Good Friday 2017

The narrative of the Passion can be found here

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The Summary of the Gospel Hangs on a Barren Tree

A colleague, in the ordination process, was confronted by an examiner who asked “what is the summary of the Gospel of John?”

She did not know.

Three years later, after concluding her seminary degree, she was asked this question again.

What is the summary of the Gospel of John?”.

Her reply?  The summary of the Gospel of John is love. 

And so, on this night, let us sit in that place and consider the love of the one who first loved us.

And in that consideration, I offer a poem, written by Anglican Priest and Poet R.S. Thomas (poem title “The Coming”)

And God held in his hand
A small globe. Look, he said.
The son looked. Far off,
As through water, he saw
A scorched land of fierce
Colour. The light burned
There; crusted buildings
Cast their shadows: a bright
Serpent, a river
Uncoiled itself, radiant
With slime.
On a bare
Hill a bare tree saddened
The sky. Many people
Held out their thin arms
To it, as though waiting
For a vanished April
To return to its crossed
Boughs. The son watched
Them. Let me go there, he said.


Consider the love of the one who first loved us.
Let me go there he said. And in reply, came a yes that would transform all. Yes, you can go. Yes, you can go to that place of yearning and of pain. That place where the people remember me yet, and where their memories cause them to lament the unfulfilled promises of their ancestors.

This night, in this quiet place after the rending, we are reminded of the extent to which God went in response to our need. And so, we keep vigil alongside the God who hangs upon the bare tree that holds all of our sorrows and all our hope.

We keep our vigil and witness the flogging and the nailing, the scourging and the taunting. We keep our vigil with the one we’ve denied and the one we’ve embraced--the one we’ve scorned and the one we’ve lauded. 

We keep our vigil and participate on this Friday we call Good.

This Friday when we enact the passion through our own participation we are reminded that what we recall in this liturgy is not some quaint and instructive historical reenactment, but rather, a claiming of our place in God’s story. A story that is now, a story that is still happening.  

It is happening in Syria, it is happening in Afghanistan, it is happening on the banks of the Hudson, in the halls of our Capitals, and on the streets of St. Paul. The story is still happening, and we are still in need as we find ourselves living in a world that all too often exploits and denies the belovedness of all of God’s children. 

In the now, we live and die in the midst of brokenness.  In the now we experience the betrayal of those who once stood with us and the denial of those who swore never to leave us.

This moment of crucifixion is our now, it is our past—the crusades, the persecutions under Diocletius, and the weaponizing of scripture for our own means—and it will be part of our future. But, crucifixion is not the end, not now, not then and not in the what will be. Because the broken now has been healed by a reconciled then.  The broken now holds the hope that healing will come.  The broken now was healed for then and for all time when all those things which separate us from God and from each other were rendered powerless at the foot of the cross.  

The foot of the cross, the cross, that place where God and all of humanity are brought together and are united into one body, one body broken and yet more perfectly restored. Without the cross we could not be the body of Christ…because this, as theologian Jurgen Moltmann writes, is the place where “our faith begins with the bleakness and power which is the night of the cross” and on this night, “Our faith must be … born of nothingness, our faith must taste this nothingness and be given it to taste in a way no philosophy of nihilism can imagine.”

So, tonight we are invited to taste the nothingness out of which our faith has emerged. We are invited to hear the gasp of forsakenness, to cry out crucifixion, and to stand at the cross...

Yet, as we taste the nothingness, we find within it the power and potential for a new creation. For, just as Creation emerged out of the chaos that was the nothing before creation, a new Creation emerges from the nothingness of death upon the cross.

So a day of death, becomes a day of love. And, from this place of love, we keep the vigil that so many of Jesus’ friends failed to keep. Standing with Mary the mother who would not leave her son, with Magdalene who wept by his side and with the beloved disciple who assumed the responsibility of the son. Standing with Joseph of Arimathea and Simon of Cyrene—the unlikely bearers of the cross and the corpse. We stand with them—companion to those who watch and weep, those who keep a vigil and stay even to the last.

We stand, we stay, we weep, and we hope—and we do so knowing that we are not alone. The cross has brought us together with each other and with Christ Jesus, God has heard our cry at the foot of the barren tree.

On a bare
Hill a bare tree saddened
The sky. Many people
Held out their thin arms
To it, as though waiting
For a vanished April
To return to its crossed
Boughs. The son watched
Them. Let me go there, he said.


The summary of the Gospel of John is love.

Amen.


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