During Holy Week this year St. Andrew’s participated in the Cobourg Christian Network’s joint Good Friday Service. Hosted at the Best Western in Cobourg a collection of diverse churches came together to celebrate the Passion of our Lord. The offering taken that day was dedicated towards the Better Together Refugee Sponsorship.
Rev. Ellis was the speaker for the services, below you will find the text to the sermon along with a video of the service. The sermon begins at 18:40.
Text: Luke 23:44-49
A New Way Forward – A Good Friday Meditation
This morning we have only heard a small portion of the events surrounding the death of Jesus. Indeed we have only heard the verses where Jesus draws his last breath. We did not hear about the betrayal by Judas or the arrest in the garden. We did not witness Peter claiming he did not know Jesus. We did not see Jesus before the council or Herod. We did not hear Pilate question Jesus, also missing was the roar of the crowd as they requested that Barabbas be set free. We did not have to hear that same crowd shout “Crucify him!” We did not witness the humiliation Jesus suffered at the hands of Roman centurions, as his clothes were cast for lots and a crown of thorns placed upon his brow. We did not see Jesus being led through Jerusalem to Golgotha, the place that is called The Skull. We did not witness him being hoisted up on the cross, hung between two thieves like a common criminal.
This morning we focused on the six short verses in Luke’s gospel where Jesus dies. It is a sobering and insightful account into the death of our Lord. We witnessed the darkness that came over the land as the sun failed. We can imagine the despair that would have been felt by those that gathered for the spectacle. How they must have realized that this was no normal execution.
They couldn’t have known it at the time but as they stood there watching the spectacle the curtain in the temple was torn in two. The curtain behind which God lived, where only the priests were able to enter. As the crowd stood in that darkened sky, drawing short, furious breathes as adrenalin coursed through their veins as they waited for Jesus to draw his last. As they stood there the crowd which shouted crucify him, the crowd which rejected Jesus and turned its back on God. As they stood there anticipating a death, God does the unthinkable. God tears the curtain in two and as the people rejected God, God forgives and becomes accessible for all people in the form of Jesus Christ, hanging, broken, dying on a cross.
It is an incredible story which forms the basis of our faith. That God, would die to forgive our sin and to restore us back into proper relationship. Edward Shillito’s poem Jesus of the Scars speaks of how God is wounded and that through these wounds speaks to the human condition. That God knows what it is like to be flesh and blood. Knows what it is like to be broken. God displays extraordinary trust coming to us in such a vulnerable way.
Many have wondered why Jesus had to die. Why did our salvation require the blood of Jesus Christ? Surely, it could have been accomplished in another way. After all it is God we are talking about here. Perhaps there might have been another way, but this is the way that God chose. God chose to end cycles of violence by dying to violence. God sought to bring to an end the social, physical and spiritual violence which damages our lives. The ministry of Jesus is founded on peace, compassion and care. There is no violence found in his teaching.
Dying in such a way implies incredible trust on the part of Jesus in God’s providence and plan. In both Matthew and Mark’s gospel the final words of Jesus are a cry of anguish, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Words which are recorded at the beginning of Psalm 22, these words that Jesus cries out are a prayer of anguish for Israel and for all of God’s people. These words make us wonder if Jesus felt abandoned in those final moments. Yet, if we read further in Psalm 22 we realize it ends with a promise of God’s deliverance to a people yet unborn. So while it might appear that Jesus stumbles or appears lost and alone if we read to the end of the Psalm which he is quoting we realize that there is a profound level of trust in God’s plan.
In Luke’s gospel which we heard this morning different words are recorded. Rather than a cry of anguish we have words of absolute trust, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Even during his last earthly moments Jesus offers up his life to God, his trust is implicit. Jesus literally places his life in God’s hands. Trusts completely and without condition in God’s plan.
How then did Jesus die? Did he die a guilty man, hanging between two thieves? No. No, if Jesus is guilty of anything it is of taking our guilt, our sin, our brokenness, our propensity for violence and taking it upon himself so that we could know forgiveness. So that we could experience salvation.
As the Centurion says, “Certainly this man was innocent.” It was the Romans who executed Jesus and it is a Roman Centurion, a symbol of the Pax Romana, the peace of Rome, who declares that surely Jesus was innocent. The irony isn’t lost on us.
Jesus hangs there, dead, an innocent man. His body bruised and bloodied, wrecked, a sign of the violence we inflict upon ourselves. Violence which we have witnessed anew just this week in the world. Yet Jesus hangs on the cross. He hangs there innocent, yet still he hangs.
Realization begins to set in on the crowd. They have gotten their spectacle, they have witnessed the death they called for. They have heard the words of the Centurion and you have to imagine that whispers of the word ‘innocent’ are snaking its way through the crowd. And it hits them as they look up upon the broken body of Jesus. That perhaps something else is going on, perhaps they were wrong. Is he, could he be innocent? And grief sets in and in the darkness of that afternoon the crowd disperses, beating their breasts in sorrow.
We no longer beat our breasts, but you can imagine the sound of the drumming as fists pound on chests in grief and in sorrow.
As the crowd headed home the realization that the one who announced God’s kingdom and lived out its reality was crucified and dead. Jesus takes with him all the hopes and fears of Israel. The Messiah wasn’t supposed to die at the hands of the Romans. The words of the Centurion speak to a hope which has been lost.
The death of Jesus on the cross is the narrow way, the only way. This narrow way is marked by the ability of Jesus to forgive while he hung on the cross. It is found in the voice of the centurion who recognizes that Jesus was innocent and that surely there was another way. The death of Jesus shows that the cycle of terror, violence and death is futile.
God chose another way. God desires to end the cycle of violence and death. God wants restoration. The way of the cross, it is the narrow way which we are called to seek.
We gather here today, some two thousand years removed from these events. Yet, the distance of time is nothing for God to overcome and the devastation of the death of our Lord resonates with us deeply. We stand with the distance of time and space and we take in the death of Jesus.
The disciples, the friends of Jesus, they stood at a distance and watched these things. They heard those last words of Jesus, the declaration of innocence by the Centurion and they watch the crowd leave full of grief.
Who were you the afternoon that the sky went black? When you view the events of the cross in your mind at what distance do you stand?
The friends of Jesus stood at a distance and watched as remorse, regret and grief overtook the crowd which once shouted ‘crucify him!’ The words of Jesus, ‘Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do’ ring true. The people did not know what they were doing.
The disciples, the friends of Jesus witnessed all of this. They watched the world break, they watched grief overtake the crowd and they wondered what would happen next.
We follow a God who chose not to respond with, by or through violence. Rather God allowed the violence to be done to him to show another way forward.
It is this other way which we are called to find. Jesus didn’t die to violence so that we could continue to live in cycles of violence. I suspect that each of us here today has witnessed violence in many of its guises: social, domestic, physical, sexual, spiritual. The death of Jesus on the cross says enough, stop the violence. Turn towards peace and live in my grace, love and mercy.
The Kingdom of God is founded on peace and justice, not upon violence. The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross demands that we die to ourselves and live in Christ. That we let go of our sinful ways and live for the Kingdom.
This is what we are doing when we gather here today. A collection of churches, God’s community of faith here in Cobourg. We have gathered together, despite what differences we have, to show that this is what God’s kingdom looks like. Through our work together we demonstrate the greatness of God’s kingdom. Together we have started a remarkable undertaking of sponsoring those in the most dire of situations and giving them a new start.
Just as Jesus died to demonstrate another way forward we look to that example and we say enough with the violence. We will do something about this and together as God’s community of faith we have sponsored refugees. Just as Christ made a sacrifice for us, paid with his life, we too make a sacrifice of time, money and energy to help others.
Except, it’s not a sacrifice when you are doing the work of the kingdom. It is an expression of love, poured out in realization of what God has first done for us through Jesus Christ.
The God we encounter on the cross is not like anything or anyone else in all of creation. God, in Christ, does not avoid the suffering of the world. Instead God, through Christ, enters into the world. Jesus is not interested in being served, but in leading the act of serving and we are requested to follow.
Jesus offers himself fully to us and to this world. In Jesus Christ God becomes accessible to us. Hanging on the cross, broken, bruised, for us. Trust in the promise for your life which is found in Jesus Christ. Live in his grace, love and mercy. Amen.