St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Sunday, April 19, 2019
First Lesson: Isaiah 52:13-53:12
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.
“So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them.”
In a meditation on Good Friday, the Rev’d Martin Smith once wrote, “He was numbered with the transgressors, crucified between the thieves. We will not find him in our hearts except in the same company. For each Good Friday to be good the Spirit must take us by the hand and re-establish our contact with that inmost core of recalcitrant evil, enmity and impotence where we are sisters and brothers of the most depraved and lost. That is where Christ is, clasping them with his pierced hands.”
On Wednesday evening here at St. Catherine’s, we continued our journey through Holy Week by participating in an ancient prayer practice known as “The Way of the Cross.” If you’re unfamiliar with this particular practice, “The Way of the Cross” began centuries ago, not long after the crucifixion of Jesus. Christians would gather in Jerusalem to follow the same path that Jesus walked as he made his way to Calvary. As time passed, churches began adapting the practice for local use, using various artistic renderings and developing liturgies so that pilgrims from all around the world could participate in this meaningful form of prayer. Today, it’s a very common devotion among Episcopalians, especially during the season of Lent and Holy Week.
Traditionally, there are fourteen stations along the way, each one depicting a different moment from the story of Jesus’ Passion and death. If you look around, you’ll notice the fourteen stations hanging on the walls of the church, surrounding us with the sacred story and reminding us of the self-giving love of Christ that we’re called to share with the world. The journey begins with Jesus being sentenced to death, and it ends with Jesus being carried down from the Cross and laid in the tomb, waiting for the day of resurrection.
Every time I have the opportunity to walk “The Way of the Cross,” there are a few moments in the service that I find particularly moving, such as the moment when Jesus meets his mother along the path and the moment when Jesus is stripped of his clothing. These scenes depict not only the physical suffering that Jesus endured but also the emotional and spiritual suffering as well. I’m reminded of how important this devotion is every time I participate. “The Way of the Cross” allows us to experience the story in a very real and meaningful way.
If we were to only hear the story of Jesus’ Passion and death, it wouldn’t be enough. We have to be willing to take up our own cross and walk the path of sorrows ourselves. That’s really what Good Friday is all about. It isn’t just about hearing the story retold on the same day, year after year. It’s about taking our place in the narrative. It’s about walking hand-in-hand with Jesus to the foot of the Cross and being numbered with him among the transgressors, those whom society would rather forget than care for. Good Friday is God’s answer to those who would question whether or not anyone is beyond the reach of God’s love.
Each year on Good Friday, I try to make it a point to tell people that we often get it wrong when it comes to explaining the purpose of this most solemn day in the life of the Church.
The typical sentiment among churchgoers is something along the lines of, “Jesus died on the Cross. The least I can do is come to church for an hour and feel really bad about it.” That’s understandable. After all, the tone of the service is somber. The Altar has been stripped from the night before. The hymns for Good Friday evoke feelings of sadness and despair, and the lessons appointed for the day are painful to hear, especially for those of us who are already emotional during a very emotional week.
We tend to spend this day indulging in our own feelings of sadness and remorse, but Good Friday is not the time for us to mourn for Jesus in his death or to be weighed down by overwhelming feelings of guilt. It’s a sacred time, time set apart for us to prayerfully consider our role in God’s Kingdom. This day offers us a chance to ask for God’s mercy and grace as we contemplate those things we’ve left undone in the world around us. In the shadow of the cross, we’re invited to seek God’s call for our lives. In the midst of suffering and death, we’re provided with an opportunity for new and abundant life. Sin and death are defeated. Death no longer has dominion over us. This is what we discover in our journey through Holy Week. As disciples of Jesus, our lives depend on our willingness to join with Christ in his suffering. It’s the only path that leads to true joy and peace. Amen.