The Good Friday service has come and gone, and I’ll post the sermon — as usual — in the extended section below. It was a privilege to serve at this occasion with Carolyn Keck and especially with Tony Lewis, with whom I share a certain vocational ancestry as we both studied at Yale (he in the doctoral program, I in the Masters), and served on the staff of Christ Church. It would have been a great treat to have overlapped with him in those days, but I came along after he had moved on.
Wisdom 2:1, 12-24/ Ps 40 / Heb 10:1-25/Jn 18:1-19:37
March 25, 2005
Jesus said, “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world: to testify to the truth.”
In the Name of God Almighty, the Blessed Trinity on high – Amen.
Good Friday doesn’t want a proper liturgy; Good Friday needs nothing more than plain truth.
Which is one way of saying, Good Friday wants more of us than we can stand. Year by year, we show an enduring proclivity to devise distractions from the truth. The classic diversion, of course, involves blaming the Jews, but ingenious, pious disciples have wrought more subtle diversions than crude theological bigotry to evade the harsh gospel of Good Friday. We blame our political or theological adversaries for their ignorance, their hard-heartedness, their folly and depravity. We can magnify our own sin beyond what anyone could plausibly take seriously. We can craft painstakingly-detailed worship designed to evoke just the right degree of penitence and solemnity, or adhere precisely to the divinely-ordained formula for the correct Good Friday service. Whatever we do, however we observe the agonizing grace of the cross, we hold onto the capacity to turn the occasion away from the cross, and toward our piety, creativity, profundity, toward our humility. We can make Good Friday over, to be about us, instead of the truth.
Good Friday doesn’t want for a liturgy; we supply an ample Good Friday liturgy with disingenuous litanies of self-justification, with partisan anathemas and behind-the-hand ridicule, building community on the brittle foundation of spite directed at those others. Good Friday doesn’t need a special liturgy, because Christians enact Good Friday every day. Then, once a year, we make a show of humility and dare to venerate the cross, which is so very much more tolerable than facing the plain truth that the church’s daily life consistently belies our confessions, belies our promises, belies our good intentions.
Good Friday reminds us – if we will permit it – that our creativity, our piety, profundity, our very best intentions and most generous gifts often become the most intractable obstacles to our conversion. Our sense that we can do better, we can get it right, we can do it, fix it, offers the distracting possibility that Good Friday is about us, and even our own sins offer a more comforting topic than – the plain truth.
Awkwardly, frustratingly, we can’t do anything about the truth, can’t control the truth, can’t make the truth turn out the way we really know is best for all concerned. The truth, like God’s love, doesn’t consult us first, doesn’t heed us when we offer our sincere wisdom. The truth and the love and the way and the life and the Spirit aren’t all about us; they blow where they will, and we don’t know where they come from or where they’re going. And based on what we learn from past experience, if we were allowed a measure of control over the truth. . . we would control it to death on the cross. Behold your Truth!
Good Friday doesn’t want a proper liturgy; whatever we do this afternoon will not be enough, will not make anything right. Maybe all we can do is come to the truth and here let go of any close-clinging need to justify our worship, our lives, ourselves. We can draw near with confidence to the truth we crucify, and let the uncrucifiable truth set us free.