Friday, April 3, 2015

For Our Sake: a Good Friday sermon

“For Our Sake”
Year B Good Friday 2015
St. Thomas’ Church, Richmond

As I mull on the events of this day so long ago, and how we know so much in some ways and in other ways so little.  

We know it was a hill in Jerusalem, but if you go to the Holy City there are competing claims.

We know some of those who stayed with him, but not where the majority of his followers hid.

We know the times of his execution, and even close to the time of his death, but what it was like and what were the feelings swirling that day we can only imagine.

I think of his mother, unable to stop this sacrilege, but also unable to leave or look away.

I think of the criminals on the crosses beside him, knowing of their guilt and of his innocence.

I think of Christ on the cross, who could have repeatedly stopped the process, who could have found another way, and yet…

And yet, he did not.

Raising children and working with them pretty regularly, I get the “Why?” question a lot.  Or it might be phrased, “How come…?”  

When I think to the events of Good Friday so long ago, my mind races to the Why.  My mind races to the How Come.  But I know that the Why and the How Come are not there.  

If you ask me if I believe Jesus had to die, I would answer, “Yes.”

If you ask me “Why did Jesus have to die?” I cannot give you an answer.

If you ask me why I believe he had to die, my answer would be because he did.  I do not believe that something so stark and so dramatic is just for show.  I do not believe that it is for a blood price either, that some bloodthirsty God wanted his pound of flesh but wanted to be seen as loving and forgiving, too.  

I cannot give a why, though as I said, even my mind races there.

The words of the Nicene Creed are no easier…

For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.

For our sake…

My mentor always told me that a leader does what has to be done.  We saw in the Garden yesterday Jesus praying and asking if there were any other way for the cup to pass, to let it.  But, it did not pass, and so he took it up.  For our sake, he took it up.

Today we saw Jesus praying from the Temple’s ancient hymnbook, one of his final acts on this earth.

Psalm 22
  1. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
and are so far from my cry
and from the words of my distress?

But Jesus was a biblical scholar, about to match wits with the best of the Pharisees and other leaders in the Temple.  I cannot think of a way for him to start this ancient hymn and not go through all of it in his mind.  I believe in his final moments he prayed this Psalm to its conclusion.  It may start with being forsaken by God, but it does not end there.  The last two verses...

Psalm 22, cont.
29. My soul shall live for him; my descendants shall serve him;
       they shall be known as the Lord’s for ever.
30.    They shall come and make known to a people yet unborn
       the saving deeds that he has done.

For our sake…

For our sake he was crucified.  When I think of Jesus dying for my sake, I do not want to go there.  I love Jesus.   I do not want him to suffer for my sake.  I do not want him to bleed for my sake.  I do not want him to die for my sake.

But then I am reminded of Peter, my nick-name-sake, when he did not want Jesus, his Master and Rabbi, to wash his feet.  Is it so very different?  Jesus said to him, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”  For Peter’s sake, he washed his feet.  For my sake and for our sake, he was crucified.

He did it.  I even think that he wanted to do it for each and every one of us and chose to do so.  Once and for all he abolished the barrier that prevented us to come before God.

Some might say it was our sin.

Some might say it was our guilt.

Some might say it was the huge blinders after centuries of habitual sacrifice and ritual, becoming trite, corrupt, or partial.

Whatever the Why, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

For our sake…

Martin Luther was not always the famous Reformer.  Before he made his bold stand he was a simple monk.  He went almost crazy, and I am sure he took his confessor with him, when he felt the need to confess IMMEDIATELY- and at all times throughout the day - to his mentor Johann von Staupitz. After he had confessed and gone away he would think of yet another sin that he had forgotten to repent of and would turn back around,and go to confess again. Martin had a conscience that constantly pricked him and it seemed sometimes that he didn't know why God wouldn't leave him (and his conscience) alone.  He had joined a strict monastic order and and took on practices that punished and deprived his body, as many monks at that time did in the hope of expunging the fleshly desires from one's self.

And finally it dawned on him that this obsessive, repetitive worrying, bouncing from confession to sin to confession, repeat, repeat, repeat, could not be what Christ spoke of when he talked about having life and having it more abundantly.  And he embraced the idea of Grace.  Grace, a free underserved gift of God, for the sheer fact of love alone it was given to Martin Luther and it is given to us as well.

For our sake, Grace.  

For our sake, Love.  

For our sake, Good Friday.

We have nothing to hide, and nothing for which to be ashamed.  It is already known, forgiven and blotted out.  Grace.  Love.  Good Friday.  

Because of this, the preacher of Hebrews was led to say “... my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.”  Hebrews 10: 19-22

And if we have the privilege of coming into the very presence of God, by what was done on the Cross, is there anything of which we should be afraid?  Really.  

Death itself is dead.

Guilt itself is gone.

Grace and Love are the rules of the Rulemaker.  Who else do we need to listen to?

One of my favorite emerging Christian leaders is Shane Claiborne working with the poor in inner-city Philadelphia.  He tells this story...

“One of the most powerful Good Friday services we’ve ever had was a few years ago. We carried the cross into the streets and planted it outside the gunshop in our neighborhood. We had our services there. We read the story of Jesus’s death… and heard about the women weeping at the foot of the cross. And then we listened to the women in our neighborhood weep as they shared about losing their kids to gun violence.
Calvary met Kensington.

“Afterwords, one woman said to me: “I get it! I get it!” I asked her what she meant. And then she said something more profound than anything I ever learned in seminary: “God understands my pain. God knows how I feel. God watched his Son die too.” Then I realized she was the mother of a nineteen-year-old who had just been murdered on our block.

“God understands our pain. That is good theology for Good Friday. And that kind of theology only happens when we connect the Bible to the world we live in. It happens when worship and activism meet. We don’t have to choose between faith and action. In fact we cannot have one without the other.

“Let’s get out of the sanctuaries and into the streets.”

Remember, Christ may have taught in the Temple, he may have been arrested in a Garden, he may have been put on trial in a mansion, he may have been condemned in a palace, but he proclaimed the love and grace of God on a cross at the crossroads.  His love was made manifest in a thoroughfare.  Today as we walked the stations of the cross, did we bear witness to this?  I pray we did.

Psalm 22:30
They shall come and make known to a people yet unborn

       the saving deeds that he has done.

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Blessings, Rock