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Mar. 30, 2018 – Good Friday sermon

Posted by on Fri, Mar 30, 2018 in Holy Week, Sermons

Good Friday

March 30, 2018

A child whose family had begun attending church just before Christmas came to the Palm Sunday service with much happy curiosity. However, after she heard the Passion reading she was inconsolable, and refused to go back, and even promises of the usual Easter dress, egg hunts and a church filled with flowers could not convince her. After a prolonged tantrum and tears she told them why; she loved that infant Jesus she met for the first time at the Christmas pageant. She loved his parables and stories about him and his friends she heard in Sunday School, and whose table she was invited to each week. To hear that he had died so horribly was unthinkable. Why didn’t they stop it? How could anyone be so hateful? Why are there so many crosses around if it was a reminder of that horrible night?! She refused to risk hearing any more of the tragic story. Her parents told me they had discovered just how hard Good Friday and Easter was to explain!

Sometimes it is as hard for us to break through that barrier of Good Friday as it is to be willing to enter into it. The little girl didn’t know it was coming, and once it was in her head she couldn’t imagine letting go of it to reach for what came next. We know both the beginning and the end from scripture, and yet it is still hard for us to be willing to let pain and grief touch us for fear of being overcome by them. Are we afraid we’ll never come out? That it will hurt too much? It’s normal of us to want life to be pleasant and easy, but that seems pretty shallow grace once one has gone into the depths of a Good Friday experience. It’s not honest either; we know evil, suffering, and pain exists in this world. We are grieved by violence on a global level and in our own back yards, in our schools, churches and workplaces. We’d like to shut out the reality of such a world because such devastation calls out for healing on a scale so large we cannot fathom our small selves can change it. So we try to insulate ourselves as best we can with cameras on our doorsteps, staying too busy to think, turning away from politicians and even family members we disagree with, we develop bullet-proof panels for children’s backpacks and avoid eye contact with people who are homeless. Yes, Good Friday is easy to relate to even if not easy to willingly enter into. We can’t pick and choose only the beautiful and joyful from God’s truths, we can however embrace the wholeness of them. If we believe Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life, then we take all of these truths in and participate in all of his life, trusting as the psalmist says, “I have been entrusted to you ever since I was born; you were my God when I was still in my mother’s womb.” Praying, “Be not far from me, for trouble is near…”

One of my favorite Good Friday images was a simple line drawing from a set of stations of the cross. It is as if you are looking up at the cross from the back side of it, as if you are trudging up the hill behind Jesus and will soon arrive at his feet. We say we lay things “at the foot of the cross” in spiritual symbolism. We do so as an offering of ourselves, to give up anything which keeps us from being close to the Jesus of Good Friday, and to offer to give up any obstacle to our communion with him and each other. Arriving at that cross and willingly coming around to face such a painful truth makes us pray that our own susceptibility to hate or withhold forgiveness, to ignore the needs of others or to be cruel, cynical or divisive, is somehow recognizable to us as a kind of death, and able to be given over and laid down at that cross. We face the immensity of the love blatantly shown to us on that cross and it lays us bare. Our tendency to make ourselves the center of every story rather than attending to his command to be humble and generous, fades when we come to the cross. We each know what we struggle with, what burdens we refuse to ask God’s help with, which sins we indulge in, and we know which ones we haven’t yet convinced ourselves to give up. Practicing our faith together helps, and I see followers of Christ finding themselves dying to the more self-serving wants, quick fixes and pessimism, and instead seeking to do what Christ has calls us to do. Like parents sacrificing much for their child’s needs to be met, it was done for us, and we do so for those who now come in need. This is how God raises us from the tomb as God has done since that first Easter. We cannot save ourselves, in spite of how highly capable or intelligent or accomplished we might be—God raises us. While Good Friday is true, Easter is too. Dorothy Sayres said, “God did not abolish the fact of evil: He transformed it. God did not stop the crucifixion: He rose from the dead.”

So today as we acknowledge with intention this cross (which is what ‘venerating’ means) we let down the doubt and shame and willfulness that has become our burden. When we touch the cross the real wood meets real flesh, just as it did some two thousand years ago.

This tradition is a powerful spiritual threshold between the mess I make trying to do it all myself and the love whose hope I want to live in. I carried in with me grief today, and it will be with me when I leave, but in bringing it to his cross I find help in carrying it. What was heavy-hearted-ness is lightened and re-created into what I can only describe as a holy presence in my soul. It began to happen yesterday in the washing of each other’s feet, and in giving each other Christ’s body and blood of that last supper. God continues to re-create us in our facing his cross and passion, and seeking to keep watch with him. What will we see of it as Easter dawns?
This day we come forward to kneel and pray, some will kiss the cross and others simply touch it. Lay down what you need to, offering it up to the love of God and trusting in God’s truth. Some may do this with their eyes from where they sit, and that’s fine too.

This day is meant to bring us a deeper share in these mysteries, closer to Jesus in his life, his suffering and death, and above all in his love. Jesus’ last words today are “It is finished.” I’ve long held this as his utterance that death is upon him, now that his life as they knew it was ‘finished.’ Today I realize there is another truth hidden in those words. In the face of this unconditional love, even death itself was finished.

© 2018 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.