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Sermon: Good Friday The Three Hours - Homily

Friday 3rd April 2015
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Hebrews 10.16-25; John 18.1-19.42

God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

The proclamation of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ which we have just heard drives to the heart of the mystery of the Christian faith: glory, grace and truth in Jesus Christ.

In his Passion Gospel the themes and threads that John sets out in the Prologue to his Gospel are woven together into the seamless robe of proclamation that, ‘it is accomplished’ (John 19.30a).

What is accomplished is the saving and life giving death of Jesus Christ: and as the Prologue reminds us, ‘in him was life’ (John 1.4a). His life is the light shining in the darkness; a light the darkness appears to overcome – today of all days - but never can (John 1.4, 5).

The proclamation is that God has shared, totally and unreservedly, in human experience by being one of us. God has ‘dwelt among us and we have seen his glory’ (John 1.14).

Through the Incarnation we can boldly say that, ‘God meets us where we are’, actually, more than that, God has shared in our condition and ‘God is where we are’. Today, on Good Friday, as we contemplate the Cross we can go even further, ‘we meet God where he is’ that is, in the face of the Crucified, ‘we are where God is’ where charity and love are found.

St John’s proclamation of glory, grace and truth is set in the murk and mire of humanity in its rawness and at its worst: there is abuse of power, betrayal, fragility and disappointment: Caiaphas, Judas, Peter. And at the same time faithfulness, care and attention: Mary, the Beloved Disciple, the women, Joseph of Arimathea.

This is where the human condition can go, and God is there. This is where he meets you and me today: I am a manipulated manipulator; betrayed and betraying; a disappointed disappointment; fragile. In a word, sinful. Yet the point is that I, and you, also have the capacity to faithfulness, care and attention: in a word, love. God takes on the human image to restore us to his image and likeness: in a word, salvation; God does not leave us to wallow.

This is how the Christian faith gives a most deeply graceful, glorious and true account of the human condition. Knowing God’s glory, grace and truth helps us to navigate our lives as disciples, those who walk in the way of the cross. Truth holds us to a searing judgement as we face up to our own complicity in the sinfulness and collusions of a violent and deceptive world. Grace bears that sinfulness as we hold on to the vision of God’s glory.

‘If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us’, says St John in a letter (1 John 1.8). Honesty about ourselves and the consequence of our sinfulness enables us to be real, and to know that salvation is not something we manufacture but is a graced gift of God.

Anything else, is ‘Gospel-lite’, when glory, grace and truth mutate and are obscured in the inoffensive niceness of a limp proclamation of the Gospel.

Glory, grace and truth are threads that run through these sacred three days, known as the Triduum Sacrum, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and that proclamation comes in two ways today.

First, the bare, stark wood of the Cross demands our attention in its arresting brutality. We are invited to come forward, to touch, even to kiss, to reverence. It is like the devotion of the Stations of the Cross, where we move and walk the way of the cross. We place ourselves with Mary, the Mother of God, St John, the Beloved Disciple, the other women, the centurion and those who passed by. The wood of the cross thus venerated engages our senses and imaginations, and it can never leave us neutral. It is a sign of brutality and death and yet the source of glory.

The second Proclamation of the Cross in the Liturgy is in the giving of Holy Communion; Christ’s body and blood. The Cross is proclaimed not simply as a vivid reminder of a brutal death and way of killing (as if we could forget) but rather the Cross as the place on which Christ’s body was broken and his blood flowed, fulfilling the language of Maundy Thursday and the Institution of the Eucharist and its celebration day by day, and Sunday by Sunday, that propels us towards the Resurrection after first the deep Sabbath of tomorrow and Christ entombed.

So we will soon have the wood of the cross almost literally thrust into our faces. Christians can never bypass the cross. It is the sign and mark of the duty and joy we carry in baptism as we seek to live our lives as faithful disciples day by day.

And as the Passion Gospel proclaims, glory is seen in Christ on the cross: indeed in Orthodox Christianity the words above Jesus on the cross are the non-literal, but profoundly true, words, ‘O Basileus tes Doxes,TheKing of Glory.

As we kneel at the foot of the cross today we gaze upon God’s glory, grace and truth: the Crucified fixes us in his loving gaze; and the words of St John Chrysostom fall from our lips, ‘I see him crucified; I call him King’