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Sermon – Good Friday

Good Friday – Were You There?

Sermon Preached by Reverend Stuart Langshaw on Friday, 29 March 2024.

Last night, Maundy Thursday, we reminded ourselves about the three commands that Jesus gave his followers on that evening, and how those commands, and what Jesus did then, affected Judas Iscariot and Simon Peter.

But things have moved on in the timetable of events that affected Jesus and his followers – Jesus’ arrest, his trial before the Jewish authorities, and now his trial before the Roman authorities. Who was there on Good Friday? What role did they play?

There was Pontius Pilate. History tells us that he was a pretty weak governor for Rome – relegated to this out of the way corner of the Empire of Judaea where nothing ever happened. His job was to keep peace and raise revenue for the Empire. He had to admit – The Jewish authorities were a bit of a pain, but nothing he couldn’t handle. And they had brought this Jewish teacher fellow for trial on the charge of treason … called himself the King of the Jews. Well … really!! What a storm in a teacup. It was a matter for the Jews, not for him. He would show them. In a dramatic flourish he washed his hands before the crowd, as if to say, “Not my problem. Over to you!” Even so, the Jews who took over the event needed the Roman soldiers to carry out the crucifixion, so in the end, Pilate’s washed hands signed the execution order.

For Pilate, Jesus was an irrelevance in the bigger picture of the Roman Empire … a momentary inconvenience. Pilate had other things to do. And there he was, sitting in Jerusalem, at a geographical and emotional distance … but he was there when they crucified our Lord.

There are many Pontius Pilates in our community. For them Jesus is an irrelevance. They have eggs to hunt, chocolate chickens to consume, Easter public holidays to take. But the claims of the Jesus who is at the centre of this weekend they keep at arm’s length. Jesus was crucified on Good Friday – so what? Nothing to do with them. It’s a holiday. At an emotional distance certainly, but they were there when they crucified our Lord.

Then there was Mary, Jesus’ mother. Can we possibly imagine what Mary was going through out on that hill of Calvary? Her son suffering one of the most barbaric forms of execution devised by man. Her son being the object of the abusive shouting of the Jewish crowd and being the object of the smug crowing of the Jewish authorities. Her son who had been the subject of angel’s announcement and of heaven’s praise when he was born, now the subject of human anger and of earthly abuse when he was dying. Her son …. her son …

Mary was there when they crucified our Lord.

The are many Marys in our community. They identify exactly with Mary for they too have lost sons and daughters. Their hearts too are on the verge of breaking as they realise that not all the love they have ever felt, not all the love they could ever engender, could save their child. Mothers of the victims of road crashes … mothers of the victims of drugs …. mothers of children with whom they have lost contact … mothers of the victims of affluence who feel that their mothers are beneath them … mothers of children who have died.

Mary … and all the Marys … they were there when they crucified our Lord.

There was John, Jesus’ disciple. He was the only one left standing of the twelve disciples at the foot of the cross on Good Friday. The others had locked themselves away in the upper room in fear of their lives and liberty. Understandably so. This young man, usually portrayed as the youngest of the disciples, stayed. I guess he was fearful that he might be arrested – but in the crowd on the hill of Calvary that day, he could probably get away with being anonymous to the authorities. His youthfulness probably gave him camouflage, because the rest of the disciples were middle aged at least. As he looked at the crucified figure of his Lord and Teacher, there would have been so many thoughts coursing through his mind. He had left fishing in order to follow Christ. He had been one of the three “inner cabinet” of the disciples’ band, along with his brother James and with Peter. What was it about fishermen that caused Jesus to choose them to be his closest followers? Young John had witnessed Jesus being transfigured. He had received the transformed Passover bread and wine at Jesus’ hand. He had had his feet washed by Jesus. There were so many reasons to run away with the other disciples. But there were so many reasons to stay with Jesus’ mother. Jesus was her son. Jesus was his mentor.

And Jesus committed his own mother Mary to John’s care, and Jesus committed his young disciple John to Mary’s care. In our terms, Mary was to be John’s foster-mother. (John 19:26, 27). No wonder John’s gospel is the only gospel to record this interchange, for John was the only one there.

John was there when they crucified our Lord.

The are some Johns in our community. Young people who have been called and counselled by Jesus. Young people who have found in Jesus their Saviour, their Master, their Lord, their mentor. In the midst of all the other calls and demands of modern life on young people, there are those who hear Jesus’ voice above all the clamour and noise, and put their trust in Jesus.

John … and all the Johns … they were there when they crucified our Lord.

There was the Roman Centurion. He was ordered to be at the crucifixion that day. He was rostered on. His job was to make sure that all the rotten things that happened as Bruce Daw portrayed them in the poem we had earlier, actually happened. He saw the soldiers mechanically – perhaps even cruelly – go about their grizzly work. The Roman centurion heard Jesus’ seven words from the cross, and he wondered … how could someone in as much obvious pain as this prisoner say comforting words to one of the other victims? How could a crucified victim see his broken-hearted mother there, and speak so gently to her? What was it about this man? Oh, the centurion had heard things of course. All the Romans had. They knew that this was an execution of political convenience. To get this trouble maker out of the way and off the scene. But … but … look at him. But … but … listen to him. But .… but .. watch him. This was no criminal. This was no rabble-rouser. This was no threat to Caesar. As much as the Centurion knew and understood his Roman religion, he would have to say that this man was … a Son of God.

Was this fully formed faith? Was it “faith on the way”? Whatever it was, here was a man who was affected by the demeanour and the grace of a man on the cross. There was something about this Jesus that he would never have guessed from the way people had spoken about him. He wondered about Jesus, he wished he knew.

The Roman centurion was there when they crucified our Lord.

The are some Roman centurions in our community. People who wonder about Jesus and his teachings – people who reach out for guidance in their lives – people who strain out what others say about Jesus and want to come to their own conclusions.

The Roman Centurion… and all the centurions … they were there when they crucified our Lord.

This morning many of us have come to our little re-creation of Calvary. We have come forward to recognise the cross – hang our purple cloth on it, place our perfumed Rosemary near it. For an hour or so we may retain the perfume of the Rosemary on our hands. We may be a Pontius Pilate, or a Mary, or a Centurion, or a John – or we may just be ourselves who have come to pay a very public homage to the cross, and by extension, to the Christ who die there.

No matter who we are, no matter what the strength or the fragility of our faith, today on Good Friday we re-create and re-live for ourselves the atmosphere, the tension, the faith, the grace of Good Friday, and the death of Jesus on a cross at Calvary. There are two very short words in the Holy Communion’s Thanksgiving Prayer that make the sacrifice of Jesus very personal – and those two words are “for us.” All that happened on Good Friday was “for us.” That’s the extent and the depth of God’s love. As young John wrote in his gospel, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him might not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

All of us – we were there when they crucified our Lord.

Holy Week, Norma Farber’s poem (‘Compassion’) asks where is Jesus’ mother on Good Friday? In Mary’s house the mourners gather.
Sorrow pierces them like a nail.
Where’s Mary herself meanwhile?
Gone to comfort Judas’s mother.