Between Two Thieves

April 10th, 2009

Carmen Schrock-HurstBy Carmen Schrock-Hurst
1981 EMU alum, 1996 AMBS alum, co-pastor of Immanuel Mennonite Church

Read: John chapters 18 and 19 (focus John 19: 18-30)

Reflect: Just as Jesus hung on a cross between two common thieves, I have come to think of a good Easter celebration as hanging between two extreme ways of marking this Holy Season. On the one hand I have experienced Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Guatemala, Honduras and the Philippines where there is an extreme emphasis on Good Friday and Jesus’ suffering and where some of the devoted faithful even practice self-flaggelation, trying to earn God’s favor. But in those cultures I observed little emphasis on Easter Sunday and resurrection joy.

On the other hand, here in North America we find ourselves awash in pastel M&Ms and pink marshmallow chicks: a theology of fluff. Ours is a culture that likes to fast forward past the Good Friday story and go straight to Easter brunch wearing our Easter bonnets. We don’t like suffering. We no longer close banks, schools and businesses on Good Friday, as we’d rather worship the god of consumption than of redemption. Most of our society skips attending any type of Good Friday service, but our churches are full on Easter Sunday.

Jesus hangs in the middle, between the thieves and between all cultures: betrayed, tortured, suffering, forgiving. In his last moments he cares for his mother and for those beside him. Hearing about Jesus’ betrayal by a trusted friend, his condemnation by both religious and civil authorities, and his suffering and death is never easy. But it is the foundation of what we believe. Without Good Friday there is no Easter.

In our small congregation in Pittsburgh one of our Good Friday traditions was to each take a turn kneeling at the foot of a large wooden cross that was laying on the floor at the front of the church. With a large hammer we were invited to pound a nail into the cross. The slow and steady rhythm of many nails being pounded, “thump, thump, thump” echoed through an otherwise silent church and would pierce my heart, bit by bit. Sitting in silent reflection it was never hard for me to come up with examples from my day to day life of how I had failed Jesus. The harder part was letting those examples remain at the foot of that cross.

Jesus’ final words “it is finished” are a reminder that nothing we do can add to the saving work of his resurrection that triumphed over suffering, sin and death. We are freed from the thief of legalism and self deprivation that tries to earn salvation by proving devotion. And we are freed from the thief of over-consumption and the deceptive invitation to buy happiness and salvation with pastel M&Ms and marshmallow chicks. Thanks be to God that Jesus hung in the middle.

Respond: Jesus, in your dying you modeled suffering love. Help us to learn from the mystery of your life and death and to spend today willing to face some difficult truths in our own hearts, as we prepare to celebrate anew the power of your resurrection. Thank you that in you “the work is finished.” Amen.