To the Federal Ministries Episcopacy of
The Episcopal Church
April 22, 2011
The Rt. Rev. James B. Magness
As we hear the old story of our Lord’s death upon a cross, we are challenged to enter into the journey with Jesus that will enable us to experience the richness of a background story of contrasts, both in the 1st Century and in the 21st Century.
Good Friday is set in the middle of the Triduum Sacrum between Maundy Thursday and Easter. Good Friday is the anchor that gives substance to our faith. There is a seamless transition from the barrenness and impending sadness of Maundy Thursday to the desolation and depression of Good Friday. According to the late Richard John Neuhaus, Good Friday “…is the drama of love by which our every day is sustained by the events of the first century.”
Good Friday, in earlier times known as God’s Friday or as Good bye Friday, is the short season of a journey onto which we are all bid to go. The faithful journeyers are challenged to say good-bye to their Lord and enter into the mysteries of God’s gift for us in the cross. Yet, our human temptation is to either hang back in the subdued glories of Maundy Thursday or to race ahead to the festival glories of Easter. Tarry, pause and linger with the events and experiences of this second day.
Good Friday may best be understood as a pilgrim’s journey into which we allow ourselves to be drawn. In the journey the pilgrim has all the possibilities of coming face-to-face with the mystery and wonder of our Lord Jesus’ sacrifice.
A primary component of the journey is that of loss. What do Jesus’ death and the story of Good Friday have to do with me? How do these events relate to, if at all, our own struggle with life and death? The old and often forgotten proverb, “You never know what you have until you risk losing it,” is nowhere more true than with Jesus and his church on Good Friday. Not too many days ago my heart was intentionally stopped for nearly an hour during open heart surgery. Of course I was under the effects of general anesthesia and did know when or how this heart stoppage occurred. Yet, during my recovery my thoughts frequently have gone back to the thought that had my heart not been successfully re-started, my life, as I had known it for over 60 years, could have come to an end. On Good Friday we are challenged to know what the implications are for the loss of what we have in life.
In company with the idea of loss, the 1st Century Good Friday story is beset with contrasts: contrasts between those who had political power, money, and influence with those who did not. The contrasts of Good Friday are between those who have religious power and those who have authentic spiritual depth. The religious leaders, chief priests, scribes, and elders, are determined that their religious power will not be undermined. After a not-so-kosher Jewish trial under the cover of darkness that flouted Jewish law, through an execution fit for the most despicable persons of society, Jesus’ life, as he had known it, was brought to a violent end. Yet even then, many began to realize that something was different about this Jesus; that he was not just another revolutionary religious leader. Jesus, speaking out of the spiritual depth that grew out of His deep ties and connections with his heavenly father, merely exclaimed, “‘…Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’”
Jesus bears witness to a different measure of a person’s life. Jesus measures greatness not by power or influence, but by service and sacrifice. Jesus, you will remember, is the one who identified with the weakness of a child and with a poor woman who gives him a cold cup of water. These people are not, in our way of thinking powerful. As a matter of fact, they are vulnerable.
So, in the end who will win: the rich or the poor? the powerful or weak? the Christian, Jew, Muslim or Hindu? The Good Friday message calls the pilgrim on a journey to start with a new answer to the question. None of these actually can win. The striking irony of Good Friday is that through God’s willingness to sacrifice his Son for us, God’s love has won. Today LOVE WINS!