Good Friday 2012 - John 18:1-19:42 -
God's Passion/Our Passion
Each year, year after year after year, Christians gather on Good Friday to rehearse this story - what we call the Passion Narrative. On Palm Sunday we read versions from Matthew, Mark and Luke. On Good Friday it has always been from John. Each gospel offers a slightly different view of what happened that day nearly 2000 years ago. It is like looking at a diamond from different angles - one sees different facets, different sparkles, different ways the light plays off the gem stone.
For John Jesus is Light - and His Light is the Life of the world. We call it Good Friday, even though it looks as if the light is extinguished. But for people of faith we know that is just not the case. We know the rest of the story. We know that the darkness has not overcome the light.
But we do know a few things about darkness in today's world. We see it from far off, we see it up close and personal. From the tragedy at the World Trade Towers, the tragedies of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to a close and dear friend of mine, Frances, who is battling brain cancer. As we sit in this magnificent chapel, even now she is in the hospital for a radiation treatment.
There is darkness for those who have lost their jobs, for the child born of a mother addicted to crack cocaine, for the homeless, the hungry, the destitute and those without jobs here and around the world. For those who live under oppressive military dictatorships, for those mother, father, sister or brother sits on death row, for those who live with HIV/AIDS. We know something about darkness.
Darkness for John is evil - specifically the evil of living under the military yoke of Rome. And even more so, the memory of Jesus standing up to the Imperial powers and the ruling religious authorities to say that a lot of people, most people, are not getting the kind of care and support they need to survive.
At my parish, St. Peter's, Wednesday evening we celebrated the life and death of The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In the church we observe the date of a martyr's death, not their birthday like the rest of the country does in January. The night before he was assassinated, he had been in Memphis, TN, to support the sanitation workers, garbage men, who were striking for a living wage. Some years before that, Dr. King was incarcerated in the Birmingham, AL jail, from which he wrote a series of letters urging white Christians to join his movement to end racial discrimination - segregation, what amounted to apartheid in America.
Our preacher, my friend and colleague The Reverend Gerald Collins, reminded us of one of these letters in which King quotes one of the 20th century's most renowned theologians, Reinhold Neibuhr. Quoting from Neibuhr's book, Moral Man and Immoral Society, Dr. King reminded the white clergy of Birmingham that "groups are more immoral than individuals.". King made this astonishing observation which I believe continues to this day. It was observed that more often than not individuals rarely act immorally, or practice bad ethics on their own. Such behavior patterns usually emerge in the actions and attitudes of a group - however large or small. It is the group mentality, or to quote the sociologist Erik Fromm, the "herd mentality" that drives teh greater hatred than the individual. Think of the Holocaust, the Ku Klux Klan, Rawanda, Pol Pot, The Inquisition and similar movements throughout history.
I would approach this theory by suggesting, "evil always needs help." "Evil needs companions!" Evil, the Devil, does not and cannot act on its own in order to achieve its intended goal. By comparison, "Goodness" or "Godliness" can always stand and act on its own merits.
This is what is going on in this story about Jesus. Evil had just enough companions to crucify him on that Friday, the Day of Preparation for the Passover, which that year was to be on the Sabbath. The collusion and collaboration between the Roman soldiers and politicians, religious authorities already on the payroll of Rome, and the usual crowd of "rubberneckers" always looking for a gory site to behold was just enough to put him on a cross and let him hang there for several hours before he gave up his spirit.
It is that giving up that always gets me. In Hebrew and in Greek there is just one word that means spirit, breath and wind. All three are understood to come from God. God's breath is our breath, God's spirit is what gives us life. Here in his final act of charity toward humankind, Jesus gives up his spirit.
He does not give in to the herd mentality. He does not give in to group evil. He remains steadfast in speaking truth to power, just like Dr. King, just like Gandhi, just like so many individuals throughout human history who have made a difference.
This story we just read together is drenched with meaning. Today I want us just to focus on the fact that the choice is ours. The choice is always ours. Evil is always looking for companions. Evil is always looking for help. And the choice to side with Evil is often attractive. There always appears to be something in it for me, even if it is just the cheap thrill of watching someone else suffer.
The other choice, of course, is to stand up to Evil. To stand your ground. Not to give in to the group. To speak truth to power. Or, to simply walk away and say I will not participate in this.
The world is still a dangerous place. There is no end, however, as to how much Goodness and Godliness just one person can give to the world.
If there is one moment to remember from this Passion Narrative of John's, it is that final moment when Jesus bows his head and gives up his spirit - that moment when God's Passion becomes our Passion!
He is giving it to us. The man who healed people, helped people, fed people, gave outsiders dignity, and welcomed all to sit at his table and share a meal, gives his spirit to us.
The world needs His spirit. The world needs your spirit. You can take His spirit which he gives away, which is given for the world, not just for Christians, not just for believers, but for the whole world, and you can do something beautiful with your life and bear much fruit. The World needs you. God needs you. We all need one another. Our choice needs to be to accept that spirit of Goodness and Godliness and make it your own. When you do, what looks like a tragic story becomes good. A very good story!
Which is why we call it Good Friday.