A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on March 25, 2016 (Good Friday)
“Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches, and weapons.”
There is a lot of violence in our lives. Murder, mayhem, misdeeds. Fortunately, at least for the vast majority of us, most of it doesn’t affect us personally. Violence happens to other people. Or on television. It happens in bad neighborhoods. Or in the Middle East. Or in Belgium. You can see it on the news. You can watch murder on demand. Corpses abound on our screens and in our consciousness. There is a lot of violence in our lives.
“Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, and struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear.”
The problem, of course, is that we can too easily become desensitized to violence — both fictionalized and real — while living in the comfort and safety of our South Shore living rooms. No, we don’t live in a war-torn part of the world. And while gun violence is a daily issue mere miles from here, it is not something that consumes our everyday thoughts. Occasionally violence does break into our lives, but contrary to the images we regularly see, it’s the exception rather than the rule.
“Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?’”
But this de-sensitivity to violence has a direct impact on our own spiritual lives, one that is magnified on Good Friday. Because the violence of the cross can become just another murder that takes place “out there” beyond our emotional connection. One that took place 2,000 years ago in what can feel like a galaxy far, far away.
“So the soldiers, their officers, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him.”
On this dark day in the Christian year, I encourage you to take Jesus’ death personally. To allow it to spark outrage. To acknowledge the pain at the core of your soul. To grieve for a beautiful life cut short. To internalize the grief. To rage against the injustice. To make it personal.
“When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, ‘Is that how you answer the high priest?’”
Because when you take the crucifixion of Jesus personally, it allows you to take the resurrection of Jesus personally. When we make Christ’s suffering personal, the journey to the empty tomb becomes personal. Insurrection leads to resurrection. Like two sides of a divine coin, we can’t have one without the other.
Yet for as much as we are consumers of violence in our daily lives, when violence becomes personal, we look away to avoid the pain. That’s human nature, of course. We want to get Good Friday over with so we can get on with the celebration that is to come. Many people avoid coming to church on Good Friday precisely because they don’t want to deal with the hard reality of the cross. They don’t want to deal with Jesus’ death. They want to keep the cross at a safe distance. They don’t want to take it personally.
“Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged.”
The truth about the Christian faith in general and this week in particular, is that we want to avert our eyes, and yet we cannot. We want to skip over the betrayal, and yet we cannot. We want to avoid the denial, and yet we cannot. We want to pass over the violence, and yet we cannot. We cannot look away because the betrayal is our betrayal, the denial our denial, the violence is our violence.
We must fix our gaze firmly upon the cross. Not because we’re gluttons for punishment but because it is only through the cross that new life beckons.
“When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’”
We gather at the foot of the cross, not to curl up into the fetal position but to gather strength for the journey ahead. Jesus died to destroy the power of death — that’s the power of the resurrection, yes. But, still, we cannot ignore the violence that takes place on this day we proclaim “good.”
“Then Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.”
I bid you to take this day so personally that it changes you; that it transforms how you live your life. That through it, you are able to live a life free from the paralyzing fear of death. That you’re able to look not past or beyond but through the violence to see what the cross truly is: the ultimate act of divine love.
“There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them.”
We gaze at the hard wood of the cross not in isolation or alone but within the context of the resurrection and with one another. As painful as it may be, this is a day of love, not violence. Because unlike the original disciples, we know the end of the story. We don’t have to pretend as if the agony of the cross is the end; as if Jesus’ words “It is finished” are the final chapter. We know that it is NOT finished. The question is what we do about it and where we go from here.
“Then he bowed his head, and gave up his spirit.”
© The Rev. Tim Schenck