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Good Friday Ecumenical Service - by Marcia King

Good Friday Ecumenical Service

by the Rev. Marcia King
Ocean Springs, MS

March 25, 2005

John 19: 1-42

19:1 Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. 2 And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. 3 They kept coming up to him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" and striking him on the face. 4 Pilate went out again and said to them, "Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him." 5 So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, "Here is the man!" 6 When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" Pilate said to them, "Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him." 7 The Jews answered him, "We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God."

8 Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. 9 He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, "Where are you from?" But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 Pilate therefore said to him, "Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?" 11 Jesus answered him, "You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin." 12 From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, "If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor."

13 When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge's bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gab'batha. 14 Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, "Here is your King!" 15 They cried out, "Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!" Pilate asked them, "Shall I crucify your King?" The chief priests answered, "We have no king but the emperor." 16 Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.

So they took Jesus; 17 and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Gol'gotha. 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. 19 Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." 20 Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. 21 Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, "Do not write, "The King of the Jews,' but, "This man said, I am King of the Jews.'" 22 Pilate answered, "What I have written I have written." 23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. 24 So they said to one another, "Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it." This was to fulfill what the scripture says,

"They divided my clothes among themselves,

and for my clothing they cast lots." 25 And that is what the soldiers did.

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clo'pas, and Mary Mag'dalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, "Woman, here is your son." 27 Then he said to the disciple, "Here is your mother." And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

28 After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), "I am thirsty." 29 A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the wine, he said, "It is finished." Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

31 Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. 32 Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. 35 (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) 36 These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, "None of his bones shall be broken." 37 And again another passage of scripture says, "They will look on the one whom they have pierced."

38 After these things, Joseph of Arimathe'a, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. 39 Nicode'mus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. 40 They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. 42 And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

In the name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

A number of years ago, my husband John and I attended Christ Church, a large Episcopal Church in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fl. Those of you who play golf may recognize Ponte Vedra as the place where The Players Championship is held each year. In fact, it's being played there this weekend. The normal weekly attendance at Christ Church for the Sunday services was about 1000. On Easter Day, however, the attendance grew to over 1500; this contrasted sharply with the 75 or so who had come to church on Good Friday.

Although a large crowd is customary on Easter, this particular year the priest in charge, who I'll call Father Cooper because that's his name, was furious to see so many celebrating Easter when so few had attended the Good Friday service. And, he let us know it in no uncertain terms. I have never heard a sermon like that before or since.

"There is no Easter without Good Friday", the priest thundered. "No resurrection without the sacrifice of Christ. No salvation without the cross." Father Cooper roundly chastised his congregation for failing to come to the foot of the cross on Good Friday. For failing to recognize the significance of this awful and holy day.

Why was Father Cooper so upset? What did Jesus do for us on the cross that was so important on Good Friday? What did Jesus mean when He said, "It is finished?" Was it a lament of defeat or a cry of victory?

In the original language of the Bible, "It is finished" is actually one word: "tetelestai." Like most Greek words, tetelestai is unfamiliar to us. In the first century, however, it was frequently utilized in daily life. A servant would use it when reporting to his or her master. It meant, "I have completed the work assigned to me" (see John 17:4). "Tetelestai" was also a word connected to the idea of paying off a debt. Archeologists have uncovered scraps of paper and papyrus which are first century bills, or bank notes. If the debt was paid off, the word "tetelestai," "it is finished" was scribbled on the bottom. The word is in its perfect tense meaning "It is finished, it stands finished, and it always will be finished!"

What was finished at the cross? For Jesus, at least three things: the complete submission to His Father's will, the revelation of God's heart and the redemption of the world.

First, Jesus demonstrated absolute obedience to God the Father. On that Good Friday so long ago, Jesus knew the agony He was facing: spiritually, emotionally and physically. Yet, because of his oneness with God the Father, he was submissive, even to death on the cross. Jesus said, "I and the Father are one." He also said, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work." Jesus' passion to do God's will, and thereby to bring glory to the Father, reaches its triumphant conclusion on the cross. Jesus' whole life, ministry and death reflect His unparalleled surrender to God's will. With Jesus' death on the cross, his obedience is complete. It is finished.

The second task Jesus accomplished on the cross was the fullness of the revelation of a holy yet loving portrait of God. Jesus shows us the heart of God. The Bible tells us, "No one has ever seen God; but God's only Son, he who is nearest to the Father's heart, he has made him known." (John 1:18) The face of love was hanging on the cross on Good Friday. The Jesus who gathered the children to Himself. The Jesus who wept at the grave of his friend, Lazarus. The Jesus who forgave Peter, the one who denied him. The face of love was hanging on that cross.

The cross also revealed the holiness of God. As Bruce Milne says in his commentary on the Gospel of John, "that God would purpose this terrible deed as the means with dealing with the sin of this world tells us, as nothing else ever could, that these sins matter terribly to God." All human efforts to please God fall short. We just can't be good enough, no matter how hard we try. To only way to God was through the death of His only Son. Because of Jesus, God views us through the lens of His Son and his sacrifice. We can approach a holy God because of the death of Christ.

And lastly, Jesus' finishing work on the cross enabled the redemption of the world. Although not everyone will trust in Jesus, the grace of God which can save and redeem the world, was expressed at that moment, once and for all time.

It's difficult to understand how the death of God's Son, the world's only perfect life, could take the place of or atone for the sins of all believers: past, present and future. We will never have a neat and full comprehension of the significance and magnitude of Christ's sacrifice. The mystery of the cross is too awesome. However, as someone once wrote, "although we can not fully get our minds around the mystery of the cross, we can get our hearts around it. Anybody, even a child, can understand the four words which are the essence of the gospel: Jesus died for me."

Had there been any other way to provide for our forgiveness, salvation, and reconciliation without resorting to the cross, God may taken a different road to redemption instead. But there was no other way. As the book of Hebrews reminds us, "Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness." When Jesus declared "It is finished," he had completed the only method by which God's justice and mercy could remain uncompromised, while assuring that sinners like you and me could be drawn back into right relationship with God, with others, and with ourselves.

It is no accident that Christ died during the Jewish Passover. The Passover ritual, rooted in the deliverance from Egypt, called for the sacrifice of an unblemished offering. It recalled the slaughter of the lambs whose blood was placed upon the door posts of Hebrew houses so that the Angel of Death would pass over their home. After the Passover, the Hebrews were delivered from slavery and Egyptian oppression.

Jesus, the Lamb of God, the man who lived an unblemished life, completed the task of deliverance from slavery to sin. Through the cross, Christ set us free. The cross of Christ secured a beachhead for the Kingdom of God. Just as World War II was effectively over after the successful invasion of Normandy on D-Day, the final reign of God has never been in doubt since that first Good Friday and Easter morning. It's just a matter of time. The forces of evil have done their awful work, but they have failed.

Those of you who saw The Passion of the Christ last year may remember one of the most powerful scenes in the movie. After Jesus says, "It is finished," the camera pans down to the figure of Satan throwing off the black veil and screaming in frustration.

Make no mistake about it, Satan is still active and deadly. Just like the prolonged and dangerous battles between D-Day and Victory in Japan during World War II, we are in the perilous period between the first and second comings of Christ. However, because of the cross, there is no longer any doubt that the forces of light will prevail against the darkness. And that someday "every knee shall bow and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord."

Through the cross of Christ God calls a sinful and wandering humanity back to himself. "It is finished!" It is a cry of victory against the forces of darkness.

As we stand at the foot of the cross today, let us remember the depth of our sinfulness while we glimpse of the extent of God's love for us. Let us remember the power of God's forgiveness. And let us trust in the grace of God.

I began by telling you about Easter at Christ Church and Father Cooper, the priest who was so upset with his congregation for not showing up on Good Friday. The next year, the Good Friday service was full. Over 700 people packed into the pews. And, we all got stickers saying, "We were there."

Getting yelled at on Easter morning by a priest was unexpected and not fun. However, the impact of his words registered with most of the congregation. They certainly registered with me. There is no Easter without Good Friday. No resurrection without the sacrifice of Christ. No salvation without the cross. Today is unlike any other day. On this day we remember that Christ completed his work: His obedience to God the Father, His revelation of the holiness and love of God and the final and complete redemption of the world.

It is finished indeed.

Amen.

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