Friday, April 10, 2020

Good Friday

I have been struggling this week with the fact that it is Holy Week, and this morning more sharply than ever that it is Good Friday.

My deepest experience of these markers, these holy days, is corporate. I am used, as the psalmist says, to being in the grand procession into the house of God.

Make no mistake: the great heresy of American Christianity is its individualism. We make salvation all about me and my solo standing before God. Jesus died for me, we say, and we rejoice in that. Rightly so. Posters and memes proclaim that if you were the only person ever to have existed, Jesus would still have died for you. There is a sort of theological truth in that.

But biblically speaking, Jesus died for the sins of the world. Jesus came to seek and save the lost, and that's a big group. And in our collective need, in our communal brokenness, in our shared sinful state, Jesus redeems not just a gaggle of individuals but a community. A church.

Our redemption is corporate. I have returned many times in the last few months to the word "redeem." The only non-theological use we have for that these days is for coupons. Does anyone clip coupons anymore? Cut out that piece of paper and turn it in at the grocery counter, and voila! 75 cents off on your Cheerios. Have you ever read the fine print on a coupon? Usually there's a statement somewhere in that four-point font that says something like "cash value 1/20th of one cent." Let's be realistic: most of us don't get excited to pick up a penny off the ground. And this coupon is worth one-twentieth of that. In other words, this is just a worthless scrap of paper. But when I turn it in, the grocery clerk and I agree that it has value. I get a discount on my cereal.

That's what redeeming means. It means to give value to something that was formerly valueless.

So when Jesus redeems us at the cross, it means that he takes what was valueless and declares it to be valuable. Us. Jesus' death confers new value on you and me.

I've been embarrassed lately watching our corporate antics in the headlines. Donald Trump flip-flops in his daily press briefings. Bernie Sanders pulls out of the Democratic primary race (why did that take so long??) and immediately his followers get militant about how much they don't like Joe Biden. News agencies unabashedly use the current pandemic as a foil to sway public opinion toward one political pole or other. Otherwise intelligent people keep insisting that if their political party was in power, life would be so much better. Hordes of hoarders are collecting, of all things, toilet paper. We are a sad bunch, all told.

Jesus' death redeems us. It takes what was of little or no value and confers on us great value. We are precious because the death of Jesus says we are precious.

Good Friday is at the very least a call to raise our sights. It is a call to begin to live as though we are precious to the Lord of the universe. It is a call to fix our eyes on him, to let his love, joy, peace, and patience move us to that which is excellent and praiseworthy. It is a call to go beyond our self-focused individualism and learn to live as a church, loving one another and reaching across the divides of social distancing to pay attention to the least, lost, and lonely. Only this kind of corporate love, this kind of community, helps us to live in the consequences of what Jesus has done for us.

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