For just a moment, pray with me.
Father, bless us, keep us, hold us, unite us. But fill us for all of the places that you are preparing to send us. This we ask in your name. Amen.
On this day, I remember the words that were often sung around me. The one line simply said, “Lest I forget, thy thorn crowned brow lead me to Calvary”. So we come on this hour and we come on this day, mindful of the past, aware of the present. And if we’re honest, we’re very thoughtful and bringing great considerations about the future that is before us. For those of us and for many who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ, for the many that are just students of interest about his life, his witness, and the ministry, and even those who are enthusiasts of the gospel story. If we look at life, we are often sometimes more drawn to the comforting, pleasing and miraculous accounts of Jesus’ life, and pass through the difficult moments that move throughout his life. And especially this week of moments that lead us to the cross. On this Friday, Good Friday, along with every other generation since that day, the gospel has been lifted. We are led to the cross and Calvary in order that we might be plunged deeply, and plunged into deep consideration, about this man named Jesus and also plunge deeply into serious examination of ourselves and the world in which we live.
Together we are called to a great depth of wrestling. Together we’re called to a great depth of reflection, a great depth of consideration. That challenges our cognitive and intellectual conclusions, a great depth of consideration that pierces the protective armor that we placed around our hearts. The things, the thoughts, and all that we have used to cover our emotion, our hearts, that keep us from engaging with one another. And seemingly and falsely placed over our hearts to protect us from the world around us. Regrettably, we are all given to moments and seasons where we are comfortable with living life, as I would say, on the margins. We find our place, not in the center of life, dealing with the issues of life, but we all sometimes are more comfortable living life on the margins and never quite getting to the center. Where the crucial aspects of life are transacted and the value of relationships are truly experienced. Think about where we are now, on the margins, in our homes, In our families, in our communities. Think about the superficial ways that we carry out our relationships with one another, about all that is going on in the world. We are more comfortable at the margins than we are at the center. We make the decision to live our lives at that point on the margins, that allow us to be close enough, to be aware of circumstances, but not close enough to be affected by those circumstances. We live life on the margins and choose points in our lives where we are close enough to be knowledgeable about all the facts, but never close enough to understand all of the facts. We’re close enough while living life at a certain point on the margins of life, to hear what is happening all around us, but not close enough to be transformed by what is happening to us. So here we are on Friday. We’re invited to the cross once again. Not that we would come for form or fashion, but we would come by faith. We’re here on Friday, once again, not that we could say we have done it, just so we could check the box and carry out some responsibility. We’re here on Friday at the cross, once again, that our lives would be lifted and moved to the point where God would be able to say, “well done”.
We’re invited to the cross to join this crowd that has gathered. And the spectators of every kind. Think about the crowd that was around the cross. And truth is, It’s a crowd that is filled with enemies, the undecided, the distant disciples, the close companions, the loved ones that were even family members. No matter how we characterize the crowd through their actions or their inactions, it has been said that the decisions made on that day, whatever they lacked in unanimity, the decisions lack nothing in effectiveness. For there at Calvary, he was crucified. There at Calvary, he died. Not on a cross covered with gold, not on a cross that would be seen as fashionable and trendy, but he was crucified on a cross with all the splinters sticking out. Crucified on a cross where nails were placed in his hands and feet. And the blood covered that wood.
John’s gospel tries to move us through the story. And as it moves us through the story on this day, we take a moment to pause on Friday at the cross. At the cross, a situation that is heartbreaking, a moment that is heart aching. And to tell the truth for many around that cross, it is even hope shattering. A moment In the lives of all of those who were present then, and in the lives of those who are present now, we are wondering, what does the future hold? Those around the cross must have been wondering and asking, why did this have to happen? How did this come to be? What will happen to us now? What are going to be the days in front of us? You don’t have to admit it, but I know in the circumstances in which we live, we’re all asking questions. When we look at the life and the world in which we move from day to day, what is going on right now? What will the future hold for us? What does this Friday mean to us?
We are called to move closer, to get to the center, while looking upon Jesus, who was crucified between two thieves. And he was at the center of all of their questioning. That’s where we are being invited. We’re called to deep questioning on Friday, to deep questioning in this moment. We’re called to a fresh challenge so that our claims of being Christian, our claims of being believers are not cloaked in religious respectability, but they are given with Christian sincerity and authenticity.
Good Friday, and the events on that day are speaking to us this day in a time when our witness is needed, in a time when our call is to rise above the challenges that are all around us. On this day we are faced with going a little bit further. We are faced with loving with sincerity. We are faced with sacrificing beyond the level of superficiality. We are faced with embracing a peace that passes all understanding. A noted pastor by the name of Ralph Stockman once stated that, “In a world which is absolutely safe, the qualities of faith and courage which distinguish us, would have nothing to live on. Because when we speak of faith and courage, they are somehow mysteriously related to hazards, difficulties and trials”. We who are living on this side of that Friday that took place generations ago, are often in a hurry to get to Sunday. And we miss the lessons that we are not to just devour, but the lessons we are to digest. Over the past 40 days, there have been those who have devoured scripture, who have devoured prayer, who have devoured good quotes, who have devoured philosophical statements. But I wonder how much of it has been devoured and how much of it has been digested.
How much of it will give us strength in the days to come? How much of it will strengthen our resolve, will stiffen our backs, who will raise our voices, who will make us healthy and transform our lives? How much of that has not been just devoured, but has been digested? These lessons speak to us not simply so that we would feel better about divinity, but these lessons speak to us so that we might wrestle with our failures of humanity. Our failure to help the hungry that are present with us. Our failure to help the homeless that are all around us. Our failure to deal with the broken homes and relationships that move about us. A racism that divides us, Ukrainian wars and wars in every land, that take valued lives from us. Our failure to address the poverty in every aspect that is consuming us. John’s gospel tells us that Joseph of Arimathea sought to place our Savior’s body in the tomb. And he sought to place it in the tomb on that day that was a preparation day. Here those in that moment, they were preparing the body, but at the same time they were preparing themselves for the days that were yet to come. The Sabbath that was ahead.
As a viewer of classic movies, I am often reminded on this day of an old classic film that was simply entitled A Long Day’s Journey Into Night. It has always been the title that has consumed me and grabbed me. But it is a story about a family who when thrust together, the film exposed, the play, even exposed, deep struggles that were experienced by the members of that family. And there are many here today and those who have joined us, who are watching even online, who know the frustration, who know the burden, who understand the complications of experience, experiencing what we call a long day. Many of us who are here know what it is to have a long day.
The burdens on our back, the heaviness in our spirit, the weariness that is sometimes showing up as despair and disappointment. The misery, the helplessness, and even the hopelessness of a long day. It’s a long day’s journey and we’re headed into night. A long day’s journey where we’re headed into quiet. A long day’s journey when eight hours can feel like a hundred hours. Where the experience and the moments seem to grow longer and larger. Where the hours are never ending, and even the seconds are everlasting. On this Good Friday, we are called once again to wrestle with our present reality, while at the same time remembering his promises. We are called on this Friday by faith. We are called on this Good Friday by faith as we move from a long day into night. To walk, even when we cannot see. To embrace the mystery of faith in pure conscience. To keep discerning and serving and acting, even when we are looking through a glass dimly. We must remember who Jesus is, the life he has invited us to experience, and the counsel he delivered us. The character of God and our savior are colored with the pigmentation of his truth. What we think about God, what we think about others and what we think about ourselves, and what we do to express those thoughts are, decisive and determining forces in the life we’ll live from this moment on.
On this Friday, I do not have great philosophical thoughts that I want to share with you and leave you with. On this Friday, Good Friday, I don’t have a scientific calculus to offer you. On this Friday, Good Friday, I didn’t come prepared with a business proposal that may be of interest to some of you in hopes of providing you comfort or a false sense of security to you. I simply have two words I want to leave with you. Words that I have reminded others of throughout my years in ministry. Words that cause me to feel the weight of responsibility, but at the same time, sparks my witness and responsibility. When I’m weak and I’m in need of help, these two words give me hope. When the pain of the pressures of life have pressed down on me and the pain has almost consumed me, these two words remind me that there are possibilities. These two words lifted me when I arrived here. There are two words that are often the witness of our Canon of Worship. Two words that our clergy often tell each other from time to time. Two words that we hold dearly, we share with staff, we share with visitors, and we tell those who are present today. Two words that I hear all around me, even as I’m speaking in this moment, and I know that the foundation is lifting and this cathedral is built upon. That even these two words, every stone is crying out. What are these two words that give me hope on Friday and I can handle into the dark of this night and make it to Sunday? Two words: Sunday comes.