Sermon: Good Friday 2021

Today the entire Western Church gathers to remember the death of Jesus of Nazareth, whom we understand as the Christ, the Messiah, God’s anointed one.  

Hard as it is to imagine, he died in a way that was entirely legal, as a convicted criminal, guilty of something like inciting rebellion against Rome, although, to be truthful, the specifics were probably not particularly important to anyone.  

His case, if you bothered to call it that, was really little more than a verdict in search of some charges, and everyone knew it. 

The Romans were willing to oblige, although as the story makes quite clear, there were any number of people, far more than just the Romans, who wanted Jesus gone.  

His message of peace and forgiveness, justice and love was more controversial than it might first appear.  

Because Jesus’ commitment to healing in body, mind and spirit, and his clear belief in the dignity of every person were transformational. 

Lived into fully, it promised to change not only individual lives, but even the course of history. 

Some understood that this was good news, but those who mostly liked the way things were did not see it that way.  

In a world not unlike our own…a world that made a point of drawing a bright line between insiders and outsiders, those worthy of notice and those unworthy of notice, the way of Jesus was a stern challenge to the status quo. 

It wasn’t just about quietly learning to live our best lives or to find transcendence in or peace with the everyday.   

His questions went further.  

The consequences of hoping in God were much greater. 

It taught people to be dissatisfied with sin, as God was.  

Like the prophets of old, Jesus taught that it was how things stood where life hurt the most that was the most faithful reflection of a society’s commitment to God.

He refused to be distracted.

As soon as his public ministry began, when Jesus looked around, he saw the sick and the grieving. 

He saw the lonely and the exhausted. 

He saw the hopeless and the hurting and those who bore the brunt of human injustice. 

These were his people.  This was his tribe.  

He was their champion.  Their Joseph. Their David.  

Then on the cross, Jesus goes the last part of the journey and becomes one of them completely. 

On the cross, now he is, himself, vilified and victimized, agonized and anguished and abandoned.  

And as he looks down from the cross, he sees as the vilified do…as they have always seen…taking in so much of the ugliness that so many know so well.  

He sees people there to enjoy another’s suffering. 

He sees those grown so hardened that committing injustice was all in a day’s work.

He sees the grief and powerlessness of a mother, watching her son die, and hears the sarcasm of an unrepentant thief who is dying beside him.

He sees the limits of the loyalty his friends have sworn, as they don’t intervene, but merely watch from a distance, saying nothing. 

He feels the slow strangulation of this particular manner of death, in which breathing gets harder and harder and shallower and shallower, until he can’t breathe at all.

He goes through all this.  

Yet to the end, Jesus loves and forgives, until the only spirit he can commend into the hands of God is his own.  

On Good Friday, the Prince of Peace becomes another sacrificial lamb. 

It shows us what it looks like when it seems as if sin triumphs yet again, and the world reverts to its own devices and desires. 

And yet, of course, the whole point is that God has never been willing to leave the world to its own devices and desires. 

God has offered relationship since the beginning…and law since Sinai…and ultimately, Jesus, God’s Word made flesh, to embody the love and healing that God has always wanted for us.   

To teach us to see.

Even on Good Friday, we can see it.  

That is part of the point.  

If we can see God’s commitment to love and heal on this day, then it is within our grasp to see it on the other days of the year—and especially among the faces Jesus would have noticed but that our world may not.  

Brokenness takes so many forms and touches so many lives.

The work of transforming our world into a place of peace, joy, and hope is ongoing, and all around us are those who want to convince us that nothing is wrong. 

Saddest of all is the possibility that they might even believe it.  

So we come to the cross, the place where the brokenness of the world and the love of God meet decisively.

It’s where what we are willing to do to God, and what God is willing to do for us are joined.  

For faithful people, coming to the cross may provoke questions instead of offering answers.  

Hope moves so slowly.  

The world says it’s foolish to believe in it, and sometimes, it feels like it is.  

But we find power in the cross.  

In remembering a God who would not abandon us, we become people who will not abandon God.  

We place our hope in resurrection.  

As Christ looks down today, may he see us taking up the work, taking up the cry, taking up his yoke, until all the brokenness in the world is taken up, and the peace and love of God descend like the dove at Jesus’ baptism, announcing the presence of the Son in whom the Creator is well pleased, and all the world shall say: 

Amen.  

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