Good Friday April 15, 2022 The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin
Readings: Isaiah 52:13--53:12; Psalm 22;Hebrews 10:1-25; John 18:1-19:42
From the Gospel according to John, “(Jesus) said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” I speak to you in the Name of God: our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. Amen.
A beautiful song written by Jesuit Dan Schutte begins with the nighttime arrest and then trial, crucifixion, and death of Jesus … a death at about 3 o’clock in afternoon when the skies had miraculously turned dark as night. For Dan, and for those who had accompanied Jesus from the Garden of Gethsemane to Calvary, what began in darkness will end in darkness. And with that darkness there is a sense of bewilderment and fear. The reality is most people fear the dark even though Genesis tells us that God created the day and night, light and darkness, and pronounced both “good.”
There is a holiness often found in darkness, a holiness enshrouded by silence, a holy darkness where God’s plans are often hidden from our sight. So it was on that Good Friday when our Lord underwent a horrific death. St. John describes the scene as do the other gospel accounts. At first we hear the jeers of the crowds, the sneering laughter and insults, the spitting, the whipping, the nailing, the shouting, and then the gradual silence as darkness engulfs the scene, fear rises in the hearts of many, and people begin to walk away in despair. It is in that very moment that Jesus shouted, “It is finished”, bowed his head, and gave up his spirit”, gave up his life and died. Died in that holy darkness, that blessed silence, when God’s plans for humanity’s redemption and the establishment of God’s kingdom seemed thwarted once again. In fact, all those promises of new life that Jesus had proclaimed, in that moment of death, seemed to be nothing more than yet another in a series of broken dreams. All seemed lost.
As 21st Century Christians, we know the rest of the story. We know that in just a few days a sealed tomb will be found empty, a stone rolled away, and a resurrected Christ will appear to many showing them the wounds in his hands, head, and feet – all those signs of our culpability in his death – say “peace be with you”, and God’s plans for the world’s redemption will be seen in all their glory bathed in resurrection light.
But for now, we stand at the foot of the cross and wonder why all of this was even necessary. Couldn’t an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God find some other way to forgive sins? For over two thousand years, Christians and theologians have wrestled with that very question. And our answers always seem to be lacking. We agree that this death was an act of atonement – a way of bringing us to a place of “at-one-ment” with God – a restored unity and relationship with God unheard of since those days at Eden before Adam and Eve sinned and fell from grace.
In his letter to the Corinthians, (I Cor. 6:20) St. Paul says our redemption was bought with a price and through his death Jesus bought or ransomed humanity from the clutches of the evil one. Our readings from Isaiah and the letter to the Hebrews, along with tonight’s narrative from the Gospel according to John, offers what is known as the “Theory of Substitutionary Atonement”: Jesus, the spotless lamb of God, both fully divine and fully human, is born for the solepurpose of substituting his own life – his body and blood - to redeem sinful humankind and, thereby, satisfy God’s justice.
Still, on Good Friday – a day that seemed anything but good at the time – while we want to embrace the theological meaning of this day, this atonement, many wonder why all this was necessary.
You know, Jesus never offered a clear connection between Calvary and our salvation. What Jesus did give us was a way of new life marked by loving God and neighbor with all that we are and have, a new way of life marked by fully believing and trusting in God, a way of life marked by caring for the poor and hungry, being wary of riches. But in the great mystery of our faith, this day offers more than following a moral path, it goes far deeper than that. All Jesus told us was that the cross- his brutal death - was necessary and that he was willing to endure it. Why? He told us at the Last Supper when he said, “This is my Body … given for you.” “This is my blood … shed for you … for the forgiveness of sin.” Why? Because God so loved the world – God’s love will endure anything to make us whole and bring us home again – even death on a cross.
Still, I would love for Jesus’ death to be God’s fault, or someone else’s fault, but as difficult as it is for my proud ears to hear, the answer to why Jesus died is always the same: The fault was mine. My sins (your sins) made the cross necessary. I wish there had been some other way to bring about redemption, but Jesus said the cross had to happen. And it did happen, and it did something – something that changed the course of human history, changed the whole universe, and it changed my life and your life. It forever altered relationships with God and with each other. Jesus - our friend, rabbi, and Lord - betrayed, denied, arrested, spat on, laughed at, whipped, and nailed to a cross and left to die in the heat of the day - naked and practically alone - tells us that he endured all of it because of, and for me, for you, for us and the whole world.
Why or even how the cross exacted our atonement and satisfied God’s demand for justice may be a mystery to us, - a mystery that always invites us to look more closely and think more deeply - but Jesus said that whatever this work involved, whatever was required, “It is finished. It is accomplished. It is done.” Somehow through the cross, God’s forgiveness and love for us and the whole world was reborn in the very depths of our souls. Reborn in the midst of the darkness of this day – no longer a darkness of bewilderment and fear - but a holy darkness filled with redemption – a darkness that at the creation of the world God called “good” then, and still calls “good” today.
That is what happened on that first Good Friday over two thousand years ago. And, friends, it still happens today whenever God’s people gather at the foot of this cross and hear those words, “It is finished” - hear them in our ears and embrace them in our hearts. Hear and embrace them so deeply that we choose to go forth to live as Christ has taught a forgiven and redeemed people so to live. For in so doing and living, friends, loves redeeming work that was truly finished on that Good Friday long ago will continue to be finished today and forever.
“(Jesus) said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” for you, for me, and the world. Thanks be to God! Amen.