Good Friday B

The service on Good Friday this year (2021) was of a reflective nature, and does not translate well into this medium, so instead, I have published the text of a sermon that I had thought of using, but didn’t.  It seems appropriate for the day following April Fool’s Day.

“The Fool on the Hill” (click here to hear the song of the same name by The Beatles as an intro.)*

* You may see the full lyrics of the song on this website under
Minister/If Jesus were a Rock Star/The Fool on the Hill.

FROM THE EPISTLES – 1 Cor.1:18-25       (The Message version)        

18-21 The Message that points to Christ on the Cross seems like sheer foolishness to those hellbent on destruction, but for those on the way of salvation it makes perfect sense. This is the way God works, and most powerfully as it turns out. It’s written,

I’ll turn conventional wisdom on its head,
I’ll expose so-called experts as shams.

So where can you find someone truly wise, truly educated, truly intelligent in this day and age? Hasn’t God exposed it all as pretentious nonsense? Since the world in all its fancy wisdom never had a clue when it came to knowing God, God in his wisdom took delight in using what the world considered foolishness—preaching, of all things!—to bring those who trust him into the way of salvation.

22-25 While Jews clamor for miraculous demonstrations and Greeks go in for philosophical wisdom, we go right on proclaiming Christ, the Crucified. Jews treat this like an anti-miracle—and Greeks pass it off as absurd. But to us who are personally called by God himself—both Jews and Greeks—Christ is God’s ultimate miracle and wisdom all wrapped up in one. Human wisdom is so cheap, so impotent, next to the seeming foolishness of God. Human strength can’t begin to compete with God’s “weakness.”                        

FROM THE GOSPELS – John 18:1-19:42

18 Jesus, having prayed this prayer, left with his disciples and crossed over the brook Kidron at a place where there was a garden. He and his disciples entered it.

2-4 Judas, his betrayer, knew the place because Jesus and his disciples went there often. So Judas led the way to the garden, and the Roman soldiers and police sent by the high priests and Pharisees followed. They arrived there with lanterns and torches and swords. Jesus, knowing by now everything that was imploding on him, went out and met them. He said, “Who are you after?”

They answered, “Jesus the Nazarene.”

5-6 He said, “That’s me.” The soldiers recoiled, totally taken aback. Judas, his betrayer, stood out like a sore thumb.

Jesus asked again, “Who are you after?”

They answered, “Jesus the Nazarene.”

8-9 “I told you,” said Jesus, “that’s me. I’m the one. So if it’s me you’re after, let these others go.” (This validated the words in his prayer, “I didn’t lose one of those you gave.”)

10 Just then Simon Peter, who was carrying a sword, pulled it from its sheath and struck the Chief Priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. Malchus was the servant’s name.

11 Jesus ordered Peter, “Put back your sword. Do you think for a minute I’m not going to drink this cup the Father gave me?”

12-14 Then the Roman soldiers under their commander, joined by the Jewish police, seized Jesus and tied him up. They took him first to Annas, father-in-law of Caiaphas. Caiaphas was the Chief Priest that year. It was Caiaphas who had advised the Jews that it was to their advantage that one man die for the people.

15-16 Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. That other disciple was known to the Chief Priest, and so he went in with Jesus to the Chief Priest’s courtyard. Peter had to stay outside. Then the other disciple went out, spoke to the doorkeeper, and got Peter in.

17 The young woman who was the doorkeeper said to Peter, “Aren’t you one of this man’s disciples?”

He said, “No, I’m not.”

18 The servants and police had made a fire because of the cold and were huddled there warming themselves. Peter stood with them, trying to get warm.19-21 Annas interrogated Jesus regarding his disciples and his teaching…

…There was a garden near the place he was crucified, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been placed. So, because it was Sabbath preparation for the Jews and the tomb was convenient, they placed Jesus in it.

A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS

“For this I was born and for this I came into the world:  to bear witness to the truth.” (Jn.18:37)

Jesus came into the world to bear witness to the truth; to proclaim the presence of the kingdom of God.  April Fool!  He died!

I guess that is how the intellectually sophisticated, the learned, the keepers of knowledge may have felt about the proclamation of the early Christians.  “What is this?  Some April Fool’s Day prank?    That man, Jesus, was crucified a criminal, a rebel, a heretic.  The Son of God? Surely, you’re pulling my leg.”  At least that is what we may surmise from Paul’s assertion that Christ crucified is foolishness to the wise, a stumbling block for the Jews and folly to the Gentiles.

However, I am reminded that the sort of scoffing response that Paul makes to (perhaps genuinely wise) people is the sort of thing that is often said by one who is on the losing end of a debate.  Why not enter into a debate on the world’s terms, using the world’s logic?  Is there no relationship between the ways of God and the ways of God’s world?  Perhaps we are no wiser than the unbeliever who at least has good reasons for his or her doubt.  Perhaps we have no argument to offer.

It makes me wonder: are we truly wise and understanding of this event which Paul calls the foolishness of God, which touches us so deeply and confounds us so completely?  Are we in danger of creating a stumbling block to people in search of God because of our lack of understanding about this April Fool’s event.

The music with which I began, “The Fool on the Hill”  by The Beatles, seemed an appropriate way,  the day after April Fool’s Day, to introduce the man who died on a hill and gave rise to particular set of beliefs about the importance of his death.  And it is the set of beliefs about Jesus’ death which may in fact be our foolishness.

Paul speaks of God’s foolishness because God’s ways are not our ways.  We cannot expect or pretend to understand them completely.  Yet, how much has been written by those who, nevertheless, want to attribute a particular motive or rationale to this particular act of God.  

We have surrounded the events at Calvary with our thoughts, interpretations and our hopes in a forlorn attempt to make sense of it; that is, to put it into the form of thought.  There are times – and I am almost surprised that I am the one saying it – that thoughts are a hindrance rather than a help.

Tony de Mello tells the story of the Master who was approached by the philosopher after the Master had warned people about the dangers of thinking.  “Why are you so wary of thought?” asked the philosopher. “Thought is the one tool we have for organizing the world.”

“True,” replied the Master, “But thought can organize the world so well that you are no longer able to see it.”  To his disciples he later said, “A thought is a screen, not a mirror: that is why you live in a thought envelope, untouched by Reality, untouched by God.” 

The ‘Fool on the Hill’ in the song was apparently considered a fool in the world’s terms, but each time the evidence is presented as to his foolishness, the refrain comes in:  “But the eyes in his head see the sun going down and the world spinning ‘round.”  The song seems to be saying that the so-called fool is more aware and more alive than his detractors, who are out of touch with life.

We shall never know what happened in the life, death and resurrection of this person, Jesus of Nazareth.  The gospel writers all tell us different things about his death (as well as everything else).  Mark shows us a very vulnerable human being, in spiritual torment – a human being in abandoned, despised agony, lost in the course of events and out of touch with his God, screaming at the last, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”   There is a sense of utter failure.

John, on the other hand, portrays Jesus very much in control.  Jesus sets the scene, going about his Father’s business, fulfilling scripture to the last, and dying triumphantly with the words, “It is finished.”  There is a sense of accomplishment in those words.  Jesus had done what he set out to do.  

Which Jesus is the right Jesus?  Which were the true words said from the cross?  Is any of it historically accurate?  Well, the fact is, we don’t know, and furthermore it doesn’t matter.  

In the way they write, each writer is telling us something about the impact of the event on themselves and their community, and that can be very valuable in evoking God in those of us who have followed, but the record is not a set of facts which we  can mold into a set of beliefs in order to understand what is, at its heart, beyond understanding.  Faith is not about understanding anyway; it is about living with uncertainty, with mystery; it is about holding opposites together when it makes no sense to us to do so, about opening us to the experience of God.

The crucifixion is not an event to be understood.  You get wrapped up in questions like: Did God kill Jesus? Did he have to die?  Why?  What did his death accomplish?  And people spend their lives trying to provide answers and, worse, to convince others that their answers are the right ones.  In the end, it is all foolishness.  And it is worse than foolishness, because the thoughts and beliefs about the crucifixion act as a barrier to God.

The crucifixion is an event to be experienced rather than understood.    And I don’t specifically mean hung on a cross like Jesus.  The cross was the visible sign in the outer world of history of the real death of Jesus which took place in the inner world where we meet  with God.  We are told that when Jesus started his ministry, the point of his preaching was that the kingdom of God is at hand.  If you look critically at the gospels, Jesus did not tie the advent of this kingdom with himself, and he did not say that he had to die in order for it to be available to people.  The message was: the kingdom is already here and it dwells within and among you. But he did call upon everyone to take up their own cross daily and follow.  He did say each of us had to do the will of God.  And he did say that  we had to experience a death in order to save our lives. 

The crucifixion was a rather pointed example, but an example, nevertheless, of what Jesus had been telling everyone: that this is the path to life.  Any person with a whit of intelligence would say the same thing to which Paul was responding:  This is foolishness!  It doesn’t make sense.  And so we do our best to create an understanding – to rationalise a way around it, e.g. we say Jesus died for us. So we don’t have to?   Funny, I never read any accounts of Jesus saying that.

If we think the words, “It is finished,” mean that there is nothing for us but a cushy ride and a soft pew, then we are indeed foolish.  Nothing is really finished.   Jesus was dead, but Easter tells us that he wasn’t finished.  But then pain and suffering aren’t finished either.  Evil certainly isn’t finished.  We need only glance at the newspaper to know that crucifixion continues in many forms.  Pain and beatings and torture live on.  Even we in the church have not truly heard the grace and freedom of the gospel which Jesus preached and for which he was murdered.  Too often we want to tell others what to believe and how to live, and crucifixion goes on.

But what, then, is finished?  Again I refer to John 18:37, “for this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth.”  This alone is finished: the witness of Jesus’ life to the love and grace and truth that is God.  Jesus lived and showed us all that he could of God  and of humanity.  He lived as faithfully and as authentically as he was able, and in his living and his dying he taught us about God and about ourselves, and gave us a higher vision of what life could be.

His witness, his revelation, is finished, but he calls each one of us to take up our crosses and follow.  Our witness, our own revelations of God, are only beginning.  The kingdom of God is still at hand if we choose, and if we’re ready, to be fools for God even unto death.

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