content to go through the world with only one ambition, which was 'to do the will of Him who had sent Him, and to finish His work'. That was all He wanted; He asked for nothing more.

And doing what the Father wanted was, He said, His 'food'. It was that commitment which fed Him, which nourished and sustained Him. It was that availability to the Father which (like food) gave Him His substance, the stuff and fibre of His being, His energy, His identity. Nothing else mattered.

And it was the Father's will that Jesus, the Beloved Son, should be 'the bread of life', given 'for the life of the world'. And bread is humble and generous; bread is for breaking and sharing if it is to feed and sustain us. And that is who Jesus is and what he does.

But we need the eyes of faith to see that that is so. For Jesus will not promote Himself or His course. At the very beginning of His Public Ministry He rejects decisively the temptation to make an impression by spectacular displays of supernatural power; He will not manipulate or compel or dazzle dull hearts into belief. He wants our response to Him and His claims to be freely given.

And that is how it is - to the end - and at the end. He submits to men's calumnies and false accusations, and dies a shameful and ignominious death, a criminal's death, a slave's death, misunderstood and misrepresented. He leaves His friends bewildered, confused, and heart-broken. And as for the world, He leaves the world to make up its own mind about Him - to dismiss Him as a criminal or a fool; a self-deluded imposter or a megalomaniac; an irrelevance - just whichever the world chooses. 'He will not cry or lift up His voice, or make it heard in the street'.

Here in 'the place which is called the Skull', the place of utter dereliction and defeat; here in the rawness of the naked lacerated flesh, stripped and whipped and under thorns, and nailed and battened to two planks of wood, faith discerns infinite love offered to us; infinite love infinitely available. Only faith dare hope that it may be so - and we have nothing else, only faith: reason, logic, argument, cannot help us.

And the 'inscription over Him [...] written in Hebrew, and in Latin, and in Greek [...] Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews'. Who could have eyes to see that Pilate's cynical mocking attempt to pay off a few political scores against the Jews was in fact a living oracle? Who could perceive that the gallows was a throne? Who could hear that terrible cry of a breaking heart, 'Why hast thou forsaken me?' And yet believe?

There was one who could and did - one who was there with Him and saw it all, one who was crucified with Him, and who prayed, 'Remember me when You come in Your Kingly power'. And he, you remember, was a criminal, one of the two crucified with Him.

And then right at the end, when 'all was now finished', there was another, another who bore witness, one who stood there, 'keeping watch over Jesus' - one for whom at the beginning this was all simply part of the drill; routine stuff; all in a day's work; familiar, commonplace, boring.

But he too saw beyond all that - saw that this was altogether something else, and said, 'Truly, this was GOD's Son'. And he, you remember, was the centurion, a worshipper (if at all) of other gods, an outsider, one who didn't belong.

These two, the criminal and the soldier, saw and believed, although - we may reasonably assume - they knew not the Scriptures. They saw beyond the degradation, the hideousness, the utter defeat, of this one man's dying.

So may it be granted to us in all that befalls us, and in all the worst that may come upon us, that like them we may witness to Him who is both our Lord and our GOD, and whose will it is to be for all the world 'the bread of life'.

The Crucifixion - (ii)

'So they took Jesus, and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called the place of a skull [...] There they crucified Him.'

It's all very matter-of-fact and down-beat, the telling of it; there's no drama about it, nothing hyped-up or over-the-top in the Evangelist's account: he states the facts baldly and unemotionally. He tells it as it is. It all seems unremarkable and common-place. And indeed on the face of it there was nothing particularly unusual in what was done on that spring afternoon all those centuries ago. Thousands of people in the ancient world were executed in this way. This was the punishment used by Romans for criminals, for those who offended against the state and against society. It was an horrendous and hideous and agonizing way to die; and it was degrading and humiliating to the maximum degree.

Crucifixion was common-place, an everyday occurrence, a familiar sight throughout the Roman Empire. But there is something about this death which is different from the others. There is something in this particular spectacle of a man bound and nailed to two planks of wood, and hoisted between earth and sky, as though disowned and outlawed by both, which down the centuries has touched and troubled the hearts and minds of millions of people in every part of the world. There is something here which disturbs and questions us; something to which we cannot be indifferent; something which seems to speak to us; something which makes a claim upon us. We can't help feeling, whether we like it or not, that this death has something to do with us.

The body is stripped and exposed; it is a pauper's death, undignified, shameful, indecent. The hands and feet are fixed and nailed; there is tension here, strain and helplessness and frustration. The head is bound about with thorns. It's a cruel joke - a reminder to us that the deepest anguish includes as well as physical agony darkness of mind and desolation of spirit. The arms are stretched out in a gesture which is at once one of welcome, intercession, and total surrender. The lips are parched; the heart is pierced. We do not know what to make of this death. We cannot be sure whether it is a triumph or a failure; victory or defeat. Somehow it seems to be both.

It is also part of the disturbing effect of this spectacle that although this is another man's death we can't help feeling that it is our own as well, for everything we see here is familiar to us.

His loneliness, His isolation. Yes, we know about that. We know what it is to be excluded, edged out, overlooked, ignored, written off, discriminated against. Our secret and furtive obsessions and fantasies identify us with His shame and degradation. Like Him on His Cross, we know what it is to be helpless and powerless; imprisoned by circumstances over which we have no control. We know what it is to be nailed down by the iron necessities of our existence, frustrated and limited by the way things are for us. We too thirst - thirst for what will renew our parched and shrivelled lives and make us whole and fruitful. Our hearts have been broken many times by the silence of GOD, our spirits bruised and darkened by His absence. It is ourselves we see upon the crucifix.

The Crucified is no stranger; His Cross is not unfamiliar to us; the Passion He endures is ours as well. For we human beings are endlessly crucified upon the irreconcilable opposites of life; troubled, tormented and broken by the contradictions, paradoxes and dilemmas of our human existence. We experience life - reality - as divided and fragmented: hope and despair, confidence and fear, assurance and doubt. Is reality for us, on our side? Or is it against us? Is it ''Yes'' or is it ''No''? Or is it simply and cruelly indifferent?

We human beings want to believe that reality is for us, that it is on our side. We hope that it might be so. But again and again things don't work out like that: our hopes are cruelly dashed; our expectations are disappointed; and we feel let down - even betrayed somehow, cheated and mocked, and we can only conclude that ultimately there is no real purpose or ultimate meaning to our existence, and that everything in the end is random, and indifferent to us and to our struggles to make sense of what we experience and endure, and that there is no point to anything.

And that is the Cross - our Cross: our endless Golgotha; the endless Golgotha of the whole human race.

But what Good Friday scandalously asserts is that He who died that day at 'the place called the place of a skull' was not just another victim of the world's huge torment, but was in some particular and unique way GOD Himself. If Jesus is GOD's way of being human, then what we see here is GOD suffering as we suffer; GOD suffering in our flesh: reality on our side - reality with us and for us.

In other words, GOD was not content with sending representatives or ambassadors to deliver His messages; but rather, without privilege and without safeguard, Himself submitted to and endured the perplexities, the despairs, the agonies of our human existence.

GOD does not disown the world's anguish and brokenness; He does not stand aside from it; He is not aloof from it. But He does not come with intellectual answers to our questions; He does not come with a philosophical system or a political program. He comes quite simply as one of us, one of Adam's seed, 'bone of our bones, flesh of our flesh', one of us, one with us in flesh and blood, in sweat and spittle, and accepts betrayal, rejection, condemnation, accepts the burden of what it is to be human, and bears it 'to the end' - 'to the end', for that is Love's will, that is Love's way.

Jesus Christ shares not only in the fullness of human life; He shares in its emptiness as well. He takes into himself all our poverty, all our frailty; He embraces, enfolds and holds all our wretchedness and helplessness.

And, in taking it all, He heals and transforms it all - betrayal, rejection, unjust condemnation; the dismantling of His life; the undoing of His identity; the dissolution of His faith, of everything that He had believed in and trusted in. He accepts it all, so that when we too come to 'the place of the skull', the places of dereliction and torment in our own lives, we may find that He is there too, there already, waiting to be with us: 'though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death [...] you are with me'. 'If I make the grave my bed, you are there also.'

He submitted to being misunderstood, misjudged; to being written off and forsaken. Therefore whatever loneliness we endure now contains GOD's presence. He accepted the desolation, of separation from GOD, the loss of GOD.

Therefore GOD is with us even when we have no sense, no awareness, of His presence. He accepted failure so that we might find promise in defeat, and gain in loss. He accepted death, so that death is no longer a descent into emptiness and extinction; for now even death is filled with GOD, and the grave has become the place where we are born again.

He accepted everything that He might show us that everything that is accepted out of love and for love's sake is redeemed, and that the places of impossibility in our life are found to be the places where the Lord is with us and keeps company with us and He provides all that is necessary - Himself and His grace - to see us through.

'Jesus embraces this supremely dark act, the murder of GOD's own Son, and makes it fruitful. So there is nothing in human history that cannot somehow in ways that we cannot anticipate be embraced and bear its fruit [...] transformed into a moment of grace [...] of gift}
- Timothy Radcliffe.

'The light is at the heart of the dark; the dawn breaks when we have entered fully into the night.'
- Rowan Williams

Source: LSM

Poem: High On A Hill

by Kerry Livgren

People say I'm crazy
and they say that I'm insane
But everything was lost
and I had everything to gain And it all became a song
the one I waited for so long
just to play

Something in the air that makes the
feeling so complete
I'm living as a warrior
that can never know defeat
And the battle rages on
'Til the brightness of the sun is gone
gone away

(chorus)
Look on high, to the hill
To the place where
time stood still
Then you'll see there's no returning
From a heart where love is burning
How can men hope to hide
blinded by their pride

A day is like a thousand years
and a thousand like a day
You're questioning the reason and
you're hoping for delay
But it always comes out right
And it's coming like a thief at night
steal away

(chorus)

On the dark horizon rose
the light of a different day
Spreading over all the world
to show the living way
And it makes it all so clear
If you open up your ears and hear
now I say

(chorus)


(C) 1984 Don Kirshner Music/
Blackwood Music Publishing (BMI)

Christ Forsaken by God: For Good Friday Meditation

by Rt. Rev. P. Wilhelm V. Keppler, Late Bishop of Rottenburg, 1929

"My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?"
- Matthew 27:46

THERE is a time for everything: a time to be happy, and a time to be sad,, a time to shout for joy and a time to weep. Good Friday is not a day of joy. Where so much pain and torment and disgrace, so much cruelty and malice, so much blood and mortal anguish are crowded together and condensed into a dark storm-cloud, as on Golgotha, no ray of joy can penetrate; there only all the mass of mourning, grief and woe and pity, slumbering in the heart of Christians, is awakened.

Every Good Friday, and were it, in the realm of nature, the sunniest spring day, is overcast by a somber and gruesome mood. That is an enduring after-effect of that darkness which on the first Good Friday enshrouded Golgotha's hill with the Cross and the pale body of the Saviour.

This darkening of the sun, however, was but a shadow of the darkness which enfolded the soul of the Crucified God. For the Saviour's anguish of soul was as immeasurable as His physical pain and torment. On a former occasion we centered our attention wholly on the contemplation of the blood which flowed on Golgotha. Today we will contemplate the suffering of His soul. The Saviour wishes us to do this, for He Himself has made known the climax of His anguish in the cry: "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" This complaint is directed to God, but it is also addressed to us. He wishes us to harken to it, to take it to heart, to feel in our souls the torment of His soul, in order that we can be made participants of the fruits, the merits, the blessings of His Passion.

You know, beloved, from your own painful experience, that man is capable of suffering in soul as well as in body. Not only is the soul affected by and drawn into compassion with all bodily pains; it has its own pains of grief and distress, which in their way inflict even greater torment and are more enervating than bodily pain. Throughout the entire vast realm of soul-life innumerable bitter springs of woe gush forth. Their names are worry, fear, sorrow, disappointment, evil experience, miscarried plans, and above all, guilt. All of these can affect the soul so grievously that it becomes, to all intents and purposes, ill, and a sick soul is much worse and more difficult to cure than a sick body.

Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ had a body susceptible to suffering, and a soul susceptible to suffering, just as we have; and just as He wished to take upon Himself and experience all pains of the body, so also all distress of the soul. Even on Mount Olivet, at the beginning of His Passion, we hear Him moan: "My soul is sorrowful even unto death" (Matt. 26:38). The climax of His suffering, however, is reached on the Cross.

There all that can embitter, sadden, depress, and crush the soul rushes in upon Him: disgraceful indignity, extreme helplessness, profound compassion with His Mother consuming herself in pain; sadness induced by the cowardice and faithlessness of His disciples; sorrow caused by Judas, the son of perdition; sadness because of all those whom His love cannot reach, His blood cannot save. But one torment is so frightful that even He, the great Silent Sufferer, cannot bear it in silence, that He must shout it complainingly for all the world to hear. His countenance furrowed by grief, His lips quivering, His burning eyes raised in horror to Heaven, He cries: "God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?"

What an exclamation! We stand before it as a mystery which we cannot fathom. The words stir the very depths of our soul. They should stir us; for it was with that purpose in mind that the Saviour cried them into the ears of mankind. However, they must not shake our faith, but rather strengthen it.

How then are we to understand those words? Has there been a separation between Him and God the Father? Impossible. In that event He could no longer say "My God." It is still true as He said before: "I and the Father are one" (Jn. 10:30), and: "He that sent Me is with Me and hath not left Me alone" (Jn. 8:26). In fact, soon after He again calls upon God by the name of Father: "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit" (Luke 23:46).

Or has there possibly been a division in His person between Divinity and humanity? Has the Divine Nature in Him severed its union with His human nature? And is His cry the shriek of pain uttered by His humanity, which suddenly finds itself lonely and forsaken? No! The Divine and the human nature of Christ are so wonderfully joined in His person that nothing, not even death, can ever separate them; He suffers death not as a mere man, but as the God-Man.

And yet He must complain, in the words of the twenty-first Psalm, that God has forsaken Him, and so this prophecy, too, finds its fulfillment. His human soul feels itself completely forsaken. The Heavenly Father has laid between Himself and it the dark storm-cloud of justice offended by sin, and of the judgment; hence the darkening of the sun on Golgotha, in the terrors of which the blissful consciousness of His Divine Sonship vanishes. His Divine Nature seems to have withdrawn entirely within Itself, and left the human nature to its own resources. The bliss, the sweet peace of their union has turned to bitterness; the human nature is no longer gently enfolded by the Divine and warmed by its sunshine; all light, all strength, all comfort hitherto flowing into it are neutralized, and the human nature is overcome by the sense of being truly forsaken by God; and we understand why it laments and complains: "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?"

What we have said does not, of course, solve the mystery. The Saviour Himself asks: Why? Hence, we too may inquire after the cause and thus penetrate farther into the mystery. Why did the misery, the punishment of being forsaken by God come upon Him? God forsakes no one who has not previously forsaken Him. The sinner forsakes God. Therein lies the real essence of mortal sin: in the willful separation of the soul from God, in the turning away of the will from Him. Because the sinner forsakes God, God forsakes the sinner. He does not dismiss him from the compass of His presence and His power, but from nearness to the sun of His favor and grace. The sinner leaves God: that is his guilt; God forsakes the sinner: that is his punishment.

But can this apply to the Saviour, the Sinless One, Who is united to God by His whole will and soul, Who is one with God? Yes, it does apply to Him, and that in the fullest measure. True, personally He is the holiest of the Saints, but He is not nailed to the Cross as an innocent man; He suffers and dies as the Great Guilty One, Who is laden with the guilt of all mankind. "Him, Who knew no sin," says the Apostle, "God hath made sin for us" (2 Cor. 5:21); and: "Christ was made a curse for us" (Gal. 3:13). He took upon Himself all the guilt of and all the punishment due to mankind; therefore, the most terrible punishment overwhelms Him-----the punishment of being forsaken by God. This curse, too, He wished to take from us; and therefore He had to take it upon Himself and taste it to the dregs.

Now we can understand the Why. Christ Himself has lost the feeling of innocence; He sees Himself as though covered with a leprosy and burdened with the curse of God; He has become an object of horror to Himself. Hence, the eye of the Father can no longer rest upon Him with pleasure. The Father sees in Him, not His Son, but the guilt of the human race, and according to the eternal law guilt draws down upon itself punishment and a curse. If Christ's suffering and death are to atone for and expiate the guilt of mankind, He cannot be spared the most extreme punishment, namely, to be forsaken by God. Therefore He also takes this torment of Hell upon Himself in order to remove it from us.

Hence, His cry is not only directed to His Heavenly Father, but also to us. His lament is a message of love crying to us: For you have I borne all this; out of love for you! It is a message of salvation, calling: Do not despair, trust in Me, even if you feel that God has forsaken you! Thus the gruesome cry: "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" is in truth a saving and consoling gift for us, for which we must be very grateful.

For our soul too there is no greater woe and no worse torment than the sense of being forsaken by God. It is not confined to great sinners and criminals, but also visits believing and God-fearing Christians; it may come upon a man as a punishment for sin, as a temptation of the devil, or as a visitation from God. We read in the lives of the Saints that this anguish of soul oppressed them frequently and for long periods;-----in this, too, they should become like unto their Lord and Master.

And thus upon our soul also the dark night may fall, in which we feel we have been forsaken by God; in which we find no solace even in faith and prayers; in which we can scarce wrest from the dryness and disconsolateness of our hearts the prayers prescribed by duty; when it seems that all our prayers and good deeds no longer have any value and we have lost the way to Heaven-----as though God had turned His countenance from us forever. Then we fain would cry out with the Psalmist: "The sorrows of death surround me, and the torments of iniquity trouble me, the sorrows of Hell encompass me, and the snares of death prevent me" (Ps. 17:5ff).

Now we know what we are to do in such distress. We no longer lose hope, we no longer despair. We raise our eyes to Him Who is crucified and flee to Him Who is also forsaken. Then, for one thing, we are no longer alone; we may raise our lament together with Him to Heaven: My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me? We may say to the Saviour: This too Thou hast borne for me; and therefore I shall bear it with and for Thee. Our distress will then be blessed and sanctified in His. Soon a ray of sunshine will brighten the night, and we, like Him, will again find and utter the name "Father" with quiet resignation: "Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit."

But I hear a soul complain: To be forsaken by God burdens me like a frightful curse; but I dare not even ask the reason. I know very well why; I have deserved it, I have led a wicked life, and therefore God has forsaken me.

You poor sinner! Behold sin and the curse which it bears within itself. The sinner deserts God-----that is his guilt; the sinner is forsaken by God-----that is his punishment. You have had a taste of the horror, the misery, the unhappiness of being forsaken by God; that is a foretaste of the torments of Hell, which is the eternal portion of the sinner, unless he be converted, if he continues in his evil ways, if he hardens his soul against the punishment of dereliction by God, or deadens it with alcohol and indulgence in sensuality. If he dies in that state, he will be cast forth into utter darkness, just as surely as God spared not even His Own Son (Rom 7:32), but forsook Him on the Cross.

O sinner, turn back while yet there is time! Today is the great day of pardon and reconciliation. Today you may, with the Saviour, complain of your distress to Heaven: My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me? Today, your forsakenness is medicinal in His.

O Crucified Lord Jesus Christ! Have mercy on all forsaken sinners! Present the complaint of our distress and anguish to the Eternal Father and obtain for us, as a good advocate with the Father (Jn. 2:1), the grace that we may not forsake God and not be forsaken by Him.

Redeem us from the Hell of eternal God-forsakenness and say unto us all, as Thou didst to the penitent thief: "Today you shall be with Me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43), in the paradise of proximity to God, of the love and peace of God. Amen.

Some Very Eerie and Prophetic Words Spoken by Jesus on the Way to The Cross

by Msgr. Charles Pope, Archdiocese of Washington

There is an important "logion" (utterance) of Jesus on his way to the cross that speaks powerfully to this modern age of ours, and is fulfilled in a gruesome manner in our times.

It is the word of Jesus to the women who lamented him as he made his way to Crucifixion:

A large crowd of people followed Jesus, including many women who mourned and lamented him. Jesus turned to them and said, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children for indeed, the days are coming when people will say, 'Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.' At that time people will say to the mountains, 'Fall upon us!' and to the hills, 'Cover us!' for if these things are done when the wood is green what will happen when it is dry?"

In this text is a likely historical context rooted in the First Century. But Scripture, as I pray you know, was not written merely for First Century Christians. It also speaks to our times. In fact it may speak more ghoulishly to our times than to the First Century, as we shall see. Lets take a look at the First Century context, only briefly, and then turn attention to our owns times.

The First Century context of Jesus' words is surely rooted in 70 AD and the terrible culmination of a 3 1/2 Year war of the Jewish people with the Romans, (66-70 AD – The War actually culminated with the fall of Masada in 73AD). Jesus had spoken of this terrible war extensively in i the the Mount Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24:1 – 25:46; Mark 13:1-37; Luke 21:5-36), and He even wept as he looked upon Jerusalem just before his Palm Sunday entrance:

As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace - but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you."
(Luke 19:41-44)

And now, as these woman weep for him, we weeps for them and their children. For indeed, the days are coming, in forty short (biblical) years when they will see a destruction so overwhelming that, as Josephus records, 1.2 million Jews will die. And the terrible and suicidal phrase of asking the mountains to fall on them etc. are a Jewish way of lamenting that death is preferable to the calamity that is upon us!

And so we see the First Century fulfillment of the passage. Indeed, those women who lamented him had little idea about how awful it would get for them and their children, for sin and rebellion, hatred and revenge, would have their way, and boil over like a cauldron. 70 AD would bring a bloodbath like the world had never seen until that time.

But what of us? How, does this text speak to us? In a word or three: Horribly, poignantly and prophetically.

It does not take a genius to see that the Lord's words are true for us in ugly and sickening ways. Our bloodbath is far worse than that of 70 AD. 55 million are dead from abortion in America alone since 1973. And add to that the 100 Million + who were killed in the last century alone for ideological purposes in two world wars, a cold war, and the pogroms and systematic starvation of Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and their successors.

Though we like to think ourselves civilized in comparison to previous centuries, our blood bath is far deeper than any age before. True, we murder our millions in less publicly brutal ways. We do not experience hoards of warriors descending from day to day on unsuspecting cities. Our brutality takes place in more hidden ways, out of sight, if you will, in concentration camps, abortion "clinics", killing fields, and remote locations away from cameras.

Yes, our murder seems more abstract, but it is not. The death toll is almost unimaginable. And meanwhile we go on considering ourselves civilized.

And the Lord Jesus, looking beyond 70 AD must have seen our times and had them in mind when he said to those women of old that they would see an enemy (Satan): dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls.

Yes, Satan has deceived us with deceptions of power, distortions of freedom, and crushing lies of "choice." 55 million dead in America alone since 1973, our children dashed to the ground.

The Lord goes on to say, the days are coming when people will say, 'Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.' Yes, and those days are here, days when people celebrate barrenness, have themselves surgically sterilized, and celebrate contraception. The days are here when the greatest danger seems to be the "terrible and fearsome proposition" of getting pregnant, of having "too many children."

Yes, the days are here when most people cry out: blessed is barrenness, blessed are small families. Life, it would seem, is a terrible burden to be contracepted and aborted away and some awful threat. It is an age that cries out "Blessed are the career women who has not stymied her life and progress by the terrible and terrifying prospect of children."

Yes, said the Lord to those ancient women, in effect, "You think this is bad? The days are actually coming when things will be so bad and so dark that people will celebrate NOT having children, will celebrate barrenness."

But the Lord does not stop there. He goes on to describe quite well the culture of death so literally lived out in our times: people will say to the mountains, 'Fall upon us!' and to the hills, 'Cover us!'

One may argue that this is just a Jewish way of speaking that indicates despair. Perhaps. But we live it out quite literally in our times, for it is the refrain of the culture of death. And what is the culture of death? It is the mentality that increasingly sees the death or non-existence of human beings as the "solution" to problems. In our times there has arisen a group of radicals who see human beings as a hindrance to their ecological goals, and they seek population reductions and even dream of a pristine earth without humanity. They peddle History Channel programs such as "Life after People" as a kind of fantasy of their vision and advocate contraceptive and abortive policies that see mankind as the problem that must be eliminated. In effect they cry to the mountains "fall on us" and dream of a world that is "post-human." They even peddle disaster movies as though they were longing for it all.

You may say, I exaggerate. Fine. But would you ever dream we would be where we are today in fifty short years of social engineering, and anti-life policies?

Jesus spoke to the women that day of their own time, but surely his words describe our own times in sickening detail, times where barrenness is exalted and the fertility of large families treated with shock and even contempt, times where extremists have infected the modern psyche with notions that human beings are worse than roaches on this planet and that things will be better without us, or with dramatically fewer of us.

Of times like 70AD and times like these Jesus says, "Weep."

Yes, Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted. (Matt 5:4). And who are those who mourn? They are those who see the awful state of God's people, that God is not known to them, that they do not glorify God or even know why they were made, they are confused, deceived, and misled. And some, seeing this are mourning and weeping, they are led to prayer and action, to speaking out, and pointing once again to the light, from the dark places of times like these.

Mourn with Jesus, and pray for a miraculous conversion for times like these, times which seem eerily consistent with the dreadful things Jesus prophesied.

Who's to Blame for the Death of Jesus Christ?

by John MacArthur

People have for centuries argued about who was to blame for killing Jesus. Sadly, some have even used the issue to justify anti-Semitism, blaming the entire Jewish race for the death of Jesus Christ.

But ultimately Jesus was not a victim of either Rome or the Jewish leaders. The apostle Peter says in Acts 2:23 that Jesus was "delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God." The Jewish leaders and the Roman official who carried out His crucifixion undeniably bear guilt for the sin of what they did, but God Himself had foreordained how and when Jesus would die.

Yes, the Jewish leaders of that day who condemned Him were culpable. They plotted, concocted false charges against Him, and blackmailed the Roman governor Pontius Pilate into carrying out their will. They were by no means innocent.

And the Roman government must share the guilt. Those who represented Rome in Jerusalem set aside justice to appease an angry crowd. They executed an innocent man.

But at the core, Jesus' death was an act of the Son's submissive obedience to the Father's will. And Jesus Himself was in absolute control. He said, "I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father" (John 10:17-18).

Do not think for a moment that anyone could kill Jesus against His will. The divine plan could never be short-circuited by human or satanic plots. Jesus even told Pilate, "You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above" (John 19:11). Mobs tried to murder Jesus. They once sought to hurl Him off a cliff (Luke 4:29-30) and repeatedly attempted to stone Him (John 8:59; 10:31). Again and again He simply (and supernaturally) passed through their midst because His time had not yet come (cf. John 7:30; 8:20).

When the hour of Jesus' death finally did come, He knew it (Matt. 26:18). Fully comprehending all it would entail in terms of the pain and agony of bearing the punishment for sinners, He nevertheless submitted Himself willingly. John 18:4 says when the soldiers came to arrest Him in the Garden of Gethsemane, "Jesus therefore, knowing all the things that were coming upon Him, went forth, and said to them 'Whom do you seek?'". He willingly surrendered Himself to them. That was His hour, the time foreordained by God.

John 19:30 says, "When Jesus therefore had received the sour wine, He said, 'It is finished!'" The Greek expression is only one word-tetelestai. It was not the groan or curse of a victim; it was the proclamation of a victor. It was a shout of triumph: "IT IS FINISHED!"

The work of redemption was done. He did all that the law required and perfectly accomplished all that the Father had given Him to do. He made full atonement for sins-everything was done; nothing was left. The ransom was settled. The wages of sin were paid. Divine justice was satisfied. The work of Christ was fully accomplished. The Lamb of God had taken away the sins of the world (John 1:29). There was nothing more on earth for Him to do except die so that He might rise again.

Having finished His work, the Lord "bowed His head, and gave up His spirit" (John 19:30). There was no jerk, no sudden slump. He bowed His head. The Greek word evokes the picture of gently placing one's head on a pillow. In the truest sense, no man took Jesus' life from Him-He laid it down of His own accord (cf. John 10:17-18). He simply and quietly yielded up His spirit, commending Himself into the Father's hands (Luke 23:46).

Only the omnipotent God who is Lord of all could do that. Death could not claim Jesus apart from His own will. He died in complete control of all that was happening to Him. Even in His death He was the sovereign Lord.

To the human eye Jesus looked like a pathetic casualty, powerless in the hands of mighty men. But the very opposite was true. He was in charge. He proved it a few days later when He forever shattered the bonds of death by rising from the grave (1 Cor. 15:20-57).

And Jesus is still in charge. "For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living" (Rom. 14:9).

This is the gospel. Jesus Christ, who is God incarnate, humbled Himself to die for our sins. Thus He became the sinless sacrifice to pay the penalty of our guilt. He rose from the dead to declare with power that He is Lord over all, and He offers eternal life freely to any sinner who will surrender to Him in humble, repentant faith.

The gospel promises nothing to the haughty rebel. But for broken, penitent sinners, it graciously offers everything that pertains to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). That's the good news.

Adapted from 'The Gospel According to Jesus', © John MacArthur. All rights reserved.
Used by permission.

About the Author:

John is the president of The Master's College and The Master's Seminary, and he has written hundreds of books and study guides, each one thoroughly biblical and practical. Best-selling titles include 'The Gospel According to Jesus', 'Ashamed of the Gospel', 'Twelve Ordinary Men', and 'Twelve Unlikely Heroes'.

Source: Christianity.com Daily Update

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