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Homily preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA on April 14, 2017
Good Friday (RCL): Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9; John 18:1-19:42

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts,
be always acceptable to you, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.

       It is finished.  How did we get here?  How did this happen?
       It was sin in that garden in Eden that first knocked creation off its axis into chaos.  It was angry sin that led Cain to kill his brother Abel, for whom God had regarded well for the gifts that Abel had offered God.  It was sin again at Babel that marked the collective pride of humankind.  And while every sin, whether a capital "S" sin or a lower-case "s" sin is still Sin - an act of rejecting God - the immorality of humankind's wickedness finds new heights -- or depths -- in the gruesome events of this day that we observe as Good Friday.
       Holy Week can make us feel so uncomfortable.  Yes, we know the story - there is glorious victory and the promise of life eternal out yet before us - but to get there, we must first venture outside the walls of the Holy City to a cross on the mount of Calvary.  We must pass through this darkness of Good Friday.  We remember when human malice broke barriers and reached levels of previously unmatched brutality.  The Messiah, our King, who had come to save all things, was nailed to a tree and left there to die.
       On each Good Friday, we must brave the finger of wrongdoing and accountability that is shoved into the ribs of our humanity:  “...this Jesus whom you crucified...” (Acts 2:36);  “...you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life...” (Acts 3:14–15);  “...whom you crucified...” (Acts 4:10);  “...whom you killed by hanging him on a tree...” (Acts 5:30).
       Humanity has never heaped upon itself more self-condemning guilt than on Good Friday.  That simple phrase — "you killed" — pierces through all of our vain excuses.  It was certainly a conspiracy to kill the Son of God.  The culmination of that plot has stained our hands with God’s own blood.
       This is why Good Friday was the most horrible sin the world ever witnessed.  Worse than the corruption of creation.  More incriminating than brother slaying brother.  More terrible than Babel’s arrogant tower.  If ever there was reason that God might again rain down wrath upon the world, and re-flood the globe with justice, there was no more opportune moment than the brutal death of the beloved Son of God.
     
In his Good Friday sermon of 1928, Dietrich Bonhoeffer drives this unfathomable tragedy home like three cold steel stakes pounded through the nerves of humanity's own wrists and crossed feet:
       "Good Friday is not the darkness that must necessarily yield to light. It is not the winter sleep that contains and nourishes the seed of life within. It is the day on which human beings — human beings who wanted to be like gods — kill the God who became human, the love that became person; the day on which the Holy One of God, that is, God himself, dies, truly dies — voluntarily and yet because of human guilt — without any seed of life remaining in him in such a way that God’s death might resemble sleep.
       Good Friday is not, like winter, a transitional stage — no, it is genuinely the end, the end of guilty humanity and the final judgment that humanity has pronounced upon itself. . . .
       If God’s history among human beings had ended on Good Friday, then the final pronouncement over humankind would be guilt, rebellion, the unfettering of all titanic human forces, a storming of heaven by human beings, godlessness, godforsakenness, but then ultimately meaninglessness and despair.  Then your faith is futile.  Then you are still in your guilt.  Then we are of all people most to be pitied.  That is, the final word would be the human being." 1
       This is the awful memory of Good Friday that presses upon us.
       Humanity slayed the Son of God with murderous intent and woeful passivity.  And in this crime, Bonhoeffer goes on to tell us, everything else has been made futile.  All our culture, all our art, all our learning, all our hopes, have come to a meaningless end once we have heaped on our own heads the murder of God’s only Son.
       Thanks be to God that the story doesn’t end here, but Good Friday presses us to imagine if it did.  What if the story ended at the cross?  What if the God-rejecting sin of humanity wrought despair to life now and nothing short of a godforsaken despair for eternity?
       Divine words of accusation stab into the ribs of humanity:
•     You have swelled up around him like a wall of unfounded hate and vicious lies (Psalm 69:4).
•     You have circled him like ravenous dogs (Psalm 22:16).
•     You have ambushed the beloved son (Mark 12:1–9).
•     You have killed the Author of Life (Acts 3:15).
       Let these hard words sting just a moment.  Whether it is stupid or foolish or ignorant or wicked, the human heart brought this end upon human history.  What now can we look forward to, but only eternal despair and desolation forever?
       Being the day of Preparation, Jews did not want bodies left on crosses during the Sabbath.  And as I imagined the thoughts and actions of those present that Friday who loved Jesus to the end, I came across a reflection by my favorite writer - Chrissie Crosby:
      
       It's dark.
       It's so dark, I feel lost in the black, in the inky depths.  I am sucked into the picture.  Not just be the black hole of the tomb, but into the black hole of what is happening.
       This is what I feel in this blackness: the great emptiness of the world.
       The darkness would swallow up everything I have, if the people accompanying Jesus to this resting place were not so human.
       They give me a place to stand with them and grieve.  The darkness above leaves us room to fill with grief, emotions, prayers and questions.
       From here, I don't know what resurrection awaits. //

       I'm coming to see how peaceful this part of the story is.
       The violence is done.  This is the time for ritual.  This is the time for letting tradition take over and begin to offer relief from the pain.  This is what rituals do.
       Now we are all sitting with Jesus before leaving his body alone in the tomb.  Just waiting.  Just drawing out the time before the finality we expect.
       We settle into the earth and wait.
       We do not want to wrap him up yet.  We don't want to consign him to the darkness that is towering over us.
       Once we wrap him, you see, we will have to say the truth.
       He is dead. //

       And now we look inward, in our personal turmoil, yet also our personal peace, sharing only in our presence around the body of our Lord.
       It is quiet in here.  No one speaks in this gathering gloom.  We don't want to leave; we are here to preserve what we can.
       And eventually, when we must, we will finish wrapping our Beloved in the linen, turn away one last time, exit the tomb and roll the stone against that Promise in the earth. // 



1 Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Vol. 10, Barcelona, Berlin, New York: 1928–1931 (Fortress, 2008), 487–88.