Today is Good Friday. It’s about as late as it gets in the year. As Lent winds up and we reflect on the Passion and death of Our Lord Jesus Christ, it’s also time for those of us in academia to wind up the semester (well, those of us on a semester system…)
It’s been an interesting one here at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Right at the start we got hit with an unusually heavy snowfall (I know, you people up North will laugh at what we call “heavy” snowfall) but it ended up delaying the start of our semester for an entire week. That left the administration scrambling to figure out how to make up as much of the lost time as possible. Once they got back together, they sent out their proposed plan for moving the last day of classes and the exam schedule to put things back on track. They solicited comments, but they were up against some hard dates, namely turning in grades, graduation and the start of summer school, and they needed to make a decision expeditiously. There just weren’t many options out there.
About this time I was sitting in the office of our department head (who is from Kenya) discussing this situation. We discussed things in brief and then he looked at me and said, “They tell us what to do and we do it.”
It’s unlikely that most people who were born and raised in the US would put it so bluntly. We like to think of ourselves as having some input into every aspect of our destiny, endowed with all of these rights and living in a free country. But that’s not the way it is with many aspects of our lives. In our case, the people of Tennessee through their state government operate this University (it was actually established by the Methodists and given to the state in 1969,) the students pay their tuition, the accrediting agencies inspect and give their stamp of approval, the state and others fund the rest, the administration is responsible for the direction of the school, and we as the faculty are charged with giving it our best to instruct our students within the framework set before us. So my department head’s assessment is entirely correct, and the semester now coming to a close is the implementation of that simple fact.
So what does all of this have to do with Good Friday? The straightforward truth is that Our Lord’s voyage through his Passion, down the Via Dolorosa and to the Cross, was an act of obedience:
Let the spirit of Christ Jesus be yours also. Though the divine nature was his from the beginning, yet he did not look upon equality with God as above all things to be clung to, But impoverished himself by taking the nature of a servant and becoming like men; He appeared among us as a man, and still further humbled himself by submitting even to death–to death on a cross! And that is why God raised him to the very highest place, and gave him the Name which stands above all other names, So that in adoration of the Name of Jesus every knee should bend, in Heaven, on earth, and under the earth, And that every tongue should acknowledge JESUS CHRIST as LORD–to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11).
In the garden he agonised over carrying out his Father’s will:
Going on a little further, he threw himself on the ground, and began to pray that, if it were possible, he might be spared that hour. “Abba, Father,” he said, “all things are possible to thee; take away this cup from me; yet, not what I will, but what thou willest.” (Mark 14:35, 36).
But that act of obedience yielded our salvation when he came out of the tomb on Easter morning.
Christians vary on how one should know and follow God’s will. We start with the Holy Scriptures, where God answers many of our questions before we even ask them:
Everything that is written under divine inspiration is helpful for teaching, for refuting error, for giving guidance, and for training others in righteousness; so that the Servant of God may be perfect himself, and perfectly equipped for every good action. (2 Timothy 3:16, 17).
We have the presence of the Holy Spirit from the first Pentecost onwards:
I have told you all this while still with you, But the Helper–the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my Name–he will teach you all things, and will recall to your minds all that I have said to you. (John 14:25, 26).
Beyond that some believe that the church institutionally is empowered to authoritatively interpret same Scriptures. Others believe that there are prophets among us who can speak authoritatively. Still others mechanistically interpret the Scriptures without further assistance.
Our Lord put a high value on authority and obedience while on the earth:
After Jesus had entered Capernaum, a Captain in the Roman army came up to him, entreating his help. “Sir,” he said, “my manservant is lying ill at my house with a stroke of paralysis, and is suffering terribly.” “I will come and cure him,” answered Jesus. “Sir,” the Captain went on, “I am unworthy to receive you under my roof; but only speak, and my manservant will be cured. For I myself am a man under the orders of others, with soldiers under me; and, if I say to one of them ‘Go,’ he goes, and to another ‘Come,’ he comes, and to my slave ‘Do this,’ he does it.” Jesus was surprised to hear this, and said to those who were following him: “Never I tell you, in any Israelite have I met with such faith as this!” (Matthew 8:5-10).
The beginning of real obedience to God starts when our will is synchronised with his. Although the relationship of the Father and the Son goes far beyond a monothelite model, that sameness of will made Jesus Christ’s obedience, to use the Jesuit term, perfect. That’s part of the unity that he prayed for in those last hours:
But it is not only for them that I am interceding, but also for those who believe in me through their Message, That they all may be one–that as thou, Father, art in union with us–and so the world may believe that thou hast sent me as thy Messenger. (John 17:20, 21).
Our union of will with the Father also means that we are united in will with each other as well.
So on this Good Friday and the rest of the year, our relationship with the Triune God needs to be simple: he tells us what to do, and we do it. May we receive the grace necessary to make it a reality!
All scripture references from the Positive Infinity New Testament.