Sunday, April 20, 2014

Sermon: Good Friday

Sermon for April 18, 2014
Good Friday Evening Service
The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse
St. Philip’s In The Hills Parish, Tucson, AZ
For online access to the readings click here.

I speak to you in the name of One God:
Creator, Christ and Holy Spirit. Amen

It is finished. 
These words resonate and echo throughout the generations. 
It is finished
This is the slogan for Good Friday. 

The early Christians celebrated a festival called “Pascha”
as both a fast and a feast. 
One service included the entire saving event
of Christ’s dying and rising again –
both crucifixion and resurrection [1]
Yet in the fourth century, under direction of a certain bishop,
the two commemorations were split,
in order to give witness to both powerful aspects
of our Christian story. 

Today, Good Friday is
a solemn commemoration of and participation in
the crucifixion and the salvation of the human race
through Christ’s victory over death.[2]  
It is finished. 
These three words engulf the story of Jesus’ final hours
that we just heard.
Passover was just around the corner – a commemoration of
the time when God delivered Israel out of Egypt. 
Passover was the night when the first born of the Jews
were spared death because they had spread lamb’s blood
          over the doorposts of their homes. 
That blood was a sign that this family
was to be left unharmed. 
Passover meant that by the blood of lambs,
Israel escaped and won their liberation
from bondage in Egypt. 

So, that day, with Passover in the background,
there is new meaning
in all the events surrounding Christ’s death on the cross.
Now, we understand that the blood shed by the lamb of God also protects and liberates all people from the captivity of death. 

Tonight, Jesus fulfills John’s prophesy,
“Here is the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.”  
And just before the last light is swallowed up in darkness,
Jesus offers in one little sentence a whole sermon
and entire gospel, “It is finished.”
And we hear hope in the midst of despair.

But wait,
Is that a period at the end of the sentence or a comma? 
It is finished” means that death was not the ending
 – but a new beginning. 

Perhaps a better translation of the Greek
might be “It is accomplished.” 

Yes, Jesus’ human life reached the earthly finish.
Yes, Jesus’ suffering was finished. 
And, what was not possible before is now possible – that humankind has been reconciled to God.
That’s a whole new world!
That’s what was accomplished!

Through the cross,
Jesus accomplished liberation from bondage of death. 
Through the cross,
Jesus offered his soul
Through the cross,
Jesus rendered all other sacrifices obsolete forever. 

Pastor Rob Bell, in his book “Love Wins,”[3] offers a reflection on the cross.  He writes,
“Somewhere around 2005 the rapper Eminem
dropped out of sight.  Not much was heard from him. 
Then in the summer of 2010, he had a comeback concert
in Detroit..”

Bell recalls standing in the stadium with 40,000 people
in the baseball stadium when he first took the stage.
His image was projected onto the massive screens
Then, Bell says, he noticed something fascinating.

Eminem was wearing a cross around his neck.
That’s nothing new – we see them all the time
around someone’s neck, on a building, at a sporting event,
a billboard, a sculpture, a tattoo…
but on this rock star, that was new.
That cross is what Good Friday is about. 

First, a question – how often do you slit the throat of a goat?
Do you regularly head downtown to a temple, to sprinkle yourself with the blood of a bull?
Do you ever strangle a bird and then place it on an altar for good luck?

No.  You don’t.  Ever.

Just the thought of this is repulsive. 
It doesn’t even cross our minds to sacrifice animals. 

But in the ancient world, people regularly sacrificed animals – bulls, goats, sheep, birds…

So when Jesus said “It is finished,” that meant many things:
the end of the sacrificial system and new beginnings:

reconciliation of all broken relationships
freedom for one who has been imprisoned
redemption for anyone who has ever been lost
healing for those who have been wounded
binding up for what is broken and separated

Peace has been made.  That’s what was “accomplished.”

In one three-word sentence, we have the good news. 
In the symbol of the cross, we remember
Our deepest longings are held in a new creation of God’s love.

Tonight, as we pray the anthems,
you are invited to venerate the cross
and hear Jesus, “It is finished”
You are invited to offer respect to what happened there
          And what this means to our lives
You are invited to simply kneel and look at the cross,
To meditate on what happened there
Or to come and touch the cross, or kiss it, or kneel

During this time, allow your body, mind and heart
to be completely present to the suffering of Christ. 

Welcome your memories or sensations of pain, sorrow, grief. 

Hold these feelings gently within the circle of God’s presence – God’s solidarity with human suffering.

Then, in front of that powerful icon the Cross,
hear the words of Jesus again, “It is finished
and let this suffering, yours and Christ’s, go.

Because it is finished,
Because it is accomplished,

We can live in faith that from every death
comes new life

and in every wound
there is the opportunity for healing and hope.


[1] Leonel L. Mitchell, Lent, Holy Week, Easter  and the Great Fifty Days, (Cambridge, Cowley Publications, 1996) p. 65-78
[2] Portions inspired by Trygve David Johnson’s Homiletical perspective, Feasting on The Word, Year A, Vol. 2, (Louisville, Westminster John Knox, 2010), 299
[3] Rob Bell, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, (New York, HarperOne, 2010), chapter 5

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