The Good News in Good Friday

A sermon preached at All Saints’ Episcopal Church in South Hadley, Massachusetts, on the occasion of Good Friday.

 

 

(sung)

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

O–o–o–o

Sometimes it causes me to tremble,

Tremble,

Tremble,

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

 

(spoken)

Were you there?

Would I have been there?

If I really reflect

On whether or not I would have been at the foot of the cross,

I don’t know if I can honestly say yes.

I don’t know if I could stand listening to the wails,

Stand seeing the crumpled body of my friend upon the cross,

I don’t know if I could stand smelling the rancid mixture

Of his blood and his sweat.

I don’t know if I could have stood there wondering,

“Why?”

I don’t know if in that moment,

That crucifixion,

Whether I could admit I was his disciple.

Perhaps I would deny my Lord just as Peter had.

 

But thankfully,

Today we see the crucifixion through John’s eyes,

Who tradition names as the beloved disciple at the foot of the cross,

The one whom Jesus loved,

A follower of Christ who has been at his friend’s side

Since the beginning of his ministry.

 

John has seen the healings,

And heard Christ’s teachings.

He has witnessed the walking on water

And the raising of Lazarus from the dead.

He has heard the heartbeat of God,

Sitting on the left side of Jesus,

Leaning into his teacher,

As Jesus gives his disciples a command

And foreshadows his own death at their last meal together.

John’s are the eyes

Through which we do not only stare at that old rugged cross,

But perhaps also

The eyes through which we begin to understand its meaning for us.

 

As John stands there,

Looking up at his friend,

Wondering why this had to happen,

Believing that the crucifixion was the end,

Not knowing any other reality,

Would he have stood there trembling?

Trembling in confusion?

Trembling in fear?

Trembling in grief?

 

Or would he have stood there,

Trying to make sense of it all,

Replaying Jesus’ words over in his head?

Finally realizing what he had been alluding to this whole time.

 

“Those who love their life lose it,

And those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

Or perhaps the words at their last meal together,

Jesus said,

“I give you a new commandment,

That you love one another.

Just as I have loved you,

You also should love one another.”

And Christ urged the disciples further,

“If you keep my commandments,

You will abide in my love.”

 

As John stands at the foot of the cross,

He replays these words over and over,

Not fully understanding what they mean

But knowing they mean something,

Important.

Knowing that all he has lived for,

The truth which he seeks

Hangs in the balance of Jesus’ words,

Hangs in the balance of one word:

 

Love.

So simple.

Yet so difficult.

 

For the love of which Christ speaks in this Gospel account,

Commanded at the Last Supper,

Is so radical,

Is so liberating,

Is so limitless,

That it was a love

Enacted in his death on the cross.

 

The Good news in Good Friday

Is this sacrificial love of God

That John,

The beloved disciple,

Witnesses while staring up at his friend and savior

From the foot of the cross.

All of that love of which Christ has been speaking

Throughout John’s Gospel is fulfilled in this one event.

This event that is the culmination of the incarnation of God on earth.

This event that is the realization,

That Emmanuel,

God with us,

Is not about Christ’s birth in a manger,

But about his death upon a cross.

This event that is the understanding,

That God is love.

Because Jesus is human,

Because he can and will die,

He can reveal the fullness of God’s love in ways never before possible,

He can reveal God’s love in human experience.

And in his death,

Jesus gave up what we, as humans love most —

Life —

And forever redefining what true love is.

 

This Good Friday event,

This brutality,

This bloodshed,

This execution,

This crucifixion,

Is the climax of John’s Gospel.

Is the culmination of God’s purpose on this earth.

Is the fulfillment of Christ’s mission and ministry.

 

In his final words,

“It is finished,”

Jesus does not direct us forward.

He does not leave us searching for love in the future,

But he claims love for us in the present.

The realization of God’s love has been completed,

Now,

Today,

Good Friday —

Not three days from now.

It will not be finished,

But it is finished

God’s love for us is fully realized

In the event of Christ’s crucifixion.

 

Yet,

What does Jesus’ death mean for our lives?

If we put ourselves back in John’s shoes,

Not only do we find that God loves us,

But if we think back on last night’s Gospel reading,

Sitting on Christ’s left at the Last Supper,

Listening to the final heartbeats of God,

We discover what it means to be a disciple of Christ.

We discover the command,

To love one another

Just as Christ has loved us.

To love one another

With the same love that Christ has demonstrated for us

Upon the cross.

 

Love is not simply an emotion.

It is action.

It is not some abstract comment,

But is lived out in our daily lives as disciples of Christ

And was brought to its fullest in the crucifixion.

 

Love is so tangible,

So real,

That it fills every fiber of our being.

And it resonates throughout all of creation.

 

God’s love enacted through Christ

Is so powerful,

So radical

So limitless,

So endless,

And so freeing,

That as we stand at the foot of the cross with John,

We do not tremble out of fear,

Or confusion,

Or grief,

But today we tremble knowing

That God loved us so much,

That he gave his only son for us.

 

We tremble because

Through this selfless act of Christ,

We come to know the God of love more fully.

 

We tremble because

The Good news on Good Friday,

Is that God is love.
AMEN.

 

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