On Days Like This – A Sermon On John 18:1-19:42 For Good Friday

I used to try to understand, explain, or make sense of this day, Good Friday. I don’t anymore. I’ve given that up. What do you say on days like this? What can be said? 

Besides, most of the explanations that I’ve heard or come up with myself don’t really satisfy. They are mostly ways of avoiding death, and a betrayal of Jesus’ humanity. And to whatever degree we turn away from death and humanity, we turn away from our own lives. I don’t want us to do that today.

The risk for you and me today is to say too much and to try and make this day okay. It’s not okay and it never will be. If it were, we’d have no need of Easter. And Easter is not what makes Good Friday good. Easter is what keeps Good Friday from becoming the Last Friday.

There is not a view of this day long enough to eventually say, “It was worth it.” You know as well as I do that some losses are irreparable. The time is ruined. The suffering cannot be redeemed. 

We hear that in the story of Jesus’ death. We see it in the pictures of the dead in Ukraine. We feel it every time a friend or loved one dies. And we fear it when we think about our own deaths. 

Maybe the most that can be said about this day is, “That’s what happened.” Maybe that’s what I should have done today. Maybe after we heard the Passion of Christ (John 18:1-19:42) I should have stood before you and said, “That’s what happened,” and then sat down. Isn’t that what the gospel writers do? They don’t explain this day or make it acceptable. They just tell us what happened.

I know what happened but I have no explanation for what happened. I have only my experience of what happened. And I suppose that’s true for you as well. 

So let me ask you this: How are you experiencing this day? In what ways have you experienced death and loss? Whose or what deaths are you bringing with you today? What parts of your life are dying? And what parts need to die?  

In a few moments we will pray the solemn collects. In some way they are our response to the experience of this day. When we have no words of explanation, we offer words of prayer. 

  • We’ll pray that God will confirm us in faith, increase us in love, and preserve us in peace. Who among us doesn’t need that on days like this?
  • We’ll pray that God will help us seek justice and truth, and live in peace and concord. Isn’t that what the cross of Jesus, the cross of Ukraine, and the crosses of violence throughout our world today are asking for? They are showing and giving us our work to do.
  • We’ll pray for all who suffer and are afflicted, that God’s mercy will comfort and relieve them, that they will know God’s love, and that you and I will care for their needs. That prayer reminds me that on days like this, on days of suffering and death, the presence of another matters and makes a difference. We need each other.
  • Days like this are hard, and it’s easy to lose our way, become hardened, angry, and resentful. Suffering can do that to you. So we’ll pray that hearts will be softened and opened to the truth, that we and people everywhere may align our lives, in faith and obedience, to something larger than and beyond ourselves. You and I call that the gospel of Christ. 
  • And finally, we’ll pray that all may “see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection.” Even on days like this we trust that is still happening. 

Here’s what strikes me about those prayers. They are not an escape from this day. They don’t undo this day or take down the cross. They don’t even ask that we be saved from suffering, death, and the cross. Instead, they invite Jesus into our sufferings and deaths. And isn’t that what’s happening today? 

Jesus is never more real, more human, more embodied, more identified with and like us, than he is on the cross. It’s not at his birth, or in his teaching and preaching, or the miracles he performs, or even at his resurrection. It’s on the cross in his suffering and dying that his humanity is most fully displayed.

Jesus is never more present to you and me and our sufferings and deaths than he is on this day. That’s the power and good of this Friday. And that’s not my explanation of this day, that’s my experience. Maybe that’s what it means to glory in the cross of Christ.

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