The Passion of Our Lord – Good Friday
The Very Reverend Torey Lightcap

The days are beginning to run together.

When we first went inside, it was supposed to be for a week or so.
The grass was still brown. The only birds in our backyard were a couple of cardinals.
Now I write sermons with the windows open, and the yard is green,
And the grackles have come; their grating noises are mixed
With the call of the mourning dove, the songs of chickadees and titmice.

We fight an enemy we cannot see: COVID-19.
It is the epitome of a broken world: indiscriminate and cruel, taking many lives the world over:
Eighty-three thousand as of Wednesday – lives precious to God and to us.

Those on the front lines are telling us, This is real.
Hospitals are overrun. Fear goes deep.

We fight by staying in, remaining at home, minimizing social contact,
Washing our hands, covering our faces when we’re out in public.
Still, these measures feel like minute gestures
In the face of the statistics we have seen and heard.

The real-life faces of others have been replaced by faces on screens.
For the moment, we wouldn’t dare shake the hand of a stranger.
When I go out and take a walk, seeing other people who don’t live in my house …
How strange, that they are whole people.

Something seismic is happening.
When you’re in it, at the time that it’s happening, it’s hard to name.
We just know that we long to return to normal,
But at the same time we understand that some things may have changed for good.

All we’re left with, is to grieve, to lament.
And from there, to try to make some kind of collective sense of our losses.
There is a palpable heaviness in us and around us at this moment.

When I see Jesus on the cross, as we do today,
I am reminded that God suffers with the world.
That’s what the word “compassion” means – “to suffer with.”
I see that God is acquainted with sorrow, knows the heaviness of which I speak,
Is no stranger to pain and loss and deprivation.

The idea of a God who “suffers with,” in real pain, is frankly shattering.
It makes us go back and re-evaluate everything we think we know.

The cross smashes just about everything to pieces.
It smashes our expectations about Jesus, for one thing.
We want him to call down heaven to testify on his behalf, reclothe him in princely purple,
Bring fire and vengeance to Rome, fix his wounds, and set up a throne.
It’s only human nature to want, but it’s also wishful thinking.

Because who and what is the God of Scripture, if not one who is instantly available
In every human grief and tragedy;
And what would it say if God ignored the realities of so much suffering in our life
And demanded our fealty without the least bit of solidarity?
It would turn that God into an unconcerned puppet master, and one unworthy of our worship.
We would be expected to smile like cult members and act as though everything was perfect,
When clearly it wasn’t.
We would be expected to toe the dogmatic line and to make black-and-white declarations
That God is only interested in winners and winning,
And to hell with losers.
The image of a God who must be victorious in all things
Is smashed by this day,
And exposed for the idol it is.

The cross obliterates every instinct we have to Triumph At All Costs,
And instead it speaks peace to a world shaken by pandemic.

The cross shatters the illusion of Christian greatness and glory,
And instead it salves the wounds of the sick.

The cross dislodges pride; it ruins self-satisfaction and a theology of works,
That I Can Do It All Myself,
And it makes us ever more dependent upon each other for our life.

The cross speaks peace to the restless ones;
It uproots our need for privilege, pleasure, and esteem.
It smashes every little vanity,
And instead it leaves us with the image of a Savior whose very death
Is ironically the life of the world.

Somehow, in a way we can never fully comprehend,
Humanity nailed up the most important person who ever lived,
And let him die a terrible death over the course of hours
Until he could no longer breathe.

And somehow, in that ultimate losing situation that we engineered, …
God, out of total compassion and solidarity, became not just some abstract idea,
But completely shaped to our life,
Totally tuned to the pain of this planet at this moment.

Somehow, beneath the need to worship a shiny, powerful God who always wins,
Anyone who has really suffered anything should be able to identify.
It is a clear communication. And not the first one. And certainly not the last.

Emmanuel means “God with us.”
Today we have to cling to that claim with all our might.

Where can we go today, but to our knees, to confess, to wonder;
To look amidst all the chaos and death for something like grace;
What else can we do,
But to stay one more day at the tomb to watch and pray, and see what happens next?