Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Good Friday Sermon

With help from Paul Jaster in Sundays & Seasons, and from Elizabeth Achtemeier in Preaching and Reading the Old Testament Lessons: With an Eye to the New, and from Ben Witherington III from John's Wisdom: A Commentary on the Fourth Gospel.

Good Friday
April 14, 2006
John 18.1—19.42
Thomas Arth

Leave it to a child to pose the key question for this day:
"Why do we call it Good Friday if this is the day that Jesus died?"
I started writing this sermon on Monday morning,
pondering that question,
and that afternoon one of my kids came home
saying that a friend at school asked just that question.
It’s a question I’ve heard many times on the lips of children.
It might also be a question in the minds of adults
but we’re too embarrassed or too shy to voice it.
The mood of today’s worship service is definitely somber.
We sing hymns in minor keys.
We gather and then we leave in silence.
Our worship space was stripped bare last night
so that today the church seems absolutely barren.
No flowers, no greens, no colour,
no paraments, no candles, no cross.
Everything points to the sadness, the sombreness of this day.
So why do we call it "Good" Friday?
Good Friday is a good time to answer this good question
with good news—the best news of all.
It may have been "bad" for Jesus,
but what he did upon the cross was "good" for us.
That’s why we call it "Good Friday."

The death of Jesus was "bad" for him.
He bore in his own body all the hatred
and the violence of the world.
He took the lumps, the lashes, and the bruises.
The spit and mockery.
The baiting and temptations.
The awful raw nakedness.
The hunger and thirst.
The bone-shattering, heart-wrenching,
flesh-piercing sense of God-forsakenness.
In the reading from Isaiah we heard,
"He was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed."
That reading from Isaiah is known as the fourth Servant Song.
The song describes a suffering servant,
one who suffers for the sake of others.
Hauled into court, the servant makes no defense of himself.
Instead he is condemned to death,
and a shameful death at that.
He is buried along with all the other criminals
and forgotten as of no importance,
even though he actually was innocent of our transgressions
with which he was charged.
But it says that all of that was God’s will!
God used the servant’s death as the payment for our own sin.
The innocent servant’s death atoned
for what all of us have done wrong!
And as a result,
all of us are now counted righteous in the eyes of our God.

Yet, Jesus’ death was "good" for us.
In total faithfulness to God, he proclaimed God’s forgiveness.
He created a new family—
not one based on tribe, marriage, or blood ties,
but on faith in him.
He promised "paradise today" to any who would dare to believe it.
He "handed over" his spirit
to those who had the guts to follow him.
Martin Luther spoke of this "joyful exchange,"
which faith recognizes and grabs hold of.
Through our response of faith in him the circuit is complete,
the electricity is let loose,
and the new life and power of the Spirit is unleashed.
Jesus’ death was "good" for us
because it was necessary for our life
in communion with one another and with God.
The cross can be too pretty these days.
We didn’t veil our cross this year during Lent.
But why do we normally do that?
The reason for that custom
of veiling the cross and crucifix during Lent
comes out of the Middle Ages.
Crosses and crucifixes were often splendid, jewel-encrusted works of art
and veiling them during Lent provided a "fast for the eyes."
The point wasn’t to hide the cross
but to cover up how fancy many crosses had become.
In our culture the cross has become trivialized,
often turned into a mere article of jewelry.
The modern equivalent of wearing a cross
would be wearing a little golden electric chair around one’s neck.
Many wear a cross as nothing more than costume jewelry
without making any statement of faith whatsoever.
To this day, religious Muslims who consider Jesus a great prophet,
don’t believe that he died on a cross.
They don’t see it as necessary nor appropriate,
only as scandalous, for how could a loving or just God
allow such a thing to happen
to so good and just a son as Jesus?
And looking at it that way it would be true.
Unless Jesus’ death was absolutely necessary for our salvation,
for the forgiveness of sins, and for life everlasting,
then God wouldn’t be a loving God.
But we believe that Jesus’ self-sacrifice was a grace-filled act
to redeem us from the death we deserve,
to give us new life.
It was not the nails, that held Jesus to the cross.
Nor was it our sin.
Our sin couldn’t force God to do anything at all,
much less nail God to a cross,
if God didn’t choose for it to happen.
It was Jesus’ love for us that held him there—his love for us.
That’s the joyful exchange of Good Friday.
Jesus "was wounded for our transgressions"
and "crushed for our iniquities"
and "by his bruises we are healed"—
healed in the eyes of our God,
counted righteous once more in God’s sight,
despite all of the sins and terribly human mistakes and weaknesses
to which we all fall prey.
Through faith in Jesus Christ
we are restored to the household of our Father
and know his loving and sustaining presence.
That is life, abundant life,
and joy, and eternity with our God!
This love is what makes the Friday that he died so "good."

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