The Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This year of all years, I need to dwell on the realities of this Good Friday. And yet this year of all years, I want to move past Good Friday as quickly as possible, because I need Easter. I mean, here we are again, for a second Holy Week, a second Good Friday with the Cathedral closed and all our services literally hanging by a small digital thread that takes them from this place to all of you. Think about all that has happened since the last Good Friday. Since last Good Friday, we have witnessed and lived through the deaths of hundreds, of thousands of our country men and women, millions more around the world who have died as a result of this virus. At the same time, we have witnessed racism so ugly, so violent and brutal, that it’s easy to despair about our ability to ever live into our national proclamation that all men are created equal. On top of that, we have witnessed political turmoil, lies, and exploitation that have culminated in a violent attack on the Capitol by an angry mob. It’s all been too much.
Has there ever been a more important time for us to dwell on the realities of Good Friday than this year? Has there ever been a more important time to make some space to grieve the senseless death, the unjust violence, the political manipulations? Good Friday asks us to stop and dwell in the pain, and the tragedy, and the loss of Jesus’ crucifixion. Shouldn’t we also stop and dwell for a moment in the pain, and the tragedy, and the loss we have all experienced since last Good Friday? Isn’t Good Friday here, in part, to remind us that grief is something we must go through, that it isn’t something we can go around or avoid without terrible consequences for our souls?
Today, there is no empty tomb, there is only the cross. Today, here is no happy ending, but only death in the grave. But what the cross teaches us is that we worship a God who is not aloof and distant from the realities of human life. What the cross teaches us is that we worship a God who knows what pain is, who knows what loss is, who has experienced violence, who has suffered in the ways that we suffer. So what are we to do with all of our sadness and grief, all our worry and exhaustion because of turmoil and pandemic? We take it all to the cross.
We take it all to the cross and we place it at the foot of the cross, because suffering understands suffering. Jesus understands our pain. It is all too much to carry. We have to put it down somewhere. And today there is no empty tomb. Today, there is only the cross and the savior of the world who hangs upon it. He goes there willingly, and he takes with him all of it. Every bit of death and disease, every bit of violence, and killing, and hatred and selfishness, pride, envy, greed, you name it. He bears all of it. He takes all of it with him. And he dies with it.
This act of love on Jesus’ part, and that’s what it is, the ultimate act of love, doesn’t remove our pain. It doesn’t erase our grief; it isn’t that simple. Rather his death, his willingness to bear all our suffering upon himself, hallows all of it. Because as Dana reminded us on this day last year, only a suffering God can show us the way. Only a suffering God can help us bear our burdens. Only a suffering God wounded and shamed can draw us to the light that dwells in darkness and teach us how to love. Only a suffering God can lead us home.
The crucifixion of Jesus is both the worst thing and the best thing about our faith. It is the worst thing because it reveals the extent of our sin. After all, we are the ones who took an innocent man, a good man, a man of love, a man who came to show us the way of love and nailed him to a tree. We did that. It is the best thing about our faith, because it is the finest example of God’s love in action. God’s love reaching out to us. God’s love incarnate in Jesus, who was willing to die for us. As Teri Daily writes, “As we look at Jesus on the cross, we see that God doesn’t take one look at the risky brokenness of the world and run away from it. Instead, God runs toward us and gathers up all our weakness and pain, traversing any boundary to do so. Our violence toward one another, our insecurities, our broken relationships, our false searches for truth and power, our failures, our lost dreams and hopes, our grief, and even our death – God is present with us in all of these. As we look at the cross, we see that none of these things can separate us from God. Maybe seeing this truth is part of what salvation’s all about. It is at least more than enough reason for us to call this painful, difficult day ‘good’.”
Here in resides the essence of the Christian faith. On Golgotha God took the cross, an instrument of death, and made it the most powerful symbol of life. God picked up the shattered pieces of a human life in Jesus and made something holy out of them. The good news for you and me is that our Lord is still doing the same thing for all of us. Because of Jesus on the cross, our shattered lives can also be made into something holy. Because of Jesus on the cross, the greatest suffering we will ever know has already been known. Because of Jesus on the cross, our sins are forgiven, and all those who have died are not lost. On this day, Christ the crucified takes the full weight of the world upon his shoulders, to hang there, bleed there, and breathe his last there. All for us. All for the sake of love. Amen.