April 2, 2021
For my birthday a couple years ago, Maggie bought me a record player. You know, for those old vinyl records as big as dinner plates. There’s something beautiful about those old records. They sound alive, they have a warmth that you don’t get with digital music. Granted, record players are not very portable. But that has made the music more enjoyable, actually sitting and listening. We listen for the music, instead of the music just serving as background noise.
Every year we hear the Passion according to Saint John, and I know that it can become background noise. Like a broken record that keeps playing the same track over and over again, we gather year by year to hear the same old story. Jesus is arrested, dragged before Pilate, condemned, and crucified.
But of course, last year we did not gather for Good Friday and in a way, this has allowed us to hear the story again with fresh ears. Speaking personally, that interruption has been a gift. This year, I really sat down to read it not just to crank out a sermon. And when I read it through this year I was surprised. Because I heard something that I know I had heard before but it was different.
It was different because not only did I hear about death, I heard about new life. Like a fresh vinyl that made me sit in my armchair and really listen, I heard again about God’s creation and re-creation of the world. I heard again the old stories of God. What I heard was something very, very old.
Walk with me through this – the whole Good Friday drama begins in a garden. Ahem – the final victory over death begins in a garden. Like, a garden where life began. Then Jesus utters that divine self-revelation to his persecutors, “I am he.” This is the same utterance by which the Lord God revealed himself to Moses at Mount Horeb in the burning bush, “I am who I am.” (Exodus 3:14, John 18:5). Then there are the accusations, the denials, the blaming. It might feel like you’ve read this story before because you have. Not only in the Gospel of John but in Genesis itself. Where once there was Adam and Eve, a serpent, and the Lord God (Genesis 3); we now have Peter and Judas and the disciples. All of whom in one way or another cave in to that original sin of denying the Lord God.
On the cross Jesus gives up his spirit by saying “It is finished” (John 19:30). That is not only a cry of dereliction, it is a cry of triumph. The re-creation of the world is finished; this echoes the seventh day of creation when God “finishes” his work. (Readings in St. John’s Gospel, William Temple, 335). “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done” (Genesis 2:1-2). The work of Jesus is finished there upon the cross as he enters into a day of sabbath rest. You see it, right? This story is not new, it is old. It is that old album that you pull out of the closet and brings back all those old memories and sounds.
This story of Good Friday is the story of Jesus’ death yes. But more importantly it is the story of the re-creation and renewal of the world by the Lord God Almighty. All the same themes are there if only we sit down and really listen. It is this day, Good Friday, that is victory over sin and death. This is the day that Jesus wins our souls. This is the day that God conquers evil. This is the day when all is put to right. That’s why we have a cross on our church and not an empty tomb. This whole drama – from the garden to the courtyard to the trial to the crowd to Golgotha – in this we hear all the themes of our salvation. God’s blessing by forming us humans out of the dust of the earth. Our rebellion against God and our falling for evil. The confusion of wanting to live a holy life and the convenience of denial. Of new families, new relationships forged in the crucible of shared hardships. The pain, suffering, loneliness, and abandonment in our lives. And the caring love of the Lord. Good Friday is every day. Which means that every day God is out to redeem us and to renew us and to re-create us. It means that every day is a fresh reminder of God’s defeat of sin and death. Every day is a day for us to listen deeply to the music; to listen deeply for the Lord Jesus who sets us free.
And so why, why are there so few of us here today when there will be so many of us here on Easter? If today is the triumph of love, why does it seem so hollow? Because the cross and death just seem so macabre. The happy colors and the linen suits and the Easter Egg hunts give us that fleeting boost of happiness. We prefer Easter to Good Friday because it seems so much nicer.
Which is to the world’s detriment. The very fact that we are uncomfortable with Good Friday has been made apparent in our communal reactions to this pandemic. We are so very uncomfortable with suffering and death. So we deny it, we bury the lead, we want to rush on to create happy news when there is still so much agony around us. We want the quick fix of an empty tomb without contemplating the cross. We are unwilling, or unable to see that we are reborn not through easy triumphs, but through suffering. But it is through the suffering, it is by the blood of the cross that we are saved. Jesus re-created you, Jesus suffered, bled, died for you on Good Friday.
So today I ask you to listen deeply. Take this Good Friday as a day to reset, to renew, to rethink. Pull out all the old albums and listen to them again with fresh ears. Listen for the Lord God who has gone before you in the way of suffering and death. Listen for signs of God’s redemption in your life. Take this day for what it truly is – God’s day of victory.