Aside from Massive, Pre-Holy Week Funeral, there was also some preaching.
I preached on Good Friday, at the noon service, which was gorgeous as usual. Because I encouraged/bribed them last year, the choir now chants the St. John’s Passion, which means that I now start choking up about halfway through Christ’s trial. It’s awesome.
The three days of the Triduum are always tricky to preach on because I always feel that I should just wave my hands around and point to the liturgy and just end it there. There’s not that much more to add.
But as the ever-brilliant Amy-Jill Levine has argued, you cannot let this text just sit there. It must be explicated.
So here’s what I said.
April 3, 2015
Good Friday, Year B
I was eight years old when I realized that Jesus died.
Prior to that, I’m not entirely sure what I thought happened exactly from Good Friday through Easter morning. I think that, in my child mind, I just heard the word “crucified” repeated a lot, and I didn’t actually know what that meant. It took our local priest explaining, in fairly graphic detail, how being nailed to a cross would damage you, for me to realize that Jesus actually died.
That wonderful guy Jesus, that I knew all those stories about, who seemed so great, and loving, and wise, someone who was always there, had gone away. And it was really awful—it felt like losing a family member, a close friend.
There’s something about hearing the Passion that hits you each time—each time it is newly painful, newly tragic. Even as adults, even as seasoned Christians used to the brutality of the world, used to the trauma of this story, it doesn’t get softer, because there’s so little to soften it.
The worst in human nature, the worst motivations we see, all running rampant.
The story of the cross is the story of the ultimate in scapegoating. The fears and anxieties of the whole population are traded on the back of Jesus.
Let’s hold onto our narrow slip of power, say the high priests –publically kill those who stir up the people and threaten what we’ve got. Let’s keep our career alive, says Pilate–avoid the possibility of going against the boss, and keep that crowd happy when I can. Let’s hand over my friend, says Judas, because I can’t go down with this ship and the pay’s pretty good anyway.
We see every craven human impulse played out.
But perhaps the most upsetting part, the most confusing of the whole thing is Jesus. Jesus doesn’t do anything. Jesus is so silent.
All through the gospels, Jesus has been taking action, doing miracles, walking on water, preaching with fire and passion and teaching with gusto, and all of a sudden, he goes so quiet.
It’s not that Jesus seems confused or out of it—in John’s telling, Jesus is clearly always present. When the guards come to arrest him, his speech is so powerful that they fall to the ground, and that’s the Jesus we expect. Jesus knows what’s going on. He just doesn’t stop it. He lets it happen.
It’s the ultimate in kenosis. The ultimate in self-emptying. Every step along the way, Jesus’ response to the humans making the worst decisions all around him is just to let it happen. Let us see the full, unmitigated consequences of our bad behavior, our worst impulses played out on the best.
“Look,” the cross shouts to the skies. “Look at what happens when human hatred, ambition, greed, fear is given free reign. Look who suffers when you cannot remember what you are called to. Look at what happens. Look at the damage done.”
The cross stands, alongside every other tragedy in human history, as a reminder of what we can do when we forget to love God and love each other. It stands as a posed question: “This was Christ’s response—what will be your response?”
We who witness these things, we who stand at the foot of the cross, what is to be our response? We who claim to be there in spirit when they crucified our Lord, what will be our response, when we see the consequence of human sin?
Will we pick up where Christ left off, will we carry the love of Christ into our world, will we witness to the needs and concerns of the world around us and try to help where we can…
Or will we wag our heads, saying “Oh well, you know. Some things just don’t concern me.”
This is the choice that Good Friday presents to us—this is where the cross draws us. It asks that we, too, stretch forth our hands in love to the whole world. It asks that we, too, reach out in love, showing all people the unbreakable love of God. It asks that we, too, reach out in compassion and love for a hurting world, Because now we can see what can happen when we don’t.
So, we can contemplate our sorrow over the sins of humanity for today. But let us also remember, that come Sunday, God shatters the grip of these bonds, and sets us anew on the path to live his love. May we be ready.