Mother Katherine’s sermon preached on Good Friday, Mar. 29, 2024

Posted by on Fri, Mar 29, 2024 in Holy Week, Sermons

Good Friday

Mar. 29, 2024

Although we have heard it countless times, this is a painful gospel to hear, and harder still to participate in. As we twice speak those gut-wrenching words, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” there’s a bidding to internalize them and ask where our place is in calling for such cruelty and injustice. It’s also natural to want to distance ourselves from them, read as if a line in a play or a story from long ago, or as another familiar piece assigned for an annual liturgy. I’ve done so myself. Our blench is because saying these words is akin to placing Jesus’ death in our hands. For being ‘all in’ body and soul. So how have we to come to this cross? 

We began Lent on Ash Wednesday with a cross of ashes inscribed on our foreheads, all of us, young and old, healthy and dying, young children and visitors too. Bookended by Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, Lent is a reminder of our mortality, a proclaiming of the reality of death, and we do so in faith and in community. This church-prescribed time to pause, to reflect deeply, personally on this message begins with that ashen cross on each of us. Now having traveled through Lent together, as a community of his disciples, our individual reflection on him in our lives becomes all the more powerful in us as a body, as the body of Christ. Many would probably prefer to go straight from Palm Sunday to the Resurrection and skip over the horror of this day, yet we know our lives come to times of trial and anguish, as do those in the world in which we live, and ‘skipping over it’ is faithless if not altogether impossible. To live Good Friday is to also keep kindled, however small, the spirit of hope. 

From Isaiah we heard, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Earlier the author of Hebrews insists that as Jesus shared our flesh and blood, and because of his full humanity he “did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham” (2: 16). We are no angels, but we are like Christ who became flesh and blood and beloved. Theologian and Christian historian Jaroslav Pelikan said that “Christ comes into the world to teach [us] how to die, to accept [our] mortality, and by accepting it to live through him.”

How can we live full lives as Christ-followers if we are preoccupied with denying the truth that we will one day die? I’m old enough to have witnessed and grieved the death of many people I love, and as I do my thoughts are overwhelmingly about how they lived, how they chose to love, and if they were at peace with the life they were leaving and the new life they were entering, —and how to help them into that peace of God. If accepting our mortality means we can live through Christ, as Pelikan says, we may lean together in this painful crucifixion and beyond it. We may let God change the way we live, as surely as the rains water the earth.

Day after day we hear of crisis and cruelty throughout the world, of war, hunger, terrorism and disaster, senseless attacks, both nearby and in places we may never have heard of, and yes, it is utterly overwhelming. We come here to find our way, to pray and listen, and live out God’s call; as our Prayerbook says, to make our lives together “a sign of Christ’s love to this sinful and broken world, that unity may overcome estrangement, forgiveness heal guilt, and joy conquer despair.” This is how we can face the overwhelming needs all around us, and face them as disciples of the living Christ. 

In the first lines of the Passion gospel just now Jesus asks the chief priests and the Pharisees, who are accompanied by Judas and a detachment of armed soldiers who have come to arrest him, “Whom are you looking for?” And when they say, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus answers, “I am he.”

On Sunday morning we will hear him say it again, this time to a grieving Mary Magdalene in the garden of the tomb; “Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?”

For whom are you looking? For whom are we looking? Today we must look even in his pain and death, and look him full in the face. The paintings around this room emphatically press us to do so. In looking we see familiar people in Jesus’ story, we might see scenes familiar somehow from our own lives, and perhaps look through his eyes to enter in so deeply that we can forget ourselves for a moment and willingly be with him and in him. 

Hear this excerpt from Alla Renée Bozarth’s poem Be.

You are embraced,
you belong.
It is enough.
You are enough.

Do not be centered in
your self or the world,
but be a Self, centered in God.
Love and be loved.

This journey with Jesus has led us to the foot of the cross. Here we stand with Mary, with Jesus’s mother, and with his beloved friend John. Henri Nouwen wrote that we are here to witness “God’s redeeming, reconciling, healing, righteous love,” and to join them in this new family of love. We are led to the foot of the cross, and there we find firm, “stable ground on which our belief may rest and rise, a place where we may stand upright before and alongside our Lord and God.”

And standing there we too answer Jesus’ resurrection question, “For whom are you looking?”

© 2024 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved. Posted with permission.

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