Sermon for the Good Friday Liturgy
Friday 2 April 2021, 14:00, Good Friday
Preacher: The Right Revd Nicholas Holtam, Bishop of Salisbury
Readings: Isa 52.13-53.end; Psalm 22.1-21; Hebrews 10.16-25; John Passion
Please scroll to the bottom of this page for a video of this service.
At the earlier service today we read the account of the crucifixion from Matthew’s Gospel chapter 27 in which Matthew uses the images of the Suffering Servant in Second Isaiah to depict the suffering of Jesus. It’s been made familiar to us by Handel’s Messiah.
He was despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
Whilst reading Matthew we thought about the difficulties of turning up and being really present on this way of the cross; of Judas and whether there are limits to forgiveness; of Simon of Cyrene, a North African and outsider in Jerusalem compelled to carry the cross of Christ because the soldiers made him do so but who is a witness that salvation is for the world; and that even in the darkness of the crucifixion there are witnesses that death does not have the last word.
In John’s Passion, the picture of Jesus is very different to the one we met in Matthew. In John there is no agony in the Garden of Gethsemane in John, no sleeping disciples contrasted with a praying Christ asking if it is possible for this cup to pass from him. In John Jesus simply says, “Am I not to drink the cup that the father has given me?” The unfolding of the story provides its own answer in which Jesus takes his part freely, willingly.
John’s Gospel gives us the grand picture. The creative Word of God which was in the beginning, is identified with the particular being of Jesus of Nazareth. Love is made known in the humble service of a master washing his disciples’ feet, in the feeding of the hungry with the bread of life, and in healing the sick. God is known in the light of the world, water of life, bread of heaven, true vine…each of which, in Christ, is eternal.
John’s contrast between Jesus and those who came to arrest him could not be more striking. They came by night, with lanterns, torches and weapons. They asked for him twice and, even though he came forward, they fell to the ground. Peter tried to evade the moment by the use of force, drawing his sword, striking the high priest’s slave and cutting off his right ear. Jesus is so self-possessed that he told Peter to put away his sword and asked, “Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?” He made space for the various actors to fulfil their part in this drama and even then when they took him away they bound him!
In John, Jesus knows his destiny and accepts it willingly because he is in the Father and the Father is in him. The fact that they are one has the potential to change everything for the world. In the verses at the end of chapter 17, just before we began the singing of the Passion, Jesus said:
Righteous Father, the world does not know you but I know you; and these [disciples] know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them. (John 17.25-26)
We often think of the glory of Christ as coming from the resurrection and ascension, but in John’s Gospel the glory of God is seen here and now in Jesus’s acceptance of and being raised up on the cross. In chapter 17 again, verse 1, “Father the hour has come, glorify your Son, so that the Son may glorify you”.
It is a Johannine insight that, Christ when he was raised on the cross did not say ‘I draw some people to myself’. He said I draw all. The passion of Jesus is a moment of cosmic significance – God so loved the world, not just people like us, or the Church, - and all who have been given into Christ’s hands will be saved.
We are living through a crisis of a pandemic. A cartoon that was in circulation last September depicted a tsunami of increasingly bigger waves crashing in on an urban city: first wave the pandemic, second the economy, third the environment, fourth climate change. I have been grateful for Pope Francis’s insight that these are in reality these are not separate problems. They are all part of the one problem which is our disordered relationship with God, one another and creation. We are living as consumers rather than as people thankful for the gift of creation and co-creators with God. In theological language it needs us to be repentant, to turn ourselves round and live differently, to serve and conserve the earth rather to abuse and consume it.
Last September Pope Francis asked how we will get through the pandemic and the environmental and climate crisis. He said we will get through the pandemic by caring for one another.
Pope Francis said we will get through the environmental and climate crisis by contemplation; by looking carefully at the beauty of creation and appreciating it. People who do that can no longer go on consuming and squandering the earth.
If we really turn up at the cross, we do not run away or take on displacement activities but model our lives on service of others, travel the way of the cross, carry the cross because we are compelled to do so, here at the cross we find Chris at already raised up and giving life in all its fulness.
Therefore he who shows us God
Helpless hangs upon the tree;
And the nails and crown of thorns
tell of what God’s love must be.
Here is God: no monarch he,
Throned in easy state to reign;
Here is God, whose arms of love
Aching, spent, the world sustain.
W H Vanstone, Love’s endeavour, love’s expense.