A Good Friday Sermon by
Bishop Peggy Johnson
Philadelphia Episcopal Area:
and Eastern PA Conference
April 10, 2020
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word of God was Jesus Christ and his words and the actions that accompanied that Word gave us the light of life.
Words in the Hebrew tradition had life bigger than the breath of the person saying them. A person’s word was their seal. A person’s name was their character. Words were symbols of a person’s true self. Words communicated truth and had power.
It is no wonder then that through the ages Christians have gathered on Good Friday to hear the Seven Last Words of Christ, words that take on the meaning of suffering, compassion and the truth of God’s power in the midst of unimaginable sorrow and love.
Jesus said: Forgive them, I thirst, woman, behold your son, today you will be with me in paradise, My God, why have you forsaken me? Into thy hands I commend my spirit. It is finished.
Today I would like to talk about seven other words: the words that people said during the time of Jesus’ passion and death. These are words that speak of our human condition and call us to contemplate the meaning of Christ in our lives on this day. Each of the people speaking is us, so very human, all in a different place spiritually, what can we learn from them?
THE OTHER SEVEN LAST WORDS
1. He saved others; He cannot save Himself.” Matthew 27:41-43 (The Pharisees)
The Pharisees remembered well how Jesus gave sight to the blind, raised the dead, healed people who could not walk, drove out demons.
The Pharisees and others were mocking Jesus with these words at a time of terrible suffering. This was suffering that Jesus chose and not some unfortunate trap that he could not elude. Jesus said he could have called down 10,000 angels to help him. But Jesus chose to die on the cross for our sins because of love and his mockers, oblivious to the truth, chose to make fun of him.
Do we ever do that with Jesus? Do you ever wonder about his power when we are experiencing pain or loss? Do you ever doubt that he can help us? Could it be that the season of suffering is the greater gift that God is trying to give us?
We should not question God’s power when we are suffering. God is doing something new and the eyes of faith seek that blessing in the bane, the star in the scar, the appointment in the disappointment.
2. “What I have written, I have written.” John 19:19-22 (Pontius Pilate)
These are the words of Pilate, the governor, who was for the most part a weak person in the passion story of Christ. He knew Jesus was innocent but he caved in to the political pressure of the crowd. He ignored his wife’s warnings. He simply washed his hands to show this was not his idea and allowed Jesus to be tortured.
Later when Jesus was crucified, Pilate made a sign that was placed over Jesus’ head that explained why he was being crucified. This was the protocol as it let the onlookers know what kinds of crimes were punishable by death so that people would think twice about doing it. Surely, this was a unique placard. It read: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” The never-to-be-satisfied religious leaders wanted the sign to read: “This man SAID he was the king of the Jews.” Pilate finally stood up to the Jews: “What I have written I have written” he said.
Pilate waited too long. It was too late to save Jesus’ life. Maybe we do that too sometimes. We give in to the crowd and do the expedient thing in life and not the harder task of defending the innocent. But in the end Pilate stood firm and in that standing firm came a message that proclaimed the truth of Good Friday for the entire world to see.
Jesus was a man from Nazareth but also the King of the Jews, the Messiah, God’s beloved son. Only the God-man King Jesus could save us. His death was the means for the salvation of the world. Pilate’s too-late message was probably the earliest of Easter messages …proclaiming the mystery of Good Friday to the world.
This shows that despite our weakness and cowardly ways, God can still use us to get it right. Even when we mess up and deny Christ and chicken-out and let people down….God still can use us for good purposes. Pilate gives me hope. Through my weakness and sin God is still able to proclaim God’s message.
3. “Let’s Not Tear It.” John 19:23-27 (Roman Soldier)
Jesus had a robe with no seam. It was valuable because it was woven as one piece of cloth. It must have been a difficult kind of weaving process and perhaps it was given to Jesus as a sign of appreciation by a master weaver. It was the kind of garment worn by high priests.
When a person is crucified they take off all of their clothes and let them hang on the cross naked. None of our religious art ever shows that for obvious reasons, but the nakedness is just one more humiliating part of the dehumanizing horror of a crucifixion.
Soldiers at the crucifixions usually divide up the person’s clothing and personal affects and keep whatever they wanted. It was a morbid perk of this kind of job. This robe was so special that the decision of who would get it created a problem, tearing it was not an option, so tossing some dice to see who would win the robe was the logical decision.
These soldiers were intent on one thing that day: what they could get. The spoils of a crucifixion were their main goal. Surely we look at them as self-centered and evil.
But we are much like them when all we care about is money and clothes and cars and savings accounts and things. We have so much stuff but all we think about is how to get more. Sadly Easter sometimes becomes more about new clothes and Easter dinners, chocolate eggs and lilies than resurrection and new life and telling people the good news.
Where are your priorities?
4. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom” Luke 23: 42 (Thief on the cross)
Jesus was crucified with two thieves, The Gospel of Matthew called them “rebels.” One was insulting him and the other realized that Jesus was really a good person who did not deserve to die. He also understood that Jesus could save his soul, not so much his body. He asked Jesus to remember him when he went to heaven.
These words of the thief and Jesus’ response that he would indeed be in paradise with him on that very day give hope for all of humanity. It speaks to the totally open door to salvation up to the very last second of a person’s life because of that incredible love and grace of God.
It means we can’t give up on people or judge people. We should always be inviting people to know the love of God so they can seek God’s kingdom in their life. You never know about people.
We Christians should oppose the death penalty for the same reason. It’s never too late to turn a life around.
5. “Truly this man was God’s Son” Matthew 27:54 (Roman soldier)
At the very moment when Jesus died a Roman officer exclaimed that these words. There had been an earthquake and the sky had become dark as night. Perhaps this soldier, experiencing these sudden changes in nature realized that this was not just any criminal on the cross.
Still he was an unlikely person to proclaim Jesus’ identity, but like Pilate, he got it right.
Can you say this for your life? Can you proclaim that Jesus is God’s son? If Jesus is God’s son, what does he mean to you? This is the most important issue of life…to decide in your mind and heart what Jesus means to you.
That is of course, because when you believe that, really believe that, the rudder of your life and soul is forever directed and focused on Jesus and his work. God’s son walks with you for direction and power to do this work. Every day you get a chance to do the works of Jesus where you are, walking in the footsteps of God’s son. What a privilege!
6. “Joseph went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.” Mark 15:42-43 (Joseph of Arimathea)
Joseph was a respected member of the Jewish religious community. He did not agree with the other leaders who had Jesus crucified, but he did not speak out for Jesus or defend him. Like Pilate, he let others make the decision.
But after his death Joseph got a voice…he asked for Jesus body. This was a brave step. He could have been killed for this, just associating with a convicted criminal in those days was grounds for arrest and punishment and even death.
He did this because it was the right thing to do. He put safety and comfort aside and do the right thing.
Every day we have opportunities to be brave…to say “I am going to do the right thing, even if I have to suffer.” My father was a supervisor in the PO and one of the employees got on the wrong side of the boss. The boss had a trial to have the employee removed and my father was the only person at the hearing who spoke up for the man. This made the Post Master very unhappy with my father. He had to keep that employee he was out to get as a result of my father’s testimony. The Post Master told my father that he would never get a raise the rest of his life and he never did. God has always took care of dad anyway. he did not need the raise. He was willing to put his neck on the line for a person without power.
Who can you defend….how can you bravely go to Pilate and do the right thing?
7. “Command the tomb to be made secure.” Matthew 27:65 (Pontius Pilate)
After Jesus died and was buried the religious leaders once again appear at Pilate’s door and tell him about a possible plot that could be cooked up by the disciples to steal Jesus’ body and then claim that he had risen.
Pilate said the stupidest thing ever said in the history: “command the tomb to be made secure.” It was totally ludicrous because it is impossible to stop God. No grave is secure because God is a God of life and Jesus is God and death cannot hold him.
Through the years people have tried to keep Jesus dead, they try to kill churches, make it illegal to be a Christian, make fun of religion, even stir people up, but nothing stops Jesus…nothing stops life. Can you stop spring from coming? Can you stop God from loving you? Can you stop good from overcoming evil? Impossible.
Live like you believe it. Death is not the end….eternal life is yours….this life is just the beginning of the everlasting life you will experience some day…
The 7 last words of people during Christ’s passion and death bring us close to Christ. These words bring us close to the very human people, like ourselves that dealt with the meaning of life and death. And hopefully this will prepare us for a glorious resurrection of Easter in just a few days from now.