Good Friday, April 19, 2019

April 19, 2019: Good Friday
The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin

Readings: Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 10:16-25; John 18:1-19:42

From John’s gospel, “(Jesus) said, ‘it is finished.’” I speak to you in the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

     Our journey through Holy Week continues this evening with the second part of the liturgy that spans these Great Three Days. We begin where we left off last evening. As our gospel lesson proclaimed moments ago, Jesus, having prayed in Gethsemane, has been betrayed, arrested, tried, executed, and buried. And in this moment, along with his followers, we are left bewildered and wondering what has happened, and perhaps, even questioning why God would allow an innocent man, his own Son, to die.

     On Good Friday, preachers take delight in the reality that when it comes to the Sermon, we have a captive audience. And for once, we have an opportunity to explain the depths of the atonement and work of the cross. This is the one time of year when, other than during Christian Education Classes, we preachers have a chance to talk about Ramson Theories and the various Theories of Substitutionary Atonement.  And if I do say so myself, I had a humdinger of a sermon on those very topics. I even quoted our Catechism which explains the reason for the cross saying “by his obedience, even to suffering and death, Jesus made the offering which we could not make; in him we are freed from the power of sin and reconciled to God” (BCP p 850). Then I turned to I Corinthians 6:20 where St. Paul reflecting on the crucifixion says, “You have been bought (or ransomed) with a price.” And then I moved over to John’s gospel and tonight’s poignant and very moving lessons from Isaiah and the Letter to the Hebrews. Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God, both fully divine and fully human, is born for the sole purpose of substituting his own life – his body and blood - to redeem us and to satisfy God’s justice. Oh, as I said, it was a humdinger of a sermon.

     And yet, the Holy Spirit kept nudging my heart and mind urging me to realize that there was a key part to the events of Good Friday that I had not even touched upon. The Spirit kept telling me that while the sermon was a good teaching tool it clearly missed the mark, missed the deeper and more telling reason why God would allow Jesus to die.

     Last night, we gathered to celebrate the Lord’s Supper: The Holy Eucharist as described in John chapter 13. And in our scripture readings and prayers we heard those words of Jesus, “This is my Body … given for you.” “This is my blood … shed for you … for the forgiveness of sin.” Jesus tells us in those simple sentences that his death, his sacrifice, was for us and because of us: for our sins and because of our sins. See, as much as my pride would like to find someone else to declare responsible for Jesus’ death, - Lord knows that for centuries the Church has tried to blame the Romans and the Jews for the crucifixion – those words of Jesus urge me to face the truth: Jesus died because of, and for, my sins – and your sins, too.” Jesus said that is why he offered himself on the cross. And in so doing, our reading from John’s gospel says, Jesus proclaimed his work “finished.” Why did Jesus die? For you and for me, and for the whole world.

     Yet, as I said, earlier, the Spirit has an even deeper message for us to grasp tonight. See, it’s one thing to understand that the reason Jesus died was for our sins, our atonement, to open the door for the whole world to be “at-one-ment” with God and neighbor again. But that still begs the question why? Why go to such lengths for us? Why not choose some other means? Why me? Why you?

     That answer lies at the heart of the entire message of the Bible. A message stated over and again from beginning to end. A message proclaimed so clearly in Isaiah Chapter 43, “Now thus says the Lord, he who created you … he who formed you … ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine … you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you’” (Isaiah 43:1, 7).

     Love? That’s the message you want me to share tonight, Lord? That was the reason why Jesus had to die? Wait a minute, tonight’s sermon is supposed to be all about atonement theories! And it is but the depths and transforming power and grace of the atonement can only be understood in the context of perfect, divine love. John 3:16 says, “For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son …” and Jesus himself in John 15:13 says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  Jesus died because sin could only be overcome by God’s perfect love.

     We may not fully grasp how the cross exacted our atonement, after all, it is one of the great mysteries of our faith – a mystery that can always be explored and pondered that much more deeply and I would add, humbly. But I am a firm believer that the cross did something – something that changed the course of human history, that changed the whole universe, that forever altered our relationship with God and with each other. Somehow, by it and through it, God’s forgiveness and love for me, for you, and the whole world was not only made eternally real, but even greater, it was offered to be reborn in my heart and your heart, and reborn for a purpose: to love God and neighbor; to love, as Jesus said, as deeply and sacrificially, “as I have loved you.”

     There is no doubt in my mind that through this cross we are redeemed, restored and saved forever because Jesus said his work “is finished.” And the reason this day is called Good Friday, is not just because of what happened over two thousand ago, but because of what can still happen to us today when we gather at the foot of this cross and realize that this instrument of torture is a symbol of victory, freedom and redemption when it changes lives, changes how we think and live.

     The cross stands as the ultimate example of just how far God’s love will go in order to restore, redeem, and make whole God’s creation - God’s beloved dust – that’s you and me. The question before us, tonight, is how far God’s love will go in and through us in order to truly show and then bring our neighbors to the wholeness, forgiveness, mercy and grace of God’s love.

     Jesus said his atoning work, “is finished” (accomplished and done). May God grant us the grace this night to realize that having come to the cross, our work now begins: to love as God, in Christ, has loved us. God grant us the grace so to do. Amen.