Good Friday: April 2, 2021
Year B: Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 10:16-25; John 18:1-19, 42
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Good Friday comes every year with its unique burden of grief. We know the story, we have heard it, felt it, wept over it. But every year it comes to us with renewed regret and sorrow, even though, we know the story does not remain in tragedy but emerges in triumph.
Yet the pain of it never diminishes. When we hear the words of John, so simple and so utterly heartbreaking, we allow our hearts to be wounded anew.
If we’re honest with ourselves, we don’t like dealing with Good Friday. Most of us desire to look for things on the bright side of life. When we think about our desires and our wants, most of us do not ask for challenges and difficulties. We want life to be happy and enjoyable.
Yet, here we are on a day when Christians put our focus on Jesus dying on the cross. What did it mean? Why did it happen? What is the result of such a horrible event?
People are inclined to sanitize the crucifixion, to spiritualize it, make it symbolic, or liken it to stuff we can identify with like some small sacrifice or privation. But Jesus’ death can’t be sanitized or spiritualized.
What should strike us is the injustice of it all – the actions that bring the prophecy of Isaiah to its startling reality: Jesus who lived in total obedience to God is being made an object of scorn. Jesus who loved so thoroughly and so completely is being left alone, spat upon, and rejected – a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
People who are crucified die of asphyxiation. Jesus suffocated on that cross. This week, the trial of the man who kneeled on George Floyd’s neck took place in Minneapolis. Mr. Floyd died, saying “I can’t breathe!” and calling for his mama.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
A cry of desolation. The first words of Psalm 22. If ever God was one with the suffering of the poor and the oppressed, it was at that moment. Jesus was really human, not some sort of superhero or a divine being who just appeared to be human. God among us as one of us, feeling what we feel doing what we do. We see him, subject to the sins of this world, taking them into his own body, losing life as all humans lose their life. This is how he died for our sins, subject to human anger, fear, bureaucratic craftiness, and manipulation. Those same things that we see all around us.
We spend this day reflecting on Jesus’ death, absorbing its reality and painfulness. It might appear that this is about the forces of death winning, of cynicism, fear, and hatred becoming the final reality. Jesus did die. In exactly this awful way. We spend this day appreciating this—that his death is real, and affects us. That it’s not some symbolic nod to impermanence or something we can shrug off. We cannot avoid the depth of God’s gift of love—of Jesus’ gift of love to us. God did not leave us alone and bereft, though sometimes that is exactly how we feel.
All of this reiterates the fact that we, as humans, do not know what to do with love when we see it in its purest expression. On one hand, we welcome it, on the other, we poke and prod it. We ask questions of it, try to tame and domesticate it. And yet, in the end, we are left searching still.
Perhaps that is what is so heart-rending about Good Friday and the cross.
You might have heard the phrase, the “dark night of the soul”. It’s a term coined by Saint John of the Cross referring to the pain and loneliness felt by mystics aching for union with God. Good Friday is a dark day. Jesus is gone and we are bereft and searching.
Dark nights, dark days are inescapable. As Dante put it, we sometimes find ourselves in a dark wood. For the Hebrew prophet Jonah, it’s not a dark wood in which he finds himself, but a stormy night at sea. The dark night is that space in simply cannot find a way out. We have that feeling of being trapped, of not having options, of being stripped away from that which we most love. The only way forward seems to be, as Jonah asks his fellow sailors, to be thrown overboard.
At the cross, we see the way forward. We see God’s utter commitment to a world that is so often ambivalent to that love.
The cross communicates the deepest and most profound truth of the Christian tradition: you are loved by the God whose eternal power is love. When you fail to feel it or receive or return it, you are loved. When you buck against God’s embrace like a two-year-old’s late-afternoon tantrum, you are loved. When you avert your eyes from the Lord’s outstretched arms on the cross, the most perfect expression of love—when you turn your gaze from it, from him—you are loved still.
This day, we behold our God, our Lord, who loved his own to the point of death. We see again the agonizingly beautiful continuation of a sacrificial life solely lived in and through love. The church is invited to cast its eyes upon the cross this day, remembering afresh the sobering terminal diagnosis and the life-giving possibility of love’s way. Might we look anew on the one crucified to lead and educate us on this way.
In Mark’s passion, we hear these final words: Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’ Mark 15:37-39
Before the Covid-19 caused us to cancel services inside our churches, the sermons were usually recorded at St. Andrew’s and uploaded by Kemp Miller, for whose ministry we are all grateful. To access the entire library of audio files for past sermons, CLICK HERE.