Tag Archives: Good Friday

Kings and priests and friends | Sermon for Good Friday

Kings

Isaiah says of the Suffering Servant,

Kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which had not been told them they shall see, and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate. (Isaiah 52:15)

We heard last night the refrain “Servants are not greater than their master” (John 13:16). Consider some of the servants of the king – the Roman emperor and the imperial government – in this Passion Gospel:

  • The detachment of soldiers – who coordinated with the Temple police in a tactical raid to arrest Jesus
  • Pilate – the governor of Judea, who bowed to political pressure and for expediency released a convicted killer and sentenced an innocent man to death
  • The soldiers at the headquarters – who beat and taunted and humiliated an innocent man, parading him around in a purple robe and crowning him with thorns
  • The emperor himself – whose hold on power depended on brutal, efficient force and military might
  • The soldiers at the cross – who shared their sour wine with Jesus and who did not break his legs to hasten his cruel death, because he was dead already.

“Kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which had not been told them they shall see.”

Priests

Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who approach …. And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. (Hebrews 10:1, 11)

We heard last night the refrain “Servants are not greater than their master.” Consider some of the servants of the Temple hierarchy in this Passion Gospel:

  • The police from the chief priests – who came with lanterns and torches and weapons (and a SWAT team of Roman soldiers) to arrest Jesus; who bound him and took him to …
  • Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas – who questioned Jesus, who had his police strike him for blasphemy, who had him bound as though he were dangerous.
  • Caiaphas, the high priest – who “advised that it was better to have one person die for the people.”
  • The chief priests – who complained “Do not write ‘King of the Jews,’ but ‘This man said ‘I am King of the Jews.’” and who shouted to Pilate “We have no king but the emperor!”

Kings and priests, priests and kings …. upholding the law, administering the law, enforcing the rule of law, executing the sentences of the law.

“[The law] can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who approach.”

Friends

Kings and priests …. and friends.

We heard last night the refrain “Servants are not greater than their master.”

But Jesus went on to say more, after he had shared a meal with us, after he had washed our feet as an example, and after his betrayer had gone out from among us.

“I do not call you servants any longer, for servants do not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends” (John 15:15).

Br. David Vryhof writes in the Society of St. John the Evangelist’s online meditation today that:

We are invited to take our stand at the foot of the Cross, joining the small company of Jesus’ friends who are already gathered there. We stand there together, under a dark and threatening sky, to witness the suffering of our Savior, to be with him in his hour of immense pain and desperate need.

Consider the small company of Jesus’ friends:

  • Peter – whose early-morning bluster and swordplay in the garden earned him a silent rebuke from Jesus, who was undone by a servant girl’s questions, who denied his friend before the sun even came up, but whose confession would become the rock on which Christ would build his Church.
  • Mary – who with her sister and two other Marys stood at the foot of the cross, all of them pierced through the heart for the son and master they had loved, but whose faithfulness meant they would be first witnesses to his resurrection.
  • The disciple Jesus loved – who could not only bear witness, but who could bear up his friend’s mother in her grief, laying her head on his breast just as he laid his head on Jesus’ breast at the table last night.
  • Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus – who had much to fear from the chief priests and the council, but who stayed firm in their resolve to do their part.

“Kings shall shut their mouths at him,” for his gentle power undoes their shows of force, and “priests by their sacrifices can never take away sins,” for their law of might betrays their true allegiance.

But let us – the small company of Jesus’ friends, the Master’s friends – “hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).

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Friday the 13th

It’s definitely a modern invention, the claim that Friday the 13th is inauspicious because Jacques de Molay and the Knights Templar were arrested in France on Friday, October 13, 1307.

Even so, I’ll play on the connection with that story and today’s readings from Morning Prayer.

I can’t help thinking today of Christians and others imprisoned for their faith, persecuted because of their religion, or driven from their homes to live as refugees, as so many are today.

I can’t help praying for the teenage boys a friend just texted me about, the older killed in a car accident this morning, the younger in critical condition in the hospital. Their suffering and their parents’ grief and fear are dark prisons.

You have put my friends far from me; you have made me to be abhorred by them; *
I am in prison and cannot get free.
My sight has failed me because of trouble; *
LORD, I have called upon you daily; I have stretched out my hands to you.
Do you work wonders for the dead? *
will those who have died stand up and give you thanks?
Will your loving-kindness be declared in the grave? *
your faithfulness in the land of destruction?
Will your wonders be known in the dark? *
or your righteousness in the country where all is forgotten?
But as for me, O LORD, I cry to you for help; *
in the morning my prayer comes before you. (Psalm 88:9-14)

Pray for all whose faith is abused for financial gain; whose loyalty is rewarded with political murder; whose life is thrown away by those seeking power or control.

Pray for those whose faith is tested by tragedy, pain, and fear.

But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:8-11)

But remember, too, that even in the middle of persecution, flight, and abuse; even in the face of tragedy and pain; even on this particular Friday in the middle of Lent, Scripture reminds us that death is not the end of the story.

We are nearing Holy Week, when we remember Jesus’ willing sacrifice, his dying and rising, the way of the cross that is the pattern for our own lives of faith.

We are nearing Good Friday, the Friday that makes all others “good,” even the ones that land on the 13th of the month.

And we hear echoes this morning in Paul’s letter to the Romans of the canticle Christ our Passover (BCP 83) that we will sing throughout the coming season of Easter.

A Collect for Fridays

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 99)

Not “Black” but “Good”

I have said to the LORD, “You are my God; *
listen, O LORD, to my supplication.
O Lord GOD, the strength of my salvation, *
you have covered my head in the day of battle. (Psalm 140:6-7)

Days of Special Devotion

“Good Friday, and all Fridays of the year, in commemoration of the Lord’s crucifixion, except for Fridays in the Christmas and Easter seasons …” are days of special devotion for Christians, according to the Book of Common Prayer (BCP 17).

Fridays, which Christians have observed as fast days since about 60 AD, are to be observed with “special acts of discipline and self-denial.”

For generations of Roman Catholics this has meant not eating meat on Fridays, for example. Here in Wisconsin, we all enjoy “Fish Fry Fridays” because so many of our neighbors do not eat meat when they go out for dinner.

Fridays for Christians are about doing without, sacrificing even a little something in imitation of our Lord, who sacrificed everything for our sake.

Blessed is the King

Today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke recounts Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem as he heads toward his final confrontation with the religious authorities.

We commemorate the last week of Jesus’ life each year during Holy Week, and we often reenact this scene as we process into church on Palm Sunday, carrying palm, branches and singing “All glory, laud, and honor / to thee, redeemer King.”

Three of the Gospels — Matthew, Mark, and Luke — tell the story of Jesus overturning the tables of the money changers in the courts of the Temple, a deliberately provocative act as the feast of Passover approaches that effectively sets him on “the way of the cross.”

Throughout the rest of Holy Week the tension mounts as Jesus says farewell to his disciples, prays that he be spared from the trial, determines to do God’s will, and faces arrest, beatings, and denunciations from soldiers and from the crowd that was with him just days before.

“My kingdom is not from this world,” he replies in response to Pilate’s questioning. The Roman governor can do nothing but send him off to be crucified.

From the Society of St. John the Evangelist -- www.ssje.org

From the Society of St. John the Evangelist — http://www.ssje.org

Not “Black” but “Good”

The prayers in the Daily Office remind us that every Friday is for us a commemoration of that “Good” Friday, just as every Saturday we rest and remember God’s goodness in creation, and every Sunday we rejoice in the power of the resurrection.

Though that Friday was a dark and terrible day, we call it “Good” because in it we see the first act in a three-day drama of salvation.

Every Friday — this Friday after Thanksgiving Day just like all the rest — the Church invites us to live a cross-shaped life, imitating our Lord, “who stretched out [his] arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that the whole world might come within the reach of [his] saving embrace” (BCP 101).

A Collect for Fridays

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.

Why do we call this Friday “Good”?

Just as every Sunday is for Christians a reminder of Easter and the resurrection, every Friday is a reminder of Good Friday and the crucifixion.

At Morning Prayer every Friday, we pray:

Collect for Fridays

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen. (BCP 99)

Just as we live in the light of the Resurrection, we walk in the way of the cross.

Fr. Richard Rohr says:

I believe that the Mystery of the Cross is saying that the pattern of transformation unto God, the pattern that connects, the life that God offers us is always death transformed. The only pattern is the pattern of death and resurrection. We submit to it with trust because Jesus did.

Rohr calls this One Big Pattern “transformative dying.”

On the other side of that dying, whether it is physical illness and death, or the “daily dying to self” of the prayer book, or admitting our powerlessness over our sin, on the other side of that dying we find the truth.

The American author Reynolds Price says that the Gospel of John can be compressed down to a single sentence, “the sentence mankind craves from stories”:

The Maker of all things loves and wants me.

The Maker of all things loves and wants me — loves and wants every single one of us, loves and wants all of us so much that God was willing not only to endure the limitations of becoming human, but also to endure the suffering and death that is our lot in life.

Because he died and rose again, we too can experience “transformative dying,” can claim our small part of the one big pattern.

That’s why we call this Friday “Good.”

Collect for Fridays

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen. (BCP 99)

Following the way of the cross

From the Society of St. John the Evangelist -- www.ssje.org

From the Society of St. John the Evangelist — http://www.ssje.org

A Facebook friend whose opinion I respect, William Henry Benefield BSG, posted yesterday about reading the Passion Gospel during Holy Week:

“Perhaps one day, parishes throughout the world on Palm Sunday and Good Friday will have all of us present — the baptized Eucharistic assembly — saying or chanting the part of Christ during the Passion and not playing the ‘crowd’ as our liturgical tradition so often dictates. Our theology teaches us we are the Body of Christ … so it looks and sounds rather strange, not to mention theologically questionable, for us to be shouting ‘Crucify, Crucify’ and ‘Give us Jesus Barabbas.’ Maybe one day we the Church will finally realize who we actually are, break with the previous liturgical tradition when chanting the Passion on these two sacred days, and claim our true identity in the world.”

I’ll admit I had never heard of that being done before, as William said he had experienced at an Episcopal church in New York City.

His thoughtful post got me thinking, and I enjoyed figuring out why I disagree with him.

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It seems to me that while we are the Body of Christ, we are not Jesus. The tension in our lives of faith is between living “in Christ” or “following the crowd.”

I think playing the part of the crowd in the Passion is entirely appropriate as a way of realizing that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 4:8). It also helps us accomplish the movement Paul describes to the Colossians: “You have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator” (Col. 3:9b-10).

Our creator, “being found in human form … humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8).

In our old self, I think we are the crowd, preferring spectacle, resistant to change, and easily led. By the grace of God and through the self-offering of Jesus, we are given a new way.

Being the Body of Christ means stripping off the old self and following the way of the cross instead of following the crowd.

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While I completely agree with the ancient homily for Holy Saturday that William shared — “together [with Christ] we are now one undivided person” — I’m also conscious at this time in my life that I am not always the “one person” I want to be. Like Paul, I “find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand” (Romans 7:21).

Like AA members do when they share their stories of encouragement, hope, and strength, perhaps we in the Church use the Passion Gospel during Holy Week to remind ourselves “what we used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now.”

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The collect for today, Monday in Holy Week, is very familiar to us as the Collect for Fridays at Morning Prayer.

I hope it will remind you as you journey with Jesus during this Holy Week what you used to be like, what happened as a result of his obedience and death, and what you are like now.

May this Holy Week open the way to life and peace for you.

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 99).