Texts: Isaiah 52:13-53:12 • Psalm 22 • Hebrews 10:16-25 • John 18:1-19:42
Thursday morning, while our neighbors were downstairs receiving food from the pantry, Pat and David were spreading new mulch on the garden plots in front of the parish house. The bulbs that fell dormant at the beginning of winter have already begun to send up sprouts, and I think before long we’re going to have an amazing array of flowers and greenery just outside our doors.
It’s difficult on a night that’s so unseasonably warm, when it’s still so light outside and many of us have already brought out our spring clothing, to experience tonight as Good Friday. We’re used to the chill, wet winds of Chicago’s early spring evenings. We’re trained to expect that Good Friday’s mood will match the weather.
We gather tonight in the middle of the Three Days – the bridge that carries us from Lent to Easter, from death into life. We hear in Luke’s account of Christ’s trial and crucifixion all the evidence needed to convince us that death has the last word. But, like the earth that is already softening from sun and rain, we are already responding to signs of the life that is being born out of the death that surrounds us.
This may seem inappropriate, disrespectful of the mood Good Friday is supposed to cultivate in us. We might imagine that all sense of hope, all anticipation of new life, is held in suspended animation until we gather again tomorrow night for the Easter Vigil. We might presume that for tonight we are obliged to produce a sense of morose self-hatred for the ways that we participate in Christ’s eternal crucifixion. But that is not so.
The good news of God in Christ Jesus is freedom for those held captive to sin, liberation for the oppressed, reconciliation for the estranged. The resurrection we are waiting to acknowledge at sundown tomorrow and the next day’s sunrise only matters to those who know that they are already dead. More simply put, Easter is nothing but pageant without Good Friday. Sunday’s celebration is already present in Friday’s death.
We, who are both saints and sinners, kneel before the cross tonight and hear it speaking to us as both verdict and promise. It is true, each one of us is guilty of our participation in the world’s suffering. We, who each bear the image and likeness of God in our very skin, do not respect that image in one another. If you doubt this, stop and think for a moment about the person or people that most infuriate you. Think about how you speak to them. Think about how you speak of them. Then remember that they, like you, bear the image of God. We do not respect God’s creations – each other, or the world we live in. We hang each other on the same crosses at which Jesus now joins us. We must admit this, or there is no need for the salvation Christ brings. We must admit that we are in bondage to these patterns of hurt before we can be liberated from them.
Because that is the promise of Good Friday. We will be liberated from these crosses. The ones we hang on, and the ones we hang each other on. These crosses, which are at the same time symbols of the divisions between us and a symbol of the end to all divisions, promise us that God will not abandon us in our suffering. God comes to us just like this, just as we are, but God does not leave us this way.
The trees that line Francisco Avenue and Logan Boulevard have been barren for months, but this week they have produced green sprouts. Seeds that have lain in the cold earth are already sending up shoots. Our sanctuary is bare, but it is not barren. These brick walls, this stone floor, our sanctuary is not a tomb. This cross is not a corpse. It is the promise that God is coming for us, God is with us.
Draw strength and hope from the cross.