(this is the text of a sermon preached at St Michael’s and All Angels Macclesfield)
The only instructions preachers get for this morning is to speak about what Good Friday means to me.
Good Friday has meant different things to me over the years. As a child, Good Friday was a day of pain and guilt as I was encouraged to see Jesus hanging on that cross because of what a bad person I was. I felt hurt and guilty that he had to hang there for me and my messed up life. And that is kind of tough on a 10 year old because he keeps that up all his life if he isn’t careful.
Alongside that message was one which seemed to say that the more Jesus suffered on that cross, the more grateful I should be to him for paying the price of my sins. It was as if Jesus was going through a process and that his death was just one stage of that process. There seemed to be no consideration that the cross and Jesus’ death was a complicated mix of “events” and causes.
It seems to me now that the cross can’t be distilled down to just one simple slogan or motto or theology. God is more complicated than that; God’s relationship with his creation is more complex than that; God’s love for me and his creation is more complicated than that.
Can I also add the caveat here as a preacher that I am not asking you to feel less pain today. I am not asking you to downgrade the cosmic significance of today. I am asking you to open up a bit of room to see the bigger picture of what God is doing today
First, I want to say that today is about mystery. On the cross God deals with sin and death. He strips them of their power so that I can be free now. I am free to refuse to obey sin. Participating in sin always leads to death at some level: my own or that of my neighbour. I can walk away from it and participate in his way, truth and life which, leads us away from the need to sin.
On the cross, he does not deal with my sin: he deals with the sin of the whole world and sin itself. Jesus calls us to be born again, to die to our old sin loving selves and to live his risky, inclusive and world changing life as our own. I don’t know how he does it but he nails sin and death to that cross and does not allow them to leave.
Second, when we focus on the gore and the violence of today and the “my death” aspect of today we ignore the fact that the powers and principalities of this world are in rebellion against God too. He got in the way of the System’s interests and agendas; he revealed them for what they really were and how they really worked. He called them “demonic”, “ungodly” and obstructive of God’s purposes and will.
They put him to death because he shined the bright light of God on them. In offering his way and truth and life as the antidote to the systems of greed, abuse and oppression they were threatened. He wasn’t crucified for standing up for a personal morality and being nice. He was crucified by a system stung by his prophetic unmasking of it.
This should be the point that really rattles us because it implies that those who take up his cross will come into the same conflict with the same powers…
Third, I am reminded that God loves us so much that he will go to the greatest and longest lengths to free us to love him, my neighbour and to live the life I was created to live. The sadness of Good Friday is rooted in the truth is reveals: corruption is rife, life is cheap, and love is treated as an ideal rather than the foundation of all society and relationships and power.
Yet in the midst of that sadness, there is hope. Jesus is not an innocent, nice man caught up in events bigger than himself. Instead, he is big event that the powers and principalities, and ourselves, get caught up in. Those powers think they are so strong and yet the gospel truth is that death only has the power to hold Jesus for three days.
The message of this weekend is that when we join our lives to his death, death can’t hold us either. His death reveals the powers and principalities to us and now we know we can’t trust them and should not trust them when they tell us to go to war, how to shape our financial system or tell us how to treat the poor.
We are now dead to them and that is what frightens them the most. Dead people have nothing to lose. When the system offers us a way, truth and life, Jesus frees us to ask: how do God and neighbour benefit? Today we are encouraged to ask why they killed him: too many healings on the Sabbath? Too many women forgiven for adultery? Too many door openings to the kingdom of God? Too many lepers healed and spirits cast out? Too many keen observations that what passed for religion seemed to be slavery rather than freedom? Too much hope?
We remember Jesus’ death today because it reminds us of the new life God calls us to and it spells out the cost of that new life. Today is not simply about what Jesus has done for us; it is about the old life he calls us to die to and the new life he calls us to embrace in him.