RCL Good Friday
Isaiah 52:13–53:12, Psalm 22, Hebrews 10:16-25, Saint John 18:1–19:42
If you feel empty today, I would say that your sensibility is about right. There is no Day in the Church Year more difficult to contemplate or more hard to accept than today. Every sermon ever delivered on Good Friday fails to match today’s significance. We are constrained to think the unthinkable and to endure the unendurable.
Most people cannot take it. To understand this concretely, all you have to do is to compare today’s attendance with that of Easter Day on Sunday. Today is the “pain,” and Easter Day is the “gain.” There is no gain if there is no pain, as weightlifters often say.
Deeper than Pilate’s machinations, more troubling than the chief priests’ and Pharisees’ hypocrisy, and more horrifying than the crowd’s thirst for innocent blood is the inescapable truth that God has chosen all of these things, and others nearly as startling, to bring about Good. This, I think, remains the most difficult aspect of today. God could have designed the salvation and redemption of the world without all the passion, the agony, and the disheartening display of human limitation. It is well within God’s power to provide the “gain” without the “pain.” But God chose not to do it that way. God chose the “pain” as the way to provide the “gain.” That is the aspect that makes me want to flee the cross and all it represents.
But if God chose an instrument of shameful death to be the means of glorious life, we should learn its lesson, and we should accept that choice as providential and purposeful. And that is hard. And like the cross itself, it is worth it.
I can put it to you this way. All roads, all things, and everything that is lead to God. You can be on your way to God by heeding a strange firebrand wearing skins and eating insects. You can be on your way to God by accepting a difficulty or a seeming impossibility that is God’s will. You can be on your way to God by ministering to those with deadly sickness in Calcutta. You can be on your way to God by preparing a meal and serving it to schizophrenics. You can be on your way to God by choosing to take up arms against absolute dictators. You can be on your way to God by doing what we are doing today, thinking the unthinkable and enduring the unendurable. God has made these things so, so that God could be accessible—in everything for everyone—and so that we should be able to glimpse God’s glory in its contrasts, those things that seem so far from God’s perfect will. It is the way of God to demonstrate over and over again, even until even we catch on, that everything that is bears God’s own dignity in virtue of being God’s creature. God has made it so.
And so it is. An innocent man suffers. Justice foully miscarries. Religion denigrates itself and forfeits any claim on any value whatsoever. And, still, all the while, God’s will is done and is being brought to perfection. A cross is a crown dearer than any monarch’s crown however jeweled. Death’s door leads to life everlasting. Every last sinner has the means of grace and the hope of glory. God has done, God does, and God will do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. And, somehow, we cannot bear it. We would be all we need if we could only get away with it. With a dose of honesty, however, we know our need of God.
And God is right there for us, beneath every rock and every out-of-the-way place, on every page and in every kind of weather, wherever the truth can be, which is everywhere. But today, Jesus hangs from a cross in order to draw us to God. God’s will be done, and God’s truth be proclaimed today and throughout eternity, world without end. Amen.