Here’s the sermon given by Mother Anne-Marie at our Good Friday Liturgy. This service followed on at 2pm from the series of sermons, hymns and reflections that began at 12 noon. It includes the reading of the whole of the Passion from Saint John’s Gospel.
In the talks that preceded this liturgy, we have, with the help of Paula Gooder’s book “Journey to the Empty Tomb”, looked at some of the biblical passages about the last week of Jesus’ life and some of the characters that emerge from the text. We saw how some of those closest to Jesus failed him – notably Judas and Peter; and how some people, totally unknown, emerged to help him or affirm who he was – Simon of Cyrene and the Centurion.
We surmised that Simon most probably became a disciple because we know his sons, Alexander and Rufus, were part of the early church. We have no idea what happened to the centurion, who affirmed so boldly that Jesus was the Son of God, but we did note that his affirmation of who Jesus was is more confident than many who might be church goers or call themselves disciples. Simon of Cyrene, and possibly the Centurion, were at the beginning of their discipleship at the crucifixion, and as such acquitted themselves well. It is the old hands, Judas and Peter, who stumble, fall and are found wanting. Peter who was so confident of his constancy and yet he denies Jesus three times; and Judas Iscariot who had been with Jesus through his ministry and yet hands him over to the Sanhedrin.
However long we have been a Christian, however often we come to church, however much we try to care for others and be “Christ like”, we will often fail. Our faith will wobble, our commitment will waver, our caring will be found wanting. And that is why we come to the foot of the cross. We come to be forgiven and restored, in the full knowledge that on the cross Jesus bore the weight of our sins and made it possible for any sin to be forgiven and for us to come into full relationship with God once again. To be the person God intended us to be. To be fully ourselves.
Even though Peter denied knowing Jesus three times in the Courtyard of the High Priest during that long night of the trials, he was fully forgiven on the beach at breakfast after the resurrection. Not only was he forgiven, he was restored to be himself again; the bold, passionate, committed Peter. His sin never wore him down again after Jesus’ forgiveness on the beach. He preached the Good News boldly and led the early church with conviction.
In her book “Journey to the Empty Tomb”, Paula Gooder poses the question – “What would have happened to Judas if he had not committed suicide, but lived and met Jesus after the Resurrection. Would he have been forgiven like Peter?” The only answer I can give to that is a resounding “yes”. Matthew’s gospel tells us that “when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented ……and said ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood’……..and he went and hanged himself.” If Judas had gone to Jesus and repented and declared his love of Jesus, of course he would have been forgiven. And surely we must believe that that forgiveness was there for the repentant Judas beyond the grave. Jesus welcomed him with open arms of love into his eternal kingdom. Because this is what the death of Jesus is about. It is both personal and cosmic. The world changed as Jesus died. That is why some of the gospel writers emphasise that the sky went dark, the curtain of the temple was torn in two and even that the graves of the dead were opened. This is the coming of a new age, God’s Kingdom has broken into our world and heaven is no longer veiled from us. Of course God’s Kingdom is not fully established here on earth but it is our task as disciples to live now in this new reality and to live for that Kingdom and by those Kingdom values of love and forgiveness.
But Jesus’ death is also personal. And perhaps on Good Friday this is the part we relate to most, especially as we come to venerate the cross and remember what Jesus did for each one of us. This is truly personal. Through his death, we know that whatever we do, however bad it is, we can come back to God and be forgiven, be fully restored into relationship with him, and begin again. And we know that heaven’s gates are wide open to receive us and eternal life is ours. In the words of St John “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” Amen.