Introduction and Call to Worship This Good Friday we gather together virtually to tell a love story: a story of God’s great love for each and every one of us revealed in the life and death of Jesus. Today, may we grasp something of the depth of that love and respond in sincere gratitude and worship. Today’s Readings First Reading Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12 This is one of the Suffering Servant passages found in Isaiah which Christians believe predict much about the life and death of Christ, hundreds of years before his birth. Second Reading Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9 The writer presents Jesus as the perfect high priest who opens the way up between us and God: he understands us completely through sharing our humanity yet is the sinless Son of God. Dramatic Passion Gospel John 18:1 – 19:42 Jesus has taken time to pray for his disciples knowing that the end of his life draws near. He then moves on to the place where he is to be betrayed, in the full knowledge of what is to come. Just before he died, Jesus entrusted his mother and his beloved disciple to each others’ care. HOMILY ”When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” Sobering words taken from our Gospel, which capture the serious nature of Good Friday. I recently came across a quotation from Karl Barth, in which he pointed out that sermons were not meant to be lectures merely offering historical exegeses. Neither were they meant to be a collection of well-meaning light-hearted platitudes, or fillers before the real business of the Sacrament. No, for Barth, a sermon had to be a shared adventure that people experienced together with a preacher. Today’s adventure invites us to try and process Jesus’ ability to really get inside a person’s spiritual DNA. As with his fellow disciples, the character of Judas had been accompanying Jesus, witnessing first-hand how profound miracles and profound parables were bringing the loving presence of God to others in a uniquely personal way. But as scripture unfolds, we gradually see how for Judas this wasn’t enough. We cannot know for certain what was eating away inside him. Other passages of scripture tell us how Judas would take and spend money out of the common purse on himself…but given that Jesus had personally chosen him to be one of his twelve disciples, we can only assume there was some potential for spiritual growth contained deep within his soul. So, what caused all of this restlessness? Was Judas disappointed as things weren’t moving fast enough for his liking? Or have we got it all wrong about him? Was Judas driven by a well-meaning yet misguided act of bravery, thinking that by placing his beloved leader into a tight corner, Jesus would have no choice but to act in such a way that finally there could be no doubt in anybody’s mind that he was the long-awaited Messiah, destined to transform and save the world forever? With the value of 2000 years of scholarly hindsight, we can easily become the judge and the jury by instantly distancing ourselves from this ill-fated character who, given his betrayal of his friend Jesus, will rightly always be remembered as a thoroughly bad egg. But while preparing for our Good Friday adventure, I came across a survey by Durham University which stated 74% of regular church goers found it deeply stimulating when a preacher’s words challenged them; and with this in mind, I wonder if there’s a little bit of Judas inside each of us. If we are honest, are there times when we truly believe our spiritual mentors and Church isn’t focusing on the issues that we deem important? Yes, we know the wheels of progress in most large institutions can be painfully slow. Nevertheless, for me and hopefully for you also, one of the strengths of the dear old C of E is her willingness and ability to lovingly hold together a collective mix of religious customs, cultures and liturgy traditions. Granted, all levels we don’t get spot on every time but the spiritual fellowship that underpins who and what we are as Anglicans remains far greater than any personal agenda we may be harbouring. Another one of Jesus’ close friends, who teaches us that the disciples were not angels fallen from Heaven but real, flawed human beings like you and I, was St Peter. Similar to Judas, when the chips are down and the horrible reality of crucifixion starts to loom ever closer, his rock steady faith begins to crack and crumble under the strain. Scripture constantly reminds us that despite his impulsive nature, when it came to the crunch, St Peter was never bashful in boldly declaring Jesus to be the Son of God indeed, here to bring eternal salvation to the whole of humanity. So where and why did it start to go so wrong? Well, like each of us, we sometimes can’t help being consumed with fear that can cloud our thoughts and actions, especially when we feel powerless and those around us also seem weak, vulnerable and completely at the mercy of others. Our Gospel gives us an intimate glimpse of St Peter, like Judas, having to wrestle with his own spiritual torment. Over the last three years he had freely followed Jesus during his earthly ministry and suddenly perhaps he is questioning the rationale of his loyal devotion…had this sacrifice been all in vain? We can be in no doubt that St Peter loved Jesus with his very being, for as our Gospel informs us, earlier on that evening St Peter’s commitment to the Lord had erupted into a violent uncontrollable rage, when in an attempt to change the path destiny seemed to be heading, he pulled out his sword and cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant. Anger is an all too real powerful human emotion. If we cast our minds back to a previous visit to Jerusalem, we discover how Jesus became so indignant when he saw the money changers taking advantage of people going to the Temple for worship that he made a whip and drove them out of his father’s home. Consequently, as Christians, we should never be ashamed or embarrassed when passionate anger fills our hearts and causes us to speak up against the many problems at large in our world today. But returning to our Gospel reading this afternoon, as Chapter 18 Verse 11 explains, St Peter’s behaviour was wrong on this occasion, for although it was well-meaning and driven by love, it was preventing the will of God from taking place. Once again, perhaps like for me, there have been times of spiritual hurt when the path you believed was right to travel came to a dramatic halt. This, as we continue to accompany St Peter on this truly traumatic night, is never easy for us mere humans to process. However, as my old school chaplain used to say, ‘Gerard, always remember the only person who was born completely perfect…they nailed him to a tree.’ So even when, like St Peter and Judas, we just can’t seem to tell right from wrong on our journey of faith, this passage offers us strength and resilience not to throw our spiritual dummies out of the pram and walk away from God. As our Diocesan strapline announces, the Church is the living embodiment of Jesus that truly transforms lives. So rather than viewing Jesus’ final words from the Cross as being the cry of a depleted soul, ‘it is finished’ could be seen as a triumphant acclamation that His desire to save us from our self-loathing has been accomplished because the eternal message and gift of Good Friday to share with the world is that no matter how many times we get it wrong, the beauty of God is simply that he wants to love us more and not less.
Father Gerard Mee, Good Friday 2020