Timothy Miller – Good Friday Address 2013 St Mary the Virgin Primrose Hill
May I speak in the name of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
I have grown up in a culture that told me I was supposed to happy, to have things I wanted and do what I pleased with my life. In church I was told that way of thinking was wrong because none of it would be fulfilling. If I wanted to be fulfilled in life I had to have God in my life, then I could be happy, have the things I wanted and do what I pleased with my life. If God was not first then all other things would be found wanting. How could I have God? The answer was simple, I just needed to say the sinner’s prayer; this moment where I verbally and publicly acknowledged my sin, my separation from God and my desire to have Jesus to forgive me and become the Lord of my life. By this I was assured of eternal salvation. It would give me a pass into heaven. I would no longer be bound for the eternal damnation that my sin required. In light of this eternal salvation the meaning of Good Friday was reduced to a reminder of the sinful man I am and the continual unconditional love of God that will not punish me for what I deserve.
It was described to me in these two ways (maybe one or both will be familiar to you). Firstly I could understand this sinful separation as a chasm. I was on one side and God was on the other. My sin separates me from being with Him. There was, and is, nothing I can do to get me from side A, where I am, to side B, where God is. Then along comes Jesus, he dies and makes a way for me, the ‘cross shaped bridge’. The chasm is closed, not by anything I have done but by what Christ has done, his cross becomes the means by which I can be with God.
Secondly, the separation is described as being within me, the chasm is felt as an unsatisfiable hole in myself. The ‘God-shaped hole’ we all contain. I attempt to fill myself and feel fulfilled in my work, my leisure, my relationships, my possessions; but, I am an unsatisfied black hole of consumption, this consumption never brings me wholeness or true satisfaction. Then along comes Jesus. He has made a way that my emptiness can be attended by God. He fills me so I find my satisfied and content in Him. This chasm is a ‘God-shaped hole’ and only one piece can fit it, God.
Both analogies have their strengths and brought the message home to me. I was sinful, separated, needing forgiveness and never to be satisfied unless God came into my life, by the death of Christ, and filled the void I was feeling. In each analogy Christ is the means to being satisfied, he is the true piece to fit the chasm we experience. Was that all there was to it?
Rejection from country is aways a looming threat for immigrants, my wife Meagan and I know this all too well. In April 2012, we received a letter from the UK Border AGency informing us that our visa application had been refused and that we had to leave the country immediately. We had two weeks to get all of our affairs in order and to head back to Canada. We had to leave everything and everyone and return to a place that was no longer home (although, we do still love Canada and think it is an amazing place to visit and see). On top of that, we still felt strongly that we were supposed to be here, that our time and purpose had not yet been fulfilled. Rejection and disorientation are not a great mix.
Initially we held out hope, as I had just gone for my panel interviews to see if the church felt God calling me to become a priest. It would be our way back into the UK and our means to pick up what had to be so hurriedly left behind. We waited for a few weeks to hear the report from the panel only to hear the news I had been dreading, ‘We do not recommend Timothy for training’. I was devastated and confused, to say the least. What was God doing? Why did I feel this was my path, my call? Why had so many others confirmed this call I felt? And, why at this time when I needed Him more than ever, did God seem so distant? How was it that the God who loved me, saved me from my sins so I could live eternally with him, have suddenly left me? Was he under the same impression I was, that our relationship was about eternity not about here and now?
This summer I read a book by a contemporary theologian/philosopher, Peter Rollins, The Idolatry of God. In his book, Rollins identifies this boiled down version of the saving work of God as our movement of Christ to an idol. Just as with cultural influences we come to worship the things we think will make us whole, we believe that hat we want is what we are truly lacking. In this framework Christ can become a means to fulfil our desires. I discovered this summer that, whether it is the goods I consume or the promise of eternity with Christ who saves, life itself can still be unsatisfying. I came to see how, in my attempt to understand the simplicity of the Gospel and saving work of Christ, I had unintentionally moved from recognising God as the source of my desire to him being the means by which my desires were to be fulfilled. This summer, we went through a type of hell and I realised that I not only believed what culture had been telling me about happiness and the true meaning of life, but I had come to expect God to believe culture’s message so he could make me secure in life now and in the life to come. Rollins’ challenges that God is not the one who comes to fulfil and satisfy us in the social framework, but by his death he actually destroys the framework to make room for the mystery of His Kingdom.
As we look to the cross we are reminded of the things Christ has done. A king who rode victorious into Jerusalem, but on a donkey (John 12.12-19). He spoke in parables that seemed confusing to many of his adult listeners, but said we must come as little children (Matt 18.2-5). He performed signs, wonders and miracles beyond what anyone could dream, then he knelt down and washed the feet of his disciples (John 13.1-9). He shared the Passover with those closest to him with bread and wine, but then said, ‘This is my body…this is my blood’ (Mark 14.22-26). And when he who had done no wrong was crucified, he said, ‘Father, forgive them. For they know not what they do.’ (Luke 23.33-34)
Maybe what is radical about the death of Christ is not that we are finally given the bridge to get to satisfaction, but by Christ we realise that satisfaction no longer matters. ‘The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God.’