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.
When I was a child in growing up in a Jewish home, Passover was my favorite holiday. Most religious holy days were celebrated corporately by our community at the local synagogue. But, Passover was different. In those days, Passover was celebrated at home with all of one’s extended family. Often, it was the only time you might see a distant relative for years at a time. It was a multi-generational gathering of family with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, and the like all gathered together around one table.
Much of the world envisions Passover as looking somewhat like Leonardo Da Vinci’s mural of the Last Supper. While this is certainly great art, it is a poor exegetical representation of the Passover feast celebrated by Jesus that we are recalling this evening. Unlike the artistic masterpiece, the traditional and Gospel setting for Passover was evening rather than daytime. The table would have featured roasted paschal lamb and flat unleavened bread rather than fish and risen loaves. All in attendance were required to be reclining rather than sitting upright on benches. Missing also are the extended families of Jesus and his disciples, including women and children, whose attendance was mandatory for the feast.
Passover is one of the most continuously celebrated feasts in history. Its celebration was described in detail to Moses and Aaron in the 12th chapter of Exodus. By the time of Jesus, the Children of Israel had celebrated the feast for over 1,200 years with little change. St. John tells us in his Gospel narrative that in the course of his ministry, Jesus had gone to Jerusalem three times to celebrate the Passover. But this last time was to be different – very different.
In St. Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says (Lk 22:15-16) “With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer…until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” This is considered a very unusual sentence structure in the Greek language and indicates that “the knowledge of the intensity of the suffering does not cancel the intensity of the desire” and that the desire itself will be ultimately fulfilled in the kingdom of God.
In the Gospels, we are accustomed to the numerous instances of people desiring Jesus. The blind, the deaf, and the lepers came desiring healing. Friends and family would bring those who were crippled or demon possessed, desiring healing for their loved ones. The centurion desired Jesus to heal his servant from afar. Mourners desired Jesus to resuscitate their dead. There are many instances of desire in the Gospels, but nowhere else in the Scriptures does Jesus express such an intense personal desire – and it is to be at Passover with his disciples.
The Passover is comprised of a special meal called the Seder, or Order. It also follows a liturgical guide for the evening, called the Hagaddah, or the telling, which is an extended teaching by the leader, interwoven with partaking of ceremonial foods throughout the evening meal.
The youngest child in attendance was required to ask four questions that would provide the context for explaining the Passover feast so that all in attendance would be able to understand. Both the questions and responses were well rehearsed. The first and best known question of the evening is “Why is this night different from all other nights?”
Central to the familiar responses of Passover was the Hebrew concept of “Zikkaron” which is a reactualization of the event – not just a remembrance. It is to be “made present” at the event, a sacred “you are there” moment in time. Those who attend a Passover thus become actual participants in the events commemorated in the Book of Exodus. In celebrating Passover, Scripture instructs (Ex 13:8) the father’s to teach their children, “This is done because of that which the Lord did unto me when I came forth out of Egypt.” It was I who was a slave under Pharaohs’ cruel taskmasters in Egypt. It was I who witnessed the plagues God visited upon Egypt. It was the blood of the Passover lamb applied to the doorposts and lintels of my home that kept me alive when the angel of death passed through Egypt killing all their firstborn. It was my feet that walked on dry ground through the parted waters of the Red Sea. I witnessed the destruction of Pharaoh’s chariots and horsemen as the waters returned to their normal flow. Those who failed to observe the feast were to be excommunicated from the nation (Nu 9:13).
It is with this same understanding of becoming actual participants in the Passover, that St. Paul writes in this evening’s Epistle (1 Co 11:23-26), “That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: 24 And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do ing remembrance of me. 25 After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.”
Why is this Maundy Thursday night different from all other nights?
Because it is the night we remember that it is we who are in attendance and present with the disciples at the Last Supper we remember tonight. Each time we receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Sacrament, we are grateful recipients of the intense desire and promise of Jesus to those whom he will lovingly redeem through his Passion at the conclusion of this long day – For (Jn 6:54) “Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
Plummer, A. (1896). A critical and exegetical commentary on the Gospel According to S. Luke (494). London: T&T; Clark International.
g in…: or, for a remembrance
The Holy Bible : King James Version. 1995 (electronic ed. of the 1769 edition of the 1611 Authorized Version.) (1 Co 11:23-26). Bellingham WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
The Holy Bible : King James Version. 1995 (electronic ed. of the 1769 edition of the 1611 Authorized Version.) (Jn 6:54). Bellingham WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.