14 April 2017
Today we gather to commemorate the death of Jesus: most likely on Friday, 7 April 0030.
We are not re-enacting the crucifixion, but we are remembering that tragic event and reflecting on its significance.
Christ has died
We are familiar with this affirmation that occurs in almost every Eucharist.
Christ has died.
This is one of the few ‘brute facts’ about Jesus where most people agree.
Jesus was killed in Jerusalem on April 7 in the year 30 CE. Although we call this day ‘Good Friday’, the death of Jesus was a tragedy. Not a unique tragedy. He was neither the first nor the last to be killed by empire. His death was not more painful than some others have experienced. But it was a tragedy for him, for his family, and for his followers.
The fact that this tragedy on Easter morning was reversed does not detract from its tragic character.
We may be tempted to focus on the second and third lines of the Eucharistic affirmation:
Christ is risen
Christ will come again
But first we need to confront the reality of the first line: Christ has died.
The stark reality of that statement is something we need to acknowledge and embrace.
We cannot get to the resurrection without first facing the fact that Jesus died. He was killed.
This is not just a question of temporal sequence. While it is logically correct that there could be no Easter without Good Friday, that is not the point. Something deeper is happening here.
We catch a glimpse of what is at stake if we try some alternative scenarios.
“Jesus almost died in Jerusalem” does not work in the same way as “Christ has died”. “That visit to Jerusalem for Passover almost cost Jesus his own life,” simply does not do it.
“Christ has died” is a stark statement of the brute fact at the heart of our faith.
God let Jesus die.
There was no divine rescue squad. No legions of angels intervened to prevent this tragic turn of events. There was no last minute reprieve no ram in the bush.
Jesus is not James Bond achieving a remarkable turn around just before the movie ends. This was not a movie. It was real life. He died. God was silent, if not absent.
Just as often happens in our world, Jesus died and there was no miracle to stop it from happening.
Just as was the case for the 44 Christians killed in Egypt last Sunday.
Just as was the case for the children gassed in Syria few days earlier.
Just as remains the case for the children of Gaza under Israeli siege.
Like Jesus we cry out, Where are you, God?
That was the lived reality for Jesus.
That is the lived reality for us.
That is the lived reality for most people most of the time.
Jesus died a particular kind of death: crucifixion.
Imperial punishment – by Rome but only for non-Romans
Political victim – reserved for bandits, outlaws and rebels
Cruel and inhumane – a slow and painful death
Shameful death – victim stripped of dignity and honour
Social outcast – victim isolated from family and community
Religious penalty – OT says anyone hung on a tree is cursed
Don’t blame the Jews!
This seems obvious, since only Rome could order a crucifixion. But for most of the last 2000 years Christians have blamed the Jews for the death of Jesus, and played down the responsibility of the Roman imperial authorities for the execution of Jesus.
What happened to Jesus is an example of empire doing what empire does. Empire treats people as disposable assets. Empire crushes any resistance. Empire cannot imagine a world shaped by love rather than fear. Empire eliminates emerging leaders of dissent.
God was in Christ
The remarkable thing is not that the Roman empire took Jesus out, but that his followers came to see his crucifixion as the decisive moment of his life.
Listen to these amazing words penned by Paul, a Roman citizen, about 25 years after Easter:
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. [2 Corinthians 5:16–21 NRSV]
In the totally bleak and hostile event they discerned the presence of God, quietly working for the reconciliation of the whole world.
God was in Christ …
- not just in his incarnation
- not just in his wisdom
- not just in his healings
- not just in his compassionate welcome of outsiders
… but in his cruel and lonely death by crucifixion.
Even there God was present. Even on the cross we discover IMMANUEL, God with us.
So we dare to believe that God is in our darkest moments. Not preventing them, but sharing them. Not turning the darkness into sunlight, but absorbing the darkness, the despair and the fear.
Good Friday proclaims not a prosperity gospel, but a gospel of divine presence.
The Romans thought they had crucified Jesus, but God was in Christ … so everything is different.
[…] Read the full text of the sermon online. […]
Thanks for posting this. I was delivering the Good Friday message at a local combined churches service and was pleased to see a number of common thoughts – felt that I was on the right track! I took the liberty of sharing a couple of your closing comments, as they rounded out the overall message better. Again, thanks. Robyn.
Dear Greg, I found your piece on the eucharist and the crucifixion really helpful. Did you do one on the resurrection? Blessings, Sue
[…] the ideas were taking shape in my mind, I went back to read again what I said on Good Friday at Byron Bay last April. I did that for a few different […]