Friday, March 21
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, on March 21, 2008, by the Rev. Laura Gottardi-Littell.
As we gather tonight, the mood is solemn. But though we mark this day with sadness we are not called to despair because…we know about the Resurrection. We are an Easter people, so we gather tonight in hope as well as to mourn.
We call this day Good Friday, not because it’s good that Christ suffered, but because of the joy and hope of Resurrection that have come through the cross.
As Christians, we observe this day of death as a day that paradoxically brings forth life.
Our faith contains many paradoxes, many contradictions. Christ is both victor and victim, shepherd and lamb, slave and king. The cross is a meeting place for many forces we usually think of as opposites: God/humanity, heaven/earth, sin/grace, hate/love, life/death. The cross holds all these opposites in tension, in wholeness.
Just as the cross holds together 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 push away those parts we fear or dislike. As they say, Denial is not just a river in Egypt. I know often feel I must put my 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 place where contradictions meet. There we can be fully known by God, and know ourselves more fully. The more often we recognize ourselves in our many aspects, and bring our whole selves honestly before God, the more likely it is that parts of ourselves we don’t like or are unhealthy can lose their grip on us, and begin to die. And new growth, new life can flourish within.
Since the early days of the church, Christians have seen the cross not just as a symbol of death but also as tree of life. There are many examples of Christian art where images of the tree of good and evil in the Garden of Eden are placed alongside 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.”
Tonight I invite you to see the cross not just 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, pain, resentment? 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. He accepts the parts of us that are broken, the parts of ourselves we deny and refuse. As he himself was denied and 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 parts of ourselves we don’t fully know or like, we can gradually accept and love them into transformation.
In her book Things Seen and Unseen, journalist Nora Gallagher writes about her experiences working in a soup kitchen run by her church. There is a section about her experience at a Good Friday service in that church, in particular the moment where people were invited to the cross. Gallagher writes: “ I see the faces of the men [who eat at] 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…[I know] 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.”
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 a broken world,and being broken for us, Christ paradoxically heals and makes us whole. Let us be present tonight with Christ, just as we are and allow Christ’s saving health to take root in us. The holy and healing cross binds together our many contradictions, and makes us whole. Come to the cross, to honor Christ, to let go of what needs to die and to celebrate what can be born. Come to the cross, the tree of life… with your whole self. AMEN.