Thursday, April 15, 2010

Sermon for Good Friday
St. John’s Church
April 2, 2010

One of the many questions that I have been asked over the years revolves around this particular day. More than once someone has asked me – Why is this day called Good Friday?

In a quotation attributed to Gregory of Nazianzus here is what he said about today. “It's Good Friday. The best of all Fridays. Who was Jesus?, Part I He began His ministry by being hungry, yet He is the Bread of Life. Jesus ended His earthly ministry by being thirsty, yet He is the Living Water. Jesus was weary, yet He is our rest. Jesus paid tribute, yet He is the King.”
He went on to further say, “Jesus was accused of having a demon, yet He cast out demons. Jesus wept, yet He wipes away our tears. Jesus was sold for thirty pieces of silver, yet He redeemed the world. Jesus was brought as a lamb to the slaughter, yet He is the Good Shepherd. Jesus died, yet by His death He destroyed the power of death.”

The fact that we are members of a liturgical church means that the sights and images that surround us in our worship send very strong signals and carry with them very important messages. When we look around the sanctuary this afternoon, “goodness” would not be a term that would readily come to mind when we look around the church or listen to what is proclaimed throughout this liturgy. I believe that “darkness” would be a more apt descriptor of what we experience, see, and hear. The ministers enter and depart in silence, wearing only black cassock. The images from last night when everything in the sanctuary was removed are still fresh in our memories, and today nothing appears in the chancel but one lone altar cross, draped in black fabric. The sounds of the beautiful organ are replaced with stark silence and utter emptiness. It’s easy to see why someone might question why today is called Good Friday.

I think it’s good for each of us to consider the answer to that terribly important question – Why is today called Good Friday?

Toward the end of Jesus’ ministry, a rich man comes up to him and asks the following question, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus’ answer in reply sounds terribly condescending, but cuts to the heart of the matter. He replies not with a simple answer, but with another question. “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” Matthew’s account of this story is slightly different where the man says to Jesus, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus’ response in turn, “What do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good.”

In all three accounts of this story, one theme resonates throughout – we can do nothing, God is the only one who can.

If we want to begin to know and understand why we call today Good Friday, I think Jesus’ answer to the rich man is a place to start.

Jesus masterfully tried to deflect the man’s focus from himself toward God. He wanted to know what he could do to be counted as righteous before God. Jesus’ words are almost shocking – He could do nothing at all. At the end of the Prayer of Consecration are those familiar words, “not weighing our merits, but pardoning our offences.” How often do we lose focus on what those words really mean? It’s way too easy to slip into the false sense of security that our good deeds, or our lack of doing the really bad ones, will earn us favor or merit with God. Far too often the temptation to compare ourselves with others, to see how we measure up.

Far too often our focus is in the wrong direction. It’s seemingly about us when it should be about God.

Good Friday is all about the Goodness of God. It’s the story of a Creator who made everything, who declared that it was good, who intended to spend His nights and days in a relationship with His creation in perfect peace and harmony. He intended to walk in the cool of the day with those who he had made. Instead, the thought was planted into the heads of our first parents that we needed to turn our focus from the goodness of God inward toward the goodness and the supposed self-sufficiency of ourselves. Ever since that day we struggle with that same temptation.

Everything about this day points to the Father through the Son. Jesus’ words from the cross do that in glorious majesty. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” “Woman, behold thy son. Behold thy mother.” “Father, into thy hands, I commend my spirit.” “It is finished.”

Even at the very end, Jesus gave us the example to follow. His total focus and direction was turned toward God. It was turned toward God because He alone is the source of all that is good. As strange as it sounds the only way to life is through our death – our constant dying to sin, to newness of life through our Lord’s example. The cross we venerate and contemplate this day is the only path to an empty tomb on Easter morn.

“Alas! and did my Savior bleed, and did my Sovereign die! Would he devote that sacred head for such a worm as I! Was it for crimes that I had done, he groaned upon the tree! Amazing pity! Grace unknown! And love beyond degree! Thus might I hide my face, while His dear cross appears; dissove my heart in thakfulness, and melt mine eyes in tears.”

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