Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Good Friday Sermon 2020

Good Friday (Viral) – April 10th, 2020 – John's Passion

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
The death of Christ Jesus our Lord was not a tragedy. Let me say that again – the death of Christ Jesus our Lord, the Passion which we just heard, it is not a tragedy. To be sure, it has tragic elements. To be sure, it can be quite sad, it can be quite moving – but it is not a tragedy. Ours is an overly dramatic, pessimistic day and age. Think on conversations from this past winter – everything was a tragedy, a terrible to-do. This didn't turn out right, that desert wasn't good, I cut my finger, everything is a tragedy. Let's watch made up drama on 'Reality TV.' Someone said something I didn't like, let's go complain about it on social media because I want some drama. We love the idea of tragedy – we try to turn everything into tragedy today. It's partially why we are so overwhelmed with this virus – we've been so used to blowing everything out of proportion that when we come across a legitimate mild catastrophe, because historically speaking this is serious but no where near the Spanish Flu or the Black Plague – we can't handle it.

I say we, because I'm no exception. As much as I disdain all the drama, I fall into it too. We are creatures and products of the times in which we live, and a church and a small town are not immune to the lure of turning everything into drama and tragedy. It's how we see see the world, quick to lament, quick to wring our hands and say, “oh how terrible.” So I say unto you, the Passion of our Lord is no tragedy. Even though it is sad and even horrific at points, quite the opposite is true. As the name of the day says, this Friday is Good.

I want you to think on some of the great tragedies, of history, or story, things like that. They all have some things in common. One of the basic elements of a good tragedy is that the main character doesn't know. Juliet doesn't know that Romeo is only asleep. Oedipus doesn't know who his wife Jocasta really is – and if you don't get the reference, your Pastor with a Classics degree says to go reread Oedipus Rex, because you've got plenty of time in this pandemic. In a tragic story there is something that the main character doesn't know, some crucial bit of information that could have solved all their problems. But they don't know, and it leads to their downfall. Now hear again our Lord's Passion – Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to Him, came forward to them and said, “Whom do you seek?” John is adamant throughout the Passion, throughout his Gospel, that Jesus knew precisely what was going on. Jesus knew precisely what would happen. Jesus knew precisely what He was doing.

It was not ignorance that brought down Jesus. Well, not His. We in our ignorance and folly sin, we sought to know good and evil, we stick our hand in the cookie jar, or play around with the bear trap – and we fall into utter tragedy because of our ignorance. But not Jesus. Nope. He walks into the Passion with His eyes wide open, knowing exactly how bad, how lousy it's going to be. And He goes, because it's what needs to be done in order to rescue you. Jesus isn't ignorant – no, By His knowledge shall the Righteous One, My servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and He shall bear their iniquities. Jesus knows what this Friday would be.

Another classic element of tragedy is the idea of someone fighting fate – that things are destined to go against the hero but they vainly struggle against their destiny. Cassandra knows what will happen, but she is cursed and King Agamemnon cannot believe her. MacBeth knows what is coming, but he still fights against it. And we think this idea, the fight against what must be is heroic, or laudable. Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, Rage against the dying of the light. And even Peter decides they wouldn't go quietly, that they wouldn't get Jesus without a fight. But listen again to our Lord – So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” Jesus isn't fighting anything. In fact, the surprising part of the Passion, the thing that really frightens people in how little He fights. The soldiers shrink back in terror when Jesus declares “I am.” Pilate is astonished at how Jesus doesn't try to fight His way out of what it clearly a sham trial and a set up. But no, Jesus is not going to fight against what the Father gives Him.

Of course, this is another classic way of describing sin. When we sin, we are fighting against what the Father gives us. I don't want the things God gives me, I'll steal, I'll scheme to get yours. I don't want this spouse, I'll lust after that one. I don't want this family, I'll get out if it's the last thing I ever do. I don't want that fruit that God has given me, I want this other fruit. Sin isn't so much fighting destiny – it's fighting God and refusing the gifts, the blessings, and even when called for the punishments He sends. And Jesus doesn't play that game. In fact, He goes and He takes up your punishment. The burden that should be yours He willingly receives from the Father in your place. No, Jesus doesn't fight – He is obedient.

Another element of a tragedy is that the struggle, the fight is pointless. Needless. In vain. In Les Mis, all of Javert's struggles to bring Valjean to “justice” are needless. And if you want the tragic figure from the Passion, it's Pilate. Pilate jumps through hoop after hoop all in this vain effort to keep Jesus from being killed. Three times Pilate appeals to pity and sorrow, to get the crowd to give him any reason to release Jesus. So much struggle, and for nothing.

We should know this feeling, this reality, all too well. Think of how many things we fight and struggle for that are vain and pointless. Some of those are gone at the moment, put on pause. How many stupid things did we strive after, now much did we sacrifice to vain and stupid pursuits... and how quickly will we return to them when they start back up again? We do not know what is really important, we do not know what is really needed, and we wear ourselves out futility chasing the foolish. That is tragedy.

Jesus upon the Cross is not futile. No, when He cries “It is finished” it's not merely some tragic lament, but rather Jesus proclaims a truth utterly profound. For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled. Jesus fulfills the Scripture – the promises of God, the promise of your salvation. It was not useless and in vain that He goes to the Cross – for there, upon the Cross, Jesus Christ your Lord gets to the point – the point, the reason why He was born at Christmas, why He did signs and wonders, why He lived in perfect obedience to the Father. To see that your sin is destroyed upon the Cross. To see that the power of death that threatens you is undone. To see that your life would not simply end as a tragedy – a tale of mistakes and regrets that would end, “and they died.” Nope – not anymore. Because Jesus died, because Jesus rises, your story is no longer a tragedy, it shall be a happy ending. It shall be joyous, the most wondrous comedy ever. Because of Jesus, even though you die, yet you shall live.

J.R.R. Tolkien coined a term that I love – and that is “Eucatastrophe” - the Good Catastrophe – something that looks to be utterly horrific and terrible, but in actuality it is the turning point and from there the victory is assured. He puts some great examples in his stories, and I can talk about them at length, but in reality, he spun them off of the Passion. This horrid, terrible event is actually in truth the greatest, most wondrous moment in History, where God Himself puts an end to all tragedy in Himself. It all wraps up in Christ Jesus. It is Good Friday. A Good that stands out over and towers above any and all wickedness and sorrow or suffering that we see in the world. And it is good for you in Christ Jesus. And nothing can change that.
And as for the comedy – as for the villains getting their comeuppance and the tables being turned and the wild joy – well, the Third Day shall come quickly with all of it's splendor. And remember, Christ Jesus ensured your own Easter would come by going to the Cross for you. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

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