Good Friday, Year A - April 14, 2017

The Rev. Amelie Wilmer Minor
Sermon Text: 

Good Friday, Year A

April 14, 2017

The Reverend Amelie Wilmer Minor

The Passion according to St. John

 John 18:1-19:42


It’s kind of misleading that the Gospel of John is the one we are given on Good Friday.  It is so cleaned up and brave.  No agony in the garden, no stumbling on the way, no cry from the cross.  Jesus is fully in charge. He identifies himself to his captors.  He debates Pilate brilliantly and carries his own cross to Golgotha all by himself.  Then, mounted upon it in no apparent pain, he even arranges for the care of his mother! 

He himself needs nothing, it seems.  Even when he says “I am thirsty,” the narrator lets us know it is not because he is really thirsty, but that it is in order to fulfill scripture.  And once that’s been handled, Jesus lets us know it’s all over – “It is finished.”  No one takes his life from him.  He is in charge from beginning to end.

Maybe that is the gospel we’re given today because someone thought it might help us a little, to have such a strong and fearless savior. It helps me, in a way, to believe in that kind of courage.  I’ve read about it in other times and places:  civil rights workers going down under the fire hoses, Archbishop Romero gunned down at the altar while supporting liberation in South America.

I am inspired by courage like that, only I suspect it is beyond me.  If I have any courage at all, it is another kind.  Not the kind we read about in the gospel of John, but the kind we heard about in the gospel of Matthew, on Palm Sunday. 

In that gospel, Jesus’ suffering on the cross ends with a cry of complete desolation. “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?  That is the kind of courage that goes on believing in God even though God is nowhere to be found.  And that, I’m afraid, is the kind of courage that I can relate to.

All of us have heard plenty about Christ’s physical suffering on the cross, and I cannot even imagine the courage to endure that, and of course there was the emotional pain of betrayal by trusted friends, denial and abandonment, something each one of us has felt at points in our lives. 

And yet, the worst, at least for me, is the utter silence of God. The God who doesn’t act, who isn’t there.  The God who – by a single word – could have made all the pain bearable but who does not speak, or at least not in a way Jesus could hear.  The only voice he heard at the end was his own unanswered cry.

That is something we all have to contend with – God’s silence – not just then, but also now – the same kind of silence that follows our own cries to God to do something – protect us, rescue us, give us the answer, give us the way out. 

Good Friday is the day we receive no answer and must suffer the silence right along with the crucified one – wondering what it says about us; wondering what it says about God.

In the book, Silence, which has recently been made into a movie by Martin Scorcese, the Japanese writer Shasaku Endo tells story of a seventeenth Century Portuguese Jesuit missionary (Rodrigues) who goes to Japan to save souls.[1]  Preparing himself for his mission, he spends a great deal of time contemplating the face of Christ, in which he sees every quality he himself wishes to possess – courage, serenity, wisdom, faith.  It is a noble image for Rodrigues – but a silent one, offering neither consolation nor hope.  And when he arrives in Japan, he realizes he is quickly in need of both.

Walking into a national uprising against Christians, he soon finds himself in prison, where his captors order him to renounce his faith.  Sustained by that brave face of Christ, he refuses, hoping to be martyred on the spot.  Instead he is returned to his cell, where he listens for some word from God.  But all he hears are the cries of his fellow prisoners – and a strange snuffling sound that he takes to be the snoring of the guards.

When he is yanked from his cell again the next morning and refuses once again to renounce his faith, he learns that the strange sound he heard the night before is the labored breathing of Japanese Christians.  They have been crucified upside down and will hang there like that, the guards tell him, until he renounces his faith.  Rodrigues is paralyzed.  Do I betray the Christ or the Christians, he asks himself.  That is the choice.

When he agonizes over the decision, the guards bring a metal image of Christ into the room and place it at Rodriques’ feet.  They tell him to trample it, to put his foot right in the middle of it and grind it with his toe.  Looking down, Rodrigues sees that it is already crushed and soiled by the feet of those who have gone before him.  It bears no resemblance at all to the face he has adored all his life, the silent face to whom he’s prayed all his desperate prayers.  Torn between the loyalty to it and his loyalty to those who are snuffling in the dark, he finally hears a voice, the voice of Christ, coming to him from the image at his feet.  “Trample!  Trample!”  “I more than anyone know of the pain in your foot. Trample!  It was to be trampled on by men that I was born into this world.”

And with those words, the silence of God is broken.  Christ speaks, not from some safe place outside human suffering, but from the very heart of it.  He is the trampled one, the crushed and soiled one whose loyalty to human-kind leads him to endure all that we endure – right up to the end. Including the silence of God.  

When I first pondered this story, it occurred to me, ‘that is what happened with Jesus on the cross.’  When he cried those final words of forsakenness, it was God who was crying - protesting and opposing the pain with his last breath.  Only this wasn’t defeat.  Contrary to all appearances, it was a triumph over suffering.  By refusing to avoid it or to lie about it in any way, the crucified one opened a way through it.

We are not supposed to love suffering, and God knows, there is plenty of it in our world right now, the suffering of war and persecution, prejudice and alienation.  Not to mention the suffering in our individual lives: troubled relationships, sick friends, difficult jobs. We are allowed to despise this suffering and do everything in our power to bring it to an end, only we are not to avoid it.  That is not, I’m convinced, one of our choices.

The gospel in all of this, at least for me, is that when God is silent, people of faith do cry out.  And when people of faith cry out, it is God who speaks.


[1] Shasaku Endo, Silence, tr. William Johnstom (New York: Taplinger Publishing Company, 1969).

With acknowledgement to Barbara Brown Taylor in God in Pain (Nashville:  Abingdon Press, 1998), 111.

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