Our Good Friday service in 2019 featured a message entitled, “Father, I Entrust…”, from Luke 23.46. There was also a time to entrust matters we have held back from God, and place them at the foot of the cross. (If you want to get to just the message, you can fast-forward to 30:25.
Normally, on Good Friday, I write about the crucifixion. And make no mistake: the fact that Jesus died is an important fact on which to meditate, and for which to give thanks in worship today. (You can do so at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, at 10:00 a.m. if you are able!)
But a big event from last Monday prompts me to go in a different direction.
Last Monday, a serious fire occurred within Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France.
The outpouring of emotion on social media was palpable. To be sure, it is profoundly sad that this icon of religious architecture would be nearly destroyed by fire. It appears that the structure may be saved, and French leaders, with large donations from wealthy people, are vowing to rebuild what has been lost. (That in itself has caused no small amount of controversy.)
What I’m left wanting to ponder with you, though, is the reality that though a building may be destroyed, the church is not.
The church is not a building: the church is people.
Every time I say or hear that, I am reminded of a very old radio ad I used to hear as a child for Dofasco, a steel fabrication company in Hamilton, Ontario. I couldn’t tell you a thing about the commercial itself, but the tagline has stuck with me for well more than forty years: “Our product is steel. Our strength is people.”
The company knew that while they would be known for producing steel products (among those with which I’m best acquainted are the side frames for Canadian-built locomotives), they could not produce those steel products without the employees who make it happen – everyone from the people who heat the molten material to the people who sweep the floors to the people who keep the books in the office.
The same is true of the church – almost.
When we think of the church as bricks-and-mortar, we have only an imagined product. A church building in and of itself is only a tool. The building does not preach the gospel. The building does not care for the sick. The building does not feed the hungry. The building does not advocate for justice.
It’s the people who do that. We are the church.
So yes, be sad for the significant damage done to a magnificent church building which has stood for almost nine centuries as a testament to the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection. But be resolved to be the church. Some of the most effective gatherings of God’s people in the world do not worship in an architectural masterpiece; some of them don’t even have a building to call their own. And while people may be inspired by the incredible architecture of great church buildings (and there are many), let your inspiration be channeled into a deep and abiding faith in Jesus, who died and rose again for us, that we would be his hands and feet in the world – preaching the good news, caring for the sick, feeding the hungry, and advocating for justice.
When the church loses these characteristics, we ought indeed to mourn.
But you and I aren’t going to let that happen, right? It doesn’t matter if we have a building or not: we are the church.
Jesus said, “For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them” (Matthew 18.20, NLT).
For this Good Friday, simply allow the words of St. Bernard of Clairvaux to wash over you. Respond with gratitude, and a rededicated life to the One who gave his life for you.
O sacred head, now wounded,
With grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded
With thorns, Thine only crown;
O sacred head, what glory!
What bliss, till now was Thine!
Yet, though despised and gory,
I joy to call Thee mine.
O noblest brow, and dearest!
In other days the world
All feared, when Thou appeared’st,
What shame on Thee is hurled!
How art Thou pale with anguish,
With sore abuse and scorn;
How does that visage anguish,
When once was bright as morn.
The blushes late residing
Upon that holy cheek,
The roses once abiding
Upon those lips so meek,
Alas! they have departed;
Wan Death has rifled all!
For weak and broken hearted,
I see Thy body fall.
What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered,
Was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression,
But Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior!
’Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favor,
Vouchsafe to me Thy grace.
Receive me, my Redeemer,
My Shepherd, make me Thine;
Of every good the fountain,
Thou art the spring of mine.
Thy lips with love distilling,
And milk of truth sincere,
With Heaven’s bliss are filling
The soul that trembles here.
Beside Thee, Lord, I’ve taken
My place—forbid me not!
Hence will I ne’er be shaken,
Though Thou to death be brought,
If pain’s last paleness hold Thee,
In agony oppressed,
Then, then will I enfold Thee
Within this arm and breast!
The joy can ne’er be spoken,
Above all joys beside;
When in Thy body broken
I thus with safety hide.
My Lord of life, desiring
Thy glory now to see,
Beside the cross expiring,
I’d breathe my soul to Thee.
What language shall I borrow,
To thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this, Thy dying sorrow,
Thy pity without end?
Oh! make me Thine forever,
And should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never
Outlive my love to Thee.
And when I am departing,
Oh! part not Thou from me;
When mortal pangs are darting,
Come, Lord, and set me free;
And when my heart must languish
Amidst the final throe,
Release me from mine anguish,
By Thine own pain and woe!
Be near me when I am dying,
Oh! show Thy cross to me;
And for my succor flying,
Come, Lord, and set me free!
These eyes new faith receiving,
From Jesus shall not move,
For he who dies believing,
Dies safely through Thy love.
It’s Good Friday, the day the church marks the crucifixion of Jesus. Among people, there are various reactions to this reality.
Some turn their faces away because they can’t face the gory nature of death by crucifixion. It was the most heinous way to kill someone in the first century, because the person who hung on the cross was dying not from blood loss, but from asphyxiation. Often, it took a long time for someone to die that way, and the suffering was unspeakable.
Others run away because they can’t wrap their heads around the idea that a loving God would sentence his own Son to die so gruesomely through no fault of his own. Some have this notion that Jesus’ death was a form of “divine child abuse”. Since they can’t fit that into their theology, they stay home.
Still others stand and mourn because this is a memorial service for a good man who got caught in a political revolution. Yet if Jesus were merely a ‘good man’, his death was in vain, because only a perfect sacrifice would atone for human sin. There would be no sense building a movement around a good man who died.
Still others, again, stand and behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, words John the Baptist proclaimed when he announced the coming of Jesus early in the gospels. Yet we stand at the foot of the cross not as those unable to look, not as those who can’t fit death into our theology, not as those who remember a good man. We stand at the foot of the cross as those who live in hope, because we know that on the third day, Jesus conquered death by rising from the grave.
Good Friday should be a sombre day, but it should be a day of anticipation, too, for we know how the story ends.
Still, the resurrection cannot be truly appreciated unless we have walked with Jesus through the valley of the shadow of death. Make sure you go to worship today so you can appreciate the joy of Sunday!
“Listen, we’re going up to Jerusalem, where all the predictions of the prophets concerning the Son of Man will come true. He will be handed over to the Romans, and he will be mocked, treated shamefully, and spit upon. They will flog him with a whip and kill him, but on the third day he will rise again” (Luke 18.31-33, NLT).