Archbishop Philip Freier's Good Friday sermon at the 9am service, St Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne.
 

Into our broken world Christ comes,
I
n his brokenness on the cross Christ is exalted as Lord of all,
In our brokenness Christ meets us and gives us his Spirit.
Where all seemed lost new hope is restored. Amen

Even in its narrative structure John’s gospel builds to a climax where death, framed in all of its different dimensions, is a running focus before the great passion narrative of John 18 and 19 is reached. The miraculous healing power of Jesus is declared in Chapter 4 when Jesus declares healing on the royal official’s son who lay dying in Capernaum. His power of life averts death. In Chapter 6 Jesus declares that he is the living bread and those who eat his flesh and drink his blood will not die but instead be raised up to life on the last day. In Chapter 8 he says additionally that the keepers of his word will not face death. All who believe are added to his victory over death.

By the time we reach Chapter 11 we learn that Thomas the Twin has twigged to where Jesus’ vocation is leading when he tells his fellow-disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’ Later on in that chapter we have the resurrection of Lazarus and the declaration by Jesus that ‘Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live’. Again, death and the vindication of life hold together in dynamic tension.  And it does not stop there - by the end of Chapter 11 Caiaphas the high priest prophesies that Jesus is to die and that his death will be of significance to the destiny of the nation. Jesus’ death is not just an event that concerns him but is central to the world and its history.

The power of the Word of God, the power of Jesus over death and the ultimate death of Jesus himself all intertwine to show that what we read in the Passion Narrative is no haphazard event but part of the great cosmic narrative of the incarnation of the Logos, the word of God and that it has immediate and personal significance for all people. More, we learn that eternal life is appropriated through faith in Jesus, and that this faith is possible for people like you and me.

Chapter 12 of John’s gospel is a kind of hinge point as Jesus, looking towards his forthcoming death, announces that it will not be how it seems. What looks like defeat will in fact be victory, what appears to be the final scattering of his disciples will in fact be the inauguration of his universal vocation to all people.  ‘Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.  And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people  to myself.’ He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.’ (Jn 12.31-33)

Jesus last words before he sets out to the Garden of Gethsemane are instructive and are written immediately before the passion narrative that we have heard again this morning. These words comprise the concluding verses of John Chapter 17 (25,26) ‘Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.’ This is to say that the Passion is a continuation of Jesus’ vocation to make the mutual love between him and the Father known to all and available for all.

However we may convince ourselves to the contrary we cannot force the text of John’s Gospel to reduce the death of Jesus to the category of a merely unfortunate occurrence or its effect on us as merely subjective or sentimental. Both the plain text of the Gospel and even its narrative structure prevent us from such minimalist readings. It is undoubtedly all of this and much more besides.  No, to follow the fourth evangelist as he follows Jesus to the cross and the tomb and then the garden of resurrection is to journey deeply in the wonder of a world made by God and redeemed by God.

This is the journey that we are invited to make today as we engage with the events of this most solemn day when our Lord was crucified and died. Despite that many layers of significance through which we see his death and passion we are called most of all to apprehend his love for us intersecting with our need on the cross.

Jesus proclaims a world in which God holds nothing back so that he might be known by us in all of the glory of his creative power and personally in his beloved Son, Jesus Christ. John’s Gospel tells us that the world is made new and the new world starts now. To follow John the Evangelist and his words is also to experience the freedom of a world released for ever from the tyrant’s grasp and know that freedom from sin and death is possible for all who believe.

Good Friday is about the Word of God who became flesh and the divine vocation of Jesus to make possible for us the knowledge of the Father’s love. This is no intellectual proposition of being convinced by one opinion over another but a participation in the same love with which Jesus loves the Father is loved by the Father. The divine vocation of the incarnate Word reaches to us in all of our apparent puny insignificance so that we can be participants in the divine love now and for ever.

In as much as John’s Gospel is a systematic development of the theology of the incarnation of the Word of God it leads us to treat the incarnation with great seriousness. Knowing Jesus in the completeness of his humanity leaves no room for the heresy that was popular in the ancient world as well as the modern – that Jesus’ death was anything less than the horrible torture described to us. He experienced the humiliation, the flogging, the bite of the nails and the degradation of the cross in the same way that any person here would experience them. As much as his divinity expressed itself for the good of others and the early anticipation of his victory it never applied itself to release him from the pain or torment of his passion.

As far as he was concerned as far as his love would take him – his incarnation was a true and complete entering of our humanity in everything except sin. Our weakness, our contradictions were all known by Jesus in his lived experience.  As St Gregory of Nazianzus argued, ‘That which was not assumed is not healed; but that which is united to God is saved.’ The truth and fullness of the incarnation was at much at stake on the cross as it was in the Garden of Gethsemane or in the wilderness of Temptation. At each test, more severe than the last, its truth was conclusively proven.

Hebrews 9.14 summarises how Jesus death must be located in the loving purposes of God, ‘…Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, [will] purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God.’ 

We need to understand the effect of Christ’s death referred to here as a purification of conscience as not just an improvement to our state of mind but a remedy to both the action which causes estrangement from God and the guilty conscience that continues as the extension of the action. Jesus death on the cross calls us to bring all that is broken in the world, all that extends the feeling of unease within us to God for healing. Our insights into the mismatch between the divine vision of a world and people restored and our own reality are significant. Such insights are prompts for prayer and repentance even if we have not been the direct offenders against God.

Just this week a young boy and a woman died after a series of large waves smashed into an overcrowded asylum seeker boat north of Christmas Island. The desperation that drives people to reach our shores is part of the broken condition of our world. That asylum seekers then find themselves languishing in offshore detention is, for many, the final step in their hope becoming faint - even extinguished. It is a bizarre perversion of our humanity to allow the current situation to exist. Even if we have been remote from any decisions that have meant a refugee’s home country is unbearable or that there is no ready welcome at the end of their escape or that there are circumstances of exploitation that lead to people trafficking, even if we see no connection of responsibility at all we can still trust our sense of empathy with the sufferings of those so displaced.
We can also trust with certainty the compassion of Christ which extends right through to his death on the cross. Our awareness of the world’s pain and our trust in what Jesus completed on the cross come together in a powerful way to spur us to both prayer and action.  Living with a vision and early sense of the world renewed because of Christ means that can never be disconnected from the world’s pain but it does mean that we come again and again to the source of this renewal, our Lord Jesus Christ in repentance and in prayer.

Jesus embraced the limitations of our human life in his incarnation and sees its consequences through to the end because of love, love from the Father and love from the Son and love through the Holy Spirit. We are the objects of this love so that we might become the loving participants in the divine love of the Triune God as we live our lives in the world. May your life be touched in every part by the love of Jesus and may hope be restored where it has been lost, trust established where it is broken and peace fill our world, the peace that is God’s gift through Christ.

I conclude today with this prayer from John Hilsey’s Prymer first published in 1539:

‘O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, who from the bosom of the Father didst descend from the heavens to the earth, and on the wood of the cross didst suffer five wounds, and shed thy precious blood for the remission of our sins: we meekly beseech thee that, in the day of judgement, we may be set on thy right hand, and hear thy joyful sentence, ‘Come, ye blessed of my Father, enjoy ye the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’; where with the Father and the holy Ghost thou livest and reignest, God, for ever and ever.’   Amen
 
 

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