Homily (Good Friday)-Rev. Boone Clayton
Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9
If you are like me, then the words of scripture on Good Friday are hard to hear, especially the gospel reading. How strange that we don’t often read much of these two chapters from John during the rest of the year…they are a lot to take in and absorb, and it can take a lot of spiritual, emotional, and physical energy to do it. And yet, we know the story so well. Because while the words of scripture on Good Friday are hard to hear, they are also essential. And there is further pain that comes in stopping where we do. This evening, we do not get to turn the page to chapter 20 of John’s gospel and hear the rest of what happened, the rest of the story. This evening, we must be left to stand with the disciples with forlorn hearts and faces, eventually leaving the company of one another and returning home to sit with and ponder the emptiness. Of course we know the rest of the story: we know that the emptiness within us will be transformed over the course of three days into a different emptiness: an empty tomb. And yet, not yet. For now, we are left with the emptiness – if we have the courage to face it.
And face it we should, we must. Because it is clear that for the early Christians living in the decades and centuries after the events of the first Good Friday, especially from Paul’s letters, that the story of the death of Jesus formed the heart of the euangelion, the good news, the gospel of what they proclaimed. Indeed, they proclaimed it so much and with such pride and fervor that they took the method of Jesus’ death – a terrible, agonizing, tortuous execution that was crucifixion – and they made the symbol of that terror their symbol. The cross represented Jesus’ death, yes, a terrible defeat as far as the world was concerned, but they took that meaning and added to it hope…and faith…and love…and sacrifice.
The words of the gospel we’ve heard today are, in many ways, what each gospel story builds towards. The list of things that all four gospels have in common in their stories is not a long one; but on that list, each gospel narrates Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, trial, crucifixion, and burial, along with other specifics within this part of the story. For all those reasons, Jesus’ death is essential to the story and the story of our salvation. And therein lies the tension we feel: the Good Friday story involves something so painful and difficult, and yet so essential to our story as Christians.
Amidst all of that, this year Jesus’ words in John 18:11 jump out to me higher and louder than the rest. They have gone to the garden, Judas has shown up with his muscle, and Jesus shows that he is not only ready and willing to be arrested, but that he expects and insists on it. And then Peter draws his sword and strikes the high priest’s servant’s right ear (I love the detail that it was the servant’s right ear.) And Jesus tells Peter in verse 11: “Put your sword away! Am I not to drink the cup the Father has given me?” There will be no fight; in John, Jesus does not even ask God to remove the cup that is before him; Jesus insists on proceeding with the Father’s plan.
This message jumps out at me because at some point when I was a kid I began to imagine what it would be like to travel back in time. What could I do, who would I meet, what would I change? I’m sure that this started after I saw Back to the Future II where Biff goes back in time with a sports almanac and has his past self bet on everything and get rich. But I remember what seemed like one of the clearest things to do with time travel – obviously – would be to go back and stop Judas or stop the Romans or stop the Pharisees or stop whoever to prevent Jesus from dying on the cross. And then the question would inevitably float to the top: what would Jesus do then? Maybe Jesus stops Peter because all he has is a sword; but what if I showed up with Seal Team Six? Even if you could stop it, should you? Doesn’t the work of Christ on the cross need to take place?
All juvenile daydreaming aside, Jesus’ answer is: yes. None of what transpires stops the capital ‘T’ Truth from remaining true. God is still God; the I AM is still I AM; through it all and above it all, God is in control, working out God’s own purposes throughout history so that the whole world might be changed and transformed – not just a small corner of it known as Israel or Palestine. There is emptiness now, but that emptiness will be transformed. The cross will be transformed, too, and become a message of hope, faith, and love – a love that is so complete and full and all-encompassing because it is the core of God himself. Together, we will make it through to emerge as and to live as Easter Christians each and every day of our lives. Amen.