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  • Writer's picturewakehadley

Even in Death (Good Friday 2024)

I shared the following words at the ecumenical Good Friday service in Redlands celebrated by several churches from around the community.

In the beginning of the Bible, God created the heavens and the earth out of an abundance of God’s own love. God fabricated a world filled with water, dirt, and sky and then designed and delivered living organisms into this world to call it their home.  A chapter or two later, after the completion of this organic creation, humanity rebelled against God. And, according to the author, this mutiny tainted the plentiful experience of life and ushered in the other-worldly experience of death.

This statement is a strong statement from the author of this passage.

Because the author, in my opinion, is suggesting that nothing in the human experience is further from God than death.

As unlikely as it may seem, this idea transcended space, time, erosion, exile, and language to arrive in my life right here in Redlands, California. I grew up in the church and I trusted the ideas conveyed in the third chapter of Genesis.

I believed death was the furthest we could ever be from God.

I believed the primary reason one should participate in church was to avoid a destiny of death.

I even believed if my generation placed enough faith in Jesus, we could somehow will Jesus to return to this earth sooner than expected, take us back to heaven and give us eternal life instantly, which means we could avoid the experience of death altogether if we only had enough faith.

But in the Bible, thirty-nine books after the creation story in Genesis, we come across the Gospel of Matthew. When describing the birth of Jesus, Matthew tells us, “All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet (Isaiah): ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel’, which means, ‘God is with us.’”

This baby, born two thousand years ago, is the baby who Christians believe is the very Son of God. According to Matthew, God sent this Son as a tangible reminder that, first and foremost, God is with us. And while we have read stories in the previous books of scripture about God being with human beings, this fleshy incarnation rapidly escalated the solidarity of the divine with us in the very nature of our humanity. This Gospel teaches us that:

God is with us in the way we are born.

God is with us in the way we eat.

God is with us in the way we drink.

God is with us in the way we breathe.

God is with us in the way bathe.

God is with us when we dance.

God is with us when we heal.

God is with us when we bruise.

God is with us when we love.

God is with us when we are betrayed.

And then Jesus Christ, the Son of God, dies.

Which means God is with us… even in death.

Death, the very experience which, so long ago in the creation story and also believed by many Christians to be the furthest one could be from the presence of God.

Our congregation, Paradox, has had the privilege and honor of being part of this group of Mainline Christian churches for four years now.

What I find fascinating is the fact that the one time all year we get together with our diverse and beautiful congregationsis not on the triumph and victory of Easter Sunday.

Instead, we get together on Good Friday.

The day when Jesus Christ dies.

Initially, Good Friday seems like a rather odd time for us to gather together. But then I remember that our universal symbol as Christians is not the symbol of the empty tomb, but instead, is the symbol of the cross.

Could it be that the reason we have the cross as our unifying symbol is to remind us that God is with us in all that we experience?

Even in death?

The very place we have, for so long, believed to be the furthest place away from God?

My friends, the older I have grown, the more I have seen the cross as the most beautiful symbol in all of Christianity.

Because the cross reminds all of us that God is where God should not be.

The cross is on our churches

and on our flags

and on our necklaces

and on the covers of our Bibles

and even permanently tattooed into our skin to remind us

that God is always found where God should never be.

And just when we think we are living in a time when God has abandoned us, and we hear another news story about a politician who is exploiting religion for their own gain, or that this whole world is going to hell in a hand basket, at those moments we see the cross and remember that God is with us, even now, even in this.

And I have found that when we trust God is present in the places where God should not be, it will always, always, ALWAYS lead us to become kinder,


more gracious,

more forgiving,

more compassionate,

and more loving people.

Especially when we trust God is with us, even in death.

This is the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Tonight, on Good Friday, I would urge Christians everywhere to remain present with the cross. Don’t rush ahead to Resurrection Sunday.

Both Sunday and the Resurrection will get here when they get here.

Instead, remain here.

Abide on Friday.

In this place.

In the valley of the shadow of death.

And pray on the idea of what it means

to believe in a God who is always found in the very place where God should not be.

And to trust in the Lord who is with us in all things, even in death.


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