Day of the Cross

Good Friday sermon, preached by the Rector, Rev David Walsh, on 30th March 2018

Throughout Lent we have been on a journey to this moment and this place, a journey to the cross. In some ways this is the climax of our journey, the end of the story.

There is another story to tell. Later, on another day. But there is no smooth transition from this story to that one. Today the narrative thread gets broken, is interrupted.

And yet stories, though they seem such a natural part of our lives, are shaped and crafted, and this is one of the ways they differ from our lives. In real life there is nothing which isn’t the outworking of events which have happened in the past. And so the beginning of every story is a fictional device, because there always was something which preceded it.

And in real life nothing happens without consequences. So the ending of a story is as artificial as the beginning, because in real life there are always more episodes, more pages to turn, more chapters.

Where we choose to end a story makes a huge difference to how we understand it, how we choose to respond to it.

Was the cross an ending? Certainly at the time it felt conclusive. It’s that sense of finality we get some sense of today, as we try to get under the skin of the first followers of Jesus. We can’t fully make sense of what follows if we fail to feel the weight of this moment.

And yet, reading on in the gospels, we soon encounter the more immediate outworkings of today’s events. Even in this afternoon’s Gospel Reading, after the death people have to move on and decide how to respond to it. And surprising things happen. Out of nowhere it appears, people not known as having been followers of Jesus reveal their affection for him. A rich man, a respected member of the Council, Joseph of Arimathea, who appears nowhere in the Gospels before this moment, reveals himself to be a secret follower, a secret disciple. Here is one early consequence. A secret is unveiled. Joseph’s life will never be the same again. And this happens after the death of Jesus, an event which is already beginning to have consequences.

The following day the story is far from over for the chief priests and Pharisees, according to Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus might be dead, but his disciples were still alive and they might steal the body. So once again Pilate is involved and finds himself being lobbied, even though Jesus is now dead. He puts a guard of soldiers at their disposal, to seal the tomb.

The disciples themselves were at sixes and sevens. We hear about two of them, on a longish walk away from Jerusalem, sharing stories, much as people do at a wake. And sharing their disappointed dreams with a stranger: ‘We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.’ Later we read that Jesus’ old friends meet together, presumably just as in the past, falling back on familiar habits at a moment when all else felt changed and unfamiliar. One thing which was unfamiliar was the lock on the door, because, we read in John’s Gospel, they were afraid.

Disappointment and fear. These are new. The unveiling of personal secrets, of unrevealed affiliations. This also is new. Jesus is dead but life goes on and his death has immediate consequences.

So though today we reach the end of our journey and find ourselves at the foot of the cross, the stories themselves make it clear that life went on without Jesus. It just wasn’t the same.

Some of us will have known times of despair in our lives. Some of us may have cried ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ At such times the weight of events bears down so heavy on us, it’s hard to conceive our story will ever pick up again, hard to imagine there might be a different future. And yet here we are.

Today, at this pivotal moment, we find ourselves pulled in two directions. We feel the need to get beneath the skin of the first disciples in their disappointment and fear, a disappointment and fear wrapped up in not being able to see any future in this story.

And yet our reason for wanting, for needing, to feel the full weight, the full significance of this one day, is so that we can more fully be part of the events we know – and cannot fully pretend to forget – lie ahead of us.

And so we are pulled in two. Needing to linger at the foot of the cross, needing not to rush on. And yet aware that even in the story itself, the cross points forward, is more than just an ending.

And so we linger and we wait, but we do so expectantly. The future is not here yet and today we don’t even name it. But it’s that future which makes today the still moment at the centre of our life of faith, this day of the cross, this Good Friday.