Good Friday Sermon by Pastor John 4/10/2020

Sermon for April 10, 2020

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(Video Below Text)

New York Times columnist David Brooks asked his readers to send him letters or emails describing how they are coping in this time of a deadly pandemic. He has been busy going through the more than 5,000 messages he has received. On his own admission he was surprised with what the majority are saying. He expected stories of people holding up well during these difficult days, supported by the strength of familial love and community care. But most were very honest in telling their stories of fears for their safety, anxiety over loved ones they cannot visit because of isolation, loss of jobs and frustration with government bureaucracy.  Good Friday, remembering the death of Jesus, is not meant to be a day of sadness, as much as it is a day of honesty and contemplation. There is nothing false about the cross. In this time of national distress, in this time of personal anxiety, we do not need a cheerleader with words of peppy optimism, like ‘things will be all right’. Jesus entered into the world as God in the flesh to reveal the truth: Jesus will never downplay your suffering because he will enter our suffering with deepest compassion. The first reading for Good Friday is from the 53rd chapter of Isaiah. This is the fourth of what are called the servant texts. The servant of the Lord is revealed as one who suffers. The text said many would be astonished at this servant….he shall startle many nations…kings shall shut their mouths because of him….for that which had not been told them they shall see….and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate….who has believed what we have heard?…And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” The arm of the Lord means the power of the Lord, and what astonishes people the prophet writes, is that this power is revealed through the servant of the Lord, the one who suffers for the people, “He was despised and rejected by others, a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity….surely he has borne our infirmities  and carried our diseases, we accounted him struck down by God, and afflicted, but he was wounded for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities, upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.”

The Gospel for Good Friday is the Passion—the Suffering—of Jesus according to St. John. According to this gospel we do not hear Jesus anxious in the Garden of Gethsemane struggling with the will of God the Father. No, Jesus is determined to “drink the cup of suffering that the Father has given him.” Jesus would not consider himself struck down by God, but obedient to the will of God the Father. In John’s gospel Judas is indeed called the one who would betray Jesus, but Judas does not actually come to Jesus with the sign of the kiss. Instead when the soldiers and police led by Judas and armed to the teeth come after Jesus, he comes after them, and said “Whom are you looking for?” When they say Jesus of Nazareth he said “I am he”. Then strangely after Jesus said that all the armed men fell to the ground. When Jesus said “I am” he was speaking the great name of the God of the universe and his enemies could only fall before Jesus, true God in the flesh. What a display of power, yet Jesus handed himself over to his enemies to reveal that greater power of God through his suffering.

The religious leadership in Jerusalem hand Jesus over to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. He thought he was the most powerful man in town. He commanded troops of well-armed men and would not hesitate to use force. The chief priests and Pharisees presented Jesus as a criminal. Pilate and Jesus have this discussion about kingship. Pilate asked Jesus if he was the king of the Jews. Jesus began to question Pilate which frustrated the Roman governor because he said “you own people handed you over to me, what have you done?” What has Jesus done is the whole reason for writing the gospel of John, Jesus came from heaven to earth to make clear the love of God for the world. Jesus explained to Pilate a couple of things: his kingship is not of this world. If Jesus wanted earthly power and glory his followers would start an armed uprising.  When Pilate started to strut his stuff, boast of his power Jesus reminded him “You would have no power over me unless it had been granted you from above.” Jesus did not beg for his life. Earlier in the gospel of John Jesus compared himself to the Good Shepherd saying “I lay down my life for the sheep. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.” As the Good Shepherd Jesus said his sheep hear his voice and follow him and know him. He gives them eternal life and no one will snatch them from his hand. On this Good Friday, let us listen to his voice from the cross, and the truth revealed for us….nothing will snatch us from his hands.

Pilate had Jesus dressed up as a clown king with a crown of thorns. He had an inscription over Jesus head on the cross, usually by Roman law stating the crime. The inscription said “Jesus of Nazareth: King of the Jews”. Pilate had it written in the three common languages spoken in the area: Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. What was intended as pure mockery and derisions turned out to be a message of truth: a king indeed, but not like those of the world, but a shepherd king, a servant king.

In the gospel of John Jesus’ words from the cross are different from the other three gospels. Jesus saw his mother at the foot of the cross. What agony Mary must have felt to see her son nailed to the cross, whipped, and tortured. In the gospel of Luke, it was prophesied that Mary would feel a sword of pain pierce her heart. But Jesus ever showed his love commending her care to the beloved disciple, saying, “Woman, her is your son. And to the disciple said, “here is your mother.” The text said “And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.” We see the power of Jesus’ suffering love that he cared for his own mother, and wanted a blessed disciple to provide a home. When we turn on the news new every morning we are not greeted with good news. We hear of terrible suffering told in the statistics of the number who have died from the Covid-19 virus. And New York governor Andrew Cuomo said something very profound: behind every number, every statistic is a face.” And may we add, a face someone admired, someone caressed, someone kissed, someone loved. The church really is not interested in statistics. What is important is faces, the human element, compassion for people afflicted, worried, and grieving. Does not Jesus call us to take them into our homes, that is not literally, but to take them home into our hearts. This time of isolation brings home the truth of the preciousness of our loved ones and friends. Historian Jon Meacham in his book “Hope of Glory” a reflection on the last words of Jesus from the Cross, commented “The story of Jesus is a guide and a gate; it urges us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, and in so doing we are drawn ever closer to the cross, the emblem of unselfish love.”

John’s gospel said Jesus, to fulfill Scripture, next said “I thirst.” The scripture referred is the Psalm for today, Psalm 22 where the one suffering complains, “my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.” The guards heard Jesus, and filled a sponge of sour wine, attached to a branch of hyssop, and held it up to Jesus’ mouth.  Recently I read about ‘hyssop”, a plant, some kind of reed, but certainly not firm enough to hold a sponge soaked with wine.  The gospel writer is a master of hiding deeper messages in seemingly insignificant details. During the first Passover, the people of Israel were to smear the blood of the lamb on the doorpost with hyssop and so be saved. In the gospel of John Jesus was crucified on the day the lambs were being prepared for the Passover celebration. The gospel of John does not want us to miss the point: Jesus, on the cross, is the Passover Lamb, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. In the gospel of John the word ‘sin’ is always in the singular, never in the plural as a list of our failings. Jesus is the Lamb of God who came to take away the stranglehold, the imprisonment of the power of sin from the world.  In the gospel of John there is just one exorcism, the ruler of the world, Satan is driven out with Jesus on the cross. There was more than a physical thirst Jesus experienced. His was the powerful thirst, desire, and command to free us and this world from the rule of sin, death, and devil as Luther wrote in the catechism.

When Jesus had received the wine he said, “It is finished”. This was not a note of defeat in the face of death, but a word of victory for us. What Jesus meant was “Mission Accomplished”. It was Jesus mission to reveal the truth of God’s love for the world, to accomplish all things for our salvation. Salvation in the gospel of John means for you and me the forgiveness of sins, the booting out of the power of evil, sin, and death ruling our lives and destroying hope. Salvation means eternal life or permanent fellowship with Jesus. Through our times of suffering we have with us our shepherd king, our servant king. He gives not pep talks but the truth: Jesus is light no darkness can ever overcome. We can be perfectly honest and up front with Jesus in our prayers and worship.  Good Friday says we see Jesus on the cross. Jesus promised on the cross he would draw us to himself. The cross of Jesus must be like a powerful magnet of mercy. We are never alone in our suffering, eternal life assures of Jesus’ presence always.

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