Good Friday: March 25, 2016, noon
Preacher: The Rev. Katharine Flexer, Rector of St. Michael’s Church
And so we come to the end of a very familiar story.
The whole drama has unfolded and we, the ordinary people, have just dragged along with it. Leaders debate with one another, political forces operate, soldiers and bureaucrats exercise their petty brutal power, and we just sort of go along with it. We get caught up in the crowd’s emotion, yelling out hateful things without really understanding what we’re saying. We quail when put on the spot about our loyalties, denying that we have a stake in the game. We follow and stand around and watch while the violence and killing happens – or run off and try to block it out. We don’t ever do anything to change the story, and it doesn’t seem as though there really is anything we can do anyway.
It was that way two thousand years ago. It is still that way today. It’s not just in the familiar narrative of Jesus’ Passion and death that we find ourselves uneasily complicit. It’s not just in Peter denying Jesus, or the disciples running away, or the crowds who cheered Jesus a few days before now calling for him to be crucified. It’s not just a story of old – it’s in the very nature of our lives. Good Friday has something to say about our helplessness, the passivity of our human condition. It says something true, though it may not be something we want to hear.
Because we often do just go along with it. We say we are appalled by things that are said and done by political candidates, by their moral compromises. But deep down we know that they are simply products of our long years of hating the outsider, and of our rock-solid belief that might makes right. We want our side to win and we say and do most anything to bring that about – and thus, so do our leaders. We give free rein to our own appetites and freedoms and scorn others who tell us it’s wrong – and thus, so do those we elect and extol. It’s not so surprising after all.
We say we’re horrified by killings on our city streets and in other countries, by terrorists, by our own soldiers and others. But if we are honest, we recognize that this is the inevitable outcome of the stew we’ve all been cooking, allowing and nurturing inequalities around the world while treating violence as entertainment and glory. And thus, so do our young people, in this country and elsewhere. It’s not so strange.
We proclaim our anger at those who exploit and destroy workers, communities, and ecosystems in their pursuit of profit and greed. But we know we are unwilling to change the ways we consume, deny ourselves the things we want and the prices we want them at. And so the great machinery of materialism rolls on, chewing up everything in its path. It doesn’t come out of a vacuum.
In other words, the world is the way it is because we are the way we are. And we feel ourselves helpless to change it.
We hate that helplessness and what it says about us. We want to see ourselves as better than that, more courageous, more righteous, more full of integrity. We don’t want to connect the larger trends in our country and our world with our own thoughts and behaviors. When it starts going the wrong way we mutter about moving to Canada, or stepping off the grid, boycotting the election, to dissociate ourselves from those others. We name Islam as the problem, or Republicans, or the media. We imagine that if we were there in Jerusalem we would never have cried, ‘Crucify him!’ Maybe so. Probably not. We’re all mixed messages. We don’t always do as we know we should. Or even, as we believe we could.
And it seems that is more often than not our problem. Perhaps we can find a reason for our helplessness – addiction, maybe, or a mental or physical illness we just can’t heal from. Or a set of circumstances in our family or professional life that have us caught in a pattern of behavior that isn’t exactly ethical. But all the same, our behavior can be mystifying. Why can’t I do better? Why do I make these compromises? Why am I so prejudiced, or so greedy, or so lazy, or so – ?
But most of the time we don’t really ask those questions. In moments of clarity we may recognize some hypocrisy in our actions and words; sometimes in a truth-telling moment someone we’re close to points out something that feels uncomfortably accurate; but mostly we just push all such thoughts away. It’s not me – it’s those other people who are the problem.
When we are in such denial, we may be the most helpless of all.
But in the midst of all of these compromised, frightened people, Jesus walks on his path. When his best friend denies him, Jesus loves him anyway – and after the resurrection, offers him yet another new start. When the leaders of the people fight and scrabble over power, Jesus, unwavering, offers them truth. And when the soldiers come to kill him, Jesus forgives them. Everything that those around him can’t do, Jesus does. All that they are helpless to make happen – love, truth, righteousness, life itself – Jesus gives them.
All of our stuff, Jesus carries to the cross. All of our compromising and lying and hatred and fear, Jesus takes on himself. All of our sin – all that separates us from God and from each other – Jesus cleanses us of with the outpouring of his loving sacrifice for us. We are helpless to make ourselves right. But Jesus does it for us. Jesus recreates us into what we were originally meant to be: God’s very own.
It doesn’t prevent us doing all that harms us and others. We still fumble on and mostly get things wrong, and we still visit tragedies upon each other and ourselves. Everything is not fixed for us, although we might long for it to be.
And yet because of Good Friday, we are no longer helpless. Jesus’ action on the cross infuses us with power we can’t find on our own. Jesus’ gift of love pours love into us that is more than we can contain and keep for ourselves. Jesus’ clear truth lays bare our own weaknesses and our own strengths – the gifts God has given us that God expects us to use. We are made able and active instead of helpless and passive – we can name our own sin and wrongdoing, accept forgiveness, move to change. We can see the ways we have turned away from love of God and our neighbor, accept God’s deep love for us, move toward fuller love for others. We can live the fuller, more abundant life God has for us, life that gives life to others, life that changes the world.
If we had been there that day 2000 years ago, we probably would have done just as all the others did: deny Jesus, skulk off, blame others. Probably so. But we are on the other side of that day. We are on the other side of that outpouring of sacrificial love, love that washes away all that soils us. Washes it away over and over again, as many times as we come to truly name it and receive the gift and open ourselves to its power. We are made free, truly free. In Jesus’ death, we begin to live.