Sermon for Good Friday 2017

14th Apr 2017


Good Friday Sermon 2017

 

 

This Good Friday morning, as I was walking my dog in Argyle Square, I passed alongside a group of men seated at one of the benches, drinking from a large brandy bottle which lay on the ground in front of them. One of the men greeted me and told me of how important it was to be a Christian and of how much he had learnt from his mother. He then proceeded to recite from memory whole chunks from St John’s Gospel and the words for Good Friday from John 3.16 “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoso believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life”. I was astonished and moved. I had only been listening earlier this morning on the radio the same words set to music for Stainer’s ‘Crucifixion’. God is reminding me and you on this Good Friday that he sent his Son to save the world and you and I as the world and you and I are found. He has not come to perfect the world but to save it.

 

Eternal God, in the Cross of Jesus Christ we see the cost of our sin and the depth of your love: in humble hope and fear may we place at his feet all that we have and all that we are, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  

 

Good Friday sees God’s love shown in giving his Son to a fallen and a largely ambivalent world. Christ dies in a Jerusalem swollen in population to ten times its normal size, and busy and preoccupied in coming to Jerusalem for the Passover. Nothing particularly new there, for even this morning as our Good Friday walk of witness wended its way around the King’s Cross churches, you passed working scaffolders, joggers, men delivering beer barrels, a boy practicing his basketball skills and a speeding ambulance passing by with screaming siren. Christ comes to us in the thick of life and speaks to us there. And in the crowd this morning, the crowd of Christians making this walk of witness were Christians who know all too well that if Christ is the God who dies for love of you and me he is the One who dies for all that we have to suffer and for all we have to understand and to bear, of all those things that have caused us pain and disappointment as well as those things which bring us that joyful and self-confident exuberance which we find when faith is refreshed from the stream of love which flows out of the Cross in blood and water. This morning the Good Friday King’s Cross Walk of Witness wended its way around the district as in a dance, where life and death and everything else in between finds a partnering of the ambivalent world with the passionate expression of faith, of the Jesus who gave himself not just for the Christian gathering, but also includes others in the dance, too, even those who feel they are on the outside looking in.

 

Good Friday takes us to a place in which we may know Christ only in the fact of his suffering and death. In this way is God leading us to know the Cross as a sign of contradiction and the confounding of expectations based on casual certainty or stubborn ambivalence.  The Cross comes to shatter our illusions about a God we enjoy calling ‘The God of Love’ without  responding to that love which ‘searches us out and knows us’.  We believe that God meets us in his crucified Son at those times and in those situations in which life threatens we are tested to the uttermost. Christ reveals in his saving death the plain fact of our mortality with the accompanying fact of its beauty and tragedy all held in the one hope. It is God’s desire that we should be at one with Him, at one in our selves and at one in our world. The Cross surely beckons. It is God searching us out and knowing us at the deepest levels of our being. Here is a poem from Fr John Ball, former parish priest at Holy Cross which touches on these very elements of faith  and struggle:

 

Orison

 

It is the holding together that is hard –

The resisting of the centrifugal forces

Acting on mind and heart

That break the tenuous links of thought and feeling.

And then there is the fear (which on black days

Transmutes itself into a dark seducer

Parodying hope) that the next revolution of the hand

Upon the sadly common clock

Will bring the final, the inoperable rupture,

and burst the dams of past

And present

And future pains.

 

It is the holding you must help us in (O God):

We cannot enter heaven in fragments

The gates will not allow of that.

And you must give the means to keep it

If you love us, as I fear you do.

 

Father John Ball, Parish Priest, Holy Cross Church,

Curate and Vicar 1969-1977

 

The Spanish Mystic, St John of the Cross tells us that

 

“…we too must have our Cross as our beloved had his Cross until he died the death of love”.

 

St Paul was certain that to be Christian at all was to share a Cross with the One who dies on the Cross. His Christianity was also a longing,

 

That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death. Philippians 3.10

 

We come before God wounded, vulnerable and broken. That is our Cross. And it is Christ, who lies before us in this church dedicated to the Holy Cross who tells us this. And the teaching we receive from the Cross is the teaching that issues out of Christ’s own manner of living and dying, as the Letter to the Hebrews informs us:

 

“…during his life on earth, Jesus offered up prayer and entreaty, aloud and in silent tears, to the one who had the power to save him out of death, and he submitted so humbly that his prayer was heard”.

 

We all have our crosses to bear and they are not little ones. We are cross bearers too. Many people come to this church in King’s Cross battered and bruised by life. One of these visitors said to me that she had come into this church because prompted. For out of all her suffering came a prayer, which appeared out of apparently nowhere. It was one which told her that something that to give, something had to be done. But this prospect was awful because with it the terrible realization of all that had gone before and what had brought her to this place. The pain was numbing and deadening. But she came into church as many at rock bottom do – to come to a place of sanctuary with the promise of healing. And her coming into this church and the sense of communion with God had both helped and exacerbated the pain and the ever encroaching plague of hopelessness. This is the scope of the Cross.  ‘It is after all a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Terrible, because all is caught up in God, even and especially when no easy resolution lies in sight…life as unfinished business, the painful waiting for a deliverance which lies beyond immediate reach, the pain of remaining where we are in the midst of so much that is intractable and insoluble with the possibility of the healing of past hurts and their memories… This is a true Cross.

 

But this is not to be the end of the matter. The Cross is proclaimed sadly and yet joyfully, for it has become our true centre, the revelation of divine love, and the arrival at the place of truer witness. This is the Cross through which the pain of this world’s living and longing can be held and channeled and healed. All is being drawn into the Cross as he said “When I am lifted up I shall draw all things to myself”. We are to bear the Cross as the Cross bears us, for in it the promised Resurrection to new life is already being made. In this divine and human at-one-ness is the true ‘good’ which we celebrate and honor and mourn on Good Friday. This is the declaration of the man in Argyle Square this morning. The man who could proclaim the central message of Good Friday amid the fact of a life which remained so painful, so incomplete, so bewildering and so unresolved : the declaration in fact and in form of a true Cross, ever bounded by God’s real love for all of us.

 

We take the Cross of Cross into our hearts and lives on this solemn, holy day. May it be for us our life, our witness and our true hope, even unto our very own death.