The Completion of the Cross (Sermon)

This is an adapted form of the sermon I preached last night, Good Friday. The gospel text was the Passion according to John, John 18:1 — 19:42.

John tells us that it was a Friday evening when Passover began that year. It was one of those years when the first day of Passover was also the Sabbath. So that Friday was a very special day. It was the day of preparation for the Sabbath, as every Friday, and it was also the day of preparation for the Passover. The Passover, the greatest festival of the year. The day when Jews from all over Judea and Galilee, and beyond, gathered in and around the temple to celebrate. The lambs for the Passover celebration were slaughtered at 3:00 in the afternoon on the day of preparation, and the Passover itself began at sundown. The Passover, the greatest festival of the year, the festival that recalled the salvation from slavery that God had given the Israelites centuries before, began the moment Sabbath began, when the sun set behind the western horizon.

The other three gospels disagree with this chronology, as we saw last night. They say Thursday evening was the Passover. But that’s alright. It’s okay that they disagree. Because gospels aren’t about history. They’re about truth. And now, on Good Friday, we are very close to the truth. Painfully close to the truth about who God is, who Jesus is, who we are. We are excruciatingly close to God. And when we approach God, our words start to fail. Our timelines start to get muddled. Truth is deeper than history. When we approach God, we enter the realm of eternity, the realm of divinity, the realm of the inexpressible.

The realm of poetry. Poetry means using words to evoke, not to share information. Anything written about God must be poetry. If it’s not poetry, it’s not about God.

We approach God tonight. And it is frightening. There is a reason that attendance is lower on Good Friday than on Easter Sunday, and it’s not just because of timing. It’s because Good Friday is scary and intimidating. Coming to worship on Good Friday means you are willing to come face to face with death. Face to face with suffering. Face to face with God. You are courageous in being here tonight.

We approach God tonight. In a few minutes, a large cross will be brought in, and you will be invited to approach that cross. We don’t have nails or stones or any other items this year. This year, you are invited to approach the cross alone, alone as truthfully we all approach God. Empty. With nothing. I invite you to approach the cross. Kneel before it if you wish. Pray there if you wish. Touch the cross if you wish. Embrace it if you wish. Weep if you wish.

We also approach God tonight as we heard again the Passion story. We approach God as we pray in desperation for God’s help in this world. We approach God as we sing to his sacred head, now wounded.

We approach God tonight, because this is the night God approached us. This is the night that everything changed. This is the night that death was transformed into life. This is the night that the words of the high priest Caiaphas came true. Caiaphas had said, “It is better that one man die for the people rather than the whole nation be destroyed.” Caiaphas said it out of fear and cruelty, but he was unknowingly right. The death of one man was better than anything that had ever happened in the world before, or ever would happen. The death of one man on the Passover brought the salvation of the world. Because the one man who died on the Passover was the lamb of God.

We approach God tonight, the God of the Passover who fulfilled Passover that night, providing not a lamb for the sacrifice, but becoming the sacrifice, killed at about 3:00, the same time the lambs were slaughtered in the temple.

We approach God tonight, the God of the Passover, who fulfilled Passover that night, the one who had entered Jerusalem in triumph and palms five days before Passover, the same day that Passover lambs were selected and inspected. The one whose bones were not broken, as it says in Exodus 12, “you shall not break any of the bones of the Passover lamb.”

We approach God tonight, the God of the Passover who had once sent the destroyer to kill the firstborn of all the Egyptians to vouchsafe freedom from slavery for God’s chosen people. The God who now became the firstborn, the firstborn of Mary, the firstborn of the Holy Spirit, who was himself killed to vouchsafe freedom from sin for all of God’s creation.

We approach God tonight, the God of the Passover, the defining moment when the people of Israel truly became the chosen and sent people of God, the God who now transformed the Passover, the God who became the Passover, the God who was and is and always shall be our sacrifice, our high priest, our incense rising to heaven, our Lord, our Savior, our Redeemer, our Leader, our God.

We approach God, the God who has won the victory over death through dying, the God who has broken the gates of hell, the Great I AM who was crucified. The God of the Angel Armies who became vulnerable. The Word that once was spoken to create the world out of a formless void, the Word which is itself the very Wisdom of God, the Word that became flesh in the form of Jesus of Nazareth, the Word of creation that was nailed to a cross and then, and only then, uttered the words, tetelestai, which in English means “It is finished,” or “It is completed,” or “It is accomplished.”

Tonight, we approach God, the God who completed the world upon the cross of salvation, the God who fulfilled the covenants of scripture by becoming the new covenant, the God who died, the God who always and forever will live.

Tonight, we approach the God who approaches us.

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