This sermon was preached on April 2, 2021 (Good Friday). The texts were Isaiah 52:13-53 & John 18-19.
T.S. Eliot wrote these appropriate lines in his poem “East Coker”:
The whole earth is our hospital
Endowed by the ruined millionaire,
Wherein, if we do well, we shall
Die of the absolute paternal care
That will not leave us, but prevents us everywhere.
The chill ascends from feet to knees,
The fever sings in mental wires.
If to be warmed, then I must freeze
And quake in frigid purgatorial fires
Of which the flame is roses, and the smoke is briars.
The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood—
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.
“In spite of that” …in spite of the fact that Jesus was betrayed by one of his closest friends (swayed by The Adversary), in spite of the fact that The Word was powerful enough to fell over 600 soldiers (a Roman “cohort”), in spite of the fact that Jesus was dragged in front of Church and State leaders alike for a sham trial with the conviction already in works, in spite of the fact that they chose to free a rebel and a bandit instead of Jesus, in spite of the fact that he was beaten, in spite of the fact that he was forced to carry his own cross, in spite of the fact that he was mocked as King of the Jews (for all the world to read), in spite of the fact that they stole his dignity and clothes, in spite of the fact that his Mother had to watch it all unfold, in spite of the fact that he was forced to drink sour wine instead of water to slake his thirst, in spite of the fact that when they checked to see if he was dead the stabbed him so blood and water ran out, in spite of the fact that the only reason he was laid to rest in that tomb was because it was nearby, in spite of that…we call THIS Friday “Good.”
Not any of the other Fridays of the year. Not those Fridays before a three-day weekend. Not “Black” Friday with all its deals and left-overs. Not any other Friday. We call this Friday, the day when Christ suffered and died a shameful and horrific death, “good.”
If you want to know why, in spite of all the horror of this story (and it is horrific), we continue to call this day “Good,” recall again Isaiah’s words about the Suffering Servant:
Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all. (Isa. 53:4-6)
Here Isaiah lays out what happened to Christ because of Sin. When the only good and perfect thing entered our world, we killed him. In a shockingly transparent act, Sin, Death, and the Devil showed their true colors in trying to snuff out God’s own self. The wages of Sin take their toll on the One who knew no sin. Indeed, he took upon the punishment for our sins, both done and undone, upon himself. He substituted himself, taking our place. God in the Son carried up our sins in his body to the tree, so that free from sins, we might live for righteousness… (1 Pet. 2:24)
Karl Barth put it this way: “The very heart of the atonement [the Cross] is the overcoming of sin: sin in its character as the rebellion of man against God, and in its character as the ground of man’s hopeless destiny in death. It was to fulfil this judgment on sin that the Son of God as man took our place as sinners…we can say indeed that He fulfils this judgment by suffering the punishment which we have all brought on ourselves.”
To look at the Cross is to see the shame, the suffering, and the horror of it all. All the “in spite of…” things are truly there. We can’t minimize them. We can’t talk our way around them. We can’t see past them. We can’t act as if they do not matter. What we’re seeing is true and it is a punishment to be sure. But what we are also seeing when we look at the Cross is a gift.
It’s the gift of not having to prove we are good enough. It is the gift of not having to worry we don’t up. It is the gift of not having to look over our shoulders for life to catch up with is. It is the gift of never having to wait again for the other shoe to drop. It is the gift of forgiveness. It is the gift of grace, God’s complete one-way love for you.
But this reality is not simply one that lives in the stratosphere of “spirituality,” ripped away from our day-to-day lives. It’s not something we simply talk about at Church and then move on with the rest of the week. It impacts how we live and move in the world, how we interact with and show love towards the people God puts in front of us, how we respond when shame or suffering or horror, Sin, Death, and the Devil, in other words, rears its heads and tries to break us down.
A couple of years ago, Stephen Colbert of The Late Show, sat down with Anderson Cooper for an interview. These two men have experienced their fair share of pain. When Colbert was 11 his father and two brothers died in a plane crash leaving as the last kid at home with mom. Cooper’s dad died when he was 11; his brother committed suicide a couple of years later; earlier that year, his mother had died too. Death with all its power had reared its head in their lives.
But in the interview, Cooper brought up a quote of Colbert “You’ve learned to love the thing that you most wish had not happened. You went on to say ‘what punishments of God are not gifts?’” Then Cooper asked Colbert if he really believed that.
And here’s how Colbert replied, “Yes. It’s a gift to exist. It’s a gift to exist. And with existence comes suffering. There’s no escaping that.” And later in the interview, Colbert says, “that’s the great gift of Christ’s sacrifice; God does it too. That you are really not alone. God does it too.
Yes, Christ died. There is no getting around that. He suffered a shameful and horrific death. But what the world meant for evil, God used for good. Grace is free, to be sure, but it is certainly not cheap; it cost the Son of God his life. By his wounds, you have been healed. By the Cross, you are forgiven.
And on this Good Friday, when Jesus Christ willingly went where no one ever wants to be (for us!), God made sure we’d kno wthat wehever we go, we will never be alone.
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,
‘For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:35-39)
 Karl Barth in Fleming Rutledge, Crucifixion (Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s Publishing, 2015), p. 517.