Sermon for Good Friday, Friday, April 10 2020, 10:00 am
Mtr. Maggie Helwig, Church of Saint Stephen-in-the-Fields, Toronto
Isaiah 52:13–53:12; Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9; John 18:1–19:42
This most grim and fearful day of the Christian calendar is hard to encompass this year, this time of plague. We have enough news of death, enough news of political incompetence and malice, enough news of people choosing to act out of selfishness or fear or expedience, and the terrible consequences. Why do we need more? Why one more image of an innocent body, taken away by night, friends and family deprived even of a chance to carry out the proper rituals of farewell, at a time when so many are lying awake at night fearing just that, imagining it for ourselves or those we love most?
And yet we call this Friday good. And it is good, after all. For this day tells us one thing—that there is nowhere God will not go to find us, that there is nothing God will not suffer to be with us. This is a story of love, love so great that, if all we have left in us is the power of death, God will go into the place of death for us, and come to us there.
It is the love which steps out, towards the soldiers, and tells them to let the others go safely. It is the love which demands the sheathing of the sword, even the sword meant to defend. It is the love which, in the last extremity, takes note of the last loyal ones remaining, and appoints them to care for each other. It is the love which makes a new family, even at the point of loss, a family founded not on biological inheritance, but on commitment, the love which makes us into this family. We are, we must be, this family now, the family of necessary and immediate care. We must imagine each endangered person a precious parent, sibling, child, and do whatever it takes to care for them and keep them safe—even if what that means, in this paradoxical time, is a stringent physical separation, the avoidance of parks, the limiting of shopping trips. Jesus moves through this story carefully, most often the one who does not move, does not act, in the midst of the frenetic events. Let each act of our restraint, each temporary renunciation, be an offering of love, be our means of being family for the world.
But it is also the love which suffers. It is the love which dies, for us and with us, and in order to share with us our greatest fear, our final extremity. We are sharply aware, right now, of this pandemic. But soon or late, through illness or chance or simply time, we all walk over the border into that mystery, that last unknown. We call this Friday good because the story, for all its terror, tells us that when we enter that final land, we will not be alone. We each live a life uniquely our own, and die our own singular death, but we hold the faith that we die, not into a void, but into the Word who died among us, the life who was lifted up to draw all of humanity into love. Because we believe that when we fall, we fall into the hands of love, because of this, we call this Friday good.
Because Christ was crucified among the thieves, among the outcasts and the failures, because God is a God of absolute solidarity, one with all those terrified now in the overcrowded prisons and shelters, all those people packing onto buses in the early morning because they must work, and do not have the privilege of working from home, all of us failing to be or do what we wish we could, because God is on the side of all the losers—because of this, we call this Friday good.
And as we move into the silence of Holy Saturday, the God who will not abandon us goes freely into hell—into chaos, desolation, the place of unbeing. And in that dead land, in that final deprivation, reaches out to take the hands of the lost.When there is nothing left that we can do for ourselves, God will go down. We call this Friday good.
So here, on this day of terrible goodness, in our strange time, let our hearts be broken. And let those broken hearts receive the mercy which sustains us.