Homily preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA on April 18, 2014.
Good Friday, Year A (RCL): Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 10:16-25; John 18:1-19:42.
I speak to you in the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
During a phone call last Friday with a dear clergy mentor of mine, a clergy peer tried to reach me on my cell phone. I dismissed that call and continued my conversation. As we wrapped up our call, my priest friend told me that his associate was probably calling me because a young member of their parish had died unexpectedly. After the shock that enveloped me and the sorrow that flooded me over a life lost way too soon, my mind quickly turned to the father. I realized that my friend Eugene had suddenly lost the one thing that he cared for most, his 9-year old son Andrew, and my mind began to swim because of all the implications of this death, and all the complications that revolve around this particular family.
When I returned the cell phone call, my peer asked if I might be available to meet my friend when he returned from the hospital. I remember thinking that this would be a different kind of Holy Week for me. I remember hearing the words “Who will take up and bear the Cross of Christ, and who will go for us?” I knew that I would go.
As I sat with Eugene, I was without words, but my mind raced with all the bad things I’ve heard people say, including me, when trying to comfort family and friends in a time of despair. I remember one priest saying at a funeral, ‘God needed angels in heaven,’ which almost sent me, screaming from the church.
As I sat there with this despondent father, I watched a living portrait of a passion drama play before my very eyes, for I literally saw and heard the physical, emotional anguish of what losing one’s only son to death looks like. The image it evoked, for me, is the plaintive cry from Psalm 22:
“I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my mouth is dried up like a pot-sherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.” (Ps 22:14-15)
The idea that ‘God so loved the world that God gave God’s only Son, to the end that all who believe in Him may not perish but may have life everlasting’ had a new face and a different name. And it begs the question, of you and of me: What does this mean to us who are disciples of Jesus Christ, who are followers of The Way, which leads us again and again, and even now, to the foot of a Cross on Calvary? What does it mean that we believe that God did this for us?
What does this mean for Eugene, who, when and if he is ever ready again to hear the resurrection promise of Easter, knows that this is how God felt?
At the heart of this Good Friday liturgy is The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John, which proclaims Christ as a triumphant king who reigns from the Cross … who reigns from the Cross! The ancient title for this day – the Triumph of the Cross – reminds us that the Church gathers this day, not to mourn the death of Jesus, but rather to celebrate Christ’s life-giving Passion. Today, for us and on the day of our baptism, the hard wood of the Cross became for each of us the Tree of Life. In the ancient bidding prayers, we offer petitions for the entire world for which Christ died. Our liturgy tonight will culminate in the Great Easter Vigil tomorrow night.
In the reading from the prophet Isaiah, the fourth Servant Song promises ultimate vindication for the Servant, who made his life an offering for sin. The early church saw in the servant’s pouring out of himself to death and being numbered with the transgressors important keys for understanding the death of Jesus Christ.
The Letter to the Hebrews says that through the death of Jesus, forgiveness of sins is worked out, and that access to God is established. Hence, when we gather together for worship in the Word and Sacraments, and when we love one another, we experience anew the benefits of Christ’s Passion and death.
In John’s narrative, Jesus of Nazareth is called King of the Jews, the Son of God, and most significantly, I AM, the very name of God. Christians see in the man dying on the Cross the mystery of God’s self-giving love. Along with characters in John’s Passion, we can sing with the hymn writer Caroline Maria Noel, “At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, every tongue confess him king of glory now.”
Here, we must confront the universality of the Cross: a universality of rejection. No one stands beside Jesus at his trial, and even the disciples who witness his crucifixion are rendered voiceless, mystified by the day’s events. Dare we also allow ourselves to be silenced at the Cross today? Can we honestly come to terms with our own rejection of what Jesus offers? Perhaps in the silence of our own “No!” to Jesus we can hear the resounding promise of God’s “Yes!” to us from the Cross.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. understood the challenge of the Cross. He wrote in his autobiography, “The Cross is something that you bear and ultimately that you die on. The Cross may mean the death of your popularity … It may cut your budget down a little, but take up your cross and just bear it.” (Autobiography, New York: Time Warner, 1998, p. 343). The Cross comes in different forms for each of us. What is the shape of your cross?
Our Sunday liturgy opens “in the name” of the Triune God; we are baptized into this Triune name of God. We Christians say that it is because of the exaltation of Christ on the Cross that we can call upon and be sheltered within the power of God’s saving name and grace. Each time we assemble in the name of Jesus Christ, it is the mystery of the life-giving Cross, that new Tree of Life for all of us, around which we gather. For Christians everywhere, no meeting can be so totally celebrative that is does not have at its core our faith in the salvific death of Jesus Christ.
I believe that God’s love for us is so great that it can hold all our grief … and uncertainty … and fear … washing it with the cleansing water and redeeming blood of Jesus Christ. I have prayed that all week for Eugene and for myself. The reason we observe “Good Friday” is to sit with grief collectively as we wrestle with that life-giving sacrifice of Love Incarnate. The Cross of Christ has become your cross, my cross, and most especially, my friend Gene’s cross.
We have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us.
- Current Mood: hopeful