Sermon for Good Friday, Year A

By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Based on Jn. 18:1-19:42

"The Crucified King"

Imagine, if you are able to, the following scenario. A small religious group in Canada makes frontpage newspaper headlines with their novel, bizarre beliefs. They claim that their leader was divine. This same leader however, has just been convicted of a crime, and was sentenced to death, and executed by the Canadian Supreme Court, as well as the Parliament.

The leader's humiliating death, however, has not discouraged the faithful followers. On the contrary, they now claim that his horrible death was yet a clearer reflection of his divinity. Our response to this sort of group would likely be disdain. "How weird," we might think to ourselves. "These days you can find people who will believe almost anything."

Yet, those people who are not Christians might--even today--say the same thing about us. From only a human perspective, they might very well wonder how we Christians are able to take such delight in worshipping a man suffering so cruelly and dying on a cross. They might ask, "Aren't those Christians being sadistic by focusing on the torture and cruelty of Jesus dying on the cross?" From only a human perspective, it is true, the cross remains an enigma, a stumbling block, a scandal.

But this is Good Friday. The most solemn day of the church year. The most tragic and sad day--yet, paradoxically, the most triumphant and wonderful day of the church year. The day so evil, yet so holy that no words are adequate enough to completely describe everything that happened on that first Good Friday. The day that is so loaded with meaning for humankind and the whole creation that we shall probably be unable to fully grasp its implications--until we see Christ face-to-face.

You see, Good Friday is the day in which we celebrate what theologian Reinhold Niebuhr called "the logic of the cross." What is "the logic of the cross?" Well, for the apostle Paul, it was the crucified Christ who made God's foolishness wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness stronger than human strength--(I Cor. 1:25). Another theologian, Kazoh Kitamori, once put it this way in his book, Theology of the Pain of God: "The pain of God, this is the essence of God, this is the heart of God!" Yet another theologian and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, put it this way: "Only a helpless God is able to help us."

Today, the writer of the Fourth Gospel takes "the logic of the cross" to profound heights, breadths and depths. He presents us with a panoramic view of the arrest, trial, crucifixion and burial of Jesus. The Passion of Christ in John is not like Matthew's, Mark's or Luke's. In John, Christ is in total control of his destiny from beginning to end. For John, the crucifixion is not a tragic event at all. The crucifixion is, for John, the actual enthronement, the coronation of Christ as King of the whole creation. For John, it was God's plan to lift Jesus up onto the cross as King so that he: "will draw all people to (himself)."

This is surely one of the most profound paradoxes of Christianity, that God would draw all people to God's Self by the crucifixion of Jesus! That is why Christ the King's last words on his cross-throne are not words of failure, doubt, defeat or utter abandonment. Jesus's words, "IT IS FINISHED," are really a cry of victory and triumph. Jesus did battle with all the cosmic powers of evil and won. "IT IS FINISHED," are words of confidence, certainty and completion.

According to Robert Bachelder: "God makes himself known most especially in the death of his Son. That seems at first a strange thing to say because Christians sometimes speak of this as the day when the Father abandoned the Son."

But the Fourth Gospel nowhere mentions Jesus being abandoned. Indeed, one has the sense that the Father is always right there in the thick of things with Jesus--even when he dies.

A. Dudley Dennison, Jr. tells the following story. "An artist once created a most unusual painting of Jesus on the cross. The body stood out in sharp relief against a darkened background. But as one gazed at the painting, a second figure seemed to appear from among the shadows. It was as if God could be seen behind the figure of Jesus. The nails that went through the hands of Jesus went into the hands of God. The nail that fastened the feet of Jesus held fast the feet of God. The crown of thorns was somehow on God's head too."

"The artist had made clear his conception that it is through the experience of Calvary that we look into the eternal heart of God. What we see during those hours of torture is a picture of God's suffering and God's outgoing love."

Love so great, so deep, so broad, so high, that it would stop at nothing--not even death--to save the whole creation; to save you; to save me!

As Sylvia Dunstan penned it so well in her hymn "Christus paradox," we sing with her and all the saints on this day: "You, Lord, are both lamb and shepherd, you, Lord, are both prince and slave, you, peacemaker and swordbringer of the way you took and gave. You, the everlasting instant, you whom we both scorn and crave. Worthy is our earthly Jesus, worthy is our cosmic Christ, worthy your defeat and victry, worthy still your peace and strife. You the everlasting instant, you who are our death and life."

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