Note: This sermon was given by Fr. Jim Elliott at the Quitman Church of God as part of the Brooks County Ministerial Association’s ecumenical Holy Week observances.
Good Friday April 17, 2014 – Quitman Church of God
The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John:
“Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ and striking him on the face. 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.’ So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, ‘Here is the man!’ 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.’ 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.’
Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, ‘Where are you from?’ But Jesus gave him no answer. 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?’ 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.’ 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.’
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. Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, ‘Here is your King!’ 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.’ Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.
So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.’ 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. 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.” ’ Pilate answered, ‘What I have written I have written.’ 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. 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 fulfil what the scripture says, ‘They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.’ 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. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfil the scripture), ‘I am thirsty.’ 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. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”
In many of our churches this past Sunday, we observed what most of us know as Palm Sunday. In some traditions it is also referred to as the Sunday of the Passion. And it’s called the Sunday of the Passion because as part of the service the entire Passion narrative from one of the four gospels is read to the congregation. The Passion narrative from Matthew begins with Jesus praying in the Garden and then instructing the disciples to go into the city to bring him the colt of a donkey. And it continues with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and ultimately the narrative concludes with the crucifixion and death of Jesus on the Cross.
But for those of us who observe Holy Week, today is different. Today is Friday in Holy Week. Today is Good Friday. And today is the day that we focus our attention on the trial and crucifixion and death of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
I’m sure many of you here remember Paul Harvey, the famous radio personality. And I’m sure many of you remember Paul Harvey’s program that was called “The Rest of the Story”. And if you do remember that, you will recall that Paul Harvey would tell a real life story about someone – and it would often be a story about some well-known personality – but the story would always end with some twist or turn that no one saw coming. The story would always conclude with a revelation of sorts that would leave the listeners with something of a “how about that” – or a feeling of “isn’t that wonderful or amazing or touching”. And in every case, the listener left the program knowing not just the beginning, but the end of the story as well.
And I think that that is part of the problem that we as Christians have with Holy Week. And in particular, that’s part of the problem that we have with Good Friday. The problem that we have with Good Friday is that we already know “the rest of the story”. We already know the Good News of the Gospel. We already know that Jesus Christ is God incarnate – that He is Lord and Savior – risen from the dead to save us from our sins and ourselves.
But what if we didn’t know the rest of the story? What if we didn’t have the Paul Harvey perspective and know about the entirety of the Easter event? What if we didn’t already know the Good News of the Gospel? What if all we knew was Matthew’s Palm Sunday narrative and the account of Jesus’ trial, crucifixion and death that we just heard from the Fourth Gospel? Where would we be? Where would that leave us this Good Friday? I suspect that would leave us asking the question: “What’s so good about Good Friday?”
And if that were the case, I must confess that all of this would be overwhelming to me. It would be overwhelming to the point of being almost incomprehensible. Now, you might be thinking, what’s so overwhelming? What’s so incomprehensible? You might be saying to yourself about now, “Don’t we get together every year during Holy Week? Don’t we gather at one of our local churches to worship God these same three days just before Easter every year?”
And don’t most if not all of us in our churches hear one of the Gospel accounts of the celebration, the festival, the parade, if you will. We hear about the Blessed One of God, the Christ, as he humbly, yet triumphantly enters into Jerusalem.
We hear about Jesus as he rides into the Holy City of the people of God – not on a horse – not on a steed – not on a stallion – but humbly on the colt of a donkey. And the crowds in this festival, this celebration, this parade, shout to Jesus as he passes by “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”
But for me – and maybe for you too, that’s when things change – at least here on Good Friday. That’s when it gets overwhelming. That’s when almost inexplicably and incomprehensibly, everything changes!!!
The parade comes to a screeching halt! The celebration comes to an abrupt ending! And the messianic enthusiasm vanishes, seemingly in an instant.
Just as we are here in this place of worship – just as we are here in this place where we come to worship God – we are confronted with the Passion of our Lord. We come into this place where we in this community have come together to worship and we are told:
- We are told that they led Him away
- We are told that they brought him to the place called Golgotha
- We are told that they casted lots to divide his clothes
- And we are told that they crucified Him
So we are here in this place – on this Good Friday – and if we don’t know the rest of the story – we are bewildered and we have to wonder – we can’t help but wonder:
- We wonder, how could they treat him this way?
- We wonder how this righteous, innocent man could be subjected to such cruelty and such suffering.
- And we have to wonder, how this Holy Man from God could be put to such a horrible death
And we are here in this place to worship– and we realize:
- We realize that the charge against him read “The King of the Jews”
- We realize that they crucified him in the very presence of those whom he loved most
- We realize that he knew that this was the end
- And we realize that the last words he spoke were “It is finished”
- Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit!
And that, my brothers and sisters is why I am overwhelmed! We see this righteous man, this suffering servant of God and we must ask ourselves, “How could this happen? How could they do this to Him?” But then, but maybe just then – we realize that this isn’t just about the suffering of the Christ for us, even in our unworthiness.
Maybe we realize that if we have faith, this isn’t the end. Maybe, just maybe, there is a “rest of the story”. Perhaps when Jesus is on the cross and he breathes his last and says “it is finished” – perhaps that doesn’t mean what we think it means. We are tempted to think that Jesus is saying, “this is the end.” That he’s saying “it’s over” – “it’s finished”. But that’s not what Jesus means at all. When Jesus says “it is finished”, he is telling us “it is completed”. Jesus, our Lord and Savior, as he hangs dying this horrible death on the cross, is telling you and me “it is perfected”. It is done! As it should be! And as God intended it to be! Jesus is telling the whole of God’s creation – from then until now – and for all eternity – that what he came into the world for has been completed and perfected.
And that’s why we call this Good Friday! In all of our wonderful traditions – and in our unity – and in our diversity –that’s where the whole Church of Jesus Christ – meets us on Good Friday with a witness; for we witness that we aren’t a community who has been called together for because of our own merit – or on account of our own worthiness – or by virtue of our own righteousness. Rather, we’re a community who has been called together by God to proclaim God’s amazing grace in the cross of Jesus.
In spite of all we are and aren’t and all we do and don’t do, God loves us on the cross. God, in Christ Jesus, loves each and every one of us on that very cross on which he died for us. And that bears repeating, because we know “the rest of the story”. Because we know “the rest of the story”, we aren’t overwhelmed. Because we know “the rest of the story”, we are able to comprehend the incomprehensible. And it is because we know “the rest of the story” that we reject that worldview that sees God as a god that is out to “get” us. Jesus didn’t come into the world to “get” us. He came into the world so long ago to love us. Remember, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” The cross of Jesus Christ assures us of that truth for all eternity. And that, my brothers and sisters, is why this Friday is oh so Good! AMEN!
Note: With thanks to my Bishop, The Rt. Rev. Scott A. Benhase, for his influence on the conclusion of this sermon via his Good Friday Ecrozier.