Not Forsaken: When God stopped by on Good Friday

He entered our gathering space in downtown Casper a little late last Friday night, with a bulging pack on his back. His worn layers of winter clothing, kind but tired eyes, rough hands and layers of dirt beneath his finger nails revealed at least a portion of his story. He carried his home with him, and had no place of his own for shelter or rest.

He introduced himself as “God.” The paradox was not lost on me. It was Good Friday and we had just begun to contemplate the significance of the day that God’s perfect messenger, a thirty-something homeless itinerant teacher and healer, Jesus, was gruesomely murdered by power-hungry, love-silencing mongers. It is the day we remember that Jesus hung by crude iron pegs on a Roman torture devise called a cross slowly losing the strength to breathe and cried in despair,

“My God, my God — why have you forsaken me?”
“Welcome, God - we were just beginning, would you like to have a seat?”
“Yes please,” came his reply, “It’s so nice to be welcomed among friends. You may have saved my life today.”

Our new friend-without-a-home offloaded his burdensome pack. He asked if he could remove his shoes even as he moved to do so and sank to the ground next to a couch.

It was obvious that our newly discovered neighbor wasn’t altogether stable or mentally sufficient. He had lucid moments and moments of confusion. He was disruptive and anxious. And he shared profoundly moving reflections on the deep needs of our fellow humans. He was our neighbor, perhaps without a home, but an immediately present and needy neighbor.

In that moment of welcoming God into our gathering, all our talk about reorientation and taking stalk of our motives and actions during the season of Lent was distilled into one hurting human: God-in-need, with skin and bones and a past and immediate needs and a future.

It was as if every prayer during our Good Friday gathering along our pilgrimage of the Stations of the Cross pointed directly to the grace filled paradox of the homeless neighbor in our midst.

At the first station, Jesus is condemned to death when the crowd blind with fear and angst cries out in one delusional, mob-strong voice to Pilate for his crucifixion. And if we’re paying attention, we recognize that everyone has known rejection like Jesus experienced that day. We prayed:

“God of Love - the One who shows us what true compassion looks like, help us to see every single person around us as someone familiar with rejection and pain and suffering. Help us challenge places of darkness, loneliness, and hurt whenever we can. Give us strength to speak out when others are mean and to stay silent when what we say will cause pain. Teach us how to follow you, take action, and spread the light of love, even when the risk is great. Thank you for hearing our prayers.”

At the seventh station, Jesus is nailed to the cross. He suffered deeply and questioned why he felt so utterly alone. Yet, some of his last words center on his mother’s provision and care and point the way to a vision of family based not only birth but on love. We prayed:

“God of Love - the One who shows us what true compassion looks like, when we see the cross, help us understand that your outstretched arms embrace all. Help us stand up for what is right. Keep us from being part of a group that does ugly and violent things. Give us the strength to forgive others when they hurt us. Help us work for love, even when hatred seems to be on the winning side. Lead us to love our families, and the grace to build a community where all are seen as siblings and parents, beloved ones in your family. Thank you for hearing our prayers.”

At the eighth station, Jesus dies. He turns his life over to his Papa (Abba in aramaic), the God he so intimately knew and loved. By-standers are terrified and some realize they have crucified an innocent man; but they are powerless to reverse it now. We prayed:
“God of Love - the One who shows us what true compassion looks like, help us understand your willingness to be emptied of everything except for love, even your very life. Please help us to be people willing to pursue that kind of love. Thank you for hearing our prayers.”

At the conclusion of our Good Friday meditation, we shared a simple soup and bread supper together. We invited our new neighbor to join us. He was grateful and shared bits and pieces of his story and what had led to his homelessness. He had been a man with plenty of money, living high on the hog. One day he brushed off a friend in terrible mental anguish who then committed suicide. This man who shared our dinner table felt such sorrow at his calloused response that it changed the entire trajectory of his life. We reminded him that just as God is love, God is also forgiveness.

At the end of the night, our neighbor who identified as God, rejected our invitation to see if the Rescue Mission had room for him to stay. We sent him on his way with a loaf of bread and warm soup, a pair of gloves, and a hug. Tears were streaming down his face. I cried as we drove a way.

I am not sure if our neighbor-without-a-home felt forsaken or not; but I am positive he had known rejection in his life, just has he had rejected someone so obviously in need. He claimed our welcome of him into our gathering may have saved his life. I think he saved ours, too.

Around The Table last night - we took to heart what Easter means for doubters + disciples together. We took a good long look at the empty tomb that three anxious women who were followers of Jesus discovered on their way to complete the task of preparing his body for burial. It wasn’t immediately good news to them. In fact, it was directly challenging news.

They fled the shock of it's emptiness and it’s implications, seized by terror and amazement.

Over the course of our reflection, we came to realize the demanding hope of the empty tomb:
Our capability of receiving the pure, transformative, empowering Love of God
is directly proportionate to our willingness to risk purely loving our neighbor.
Easter is about an empty tomb. An empty tomb that unleashes the power of Jesus’ life - a life lived to the extreme edges of love, willing to be emptied of everything but love. The empty tomb beckons us to continue to follow Jesus because he has gone ahead of us, and we will see him just as he told us.

God’s angelic messenger on post at the empty tomb told the bewildered women: “He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell [the others] he is going ahead of you… You will see him, just as he told you...” (Mark 16L6-7)

We will see him in the hungry, the imprisoned, the thirsty. We will see him in the sharing of the bread and the drinking of the wine. We will know him around shared tables, in the taking, blessing, breaking and giving away of the Bread of Life to the hungriest and the most starved for love.

We will see him in the weathered, tear-stained face of our neighbor-with-out-a-home who introduced himself as “God.”

And the world will know we are empty tomb doubters + disciples by our love.

Around The Table, we choose to welcome the stranger.
Join us as we practice hospitality & compassion,
Pastor Libby