By William M. Cwirla
The Light of the world hangs in darkness. The Light no darkness can overcome is plunged into the darkness. The Splendor of the Father’s light who makes our daylight lucid bright is swallowed up into black hole of the world’s sin and death. On a Friday–the day man was made, the day God spoke His “very good” over all creation. Between noon and 3:00 pm, the bright hours of the day. This is Good Friday. Behold, it was “very good.”
He is the beloved Son, the only-begotten of the Father, God enfleshed in humanity, yet He cries out as one damned by God in the miserable isolation of your sin and death. This hell on earth is your hell which He bears for you–what you deserve for what you’ve done and for who you are. He has become your sin, the ultimate Substitute Sinner in place of sinners, the Sacrifice, so that you in Him might become the righteousness of God.
“While we were still weak, Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). For you. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. For you. While we were still enemies we were reconciled to God by this one dark death on a Friday afternoon between noon and 3:00.
WOULD YOU BE WILLING TO DIE FOR ANOTHER?
Perhaps you would. Maybe there’s a little superhero in you. If the cause were just, if the person were noble, if the time were right, perhaps you would. But would you be willing to die for your enemy, your slanderer, your betrayer, one who would wish you dead?
In the world of religion, you climb up to your god; in the faith of the Cross, your God comes down to you. In the world of religion, you die for your god. You might even take a few of your enemies along with you into death, thereby ensuring your place in Paradise. But in the faith of the Cross, your God dies for you. In the world of religion, you must make peace with your god. In the faith of Jesus, your God makes peace with you while you are still His enemy.
Eli, eli lama sabachthani? The first verse of Psalm 22. The prayer of the God-forsaken believer. He trusts in God and yet is abandoned by God. And in His abandonment, He asks why. Jesus prays it in Aramaic, His mother tongue, as He learned it from His youth. It’s the question on the lips of every sufferer. Why? Why do you let the innocent suffer? Why have you forsaken me in the hour of my need? Jesus asks the question for all of us, for all of humanity, and receives only the silence of the darkness. There is no adequate answer to this question, in spite of all our attempts to fill in dark silence with the noise of our speculations.
There is only faith, trust in the One who meets us in the darkness of our own death and says, “Trust me. I am with you to forgive you, to save you, to bless you.”
He drinks the sour, bitter cup. Jesus told His disciples He would not drink of the fruit of the vine until He drank it new in the kingdom of heaven. He drinks the bitter cup of wine long gone sour, so that you might drink the sweet, new wine of His blood poured out to save you.
He dies, forcefully, intentionally, with a shout not a whimper. This is His victory, His hour of power, His glory. This is His holy war alone to fight, and in His death He conquers.
This is salvation’s time and place: on a cross on Friday between noon and 3:00, where God in the flesh hung in the darkness suspended between heaven and earth to save fallen humanity. You have peace with God in this one, dark death. You have access to God’s undeserved kindness. You have hope, a bright future in a dying world; you are already glorified at the right hand of the Father in Christ the Son.
REJOICE IN YOUR SUFFERINGS
You are given to rejoice even in your sufferings. Yes, you heard that correctly: rejoice in your sufferings. Jesus is not a detour around suffering; He’s the only way through it, for He has gone through it. Your pain is absorbed in His pain and redeemed for good. Your sufferings in the cross-pierced hands of Jesus are the raw material of endurance, character, and hope. There is no other way. There is no such thing as a baptized believer of character, endurance, and hope who has not suffered and despaired of God in the present. You will have your own dark day, your less-than-happy Fridays when you see nothing, hear nothing, when God seems absent, when there literally is nothing for you to do but trust in the promise of baptismal water, of bodied bread and bloodied wine, and words of forgiveness.
And there He is for you, making all things new, reconciling all things to the Father, embracing you in a death that will not let you go. In His darkness is your light; in His death is your life; in His lonely forsakenness, is your acceptance by God and your true, lasting peace.
Rev. William M. Cwirla is a “pastor emeritus” in the LCMS, having retired from congregational ministry after 30 years of service in one congregation. He has also served as president of Higher Things. He continues to pray, study, and write in retirement, and also speak, when coaxed out of the woods of Port Angeles, WA on the beautiful Olympic Peninsula where he resides with his wife, Karen. He is also an artisanal bread maker, gourmet cook, master of the grill, maker of fine wood craft, and musician.
This article was originally published on the Higher Things website in August 2007.