In my first experience in hospital chaplaincy, back when I was still in seminary, I preached a sermon in the hospital chapel. I was young and stupid, and it showed in the sermon. The sermon was tense and anxious, and for at least one viewer in the hospital, it was offensive.
As I processed this fact and this sermon with my Supervisor, I began to realize just how anxious I was. I began talking about all the things on my mind, all my concerns, all the things I thought I was responsible for. In the midst of this, my Supervisor said something that stopped me cold, and brought me to tears. “You seem to feel that you have to be responsible for all the cares of the world. You can’t. That job’s already taken.”
That’s what Good Friday is about. That job is taken. Oh, the world is surely a troubled place, and as near as we can tell, we’re responsible for a lot of the trouble. Sure, we can talk about how creation is fallen, and how control is an illusion. But the truth is that we still see all the cares and concerns in the world; and we still see them as our responsibility.
There’s some comfort in that thought, really. That’s why we hold onto it. If we’re in control, perhaps we can do something about it. If we’re responsible, perhaps we can take responsibility and make things better.
Well, perhaps: some days we do seem to make some progress, to make things better, at least within our own small corners of the world. But then another day comes, and another event happens, and it all seems literally to have gone to Hell in a handcart.
And that’s without really thinking about the whole world. The minute we start thinking beyond our own small corners, and begin realizing just how much trouble there is in the world, we’re just as likely to despair. There’s no way we can do it. However responsible we might try to be, there’s no way we can make it all right. And once again, we end up feeling both the weight of all the troubles of the world, and a profound awareness of just how powerless we are.
But, that job is taken. That’s the message of the Cross. That’s the point of Jesus’ sacrifice. As troubled as the world is, it is not ours to make right. As fallen as Creation appears, it is not ours to make whole. Yes, we are powerless; but God is not. Yes, we despair; but God does not. Yes, we can’t help ourselves, much less the whole world; but God can, and God did. On the hill of the Skull, on a hard wooden cross, God the Son of God took the concerns of the world off of us, and took them on himself.
It is still Good Friday. The world looks desolate from the foot of the Cross, and, for that matter, from everywhere else we look. There are still days left to go before we see fulfilled what we can only hope for now. But while we watch and wait, consumed with sadness and anxiety, we can also trust. With all the concerns we have, with the opportunities we have to share in it, making the world right is not our responsibility. As difficult as things look, even when we have had our share of making things difficulty, repairing it all is not our responsibility.
That is the Gospel of Good Friday, the message of God on the Cross: that job is taken, and restoration has already begun.