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April 3, 2015, 12:00 AM

Good Friday Sermon 2015

 

Good Friday

2015

 

    In the name of the Crucified Christ. Amen. 

 

    For most of my adult life, I have approached Holy Week in much the same way. For me, it has always been vital for me to don a pair of historical blinders as we make our way from Palm Sunday to Easter Morning. For me, there is value in not resting in the easy knowledge that Easter is inevitable. To be confused, rightly so, of how quickly the tables have turned on Jesus. Just a few days ago, it was Jesus who was greeted as a conquering hero and imminent King ascending to the Throne of David. Those Hosanna's have been all but silenced now, in their place the crowds now shout for the release of Barabbas, and as for this Jesus, they now shout "Crucify him! Crucify him!"

    In turn, my approach to Holy Week has borne similar fruit from year to year. I can reliably be found here at this pulpit on Good Friday, pondering the cognitive dissonance between Psalm 22's words of despair, words echoed in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew's account of Christ's passion with the triumphal vision of Jesus ascending to the cross gloriously in the Gospel of John. 

    If we apply Einstien's definition of insanity to theology, there would be little surprise here. Approach Holy Week in the same way, year after year, and, lo and behold, you're going to come to the same conclusions about Good Friday year after year. 

    So, what is different about this year?

    Well this year I started with Easter and worked backwards. Instead of veiling Easter behind some curtain, I wondered how Easter morning could inform our understanding of Good Friday. 

    Now, from the outset, we must be wary of this approach. Our Gospel on Sunday will be from the Gospel of Mark, which is quite different from the Gospel of John's account. You certainly can not take John's understanding of Holy Week and apply it to Mark, nor vice versa. But what if we could examine Mark's Easter in such a way that we could understand Good Friday in general, then perhaps tailor that newfound perspective towards the nuanced accounts in each of our four gospels?

    

    So what will we find on Easter Sunday in Mark's gospel? Surprisingly, not much good news. The women who witnessed Jesus' death upon the cross arise early before dawn to anoint Jesus' body in the tomb. However, when they approach the tomb, they find a young man, presumably an angel, telling them that they are looking for Jesus in the wrong place. He is no longer in the tomb. He is risen, just as he said he would be, and he awaits both the women and his disciples ahead in Galilee. 

    As for the women's reaction to this news...well...for that you'll need to come back Easter morning--but there is something remarkable about this angel informing the women that they are looking for Jesus in the wrong place. And it made me wonder, are we looking for Jesus on the wrong place here on Good Friday, too? Or, more probably, are we simply looking for the wrong thing on Good Friday?

    Well, to answer that question, we must first try to answer the question of what, exactly, are we looking for now, and where are we searching for it?

    For many of us, Good Friday is an attempt to understand what Christ accomplished on the cross. What did Jesus ultimately do, by dying on the cross? Was it, as early Christians understood, an attempt to fulfill Jewish law? Or, as Medieval theologians came to understand Good Friday, was Jesus atoning for the sins of the world, substituting his own innocence for our transgressions? Was Jesus stretching his arms upon the cross to bring God and Creation together, rending the separation from the Holy of Holies and mortals, as Mark understood Jesus’ death? Or, like John, do we understand Jesus crucifixion as Christ being raised up from the earth, so that he might draw all humanity towards him?

    These are all important questions, but what they all have in common is that they are an attempt to understand what Good Friday was, not what Good Friday is. And properly distinguishing between what Good Friday is and what Good Friday was, for me, defines whether or not we are looking for Jesus in the right place. 

    We are really good at understanding what Good Friday was. We have centuries, millennia, actually, of art, song, and poetry extolling the virtues of the Cross. While there is a mystery of Jesus' death which we may never understand, I think that we, as Christians, can in some way acknowledge the significance of Christ's sacrifice on the cross. 

    What is more difficult for us to appreciate is what Good Friday is

    We can sit here in a darkened Chapel and with all due reverence we can marvel at the wonder of God's self-sacrifice upon the cross. For some of us, the crucifix is a powerful symbol of our faith, but the crucifix is a symbol of what Good Friday was. Jesus' actions upon the cross belongs to the Good Friday of history. For us, his disciples, we must understand what Good Friday asks of us today. 

    Jesus said:

    If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.

    If Good Friday is to have any power in our lives, then we must endeavor to observe both what Good Friday was and what Good Friday is

    So what Good Friday is is a reminder that we are not truly Christ's disciples until we take up our own cross. We can not hold Jesus' cross in such high esteem that we neglect to find our own. 

    Good Friday is not an invitation to martyrdom, although it certainly does not preclude it. What Good Friday asks of each of us, is to sacrifice our own sense of self and self interest. As Paul says, "For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them."

    

    Poverty, hunger, disease, loneliness...there are countless of crosses in the world to bear. But I am convinced that Jesus is not hoisting us onto a cross we do not want to bear. What is remarkable about the crucifixion in John's gospel, is that the cross can only be understood in the context of love and success. 

    During his final meal with his Disciples, Jesus says "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." What Jesus accomplished on the Cross, the reason he endured the cross, was borne out of Love. 

    There is no Simon of Cyrene in John's gospel, there is no darkness overshadowing Calvery--the sun does not fail because God's Son is accomplishing exactly what he was sent here to do. John's Jesus is everything but a failure. 

    And I am convinced that we will be given the strength to bear our own cross by the love of God. What Good Friday is is the opportunity, the invitation, to recognize that we will be at our happiest, our most fulfilled, when we search out our own cross instead of our self-interest. When we discover that passion, that love, we will quickly discover that our sense of identity melts into the very act of caring for another. The search for our cross which will give us life, even as we die to ourselves. 

    That is what Good Friday is, that is what Good Friday was: an opportunity to find ourselves by looking for God, the discovery that this love will strengthen us to follow God's call, wherever the destination may be. 

    It is only then, that we will be in the right place to find the Risen Christ in Easter. 

Amen. 

    

    

    

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