It’s hard to be here, in this stripped bare church, hearing that story of brutality and betrayal and abandonment and death. It’s hard to come, year after year, and visualize those details again, re-imagine it, be present to it. Good Friday is a dark place to be, and yet here we are. Something compels us to gather and tell that story once again, and let the dark shadows gather around our peripheral vision.  

I wonder if it’s because we’re hearing a universal story of human sin and suffering – a story that plays itself out in our day as much as it did then. We recognize the same themes of power and violence, betrayal and death. They’re all around us: in Mariupol and Kiev; in a New York City subway and in the ravaged community of Portapique, Nova Scotia. In the tiny unmarked graves of Indigenous children all over this country. These are realities and events that we might want to look away from, but they imprint themselves on our memories and retinas.  

The Christian faith has at its centre this awful, bloody story. The symbol of our faith is an instrument of death. It’s easy to distance ourselves from what that means, and to see the cross as a piece of jewelry or a harmless abstract symbol. I remember years ago, when David and I were dating, he wanted to buy me a silver cross to wear. We went into a jeweller’s and asked to see some crosses, and the young woman assisting us said, “Do you want one with a little man on it?” She was somehow completely unaware of just what that image is and means. We’ve trivialized and sanitized it. We’ve distanced ourselves from the horror of it.  

But our faith calls us to this day, year by year, with no glossing over it. It asks us to see, to hear, to listen, to pay attention. And not just to the story as it played out then, but as it continues to play out today and tomorrow and the next day. The Christian story demands that we have our eyes wide open to the injustices and sin and suffering present and active now.  

Why? First, because it’s real. A faith that excludes suffering or diminishes our responsibility for causing pain to one another isn’t worth much. A faith that is all sweetness and light is built on fantasy, not the real world. Human sin is real, and not just the sin of bad guys, other people. Our sin is real. We’re all implicated. The darkness overshadows us all. We need to see and acknowledge the truth of that. That’s why prayers of confession are an important part of this day.  

But there’s more. God doesn’t stand remote from us, judging and damning us to the hell of our own making. God enters right into it, in Jesus, on the cross. The Holy One is in the midst of the darkness we create. God in Christ takes upon himself the heavy burden of our violence and injustice and lack of love, and shoulders it and bears the full weight of it.  

In the creed we say that Jesus “descended into hell” or “descended to the dead.” And there are legends which grew out of that, which tell of Jesus going into the deepest, darkest places of hell after he died, and opening the prison gates there, setting the captured souls free, ousting Satan as the prison guard, and leading a host of souls up into the light.  

God is in the midst of our darkness, even our hell, and so the story cannot end in despair and death. And at Easter we proclaim a different ending, a stunning, transformative twist to the tale.  

But we’re here today, contemplating the darkness, telling the story of the crucifixion again, and bringing the pain and sorrows of our world to the foot of the cross.  

You were given a nail when you came in. A symbol of all that holds us in that place of darkness and sin and suffering. In a little while you’ll be invited to come to the cross here, spend a few moments in prayer, and then to place your nail in a basket at the foot of the cross. Let that be for you a placing of all that’s wrong with this world, all that breaks your heart, all that you know you’re guilty of, and all that you know you’ve suffered from others, and put it down. Hand it over to God, who is there, arms open wide on the cross, saying, “I love you this much.”