Isaiah 52:13-53:12 Psalm 22:1-11 Hebrews 10:16-25
On Good Friday the darkness wins…or so it seems. As the shadows of this long day lengthen, it is an opportunity for us to pay attention to those areas of our lives that may be more visible in dim light than in the brightness of Easter’s spotlight. The church’s journey through the liturgical year has been a long one. Good Friday stands at the end of a labyrinth of light, begun on the First Sunday of Advent, three or four months ago. On that day, one precious purple candle threw back its proud shoulders and took a deep sustaining breath. With one small crackle it chased away a whole world of arrogant darkness that “did not overcome it”! (John 1:5).
At the second week of Advent, a sister candle was lighted. Soon there were three, four, then the fifth on Christmas Eve. Next, every candle everywhere wanted to join in and we lighted our Christ candles to carry the light of Christ out into the world. A bright star joined in on Epiphany. By Transfiguration Sunday, the Light of the world truly glowed in the dark. There seemed to be no stopping it.
Then came Ash Wednesday. That day left us in the dust. It reminded us that all human wicks and wax will end in ashes. We tracked the dust of mortality and morality, along with our confessions, in and out of the church throughout the season of Lent and well into Holy Week.
Now comes today, Good Friday – the winter solstice of the liturgical year. On Good Friday, the light disappears. The light of God appears to be snuffed out. All of the church’s busyness to fan the flames of the Spirit doesn’t seem to work and it leaves us weary. The end.
But is it…we know the end of the story…but we can’t race to get there. We must rest….we must experience the darkness of Good Friday to be able to celebrate the light of Easter. We must experience the broken promises, the lost hopes, the unanswered prayers, severed relationships, grief and death. We must remember our struggles to see the light during these months of COVID. We must experience life and all that it has to offer to embrace death.
Though the church has gotten used to the light, actually prefers the light – it seems haunted by shadows. From noon until three, the church will watch as the earth goes dark on Good Friday. The cross will eclipse our assumptions about God. The cross will reveal our uncertainty, maybe even our anger at God. But its shadow will reveal God’s cross-shaped love for us.
In John’s account, we see the religious-political dynamics surrounding the execution of Jesus. Jesus is presented as one accused of challenging the Roman emperor by claiming to be “king.” Jesus is repeatedly referred to as “king.” As a king, Jesus is in complete control of his situation. He directs his arrest. He goes out to meet and question the authorities that were looking for him, he responds by using the divine name, “I am” to identify himself. God previously identified himself to Moses as “I am who I am.”
There is no formal Jewish trial in John’s account. In an earlier meeting with the Sanhedrin, concerns were expressed that Jesus might gain a large following, causing the Jewish community to experience repercussions from the Roman authorities. Caiaphas, the high priest, persuaded the Sanhedrin that Jesus should be put to death – sacrificing one Jewish man to save the entire Jewish nation.
Perhaps today is a good day to focus on all those things in our lives that have ended too soon – and to suspend them in prayer between heaven and earth. We know that things happen in God’s time, not our time and today may be a good day to make peace with that. And to look back at what that has meant for our lives. Those we have loved and lost, the jobs we have enjoyed and lost, the friends we have shared our lives with and lost. God’s plan reigns and God’s love for us knows us better than we know ourselves. Today is a day to embrace God’s love for the world.
John’s picture of Jesus is comforting. While the world hurls forth the worst it has to offer, Jesus remains unfazed and triumphant. We need this picture in our heads and our hearts, because without it, the other images of brutality could be paralyzing to us. Without John’s image, we might prefer not to enter into the story, finding its weight too much to bear. Without it, there is little that is “good” about Good Friday.
So, today we gather at the foot of the cross, with Mary, her sister the wife of Clopas, Mary Magdalene and the beloved disciple. We hear the full weight of Jesus’ last words. We gather to watch as Jesus gasps his final breath. Even though we know the end of the story, we can’t rush there. We have to stand at the foot of the cross to understand, to empathize, to remember, to believe. We must stand at the foot of the cross to hear Jesus say, “It is finished!” His words suggest that this death is not an ending but a new beginning. God’s plan has reached the final stage, all has been accomplished. Jesus’ life has not only reached its earthly finish. His unimaginable suffering is finished. His obedience has carried him to the cross.
“It is finished” is a declarative statement of finality. Something that was not a possibility before, has now been made a possibility. “It is finished!” is the beginning of our hope. God has accomplished it. God’s plan for Jesus lead all of us down the same road – the road of forgiveness, redemption and reconciliation – a road towards healing and wholeness. “It is finished” offers us a new beginning and with it come so many possibilities!! Amen.