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Good Friday 2nd April 2021

Good Friday Sermon                     2 April 2021

Delivered at St Andrew’s

Isaiah 52:13-53:-12.  Psalm 22.  I Cor 1:18-31.  

The Passion John 18:1-19:42

This Holy Week has for the first time in a long time resonated deeply within me. The more I read the Passion Narratives, the more I want to understand Jesus last days of his ministry leading up to his death on the cross. Who Jesus is, and what that means and asks of us. And so I want to begin this Good Friday by asking three questions that Sam Well asks in his book ‘A cross in the heart of God’.[1] Sam Well’s book is a collection of reflection on the death of Jesus.

Ok question number one: ‘Do you or I assume that politics is all about the government, religion all about the professional religious, and power all about the terrorists? Or do I look where Jesus looked, to the breadth of the endlessly diverse crowd that followed Him and the depth of intimate discipleship?’[2]

Question two: Do I realise Jesus’ passion is about the whole world, that these day transformed the nature and destiny of the whole world, not just showing us the full horror of human sin but opening out the full possibility of the redemption of all things? And finally, question three: Do I realise that Jesus’ passion is also about me?[3]

Sam Well’s states that ‘to examine the cross is to step out of our assumptions about power – the power that lives in the hands of government or in the hearts of religious leaders, or in the minds of the terrorist. He suggests it is to ‘’gather around the true power in the universe, made present in the fragile form of Jesus Christ – a power that transforms the whole world, can even transform you and I.[4]

What strikes me the most about Jesus story is that it is centred on the story of the people of Israel from the Old Testament. Sam Well’s states that  ‘Jesus life re-enacts the story of Israel. Jesus goes down to Egypt like Israel did, began at the Jordan river like Israel did, faced 40 days in the wilderness like Israel faced 40 years, called 12 disciples like Israel had 12 tribes and most of all assembled around himself and transformed those’ who were outcasts among their own people, the leper, the prostitute, the tax collector, the social outcast.’ Jesus came to ‘transform Israel which found itself under Roman occupation.’[5]

Jesus did something miraculous by going to the Cross. It is hard for us to understand as 21st century people. Why would Jesus choose to go to the cross for the people of Israel, for the world, for me? Nonetheless, Jesus did so, taking upon himself the sin of this world, separating himself from the Father, and the Father separating himself from the Son.  From the moment Jesus takes bread and shares it with his disciples, knowing Judas would betray him, knowing all the disciples would flee upon his arrest, abandoned by those closes to him. Abandoned on the cross, Jesus crying out saying: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? The pain and anguish heard in these words seem to sum up the pain of separation from the Father.

What is it that you and I fear most? I have heard the stories of refugees of their pain of leaving home and country seeking a better life, losing loved ones to nasty and violent war. I have heard the stories of aboriginals torn from their mother’s arms, I have heard the pain of separation too often. Jesus experienced that pain not only in human form but as the Son of God, separated from God the Father in that moment in order that you and I may be restored into relationship with God. And how did God do this in the Old Testament? He did it by establishing a Covenant with his people even when they showed signs of not necessarily wanting to be in covenant with God. God did it anyway. God promised Noah that he would never again destroy the earth. Never. That is an enormous promise. However, humanity in its frailness cannot live up to the promise given to Noah, or to Moses, or even to Abraham. Instead, Jesus becomes for us ‘the word made flesh’. God dwelling in human form. And Jesus in his humanity dies. It is incomprehensible.

Sam Wells says the real drama rests in the very heart of God. How can God let this happen? How can God suffer so terribly? How can God love us so much and forgive us so deeply and be faithful to us so enduringly that Christ can hang there with such grief and sadness and pain?[6]

I want for a moment to take us back to Jesus last supper. The gospels except for John point to Jesus celebrating the Passover with his disciples. The Passover brings together the three dominant themes of the Old Testament: God as liberator who sets Israel free. God calls Israel to be in relationship, by way of the Covenant drawn up between God and Moses. Jesus celebrating the Passover with his disciples brings a new element to the meal. Jesus takes bread and says, ‘This is my body’. Everything the Passover meant, Jesus meant and more. Jesus becomes the one who passes over our sins and sets us free. And Jesus does this not by becoming a politician, or a powerful ruler or by being a terrorist, he does it by becoming a servant. In John’s gospel, Jesus stoops down and washes the disciples feet – a job for slaves in Jesus day. And Peter objects, not my feet only but my whole body! Peter rejects Jesus offer to wash his feet, that have become dirty from the roads they have walked in and around Jerusalem.

Do we realise the passion is about you and I? I don’t have the time or liberty to share all that Sam Well’s offers in his book A Cross in the Heart of God’ but if I were to sum it up for us today, this Good Friday, this is what I want to ask. What does the Cross mean to me, to you? For a moment, close your eyes: listen to the words of the Prophet Isaiah –

He was despised and rejected by others, a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity, and as one from whom others hide their faces, he was despised and we held him of no account. Surely he has borne our infirmities, our weaknesses and carried our diseases, yet we accounted him stricken, stuck down by God and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, our sins, crushed for our iniquities, upon him was the punishment that made us whole and by his bruises we were healed.  (Isaiah 53: 3-6)

‘This is the irony of the cross’, says Sam Wells,’ if Jesus had saved himself, he couldn’t save us. His powerlessness shows us the endurance of God. Jesus hangs on the cross to show us the love that hangs on, Hang onto that love, it will never let you go!’ God’s love, grace, mercy and forgiveness are stronger than all the storms we can face for his is an everlasting love and it was shown in Jesus death and Resurrection.

Let us pray:

[1] Sam Wells, A Cross in the Heart of God: Reflections on the death of Jesus, Norwich, Canterbury Press, 2020

[2] A Cross in the Heart of God, p. 6..

[3] A Cross in the Heart of God, p. 6.

[4] A Cross in the Heart of God, p. 7.

[5] A Cross in the Heart of God, p. 11

[6] A Cross in the Heart of God, p. 21


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