Sermon for Good Friday | 2018
By Fr. Hayden A. Butler
Almighty God, we beseech thee graciously to behold this thy family, for which our Lord Jesus Christ was contented to be betrayed, and given up into the hands of wicked men, and to suffer death upon the cross…
Good Friday reveals there is no life outside of family. Humanity was created to be a family–the Man and the Woman who would bring forth new life to fill the earth. Humanity fell as a family–the Man and the Woman together ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and brought forth death to fill the earth. Beneath all the many identities we use to divide ourselves from one another, all human beings share in the common family identity as those death-born children of the Man and the Woman. In their exile from the Garden, our first parents left behind the life that was to be our birthright, leaving us with an inheritance of death.
On Ash Wednesday we learned the truth of our condition: Remember, O Man, that dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. It is the only possible verdict for our family. We were formed of the dust of the earth and then God breathed into us the breath of life and made us living souls. But we betrayed Him and renounced that life, making for ourselves a world filled with death. The dust is our legacy, our destiny. Yet we became dust that tried in increasingly desperate ways to breathe the breath of life back into ourselves and into one another. But our whole history of trying to evade the verdict of the Garden is the story of dust blowing around dust. Where God made us living things we chose instead to become what we are: we are the family of the dying.
Deep down, we all know that we must face this truth. And yet there are so many ways that we go about trying to deny it or distract ourselves from it or control it. The figures we meet in the Gospel lesson reveal to us some of our most iconic methods to alter the destiny of our dust. Judas is betrayed by his pragmatism and obsession with money, cutting a deal with the higher powers and betraying the life of his friend for a shortsighted return on investment. The chief priests, consumed by monomaniacal religious zeal, cut a deal with their mortal enemies the Romans in order to preserve their costly niche of cultural influence against this itinerant Rabbi who has defeated their every challenge. Pilate, consumed by a gnawing need to assert his authority, preens himself through dramatic and violent symbolic gestures while crippling doubt eats at him in the presence of this prisoner who speaks like a King. But then, if we haven’t found ourselves yet, there is the crowd who in the seeming anonymity of a mob wield shame and rejection as the piety of the high feast melts away to reveal the desperate, frail, and vengeful spirit at the heart of humanity.
We belong to this crowd–this crowd is Adam’s family. This is our part in the story. And suddenly, it comes time to choose whom to condemn. On the one hand we have Jesus, the only begotten Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. On the other hand we have the man of violent ambition, a failed revolutionary at the head of yet one more short-lived grasp at freedom– Barabbas, Bar-Abbas, meaning son of the father. As we join the crowd in the exultation of mob bloodlust, we are called upon to choose. “Behold the Man!” cries Pilate. Behold Adam, beaten and fragile. Behold Barabbas, cunning and violent. Choose now! The man of sorrows unwilling to save Himself or the man of power? Which son of the father do we want!? Give us power! Don’t make us look at the truth of ourselves! Give us one more chance to establish ourselves on our own terms!
But what about the man who bears our image, brutalized by the power we seek to wield? Crucify him! Crucify Him! And thus the whole world and its grandeur commits collective suicide. At that moment, everyone conspired to kill the life of the world. There is no breath of life but through the true Son of God our Father, and in consigning Him to death, the world killed itself, killed it’s very source of life. For the rest of the Gospel lesson, and for the rest of time, the crowd will forever yell crucify to its own destruction. Behold the family of the dying.
And yet, as all things near their end, if you found your way right to the middle of the crowd, right at the foot of the cross, a small group has formed. Three women and the beloved disciple. As the body weight of the crucified Christ pressed down on His lungs, making it difficult to breathe, you’d have to be close to hear what He said to them. Behold thy Mother. Behold thy Son. And so as the breath of life forever departs from the children of Adam, a new thing comes forth from the new Adam. Behold the Man, behold the Woman, Behold the Son. It is a new family in the midst of the old family. In His final moments, the One through whom all things are made makes for us a new humanity.
This world is dying. All that we share of the family of Adam must die. Only what we have received at the word and breath of the new Adam will live. The way to life begins at the foot of the cross, where all that must die must come to die, and where all that will live will begin to live. For we were created as a family. We fell as a family. The old family is finished. All things have reached their end. We are the family at the foot of the Cross. Today we come back here to die. Today we come back here to live.
Behold, O Lord, your family.
Behold, my sister, my brother, your family.