A Sermon for Good Friday + March 30, 2018

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Friday, March 30, 2018

Good Friday + Year B
First Lesson: Isaiah 52:13-53:12
Psalm 22:1-21
Second Lesson: Hebrews 10:16-25
Gospel: John 18:1-19:42

Now, O Lord, take my lips and speak with them. Take our minds and think through them. Take our hearts and set them on fire for your Gospel. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Screen Shot 2018-04-03 at 12.27.51 PM“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.”

The opening verses of Psalm 22 cut deeply, especially on this day.

They’re the words of someone in pain, of someone who has felt abandoned and forgotten.

They express feelings of great sadness and remorse.

They tap into the gut-wrenching story of Jesus’ final hours. In the Passion narratives from both Matthew and Mark, Jesus actually says these words out loud as he’s hanging on the cross. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

How many times have we asked ourselves that same question or one like it? “Why, O Lord, did you let this happen to me and my family?” “Where were you, God, when we needed you the most?”

As Christians, I think this is one of the most difficult things that we wrestle with in our journeys of faith- the question of human suffering. If we believe that God is indeed all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving, why is it that he allows terrible things to happen to his children?

Why is it that God allowed his own son to be whipped, spat upon, mocked, and hung on a cross to die when he could have easily intervened and spared Jesus that agony?

We’ve all asked ourselves these questions and attempted to come up with our own feeble answers. We probably all have our own ideas as to why God allows us to suffer and why God allowed Jesus to suffer, but I’m afraid that even our ideas only begin to scratch the surface of the truth. It’s a mystery that we may not ever fully understand, at least not until we come into the nearer presence of God. This can be a real stumbling block for some people, especially those who desperately want to believe in God but who may be unable to move past this question without first receiving an acceptable answer.

Suffering happens, and it happens for a variety of reasons. It happens because of our own free will and our own human frailty. It happens because the world in which we live is broken and in desperate need of a Savior. Suffering happens because evil exists, and it seeks to tear down all of the good things that God has created and built up; it seeks to separate us from God and convince us that we’re all alone.

Suffering also happens when the people of God are called to bear witness to the Gospel of Jesus. When we accept the call to follow Jesus, we accept the full weight of his ministry, including his journey to the cross. There’s a reason why he told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

Often, there are times when we have no control over whether or not suffering touches our lives and the lives of others. Sometimes, we do. Sometimes, we’re called to suffer for the sake of righteousness so that the love of God might be made known to the world.

Last year, one of the best movies that I saw was an adaptation of the book, The Shack,by William Paul Young. If you’re unfamiliar with the story, it’s about a man named Mack who suffers a terrible loss when his daughter, Missy, is abducted and killed. After several months, Mack receives a strange note in the mailbox, inviting him to “the shack,” the place where they discovered evidence of his daughter’s murder. At first, he’s hesitant to go, thinking that it might be some cruel joke. But, he eventually decides to go, and when he arrives, he discovers that God is waiting him.

In The Shack, God appears to Mack in three forms, each representing a part of the Trinity. God the Father, or “Papa,” appears to Mack as a soulful, black woman who loves to cook. God the Son appears as “Jesus,” a strong, Middle Eastern man, and God the Holy Spirit appears as “Sarayu,” a young woman of Asian origin.

In one of the early scenes of the movie, after Mack meets Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu, Papa invites Mack to help her make bread for supper. While they’re working in the kitchen, Papa tells Mack that she knows that there’s a great divide between them because of what happened to his daughter, but Mack is angry. He tells Papa that she abandoned him and his daughter when they needed her the most. He tells her that she must have a bad habit of turning her back on those whom she supposedly loves, including Jesus. Then, she looks at Mack and shakes her head. “No Mack,” Papa says, “you misunderstand the mystery.” Then, she takes his hands in hers and shows him the scars on her wrists. She says to Mack, “Don’t ever think that what my son chose to do didn’t cost us both dearly. Love always leaves a mark. We were there together. I never left him. I never left you. I never left Missy.”

To me, this scene from The Shackserves as a beautiful reminder of God’s love for us. Even in the midst of our suffering, God is present. God is present when our worst fears become realities. God is present when our hearts are broken. God is present when it feels as though all hope is lost. We might not ever fully understand why it is that we suffer, but we do know that, because God in Christ came to live and die as one of us, God cares. God knows what it means to suffer. In those moments when it feels like we’ve been abandoned or forgotten, God is still there, holding us and surrounding us with his love.

The weight of Good Friday is heavy. It’s easy for us to become overwhelmed with great sadness on this day as we remember our Lord’s Passion and death. It’s easy for us to become overwhelmed with feelings of guilt and remorse as well. But, there’s a reason why Good Friday is called “good.” On this day, our Lord Jesus endured the agony of the cross to show us how to truly live. On this day, our Lord Jesus allowed his persecutors to mock him and whip him to show us that there is no end to what God will do to show us how much we are loved.

We are not forsaken. We have never been forsaken, and we will never be forsaken.

Only loved. Amen.

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