3.24.2008

Good Friday Sermon

Readings:
Isaiah 52:13-53:12
Hebrews 10:1-25
John 19:1-37

We, as Christians, come to Good Friday in a fragile state. We come into this service weighed down with the knowledge of Jesus’ death, weighed down with our Lord’s violent, cruel, humiliating execution. We come sad and scared—if our Messiah can be killed, nothing is safe. We’ve heard this story before, we know how it ends on Sunday, but we still feel the pain of Friday. We know that a good man, even the Son of God, has died.

We may need to remember that he went willingly. Some of us come to the crucifixion with old feelings of guilt and shame. We may need to remind ourselves that Jesus knew the message he spread in his life to be worth his death. So often we refuse to accept that God in Christ genuinely believes that we, all of us, are precious, and worth the sacrifices he made. Our collect this evening reminds us that “our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed.” Jesus carried out the ministry that led to his death freely and generously.

We cannot understand Jesus’ death as an isolated incident, as an event unrelated to his ministry. It simply would not make sense to do so; this was not a random act of violence, but an execution. As we grapple with this death, as with any loss, we ask “why?” What harm was he causing? What threat did he pose? How can we make sense of this? Where is God in this?
In John’s account of Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion, the part of the answer to our “why?” lies in the power structure of the time. Everyone is talking about who holds authority: Pilate demands to know if Jesus is King of the Jews. Jesus challenges the source of Pilate’s power. The chief priests are eager to declare that they have no king but the Roman Emperor.

This is the one time of year that I wish we could rearrange the lectionary, and observe Holy Week after we’ve spent the long weeks of Ordinary Time remembering Jesus’ ministry. Jesus has been going around preaching about the “kingdom of heaven” while living in a real, earthly, very authoritarian kingdom. Jesus has been teaching that the humble will be the heirs of the kingdom, proclaiming that the Kingdom of God elevates the rank and worth of many people who had no value to the Roman authorities. Jesus has been talking about a kingdom where the powerful are no longer dominant, and the weak finally become visible and relevant. Hundreds of peasants being told that they deserved more than they were receiving; that’s a dangerous message. That message has started more than one revolution. We arrive at the crucifixion because the Roman and Jewish authorities alike were scared and angry. There was not room for Jesus’ broad compassion and overwhelming love in their system.

We often experience stories of Jesus’ compassion from a third person perspective: there are other characters involved, and we’re looking in through the window of scripture on their scene. How do our feelings change when we listen to the stories from a first person perspective, as one of the characters ministered to by Jesus? If someone unpopular is treated kindly, we might speak well of the person extending the kindness. When I myself am treated generously, particularly when I don’t expect to be, I am not so mild in my response. If I am lonely or embarrassed, I am shocked and deeply touched by the compassion. We have all been in places where we desperately needed that kind of love. We have hurt others, made bad decisions, been the least impressive person in a room for any number of reasons. Jesus’ ministry demonstrates time and again that these things are not obstacles to his love. The authorities of his time saw no value in these people, but Jesus showed them respect and love. Jesus encouraged them to see themselves, not as their society saw them, but as their God saw them.

The tenderness of Jesus’ ministry was revealed even in the intense moments of his suffering: protecting the disciples when he was arrested, going willingly to court rather than engaging in violence with the police, even rebuking Peter for violence, showing love for Mary and the beloved disciple at the foot of the cross.

All of this leads me to believe that Good Friday is not about Jesus’ powerlessness, but rather about the strength required to show deep love and compassion. We’re so horrified by the violence enacted on our Lord that it’s difficult to completely buy into the idea that Jesus gave up his life willingly. The prophet Isaiah speaks of one’s “life as an offering for sin,” and that’s a very different thing than offering one’s death for sin. In the face of injustice, ignorance, and cruelty, Jesus offered a different kind of life: one that was full of hope and love to those who didn’t have much of either. A good friend said to me this week, “isn't it interesting that people have a harder time with the idea of being freed from sin than they do with clinging to the pain of their sin?” It’s right that on Good Friday we feel sorrow for the suffering of our Lord, but it’s also right to be aware that our sins are remembered no more.

Take that gift of freedom, it’s being offered to you. Take Jesus’ enormous love. Take Jesus’ radical examples of love and extend them to your brothers and sisters. Take the gift. Love the Lord your God, and take His gifts.

6 comments:

  1. This is absolutely wonderful.

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  2. This is probably the best GF sermon I have ever read/heard. Thank you very, very much for sharing it.

    ~Charlotte

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  3. This was lovely and insightful friend. I'm sorry I couldn't be there to hear it in person. You'll need a sermon podcast soon. : )

    love,
    e

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  4. Mr. M7:41 AM

    It is a great sermon, one of her best yet (I am a little biased, but fellow congregants told me that afterwards). The sermon podcast sounds like a great idea! I'll see if I can convince Mrs. M to do it.

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  5. I'll be savoring this for a long, long time. Thank you.

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"So keep fightin' for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don't you forget to have fun doin' it. Lord, let your laughter ring forth. Be outrageous, ridicule the fraidy-cats, rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce. And when you get through kickin' ass and celebratin' the sheer joy of a good fight, be sure to tell those who come after how much fun it was."
-Saint Molly Ivins