Sermon delivered on Good Friday, April 18, 2014, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.
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Lectionary texts: Isaiah 52.13-53.12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 4.14-16, 5.7-9; John 18.1-19.42.
Every year – first on Palm Sunday and again on Good Friday. we hear the Gospel reading of the passion story – we trace out in chronological fashion those last hours. It is a moving story , but does it really move us. Are we spectators who would almost rather sit home in front of our TV’s or in a movie house, and watch it play out in front of us with no little personal involvement or is this re-telling within the community something different, something unique to us as the people of God. I belief that not only is the Passion Story a story of Christ’s . suffering – but it is in a special way a story of our relationship with Christ and how it came to be and how it is meant to transform us.
We are called to be Christ’s disciples – and like the disciples of the New Testament, we are asked to enter into the Garden. It is now not a place of joyful solitude and beauty, but the place where Jesus would suffer in great anguish – first to be relieved from the Father’s Will and then to gain the strength and courage to do that Will. Our we taking time – garden or no – to see the Father’s Will. Are we honest enough to admit that their are times that we do not want to do the Father’s Will. We want our will to be done. How do we respond when the Father says no to our plans and desires? Do we then join with Jesus in asking the Father for the strength and courage to do that which the Father asks of us. Do not be surprised that if on saying yes we still feel unable, we still feel anxiety, we still feel scared.—Jesus did.
Jesus is betrayed in the Garden by Judas. – a man whom he taught, lead, prayed with and loved. Judas betrays with a Kiss a sign of affection – a sign of closeness. Have not almost all of us felt betrayed by someone – someone who is closed to us. Perhaps a family member or fellow worker or someone who we called friend. Such betrayal can hurt as much as physical pain.
Yet Jesus does not condemn Judas but pities him for the Lord knows the costs of betrayal. Yet what of us, we have not also been lead by, taught, cared for and loved by Jesus and yet is it possible that we have betrayed someone who is close to us. Have we turned our back on those we have loved? Then we have betrayed Jesus as well.
Let us not judge Judas too harshly for we may indeed be judging ourselves. Be thankful Jesus does not condemn but gives us the grace to heal relationships broken by betrayal. What of those who have betrayed us – it would be easy to despise them, but this is not the way of our Master. Jesus calls us to forgive, and even pray for those who would do us harm.
Simon Peter is there in the Garden and he is ready to defend his Lord and friend. Not always known for thinking first and acting later, but a man of true heart, Peter quickly draws his sword and cuts off the ear of the High Priest’s servant. How would we have responded? How do we respond now when our faith, our love of Jesus is directly confronted? Do we not feel the heat of battle welling up inside us. Do we reach for our “swords” – that is our ways of cutting the person down? Or do we remember that as Jesus admonished Peter to forsake such, that we are admonished to do the same.
Jesus is taken prisoner and lead off first to the Jewish tribunal and then to Pilate. Peter follows. Eventually Peter is challenged as a follower of Jesus. Peter denies the Lord, not just once but three times. Criticize Peter if you dare but here was a man caught in the most terrible of circumstances – his Lord, Master – Messiah- was being held as a prisoner and it was the same Lord, Master and Messiah that kept him from using the only weapon that he had.
Peter knew that his fate could soon be the same. Of course, he did not want to stand out, he was no fool, he did not want to be seen as different. If we were in that situation, would we have wanted to stand out – would we have been that brave (or foolish). For that matter- are we ready to standout as Christians. When was the last time you declared yourself to be a Follower of Jesus? When did you risk anything – status, friendships, being made fun of, to declare yourself for Jesus. Are you living your life, so that those around you know will say, yes he or she is a Christian?
Eventually after first being abused by the Jewish Leadership, Jesus is taken to Pilate. We could see Pilate as the arch-villain, a man of pure evil but wait is it not Pilate who says to those seeking Jesus’ death – I find no fault in Him-is it not Pilate who in his own feeble and human way acknowledges that Jesus is a King. Pilate gives in only after he has tried his best to prevent a riot and a crucifixion. He is even ready to release a murdering rebel called Barabbas to have Jesus spared. How far are we willing to go to bring the Peace of Jesus into the disharmony of our families, churches, and government?What are we willing to sacrifice. Do we call and claim Jesus as our King?
Then there is the Crowd, just days ago, some welcomes Jesus as the Messiah with great fanfare. They cried Hosanna and placed palm branches at his feet. Now egged on by those seeking the Lord’s death, the demand that death, with the chant of Crucify Him Crucify Him. Imagine ourselves now as part that crowd, we are swept up with the moment. Some year ago I participated in a service in which the part of the crowd was read by the congregation and I was part of that congregation of about 800. When it came to that part of the Passion Reading, the whole congregation began yelling Crucify Him, Crucify Him. Suddenly I realized what I was saying. I had to stop. I was repulsed . I did not want to be one of those who caused the Crucifixion of My Lord. This is Jesus – My Lord, My Messiah and yes My Friend. Yet as the days have passed, I have come to realize that I still find myself yelling Crucify Him, not by my words for I can no longer bring myself to speak such with the crowd, but by the way I keep letting sin back into my life. I pray daily for that time when both my word and my life no longer speak such a horrible thing.
Jesus is nailed to the cross and it is dropped into place, the execution has begun in earnest. Jesus is crucified with two thieves . It is fitting in a way, for to quote a popular song on Christian radio it was Jesus who came to steal our hearts away. Away from the world, the flesh, and the devil and to make them a gift to the Father.. Little did the two thieves realize that hanging between them was the Greatest Thief of all.
Even in the midst of His suffering on the cross Jesus would be thinking of others. He would by example transform the heart of the one we call the Good Thief and by doing so grant him a place in the Kingdom. Jesus would grant forgiveness to those who were in the very act of killing him. How well do we forgive those who harm us? If Jesus can forgive from the Cross, are we not also called to be a people who forgives?
Jesus cares for his mother and He commits her to the care of John and likewise commits John to the care of His mother. His concern for others remains even in the moments leading up to death. Do we in this life share Jesus’ concern for others especially the weak?
Jesus calls out ” My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” Some interpret this to mean that in that moment God the Father withdrew Himself from the presence of Jesus. But it seem clear to me that Jesus was making reference, if not beginning to pray, the 22nd Psalm. While this Psalm starts by prophetically pointing out the sufferings that the Messiah would have to endure in the darkest of terms, the tone of the Psalm changes as it reaches the end, Let me read a few lines. ( Psalm 22, Verses 25-30.)
In His agony, at the very moment of death, it is not that Jesus is abandoned. but it is rather that Jesus proclaims that despite the apparent victory of the world and Satan over Him, that He places His trust, his confidence, in the Will of the Father – that through the Cross God’s victory will be won.
When we are hurting, when we feel all is lost, can we not look to those last lines of Psalm 22 and be assured that while it may appear to the world, and may even feel like, we have been abandoned by God, that we still can trust in the Victory of the Cross.