Good Friday Sermon
The Death of Jesus, the Death of God?
Today is our second day on the Triduum. The Triduum, which began last night on Maundy Thursday with the institution of the Holy Eucharist. Our three day journey with Christ will culminate with us gathering at the gloriously empty Easter-tomb. For now, today, we are at the cross. Yet, we know how this ends. We know that the cross is not the ultimate fate of Jesus, indeed it is the penultimate.
I have a friend, and perhaps you do too, who always reads the last chapter of a book first. I have asked my friend why she does this and she says that she likes to know what she is getting into before she commits to the entire book. Some of us like to know the ending first. Others don’t want to know how the story ends. Instead, they trust the author to bring them along and lead them to discovery. No matter the story, no matter the ending and how we get there; we crave closure, we desire the tidy ending.
But today, perhaps we could hold off on our need for closure and resolution. Let us not wish away Good Friday to get to Easter. Yes, we know the story brings us to the Risen Lord; but today, this morning, I invite you to dwell on the cross, to live with the reality of the death of Jesus, to settle into the insecurity of our God, crucified. Might we, in our minds and imaginations, put ourselves in the shoes of the disciples who lived and endured those insecure shaky days from Friday until Sunday; those days when “Our Teacher, Our Master, Our God has died!”
The question remains: Does God die on the cross; indeed, can Nietzsche be right, just for one day? There is a heresy, patripassianism, which maintains that when Jesus Christ suffers, God the Father suffers. This presents a problem with the Church’s doctrine of the impassability of God, the doctrine that God is beyond creation and unable to be diminished or changed. The church rejects the notion that God can be changed through the suffering of Christ, but it holds a similar yet more nuanced view. Since Jesus has both human and divine natures, one which is corruptible and one which is unchangeable. It is Christ’s human nature, not his divine nature, which suffers and dies. The rub really comes when we ask what happens to the suffered humanity of Christ. Does it simply die away and leave us with a fully divine Jesus Christ? No, what happens to the sufferable humanity of Christ, and even mortality itself, is that God assumes it; God takes in humanity and death, and He redeems it. One of our church fathers, Gregory of Nazianzus said that “whatever Christ assumes, Christ sanctifies.” In other words, it is precisely in Christ’s human suffering and especially in his death that we are saved.
This statement of orthodoxy is extremely helpful for beginning to understand what happened on the cross. But the church’s teaching was developed over 500 Easters, for us, standing here in the disciples’ shoes, we here on the First Friday, we don’t have the benefit of orthodoxy. Perhaps one of the purposes of Good Friday is to imagine, however briefly, a world without Christ; an insecure world where we thirst for God, but get no guarantee of any impending Easter. Can we reside in a faith, a true trust in God, despite the blatant facts of life and death? Can we be confident in our unknowns?
Let’s not jump to the conclusion. Forget the last chapter.
Just for today, rest uneasily in the unresolved ambiguity of Christ crucified, died, and buried.
And that God inexplicably walks with us into death, even death on a cross.