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Be Ye Doers of the Word and Not Hearers Only

Good Friday – Year B

On this day, Good Friday, we find ourselves, strangely, lingering in the chilly shadow of the winter solstice of the liturgical church year. It may be spring out there but not in here. This is the day the light disappears. The light of God is snuffed out. All of our busyness to fan the flames of the Spirit does not work; it leaves us weary. Look behind me at the barren and broken alter. It’s all gone. The adornments of what are familiar and comforting have vanished: the altar is stripped, the crosses are missing, the spring flowers remain in the ground, the soft kneelers have given way to a cold marble floor, even Jesus is shrouded in darkness. From noon until 3 p.m., we will watch as the earth goes dark. We find ourselves lurking in the shadows for fear that the crucifixion will eclipse our assumptions about a merciful and just God. We fear that the cross will reveal our uncertainty, maybe even our anger at God. How could He allow something like this to happen? Hear the psalmists cry: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death” (Psalm 22:1, 15). This is why we are here today—to confront the darkness of Good Friday—and what its significance means to us. Broken promises. Lost hopes. Unanswered prayers. Severed relationships. Grief. Death. The End.

The darkness should cause us to tremble, tremble, tremble. No one is above or escapes the questions we have to confront today: Were you there when they crucified my Lord? You know these words…the familiar refrain of the old Afro-American spiritual. We’ll sing them later on after the cross is carried into the sanctuary. So I will ask you again: Where you there when they crucified our Lord? Did you have the courage to confront your own complicity in Jesus’ fate? Or were you sleeping when he was arrested in the garden of Gethsemane? Did you hear the gossip about the trial before Caiaphas and Pilate and of Jesus’ flogging the next morning? Or were you present as a judge? Or did you, like Peter, tag along and then deny ever knowing Jesus? Perhaps you were among the Roman soldiers who were mocking Jesus and saying “Hail, King of the Jews!” Or you were among the Jews who insisted Barabbas be freed and Jesus crucified? When Pilate asked you, “Shall I crucify your King? Did you answer with the chief priests, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Or were you at home, hiding under your pillow, with your windows and doors nailed shut, praying that it was all a nightmare?

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Oh. Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.

I hate to ask it but I must. Were you there when they nailed him to the tree? Did you have the courage to watch as Jesus carried the cross, the instrument of his own death, by himself up to Golgotha? Did you walk with him? Did you offer to bear the burden of the weight of the cross for him? Or did you just stare in curiosity or in horror? When Pilate had the inscription written for the cross, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” did you object with the chief priests and scowl, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” And when Jesus was nailed to the tree and hoisted up, his flesh tearing and his arms and feet barely bearing the weight of his own body, did you cringe and look away, your heart breaking under the weight of your own sin? Or did you feel satisfaction knowing that Caiaphas was correct when he said, “it is better to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed” (John 11: 50). Did you desert Jesus in his dying as all the rest of his disciples did? Or were you there at the foot of the cross, witnessing Jesus’ love for his mother when he asked his Beloved Disciple to adopt her as his own. And maybe was it you who took a hyssop branch and a sponge soaked in sour wine and stood on your tip of your toes to reach Jesus’ mouth and comfort him? Were you there when he whispered, “It is finished.”? Did you curse God or his enemies for taking his life?

Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Oh. Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.

If you were there then it means that you saw him give up his spirit and die. Did you then retreat and scurry home in shame? Had you seen enough of the day’s despicable events? Or did you stay, making sure that there were no bodies left on the cross during the Sabbath? If you stayed then I must ask: Were you there when they pierced him in the side? Did you see the soldier wield his weapon of violence against our Lord just as Peter had sliced off the ear of the slave? Did your anger fuel a desire to respond to violence with violence? Were you relieved when the Romans did not have to break Jesus’ legs because he was already dead? The perfect Pascal lamb left unblemished… Did you notice that when Jesus’ side was pierced both blood and water poured from his body? Did this sight prove that he really was human? Or did it prove that he really was divine embodying the Spirit and its rivers of living water. We know now that he was both. Jesus was the Son of God as prophesied by the Zechariah: “When they look on the one whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him as one weeps over a firstborn (12:10). Now you know the truth: while the cross held Jesus to the earth in agony, the sacrifice of his blood and water brought salvation to the world.

Were you there when they pierced him in the side?
Oh. Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.

The darkness causes us to tremble, does it not? There is a quality to darkness that can mask our secrets and hide our pain. Fear lurks in the darkness. There are moments, hours, days, months and years when we have no idea if we’ll ever work our way out of it. But we know that in the beginning God created the heavens and earth, and the earth was a formless void, darkness covering the face of the deep. Then God said, “Let there be light and there was light.” And God separated the light from the darkness. (Genesis 1: 1-4). And out of that darkness walked Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus—two men whose love of Jesus had forced them to hide in the cover of the night. Not any longer. They were there to lay him in the tomb. Were you? These two men, in the light of day, convinced Pilate to let them take away the body of Jesus. Nicodemus had brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes to give Jesus a proper burial. Perhaps you were you there to help them rub the spices on Jesus’ wounds and wrap him gingerly in the linen cloths? Did you help them carry his body to the tomb and push the stone vault shut? And then did you walk out of your hiding, free from your yoke of fear and into the light? Yes, I know you did.
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
Oh. Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.

The gift of Jesus’ crucifixion is that it takes our hand and walks us out of our darkness—our sin, selfishness and alienation. It allows us to confess the times when we broke promises when we betrayed ourselves and those whom we love and were found out—and in the finding out—we found God. Our God is not a far-off God, tallying offenses and planning sordid punishments. Ours is a God who enters into our pain, takes it onto his very self, and then turns it inside out. This is what is wrought this day: our salvation, our redemption, the chance to be born again…every day. How can this possibly happen? It is because God traverses the divide between humanity and divinity, between heaven and earth; with a body fragile enough to bleed, a body pliable enough to include us, and a body divine enough to transform our human agony into joy.i That tomb, heavy as the stone is, cannot stay shut for long. I invite you to lay the darkness of your soul at the foot of the cross and walk out of here into the light. Oh, the truth of the crucifixion. Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.


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