“Moving Forward in Christ: Choosing the Way of Sacrifice and Suffering”
The Good Friday Liturgy
Genesis 22:1-18; Hebrews 10:1-25; St. John 19:1-37
All’s quiet in the Church tonight, all over the world. But if all’s quiet, does it necessarily follow that all is peaceful? We’re just finishing the forty days of Lent – of mourning, remembering, listening, and adjusting – and tonight we realize that those days are done. We gaze backwards and try to remember whether we’ve covered all the bases. We may wish that we had put a little more thought into this area or prayed more about that area. Even so, there’s a finality about tonight: Jesus is dead, his body lies in the tomb, and – as the first disciples probably did on that first Good Friday – we’ve gathered together to pray, to think, and to talk about it.
Unlike those first disciples – and this is very easy for us to forget – unlike them, we know the rest of the story. We know that the tomb didn’t contain his body for long. We know that he descended to the dead to preach the Good News to the captive souls in hades and to break the gates of death for ever. But they didn’t know that. We gather tonight in stunned silence, hearing a story that’s been handed down to us from two thousand years ago. They gathered in stunned silence, not knowing what would happen next – not knowing that hope would live, not even knowing whether they would live.
In some sense, their fearful reaction to the Passion and death of Jesus is understandable. Yes, had they been listening to his words, they wouldn’t have been surprised by his trial, or by the crown of thorns or by the cross. But let’s be careful not to throw too many stones. We know – sitting here tonight – what they didn’t know, and we still shrink from following Jesus. The battle waged in the heart of humanity ever since the fall of Adam and Eve has been – and will be until the end of time – the battle to follow God rather than self. And we know that self is really defined as self-preservation – self-preservation in the face of sacrifice and suffering.
Perhaps what really stuns us tonight is the fact that we witness Jesus giving up his right to self-preservation. Add to that the fact that we call his suffering and self-sacrifice the ultimate gift of love, and the question becomes: “Why aren’t we doing that for each other, for the world, and for him?” The Stone that the builders rejected really has become a stumbling block for us, hasn’t he? He tells us what needs to happen and he does it, then he tells us to join him in doing it – to join him in his sufferings, in his self-surrender.
So yes, the quiet in the Church tonight is very real, but it’s also very uneasy. In small ways and in large ways God is asking us to enter into his life of sacrifice and suffering. Whether or not we recognize it, the command given by God to Abraham is not unheard of in our own lives. He may not be asking us to offer up a child, but he may be asking us to offer up some other part of our lives – something, usually a gift from him, that we’ve come to think of as our own. Maybe he wants us – as we gaze at Jesus upon the cross – to take the next step in consecrating our lives to him. Maybe he’s asking us for deeper and more pronounced service in building his kingdom. Maybe he’s calling us to a deeper life of prayer, and therefore a surrender of some hobby or leisure activity.
Our union with Jesus, our communion with him in his suffering, death, and resurrection really does come at a price. The Blessed Virgin understood it, especially as she stood before the cross watching her Son die a criminal’s death. Saint John and Saint Mary Magdalene understood it as they risked being publicly associated with the King of the Jews. Saint Peter and the others who watched from afar understood it, especially in the grief they surely felt for moving away from him and denying him. Even Pilate understood something of what was happening, going back and forth as he did with the religious leaders, arguing that Jesus wasn’t guilty. Judas understood it…way too late.
The question for us tonight is difficult, but quite simple: Are we willing, for the sake of loving Jesus, to pay that price? Are we willing to so enter into his suffering and self-sacrifice that we feel even a small part of his pain? We’ve been told for most of our lives that Jesus did everything for us – which he certainly did – and that we don’t have to do anything more than accept the gift. It’s true that we have to accept the gift, but it’s an unscriptural lie that our involvement in his suffering ends there. He asks us to join him, he asks us to take up our cross daily and follow him, he reminds us that when we turn our lives over to him there will be two promises: That of trouble and that of his abiding Presence.
So there’s quiet among us tonight, as we await the rest of the story. But deep in our hearts there probably should be a nagging unease as we try to answer his invitation – an invitation that comes to us directly from his cross. May the answers come as the story unfolds.
In the Name of the + Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.