Good Friday sermon: “The Good in Good Friday”

Sermon Text: John 19:25b-30

The following is the manuscript of a sermon I preached today, 2 April 2010.

Do you ever wonder why the Church calls this day Good Friday? Would it be more appropriate to borrow language from Wall Street and stock market crashes and call it Black Friday or some other words that communicate the tragedy and heartbreak of this day?

No… in its wisdom the Church calls this day Good Friday—and I’m glad. It’s a helpful reminder for us to look beyond the appearance of that day’s fateful events—beyond Jesus’ sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane and praying, “not my will but thine be done”; beyond a friend’s kiss of betrayal; beyond the arrest; beyond the sham trials before religious and political authorities; beyond the denials of his closest disciple and abandonment by others; beyond the mocking and the whipping by soldiers; beyond the cross itself—the most shameful and violent symbol of humanity’s inhumanity.

Good Friday forces us to look beyond the surface of these tragic, terrible events and see a God who has done something very good indeed, expressed most poignantly by Jesus’ last words from the cross: “It is finished,” or “It is accomplished” or “My task is completed.” The entire ministry of Jesus has been leading up to this moment. Jesus knows the cross is waiting. Earlier in this gospel Jesus tells his confused disciples, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work” [4:34]. Completing this work that only Jesus—fully God and fully human—could complete—this was the mission.

This was the same mission for which God called Abraham, whose descendants, God said, would be a blessing to all the world—a blessing fulfilled ultimately through Jesus. The same mission for which God created a people, Israel, later freed them from slavery in Egypt, and called them to bear witness to the love of a “gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and read to relent from punishing” [Jonah 4:2]. This was the same mission whose fulfillment the prophets foretold when they described a coming kingdom in which sword would be beaten into plowshares, spears into pruning-hooks and nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more [Isaiah 2:4].

This was the same mission for which Jesus willingly and lovingly submitted to this cross—and through the cross God’s plan of reconciling humanity to God and to one another was accomplished.

On the cross, Jesus endured the worst the world had to offer—all of its injustice, all of its hatred, all of its fear, all of its violence, all of its evil—all the while refusing to return blow for blow, violence for violence, evil for evil, sin for sin. And by refusing to do so, Jesus broke this seemingly endless chain of evil, suffering, and death once and for all. The forces of evil did their very worst on the cross, yet Jesus remained faithful—and their power was exhausted.

Jesus was a little like that defiant and seemingly overmatched boxer in the ring, taking the worst punishment his opponent could mete out, until his opponent’s strength was gone. Jesus looked these evil forces in the eye and said, “Is that all you got?” In reality of course, Jesus wasn’t overmatched at allSatan was overmatched; evil was overmatched; sin was overmatched. And because of this cross, we get to share in Christ’s victory. Good Friday is very good indeed!

But there’s still a cross. It doesn’t go away. As much as we may want, we don’t get to skip that part and go straight to the celebration of Easter and new life and resurrection. Instead, Good Friday forces us to linger at the cross for at least a little while.

I know there are some of you who feel as if you’ve had enough Good Friday in your life already. Maybe through no fault of your own and despite your best efforts, you’ve been out of work for a long time, and you’re worried. Will you be able to keep a roof over your family’s heads? Too much Good Friday! Maybe the doctor has given you a troubling diagnosis, and you’re facing a life-threatening illness or a terminal illness, and you’re scared. Too much Good Friday! Maybe you’re grieving the untimely death of a child or a spouse or a parent. Maybe you’re watching a loved one in hospice, living out their last days of life. Too much Good Friday! Maybe you have a loved one fighting in Afghanistan or Iraq, and you’re afraid for their lives… Maybe you’ve been desperate to have a child, only to learn that you’ve miscarried again.

Too much Good Friday—at least I’m sure it seems that way.

But not so fast… We need to hear this good news of Good Friday. Good Friday means we don’t suffer alone—God in Christ suffers alongside us. It means that the victories that evil so often and so easily seems to win in this world are only fleeting and temporary. It means that in spite of the way things look sometimes, nothing can separate us from God’s love. This is the God, after all, who looks down from the cross—at all the people who carried out this gross miscarriage of justice—and prays, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” That’s love! That’s a love that doesn’t give up! A love that can’t be defeated! A love that won’t be defeated—including by any of our sins!

More than anything, Good Friday means that there is no longer anything standing between us and a saving relationship with God! It is finished! It’s paid for. The debt has been canceled! Do you think you’ve committed some extraordinary sins that the cross of Christ doesn’t take care of?  No, it was for these sins that Christ went to the cross. And if you still have life and breath and can hear these words, it is not too late for you to repent—to turn around—and find waiting a loving Father welcoming you back, ready to receive you.

Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God; he, to rescue me from danger, interposed his precious blood. Jesus did that for you—and for me.

Good Friday means that our Lord Jesus stretched out his arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that all might come within the reach of his saving embrace.

May sinners like you and me come within Christ’s saving embrace today. Amen?

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