Friday on Heartbreak Hill

Friday on Heartbreak Hill

Good Friday – April 3, 2015

A sermon preached by The Rev. Dianne Andrews at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Port Townsend, WA.

It’s Friday… and one hears the sound of a hammer pounding a nail into wood, slowly and rhythmically, metal hitting metal. There are moans of pain and sounds of weeping and wailing. There is suffering, sorrow, and death… and the chasm of abandoned hope grows wider and deeper… with each blow of the hammer. Looking up at the cross we see the skies darken, not as those colorful transitions changing from blue to orange, to pink, to violet, then to the warmth of a blue night sky. No, at midday the sky loses its color as if washed down a drain into drab grayness. We stand at the foot of the cross and in our anguish and despair our hearts break like they have never broken before. It’s Friday and we are moving closer to the heart of the matter… and death is at the heart.

We struggle with each Good Friday. I know I have preached it myself, that I have softened the “blow” so-to-speak reminding folks that even as we stand at the foot of the cross… and look up at the atrocity happening before us, the risen Christ is there… is here with us… he stands with us as we experience the depths of the scene… his heart breaking for all of the pain and suffering and injustice and inhumanity that brought him to this place. He is with us and we are with him in this time of experiencing tragic abandonment.

A book I have used for Lenten study, called A Cry of Absence, challenges the reader to take seriously the sense of abandonment that really does lie at this place. There is a sense that all hope is lost, that the pain will never end, that this is it… this is the end. Last night we celebrated the last supper with an Agape meal, and the washing of feet…and the great feast of the Last Supper that we know as Holy Eucharist. We came to Christ’s table, as did the disciples in that upper room so many years ago. Today we enter, as we can, into the true experience of pain and abandonment that is Good Friday… knowing… yet not knowing that Sunday is coming.

One of my favorite preachers, Barbara Brown Taylor, has written about “God in pain.” She speaks about sitting down at Christmas with her four-year-old goddaughter Madeline to look at her new story Bible. Barbara describes the scene. She says, Madeline:

…began by showing me her favorite pictures where were Adam and Eve hiding from God in the garden of Eden… and Absalom hanging from a tree by his hair. As she outlined the story of the flood for me, my fingers began to itch. I wanted to see how the authors of this children’s book had presented Jesus’ death. Could I look ahead, I asked her. ‘This is not about Jesus yet,’ she said sternly, but she let me look anyway.

            I had to look hard in between a long account of the Last Supper and a richly illustrated section on the empty tomb. I found half a page with a picture of three crosses far away on a hillside at sunset. It was so small and dark that I could not even tell whether the crosses were occupied. The text was not much help. ‘Then Jesus was put to death,’ it read, ‘but he did not stay dead for long. God had planned a big surprise for him, which happened at dawn on Easter morning.

Barbara continues:

            That is all Madeline will learn about the suffering of Christ (from that book at least). The authors apparently decided that God’s pain would be too hard for a child to understand. So they left it out, and I imagine that more than a few parents are grateful to them. Who wants to explain that bloody episode to a child? Who can deny why God let it happen without prompting even harder questions? ‘But I thought you said God loved Jesus…[1]

… and then the hard questions would begin.

Where do we begin to answer such hard questions in a world in which the flicker of hope is struggling to stay alive? In the wake of great violence and bloodshed that has happened just this past year… close by in our streets and behind closed doors… in far away places… in Syria, in Kenya and Yemen, and more… in places where reporting has been silent or nonexistent… pain unseen by the world… the pain and death of innocents who are caught up in storms of chaos and war, of wounding and death… in a faith in which God commands us to pray even for those who would be our enemies…. And how do we stay with our planet’s pain as it groans from our abuse and neglect… known in the rise of sea waters, in the wrath of savage winters… in the desiccation of water supplies, and in our wanton contamination and abuse of natural resources?   How do we minister to one another and to God’s precious world when despair clouds visions peace… and healing…

…and hope? What are we to do? Where is the strength?

This is a day unlike any other. For Christians our story takes us to the place of the skull. We come to a place of death…

We are drawn to this place where we meet the depths pain and despair. We yearn for quick, clean solutions.   …and I wonder:   can we survive this experience of pain and feeling of abandonment?

We bring to this place our own pain and fears. In the midst of these hard feelings we know, too, that tucked-away somewhere… is the knowledge that Easter is coming.

It seems that… not so long ago… we were rejoicing in the music angels heralding “Peace on Earth, Good will Towards All.”   No so long ago.   In this moment we ask ourselves:

Can we endure the darkness of this day, the flesh-torn pain of crucifixion?

Can feel, in our flesh and bones…the curtain of the temple…

the Holy of Holies…. being torn wide open…

Can we hear God’s heart of love breaking in the silence this cruel death?

            Can we feel the cosmic shudder?

Can we endure this?

                                                Be still. Be here. It is hard.

…Easter will come once again.         

         For now…              be here….

[1] Barbara Brown Taylor, Teaching Sermons on Suffering: God and Pain [Nashville: Abingdon, 1998]