Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Good Friday Sermon

Good Friday 2011
The Rev. Kate Ekrem

Last night we stripped the altar, took all the usual things out of the church. Our service today is also sort of bare bones, missing many elements, the others in an unfamiliar order. It too is stripped down, until nothing is left but the cross. In a little bit we’ll bring the cross forward and have the opportunity to kneel in front of it, or venerate it however we feel moved.
            It’s not always a comfortable thing to do, facing the cross is hard for us, but how much more emotional and terrible it was for those who were with Jesus that scary night, that awful day. By the time Jesus got to the cross, most of his friends were gone. Peter wasn’t there, most of the 12 were in hiding. Jesus’ mother was there. As any mother would be.
We can understand the instinctive need to see if you can help your child in some way, if there is some thing you can do even to ease the pain a little bit. And of course, the inability to really let go, wanting to be there with him even for those last few minutes. With her were three other women, Mary’s sister, Jesus’s aunt, and two of his closest followers, the wife of  Clopas and Mary Magdalene, both mentioned enough times in scripture that we know they must have been very significant people in Jesus’s life. And just one of the men, probably John we don’t really know for sure. They stood there, as we stand today, at the foot of the cross, watching Jesus die.
            They must have thought, screamed even, why. Why would anyone execute Jesus, he hadn’t hurt anyone, he’d only been trying to help people. Why do this to him?
            It’s what we do though, isn’t it? When we have a problem, we figure out whose fault it is. Caiaphas had a problem, he figured out it was Jesus’s fault. Because we’ve got have our ducks in line, especially if you’re like Caiaphas and have a complex set of political and economic forces to keep in balance if you’re going to stay on top, going to achieve your goals. Any mistakes, any problems, have to be located somewhere outside ourselves. In any group, there’s often someone who is blamed for whatever is wrong, of whom the group says, if only we could get rid of him, then everything would be fine. 
And Jesus became that person. He willingly let himself be the scapegoat, the one that we put our guilt and shame and sin on. So that every time we look another person in the face, a person that we might want to blame, we might see the face of Christ in them. Why? Caiaphas had his reasons, but God and Jesus had their reasons, too. This is how Jesus loves us, he gets inside our problem so that when we look on the thing we fear or hate, we see God, see God already there, loving us from the very center of our problem.
                        Do you know, medieval writers like St. Teresa of Avila loved to meditate on cross. Loved to imagine themselves there with the women at the foot of the cross. They saw Jesus smiling and beaming down at them from crucifix. “He will look at you with kindly and compassionate eyes” Teresa wrote when she urged people to meditate on the cruxifiction.  That is harder for us to see, we get distracted by the pain and anguish and humiliation, but perhaps those Christians of old saw in all of that God’s ultimate love. The love of God that shines through everything else, especially when all of our stuff, whether its the beautiful stuff of worship or the everyday concerns of our lives, are all cut away. Everything’s gone today, everything that we can do is gone, And in that emptiness, the transformative work of God happens, because that’s how God works, when we are most vulnerable, most needy, God is there, opening the door to new life.
            In the garden, the night before, Peter wanted to fight. He grabbed that sword and cut off the Malchus’ ear. But Jesus told him to stop it. It’s not about fighting. It’s not about winning. It’s not about being right or proving yourself or showing that our side is better. All that needs to be let go. Lay it at the foot of the cross. And be filled with God’s complete and utter love for you.
            They, those 4 women and 1 man, may not have known what we do – they hadn’t seen Easter morning yet – but they did know that Jesus was sacrificing himself to save them. In the garden, the night before, he had said, I’ll come quietly, take me, but let my friends go. And even there, on the cross, he said to John or whoever it was, take care of my mother, and to his mother, take care of my friends. Love one another. Don’t forget what we talked about last night.
            Because, as one preacher put it,  “Imperial Rome will not reign. Caiaphas and the crowds will not be the victors. The law that brought about Jesus’ death is not supreme. The scribes and the Pharisees will not prevail. But there, with dried Roman spit on his face and looking like something out of the slaughterhouse, is “the foolishness of God” and the “weakness of God” – Jesus the Victor, wise as heaven and stronger than the gates of hell.”*
            That’s the mystery that this cross holds for us, and why we hold it in front of us every day and especially on this day. The mystery that Jesus is already inside of the deepest darkest places in our hearts and in our lives, transforming them, the mystery of how love and life can overpower fear and hate. This is what the cross symbolizes to us, and why we kneel before it.

*HKO in “Synthesis”

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