April 14, 2017: Good Friday, Fr. Carey Stone


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 Good Friday A’17

14 April 2017
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
North Little Rock, Arkansas
The Rev. Carey Stone
 
Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen.
 
Today is known throughout the world as Good Friday, what a paradox. On this day Christians will be gathering all over the world to remember the darkest day that ever has been or ever will be – the day our Lord was tortured and killed upon a cross. How could this ever be a Good day in anyone’s book? This is the one event that confronts the world, everyone asks “Why did this happen?” and “What does Christ’s death have to do with me?”
 
From the Jewish roots of our faith we learn that our story began with our being created in God’s image. On each successive day of creation after making a new category of insect, beast, flora or fauna God declared that it was “good” and then on the sixth day after creating humankind God declared, that we were “very good!” Then an Evil enters the story that is so dark that it can only be symbolized as a serpent. This mythic tale tells us a deeper truth about ourselves that we each live with original blessing and original sin, that we are made in God’s image but that there is also a sin principle that works in us and can leave us feeling ashamed and alienated from the loving God who made us. 
 
As the story progresses we learn of Abraham and Sarah and the concept of a divinely Chosen people who live by faith. From there the story of salvation tells of Moses who sees a burning bush and while on a mountaintop receives the Law of God in the tablets of the Ten Commandments. With this the situation improved. 
Humans began to understand that there were Divine laws that governed the universe and they brought much improvement in the ordering of society. 
 
Centuries of effort ensued with many attempting to keep these laws but with no one ever being able to keep them all perfectly. The cycle that is familiar to the human condition continued where the Law tells us the right thing to do but we fail, then comes the guilt and shame and the sense that God must be furious with us and is once again a million miles away from us. 
 
Animals were offered in sacrifice to cover the sins of the people. But it was only a temporary fix. Prophets came and prophets went calling the people of God back to repentance. Then the God whose Name couldn’t even be pronounced in Hebrew because there were no vowels, in English the letters are YHWH, because of God’s great love for all of creation decided to act decisively to end the whole up an down roller coaster ride of law, sin, and separation, law, sin, separation. 
 
Then baby Emmanuel was born that changed the whole dynamic between God and humans. God narrowed the distance that no amount of law keeping could ever bridge, Emmanuel. “God with us” would close the gap of separation. In his teaching Jesus showed us what God in the flesh looked like, by how he treated people especially strangers, foreigners, minorities, and outsiders. He said that we should love our enemies and pray for those who try to use and manipulate us. 
 
Jesus revealed that God was much less interested in rules, and rituals, and much more interested in having a real relationship with people, all people, even drunkards, sinners and, Palestinians. In the story about the prodigal we see a Father who doesn’t even wait for the lost Son’s confession of guilt but runs to him, throws his arms around him and smothers him with kisses! Pure Grace! Unearned and undeserved and so freely given!
 
John the Baptist prophesies telling of Christ’s mission, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” St. John tells that the Son of Man did not come into the world to condemn it but in order to save it – “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” 
 
Pure Love finally bumped up against the evil powers of this world to such an extent that the Darkness attempted to extinguish the Light for no one likes their inner darkness and lack of love to be revealed for what it is.  
13th cen. theologian John Duns Scotus answers the question of “why did Jesus die on the cross” this way: “Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity (it did not need changing)!  Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God.” The Love of God for us all was such that Christ came a distance we could not travel, through the fog of our guilt and shame to tell us a truth we could not see, that no matter who we are, or where we come from, or what we have done or failed to do to let us know there is a place for all of us at God’s table. This Friday is Good – Supremely and abundantly – Good!