Friday, 14 April 2017

Good Friday

This sermon was preached at our Good Friday service, held on 14th April 2017.

Why are we here today?

If you were here yesterday evening, you’ll recall that I said that this season of Lent and Easter was one that particularly made us Christians stand out as weird.

Today is no exception. When the rest of the country is out, enjoying their bank holiday, playing football, or making the most of the long weekend, here we are; over lunch-time, sat in a bare church, preparing ourselves for a dose of despair and, perhaps, grief.

Why are we here, going through this act of death, year after year? Why are we putting ourselves through this again? Why aren’t we out there, enjoying our day off?

Why are we here and not out there? Because it is real.

We’re not going through a charade here, or acting out the parts. We’re not, even, attending an act of remembrance. We’re here because Christ’s death was real. It was not an act, or a misunderstanding. It was not a ploy. It was not a piece of holy sleight-of-hand, or misdirection. On that cross, 2000 years ago, God died. Really died.

This wasn’t a holiday either – a temporary pause. We know that, after three days in the grave – three days in hell – he rose again. But that does not diminish this death. This death was real – as real as any.

It was the death of a British MP, murdered in a Yorkshire town for her political views.

It was the death of an elderly French priest, whose blood was spilled on the altar in the small church in which he spent the last years his life in service.

It was the death of a Westminster police officer, putting himself in mortal danger to protect the lives of everyone else around him.

It was the chemically-induced death of more than 85 women, men and children, residents of a Syrian town, killed by a regime desperate to keep a grip on power whatever the human cost.

It was the death of a young local woman, dying too early, leaving her loved ones behind.

It was the death of all faith, of all hope. It was the death of God.

Year after year, we put ourselves through this again, because year after year, each year, we kill God again.

Oh, Lord,” we cry out, “when did we kill you this year? When did we allow you to die?

Each time we deny him, every time we place ourselves above others, when we turn a blind eye to injustices. Each year, we kill God again when we meet violence with violence, when we clamour for vengeance. When we fail to love. When we do it to the least of any one of his children, we do it to him. We kill God. We let him die.

'God is dead', Nietzsche

And we have to, don’t we? For none of us can serve two masters. We can’t cling to our own power and serve Christ. Either we kill God, or we die to self. And how can we really entertain that?

And so we clamour to claim our inheritance before our time. We all, like the prodigal, tell God we wish he were dead so we can do as we will with our time, our money, our life. And God says ‘ok’, and dies for us.

And we win. And God, and faith, and hope all die.

But not love.

This act, this death of God on a cross, is not – if you want my opinion – an act that satisfies God’s anger; at humanity, or even at sin. This was not an act of God’s anger. It’s the very opposite – an act of God’s scandalous love, showing once and for all how far our maker is willing to go in loving his creation; to the ends of the earth. To death. To hell.

Love – it was Jesus’ final commandment. It was Jesus’ final act. That’s what today is about.

So, why are we here then? Because today, this weekend, we stand with Christians – and atheists – all over the world. God is dead. We should not rush away from this spot too quickly. We need to pause, to mourn, to contemplate the enormity of everything that happens here today.

Why are we here? God is dead. Where else could we be today than here by God’s body? Yes, Sunday is coming, and will bring with it triumph and life, but Sunday must wait. Today is Friday, and we are here today because here is where love is.


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