Here is the second in a series of three sermons, being sent out to everyone and posted on our web page during our time of not holding services in the church under orders of our governor and federal leaders in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Let us pray
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts always be acceptable in your sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen
Good Friday should never be a pleasant day. It should not be a day of joy and gladness. As one whose birthday has fallen on Good Friday, it was never a time of celebration. We celebrated on Easter. Good Friday should never be a time to gather with friends and co-workers at the end of the day and a long week to party at the local bar or restaurant.
For countless centuries, Good Friday was a time to fast and spend the entire day in church or holy reading. It was a time of reflection and asking uncomfortable questions.
It was a time to ask ourselves what role we played in the crucifixion of an innocent man.
On Palm Sunday, I asked everyone to take some time to discover where they were during the triumphal entry into the holy city of Jerusalem. Remember? Were you in the procession waving branches of palm, throwing your cloaks on the ground before Jesus? Were you standing up against the buildings watching the noisy crowd go by? Were our eyes filled with hate, fists clenched in rage, faces contorted in anger as we stood among the Sadduccese and Pharisees? Were we the impassive stoned faced Romans just waiting to do our job? We were in one of these groups. Which one did we discover we were part of?
On Good Friday we again must know that we are part of the crowd.
18:1 After Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. 18:2 Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples.
18:3 So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. 18:4 Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” 18:5 They answered, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus replied, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. 18:6 When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they stepped back and fell to the ground. 18:7 Again he asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” 18:8 Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So if you are looking for me, let these men go.” 18:9 This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken, “I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me.” 18:10 Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus. 18:11 Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?” 18:12 So the soldiers, their officer, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him. 18:13 First they took him to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. 18:14 Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was better to have one person die for the people. 18:15 Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, 18:16 but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in. 18:17 The woman said to Peter, “You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” 18:18 Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing around it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself. 18:19 Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. 18:20 Jesus answered, “I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret.
18:21 Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.”
18:22 When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” 18:23 Jesus answered, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?” 18:24 Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest. 18:25 Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, “You are not also one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” 18:26 One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” 18:27 Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed. 18:28 Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover. 18:29 So Pilate went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” 18:30 They answered, “If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.” 18:31 Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.” The Jews replied, “We are not permitted to put anyone to death.” 18:32 (This was to fulfill what Jesus had said when he indicated the kind of death he was to die.) 18:33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 18:34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 18:35 Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 18:36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 18:37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” 18:38 Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no case against him. 18:39 But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” 18:40 They shouted in reply, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a bandit. 19:1 Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. 19:2 And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. 19:3 They kept coming up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and striking him on the face. 19:4 Pilate went out again and said to them, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.” 19:5 So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” 19:6 When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.” 19:7 The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.” 19:8 Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. 19:9 He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. 19:10 Pilate therefore said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” 19:11 Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” 19:12 From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.” 19:13 When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha. 19:14 Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, “Here is your King!” 19:15 They cried out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but the emperor.” 19:16 Then he handed him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus; 19:17 and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. 19:18 There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. 19:19 Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the of the Jews.” 19:20 Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. 19:21 Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.'” 19:22 Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” 19:23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. 19:24 So they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.” This was to fulfill what the scripture says, “They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.” 19:25 And that is what the soldiers did. Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 19:26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 19:27 Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. 19:28 After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” 19:29 A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth.
19:30 When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
19:31 Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. 19:32 Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. 19:33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 19:34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. 19:35 (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) 19:36 These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, “None of his bones shall be broken.” 19:37 And again another passage of scripture says, “They will look on the one whom they have pierced.” 19:38 After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. 19:39 Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. 19:40 They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. 19:41 Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. 19:42 And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
The Word of the Lord.
I ask again, where are we in this narrative?
I know we want to say that we are among the faithful disciples who stood fast by the side of Jesus and protected him from injustice. In truth, however, we ran from the garden. We denied him three times or more. We ceased to wave palm branches, crying “Hosanna to the Son of David,” and instead raised fists of anger and cried out “Crucify him, crucify him!” We turned ugly. Our true human nature came out and we hung him on the cross and left him to die.
In the past I’ve spoken of a Christian singer, Ray Boltz, and a song he wrote entitled The Hammer. Ray writes of a young man who is in the crowd the day Jesus died. He saw the crown of thorns and the bloody back. The young man was angry and cried out, “Who did this to this innocent man, this child of peace? Who nailed him there?” It was only when the crowd began mocking the young man that he looked down and saw the
hammer clenched in his hand. He discovered that HE nailed Jesus to the cross. He was the guilty man.
Good Friday informs you and me that we ARE guilty. There is no easy, nice, pretty, sugar coated way to say it. WE nail Jesus to the cross again and again, day after day, year after year in many different ways. Dream as we wish, we are not now and never have been innocent. There is blood on our hands, and after we nail him to the cross, we walk away leaving Him there to die.
It hurts to know the truth, to have it shoved in our faces and to be reminded of the ugliness deep inside of us. When I preached this theme many years ago, I had a parishioner come up to me at coffee hour and say, “Father, I just wanted you to know, I don’t have blood on my hands. They are clean because I have never sinned or done anything like that.”
This person caught me totally off guard. I was expecting something along the lines of “Because Jesus died on the cross for my sins and rose on Easter, my sins are erased and I am washed clean in baptism.” Now that is a good Easter reality, but this was a week before Easter, on Passion Sunday, and we had not 20 minutes previously just finished singing “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” Did I misunderstand something?
No, the person said, “I have never sinned or done anything like that to anyone.” The sad thing is that the person truly believed they were sinless. When I responded, “In saying that, you are sinning, for you are making yourself equal with Christ, who was without sin,” I could see in their eyes no comprehension. That person nailed Jesus to the cross. Every time we think we are better than the person standing next to us, we nail Jesus to the cross. Every time we belittle a person, for what they believe, or do, or how they act, we nail Jesus to the cross.
We may not like to acknowledge it but we nail Jesus to the cross in countless ways. It is in how we treat others, in how we treat ourselves. Injustice, abuse, cruelty, anger, neglect, and the list goes on and on. Every time we look past or through a person in need or horde something to ourselves when we know someone before us is in need, we nail Jesus to the cross. Any time we allow fear to cause us to act in a certain way or not act, we nail Jesus to the cross.
Good Friday is a harsh reminder of this truth. As Christians we must accept this judgment. We must knee before God and ask forgiveness for what we have done and not done. We must amend our lives and change. Remember, we are called not only to ask for true forgiveness but to act in such a way that our lives are changed. We cannot say, “Forgive me, God,” and continue on unchanged, doing the same thing over and over again.
On Good Friday we must kneel at the foot of the cross, acknowledge our part in the nailing of this innocent man, Jesus, to the cross, and ask God for forgiveness. Then we must drop the hammer on the ground, wipe our bloody hands on our chest, stagger to our feet and do everything in our power to live a better life, to try not to nail Jesus to the cross again and again. We will not be perfect in our attempts but we can and must do a far better job.
What are the ways you can help to end injustice in this world? Remember it only takes one person, taking one tiny step, to start a chain reaction that will grow larger and larger. Change one person’s mind, elect one person and help them elect another and another, and in time you have changed everything from a board membership to the leadership in Washington. Volunteer to feed the hungry, help them get decent housing, needed medical care, an education, anything to raise them out of the pit of despair in which they exist. Every single one of us can and must do something.
And when we do act, that hammer never falls, does not drive yet another nail into Jesus fixing him to the cross.
I began by telling you that Good Friday was not and should never be a nice, business as usual, pretty, wonderful day. It is meant to be a day when your heart hurts and you realize just how much you need God’s forgiveness for what you have done.
Your place today is on your knees at that foot of the cross acknowledging your sins before an innocent man.
May God stand at your side and give you strength.