Good Friday, Year B, 2015

Good Friday is a day that exposes us.

The rest of the calendar year we can imagine that we are one of the disciples, lovingly following Jesus, doing our best to live as God wants us to live.

But on Good Friday we remember.

We remember that before human beings could be united to Jesus, first we had to be exposed.

We had to be exposed as traitors, like Judas.  We had to be exposed as cowards, like Pilate.  We had to be exposed as fair weather friends, like Peter.  We had to be exposed as murderous and gullible, like the crowds.

We had to be exposed as people who would sacrifice their own God in order to ease their anxiety.

On Good Friday we think about Jesus on the cross, and we shudder because we aren’t so sure we’d be one of the faithful women who stays by his side even through death.  We are afraid we’d be a member of the crowd.  If Jesus were killed today, we might just be one of the internet commenters sure that if he had just followed the rules, just done what he was supposed to do he wouldn’t have been killed. We would shake our head, and found a way to blame him for his own death.

Good Friday exposes us as complicated people.  We love God, but are too broken to follow him perfectly.  We are Christian, but we are also sinners.  We are redeemed by God, but we are still anxious, judgmental, addicted, selfish, controlling and out of control.

You would think Jesus would wash his hands of us.  Any rational God would roll his eyes and walk away from humanity as a lost cause.

But Jesus does not walk away.  In the Gospel of John, Jesus calmly walks toward his own death.  Jesus never loses control.  Jesus knows he will be betrayed by these disciples who loved him, even Peter who swore up and down that he would be loyal to the end.  Jesus knows the crowd will betray him.  Yet, calmly and in confidence he continues to follow his Father’s will and stays connected to humanity, even at the cost of his life.

God sees all of us.  Everything about us is exposed to God.  He knows every nook and cranny of our hearts and minds.

The miracle is that God sees all the worst parts of us and still treats us with unlimited love and affection.  He remains loyal to us, even though we are disloyal to him.

God looks right at us, full on, and asks us to follow him–just as we are, broken and all.

If you go back and look at Jesus’ speech to his disciples before his death, he does not spend the speech berating them for their sinful natures.  No, his speech is full of encouragement.  He doesn’t blame the disciples for his impending death. He tells his disciples when he goes to be with the Father he will prepare a place for them.  He assures them that they will never be alone, because he will send the Holy Spirit as an advocate for them.  He reminds them that their job is to love one another.

Even when he encounters them after his resurrection, Jesus does not seek recrimination for his death.  He says, “Peace be with you.” and then he sends them forth into the world.

Good Friday exposes us, but God calls us his own and wishes us peace.  He liberates us from our sin, he offers us freedom from the broken parts of our souls that hold us back.

This Good Friday, as you sit exposed before God, may you experience God’s peace and love.  Amen.

Good Friday, Year B, 2006

In the Gospel of John, Jesus is the Cosmic Word.  From the very beginning he is clear about his transcendent nature and his close relationship with his Father in heaven. 

How painful then, for his friends and family, to see Jesus in the most degrading of human positions-hung on a cross.  He has been betrayed by Judas, denied by Peter and hangs before the Marys and his beloved disciple, slowly dying.  O Sacred Head, Sore Wounded, a hymn we sing today, expresses this grief:

Thy beauty, long-desirèd,
hath vanished from our sight;
thy power is all expirèd,
and quenched the light of light.

Jesus was light and life and hope.  Jesus dying must have felt like the most gut wrenching, mind spinning incongruity.  I know I would have wanted to run.  Run somewhere safe, somewhere far away. 

The Marys and the beloved disciple challenge us.  They do not run from the agony.  They do not turn away from Jesus’s pained body.  They do not try to get Jesus off the cross.  They have the courage to sit with Jesus, to commune with him, to be present to him, as he experiences his final suffering.

In the news lately, there has been a lot of talk about the recently discovered Gospel of Judas.  In this text, written about 150 years after our four Gospels, Judas doesn’t betray Jesus, Jesus asks Judas to turn him in.  There’s something comforting about this image-It presents a Jesus fully in control.  But none of the Gospels in our canon presents this convenient story.

Jesus was betrayed.  Jesus did die. Jesus willingly let go of control over his own life for our benefit.  And through all of that, the Marys and the beloved disciple never left his side. 

Last week, I had the opportunity of hearing Charles LaFond, the former assistant at Church of Our Savior, lead a retreat about Holy Week.  He told the story of the experiences of the chaplains to the morticians in New Orleans.  After the waters in New Orleans receded, the city was left with the horrifying task of dealing with tens of thousands of dead bodies.  400 morticians from around the country were brought in and a temporary tent city was built. 

Trucks brought in 40 bodies at a time, and they were distributed among the morticians.  While there were many drownings, there were also as many as 85 murder victims disguised as hurricane victims. After the autopsies, bodies were tagged and stored in refrigerated units. 

The job of the chaplains was to bless the truck with the bodies, to bless the bodies again as they were taken to the refrigerators after the autopsies, and to be with the morticians when they wept between autopsies.  Like the Marys and the beloved disciple’s ministry of presence to Jesus, the chaplains’ jobs were not to free the morticians from their horrific duties, but to stay close with them, to love them and pray for them, to be alongside them as they did their work.

That kind of commitment and presence takes enormous courage.  Facing Jesus’ death takes courage, too.  We worship a God who, while ultimately triumphant, was willing to be completely weak and mortal for our behalf.  While we are Easter people, we are also called to remember the shocking vulnerability of our Lord.  We are called to abide with him in prayer, as many of you did during the prayer vigil last night. 

In the same way, when our loved ones are experiencing crisis that makes us uncomfortable:  when they are losing their memory, dying, getting a divorce, losing a child, we are called to be with them.  We cannot solve their problems.  We cannot always make them feel better, but like the Marys and the beloved disciple, we can show up, we can pray for them, we can love them.

Good Friday invites us to grow into people who can abide in pain.  For we know that it is through Jesus’ pain, through his death that we must enter to experience the joy that follows.  In the meantime, we are asked to wait with Jesus still on the Cross.  Again from our hymn:

In thy most bitter passion
my heart to share doth cry,
with thee for my salvation
upon the cross to die.
Ah, keep my heart thus moved
to stand thy cross beneath,
to mourn thee, well-beloved,
yet thank thee for thy death.