Homily Preached by the Rev’d Andrew C. Mead at the Church of the Advent, Good Friday, April 19, 2019

“How could they do that to him?  All he wanted to do was good!”  That is the natural reaction to what we have just heard from Saint John.  Now let us ask, if Jesus is who Christians believe he is – the Son of God – why did he have to die?

The fact is, Jesus not only died as he did, but he foretold it.[1]  Well, if Jesus believed he was obeying the Father’s will, if he embraced it as his life’s work and mission, then the question becomes one about God and God’s will.

The Passion of Christ is not about an sadistic Father God requiring satisfaction for humanity’s sins which can only be met by the sacrifice of his masochistic Son.  [That is the heresy of dividing God.]  In the Passion, God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Undivided Trinity of Almighty Love, takes responsibility for His creation which includes the risk of freedom.  God has allowed for the possibilities of sin by his free agents, angels and mortals, because without freedom there can be no love.  Grief is the price God pays for his love.

Because God is God, He has always foreseen his creatures’ possible misuse of their freedom, their choices not to love and live in obedience to God’s will.  Sin grieves but does not surprise God.  The Mystic Lamb, slain and yet standing alive, seen by Saint John in his Revelation and spoken of by the apostles,[2] is none other than God the Son, Jesus Christ, in perfect unity with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, the Lamb destined from eternity as the world’s Redeemer.  The death of the Son is not a mistake and it is not Plan B after the Fall; it was foreseen by God in his providence. Redemption stems from the same Love that creates all things.  And Sanctification, the gathering of all things into Christ by the power of the Spirit, flows from the same fountainhead.

The Passion of Christ was within God’s providence.  But it was not God who got out the hammers and nails to crucify Jesus.  It was not God who falsely accused Jesus, condemned him, beat and tortured and mocked him, and killed him.  We did that.[3]  It is not God who is dishonest and unjust, selfish and cruel, blood-thirsty and death-dealing. It is important that Christ’s killers be identified, not to fix blame on the Jewish High Priests or Pontius Pilate or the Pharisees or the false witnesses or the betrayers or the deniers or the crowds looking for the spectacle of an execution. These contemporaries of Jesus are faces in a multitude that includes you and me, gathered around the cross.  They are characters like us in one degree or another, potentially or actually, in thought, word or deed, characters like you and me.  I particularly thank God for the restoration of Saint Peter from his impetuosity and cowardice or, a little later on, the conversion of Saint Paul from his lethal righteousness. The great hymn, “Ah, Holy Jesus,” has it right: “Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee? Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee!  ‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee.  I crucified thee.”

It is crucial that we understand we all are justly convicted because Jesus, the Lamb of God, gave his life for us. The point is not to be paralyzed with guilt. The point is to respond: to stop, to turn to Christ, to repent, and to be moved by the Holy Spirit into the most creative state of mind that can be had in our fallen world.  The New Testament word for this is metanoia, which means the transformation of a person by the renewal of the mind.  Do not be conformed to this world, says the Apostle, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,[4] that in Christ we who have been slaves of sin may now enjoy the freedom of God’s children.  “Come, Holy Spirit, come. Come as the wind and cleanse, come as the fire and burn, come as the light and shine.  Convict us, convert us, consecrate us, until we are wholly Thine.”

Jesus said, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.  Everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin…[But]…if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.”[5] Jesus enjoyed the perfect freedom that sin forfeits.  Jesus in his union with the Father, in every motion of his body, soul and spirit, lived the life we have not lived but see through a glass darkly.  Jesus, the Son of God and the Son of Man, the One True Human Being, in perfect free obedience came into predestined collision with our sin.  Thank God!  He invaded and re-conquered territory taken by the devil.  He paid the price of sin which none can afford and revealed the value that God places on each one of us.  He restored the possibility of communion and friendship with God and with one another in a new fellowship called the Body of Christ.

Yes, thank God.  That is why the day Christ died is called Good Friday.  And we are able to preach this Good News because on the third day Jesus rose from the dead.   

[1] St. Luke 19:31-34, and several other passages in the Gospels.

[2] Rev 5:6 and throughout subsequent chapters; and I Peter 1:20.

[3] Remark by Jane Williams in her superb video lecture, Why Did Jesus Have to Die?   

[4] Romans 12:2

[5] St. John 8:31-38

Homily Preached by the Rev’d Andrew C. Mead at the Church of the Advent, Maundy Thursday, April 18, 2019

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

Christ’s Last Supper in the Upper Room in Jerusalem took place in the shadow of the Jewish Passover, commemorating the Exodus from bondage in Egypt and the ongoing miracle of the Children of Israel through God’s particular providence right to the present.  Within that salvation history, Jesus’s mission was to accomplish a more profound deliverance – not from Pharoah, the Egyptians, and their army, but from Satan, sin and death.  And at this Last Supper, Jesus described his mission with two actions that shocked his followers and, were we not made used to it by centuries of repetition, would shock us as well.

First, Jesus got up, took off his robe and girded himself with a towel, poured water into a basin, and stooped to wash his disciples’ feet.  They were taken aback, and Peter said so. Jesus replied that we have no share in him unless he washes us clean.  He also said he was setting an example, not simply of a ceremony, but of a new commandment, that we are to love one another as he has loved us.  “You are my friends,” he added, “if you do what I command you.”[1] 

Second, Jesus took bread and wine to reveal the meaning of his approaching death, the event his friends so dreaded.  His death, he said, was their life!  Giving thanks and blessing, he broke the bread and gave it to them to eat, saying, “This is my body which is given for you.”  In the same way after supper he took a cup of wine and said “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.  Do this in remembrance of me.”  Early in his ministry, Jesus had said “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.”[2] We are what we eat.  Later Jesus called himself the Bread of Life and went on to say “the Bread I will give for the life of the world is my flesh”; and further, that those who “eat my flesh and drink my blood dwell in me and I in them.”[3]  Now they were tasting and seeing what he meant as they ate and drank the bread and the wine he gave them. They were, and we after them are, feeding on the embodied and sacrificed Word and will of God.

Every time we eat this bread and drink from this cup, we show forth the Lord’s death until he returns. Jesus is not only the Victim of the sin of the world hanging on the cross; Jesus is at the same time the Priest offering his Body and Blood for the life of the world.  We are included in this exchange.  Our sins are part of the dead wood of Jesus’s cross; and our sinful bodies and souls are cleansed by Jesus’s body and blood. This is our Holy Communion. Through this Sacrament, we are taken to the cross, and Jesus is here present; he dwells in us, and we in him.

But if we dwell in him and he is in us, we follow him.  At the Last Supper table, Jesus said one of his disciples would betray him, and that disciple went out into the night to fulfill the word.  There was time for Jesus to escape.  Instead he went out into the night as well, leaving the city for the Garden of Gethsemane. The Solemn Procession of the Blessed Sacrament to the Altar of Repose commemorates Christ’s journey there.  There, in an agony of sweat and blood, as Peter, James and John slept nearby, he prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.”  Then came the high priest’s soldiers and a crowd with Judas Iscariot leading the way. They identified Jesus, arrested him, and took him to his trials before both Church and State, which would result in his judicial murder on the day mysteriously named Good Friday.

Tonight and tomorrow night and Saturday night are called the Triduum Sacrum, the Great Three Days, and are really one continuous liturgy. At the end of tonight, as the choir chants the psalms of lamentation, we segue into tomorrow as the the high altar and sanctuary are stripped, symbolizing Christ’s humiliation.  Before you leave, you may wish to watch before the Blessed Sacrament for a while.

[1] St. John 15:12-14, after Jesus leaves the Upper Room and crosses the Kidron Valley to go to the Garden of Gethsemane.

[2] St. John 4:31-34, at Jacob’s Well in Samaria.

[3] St. John 6:1-71, where Jesus, following the miracle of the Feeding of the Five Thousand, spoke of himself at length as the Bread of Life.