Paula Harris Propers: Isaiah 52:13-53:12 Psalm 22 Hebrews 10:16-25 John 18:1-19:42 Sermon Notes: Good Friday In the name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, one God, now and forever. Amen There is a website called the injusticeline, and on it, there are dozens of stories about people who have been wrongly convicted of crimes.1 People who were punished for things they didn’t do. The website was created by an attorney named James Lawrence, who lives and works in Michigan. He points out that Plato defined justice as each person getting what he or she deserves. So his website is dedicated to information… stories about people who did not receive what they deserved. Stories about innocent people wrongly convicted and punished. Stories about poor people who were robbed. Stories about guilty people who got away with it. Stories about rich people who stole from the poor. Most of the Old Testament has that same concept of justice: evil deeds should rebound back on to the evil-doer. “People should get what they deserve.” It’s the concept of justice that we have in our government. It doesn’t always work out that way, but that is the underlying idea. 1 http://www.injusticeline.com/ 2 It’s the concept of justice we practice in our families. If your kids get into a fight, a parent or aunt or grandparent will really try to listen to figure out who did what to whom, before meting out any punishments. Justice is, each person getting what he or she deserves. And it’s the concept of justice we have in our religion. That’s what we teach and believe about right and wrong. Good matters. It will produce good. Evil has consequences. Crimes destroys. They eventually destroy the person who commits them. But Isaiah 53 tells a different story…. The man the prophecy talks about, we call the “suffering servant” and Isaiah says that “he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth” He was innocent. “By a perversion of justice he was led away.” Isaiah 53 tells the story of crimes not eventually destroying the perpertrator, but destroying an innocent person instead. Isaiah 53 is an injustice story. “By a perversion of justice he was led away.” And the Passion is an injustice story also. After Jesus is arrested, he is put on trial twice. The first trial, we didn’t hear about in the reading from John. (that’s hard to imagine, I know… with such a long reading, how could the gospel have left any detail out?) 3 But the story of the gospel focuses on what’s happening outside the first trial, with Peter out in the courtyard betraying Jesus three times. And it kind of ignores the fact that Jesus is inside answering questions from the Jewish priests. Except for this one line… “Caiaphas, the high priest that year… Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was better to have one person die for the people.” Caiaphas was the one, back in chapter 11 of John’s gospel, who started the plot against Jesus’ life. The plot to kill Jesus. Caiaphas is an unjust judge. And Pilate, we did hear the second trial in the gospel, when Pilate was the judge. Three times, Pilate says, this man is innocent: “I find no case against him.” Pilate knows what is right, and handed Jesus over to be crucified anyway. Pilate is an unjust judge. And so when the earliest Christians were trying to understand what exactly happened, when Jesus was killed, they turned back to that strange reading from Isaiah, the reading that talks about an innocent man dying on behalf of the people. In that reading from Isaiah, God is speaking, and God talks about the suffering servant and says many people are really surprised about what is happening. They are startled by him. They don’t admire him. He was despised and rejected, as the famous aria goes. They rejected him because they thought he was being punished. Oh, but then the same people realize, “surely he has borne our infirmities, and carried our diseases.” 4 But we thought … “we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted.” The people thought God was striking the servant. But no, they realize “he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” What does that mean? “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all?” I think on Good Friday, if you and I reflect on the cross, we in the church have to ask ourselves, what kind of Judge God is. How does God judge me? How does God judge you? How does God judge Jesus? What do you know about God? Who God is? However you understand what happened today, what happened on the cross, think about what your understanding does to your idea of God. I personally have a big problem thinking of God as the sort of judge that would punish somebody for another person’s wrong-doing. That’s not the God pictured in most of the Bible. That’s not the God I experience in my life and my prayers. I remember the time that Jesus said about our prayers, you know if your kid asks you for some bread, because he’s hungry, and you, being evil – or not that perfect – give him something to eat, how much more will God hear your prayers. 5 I think that’s quite a good test, about our view of God. You and I, being limited, can’t really get our heads around who God is, but it’s a good test to think, is my idea of God better or worse than my idea of a good person? So I personally have a big problem thinking of God as an unjust judge. But I know that each one of you has your own experiences with Jesus, and you read the gospel and the lessons also. It should be that way. Because Jesus is the center and head of the church…. In a way we are all gathered here because each one of us is a friend of his, and trying to follow him…. So each one of us has to come to our own understanding of what Jesus did for us on the cross. But I will tell you how I understand what happened on Good Friday. The reading from Isaiah says “the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all” but it is in English, and the original reading was in Hebrew. And in the Hebrew language, there is no difference between the kind of active verb that makes something happen, or causes it, and the kind of passive verb, that lets something happen, or allows it. Our English language makes a difference. I broke the plate. The plate fell and it broke. I broke the plate sounds like I meant it, I threw the plate across the room. The plate fell and it broke sounds like it was an accident, maybe I slipped doing the dishes. So knowing about the Hebrew language, it is possible to translate that line: “But the Lord permitted us to throw all our sins upon him.” 2 2 Schwager, Raymund, “The Suffering Servant,” Must There Be Scapegoats? Violence and Redemption in the Bible, trans. by Maria L. Assad (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987), pages 126-135. (http://girardianlectionary.net/res/mtbs_126-135_suffering_servant.htm) 6 (I don’t speak Hebrew, you know, I found this translation from a Biblical scholar named Raymund Schwager.) God let Caiaphas, and Pilate, and to an extent Peter, God let others throw sins on Jesus. And Jesus took the sins. This might seem like a strange idea. But it’s just the idea Caiaphas talked about, “it’s better for one person to die for the sins of the people.” But we still do this. In his book the Catholic priest Ronald Rolheiser points out that it’s easy for us to sacrifice others.3 When we use huge amounts of money on defense and send eighteen year olds, mostly eighteen year olds who want honorable work, and want to be educated and to pay their bills for their education, when we send these kids to protect the interests of our nations, we are saying, it’s better for those young soldiers to die for the people. When a poor person doesn’t have health insurance, when we say that our society can’t really afford healthcare for poor people, or when we say our society really can’t afford medicare or social security for the old… rather than change our standard of living so that everyone can eat and have health care, we are saying, it’s better for the old and the poor to die for the people. When we support capital punishment and the idea that some people, no matter what kind of lives they live, really don’t deserve to keep on living, we are saying, it’s really better that one person die for the people. Whenever a child is bullied on the playground, or on the internet. Her friends and acquaintances are saying, it’s better for her to die for the people. 3 Rolheiser, Ronald. “It’s Easy to Sacrifice Others,” Forgotten Among the Lilies: Learning to Love Beyond Our Fears (New York: Galilee/Doubleday Press, 2005), 237-240. 7 When someone is slandered in a conversation at work, or even a conversation here at church, and we say nothing, because of fear or anxiety, we are saying, better that one person should die for the people. I could go on, with this litany of death. Because “it is easy to sacrifice others” as Rolheiser said. But what Jesus did on the cross woke people up to the way we sacrifice others. Everybody knew he was innocent. Everybody knows the Passion story is a story of injustice. The mystery of the cross is that Jesus offers our human community healing by living and dying another way. Instead of sacrificing the weak, he became one of them. He loved the poor, the weak, the sick, the young…. The injustice story about Jesus invites you and me to be alert to the ways we sacrifice others. Our injustices. And the story of Jesus invites you and me to choose another way, the way of love. The way of self-sacrifice. The Morning Prayer service ends with a beautiful prayer about Christ’s work on the cross and the mission he gave us, and I would like to conclude by praying it. “Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard word 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.”4 4 Book of Common Prayer, 101.
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