So, first the context: our service tonight continues what began last night and doesn’t end until Sunday morning.
Technically our service last night did not end. We stripped the altar, and we left in silence. Tonight we picked up where we left off—in silence. And this service, too, doesn’t have a proper ending. We will leave tonight without a dismissal or a blessing.
That is because what began last night continues straight through our service tonight, on into the day of waiting tomorrow, and only comes to an end on Easter morning, when we can at last celebrate with great joy the good news of Christ’s resurrection.
Resurrection is where we are headed, and we should all be looking forward to celebrating it. But the events we remember tonight stand at the center of the three-part service of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. It all revolves around what happens tonight.
And tonight is pretty rough. The story of tonight begins with betrayal, and it ends with death.
Our task tonight is to look at the horror of the cross without flinching, without turning away. When we look at the cross, we see two lessons.
First, the story of Christ on the cross forces us to face the terrible, destructive power of sin and the awful fact of brokenness. Sin and brokenness are what put Christ on the cross. Sin and brokenness are the reason Christ suffered. The horror of the cross is the horror of sin and brokenness.
But it is too abstract to say that Jesus died because of sin and brokenness in the world, and leave it at that. We need to apply the grim lesson of the cross directly to ourselves. We need to listen to Isaiah, who says, “he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities.” We need to remember that Jesus was nailed to the cross because of us, because of me.
Whatever else it is, the cross is first a call to repentance, a call to acknowledge that Jesus’ death is, at least in part, a consequence of our sins. Hearing the story of what Jesus suffered for us and for our sins reminds us, in case we need it, that our sin violates the will of God, that our sin throws creation itself out of balance, that our sin is like a cancer eating away at our relationships, at the people in our lives, at our own well-being. On this evening, we acknowledge each sin that we commit as another nail in the cross of Christ.
The horror of sin, the horror of our sin, is the first lesson of Good Friday.
But the second lesson is even more important. The cross teaches us just how much God loves us, just how far God is willing to go to forgive and redeem us. In a moment, we will pray the Solemn Collects. They begin with the reminder that “our heavenly Father sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that through him the world might be saved” (BCP, 277).
Our service tonight is not finally about condemnation. The great lesson of our service tonight is salvation.
The cross points to our sin. And then the cross teaches us that, powerful as sin is, the love of God is more powerful. That is the good news of Good Friday.
Our sins are like nails in the cross, but then, in some mysterious way, thanks to the grace and love and forgiveness of God, thanks to the reconciling work of Jesus Christ, it is as if the nails evaporate away. As we look on the cross, we see the consequence of our sin, but also, and more importantly, we see the remedy for our sin.
And, this is good news, the remedy works.
John tells us that just before Jesus died, he said, “It is finished.”
Jesus is not just saying that his life is over. The Greek word translated as “finished” is “teleo,” which means more than we normally associate with “finished.” “Teleo” means something closer to “mission accomplished.” When Jesus says, “it is finished,” Jesus is saying that he has accomplished the purpose for which he came. On the cross, he has accomplished our salvation.
I have come to see sin as more like sickness than anything else, and to see Christ’s cross as the incredibly effective medicine for what ails us. The good news is that we have been cured. The good news is that “By his bruises, we are healed.”
Good Friday is all about sin being cured. Because of the cross, we are set free from sin’s destructive power. Because of the cross, our sin is healed. Because of the cross, God forgives us. Because of the cross, we can forgive ourselves.
The proper response to the Good Friday story, the proper response to the horror of the cross, is not guilt or shame.
The proper response to the very real horror of the cross, the true lesson of Good Friday, is gratitude. Anything else would be to act as if Christ’s sacrifice had failed in its purpose, as if Christ’s work were not finished. Anything else would be to ignore and refuse God’s incredible grace, and forgiveness, and love.
Of course, we continue to sin. But the cross remains. And that means our sin is forgiven in advance.
The only question for us is, how can we experience the healing power of the cross? How can we nail our sins to the cross and then leave them there and let them go?
It begins with baptism. Hebrews describes our hearts as “sprinkled clean from an evil conscience” and our bodies as “washed with pure water.” That is baptismal language. In baptism, we share in Christ’s death and resurrection. In baptism, our sins are nailed to the cross.
It continues with the Eucharist, the sacrament of Christ’s body broken for us, Christ’s blood poured out for us. As we are nourished on Christ’s body and blood, our sins are nailed to the cross.
We make it personal every time we repent and confess. Repentance nails our sins to the cross.
The point is simple. At least, it is simple to say, even if it is not always simple to live. When we are baptized, when we share in the Eucharist, when we repent and confess our sins, we do it with joy and gratitude for what Christ finished on the cross and for what Christ is doing in our lives.
That is why we call this day “Good Friday.” We listen to the horror of everything that Jesus went through. And we see in Christ’s suffering for us the strongest conceivable statement of God’s love for us. We see the possibility of a life free from the bondage to sin. We see the possibility of true intimacy with God.
And so, we approach God with a true heart in full assurance of faith, faith that Christ truly did finish his work on the cross.
I look forward to Easter morning. But on this Good Friday, I give thanks to Jesus Christ, who came that we might have life, who loved us to the end, and who finished his work of reconciliation on the cross. In the name of our crucified Lord. Amen.