- April 14, 2017
- 06:00 PM
Sermon for Good Friday April 14, 2017 (Year A)
Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary
Texts: Isaiah 53; Psalm 22; John’s Passion
Title: Every day he is ready to do the same
For whom are you willing to die?
For whom are you willing to give up your life?
No one should ever have to endure such pain and suffering.
Even in John’s Gospel, where Jesus appears so serene and in control – even here, the pain and suffering of his passion is beyond comprehension.
No one should ever have to endure such pain and suffering. Especially not one who came only to serve. Only to help. Only to bless. Only to love.
But consider this claim: Jesus freely and willingly chose this path.
Humans instinctively seek to avoid pain. All of us do it. We can’t help it. It is built into our DNA. It is a simple survival instinct that operates out of our reptilian brain stem.
Yet that very earthly, human instinct can give way to another instinct. To a heavenly, divine one. One inspired and encouraged by the holy spirit.
Anywhere we see people freely willing to sacrifice for another out of sheer philanthropy, out of simple love for humanity, there we see the holy spirit of God at work.
Is there anywhere we can see this instinct more clearly at work, more distinctly in control, than here, on the cross?
The claim of the apostles, the claim of the church built on their testimony, the claim that we still make today, is that Jesus died willingly, voluntarily, for everyone.
No, more than that. For EACH one. For each human being. For your grandma. For Bashar al-Assad. For the pygmies in the rainforest.
For the forgotten little ones who never get to see the light of day. For you. And for me. For EVERYONE. Without exception.
But not in some cosmic, abstract, impersonal way. Not the way that the sun shines on each person.
Our claim is that Jesus chose this path with deliberate, loving intention toward each person.
There are, perhaps, few people who have understood this more deeply than Julian of Norwich. This woman, living and writing at the end of the 14th century – by the way, the first woman whose writings in the English language have survived – this woman, Julian, prayed with persistence to understand the fullness of the Lord’s passion, and to feel it. To feel the pain and suffering of Christ in her soul.
As a result, she was given a series of visions of Christ on the cross.
Julian spent years contemplating the cross, the passion of Jesus. As she did so, the Lord spoke to her soul and gave her these words: “It is a joy, a bliss, and endless delight to me that ever I suffered my passion for you; and if I could suffer more, I [would] suffer more” (p.216). “See that I loved you so much, before I died for you, that I wanted to die for you” (p.221).
There are many different ways to consider the cross. We can examine its historical significance. We can consider the political forces at work which precipitated such a violent response to one who came as a nonviolent prophet. We can explore the theological necessity of sacrifice and the ramifications of this death. All of that is good and has its place.
But today, on this Friday which we call Good, I invite you to consider again the intention of God, the desire of God, the longing of God which is on full display as it hangs on the hard wood of the cross!
The cross is not something to be understood, though understanding is important.
The cross is something to be felt. Deep in your soul. It is not by mistake that we call it the passion of Christ.
Imagine these words given to Julian as spoken directly to you as Jesus hangs there on the cross.
If it helps you to do this, then close your eyes and imagine the scene. Picture him there, suffering the worst pain one could ever imagine, but with a serenity which is impossible to comprehend.
And picture him turning to look straight at you, eye to eye, and speaking these words: “It is a joy, a bliss, and endless delight to me that ever I suffered my passion for you; and if I could suffer more, I [would] suffer more” (p.216). “See that I loved you so much, before I died for you, that I wanted to die for you” (p.221).
Can you believe this? Can you accept this? Can you feel this?
For you. For me. For each one who ever walked this earth.
Finally, Julian of Norwich tells us this: “Every day he is ready to do the same” (p.217). Every day he is ready to do it again. And again. And again.
How can it be? Because this is the instinct of God, the instinct of love, and nothing can ever stand in its way.
(All quotes are taken from Julian of Norwich: Showings, The Classics of Western Spirituality, Paulist Press, 1978).