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Good Friday in Digital Babylon

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Today we remember that the world we are living in has changed. It changed the day Pearl Harbor was bombed. It changed on 9/11. It changed when we were told to shut down businesses, to not assemble, and to shelter in place in order to flatten the curve. After every instance there is an attempt to set things back to the way they have always been. But – perhaps that’s not the goal. Perhaps the way it’s always been isn’t the way it is supposed to be.
Way back in your Old Testament – the Israelites, after centuries of prophets, warnings, and calls to repentance – were finally taken in horrible judgement and carried off as captives to Babylon. There, they struggled with the question of what it means to be the people of God in a strange new world. They couldn’t go to temple for either worship or sacrifice. They finally understood that they needed repentance, but there was no longer any altar to sacrifice upon. There, they couldn’t even find the strength to worship.
records their dilemma.
Read .

Worshipping in Exile

They were tormented by the memory of how things used to be, but those things were gone.
They sat down in a foreign environment – their new home really, and they simply wept. They had lost all desire to… worship. All they could think about was the way things used to be. They were infatuated with Zion, another name of Jerusalem. As a result they hung up their harps. Their Babylonian captors teased them by demanding that they would sing the songs of Israel – but they just couldn’t do it.
I have to confess, I miss my church family’s presence. I miss being in the building a little – but mostly I miss being with all of you.
But here’s the deal, we were designed for worship. Reflecting God’s glory is, as it were, in our DNA. Of all the people on the planet, Christians in particular understand that bad times do not change God’s character. God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good. And that goes double for the times when we simply don’t feel like it.

Glorifying the gone

The Israelites however were struggling with worship in this foreign land. How could they sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land, they ask in verse 4. Then the real truth comes out. It wasn’t God they were missing. It was Jerusalem. Now, I know in the Psalm that Jerusalem stands in as a representative of all that was true of the Nation of Israel, including God choosing them as his people. But hear me out as we think about this Psalm on Good Friday. Look at the sixth verse: May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not exalt JERUSALEM as my chief joy.
Hold up.
God is supposed to be their chief joy. Ok, let’s get personal. God is supposed to be YOUR chief joy. Is he?
Strip away your church. Is God greater?
Strip away your job. Is God greater?
Strip away your health. Is God greater?
Strip away your family. Is God greater?
Those are serious questions. They’re supposed to be.
In the same way I have to confess, and we have to consider that we’re all dreaming of getting back to church, and I don’t know about you, but I’m already struggling against a desire just to be like the way it always was. But listen.
We are living in digital Babylon right now, I can’t even preach a good Friday sermon in the congregation. But the way it has always been is not our greatest good. God is.
Worship is in one sense an entirely solitary experience between a single person and God, it is also true that worship is a crowd experience as we join together in faith to worship God together. Another way to say that is that there is a unique excellence to worshipping as a congregation that is deeply missed in isolation.
No matter how you express that truth, it is God and not the gathering that we need.

Seeking God’s glory

The Psalm ends with a cry for God to set things RIGHT.
The nation of Edom had participated in the overthrow of Israel, violently. The Psalm ends, with a cry for God to repay the enemies of Israel.
As disturbing as the language is, step back and understand that ultimately they were trusting God to set his glory back where it was supposed to be.

Conclusion

So how does all of this bring us to considering Good Friday?
For Mary, Martha, the other Mary, and all of the disciples. There was nothing at all good about this day we call Good Friday.
Everything was off the rails. A few of the disciples (at least John and perhaps Peter) as well as Jesus’ mother and many of the women who had followed Jesus around had just watched Jesus murdered. Everything has gone horribly wrong. I can almost guarantee you they were struggling through the question, “What are we supposed to do now?”
Does that question sound familiar?
But once again. Hold up.
Everything had gone horribly wrong.
Except.
Everything has gone completely right.
For the first time since the dawn of creation, the world is back on track. All of the death, all of the mayhem, all of the horror has finally been met with the only fix that can help. Jesus the son of God has gone to the cross. He has been put to death even though he was innocent. The righteous lamb of God has been slaughtered. The sacrifice of the ages has been made. And even though not one of the followers of Jesus felt like worshipping, in just a short time they would find out that God was doing something in their pain that was greater than anything they could imagine.
Jesus died on Friday. But he will rise on Sunday.
I have some friends who want to focus entirely on the death of Jesus on Friday. I understand that. But the death of Jesus on Friday is only good news because of the life of Jesus on Sunday.
This Friday, this Good Friday – remember that this is where the gospel comes home. And that in a very real sense. The church has been scattered for a time. And we will, soon come together again. But until that moment, until that day remember, that Christ died for you at home, as well as for you at church. Christ wants to fill your homes.
My earnest prayer for you is to remember in digital Babylon that God’s plan is working out.
Let us look to Him, trust in Him, and walk with Him.
God be with us till we meet again.
Amen.
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