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The Liturgy of Good Friday

Posted By : Guest Preacher Friday 14th April 2017
A sermon preached by The Rt Revd Karen Gorham, Bishop of Sherborne
The Liturgy of Good Friday

 

‘Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end’

Today we are standing on holy ground.  We stand before the cross of Jesus Christ and

everything we see and hear at the cross has a story and a message to tell.  No matter how

we view history, there is absolutely no way we can bypass the cross.   However the message

of the cross is more than just a significant moment in history it is a personal message that

speaks to every person of every generation, and that includes you and me.

 

It is the moment in the great salvation story, where Christ went it alone, walked that extra

Mile; where the meanings of that word passion – ‘suffering’ and ‘love’ come together.

And today, as we gather at the cross, having in the last hour reflected on our own

shortcomings,  I want us to hear once again those words of Jesus .

 “Father, Forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing”. Ten pretty simple,

unambiguous words which do not leave much scope for misinterpretation, and yet ten

words that have implications far beyond their perceived simplicity.

 

On a day like this there is no way I can adequately covey the fullness of the eternal, life

changing power of Jesus words of love and forgiveness. For they are packed with eternal

power and truth.

 

If this had been you or I hanging upon the cross - I don't think forgiveness and love would

have been the first thing on our mind. Likely I would have prayed about the pain. I would

have prayed about the injustice. I would have prayed that God would set things right. My

prayers would have been directed toward my needs and my desires to escape my suffering.

 

But Christ is little concerned about his own physical wellbeing. He is not praying that the

suffering might end, nor is he seeking a means to escape this awful torture and death. He is

praying for others and through Jesus’ refusal to run away, or fight back, he shows us the

capacity of love to endure all things.

 

But in a way as I consider how Jesus lived His life, it shouldn’t really surprise me that His first

words from the cross would be the words of a prayer directed at those who hated Him,

crucified Him and had wronged him.   The Greek wording here implies that He prayed these

words more than once.  Phillip Yancey the Christian writer states that forgiveness is to give

grace to someone who does not deserve it.

 

At this critical moment, as heaven is silent and as the angels of heaven watch, they hear

Jesus pray. Can you imagine what the crowd must have thought when they heard Jesus

speak these words? Instead of cursing them, instead of calling upon the angels of heaven to

deliver Him, instead of begging for His life, He instead prays for God to forgive them

 

The fact that these are Jesus first words from the cross tells us just how important

forgiveness is to the heart of God.  It’s an echo of his words from the Sermon on the Mount.

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.' But I

say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you,

and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.

I believe Jesus spoke these words first because they are the gateway by which we enter into

the kingdom of God. Without forgiveness we can never begin to experience a life changing

relationship with God.

 

And as we further reflect we become aware that the first word that was spoken by Jesus as

he hung on the cross was "Father." It is a word of relationship.  Here on the cross Father and

Son are brought together in an act of forgiveness and love. 

As the theologian Jurgen Moltmann wrote ‘ It is the unconditional and boundless love

which proceeds from the grief of the Father and the dying of the Son reaching out to

forsaken humanity, which creates the possibility and force of new life.

 

Throughout out his ministry Jesus had been the one to forgive, yet at this moment Jesus,

taking all the wrong upon himself, asked his father to forgive.  It was a mutual act of love,

surrender and forgiveness.

Prayer is about relationship. It is about faith and hope and trust. It's about knowing the One

who knows us best. And Jesus taught us too to come to God as Father, and perhaps to cry

out to him too, when we have been wronged.

 

Who was Jesus talking about when he said, "Father, forgive them.....".

"Who was responsible?"

Some would say, “It was the Roman soldiers.” They were ones who crucified Him. They are

the ones who nailed Him to the cross. It was their job to make sure that the crucifixion was

carried out in the proper manner.

But wait a minute - what about Pilate? Isn't Pilate partially to blame also? Isn't he the one

who tried to wash his hands of the whole matter - but he still allowed Jesus to be taken to

be crucified.

Others would ask, “What about Judas? Didn’t Judas help kill Jesus? He was with him and yet

he betrayed Him.”  Was He perhaps asking for forgiveness for the Rock of the church, Peter,

who had denied Him 3 times as Jesus said he would?

Was he asking for forgiveness for the people who had bayed for Barabbas to be released

and for Jesus to be crucified? Or was it for the ones, who had flogged him, and mocked

Him?  But what about all the leaders of the Jews that came to Jesus in the first place and

wanted to see Him crucified? Aren't they guilty too? Aren't they the ones plotted to see him

dead?.

 

But it doesn't stop there does it? Because there is a sense that all of us are "them" - too.

When Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them,” He was not only praying for the crowd that day,

He was also praying for all people of every generation, including you and me, who look to

the cross and have the courage to believe that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life.

 

When Jesus spoke these words from the cross he identified with His people. He knew

humanity’s greatest need.  But the prayer is even more profound. It is a prayer for the

unaware …..for those who do not know what they are doing

 

Only by looking back can we see the true extent of human wrongdoing, and how it has left

its mark on history.  Many people over the centuries have made choices, have taken action,

not really knowing what they are doing.  Today we gaze at the cross, knowing where it all

fits in; but also knowing that somehow we too keep getting it wrong and have to come back

time and time again to say we are sorry.

 

Do your worst, Jesus seems to say from the cross, and I will go on loving. And ultimately, in

my dying and refusing to let hate beat me, I will love you so much, you will learn to love in

return.   Upon the cross, suffering in body and soul the anguish and torment of hell, Jesus

prays for grace, for forgiveness. What love! What wondrous, matchless love.

 

The whole story of Jesus is a love story. God’s love story. It’s easy to see and embrace the

love on the sunny hills of Galilee as Jesus teaches and heals the sick, crowds are fed and the

poor are given hope. But love in Jerusalem as the opposition gathers, fears grows and

personal agendas rise and clash? Love in the garden, on trial, on a cross and in the very face

of death?   The answer we find in Jesus.

 

So often we think we know what love looks like – when we have it, when we don’t. When

and where it is possible, and when it is not. When we feel it and when we don’t feel it. Love

is not about what we feel – but what we do – how we follow..

Here at the cross Love speaks the truth before the authorities, Love never denies or betrays,

Love bears all things – endures all things, love forgives – keeps no scores of wrong, love

reaches out in kindness and compassion to those in pain, in fact at the cross love never

ends.

 

At the cross we behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  In the cross

we learn a way of loving that is tolerant, resolute, non-violent, a way of loving that will carry

on expending itself no matter what opposition is placed in the way.

 

In a terrible time in human history when the Black Death and famine and war were

shredding her country and society, Julian of Norwich had a vision of God. In 1373 she

received from God a series of revelations.  Known to us as the Revelations of Divine Love,

Its constant theme is the love of God revealed in the passion and death of Jesus.  Indeed it

seems to Julian that she stands at the foot of the cross, witnessing Christ’s passion first hand

and hearing him speak to her.   In her “revelations” she saw that Jesus in his suffering on the

cross became “one” with all the suffering that God sees and embraces. Here is not a God of

power and judgment, but of infinite mercy and compassion with arms outstretched to

embrace the world.  And Julian hears Jesus speak to her, ‘See how I have loved you…..

That’s the grace of God in our lives. Jesus took our sin upon himself and did what we

couldn’t do. We stand forgiven and bathed in God’s love

 

And us ? The challenge is we have to choose what we do with the cross of Jesus Christ

today.   Are we willing to experience the eternal power of love and forgiveness for

ourselves, and then to forgive as Jesus forgave, and love as Jesus loved.

 

‘Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end’