Sermons That Work

After Jesus Had Washed…, Good Friday – 2002

March 29, 2002

After Jesus had washed the feet of all the disciples, then Jesus turned their attention back to the table. He took bread and wine into his hands, blessed them, and shared them with these, his closest friends. “Do this in remembrance of me,” he said. We can imagine the disciples beginning to look questioningly at one another, because more and more this night was not like any other night. Their Passover celebration of the remembrance of the Exodus was starting to take on a strange new reality. Uncomfortable things were being said, like “One of you will betray me.” After the meal, the disciples followed Jesusout into the garden, where darkness overwhelmed them. While Jesus agonized in prayer, they slept. And today [tonight] we hear, in our own remembrance of this new Exodus, the sorrowful retelling of Jesus’ passion and death.

Like the Jewish people, we Christian people gather as a family to remember our story, because our story is intimately linked with Jesus’ story. And since it’s our story, too, the reading of the Passion narrative isn’t theater for us. It isn’t a dramatization of the Passion; it’s a remembrance of events that have formed who we are as people of God. If it were just a dramatization, we’d be left at a very bad place. Jesus is dead. A soldier pierces his side with a spear, and blood and water flow out, and we’re left with the verse that says, “They shall look on him whom they have pierced.” We’d leave this service today [tonight] just feeling guilty, or maybe angry at somebody else, somebody we’d think was responsible for the way we felt.

Unfortunately, that’s all too often been the case. We know of times in our history when Christians, right after leaving the Good Friday service, have deliberately sought out Jews to persecute and even kill. These people who called themselves followers of Jesus forgot that the Passion Gospel wasn’t theater. They forgot that it was on account of the sins of us all — Jew and Gentile alike — that Jesus died. We share the responsibility with all those who’ve gone before us and all those who’ll come after us — precisely because this isn’t theater. It’s a story that lives in and through us. It’s a story that gives us, each time we share it, not just a reminder that we’re sinners, but also an intimate look into just how much God loves us.

But how do we do that? How do we listen to this section of John’s Gospel and make it a part of who we are now? We can hardly imagine what it must have been like to witness a crucifixion. How barbaric — certainly not anything we’d do today! Witnesses being coerced to perjure themselves? “Certainly not now,” we want to say to ourselves. What could possibly link us to the people of first-century Israel?

Look again at those things we think we can’t imagine. We may not literally crucify people any more, but poverty and oppression are a form of crucifixion. Hate and racism and other “-isms” are forms of crucifixion. We perjure ourselves when we say we want to spread the good news of the kingdom of God and yet work hard to exclude those who aren’t just like us. The Passion narrative certainly does have a great deal to say to us about our own complicity in the passion and death of Jesus. “They shall look on him whom they have pierced” applies to us, too.

We really do need this time to reflect on this most sorrowful story. We need this day to hear the crowd shout, “Crucify!” in order to remind ourselves that we need to repent-to look at how we’ve neglected our baptismal promises. But this is Friday, and Sunday is coming very soon. The story doesn’t end here. It doesn’t end with Jesus dead on the cross.

Paul tells us, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” We say in our baptismal liturgy that we die with Christ so that we can be made alive in him. So, too, through the cross we die with Christ so that we can be made alive in him. Being alive in Christ means living like Christ, and there’s the challenge we’re faced with today: living like Christ.

We might think of what that kind of life would look like as we ponder the Passion story today. Hymn 145 in our hymnal says it well:
For righteousness and peace will show their faces
to those who feed
the hungry in their need,
and wrongs redress, who build the old waste places,
and in the darkness shine.
Divine, divine, divine it is when all combine!
Then shall your light break forth as doth the morning;
your health shall spring,
the friends you make shall bring
God’s glory bright, your way through life adorning;
and love shall be the prize.
Arise, arise, arise! and make a paradise!

We could do that, right here. It would take a while, of course. It wouldn’t happen overnight. But what if we could come in here next Good Friday, next year, and look back at twelve months during which we’d been trying to do that — trying to live out our baptismal promises — trying to make this world we live in a place where nobody gets crucified, but where we all crucify our own ambition and pride regularly, steadily, for the sake of others.

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Christopher Sikkema


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