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Be Ye Doers of the Word and Not Hearers Only

Good Friday – Year

I will never forget the first time I walked the Via Dolorosa, the Way of the Cross, in the Old City of Jerusalem. It is a journey taken by millions of pilgrims every year and so it has been for centuries. I remember not wanting to go. I feared it would be to commercial, to phony. I had already seen the Fifth Station of the Cross T-shirt Shop and so I had in my mind an idea about the kind of experience it might be. I didn’t want to ruin my first visit to that mysterious and holy city. But go I did. I took my place in the line of pilgrims who have walked that walk for centuries and stopped at all its fourteen stations.

Walking the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem your senses are bombarded by the sights and sounds of the Old City. Children running and playing, people hurrying to get someplace taking little notice of the odd assortment of individuals following a cross. Rude comments are made by bystanders. Someone spits on you as they hurry by. Orthodox young Jews hurl insults at Christians for invading their city. Shopkeepers jostle you hoping to distract a pilgrim into their shops. The smell of lamb roasting on open fires mingled with the musty dirt of that old city intrudes into your concentration.

It was near the sixth station, where the tradition remembers Veronica wiped Jesus’ face that someone pointed out the smooth large stones under our feet. These very stones were there 2000 years ago. And you had to wonder if Jesus had walked this way and touched these very stones.

From the beginning, subtly, unexpectedly I was drawn into the experience. All my pretensions fell away. This Via Dolorosa must not have been so different from the way of the cross walked on another busy Friday long ago where children played, shopkeepers sold their wares, people spit on him, and insults flew. Human Beings had changed very little in the ensuing 2000 years. We are still filled with hatred, envy, jealousy, and anger.

Walking the Via Dolorosa was one of the most touching experiences of my life? At each station you stop and read a portion of scripture, sing a hymn, and pray a prayer that goes like this:

Let us pray:

In thanksgiving for all who see with God’s eyes, and who recognize love and beauty, where we see only ugliness and squalor;

For every act and occasion of compassion and caring;

And for all who feel for God in those who are suffering;

Lord have mercy.
Christ have mercy.
Lord have mercy.

For all whose suffering, pain, deprivation and degradation make them
ugly and unattractive to themselves and to others;
For all who have the courage to love and show compassion;
Lord have mercy.
Christ have mercy.
Lord have mercy.
For ourselves;
That our eyes may be opened to see beauty where God sees beauty;
That we may be given a heart open to compassion and hands ready to
comfort and console;
That others may see in us a true icon of God;

Lord have mercy.
Christ have mercy.
Lord have mercy.

If I could I would take us all there this day to feel that ancient city where Jesus died.

Some of you were at St. Paul’s Church a week ago to hear Bishop Spong address the traditions around the cross. While I admire Bishop’s Spong courage and ability to challenge the Church, I don’t think he understands quite the mystery of the cross. It is true enough to say that some of the old ways of understanding the cross may not fit in our modern world. The good Bishop told us that it would be a horrible God who demanded the death of his own son. Such a God he would not want to worship. This idea of a necessary sacrifice that hearkens back to an old religious understanding of Temple worship could not, after all, set the universe straight. Bishop Spong told us that this God of the traditional Good Friday ought to change or die.

Good Friday is not God’s demand for a sacrifice, though for a long time Christianity did understand the crucifixion of Jesus as somehow setting the cosmic debt of humanity straight with God. It is perhaps easier to see how such a notion is our idea of justice and not God’s, and Bishop Spong is right to remind us that this idea originated in a place that no longer exists.

Good Friday is a story about what human beings do when they are confronted with God’s love. When love threatens to force us to relinquish our power, our control, our possessions, we hold tight and will kill whatever gets in our way.

Sin is sin whether you call it original or not, we all have it. We all hurt others even those we love. We all dance with evil and justify it in our minds. We all walk around injustice as if we do not see it. We all flee from the hard truths about ourselves. We are disloyal to what we say we believe. We cannot live as long as we have without knowing that something is amiss in the human condition.

Jesus died to give us courage to see that there is more to life than greed, oppression, darkness, and hatred. When we gaze upon that cross on which he died, we know that given the right circumstances we would have driven the nails into his very flesh. We would have spit on him and taunted him, or we would have been just like his disciples and run for our lives.

Good Friday is mirror held up by Jesus so that we can see ourselves in all our stark reality, and then it turns us to that cross and to his eyes and we hear these words, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” That’s us! And so we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves. We see in that cross a love so amazing so divine that it loves us even when we turn away from it, or spurn it, or crucify it. There is no faith in Jesus without understanding that on the cross we see into the heart of God and find it filled with mercy for the sinner whoever he or she may be.

Can you imagine what the disciples must have felt? Consider James, our patron saint who a few weeks before had asked Jesus if he could sit on his right hand when the Kingdom comes. Because he was afraid that he would be next on that horrible cross, he ran and hid. Imagine how he felt about himself. All the bravado has been kicked out of him. Human beings have been hiding from God ever since Adam, and you and I, well we’re no different, are we? The disciples knew the Romans would not think twice about putting them on a cross. After Jesus is killed, they are not sure what they believe about any of what they have seen or heard. They just want to get out of Jerusalem safely and go back to Galilee.

But God’s love will not let them go. And that is the cross. The message of Good Friday is that although we can kill God’s love, we can’t keep it buried.

This holy love is direct and personal and seeks your very heart. Come with me says Jesus, come what may, hard as the road can be, we can walk it together, you and me. It doesn’t matter if they crucify us. God will not let go of this love. Do not be afraid to be mine and stay with me.

Let us pray:

Lord as we approach the hallowed ground of Gethsemane and Golgatha, we confess our sense of guilt and shame that our scars are so scarce; our courage so seldom summoned; our passion wasted on ourselves

Forgive us Father for we know not what we do.

Help us to come as the sinners we are, that we may find mercy and grace for the lives we so easily squander. Give us a deeper sense of the love which you bear for our souls and for the gift of faith that makes Thy love found in Jesus the sure foundation upon which we can build and rebuild our lives.

Unashamed and unafraid we offer you ourselves are souls and our bodies to be a sacrifice for your love. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

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