Friday, April 22, 2011

The difficult embrace of Good Friday

This is a lightly edited version of something I wrote last year for my friends at Urban Youth Impact.

Passion Week begins and ends with joyful celebration. On Palm Sunday we stand with the cheering crowds welcoming our King into Jerusalem. Then on Resurrection Sunday we run with Peter and John to the empty tomb, and fall to our knees with Mary Magdalene before our risen Lord. We may sing, "Up from the grave He arose, with a mighty triumph o'er His foes!"

It's easy to love the beginning and end of the gospel narrative. It's the in-between part that's hard to embrace. Think about it. There was betrayal by an intimate friend, overwhelming sorrow, desertion, a sham trial, physical abuse, and finally a drawn-out public execution on a hill outside Jerusalem. The victory we celebrate on Easter had to travel the dusty pathway of defeat. Strength came through weakness. The foolishness of the cross challenges the conventional wisdom of our society in which winning (as defined by the world) is everything. Thomas à Kempis is right: "Jesus has many lovers of His heavenly kingdom, but few cross-bearers. . . . Many revere His miracles, but few follow the shame of His cross."

In Philippians 2:5-11, the Apostle Paul reminds us that before God exalted Jesus, and gave him the name before whom every knee shall bow, there was humility and service. I like how Eugene Peterson renders it in The Message: "When the time came, he [Jesus] set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn't claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death -- and the worst kind of death at that -- a crucifixion."

I doubt if any of us normally chooses powerlessness over power, weakness over strength, living on the margins versus living at the center. I know I don't! But as disciples living in anticipation of that final Resurrection Day, we're called by our master to take up our cross and follow Him. I've only just begun to learn what it means to live a cross-centered life. Much of what I do know has come through association with Urban Youth Impact. By volunteering at their annual events, as well as praying and worshiping with brothers and sisters across racial and denominational lines, I've caught precious glimpses of the cross. I'm deeply thankful for UYI because they give the Body of Christ in Palm Beach County an example of what cross-centered ministry looks like. Day in and day out UYI is taking the good news of God's love in Christ to the powerless and marginalized. I encourage you to get involved in their mission!

Gracious Father, thank you for sending your Son to become poor for our sake, so that by His poverty we might become rich. Forgive us for too often wanting to smooth over the hard path of discipleship. Enable us by your Spirit to give ourselves in love and service to our neighbors. Continue to bless the ministry of Urban Youth Impact. Amen.

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