In the Lenten season, today is sometimes called Good Friday or Holy Friday. It’s also known as the Day of Anunciation of our Lord. Today many faith communities hold vigil through the long hours we believe Jesus hung on the cross during his execution, dying. He called out to God from the cross. And then for a few days, his human voice was silenced by death and entombment.
How ironic that the word rising up in today’s texts is ANSWER. God is dying today. God is being silenced today. Like those first followers, we hold vigil through the emptiness and absence, where presence was once available. We are keeping watch through the hours when God couldn’t stand with us and answer us, not in the way we expected.
How often have we felt that same isolation and sense of abandonment? Of being left alone in the middle of chaos, without any calm or clarity, without any sense of support or solidarity? This feeling of being left behind, being left alone, to fend for ourselves and mourn and hurt and try to find a way to go on, is part of the Holy Week experience. It is part of the human experience.
On Easter Sunday, we will celebrate the truth that emptiness and absence are good news. That a tomb, once filled with a corpse, is empty. That God isn’t in the tomb anymore, but God’s love and grace are vital, real, palpable and returning to us.
On Good and Holy Friday, when we call out, it seems as if God isn’t answering. And while that may not be true, it feels like our lived reality. I’ve met plenty of people, in the hospital or in their own homes or even in the church sanctuary, who feel abandoned by God.
In the Book of Esther, Hebrew scholars point out that the name of God isn’t mentioned even once, yet a Jewish woman becomes a heroine, saving her people at risk of her own life. Looking at the text, the rabbis say that this is a metaphor for the times when God has been absent from the reality of Jewish lives, such as when they were in exile. And yet the people remained faithful to their covenant with God, worshipping and considering themselves chosen, trusting that God’s hand would move, that God’s power and presence would be revealed, and that their side of the relationship could be upheld, even when God wasn’t evident in the events of that story and the oppression they were experiencing. They found God in their deliverance.
We believe, in our faith tradition, that God continues to share revelations with people today. God’s answers didn’t end in the times recorded in the Bible. God listens and answers now, too. God speaks into our lives in this era, just as God spoke thousands of years ago.
Some of my colleagues hear God’s voice or God’s messengers, either as audible voices, internal leadings, or a dream or other form of message. Personally I often experience God’s influence through life events, and have to look backwards over the past, to identify the pattern of God’s response. I often recognize God’s tangible answer in hindsight.
Listening, and being in dialogue with God, takes practice. Like any form of spiritual exercise, it needs repetition and regular use to be most available to us.
On the other hand, God can hear our most desperate cries, even when we’re not usually in the habit of calling out to God. Anyone can pray. Any words will do. And no words are necessary. Prayer is also a bodily act. It’s an incarnate practice. Just scream. Just hum. Just sigh. Just walk or dance or rock or hug or kneel or lay down or weep or laugh.
So another question we may want consider is, when God calls out to us, do we answer, too? Are we even listening? Trust me, that’s a question I pose to myself regularly, as I discern my way in ministry.
Our relationship is reciprocal, at its best. God seeks us, we seek God. God listens, we listen back. We cry out, God responds. God calls, we answer.
Of course, we always have the choice. We can ignore the call. We can turn away, opting not to answer. Or we can turn toward the call, and say, YES.
Sometimes, like the Friday when we remember Jesus’ death, we are asked to persist through the silence. Raise our voices. Reach out. Seek connection with God. We may feel as if we’re being ignored or forgotten. We may not hear the reply right away. Yet assuredly, God is listening, and God will answer.
Selections from today’s lectionary:
- Isaiah 52:15 — So he shall startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which had not been told them they shall see, and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate.
- Isaiah 53:1 — Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
- Isaiah 53:8 — All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
- Psalm 22: 2 — O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.
- Psalm 22: 8 — “Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver— let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”
- Psalm 22: 24 — For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.
- Hebrews 10: 8a — Then he added, “See, I have come to do your will.”
- Hebrews 10: 16-17 — “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds,” he also adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”
- Hebrews 10: 23 — Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.
- John 18:4-5 — Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” They answered, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus replied, “I am he.”
- John 18:23 — Jesus answered, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?”
- John 18:37 — Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”