Text: John 18 and 19 (the trials and crucifixion of Jesus)
Some people divide the church into two groups: Good Friday Christians and Easter Sunday ones. The first group focuses on the journey to the cross during Lent despite the pain and grief of the story of the crucifixion of Jesus.
The second group focuses on Easter, which starts with the news that Jesus’ tomb is found empty a few days after his burial.
I number myself in the Good Friday group. Among other things, this means that I wish as many people showed up in church on Good Friday as on Easter Sunday.
But I am glad that we are together this morning and that I can offer a reflection on some of the meanings that Good Friday has for me.
People in my group are prone to say that you can’t get to Easter without Good Friday. And yet most people do just that. Easter represents the new life that arises out of death; and I am confident that God’s healing comes to everyone when we die regardless of the community we have been fated to live within and regardless of the events of our personal lives.
Despite what Scripture or tradition imply, I am sure there is no hell that awaits those who don’t believe the “right” things, or who don’t always act in the ways that religious or political leaders demand.
But given this is what I believe, why do I treasure Good Friday? Why hear again the stories about the trials of Jesus and his crucifixion? Why spend six weeks each late winter and early spring trying to take up my own cross to follow Jesus to my fate?
My short answer to these questions is that Good Friday is about the new life we can experience on this side of the grave.
I am not sure if new life always has to involve pain. But I am also not sure that it doesn’t. Human individuals and institutions seem to have an in-built capacity to armour themselves with illusions. We cloak ourselves in distractions and addictions as we build our egos and create careers and families. Behind these distractions or addictions, we deny the fear we might otherwise feel in the midst of fragile lives and in a violent society.
Breaking out of these distractions, if only for a moment, often comes from loss. Touching reality can bring great joy. But in my life, these moments have usually also involved grief as I mourn losses or the difficulties of finding love. New life is always worth this pain for me. It is a taste of the eternity that awaits us beyond our ego. But pain has usually been a part of it.
Unfortunately, it has also been my experience that not all pain leads to liberation. Humiliation hasn’t always led me to humility. Loss hasn’t always cleared my heart and mind of distractions and addictions.
The history of the church shows this. Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him. And yet for 1,000 years, most churches have said that Jesus has done all the work for us. All we have to do is to “sign on the dotted line” to be healed.
When Jesus is killed, the dream of a new military king for the Jews also dies. And yet for centuries, the church has allied itself with kings and their wars.
The resurrection of Jesus is a silent affair, and yet the church usually signals it with great fanfare and noise.
We rely on the church, but it disappoints me over and over again.
But then the year turns again. Christmas leads to Epiphany. Epiphany leads to Lent. And Lent leads to Good Friday, a day which lays bare the shape of my life’s journey. Today is a day in which we not only remember the death of Jesus, but one that also symbolizes the death of my illusory hopes and distractions.
And so today, in remembering terrible loss, I also find liberation. As soon as I accept Good Friday, Easter is assured. Having honoured Good Friday, the way is now clear for us to love ourselves and each other just as we are – people who are lost and broken, but also people who are blessed and healed.
Such moments of liberation don’t happen in every loss in our lives or on each Good Friday. Despite this, we all get to Easter eventually. And with God’s Grace, we can get to Easter over and over again until, like Jesus, we too breathe our last.
The Good News of Christ is that new life arises out of loss and death. And so having remembered the death and burial of Jesus this Good Friday, we wait for Easter with confidence. Something new is coming. We don’t know what it will be. But we know it will be beyond selfishness, addiction, and the brokenness of our violent society. It will be something wonderful.
On a Friday, many years ago, darkness came over the land and Jesus breathed his last and died.
And now we wait. We wait with our fallen brother and Saviour who lived and died in solidarity with all the best and worst of our humanity. We wait in sadness but also with the sure promise of new life.
This is a moment that reminds us of the shape our lives and the ground of our faith. This is the still point of our year. So into the stillness, I say once again some ancient words of hope for joy and liberation . . . Come, Lord Jesus, come.