[Note to the reader: This sermon is intended as a meditation to be read after the Passion Gospel. It should be read with pauses for reflection where indicated.]
For some this is just another Friday. Fifty years ago in much of the country banks were closed from noon to three o’clock; and many businesses also closed. Now, except for a nod from the Stock Exchange, which is closed, and most public school systems, which begin a long Easter weekend, everything else goes on as usual.
Was it that different the day Christ was crucified? In the city, were there not bargains to be made, tasks to be done before the Jewish Sabbath? Other than a rag-tag group of people following a man with a cross, escorted by a Roman cohort, there was little to call attention to what was happening. No one outside of Jerusalem would have known anything about the day’s events.
So, those of us who have come to ponder the crucifixion and its meaning for us are always a very few. And that is how God seems to work in the world. Oh, there are places where whole villages and towns observe this day with great solemnity, but not in the places where most of us live.
Whether you are in a major city or a rural area, you will see this today – life going on, seemingly without people taking time to notice. As the first chapter of Lamentations asks, “Is it nothing to you who pass by?” [pause]
For those of us who have come to the foot of the cross today, it is something. There is a depth to this day, a profound power in its quiet solemnity. There is strong emotion, a sense of meaning difficult to capture in words. It is a profound power found in the weakness of suffering. It is a contradiction, a scandal, and yet …
When our immortal souls meet the Risen Lord, we will know him because of this day. We will know him because of his suffering the worst of pain and shame we can imagine. We will know him because we too sit with those who suffer, we give a cup of cold water to stranger, or feed someone who is hungry. That is what is “good” about Good Friday.
Today we will stand at the cross for others who cannot be here. We will stand here for those who cannot begin to fathom this day, for those whose own pain keeps them from being here. We will stand at the cross for those who do not know Jesus, and those who openly scorn him. We will stand at the cross for those who have been exploited by others and for their exploiters.
We will stand at the cross for those who think life is an opportunity to get all one can. We stand at the cross for those who are in prison for their crimes, for those who fight on the field of battle, for those who are tormented by memories of war and terror. We will stand at the cross for those who are dying at this moment.
We will stand at the cross for those who cannot pray, for those who no longer believe, and for those who have lost all hope of salvation.
We will kneel at the cross for ourselves and for the sins of the whole world. And as it says in the Book of Common Prayer, we will pray that Jesus will indeed set his passion, cross, and death between his judgment and our souls.
In the silence of this day we will feel the emptiness of God dying, and we will experience something of what it is like to be without God in our lives – the light gone out, and the encroaching darkness coming to replace it. [pause]
The Liturgy of Good Friday takes us to this place. The image of the suffering servant, the cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” at the beginning of Psalm 22, and the reading of the Passion according to John – these things strip our minds of any trivialities. They are stark in their portrayal of a suffering God, and sparse yet full of meaning in their depictions.
Every year in the small town of Lindsborg, Kansas, the Bethany College Oratorio Society performs Handel’s “The Messiah” on Palm Sunday and Easter. On Good Friday evening they perform J.S. Bach’s “St Matthew Passion.” Many of the singers in the chorus and musicians in the orchestra are veterans of dozens of performances. Usually performances of “The Messiah” are sold out, but there is a consistently large audience for Good Friday as well. One long-time singer stepped down from the risers to a new string player after the Bach was finished and said, “You’re new this year, so you’re probably like me when I started singing years ago. You love the Handel and puzzle over the Bach. But after thirty-five years I can say it’s the ‘Passion’ that moves me the most.”
Christ’s Passion, his suffering and death, move us as well. Our hearts are broken but not destroyed; our sins are purged by this day, our business set aside, relegated to non-important. There is no need to transact business because hallowing this day is our business. It leaves us profoundly silent. And as the liturgy concludes and we return to our homes, or our work, our lives are deeply transformed. We know now that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son … that all should have eternal life.” [pause]
On this day we take time to meet at the foot of the cross. There are no words that can describe our hearts, there are no sorrows that can embrace Jesus’ sorrows. The shadows, the darkness of that day are what embrace us. On the day God dies for us, we die to self, and there is room in our broken and contrite hearts for the crucified God to enter them and heal them. Now that we have died with Christ, let the healing begin. O Savior of the world, who by thy cross and precious blood hast redeemed us: Save us and help us, we humbly beseech thee. Amen.