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Living in a Good Friday World: Friday, March 29, 2024

Good Friday:
Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12
Psalm 22
Hebrews 10:16-25
John 18:1 – 19:42

There’s a story that’s been told:

A little boy used to bring home friends from school. They used to play in the living room. But his father began to notice that his son stopped bringing home friends to play. So he sat down on the stair with his son, the place where they would chat. He said, “I’ve noticed you don’t bring friends home to play anymore. Is it because of your mum?” His son nodded. “Is it because of her hands?” His son nodded again. “Let me tell you how your mum got those hands. One day when you were [very young] she was next door and heard you screaming. You’d crawled into the [bon]fire. So she plunged her hands into the fire to get you out. But her hands were badly damaged. So when you see your mum’s hands, you see how much she loves you.

A week or two later the father noticed his son started bringing friends home again. And one day he overheard his son say to a friend, “You see my mum’s hands? They show how much she loves me.” *

It’s been said, I think by a lot of people, that we’re “an Easter people… living in a Good Friday world.” (“The world is on fire,” we sometimes hear people, or news organizations say.) Even today — literally Good Friday — as much as we may enter into the sombreness and seriousness of the day, we do so trusting that we’re not going to get stuck in it. Maybe it’s because of our faith in Easter that we’re able to go to these dark places today. And maybe it’s only through taking seriously the reality of Good Friday (the reality of our, and our world’s brokenness) that we open ourselves up to the miracle of Easter. But it’s so much safer to distract, and avoid, and to hide… like the child, at first embarrassed by his mother’s hands.

How strange it is, when you think of it — and only possible with Easter being assumed — for a community that has lasted thousands of years to form itself around the narrative that we just heard a few minutes ago. It’s an unusual origin story. And you think about the sacred meal through which Christians are formed (thinking of the importance and impact of family meals, and the expression: you are what you eat), at the core of that meal are Jesus’s words: “this is my body broken for you; this is my blood shed for you.”

While I’m not sure that there is one, succinct way of summarizing and explaining HOW exactly we are saved through the brokenness and bloodiness of the Good Friday ordeal, our Church has continued to insist that, in some way, we are. A Eucharistic Prayer we’ve used a few times this season we’ve heard of how Jesus’s “suffering and forgiveness spanned the gulf our sins had made. Through that dark struggle death was swallowed up in victory, that life and light might reign.” Scriptures, hymns, and theologies will express this in different ways. We heard something in one of our readings about “entering the sanctuary” (the presence of God) through the blood of Jesus. And psalms and the Suffering Servant songs from Isaiah were evoked by the early Church, as a way of shedding some light on how Good Friday, as ugly as it is, brings about ‘Good.’ “Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted.”

Or St. Paul, who would write: “For our sake God made the one who knew no sin to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Somehow, in some way, the gulf between God and people has been bridged (thinking of how a cross, stuck in the ground, connects earth and heaven, when you think about it). God, with a wisdom that most people would call foolish, chooses to enter into this ‘Good Friday world.’ Into the alienation that, for whatever reason, marks so much of human existence and experience. Anxiety, agony, betrayal, disappointment, grief, dehumanizing bureaucracy, injustice… all of those things that are so evident in the Passion story, God chose to enter into. And those things, of course, a prelude to death, the last stop in this Good Friday world. But God even goes there. Death, which we think of as the opposite of God, the opposite of power, the opposite of life… God has entered right into that.

The result is the woundedness of the hands; scars that won’t fade away. But the wounds are signs of an infinite love. How strange a story… And how sweet the name of Jesus sounds, in a believer’s ear…

    Jesus: who came to be with us, in our sharp and dangerous world.

    Jesus: who understands our woundedness.

    Jesus: who endured the attacks of wounded, rabid humanity at its worst.

    Jesus: who said that a grain of wheat must go in the ground and die, to reap a harvest. And the tiny mustard seed will become a huge bush giving shelter the birds of the air.

    Jesus: who experienced all this — with, and for us — and assures us that he will not leave us stuck in this Good Friday world. We do have to face it, on long and precarious journey toward Easter. But we do so knowing that we are not alone. Amen.

© 2024 The Rev’d Matthew Kieswetter

* A story from Jack Nicholls (recounted by Samuel Wells)