Good Friday • 14 April 2017

Matthew 26:1 - 27:26
Mark 15:1-47

Rev. Chris Udy

A few weeks ago
one of my colleagues –
Lindsay Cullen -
posted this article
and his comment on Facebook.

He wrote “How incredibly sad
that the cross
has now become a symbol
appropriate to illustrate a general article
about the Royal Commission
on Institutional Responses
to Child Sexual Abuse.”
Lindsay’s sadness is completely understandable.
It’s the children who’ve been abused
that we first need to hear,
and believe, and support.
They must always be recognised
as carrying the deepest wounds
and deserving the most urgent compassion.
And beside them are many others:
parents, brothers and sisters,
partners; the next generation of children
all those whose lives have been wrecked
and whose trust has been betrayed
by the abusers and their defenders.
Then the circle of damage widens again,
and rocks the foundations
of organisations and institutions
that should have been places of refuge,
but instead became sources of harm.
And then it touches everyone
who works in or belongs to one of those groups –
and especially churches.
So now, when the media look for a symbol
to represent child abuse in Australia,
a cross is seen as tragically appropriate.

Sometimes we might wonder
how the Christian community
can possibly respond, and say sorry,
and atone, and learn, and change,
and begin to move on
from such an episode of failure and betrayal.
Sometimes we wonder
whether it might be simpler
to say that the age of Christian faith is over,
and simply let it go –
let it die and be buried.
Surely whatever hopes we had,
whatever visions of healing and renewal
we thought we’d found in Jesus, or the Bible,
or the Church as a movement in history,
surely they’ve all been broken beyond repair,
and we’d be better looking for something else
to work for and invest in.
Surely the darkness has won:
humanity is fatally flawed,
so people will always be greedy and cruel,
human government will always be corrupt,
and movements of the spirit – religion and faith -
will always be either fantasies or scams.

That must have been
how the disciples of Jesus felt
the morning after he’d been arrested.
The crowd that had followed in into Jerusalem
had turned on him
and were screaming for his blood;
the Roman Governor washed his hands
of any interest or responsibility;
and the religious leaders?
They were out there
stirring up the mob.
The only ones who were left
with any integrity or compassion
were the women –
it almost always seems to be the women:
the mothers, the sisters, the true friends –
those whose connections go deeper,
much deeper than politics and religion …
they were ready to go with him,
wherever he might be forced to go,
until the very end – and then beyond.
Maybe that’s because, for them,
being with Jesus on this day
wasn’t really a choice.
For the women it had nothing to do with career,
or ideology, or allegiance,
or even, ultimately, love and courage.
They were there because Jesus was there,
and he was intimately
and inextricably connected to them;
whatever happened to him
would also be happening to them;
it was an inescapable truth of life for them –
and they chose to face it
with eyes open.

At the end of the day,
as we’ll hear when Karen reads,
the cross would be seared into their vision –
not as a religious symbol,
nor a political weapon –
although it was certainly both of those things -
but as a truth:
it was the way
the one they loved had been killed,
and in the days that followed,
despite what would happen
on Easter Sunday morning,
in the days and years that followed
they would return,
in memory and emotion, to the cross,
and nothing would make it easier for them
or take away its cost in pain and sorrow.
Resurrection comes,
and it’s a mystery and a wonder,
but it doesn’t make Good Friday
any less difficult and stark.

This is truth for us –
as it was for the women who followed Jesus.
This is what we humans do to each other;
this is the way that governments
and institutions fail
and religion is so often exposed as hollow.
And this is also truth for us –
that there, on the cross,
is what remains
when everything else is over,
finished and gone.
There, on the cross,
is inescapable truth:
this is the image of God.

So every Good Friday we return,
we come back to stand with the women
and see the cross, and understand,
that all those who have been betrayed,
and overlooked, and ignored, and disbelieved;
all who’ve been abused and failed
by individuals and communities
and churches and institutions and all in power
all of them are there
with Jesus, on the cross,
the ultimate, inescapable truth
of what it is to be human …
and what it means to be God.
We keep coming back to hear the story,
because what happened to Jesus
is still going on,
and if we want to live
with integrity and compassion,
we need to face it with eyes open.
We also keep coming back
because we know
that this is not the end –
because we know what happened on Easter day –
but today is not the time for us
to look that far ahead.

Today we listen, as Karen reads the story,
and we face, with open eyes,
the image of God
in all who have been abused and exploited –
all who have been
deserted, denied and betrayed.