Who could have imagined this future? (Good Friday Sermon)

“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;

like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.

By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
Who could have imagined his future?”

Isaiah 53:7-8

Who could have imagined his future?

He was a bright kid, from a good family. Straight-A grades in school. Hard working, he’d have been a great carpenter like his father. He was good at whatever he tried, the Midas touch and all that. So of course it made sense that he’d be a good preacher and teacher. When he told us that “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”, quoting the prophet’s words, the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, and we believed him… in wonder. How is this Jesus, the carpenter’s son?

Who could have imagined his future?

See, we wanted him to be a prophet. But not like that. We wanted him to play by the rules, to heal, but not on the Sabbath. To honor the temple, but not literally flip the tables. To teach, but not rebuke the Pharisees. And if he was going to do all that, to be the Messiah like he said he was, he could have at least kicked out the Romans in the process.

Who could have imagined his future?

It seems so horrible that all this potential, all the work, all the teaching, should just end like this, hung up on a cross between two criminals, his mother and the other women weeping. And silence, horrible silence as the world just seemed to carry on as this potential slowly suffocated, suffocating all of our hope that this one might be the one to redeem Israel.

We couldn’t have imagined this, this future. We couldn’t have imagined a world where everything hangs in thin air, caught between past regrets and a terror that life won’t look any different from now. Silence, stifling all that could have been.

Who could have imagined his future?

Who could have imagined this future?

Who could have imagined that this is what the world looks like now? Waging war against an unseen virus that confines us to our houses, desperately hoping that we, or our loved ones won’t be the next victim of a reality that seems completely unreal, completely impossible.

Who could have imagined that in four weeks, our regular patterns, jobs, rhythms, community structures, and grocery-shopping routine could disappear? Who could have imagined not being able to plan for a future, in a present that is so uncertain?

Who could have imagined the silence and the loneliness that creeps in, despite our best efforts to erect digital barriers to keep us from remembering the fact that our world has gotten smaller?

Who could have imagined our future?

The question that the prophet Isaiah asks, that we are asking today, is found in a passage about the Suffering Servant, which Christians, from the gospel writers and beyond, have interpreted in light of Jesus’s death and resurrection. And so just a few verses earlier, Isaiah says of this suffering servant that

“Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.”

Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases. Surely he has taken up our mistakes and should-haves. Surely Christ has borne our sadness, our disappointment. Surely Christ has borne our deaths, our positive COVID tests, our loneliness and isolation.

And yet, we accounted him stricken. Alone on the cross—a potential lost, the end of a promising career. We accounted the silence as the end.

Who could have imagined his future?

In the narratives of the other gospel writers, the silence at Christ’s death on the cross is not so silent. In Luke, the sixth hour through the ninth hour are enveloped by complete darkness in the middle of the day. Luke and Mark both talk about the veil of the temple being torn in two. Matthew, whose account we read on Palm Sunday, tells us something even more incredible: that as the veil of the temple was torn from top to bottom, “the earth shook and the rocks were split. The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised…”

We could not have imagined this future. We who thought this was the end.

But it’s not the end, is it? This is not the end—I’m reminded of that every time I step outside into nature, which has decided that spring is still going to come. The azaleas are still putting out buds and a few timid blossoms. The lilac by the driveway has exploded into flower, and the rosemary bush by the front door is sending out tentacles of green and purple. Our human world feels silent and morose, as if we’re still standing at the foot of the cross.

But while we stand in silence, the earth shakes. The rocks are split, and the things that we thought were dead are alive again: from the smallest branch to the mightiest oak.

Who could have imagined this future?

Today, this Good Friday, perhaps, more than ever before, it feels as if we are sitting at the foot of the cross. It is tempting to see the silence as the end. It is tempting to think of an uncertain future as an indication that there is no future.

And it is when we give in to this despair that the voice of God’s creation is the loudest, when it comes into its own, beckoning us towards a future that isn’t ours, but God’s. The rocks are split, the earth shakes, and the persistence of springtime reminds us of the hope of resurrection.

So sit here, at the foot of this cross. We may be here a while. But look outside at creation and remember that this is not the end. God moves over the face of our deepest fears and terrors, reminding us that this grief, this life, is not the end.

We could not have imagined this future.

But God did. And God continues to imagine a future beyond today or tomorrow or two months or six months from now, when we will join with all creation in proclaiming that He is Risen, shouting hosanna as we too, are risen.

Video link to sermon on Youtube.

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