Sunday Sermon – May 22, 2016

Good Friday 2015 “ Year B – April 3

Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Hebrews 10:16-25; John 18:1-19:42

Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.

 

Right after this Good Friday liturgy there will be an opportunity to walk our labyrinth. You are invited and even encouraged to take that 15 to 20 minute walk but, even if you don’t have the time or desire for that, the labyrinth is a helpful image for meditation on Good Friday. Labyrinths date back in Christian usage nearly a thousand years and were designed to allow people to make a pilgrimage of sorts. Many Christians made an annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem but that was not practical for most so in some places the labyrinth was used as a meditative walk to approximate the pilgrimage.

My very first labyrinth experience still sticks with me. It wasn’t quite 20 years ago. I was attending an Episcopal Church Women Conference in north Alabama with representatives from various parishes and a number of other clergy. The church hosting us had a labyrinth and we were all invited to walk it at a certain time. My first surprise when I arrived there was that there was a large crowd gathered and I had to wait in a long line. My second surprise was that the crowd was walking the labyrinth together. There were maybe 30 or 40 people taking part in the walk and it seemed crowded to me and I immediately felt irritated to have to do this with other people instead of peacefully by myself. As I thought about that irritation, it hit me that my approach to things in general was more individual than communal and so I began the walk both irritated with others for being there and with myself for being so shallow minded and judgmental.

Those feelings calmed down a little as I realized I was walking right behind someone that I admired more than most anyone I had met. She was a newer spiritual friend in my life, older and wiser than me, and I took some comfort in thinking that here in this walk I was following her footsteps. I began to think that were I able to emulate her footsteps in life in general that would be a very good thing and so my meditative walk took a more positive turn.

Speaking of turns, labyrinths have a lot of turns. It’s a circular path which winds back and forth, all within the circle, and so you walk in one direction for a bit and then find yourself walking in the opposite direction, all the while making progress toward the center. Then upon reaching the center, you reverse your path and walk your way out of the labyrinth. You can’t get lost. You just put one foot in front of the other and make your pilgrimage. You don’t conquer a pilgrimage; you follow it.

A little bit into the walk, as the path changed direction for about the third time, I saw someone across the labyrinth, further ahead of me, someone I didn’t know all that well but someone I already disliked a great deal, perhaps even despised. He was a fellow priest and had made some mistakes in his life which I thought reprehensible. Great, I thought. It was okay to walk behind someone I admired but having to share the walk with this guy took me back to the irritation I had begun the walk with. A few more steps brought back the awareness of how shallow-minded and judgmental I can be. And so I walked on with conflicting emotions. Quit thinking, I told myself. And just walk.

Those 15-20 minutes on the walk softened me. I realized that I generally divide the world into those I admire and those I despise and that, while I try hard to be one admired, deep down I’m pretty despicable. But by the end of the walk it seemed that the person I admired and the one I despised and I were all more alike than we were different. It hit me that we were all on a pilgrimage and doing the best we could, that there aren’t really good people and bad people, there are just people who are putting one foot in front of the other as best they can. We’re all pretty much the same and something is carrying us all through life.

 

Take up  your cross and follow me, Jesus tells his disciples long before he takes up his own cross. He goes ahead of them to show the way. Today we gather, not as a bunch of individuals, but as a common body to remember the cross of Christ and to seek  power to take up our own crosses. In order to take up our own individual work we must see ourselves and others as pretty much the same. And we must also see that something is carrying us all through life.

Jesus dying on the cross is the ultimate expression of sacrificial love. God shows us that we are not called to offer him some sacrifice  to appease him or convince him of our worthiness. God makes the sacrifice each day to come to us in love. He provides for us what we cannot provide for ourselves. The cross is the great gift of God’s love in the world. Jesus lays down his life in order to show God’s sacrificial way of dealing with us. God gives life sacrificially. He takes the great risk of creating all that is, knowing it all will wander off. Then he takes the bigger risk of giving his Son knowing he will be killed. God does that to show that neither our sinfulness nor even our deaths can separate us from his loving nature. So the cross is God’s gift to us to  show that sacrifice is selfless rather than self-serving, to help us see the giving nature of God.

And the cross is also the invitation to redefine what sacrifice really is. The cross is the invitation to live and love sacrificially, more for others than for ourselves, generously rather than narcissistically, to count others as greater than ourselves.

Take up your cross, Jesus tells us, and follow. Take up the journey anew this day. The journey, the pilgrimage, the way of the cross is not something drastically different than what your life already is. The way of the cross is precisely what your life is today, whatever that may be. Jesus accepts his locale and invites us to accept ours. Our present circumstances, whatever they may be, form the path that we are invited to embrace as the place where our will may become less and less while God’s will becomes more and more.

We are invited to walk the way of the cross wherever we may be. That involves being faithful to our circumstances and accepting them as  a gift. We may or may not like them but our present circumstances are where God will be revealed. The way of the cross involves others, not just ourselves. We’re not here to separate ourselves from the pack. We’re here to recognize that we are all God’s children in need of forgiveness. The crucifixion narrative is not about heroes and schmucks. It’s just about schmucks, self-centered and judgmental humans who have lost their way.

As we sit here in this hour, as we walk the labyrinth, as we go through our daily living, as we walk the way of the cross, may we admit who we are, may we confess our self-centeredness, may we see that we are just like those we despise, may we know the generous and sacrificial act of Jesus dying because of us. And may that lead to a new forgiveness which will transform us into joyful and generous children of God.