“Father. Can you help me? My mother is dying and I don’t feel anything. I’m trying to figure out why. Perhaps she used the rod a few too many times; she wasn’t a very nice person. But I often get a dulled sense when I think about how her life will end. I appreciate that she had several jobs, trying to raise us a single mom, but I still think it could have been different. How should I feel?
“Father. I used to be active at that church. The priest came over for dinner every year. He was our family friend. But now I am so ashamed. I don’t know what to believe. I’m angry and betrayed. I didn’t know. And I thought he was a good priest. How can I deal with my anger?
“Father. Tell me this. Why is it that all those suicide bombers are religious? I just have such a problem with that. How can people do such things in the name of faith?”
How can these things happen? Abusive family members where there should be safety. Institutions who abuse rather than support. A faith the inspires violence rather than holiness or peace.
I suspect Jesus know how that all felt: the betrayal by Judas; the betrayal of his religious leaders; the condemnation by the state. He’s got nothing. On Good Friday, he is alone.
His disciples too scared to do much; they’d been wanting much more: to sit at his right hand; To take part in the glory and majesty of empire; to wag their fingers at others; to have right and might at their disposal.
They expected to be at His right hand. To enjoy the fruits of victory. Instead of Ceasar, Christ-God would change things, and change them right around, immediately. And now this. This Crucifixion.
This wasn’t how it was supposed to turn out.
Jesus gives his mother and the disciple a new family. The old family is on the cross. Perhaps the apostles didn’t quite understand what Jesus wanted. They were on Good Friday territory, and didn’t know the end of the story. So here we have Jesus telling his mother and a disciple to make each other their family. He’s going, so now its a new family.
But institutions often get this family wrong.
As the church we’ve tried to build loving institutions. You know we’re here to protect that pearl, the truth, the gospel, to share it.
Too often, however, these walls meant to protect, encourage and strengthen instead hide corruption and abuse, inflicting damage upon the same people they are supposed to love.
Some churches are built to serve the pastor. The pastor says nice things the the parishioners and the parishioners are loyal to him. The pastor serves, and the congregation is served. Everything is about the Father, about making him comfortable, and paying his salary. Nothing changes because he knows how to talk to people and soothe their anxieties. The task of the organization, the work of spreading the gospel, of making Christ known, becomes obscure while the maintaining the family becomes most important.
Some churches build unity by claiming a common enemy. Republicans. Gays. Romans. Modernity. Post-modernity. “I will protect you,” the priest says, pointing out all the dangers in the world. “I will keep you safe in these four walls, though they may be leaking.”
Like these walls happen to be.
And other churches pretend. They pretend that everything’s OK, and down the road someone will donate a half-million dollars to keep things as they are. Eventually we’ll be saved. Eventually new families will walk in. We’re nice, after all. And because we’re nice, somebody wants to give us the money so we can have this handsome priest, a pleasant choir and have sewing classes occasionally.
If this is what churches are doing, let them die. If churches are for themselves, let them die.
And if the apostles wanted to build a winner-takes-all institution, one that mirrored the imperial God, that would give them magic powers, they failed. That’s not where God is. In fact, let that God be crucified. Let us hammer the nails into those abusive institutions. Let’s hang that church onto a tree. I won’t miss it.
So what do we do if we want to behold one another? What do we do if the buildings around us are falling down? What if we can’t get things right?
Perhaps we should just stop inviting people to church. Yep – because too many people think church is for the self-serving, the abusive and the mad. Don’t be that person. Be the gospel. Embody the gospel. And that means giving up the wagging finger, the chastising glance, the self-righteous piety. Go out and listen and just be with people. Be joyful with them. Share in their sorrow and happiness. We here, let us serve one another. But don’t invite people to church. Instead, warn them away. “We’re crazy, you know. We think we’re transforming the world, we think we’re making better human beings, that we’re building hearts, that we’re saving. You need to be a bit mad to join us. You might want to protect yourself. “
Yep – drive them away. Because if God is there, if God is here, God may bring them back.
Because although we’re here on Good Friday, perhaps skeptical that the church can survive, we know how the story ends. We are fortunate to know that if there is a Love in the world, if there is a God, if Jesus is truly here, in people’s lives, He will be found. If he’s not, there’s no damage. We’ve saved everyone a lot of time. But if he is, we’ve planted a seed – by showing that we, as Christians, are people who have joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. And from that seed we will cultivate a church that is true and holy and just and righteous.
You don’t need to invite people to church. It is enough to behold one another. That’s where we begin. We’re scattered now on Good Friday. We’re exiled from Eden. The Kingdom of God seems like a distant dream.
To understand Good Friday, you have to know that love is a risk. To behold others, to listen without judgment, to hold people accountable, but to do some self-work, that’s hard. To build a community that’s loving here, that’s hard. And we don’t even know if it will do anything, not here in Good Friday Territory. We’re here simply staring into the abyss.
But later I will tell you another story.