Good Friday, March 30, 2018
It’s not easy for us to be here today. Today we come by choice into the darkest place in the story of Jesus. There’s nothing happy about Good Friday. You can be theological about it and say this is the day of our salvation, but the story is horrendous. It takes us to that place of tragedy and evil that we see every time we read or hear the news headlines: a teenager in the US killing students at a school; women, men and children being trafficked – even here in Toronto; the merciless war in Syria killing and uprooting millions; the continual suffering of the poor, the hungry, the oppressed.
Good Friday presents us with the full awareness human evil and brokenness and suffering, and brings it all into focus on one man’s tortured body nailed to a cross.
And where is God? Why does God let all this happen?
Sometimes we’ve imagined that God is angry with us and sits on His throne in heaven watching us suffer the consequences of our actions. Sometimes we’ve imagined God demands a sacrifice before He’ll forgive us. Sometimes we feel God is remote and punishing us, or punishing others, for the evil that we do.
But none of that is part of the Christian gospel.
The Christian gospel proclaims that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” (2 Cor. 5: 19) God is not punishing Jesus in our place, or demanding a sacrifice good enough to do the job of counteracting all evil. God was in Christ. It’s God here at the cross. It’s God here, in the midst of human evil and pain.
The cross is the place where God through Christ breaks the chains of evil, sin, suffering, death and despair once and for all. The cross is where Jesus doesn’t run away or fight back, but sees his mission through – his mission to bring the loving forgiveness of God into the world, and open a way through the darkness into the light of God’s kingdom.
We pray it in our Eucharistic Prayer here on Sundays: “He chose to bear our griefs and sorrows, and to give up his life on the cross; that he might shatter the chains of evil and death, and banish the darkness of sin and despair.”
This cross and all its ugly pain is where God enters into the brokenness and fallenness and sinfulness and tragedy of the world, and draws it all into His transforming love. The cross is where God says, “I love you this much.”
The name “Good Friday” comes from the old English, meaning “God’s Friday.” This day is God’s day: God’s day of salvation where divine love – infinite, aching, transformative love – is poured out onto the sin and suffering of the world, and reveals a deeper truth. God is here, with us all along; not waiting in heaven for Jesus to do something before we can be forgiven, but here in Jesus, here in the pain. And we know the story doesn’t end here. Death and evil don’t have the last word. Love cannot be conquered.
Jesus’ last words, according to John’s gospel, were, “It is finished!” Words not of defeat but of victory. The divine work is done. Throughout the telling of the story of Jesus’ death, John’s gospel is clear that Jesus isn’t a victim: this is the playing out of God’s incarnate love here among us.
So in John’s account there is no anguish or doubt in Jesus’s mind: there is no agony in the garden of Gethsemane, no praying for God to take the cup away from him. Jesus comes forward and delivers himself into the soldiers’ hands. He speaks calmly to the high priest and to Pilate. He carries his own cross. He takes care of his mother. And he doesn’t cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He simply says, “It is finished.” It’s done. All has been accomplished. The trajectory of love has run its course all the way into and through death. And then he bows his head and quietly dies.
By telling the story this way, John is saying that God was there, in Christ, reconciling the world to himself. Right there in the darkness and suffering, God was present.
That matters to me. It matters because I believe it’s always true.
I believe God continues to be present in darkness and suffering.
I believe God continues to hold the arms of love wide open to us, even when we’ve turned away.
I believe God takes the burden of sin and evil and lifts it off our shoulders, carrying it to the cross instead.
In a while we’ll each have a chance to walk right up to the cross, and kneel before it with a nail in our hands. The nail might represent your own suffering, or someone else’s. It might represent the sin that clings closely to you and has a destructive power in your life. It might represent the evil that has been inflicted on you by someone else. Whatever it is, put it down.
On this day – Good Friday, God’s Friday – let God be God and deal with all that’s wrong with this world.
On God’s Friday come to the cross, the symbol of great love and great suffering, and let it touch your heart.
On God’s Friday trust that we’re not lost and alone in our broken world. This cross draws the broken pieces into the very heart of God’s love. Amen.