Friday, March 25, 2016

Father Riley's Good Friday sermon, March 25, 2016



 Today marks the second time this week we have sat and listened to the Passion Narrative. On Palm Sunday we heard St. Luke’s version that contained the beautiful scene of the thief on the cross asking to be remembered by Jesus when he came into his kingdom. And we heard the promise made to him by Christ from the cross, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
We are veterans of numerous Holy Weeks. We have heard it all many times before from Matthew, Mark, Luke and now again from John. Nothing new here. The gospel writers all report the same thing albeit with varying detail. Ask anyone of us here today and we can tell you what happened to Jesus on Good Friday.
Not unlike the citizens of Jerusalem, or the countless pilgrims who were pouring into the city to celebrate Passover. Crucifixion was common, all to common. Jesus’ crucifixion was one among many. It was Rome’s favorite means of dispatching criminals, and the Lord of Life willingly took the place of one.
The roads leading in an out of the Holy City were lined with crosses containing the dead and the dying; those unfortunate ones, who for one reason or another, found themselves at cross-purposes with the Empire. So common was the sight that most of the populace paid little or no attention as they passed by but simply went about their business as usual. Can’t you just see and hear a young mother holding tightly to the hand of her child and insisting that the child not look up or point at those dying on the cross?
According to John, Jesus’ mother, along with two other women, and the beloved disciple stood close to the cross of Jesus; close enough to hear Jesus speak; close enough to see the water and blood that issued from his side when pierced by the soldier’s lance.
Before he died Jesus gave his mother to John to look after, and John to his mother as a son. No promise issued forth from his lips that day, according to John, only the words “It is finished,” and then he died.
There were others close by as well, namely the secret disciples of Jesus; Joseph of Arimathea and the Pharisee, Nicodemus. Having asked for and received the body of Christ from the authorities they carried out their act of compassion by wrapping it in a linen cloth, covering it with spices, and hastily laying it in a new tomb nearby before the Sabbath began.
After witnessing his burial, his mother, and the other women, left the scene with the beloved disciple most likely to return to the upper room where the rest of the disciples were in hiding. Joseph and Nicodemus went home. The rulers and the other religious leaders that helped to nail Jesus to the cross dispersed as well believing that they had done a great thing for God.
While the soldiers who had drawn the nasty duty of crucifying him, along with the two thieves on either side of him were, as they say, just doing their duty and nothing more and were glad it was over quickly. The curious on-lookers that may have stopped to view the scene read the inscription “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” But it didn’t mean a thing to them and when they realized all three were dead, simply moved on. Nothing more to see here.
What about us? When today’s service has ended do we simply move on? Move on with our lives as though what happened to Jesus in Jerusalem doesn’t matter? Have we become so insensitive to his suffering and death on the cross that we choose not to look at it, much less contemplate what it might mean for us and for the life of the world?
Have we been veterans of too many Good Fridays to the point that we have lost it’s meaning?
The cross reminds us, as Isaiah proclaims in today’s first reading, “that he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed,” and in addition the author of Hebrews aptly reminds us Jesus “is the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”
Today is a day to focus our attention on Christ crucified, not to look away, but to look at the cross with body of the dying Jesus hanging upon it; even point to it if need be, in order to ponder what it all means to us. There is really no other reason for us to be here.
Hopefully we came to listen to the Passion narrative as if we were hearing it for the very first time; to meditate on the words of the Servant Song of Isaiah as they relate to the one who died for us, and to receive with Thanksgiving the Hope that rests in Christ, as the passage from Hebrews reminds us.
We are here, then, to give Thanks for His willingness to suffer for us, for our sins, and the sins of the whole world, so that we might live anew to the Life God has given us, and to embrace the Hope of the Life to come.
Taken collectively these three readings open the way for us to enter into the true meaning of the day. For they proclaim what God has done for us in Christ and together bid us anew to receive the gift of God’s redemptive Love; an undying Love that manifests itself from the cross; a Love that invites us, in the name of the Crucified Lord Jesus, to share it in our service to others. AMEN+



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