Grace Episcopal Church-Bakersfield, Ca
Good Friday Sermon
March 29, 2013
Collect: Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Lord, you are in the midst of us and we are called by your name: Do not forsake us, O Lord, our God. Amen.
Religion grows and survives primarily on the commemoration or reinforcement of symbols. The philosopher and historian Eliade writes that our human experience can be divided into two modes: the Profane, the physical, mundane, and yet chaotic would in which we live in, and Sacred, the reality of the Divine, set apart and out there somewhere in the ethereal. The symbols where the Sacred has been manifested into the physical world for its creation to share and experience are called “heirophanies”; Jesus is the hierophany of the Christian tradition. The events in the life of Jesus have become the central points in the history of our faith as we look to those who have shared in Jesus and how Jesus is continued to be revealed to us. While Jesus is always made known to us in ways beyond Word and Sacrament, the Christian calendar commemorates the Incarnation of the Word made flesh, the Passion and crucifixion, and the Resurrection as the key revealers of who Jesus is. On Good Friday, the Church commemorates the Passion of our Lord from his arrest, trial, execution, and burial.
John writes a Christology which affirms the sacredness of Jesus’ divinity as the word made flesh, the Lamb of God, and God’s begotten Son. There is no such thing as a coincidence in John’s narrative of the Passion; symbols and heirophanies which have played a significant part in the faith history of our Jewish ancestors are now used to reinforce Christ’s divinity. The actors who played their part in Act One have passed on, and now in the second act they have returned to haunt, seeking to be vindicated by the only one who can provide for them, and us, escape to the ultimate reality of God’s love.
After the Passover Supper, Jesus and his disciples retreat one last time across the Kidron Valley to the Mount of Olives, a place where Jesus frequently retreats for rest and prayer, and where some of his miracles take place. In contrast to the Upper Room, where the Passover took place which was purposefully kept secret, Jesus chose the location of his arrest to be open. Judas, along with a group of priests and Roman Soldiers, bring torches expecting to look high and low for their perpetrator. They bring weapons expecting a fight. Yet arrest isn’t even necessary, and Jesus offers himself to those who seek him. They approach him; John takes the liberty to reiterate three times that Judas was with them. Jesus asks, “Who are you looking for?” They reply, “Jesus of Nazareth”. Jesus responds, “I am he”. Now, whether Jesus has revealed his glory in revealing his identity, or there was some visible sign associated with that revelation which John fails to mention, or in their souls the group who was seeking Jesus was actually on his side, they respond to the revelation of his identity by bowing before him. Jesus asks again, “Who are you looking for?” They respond, “Jesus of Nazareth”.
There are four chapters missing between our Gospel reading last night on Maundy-Thursday and tonight. In these chapters Jesus finishes up the Passover by encouraging his disciples in what is about to come. These moments being the last final moments to himself, Jesus makes pilgrimage across the Valley of Kidron to pray and recollect himself for what is coming, and this is made more apparent in the Synoptic Gospels.
The Valley of Kidron (located between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives) has a baggage of symbols attached it, and I think it’s safe to say the baggage outweighs the symbols from which it proceeds. The valley itself is not so much a valley as it is a deep ravine and it is in this “valley” where the filth of the city has been washed out. Centuries prior, Prophets called the people to repent of idolatry, and idols had been smashed to dust and washed out into the ravine. King David, the fulfillment of Jewish Covenant prior to Jesus, retreated across the Kidron to the Mount of Olives when his son Absalom was seizing the throne. After King David was reclaiming the throne, his closest advisor who betrayed him by aiding Absalom committed suicide, the only other person in the Christian Bible besides Judas to do so. It is here, where the blood of thousands of lambs which had been sacrificed earlier that day, and for centuries past, has ended painting the rocks and dust crimson, providing an eerie scene on the night of a full moon and a reminder to Jesus of his own sacrifice to come and his own lack of absolution in his innocence. The “valley of the shadow of death” of Psalm 23 has competition with Kidron in the battle of worst profane places. Here in this valley, the sin of the people and atonement from the slaughter of the lambs are juxtaposed into a dry riverbed. It is here that David wrote Psalm 3 and 41 in his emotional anguish and it is here Jesus also perhaps prayed those Psalms written by his ancestor in asking God for this coming fate to Passover him, just as the firstborns were passed over on the Eve of the Exodus by the blood of lamb. Among other things, the Kidron was pretty much the common sewer, the polar opposite of Kosher and profanity at its best. King David fled across Kidron, fleeing for his life. King Jesus processes across the Kidron to give his life up. And next to Kidron on the Mount of Olives was a Garden It was in a Garden where the human race had its fall, and we’ve been trying to get back to paradise ever since. In this Garden, Jesus reveals to the soldiers and priests who were arresting him as the I Am, just as God was revealed to Moses. And it is in this garden that Jesus, the New Adam, will make the move to bring reconciliation between God and humanity, and reconciliation to humanity with itself.
The poet might say that history repeats itself in ways which we don’t intend it to. The Hindu in this situation might say that Karma keeps us on the wheel of Samsara which turns over and over and over again until we find our escape from this chaotic would which we have been born into. What Jesus does is provide that escape for us with his opening words in tonight’s Passion reading.
“Who are you looking?”
We are truly products of our environment. We build, smash, and rebuild the idols which have kept us in contempt with God and our neighbors. We attempt to find atonement in the wrongs which we have done. We have those moments like David where we are trying to save our lives, and those moments like Judas when we just feel like giving up, and Jesus continues to ask, “Who are you looking for?” Other variations in the Gospels include, “Who do you say I am?” or “What are you looking for?” Regardless of how it is asked, the answer is the same.
In the messes of our own profaned gardens, where things have become overgrown by weeds or the soil has lost it fertility, and death is imminent in the things which we have planted, Jesus offers himself freely to us, offering the mercy in the amendment of life, and grace in our lives renewed. The funny thing about the Profane we live in is the fact that without it we are unable to seek the Sacred revealed to us. We all have reasons to seek Jesus; in fact, we are all seeking Jesus. Some have had the intentions like Saints and Prophets before us to seek Jesus for the purification of our minds and souls and to administer the justice and reconciliation and love of God due to all people. Others, like those who sought to kill Jesus, have sought Jesus for their own gain and twisting for the mistreatment of others. In our moments of confusion, illness, and whatever our lives will throw at us, and in the moments where we are most seeking God and doing the work God has given us, in the areas of our lives which we have profaned to the point where they have become sacred to our identities, Jesus is asking, “Who are you looking for?” Sometimes the answer might be a reality check on our part, or sometimes is might be the one word prayer we all need to pray. All we have to do is respond. Amen.