Sermon for Good Fridayadmin | 14 April 2017
“Turn unto the Lord your God”
The idea of turning reaches a certain completeness on Good Friday. Circles within circles, we might say, a richness of turning and circling back and towards and upon the very principle of everything, God. Good Friday. It is the day of the profoundest reflection upon the most profoundest of themes, the death of God. For that is the radical meaning of Christ’s crucifixion.
God wills to embrace the disorders of our lives to the fullest and most impossible extent. It is literally beyond our imagining and utterly beyond our doing. We have the hardest time even thinking this mystery. And yet, year after year there is the marvel and wonder, the marvel and wonder of our turning and contemplating Christ crucified. And yet that turning is altogether about God’s turning to us.
That is the real strength and virtue of the liturgies of Good Friday. The good of this day lies entirely in the turning of Christ to us in the seven last words of the Cross. And yet, it seems we do not have the stamina to stop and pause, to think and ponder the great mystery of the crucifixion. The paradox is great if not obvious. It is all about the turning and about our turning away. Christ’s words capture the real meaning of the idea of God’s turning to us and our turning to God in repentance. The paradox is heightened even more because there is our turning in violence and abuse, in short our turning against God in the very events of the crucifixion. The point cannot be stressed enough. We are those who cry out “crucify, crucify.” We confront the hideous horror of our sins. It will not do to try and sanitize our evil, the very thing our culture in its delusions constantly does, outsourcing evil, as it were, conveniently excusing ourselves.
The point of Holy Week and especially Good Friday, without which the idea of Good Friday is meaningless, is for us to confront the radical evil of our own hearts. The evil is not out there; it is in here, in us, in you and me. So there is a turning to ourselves through our turning to Christ. In the crucified Christ we confront the hideous spectacle of our own betrayals of truth, our betrayals of God. But even more, we confront the radical meaning of Christ’s crucifixion. It is the fullest expression of his turning to us to save and redeem. The radical meaning of the turning is love, a love that is a constant circling around the principle which defines our being, the being of all reality.
In other words, we learn something of the radical meaning of God’s turning to us in the crucifixion of Christ. Here is the strongest possible counter to the ignorance and arrogance, to the folly and the rage of our age. Here is the only actual counter to the evil of our world and day. Here is nothing less than the full meaning of God’s love for us and our world. The goodness of God is always and everywhere greater than the evil of our humanity. Think for a moment how that idea challenges the endless chess-games of international politics and policies. And how it provides the strong principle upon which to consider things in a different way.
It is the business of Good Friday to turn our attention to Christ on the Cross. What we find there is Christ’s turning to us. Think about the logic of the seven last words of Christ. They are a wonderful synthesis of the meaning of Christ’s turning to us in and through his turning to the Father. In other words, the turning is really all God.
“There is nothing here that is not Zeus,” not God, as Sophocles puts it (The Women of Trachis). Or to put it in the words of Leonard Cohen, “if it be your will”. Holy Week is all about God’s will and the ambiguities, on the one hand, and the animosities, on the other hand, of our humanity in relation to God’s will. Such is the real power and meaning of the conditional ‘if’ in “if it be your will.” Good Friday reveals God’s will for us. God wills in Christ to embrace all of the sins and disorders of ourselves – such is his crucifixion. The point is that God is more and we are more in return than our sins and follies. Such great good news and yet achieved at such a price. It costs the heart-blood of the Son of God to save us.
We can only turn to the words of Christ on the Cross for those words are entirely about his turning to us in his turning to the Father. In the traditional understanding, drawn from all four Gospels, there are the seven last words of Christ from the Cross. They begin and end with an address to the Father: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do;” and “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit”. These are words from Luke’s Gospel along with the word to the penitent thief, “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise”. John, too, provides three of the seven last words while Matthew and Mark contribute the haunting and questioning word, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” John’s words are, first, Christ turning and saying to Mary his mother “Woman, behold thy son” and to John, “Behold thy mother,” and, then, secondly, the word that captures the agony of the crucifixion, “I thirst”. His third and last word signals the divine compassion that underlies and overrules all of the confusions and contradictions of sin and evil. Consummatum est. “It is finished,” complete.
What is complete? All that belongs to human salvation. Such is the radical meaning of the going forth and return of the Word and Son of God to the Father having accomplished all that belongs to redemption. His consummatum est marks that sense of the exitus and the reditus of God to God in God. We find the truth of our humanity in those circling motions. How? By our turning and looking upon the crucified.
Traditionally, The Passion According to St. John is read on Good Friday. His account of the Passion ends with the words of Zechariah. “They shall look on him whom they pierced.” We turn to look on him whom we have pierced and are pierced in turn, meaning that our hearts are convicted of sin and convinced of love. This is the good of Good Friday.
What this means is seen by way of one of the Old Testament lessons read in Holy Week which contributes to the mystery of Christ’s Passion. In The Book of Numbers, the people of Israel turn against Moses and God, murmuring about the journey in the wilderness and complaining about the provisions which God provides. They are afflicted by deadly serpents and this turns them to ask Moses to intercede. God instructs Moses to make a bronze serpent and to raise it up before the people. It is the image of what has afflicted them thus calling to mind their sins. In turning and looking, they are healed.
John in his Gospel draws upon this image. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3.14,15). Christ is lifted up before us on the Cross of Good Friday so that we may turn and be saved. For “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (John 12. 32). Even our sins become the occasion of salvation. We can only be healed and be made whole in turning and looking upon him. This is our good on this day. It is all in the turning.
“Turn unto the Lord your God”
Fr. David Curry
Solemn Liturgy of Good Friday, 2017