A Sermon for Good Friday

By: David H. May, Rector

There are so many words, so many in this story of Jesus last days and hours. So many. There is so much to try to say to describe – ‘here’s what happened’. The crowds would have been huge in Jerusalem for the Passover. There would have been people there on pilgrimage from all over the Mediterranean. So many different voices and faces and characters are there in this scene of Jesus’ last hours on this earth. It’s dizzying to sort them all out and to find your bearings. In my imagination, it reminds me of a day in 1972 when I stepped out of a cab in Times Square in New York by myself in the clothes my father had bought for me for my first solo voyage out into the world. I was dressed as a buttoned-up southern gentleman though all of 13. And what I saw and heard, like Jerusalem at the Feast of the Passover, was overwhelming. Haitians running three-card Monte in heavily accented English and Russian cabbies shouting out sounding to me like Boris and Natasha from the television cartoon show Bullwinkle, and tourists laden with cameras from Des Moines or Tokyo or Hamburg, and Indians from the South Continent dressed, to my 13 year old eyes, so strangely. It was a cacophony of the whole world in all colors and languages surging in this one place.

The Gospel of Jesus’ death describes a scene just as dizzying where we are bounced around in the surging crowd just as bewildered as a kid from the south in Times Square. And it’s hard to know where to stand or what to do or to know where you belong or even who you are in this crazy scene that seems to be accelerating towards some hidden but inevitable place. Who are you in this crowd? Where do you stand? Whose side are you on? – because knowing what side to be on seems to be of the utmost importance these days.

For us today, I want to try something. I want to try to find us a place to stand, to get your bearings and figure out who you are in this crowded scene. I want to ask you to think this through with me. We’ll see if our hearts follow and overhear what our heads are considering.

When we come to the Cross of Jesus on this day of all days, we come with a story of our whole life behind us and the time to come before us. All that we have been before gets funneled into this moment. And we also come before the Cross of Jesus with something else; something that comes with that whole story. We come with so many identities of who we are or who we think we are or who we think we must be or who others have told us we are. We have so many names we know ourselves by like the cacophony of humanity is inside us too. I wonder if over the course of the next, oh, I don’t know, maybe half hour before we go from this place, if we won’t try to simply divest ourselves of all of the names we know ourselves by. As I go along, you may well feel resistance. You might even feel angry or offended. Or sad. That’s alright. We’re all here together with one another. We’re all just people. And God knows its hard to be a person. And its only for a half an hour. Let’s try.

Before the Cross of Jesus, what if just for right now, I try to discover who I am in this crowd, what side am I on, and where I stand? So just for starters and in no particular order, what if I begin by taking off my campaign button that names me as a conservative. Or a liberal. Of a sensible moderate. Or libertarian. Or, whatever. Can I just slip my arms out of that garment and take that off just for right now and place it on the ground and not be known by that name. Just for a minute. It can’t tell the full tale of who any of us is. It could feel strange, like losing yourself or a part of yourself. But maybe that’s the point.

That’s just a start. What else? What other name I know myself by can I put down for now. How about that I am a Virginian? Or a Southerner? Or a Midwesterner? Or an Australian or Irish or British or even an American?

What If I take off that garment that names me as a lawyer or a teacher or a priest or a financial person? What if I let that name I know myself by fall to the ground.

What if, just for now, no one here was born with the ‘right’ last name, or the ‘wrong’ last name’?

A the foot of the Cross of Jesus what if I laid down on the ground that I am Black or White or gay or straight or a mother or a brother or a daughter or a husband or divorced?

What can be left, if I leave so much behind? What will be left of me?

What if I put down and lay aside that I am well-off or poor or doing ok, sort of, and all that I think those things mean?

What if I put aside that I am funny or clumsy or vivacious or withdrawn or smart or someone who is always putting their foot in their mouth or who tries to say something funny that no one ever laughs at or is a perfectionist or easy-going or virtuous? What if I unwrap myself from my personal adjectives?

What if I put aside from my mind this stage play (God knows who has written it) full of stock-characters I know myself by, like the clown or the savior or the also-ran or the benighted victim or the wise woman or the fool?

What is left? Maybe this is too foolish a thing to suggest to discover who I am in this crowded scene. But if you could just put all that down and walk away from it, this would be the day, the one day to try.

Because on this day, divested, unrobed, unwrapped, dislodged from so many names we know ourselves by there might finally be enough room to discover that there is one name remaining deep within. Even if every single name you know yourself by were put away and you thought all was lost and that you were lost, before the Cross of Jesus one name remains. And it is this:

that you are the one for whom the Lamb of God, Jesus, laid down his life, for love.

For love.

That is the name you are known by today which nothing else can ever touch or take away.

And that is all that is left after everything else, after everything else is gone, after he, is dead and is gone and buried. You are the one whom the Lord of Life, the Son of God and the son of Mary, for love, laid down his life.

That remains today when nothing else does.