April 22, 2014 | Posted in Sermon

Good Friday 2014
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Glenwood, MD
Preacher: The Rev. Dina van Klaveren

Good Friday is the emotional opposite of Christmas morning. If on Christmas morning we are filled with anticipation for stockings and merry-making. Today we are filled with anticipation of loss. Pure loss.

If Christmas is God loving us so much that he took on a human form and was born into a real human family, then Good Friday is that real human family screaming as their beloved son and friend and brother is tortured and put to an excruciating death.

Unlike Christmas, Good Friday never disappoints. There is always the right amount of pain, suffering, loss, oppression, fear, degradation, shame and sadness each year. If God is going to come and live among us as a human being on Christmas morning, then on Good Friday God will die as one of us. God is born in solidarity with all humanity, bringing that God-quality into the human experience, and on Good Friday that God-quality is brought to the cross.

Today is the emotional opposite of the joy of Christmas morning. Christmas is a beginning, filled with possibility. Good Friday is an ending, empty with loss.

Indeed, it is empty if we limit Jesus to his human form, which really dies on the cross. However, we believe that Jesus is God, taking on human form to live among us, to love us more fully, to walk with us and teach us. And so, while the human body dies a real human death on the cross, we await what God will do through this death. We anticipate the joy we know is right around the corner, in a garden, waiting for us. And we wait for it.

In this moment of waiting, anticipating, SITTING WITH LOSS AND DREAMING OF JOY, we might experience that God is with us in EVERY CIRCUMSTANCE.

Not just the joy of Christmas. Not just the high points in life, like new life being born. But even here. In the loss and death and shame and degradation and suffering.

God’s grace is constantly at work in our lives in all circumstances. When the storms pelt our windshield with slush or hail or heavy rain or snow, we cannot see the road ahead of us, or the space a few feet in front of us. But that space and that road did not disappear. Our ability to see it disappeared. Grace is always there, no matter our ability to notice it. In a storm, we learn to slow down, turn on the wipers and look harder through the windshield. And so it is with the storms that pass through our lives- we must slow down, attempt to keep things as clear as possible, and trust that we will see our way through the storm eventually. The grace is still all around us, even if we feel we have lost our ability to perceive it. God’s grace never departs from us, and it’s a real shame that in our moments of deepest need we often feel as though God has packed up that grace and moved out of town. Not so. We just can’t see it through the windshield as easily, we must slow down and get clear. And trust that grace will be revealed.

In every circumstance God is faithful. We can choose to seek God’s grace no matter what storms rock us, no matter what loss befalls us. (Julia Gatta, page 109 in The Nearness of God)

Consider the storm that is the passion text, the storm of being betrayed by a friend and follower. The storm of armed guards and mocking soldiers and even thieves who add to the degradation, as though they weren’t dying themselves. What a storm. A mother sobbing, some friends fleeing, some friends keening together in anguish.

There is a pivotal moment in the text where Judas betrays Jesus and hands him over to the authorities in the Garden of Gethsemane. From that moment of being handed over, Jesus suddenly is a being more acted upon than he is an actor in the story. I believe that we know that moment, that moment of being handed over. One moment things are going fine, then we suddenly find ourselves, like Jesus, in the grip of powerful forces and circumstances that we cannot control. Family breakdowns, economic setbacks, illness and aging, losing a job or losing a sense of who we are – suddenly we are forced from living a life where we feel in control, where we are primarily actors in our own destiny to this new role,

where we are acted upon by others,

in which we wait.

We no longer feel like a player- we feel played.

We no longer feel like we can act, we feel acted upon.

We can feel diminished and degraded.

Yet, Jesus was played. Jesus was acted upon.

He is this active miracle worker and teacher and healer. He casts out demons and eats dinner with prostitutes and tax collectors, skips lunch to talk with a lowly Samaritan woman at a well, walks long distances to teach and heal, gets in and out of boats, survives 40 days in the wilderness, takes on the challengers all around him and evades them, throws over tables in the temple in a rage over economic oppression of faithful people, and stands up for those oppressed and overlooked. Jesus is a busy, active, engaged, powerful man.

Until Judas hands him over.

Everything shifts in that moment and Jesus goes very still and quiet and passive. In this moment, he accepts the events as they unfold and he reveals to us pure, undefended love. Passivity does not render the moment meaningless.

We think that because we have lost our sense of control over our destiny that it makes the event meaningless. How self-absorbed we can be. Meaning does not come from our initiative – our true meaning comes from the grace of God acting constantly in every circumstance, regardless of how passive we feel.

In Christ crucified on the cross, we can acknowledge that even when our suffering does not go away, the sense of meaningless can fall away.

When we suffer, we are not alone. Christ suffered, and suffers still whenever we feel pain and loss and degradation.

What most of us really want is to be with God wherever God is, to have God beside us wherever we find ourselves. If we want to be with God wherever God is, we will face the cross of suffering with Christ today. This Good Friday we wait, we suffer, we know the pain and degradation. We feel the sorrow and loss of it. We stay with Christ not because it benefits Christ, but because it teaches us that if we, mere human beings with all of our flaws and shortcomings, can stand to face the pain with Christ, how much more can our powerful God stay with us when we suffer? If we can face the pain, then surely God can face the pain with us. If we can seek the grace even in the stormy moments of our life, surely God will reveal that grace to us.

Ponder, on this Good Friday, the real gift of Jesus Christ, born in a stable to a peasant family, now hanging on a cross. Ponder the pure, undefended love of God, exposed and vulnerable and totally available to us. Summon the courage to face the pain, trusting that the grace will be revealed. Wait upon the Lord, wait for the joy of our faithful God to be revealed.