Friday, April 6

Good Friday Sermon


This sermon was preached at the joint Good Friday Service of Immanuel Lutheran Church, St. Elias Christian Church, and Church of Jesus Christ Reconciler.

Readings:

Isaiah 52:13 - 53:12
Psalm 22
Hebrews 10:16-25
John 18:1 – 19:42

***

As we gather tonight, the mood is solemn, to be sure, but not despairing because…we know about the Resurrection. There is no Christianity apart from the cross; on the cross hangs all our faith. But we are an Easter people, and so we gather tonight in hope as well as to mourn.

Tonight we find ourselves at a worship service that embodies a great deal of paradox. Many opposing themes are held together in tension by the cross.

Gail Ramshaw, a Lutheran laywoman and liturgy scholar, writes: “Christians mark this day of death as a day that paradoxically brings forth life.”[1]

Nature demonstrates that there is often no life without death, that something must die in order for something new to be born. We call this day Good Friday, not because it’s good that Christ suffered, but because of the joy and hope of Resurrection that come through the cross.

Our faith embodies much paradox. Christ is both victor and victim, shepherd and lamb, king and slave. The cross is a meeting place for many forces we usually think of as opposites: God/humanity, heaven/earth, sin/grace, despair/hope, life/death. The cross holds all these in tension, in wholeness.

Just as the cross embodies many contradictions, we ourselves are bundles of contradiction. Each of us has many sides, many aspects. We are simultaneously guilty and innocent, broken and whole, strong and weak, living and dying. We may wish we were only the positives. We may deny and marginalize parts of ourselves we fear or dislike. We often feel we must put our best foot forward to the world, even to God.

But we can bring our whole selves to Jesus. We can come to the cross, that meeting place where contradictions intersect. There we can be fully known by God, and know ourselves more fully. In such knowing, we can be transformed.

Since the early days of the church, Christians have seen the cross not just as symbol of death but also as tree of life. Gail Ramshaw writes: “Much Christian art has placed side-by-side depictions of the tree of good and evil in the Garden of Eden with the tree of death and life on Calvary. It’s as if with the eyes of faith, when the church looks at the cross it sees not an electric chair, but a vibrant tree.” [2]

I invite you to see the cross not only as a place of death, but also as the tree of life.

As you come to the cross tonight, is there something you want to leave behind there? Guilt, fear, suffering, resentment, disappointment? Is there something in you that needs to die? Excessive pride, self-centeredness, addiction, a tendency to be unkind?

As we come to the tree of life, is there something is you that needs to be born? What do you most need? What are you longing for? What in you needs to be transformed, resurrected, made new?

Christ accepts us in our totality. Just as he accepted the poor, and broken people of his time. He accepts the parts of ourselves we deny, despise, refuse. As he himself was denied, despised, refused. The cross, once a symbol of hateful rejection, is now paradoxically a symbol of loving acceptance. We can come to the cross with our whole selves. We don’t have to be on our best behavior with Jesus. We can let it all hang out by the cross. And by hanging out with the parts of ourselves we don’t fully know or like, we can be transformed.

In her book Things Seen and Unseen, journalist Nora Gallagher writes of her experiences working in a soup kitchen and being an active member of an Episcopal Church. She says about her encounter with the cross on Good Friday: “ I see the faces of the men in the soup kitchen, those human beings made into rags, into debris. Their faces shine here at the cross in a way that no other faces do. They know what this man hanging here has suffered, as he knows their suffering. He was made into trash here on the cross…The parts of myself that are alive among those men are the parts I hide everywhere else. Crazy, inarticulate, imperfect, in need. The person humiliated by simply being born a woman. How often I apologize, desire to please. All the parts of myself that I colonize, make into trash. In the darkness, I see them, hidden in my shadows, and I understand then how it is that seeing them makes me whole.”[3]

Tonight as we come to the cross, that meeting place of contradictions, let it be wholeness that we seek. The words "wholeness," "holy," and "healing" all come from the same root. By being present to humanity in our brokenness, and being broken for us, Christ in his holiness paradoxically makes us whole. Let us be present with Christ and ourselves, to allow His saving health to take root in us. The Holy cross binds together our many contradictions, and makes us one in Him. Let us come to the cross, to honor Christ whose burden makes us free. To mourn what needs to die in us and celebrate what will be born. Come to the cross, the tree of life… with your whole self. AMEN.
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The Reverend Laura Gottardi-Littell
April 6, 2007

Footnotes:

[1] Gail Ramshaw, The Three-Day Feast, Augburg Fortress, 2004, p. 42.
[2] Ibid, p. 43.
[3] Nora Gallagher, Things Seen and Unseen: A Year Lived in Faith, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998, pp. 128-129.