A Sermon for Good Friday

Good Friday 2023 – John 19: 14 ff

I don’t like boxes much. Especially when they contain theology.

As a child, the Good Friday box contained an angry God who needed to be placated, and that could only ever be done through the death of his Son. The box contained adult words like sacrifice and blood and atonement and substitute. And I knew I was bad and could only be good because of whatever it was that was in that box.

As a young adult, the box held a vengeful wrathful God that I was uncomfortable with. I found him a bit embarrassing – all this talk about there needing to be a death so the debts could be paid – it got in the way of Good News, and wasn’t appealing, so I sealed the box more tightly and tried to ignore it; instead looked ahead to Easter Sunday, not wanting to spend any time looking at the contents of this day, at all.

As an older adult, who left the church in shame and confusion, I tentatively lifted the lid on those boxes, and many others that I had gathered along the way. All kinds of things tumbled out of them – words and phrases and feelings and pain. And I realised I understood way less than I ever thought I had. My lack of understanding became my guilty secret. It was authentic, at least, but it couldn’t be enough. Could it?

As a student of theology and then an ordained person, I began meeting others; those who wrote about what they believed and preached it and those who were daring to lift lids on boxes and didn’t seem ashamed of what had been buried there.

And then I met disciples and other Jesus followers; those who had shouted crucify, to avoid answers to questions like ‘weren’t you with this man?’. I saw those who had given kisses of betrayal and said, ‘this is the one’.

And those disciples are great company on this day, as we hear again those taunts – crucify him – and as we hear the mockery of ‘the king of the Jews’. As we hear the soldiers casting lots for the blood-soaked tunic, and the sobs of the weeping of the women. We can sit with those confused, distraught would-be followers as they see Jesus thirst, and know somehow that it is a thirst for righteousness and a new kingdom, not for sour wine on some pock-marked sponge on a filthy stick.

And as we hear our saviour say ‘it is finished’, as we watch God die, we don’t know much, if anything, but may we know beyond all knowing that whatever is in those bloody boxes is not even a fraction of what happened there that day. May we know that whatever it is we have been told and constructed is nothing compared to what actually went on in flesh and blood, and in the heavens above and the earth below; that as those words ‘it is finished’ came out in spit that mixed with air, and in blood that seeped into soil, so something significant happened.

Something significant happened. And we can never grasp it and never understand it. But for the love of God we will keep on trying.

Because that cross, in its bloodied, brutal, glory, is surrounded by boxes.

Open Boxes, without any lids, with questions and uncertainty tumbling out.

Boxes with lids nailed down, with theology and surety firmly held inside.

And the base of that cross goes down into the ground, way further than we know

And the top of the cross reaches taller and higher

And the cross beam stretches wider and broader than we can ever imagine

And as that cross goes deeper and wider and taller and broader, so must we keep digging deeper and reaching higher and stretching wider in our encounter with the crucified lord. Not rushing ahead to Sunday, but spending time here – as uncomfortable as it is, as painful as it might feel, as uncertain and tentative as it feels – we need to wait here, surrounded by these boxes of questions and theories.

And as we wait, something is already beginning to happen. Something is already changing in the highest heavens and the deepest depths.

May we wait. May we never stop waiting.

In our waiting may we wonder. May we dig deeper and reach higher and stretch wider. May we burn the boxes of our theories and understanding and may we simply wait here, at the foot of the cross, in the presence of our crucified Lord, not knowing what is happening, but trusting that even Friday can be Good. Amen.

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