Apr. 10, 2020 – sermon

Posted by on Fri, Apr 10, 2020 in Holy Week, Sermons

Good Friday

April 10, 2020

“I have been entrusted to you ever since I was born; you were my God when I was still in my mother’s womb. Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help.”Psalm 22:10-11

On Good Friday we always read the Passion from the gospel of John. On Palm Sunday, we hear the Passion too, as told in Matthew, Mark, or Luke depending on the year, and, like looking at a sculpture from different angles, we have a different sense of this horrendous day from each of them. Good Friday is illumined by John’s words especially in his use of dark and light. Usually this night we read scriptures taking us through the stations of the cross, extinguishing another candle at each stop, and the room darkens. Finally, the one remaining candle shining in the darkness—is ‘hidden’ behind the altar, not extinguished, and we see its faint flickers dance on the wall. Not extinguished because people of faith know how this comes out, we know that no darkness can overcome the Light of Christ.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t there, or even monumental at times. You can all list those which are most daunting in your life – but between war, poverty, cruelty, disaster, and disease the darkness can loom greater and larger, until we forget how to see Christ’s light, or forget to look for it. John uses darkness as a metaphor for evil, and so we might imagine him and his contemporaries living under the oppressive military rule of Rome and the pressuring power of some religious authorities. Of course they seek for light in their darkness. They saw Jesus as standing for them, showing the way to what God commands them to do, in how people treat one another and in living one’s faith.

As I read the Passion gospel each year, I’m always shook by how ugly it is to join voices calling out, “Crucify him!” That’s part of the darkness of those last days – people swept up in joyful Hosanna! at his entering Jerusalem, then turn, a crowd calling for his blood. In “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. urged pastors of white churches to stand against unjust laws and join the civil rights movement. Quoting Reinhold Niebuhr, he observed that “groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.”  A herd mentality seems to overtake our better selves, and the hatred or darkness generated is greater than most anyone would have come to on their own. He’s saying evil usually needs help, and in contrast, goodness can be enacted by a community, or on one’s own; one person can be light in the darkness.

We feel the dis-ease of this crowd in Jesus’ trials, as first “the chief priests and police” call for his crucifixion, and then it is “the Jews” in general who join in, even though it is the day before the Passover Sabbath. Peter is coerced to denial by it when he’s accused of being with Jesus, and he denies it again and again. Being a voice of reason becomes nearly impossible in this setting, as Pilate tries to give Jesus an ‘out’ and asks the crowds if it’s what they really want- repeatedly. Like seeing people look up at the sky seems to make everyone else look too, the Roman authorities and temple powers lead people to put Jesus to death. The cross makes him an example for anyone tempted to be so foolish as to try to bring light and goodness to challenge these powerful forces. We know what comes after Good Friday so it’s hard to enter into the scene as if we didn’t, but I’ll bet most of us can think of a time we were drawn into the evil perpetrated by a herd mentality. Perhaps in a group of kids teasing someone, joining the laughter of an off-color joke, slowing down like everyone else to gawk at the spectacle of a bad accident, or rushing to buy so many supplies it leaves others without? As Isaiah says, “All we like sheep have gone astray”.

John’s version of Jesus’ last day is the only one to include Pilate asking Jesus, (after he’s been flogged and they’ve called for his crucifixion) “Where are you from?” and then declares he has the power of Jesus’ life and death in his hands. While Pilate might have been asking about Jesus’ hometown, Jesus’ answer is about something else; “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above” he says. Though about to be crucified he is beyond Pilate’s power to control. Where are you from? From the heart of God, he is both Son of God and Son of man. Underlying this exchange is the deep reminder of where we too are from, and the truth is about the light of God who created us, sustains us. Jesus’ story, as Evelyn Underhill writes, gives us truth “about the power and vocation of a soul which is transformed in [God] and pays ungrudgingly the price of generous love.” (The School of Charity, 1934)

Finally, at his death, Jesus “handed over his spirit” –our translation says ‘gave up his spirit’ but handed over or deliver over is what the Greek word is. We know Spirit is breath or wind, and we think back to the beginning, to God breathing life into Adam and Eve, Jesus breathing the Spirit into the disciples on Pentecost. I think of medics connecting the breathless to oxygen and ventilators. Our spirit is what animates us, if we don’t breathe, we die. In this moment Jesus breathes his last, he hands over his spirit –to us. Gives the Spirit of God for us.

We pause this Good Friday to pray, to reflect, and to receive this gift. We choose to accept it and that spirit breathes within us. Following a crowd lead by evil will always be a choice we face. So today and in the challenging times ahead, take a deep breath and know it is given to you from the Spirit of God. That deep breath proceeds us when we speak truth to power, when we stand up for someone, when we draw a breath of courage to face the unimaginable. That breath of God is with you; breathe it in and out receiving it because the world has need of you to bear the spirit forth. Breathe it to give you life for animating God’s goodness, for being God’s church, for seeing and serving Christ in others.

Yes, on Good Friday we feel see and feel the darkness, and so we pray our prayers, take a deep breath and know it to be true; that the Light is only hidden, not gone.

© 2020 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.

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