My sermon from Three Holy Hours on Good Friday 2013 at St. Peter’s by-the-Sea Narragansett, RI.
I think there are a few traps that are possible for us to fall into today if we do not pay attention to what is really going on: if we are not intentional about how we understand what is happening. There is the temptation to pretend that we are experiencing Good Friday as if we were there; as if we walked with the disciples as they watched their rabbi be put to death. The other – and opposite side of this – is the temptation to think that what we are doing is simply a reenactment of what happened to Jesus two thousand years ago. This is not a reenactment; reenactments are for Civil War battles in the summertime. What happens this day isdifferent. On this day our story and our time, become one with this story and God’s own time. The term for what happens as we commemorate the Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension of Christ is anamnesis. This liturgical theology understands that what we do is not a simple passive process of watching what happens, but a process by which we can fully enter into the Paschal mystery. When we enter fully into the Paschal mystery we become active participants in what is happening – we develop a relationship with what is unfolding before us. It seems to me that relationality is at the core of what we have come to remember – what we have come to experience today. TheCross is all about our relationship with God, and how we describe what happens and why it happens sets the terms of this all important relationship.
There is a theology of the Cross, called penalsubstitutionary atonement. What this does is put our understanding of the penal system into the theology of theCross. The understanding here is that we needed to be punished for our sinful ways. Instead of punishing us, God punishes Jesus. Jesus is substituted for us as a way to appease an angry and wrathful God.
To look at this in another light, image if we lived by thisrule in our daily lives. Think of a relationship you have with another individual, a relationship in which you have been hurt. What happens if you return the hurt they have caused you with further hurt and punishment? Does that solve the problem? Does that restore your relationship? This system does not work in our lives because we do not learn by being shamed, punished, and humiliated.
If we believe and understand God and the Gospel message to be that of love and restoration, how do we reconcile that understanding with a punitive understanding of the Cross? I wonder, what happens to our understanding of the Cross,if we apply the lens of love and restoration?
Think again of that personal relationship where you have been hurt. What happens if you forgive them and do not punish or hurt them in return? What does that do for the other person? What does that do to your relationship? Forgiveness and restoration require that the one who has been harmed bears the burden of forgiveness in order that there may be healing and wholeness in the relationship. In the Cross, God in the sacrifice of God’s Son, bears the burden of our sins and offenses.
Jesus says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Jesus makes the ultimate sacrifice for us, He gives up His life in the complete service and obedience to God. It is that obedience that takes the shame, humiliation, and death of the Cross and turns it into glory, honor, and life. It is through God’s deep and abiding love for us, that Jesus dies and we are made whole – we are made holy.
The story of the Cross does not end today. It is carried out each and every time we bring our lives to the liturgy and the liturgy to our lives. It is carried out when we come to this table for solace and for strength, for pardon and renewal. It is carried out when we come before the Cross: when we venerate the Cross as an expression of our adoration for God that Love’s redeeming work has been done.
Today we live in a broken and hurting world filled with suffering and injustice. We recognized the war, pain, and violence when a few moments ago we prayed the Solemn Collects. We prayed – we continue to pray – that God will kindle our hearts with peace and love, that those who are suffering will be comforted, and that we will be strengthened in our ministry to be an example of God’s love in the world. We pray, not only that we may be changed and transformed by God’s love, but that the world may be transformed as well: that the world may be made whole and holy once again.
In a moment we will venerate the Cross. I invite you come forward not in grief and sadness, but in thanksgiving and hope. Behold the wood of the Cross, that has healed us and made us whole.