Sermons That Work

Good Friday Comes Every Year…, Good Friday – 2010

April 02, 2010

“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.”
Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”

Good Friday comes every year with its unique burden of grief. We know the story, we have heard it, felt it, wept over it. But every year it comes to us with renewed regret and sorrow, even though, for the Christian, the outcome of the story does not remain in tragedy but emerges in triumph. Yet the pain of it never diminishes. When we hear the words of John, so simple and so utterly heartbreaking, we allow our hearts to be wounded anew.

What strikes the listener and participant in this drama is the injustice of it all – the actions that bring the prophecy of Isaiah to its startling reality: the one who lived in total obedience to God is being made an object of scorn. The one who loved so thoroughly and so completely is being left alone, spat upon, and rejected – a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Despite all the affliction and suffering Jesus, willingly, without resistance, “poured out himself to death”; he who was without sin “was numbered with transgressors,” as it says in Isaiah, “bore the sins of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”

We know that all this came to pass. Sometimes we watch, and like many passersby on the Via Dolorosa, feel only curiosity: in a violent world like ours, meeting death without responding in revenge is so odd that we cannot comprehend it. At other times we feel the terrible injustice of that Friday and are angry. But anger is not allowed: Jesus tells the angry Peter, “Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?” Something else is happening here, as alien to our world as it was to the Roman and Hebrew authorities in the first century. We still don’t comprehend this kind of total obedience to the divine will. We don’t understand what he is telling Pilate any more than that unfortunate procurator understood him.

Pilate is trying to buy time. Filled with fear of what the emperor would say if he made another serious mistake with the Jews (for Pilate had a history of bad mistakes with the religiosity of the Jews), he is trying to find a way out of this dilemma so he will not be demoted by Tiberius once again. Fascinated by this silent prisoner who has the bearing of a king because of his innate peace and authority, Pilate asks him, “Are you a king?” Jesus had spent his short years of ministry proclaiming a new kingdom, something so removed from Pilate’s understanding of power that Jesus does not really answer that question; he knows that Pilate will not understand. But he gives to Pilate, and to all of us, something much more important to think about:

“I came to testify to the truth,” he declares, and adds something so utterly surprising that if Pilate and all the people around that drama had listened, they might have died in hope, when their time came. Jesus adds, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Can you imagine what it means to belong to the truth? It implies a state of being. Truth is no longer an abstract concept but a concrete reality. The only way for us to understand truth, as used by Jesus here, is to grasp that Truth is God. It is in the nature of God, it emanates from God, we can belong to it. When we belong to Truth, we belong to God, and we are able to hear Jesus’ voice.

What a wonderfully comforting statement this is. Not just for us who have heard the good news, who have believed in God as revealed in Jesus, but also for the whole world – for all who seek the truth, as our Book of Common Prayer says. Once again on this Good Friday we feel the universal embrace of God’s love, we hear the universal call to all whom God has created. He who poured out himself to death for us assures us on this night that all who belong to the Truth hear his voice. Instead of separating us Jesus, in his death, brings us together.

May we wait for resurrection in the same spirit of love. After weeping bitterly with Peter for all that is past, let us wait with the women at the tomb, ready to serve the one who poured out himself for us.


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Christopher Sikkema


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