A Homily for Good Friday
Text: St. John 18:1-19:42
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, the crucified one. Amen.
It’s all gone wrong, hasn’t it?
Somewhere over the course of the week, things have gone astray.
Sunday, we were cheering a triumphant Christ, and today, we’re mourning a man lynched by an angry mob with the blessing of a brutal empire. Even by the end of worship last week, the shouts of, “Hosanna,” and, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” faded away and the words “Crucify him,” echoed deep in our hearts.
Sunday’s palms are already to turning to ash.
Things certainly started out on a promising note. A protest, rich in messianic imagery, carved its way through the City of David. The King, it seemed, had returned at last. And as the Passover approached, expectation was high that God would once again deliver captive Israel.
The entire Gospel — No! The entire covenant! No! All of history! — had been leading up to this week – so much so that St. John devotes nearly half of his Gospel to the events in Jerusalem.
We were finally at the crescendo and something exciting was about to happened – the world was about to turn.
Things fell apart.
The one who healed the sick and even raised the dead now lies in a tomb. The Rabbi, our Teacher, now suffers a fool’s fate. The one who came to fulfill the Law has been executed as a criminal.
Make no mistake. While we like to talk about the glory of Christ’s Passion and death, this was not a death valued by any one. We venerate the Cross, but to those who frequently saw crucified bandits littering the highway, they knew exactly what the Cross represented: oppression and shame. To be hung on a cross was not a noble, good, or beautiful death, if there can ever be such a thing. For the Romans, it was the death of a traitor, a rebel – a death deemed to barbaric for a citizen of the Empire. To the Jewish people, anyone who died in such a manner, hanging from a tree, was under God’s curse. It was a death carried out not according to the Law of Moses but the tyranny of Caesar and his governor. It wasn’t the death of a good man – one earned in old age. It wasn’t a death for a greater cause. No, this is the death of a heretic.
For the Romans, it was a crucifixion, a brutal punishment reserved for non-citizens, of one who claimed the divine authority and kingship reserved for the Caesars. Why else would Pilate be so interested in Christ’s kingship? Or the Jewish leaders so willing to affirm Caesar? For the Jewish audience, it was a curse reserved for one who blasphemed against the one true God.
No wonder nearly so many of the disciples fled, that far fewer people followed Jesus to Golgotha than followed him with palms into Jerusalem.
And this we call “Good”? Today is a good day? The story that leads up to this is called “good” news? It’s doubtful that any of the witnesses would have agreed. No, “Good” is an outdated, archaic word for “Holy” – as in, the Friday of Holy Week. The German title is much more fitting: “Sorrowful” Friday.
Today, we see our Lord, God-with-us, the Incarnate One, hung upon the cross. Today is a day of tears, not of joy. And our Lord’s Passion forces us to confront a painful truth:
We. Will. All. Die.
It is in this spirit that we began the Lenten season. As the world began to bloom again, as life overtook the barren lands of winter, Christians across the Church knelt and received ashen crosses, with the reminder that we came from dust and to dust we shall return. We will all surely pass to corruption.
It is difficult to find what is particularly “good” about the Passion. Theologians have spent centuries trying to wrap their heads around the Crucifixion and the work that Christ does on the Cross, and this important conversation has yielded as many new questions as it has answers.
But for today, caught up in the middle of this story, feeling the profound weight of the Cross, in our grief, if there is any goodness to be found today, it’s this: God understands. Our Heavenly Father has mourned the loss of a begotten child. Christ, the only begotten Son, has felt our pain, known our anguish. God has felt grief and agony. Jesus of Nazareth has felt the abandonment of his friends as the men have run scared and the women stand close by but unable to help. The Son of Mary has felt concern for his mother as sees her son hanging.
It is in his death that we see Christ at his most fragile, and consequently, his most human. Today, God looks the most like us. The Divine Healer hangs, broken. The One who brings living water is thirsty. The Only Begotten Son of the Father expresses concern for his mother. The person we see crucified seems very far removed from the transfigured Lord, the revealed Son of God we met before the beginning of Lent. Instead, we see a human, Jesus of Nazareth, in all of his earthly frailty.
And it is in this humanity that we find goodness. It is in his death that the full weight of the Incarnation comes to bear. God became human not just in form, but in very essence, sharing even in the most horrible parts of our being. It’s precisely this humanity that makes the story so vital. God became incarnate in the very fullest sense, living but also dying. In his death, Jesus, the embodied Son of God, shows the fullness of his humanity. In Christ’s death, we see just what it means that God became human – we see the extreme depth of that love.
In Christ, God joins humanity, even in the tomb.
But there is more to come. Amen.