Taize chant: Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.
Therefore let us proclaim the mystery of faith.
Christ has died.
Christ has risen.
Christ will come again.
On Good Friday we live in the first of these phrases. Christ has died. We approach the words with reverence and sorrow.
I want to talk about two things we do on Good Friday.
The first is this. We unpack the three simple syllables by telling the entire story. And not only do we tell the story, we cast ourselves in it. We say those uncomfortable words, Crucify him, crucify him, with the crowd.
And our sermons, our psalms and hymns, our tellings of the story, often cast us as one of the characters. We imagine ourselves as Pilate, as Peter, as Judas, as the crowd, and mourn all the ways we condemn, betray, and deny Jesus. All the ways we crucify him.
I think we do this for a few reasons:
One is that we want to experience what happened on that day, we want to insert ourselves into the story to experience it more fully, to make it more real We want to participate and understand its relevance for our own lives.
I think another reason we do this is the unmistakable humanity of the characters. They are timeless and understandable and unarguably human, and we almost inevitably see ourselves in them.
Which in many ways is what Good Friday is about. Being human. It is, after all, the day we remember that Christ died. In the story of the passion, we see the amazing divine in Christ – his unerring, unwavering forgiveness and faith. We understand that this is Godly. But Easter is when we celebrate Christ’s divinity. Good Friday is for recognizing and, I would argue, celebrating, with profound reverence, his humanity. Christ died.
The second thing we do on Good Friday is pretend. Each Good Friday we play this game of imagining the darkened world, all our wrongs and sins brought to bear in the death of our savior, hung at our hands on the cross. We imagine what would have happened if Christ hadn’t risen, we will ourselves to live in that unfathomable grief and despair of a world without resurrection.
But in doing this, we still define importance of crucifixion in relation to resurrection – defining Christ’s death by either the absence or presence of the potential for salvation. We seem to forget that entirely apart for the resurrection, it is important that Christ died, and that his very death should be celebrated. Rising from the dead proved at the last that Christ was divine. But it was in dying that he proved his humanity. It was in dying that the miracle begun by Christ’s birth was completed—the miracle of a God fully human and fully divine. Christ’s death on the cross is ultimately about his humanity.
Which sheds new light on the humanity portrayed in the passion story. Our humanity is proven in the story in addition to Christ’s and the humanity proven includes not only our fallible human nature but also our tremendous capacities. Because without hope of the resurrection, someone carried Jesus’ cross. Without hope of the resurrection, one criminal beside Jesus still begged, remember me when you come into your kingdom. In his last moments, when he had no reason for hope, he clung to belief and begged for redemption.
So let us remember to cast ourselves as these characters too. We can recognize ourselves in them. In addition to moments of betrayal and weakness, we are capable of moments of selfless strength, commanding faith, and incredible hope.
Christ was human at the last. Of course his death was necessary for the resurrection. But I think we can find redemption in the crucifixion for the sake of the death itself. Christ’s death was, after all, important for reasons other than the fact that we killed him. On Good Friday, let us remember the importance of Christ’s mortality. Let us remember that Christ’s humanity was equally as important as his divinity. That his ministry was carried out by a mortal, human being. His work on earth was not only about demonstrating the divine love for us, but also the capacity of the mortal, both in spite and because of our human nature. And we join him in this in as many ways as there are human beings.
The breadth of characters in the passion story bears this out. We are capable of all things, hope in spite of all things. While fallible humans nailed Christ, condemned him, denied his very name, fallible humans also helped him on his final journey, mourned bitterly at his passing, and found enduring strength and faith in his message beyond the point of all reasonable hope.
In crowds, or given power, or subjected to fear, we are prone to error, the gospel story tells us. We enact Pilate, Peter, and the crowds to remind us of this capacity for evil and sin we all share. We mourn Christ’s passing. But as individuals faced with the suffering of another or with a final chance at hope, a final opportunity to believe and ask for mercy, we are capable of good.
We are, in our final, solitary hours, human. And so is our beloved Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Let us give unending thanks, on this Good Friday, memorial of Christ’s death, for that assurance.
In the name of the Father, son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.