GOOD FRIDAY ADDRESS - 30.3.18 - the longed-for Christ
✠ May the Lord cause my lips to speak his wisdom and sing his praise - Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
So far in this service, we have only prepared ourselves. The warnings of Isaiah, the sorrow of the psalm, the encouragement of Paul and the full pain and horror of the cross are to come. But the hymn we have just sung says all of these things. It is one of my absolute favourites, but it’s hard to take. This is what happens when good intentions are fatally misunderstood. This is how poorly Christ’s love was (and is) repaid.
We have had all Lent to prepare, of course. If you are like me, that has meant not doing as much to prepare as I meant to. There are many ways to slay the longed-for Christ, and one of them is to ignore him most of the time. To stop up our ears with busyness, to squeeze our minds and hearts shut and pass by on the other side, to see in others only the inconvenience or irritation they cause. To dream much of our precious life away. And yet he shows us love, loveless that we are.
Earlier this month a few of us spent a day trying to quieten our restless hearts. Deep down, we really do yearn and long for Christ, but we put so much in the way. We spend our time dealing with our fear of others being better, cleverer, richer, more loveable than we are. It’s very hard to face Christ because he loves us so much - it’s much more uncomfortable to be the one not loving back than to be the one loving. No wonder we do all we can to avoid going there. And yet he shows us love, loveless that we are.
We allay some of those fears by never being alone, never being still. If we’re with the right people and busy - busy about God’s work, even - then we must be better, more right, have and do the correct things, and that means we’re loveable, doesn’t it? Christ was slain by people like you and me, because he didn’t look or sound right. He was decried and slain, like the prophets before him, and truth-tellers since, because we hate to have a mirror held up to our sneering, self-serving faces. We hate to have the façade we have built shown up. What is worse, in the process of building up this sham person we bend ourselves, our true selves, out of shape.
The rage and spite of the crowd is so recognisable. Today it’s called Twitter, or some other quick-response zone which all too easily allows trolling. But it’s also called righteous indignation, thinking I am right, and demonising the opposition. Anything which goes by an easy slogan, whether it be “Thatcher!” “Pigs!” or “Corbynista”, has lost touch with the true self. Look hard in the New Testament and you’ll find not one slogan or easy moralism coming from Jesus. Whenever I take a moral short-cut, I let myself down. And yet he shows us love, loveless that we are.
And what love. Not only does he accept me as I am - a thing I cannot do myself - but look to what lengths he goes to express that love. In serving others one can indeed lay down one’s life, and there may be suffering, but there is often, let’s face it, a kind of kudos, too. There was nothing of that for Jesus. There is no payback for a shameful, unjust, painful, messy death. The gospel record seems at odds with the idea that he went “cheerfully” to it, but willingly, certainly. For those with eyes, ears, minds and hearts squeezed shut, the longed-for Christ was a sham, a failure, a disgrace. All the things we fear to discover about ourselves and dread others finding to be true. Knowing ourselves to be loveless, what a shock it is to find such love poured out for us.
It sometimes feels as though we don’t really see the cross, except at this time of year. Like other inconvenient truths, we avoid it. Because the shame of our friend Jesus’ death is not his but ours - no wonder we would rather not face up to that. But at this service that shame is up close and personal. We get to touch his feet, we feel something of the grief his followers suffered. It’s a wooden image, but the closeness is disconcertingly real. With all our Britishness, we are forced to let it shock us out of our daze, because deep down we know it should.
Later, after we have venerated the cross, we say a prayer which asks God to do four things: to unstop our ears, to lighten our eyes, to penetrate our minds, to irradiate our hearts with love. We yearn and hunger for these things. We long for God to reshape us in our original image of his glory. We long to be at home and at rest in him, at peace with ourselves. No-one can undo the habits of dreaming or façade-building alone, so: let the shock of the cross prize open your eyes a little wider this Good Friday. Let it unstop your ears. Let it penetrate and irradiate you with love.