Our Place in the Story
Please join us as we revisit Good Friday Worship Service 2021 at Calvary. That night, we read from the passion narrative in Mark’s Gospel and participated in a liturgy of wrapping the cross.
Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort. And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. And they began saluting him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.
Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our ancestors trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried, and were saved;
in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.
They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.
I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
my mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.
For dogs are all around me;
a company of evildoers encircles me.
My hands and feet have shriveled;
I can count all my bones.
They stare and gloat over me;
they divide my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots.
But you, O Lord, do not be far away!
O my help, come quickly to my aid!
Deliver my soul from the sword,
my life from the power of the dog!
Save me from the mouth of the lion!
From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.
It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!” In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.
But I am a worm, and not human;
scorned by others, and despised by the people.
All who see me mock at me;
they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
“Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver—
let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”
When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”
All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord;
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before him.
For dominion belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations.
To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
and I shall live for him.
Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord,
and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,
saying that he has done it.
When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had been dead for some time. When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid.
A PDF of the sermon as distributed at Calvary is available for download and printing.
The story we have heard and seen tonight is a reversal of the parade of Palm Sunday. The cheering crowds and palm branches are replaced with jeering mockery and a crown of thorns. The Romans didn’t use crucifixion for all criminals, although they used it for many people. They used it for political crimes, for people who were threats to order and stability.
And while they were wrong in their understanding of who Jesus was and what his kingship would be, they were completely correct that he was a threat to their order and stability. The public and brutal parade of a tortured man carrying a cross through the city streets was intended to be a deterrent to other would be political agitators.
People wonder why God would do that—allow the divine son to die on a cross. Over the years, people have posited different ideas for what the cross says about God—that God needed a sacrifice, or that God let Jesus die in order to win a cosmic battle.
I think the Good Friday story says as much about humanity than it says about God.
As Mike McHargue put it, “The cross was not God’s invention—it was ours. In all our need for an eye for an eye, I have to wonder sometimes if God listened to us cry for blood and offered his own—if Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was not to sate God’s wrath, but to show God’s response to ours.”
Two thousand years later, Imperial Rome is in our history books and yet their parade continues. We re-enact and liturgize it, turning it into a counter-protest. We even wear their sign of torture as a piece of jewelry around our necks.
While Caesar and Imperial Rome may be in the pages of History, the same forces that conspired to kill Jesus are active in the world today, oppressing men, women, and children. We, as a society, participate in systems—systems of economy, and race, and politics—systems that limit the flourishing of God’s children and which subject people to violence and danger.
Good Friday is a remembrance and a subversion of the violence of humanity. It is also a time for us to pause and own our place in the story.
We might like to think that we can live our lives without contributing to violence and injustice. We pretend it is far away from our lives—while we watch the trial of a police officer in Minneapolis, we ignore the cries of pain in our community. We pretend violence is not connected to our lives even as protestors weep over the bodies of slain black children.
We seek to do the right thing. We try not to be racist, but we live our lives in an economy built on slave labor, Jim Crow laws, unfair housing policies, etc.
We try to care for the environment. We drink fair trade coffee, buy local food, drive hybrid cars, and notice the labels on our clothing so we know where it was made—those are all good things to do.
But do we know if children made our phones in countries with unjust labor practices? Did the people who harvested our vegetables get paid a fair wage? How can we attend to all of those decisions in a global world? We are part of a big and complex system. We are a part. And so we bear witness to the cross of Jesus. And we own our place in the story.
I think of Simon of Cyrene. We’re told he was a passer-by, who was coming in from the country. We don’t know if he even knew he was on Rome’s parade route that day he came in from his farm to do business. With sons named Rufus and Alexander, he was likely not Jewish (those weren’t Jewish names). And he found himself carrying a cross, not as a volunteer, but as the person in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Like Simon of Cyrene, we are not immune to the forces that compel us to participate in a parade of violence.
What was on his mind as he bore the weight of someone else’s cross?
Was he glad he could take the burden of it from Jesus, who must have been too weak after his abuse to carry it himself? Or was he afraid he would be killed if he said ‘no’, denying the instruction to take up the cross?
He reminds us of another Simon, Simon Peter, who had been instructed by Jesus to take up his cross and follow. Peter, who at this point in the narrative has already denied Jesus 3 times—what is he thinking as he hides in the crowd while another Simon, a stranger, carries the cross of his rabbi, teacher, and friend?
Earlier in the gospel, Jesus tells the crowd, he tells us, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”.
When I read those verses earlier in the gospel, it seems a voluntary choice, a good and brave decision we could make for Jesus. In the midst of Good Friday, though, our choices seem to fall by the wayside, with our denials and betrayals. And the cross becomes something forced upon us by outside forces, a weight we carry at someone else’s insistence, by our participation in an unjust world.
At the end of the story, we’re told a Roman soldier was witness to Jesus’ last breath. What did he have eyes to see?
He “saw that in this way Jesus breathed his last.” He said, “Truly this man was God’s son.”
I don’t want to overly romanticize this Roman soldier’s profession of faith. He wasn’t there as a follower. We don’t know what he had thought of Jesus of Nazareth before this moment. He was there on the clock, working for Rome, perhaps compelled by his own political or economic realities to be there.
It is worth noting that in Mark’s gospel full of people who are told to be quiet when they proclaim who Jesus is, this is the first profession of faith that is not silenced.
Perhaps because the one who told people to keep quiet has now been silenced himself.
Or perhaps the soldier’s statement is left to ring out across history because it is in the crucifixion that we know “truly, this man was God’s son”.
As we heard the story tonight, we also heard the Psalm that Jesus quoted from the cross. Psalm 22 begins with “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”.
It doesn’t end there, though. Verses of pain and loss are woven through with verses of hope and promise. Jesus, by quoting this Psalm intended for the people who heard it to remember the rest of the story. The forsaken-ness of the world does not have the final say.
“Posterity will serve God; future generations will be told about the Lord and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.”
A little later in the service, we will go out into the darkness of Good Friday trusting that the spectacle and horror of the cross is not the final word God will speak. Let us listen in prayer and silence this holy weekend, that we may have ears to hear the Good News on Easter morning.