Mother Katherine’s sermon preached on Good Friday, April 1, 2021

Posted by on Fri, Apr 2, 2021 in Holy Week, Sermons

Good Friday

April 2, 2021

We enjoy a great deal of scripture in Holy Week, and we use many words to pray, especially today. We do so because this is the fundamental and crucial story of Christianity. If we read only a few verses of the Passion we lose the power of it. If we learn and know only part, we as Christians are incomplete.

We don’t expect to retain every word. Somewhere in the familiar scripture and prayer of these trivium days will be a phrase, even an idea, that catches your attention and that rings true in a new way. You will carry it with you to bed that night, into Eastertide, and hopefully well beyond. Hear it in the context of the full ritual today, tomorrow and Easter Day. Instead of trying to hold fast to every detail, I suggest immersing yourself in the whole of it, take off your watch, turn off your phone, and surrender to it. Let it speak and flow around you, let the most powerful story ever known enter into you. Then reflect on a truth revealed that moved you. 

Amidst all of these powerful words, we also inquire of the silences; they too are part of the story. Particularly evocative for me is Jesus’ silence in response to Pilate’s questioning. “What is truth?” …silence. We, and they, remember him saying, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Will this haunting unanswered question come back to them after the resurrection when Jesus tells a dubious Thomas, I am the truth! —? Pilate tries again, “Where did you come from?” …silence…  again. In the heavy hush is his wordlessness answer, and we know something has changed. Incredulous and now desperate, Pilate says, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” So far from true that Jesus answers; Pilate has only ever had the power given him by God. 

The flogging, taunting, dragging the heavy cross are all things our Lord could have escaped yet did not try. Isaiah’s suffering servant comes to life; “he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent.” Stunned, Jesus’ followers are afraid to ask, Where is God in this? The psalmist’s words echo back their growing despair, “O my God, I cry in the daytime, but you do not answer; by night as well, but I find no rest.” And, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me, and are so far from my cry…?” Those familiar words ring so deep you can hear your heartbeat as they fade. With or without words, God has answered eloquently in the silence, and gives us pause to listen. 

On Palm Sunday I said that moments of truth reveal Jesus’ identity and our own. The crucifixion and resurrection are the most epic instances of this ever known. “Woman, here is your son.” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” In eight words his tender loving care is revealed, and we see he too knows the terrible pain of giving up those he loves and entrusting them to each other ever after. He surrenders his mother’s touch and presence, his dearest friend’s companionship and innermost understanding. John’s gospel said this from the very first lines; “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.”  His perspective is credible precisely because he knows what it feels like to be human, in human pain, suffering, love, affection. Here’s why this matters; when someone tries to comfort us our pain or grief,  if they know nothing of such things at best they can be sympathetic. Even well-intentioned this feels rather ineffectual. But if they too have known grief and pain, their consoling presence is authentically empathic, wether in words or loving silence. This is Jesus, being human, on the cross. God’s mercy is so true and comforting because in Jesus God is not only divine, but also fully human. God in Christ knows what it is to come to the point of human loss, even death.

Finally he says, “It is finished.” He bowed his head and gave up his spirit.       The loudest most profound silence.       Jesus gives up his spirit out of love for us, and in doing so he opens the door to eternal life. What is really finished here when Jesus gives up his spirit, is death. We too have things to surrender to God, things which get in the way of a life in Christ. We might need to give up a spirit of prejudice, suspicion, envy, greed, or apathy for example, for that gift of new life can only happen when we love and trust God enough to yield and not hold back —-when we too can say, It is finished.

© 2021 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.