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.
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 an historical exegesis. Neither were they meant to be a collection of well-meaning light-hearted platitudes. Nor were they to be seen as fillers until the real busy of the sacraments came along. No for Barth a sermon had to be a shared adventure that people experienced a preacher.
Today’s adventure invites us to try and process the ability Jesus had 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 where bringing the loving presence of God to others in a uniquely personal way.
However, as scripture unfolds, we gradually see how for Judas, this clearly wasn’t enough, we cannot know really know for certain what was eating way inside Judas. Yes, we are told in other passages of scripture 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 12 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, for was Judas driven by a well-meaning yet miss guided act of bravery, for perhaps he thought that by placing his beloved leader into a tight corner, Jesus would have no chose than 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. Now with the value of 2000 year’s scholarly hindsight, we can easily become the judge and jury – by instantly distancing ourselves with the ill-fated character of Judas.
Who given his betrayal of his friend Jesus, will rightly always be remember 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 so, with this in mind I wonder if there’s a little bit of Judas inside each one of us. For if we are honest, are there times when we truly believe our spiritual mentors and the Church isn’t moving or focusing on the issues that we deem are important. Yes, we know the wheels of progress in most large institution can move painfully slowly. Nevertheless, for me and hopefully for you also, one the major strengths of the dear old C of E is her wiliness and ability to lovingly hold together a collective mix of religious customs, cultures and liturgy traditions. Granted, all levels we don’t always get in 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, of close friends of Jesus, who teaches us that the disciples were not angels than had fallen from Heaven but, real flawed human beings like you and I was St Peter. For 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 was indeed the Son of God who was here to bring eternal salvation to the whole of humanity. So where and why did it start to go so wrong, well like each one of us, we sometimes can’t help being consumed with fear that can cloud our thoughts and actions, especially when we feel powerless as those around us also seem weak, vulnerable and completely at the mercy of others. For like Judas, our Gospel gives us an intimate glimpse of St Peter having to wrestle with his own spiritual torment. Over the last 3 years he had freely followed Jesus during his earthly ministry and suddenly perhaps his was questioning the rationale of his loyal devotion, had this sacrifice been all in vain?
We can be in no doubt that St Peter clearly loved Jesus with all his very being, for as our Gospel informs us earlier on that evening St Peter’s commitment to the Lord had erupted into a violence uncontrollable rage, for in his own way to change the path destiny seemed to be heading, he pulled out his sword and cutting of the ear of the high priest.
Anger is all too real powerful human emotion, for if we caste our minds back to a previous visit to Jerusalem, we discover how Jesus became so indignant when he saw how the money changers were taking advantage of people who had gone to the Temple for worship. He made a whip and drove them out of his father’s home. Consequently, as Christians, we should never be ashamed nor embarrassed when passionate fills our hearts and causes us to speak out and up when we encounter the many problem at large in our world today. But returning to our Gospel reading this afternoon, as 11th verse of chapter 18 explains St Peter’s behaviour was wrong on this occasion, for although it was a well-meaning driven by love, it was preventing the will of God from taking place.
Once again, perhaps like me, there have been times of spiritual hurt, when the path you believed was right to be traveling down comes 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 use to say, ‘Gerard always remember that 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 do right for do wrong on our journey of faith, this passage offers us strength and resilience not to throw our spiritual dummy’s out of the pram and walk away from God, For as our Diocesan strapline announces the Church is the living embodiment of Jesus, that truly transforms lives, so rather than viewing Jesus’ finally words from the Cross as being to cry of a depleted soul, ‘It’s finished’ could be seen as triumph acclamation, as His desire to save us from our self-loathing has been accomplished, as the eternal message and advantage of Good Friday for to share is no matter how many times we get in wrong, the beauty of God is simply that he wants to love us more and not less.