Featured Sermon: Good Friday – Archdeacon Betsy Blake Bennett
Passion Gospel John 18:1-19:37
Pilate asked them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but the emperor.’ Then he handed him over to them to be crucified. (John 19:15b-16a).
It may be tempting to numb ourselves to suffering, to live in a sort of gated community of the spirit, walled off from anything that might disturb. Jesus does give us peace, but genuine peace comes when Jesus stand by us in the midst of suffering. If we listen deeply to the story of the Passion, we will grieve at Jesus’s suffering. If we listen deeply to the Easter Gospel to come, we will emerge from that grief with hope and joy. Good Friday invites us to look at Jesus’s suffering so that we can experience the fullness of Easter. The powers that be encourage us to numb ourselves to suffering. The empire — the powers that be for the sake of being the powers — would like us to look away from suffering and numb ourselves with food, drink, drugs, and lots of consumer goods. They do not want us to notice our own distress or the distress of other people or the distress of other living things, the plants and animals on whom our existence depends. But keeping our eyes on King Jesus even when he is wearing a crown of thorns rather than taking seriously the pronouncements of the powers that be is part of our Christian witness to the world. When the powers cheer on the “beauty” of missiles or the explosion of the “mother of all bombs”, when the powers tell us the suffering of people who were killed in the Holocaust wasn’t all that bad, when the powers ignore the rapidly warming Arctic and dying coral reefs — and the new crack in one of Greenland’s biggest glaciers, when the powers discount the suffering of people worried they might lose their healthcare, when the powers speak in ways that encourage us to hate people different from ourselves, Jesus calls us instead to look and listen and acknowledge and feel the suffering: the suffering now, the suffering in the past, the suffering that awaits us if we don’t change course. We can be compassionate witnesses to suffering even when it is hard to look at it because Jesus calls us to live in hope. Oddly, while the powers that be want us to ignore suffering as if everything were fine, they want us at the same time to think there is little hope for a better world. They tell us we must continue to burn fossil fuels, that we cannot afford to welcome refugees, that we are wise to fear people whose skin is a different color than ours or whose faith is different from ours or whose primary language is not English. They tell us we can’t possibly provide basic health care for everyone in our nation, that public schools cannot adequately educate our children, that gun violence is inevitable. The powers that be don’t want us to grieve with those who suffer, but they also don’t want us to engage in any form of hope other than selfish hopes for our personal security and prosperity. But we can grieve and we can experience genuine hope for ourselves and our neighbors because we know well the story of Jesus on the cross and the story of Easter resurrection. We can look at death in all its forms because we are resurrection people who know death isn’t the final word. And not only can we grieve and hope, but if we are not to betray Jesus and deny that we know him, we must grieve and we must hope genuine hope. We have a king other than the emperor. His name is Jesus, and today on Good Friday we grieve his death on the cross and all the ways we continue to crucify him. Today we grieve, but tomorrow night we rejoice because love wins and Jesus is King. Amen.