Good Friday Sermon – April 10, 2020

Today on this Good Friday, we find ourselves in the middle of the triduum, the three days that begin on the night of Maundy Thursday, which will culminate with Easter on Sunday. We are in the holiest days of our tradition. These liturgies are ancient and they are solemn.

Today’s readings are focused on the suffering of Jesus, his crucifixion, and his death. We are resurrection people who share in the risen life of Jesus, but today we remember Jesus’ suffering and the giving up of his life. We grieve.

The angels’ faces are hidden behind black veils. Crosses are covered. The altar is stripped.

In today’s Good Friday liturgy, We step into the darkness of what happened to Jesus. The betrayal. The injustice. The violence. The cruelty. The suffering. The end of his life.

Passion in the older sense of the word, means suffering. And we have just read an extended account of it. The prayer book refers to it officially as The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John.

The crowd calls for his execution. “Crucify him,” they yell. We stand at the Golgotha, the place of the skull. We go to great lengths to do this hard and intentional work of remembering and grieving Jesus’ death.

But why do we do it? What does the death of Jesus mean for our lives?

During these holy days of the triduum, we are touching the very heart of our Christian faith, and the heart of our faith and tradition, what lies at the very center of who we are as a people, is a mystery. And that mystery is Jesus Christ.

This language of Jesus as mystery is found throughout the New Testament and here are a few examples.

In the letter to the Romans, it is written: “Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed.”

In the first letter to the Corinthians it is written: “When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”

In the letter to the Colossians it is written: “For I want you to know how much I am struggling for you, and for those in Laodicea, and for all who have not seen me face to face. I want their hearts to be encouraged and united in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

Jesus Christ is the mystery at the heart of our faith.

Now when you hear the word mystery, we’re not talking about something like a puzzle you solve, or a murder mystery you figure out. Mystery in the New Testament sense means that God’s saving work through Jesus Christ has been revealed to us, but it’s beyond our comprehension. Instead of us solving the mystery of Christ, the mystery of Christ continues to work on us, if we will let it.

On this Good Friday we are touching the heart of that mystery. What does the death of Jesus mean for us? There isn’t just one answer. But the more time we give to exploring the mystery of Jesus Christ, the more we remember, wonder, question, pray, and worship, the more we begin to understand his significance for our lives.

In today’s Passion Narrative according to John, Jesus is on the cross, and he says one last thing before he dies: “It is finished.” The fuller meaning of the word translated as finished is closer to something being completed or accomplished. Jesus, before he bows his head and gives up his spirit, says that he has accomplished what he set out to do. “It is finished.”

In order to know what those words mean, we need to understand John’s insight into the mystery of Jesus as God’s Passover lamb. John’s Gospel builds toward the Passover festival and he is telling us that Jesus’ death should be viewed as a new Passover sacrifice provided by God.

Passover is the feast of remembering how God delivered Israel out of their bondage to Egypt. They spread the blood of a lamb over the doorposts of their homes, and when the angel of death saw the blood, it would pass over the home to another place. All of Egypt’s firstborn were struck down by the angel, and this started the Exodus of God’s people out of their bondage. The Passover lamb let the Israelites escape God’s judgment and initiated their freedom from slavery.

In his Gospel, John is saying that Jesus is the Passover Lamb of God who delivers us from the bondage of sin and death. The slaughter of Passover lambs began at noon, and John tells us that Jesus’s crucifixion is decided at the same moment. The Passover lamb is to be free of any broken bones, and John tells us that while the other two men crucified with Jesus have their legs broken by the soldiers so that they’ll die quicker, Jesus is already dead and the soldiers don’t break his legs.

Jesus is fulfilling what John the Baptist said about him at the beginning of John’s Gospel: “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” After Jesus’ passion, all of the suffering he goes through, he says he has accomplished his role as the Passover lamb. It is finished.

It’s what we say every time at Holy Eucharist: “Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast.

Jesus is the Lamb that God provides for you and me, to free us from the judgment of God and from our bondage to sin and death. It’s a great mystery. And it will continue to work on us, if we will let it.

Samuel Crossman was an Anglican priest in seventeenth-century England who spent most of his ministry in a small parish. Before he was ordained a priest, he wrote a devotional poem which was later put to music. It’s one of my favorite hymns and begins with the words my “My song is love unknown.” It’s a hymn that fits within these holy days of the Triduum because it recounts Jesus’ passion: his arrest, trial, death, and burial. Here are some of the verses of the hymn.

1My song is love unknown,

my Savior’s love to me,

love to the loveless shown

that they might lovely be.

O who am I,

that for my sake

my Lord should take

frail flesh, and die?

 

2 He came from his blest throne

salvation to bestow,

but men made strange, and none

the longed-for Christ would know.

But O my friend,

my friend indeed,

who at my need

his life did spend.

 

3 Sometimes they strew his way,

and his strong praises sing,

resounding all the day

hosannas to their King.

Then “Crucify!”

is all their breath,

and for his death

they thirst and cry.

 

5 They rise, and needs will have

my dear Lord made away;

a murderer they save,

the Prince of Life they slay.

Yet steadfast he

to suffering goes,

that he his foes

from thence might free.

 

It’s a beautifully written and moving hymn, and what’s remarkable is how personal the lyrics are. Samuel Crossman speaks of Jesus in such intimate terms throughout the verses.

And then Crossman ends his poem with these words:

7Here might I stay and sing,

No story so divine;

Never was love, dear King,

Never was grief like Thine.

This is my Friend,

In whose sweet praise

I all my days

Could gladly spend

Crossman expresses a quiet joy and intimate trust in Jesus. He, as an Englishmen living seventeen centuries after the birth of Jesus, had his life transformed by the passion of Jesus. He remembered the suffering. He grieved. And in the mystery of the passion, he saw that love was the reason for it all. He trusted in the love of the Passover Lamb of God and it changed his life.

Today we remember the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. We grieve. We step into the darkness of what happens to Jesus. The betrayal. The injustice. The violence. The cruelty. The suffering. The end of his life. On this Good Friday we are touching the heart of our faith—the mystery of Jesus Christ who is beyond our comprehension. And as we touch the mystery of his passion, we remember the reason for it all—Love.

As we remember the mystery, the more it works on us. It leads us to wonder, gratitude, prayer and worship. We don’t fully comprehend why Jesus had to die, or why God’s plan of dealing with sin and death had to include Jesus’ passion and death on a cross. But we do know that love is the reason for it all. Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. The great mystery of our faith, Jesus Christ, stretches his arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of his saving embrace.

We can trust that love and make it our song, and let it change our lives. And we can know the truth of what Crossman writes:

7Here might I stay and sing,

No story so divine;

Never was love, dear King,

Never was grief like Thine.

This is my Friend,

In whose sweet praise

I all my days

Could gladly spend