The Good Friday Sermon from the Rev. Joe Hensley, rector, St. George’s Episcopal Church
Fredericksburg, VA | April 3, 2015
The collect prayer for Good Friday, which we prayed earlier, included these words: “Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross.” Jesus was willing to be betrayed. Jesus gave himself into the hands of sinners. Jesus suffered death upon the cross. We call this a “good” Friday, because Jesus was willing to surrender, suffer, and die, and he reveals the awesome and mysterious generosity of God’s love. God’s love is so abundant and forgiving that it can absorb our worst behavior and still have more to give. On Good Friday, Jesus made a sacrifice. On this Good Friday, we are invited to make a sacrifice as well. We are invited to offer all that we are, our best and our worst, to the crucified Christ and hold nothing back.
What do I mean by this? Sometimes in our relationships with God and in our relationships with one another, we have a tendency to hold back. We do not say everything we are thinking or feeling. We do not express our whole selves. In our relationships with one another, this is very appropriate. If we said everything on our minds and hearts…if we held nothing back, it would likely hurt feelings and cause a lot of unnecessary trouble. TMI! Too much information. I don’t need or want to hear everything that you are thinking or feeling. But in our relationship with God, we get into trouble when we do not share everything. When we hold back from God, we suffer. We suffer, because we tend to hold back the things we’re not proud of, the things that most need healing: our shame, our fear, our anger. We somehow got it into our heads and hearts that God only wants to see shiny happy Christians. God expects us to dress up for church and look our best and pray with pure and strong hearts. No! God knows us. God knows that underneath our Sunday best, we carry around some heavy and messy stuff. We do not have to hide that from God, but we try to. We try to, because we think we can handle it. We think we can figure it out on our own.
The people who put Jesus to death thought they could hide from God. Those religious leaders had figured out how to look right and pray right and eat right and do everything right. They took the law that God had given God’s people and turned it into a law that made them feel right about themselves. They didn’t need God as much. Then Jesus shows up to say that God’s law is all about love. God wants to know them and love them and doesn’t care about how right they are. The religious leaders are offended that Jesus would question their rightness. So they accuse Jesus of offending God and feel justified in having him put to death.
The Good News is that instead of God saying, “I’ll punish them.” Instead of God saying, “I’ll show them who is right.” Instead of God using more violent power, God surrenders on the cross. The son of God willingly accepts every insult, everv blow, every nail they put into his body and he forgives. He continues to love with an overflowing, abundant grace. The self-righteous leaders; they could not see it. They were still too busy trying to hold it all together. But for those who could see the love of God in the sacrifice of Jesus, for those who had finally realized that we do not save ourselves, they received the gift of forgiveness and salvation.
The question I want us to ponder this Good Friday is this: “What are we holding back from God?” In what ways are we trying to look right for Jesus? Today is not a day to look right. Today is a day to be totally wrong. Jesus can take our worst. Jesus can carry our wrong selves, our wrong behavior, our wrong everything to the cross and let it die with him. And he will still love us, in fact he will love us more, because we have finally laid down our burden and made room in our hearts for love to grow. What are we holding back from God?
Sometime, if you haven’t already, I hope you’ll have a chance to learn about a Christian priest named Bede Griffiths. He lived in India in the 20th century and wrote some wonderful things about the spiritual life. Somewhere he writes this, “All the weaknesses we find in ourselves and all the things that upset us, we tend to try and push aside and get rid of. But we cannot do this. We have to accept that ‘this is me’ and allow Grace to come and heal it all.” We have to accept that this is me. Good Friday is our day to accept the worst about ourselves, all the suffering, broken, wrong, messed-up places in ourselves…and offer them to Christ on the cross. If Jesus can redeem the violence that put him to death, then Christ can redeem whatever we bring. Today we hold nothing back. We surrender to God our violence, as well as our desire for peace. Today we surrender to God our brokenness as well as our desire to be whole. We surrender our distorted perceptions as well as our desire to see clearly. Surrender our fear as well as our desire to be brave. Surrender our rage and our hatred as well as our desire to love. Surrender our greed as well as our desire to be generous. Surrender our pain as well as our desire to be free of pain, our weakness and our desire to be strong. We hold nothing back. Jesus is on the cross, and he is waiting to take all we have with him so that it, too, can be put to death. So that we, too, might receive the mysterious, all-suffering love of God.
One of the hymns we sing on Good Friday is “Were you there?” Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Were you there when they nailed him to the tree? Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?” Why do we sing these words? Of course we weren’t there. It was a long time ago. But the song takes us there. The song invites us to stand right there and to say to the crucified Jesus “this is me” and allow Grace to come and heal it all. The verses all end with those haunting words, “sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.” Yes. We tremble as we see the terrible things we humans can do. We tremble as we see the awesome power of God to love us anyway. We tremble as we surrender and sacrifice all of ourselves, all to Jesus I surrender, all to him I freely give, humbly asking the son of God to sacrifice it with himself and make it holy. We tremble. Tremble, brothers and sisters. Tremble before the cross. Tremble before the one who was willing to be betrayed and given into the hands of sinners. Tremble, because he’s calling us sinners to surrender all and die with him.