[The Altar of Repose in the chapel at All Saints Church, Pasadena]
Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate's headquarters. It was early in the morning. Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?”“Thy Kingdom Come” – Good Friday April 6, 2012
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”
After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no case against him. But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” They shouted in reply, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a bandit.
Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and striking him on the face. Pilate went out again and said to them, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.”
So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.”
They answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.”
Finally, Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified.
“Finally, Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified.’
And we know what happens next –
we know where this familiar Good Friday story leads –
know where we will leave it
when we conclude this three hour service
of prayer and reflection; of story and song.
We know that Jesus dies:
that the life -- the promise -- the light that shone so brightly
will be extinguished.
All that will remain of the radical rabbi from Nazareth
will be a broken body and the broken dreams of his scattered followers.
The Kingdom he proclaimed has not come.
The powerful remain powerful: the oppressed remain oppressed –
and where there had been hope there is only despair.
This is the stark truth of this day we call "Good Friday."
There is a poem I come back to again and again on this day. Its author and origin are both lost to me in the mist of Good Fridays past … I have it only as a typed (as on a typewriter … remember those?) scrap of paper in my prayer book.
And it reads:
This is the day
when life is raw, quivering, terrifying:
The day of numbed emotions,
the day of blunt nails
and splintered wood,
of bruised flesh and red blood.
The day we loathe,
when hopes are crushed.
The day we long for,
when pretences fall away—
Because the worst that we can do
cannot kill the love of God.
Yes we know what happens next …
we know where this familiar Good Friday story leads –
To the cross. To the grave. And to resurrection.
It is what we proclaim as “the mystery of faith:”
Christ has died
Christ is risen
Christ will come again
The worst that we can do cannot kill the love of God
is the good news we live our lives in response to
not just on Good Friday
but every day
as we strive to live in alignment with God’s love, justice and compassion
as we partner with God in the holy work
of turning the human race into the human family
as we search for ways to make God’s love tangible 24/7
which is the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.
We proclaim the mystery of faith
Not the dogma of faith
Not the doctrine of faith
Not the domination of my faith over your faith.
And so it is – on this Good Friday
as we stand again at the foot of the cross --
another kind of mystery to me
that the very Jesus
who gave his life to show us how to love each other
has had that message too often
hijacked and transformed into a weapon
deployed to dominate each other.
The king whose throne was a cross
and whose dying words were
“My God, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing”
has been replaced with a judge
whose message is
“My God will not forgive you unless you are doing it my way.”
The mystery of faith is that
the kingship of Jesus is AND ALWAYS HAS BEEN
vastly different from a worldly kingship.
This is a king who is, first and foremost,
a reconciler, a redeemer and a servant.
This is a king who comes to show us
how to live as a people of God in the kingdom of God—
This is a king who models for us
what “thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” looks like.
On this Good Friday
I bring to the foot of the cross
not only the gospel appointed for today
but two other gospels we’ve heard here at All Saints during Lent.
The first is the Gospel According to poet Adrienne Rich
quoted by the rector in his Palm Sunday sermon:
"We work for the creation of a society without domination."
The second is the Gospel According to anthropologist Margaret Mead:
“Never doubt that a small group of faithful, committed people
can change the world.
Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
The words of these two women
are gospels in the truest sense of the word
[which means “good news”]
because they help me understand
not only what “thy kingdom” looks like;
but also how we might dare to imagine
we can participate in making it “come.”
But back to today’s Gospel according to John.
“Are you the King of the Jews?” Pilate asked – over and over and over again.
And when Jesus was handed over to be crucified
when they reached the hill called Golgotha
the argument about his kingship continued.
"Do not write, 'The King of the Jews,' said the chief priests – write 'This man said, I am King of the Jews" and Pilate replied "What I have written I have written."
It may be what Pilate wrote
but it wasn't what Jesus said – is it?
When he interrogated Jesus,
Pilate started out by asking directly: “Are you the King of the Jews?”
and then – like a first century version of a frustrated prosecuting attorney on Law & Order–
after coming at the question
from several different angles
he had to settle for Jesus' non-responsive response,
"You say that I am a king."
Pilate said it – but Jesus didn't.
The Jesus who hung dying on the cross
had nothing to do with the trappings of kingship
or with earthly power or political authority –
with revenge or with judgment.
Instead, the ministry of the radical rabbi from Nazareth
had everything to do with wholeness,
with restoring creation to the fullness of the peace and justice;
the truth and love that God intended –
with challenging those who followed him
to the high calling of loving their neighbors as themselves.
Quite a challenge, that:
a challenge that required
turning virtually everything the world says about life and death –
about power and control –
And it's an even bigger challenge to stay "upside down"
when the world around you is pointing in the opposite direction.
And so it wasn't very long
after the joy of Easter
and the empowerment of Pentecost
that the ways of the world
started to leak back into the infant church.
It wasn't very long
before others stepped in
where Pilate and the chief priests had left off
and began to "spin the story"
to preserve the power of a developing institutional church
rather than to empower the propagation of incarnational love.
A vestige of that can be found in the creeds we inherit …
creeds that emerged from the early church councils
reducing Jesus' life and witness to a footnote:
Creeds that skip from "born of the Virgin Mary"
to "suffered under Pontius Pilate"
leaving an awful lot
of walking in love as Christ loved us
on the cutting room floor!
Verna Dozier in her wonderful book "The Dream of God" describes it thus:
"The people of the resurrection made the incomprehensible gift of grace into a structure. [Rejecting] the frighteningly free gift of God go be a new thing in the world – a witness that all of life could be different for everybody – this gift was harnessed by an institution that established a hierarchy of those who "know" above the great mass of those who must be told." [pg. 4]
And so -- for generations –
those of us who "must be told"
were told all kinds of things
about what Jesus' life and death and resurrection meant.
And a great many of them
bore little or no resemblance
to the actual life and witness of the one the church claims to follow –
of the Jesus …
· who put table fellowship at the center of his life,
· who ate with outcasts,
· who welcomed sinners,
· who proclaimed the year of the Lord's favor,
· who was so centered in God's abundant love
that he was willing to speak truth to power
from that first sermon
that almost got him thrown off the cliff
by his irate Nazarene homies
to his last cross-examination by Pontius Pilate,
the Roman governor of Judea.
Instead we were given
Doctrines we were supposed to digest and not delve into,
Creeds we were supposed to recite and not question,
Scriptures we were supposed to memorize and not contextualize.
And then they wondered why the church was increasingly perceived as irrelevant!
The stumbling block for so many
has nothing to do with the good news of God in Christ Jesus
and everything to do with the disconnect
between the stories Jesus told
of a loving God
calling the whole human family into relationship with God and with each other
and the story the church was telling
of an angry God
demanding blood sacrifice as the price of relationship with Him.
[And it was definitely a "Him."]
And on it goes.
So when I read about the bishop who declared
"the truth that Jesus died as our sin-bearing substitute
carrying the punishment for our sins on the cross
is the glorious heart of the Gospel"
I was right back at the foot of the cross with Pilate
and the chief priests
arguing about what kind of king was this man
who never said he was a king.
And I am convinced
that if we were able to ask Jesus the question
"Are you our sin-bearing substitute
carrying the punishment for our sins on the cross?"
his answer to us would be the same as it was to Pilate:
"You say that I am."
Listen again to these words from the Gospel according to John:
Jesus said, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”
The truth is that the witness we have to offer the world –
the witness we call turning the human race into the human family –
has nothing whatsoever to do
with swallowing morally indefensible theories of blood sacrifice
and everything to do
with living morally accountable lives of service and self-offering.
It has to do with what Frederick Buechner names as
"the place where your deep gladness meets the world's deep need."
It has to do with being the Body of Christ in the world –
it has to do with these words we sing
as we bring the offerings of our lives and labor
to the table on Sunday mornings:
A world in need now summons us
To labor, love and give;
To make our life an offering
To all that all may live.
The church of Christ is calling us
To make the dream come true;
A world redeemed by Christ-like love
All life in Christ made new.
All life made new
is the Easter promise we claim
even as we stand at this moment
at the foot of the Good Friday cross.
All life made new
is the vision we claim
as we strive to live out
the Gospel According to Adrienne Rich
and create a society without domination …
AKA “thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.”
And all life made new
is goal we claim
in the power of the Gospel According to Margaret Mead
as a small group of faithful, committed people
working to change the world ...
...secure in the Good Friday mystery of faith
that the worst we can do
cannot kill the love of God.