Firstly, let us ponder the victory of the cross. This is made manifest in the last words of Jesus as recorded by John’s Gospel: ‘it is finished’. Does that seem strange to you? It did to me when I was younger. Surely not, I thought as a child. Surely the greatest act in the drama is yet to come. Surely the real point of the Passion narrative is the final chapter: the Resurrection. In a deep sense this is true. We are only gathered here on Good Friday because of Easter Day. We are Resurrection people even on the day of the Cross. For they always go together. There is no need to be dismayed by Good Friday or overly consumed by its challenges of pain, death, grief, guilt, and shame. Yet it is not Resurrection, for John’s Gospel, which is at the heart of the overcoming of them. It is pre-eminently the work of Christ on the cross. The ancient Church had a title for this: they called it Christus Victor: Christ the Victor. This can be understood in different ways but the core of it is that Christ on the cross frees us from all the powers of sin, guilt, shame and evil which cling to us. Such principaities may have thought to have won with Jesus’ death. Yet, actually, God, through the power of invincible suffering transforming love, had turned the tables. Perhaps you may recall C.S.Lewis’ picture of this in his Narnia Chronicles? Aslan, the great lion, the figure of Christ, is shorn, tied to the executioner’s stone, and slain. Yet, at that seemingly lowest point of extinction, Aslan triumphs. The stone table cracks, the powers of magic unwind, the great liberation occurs. So it is with John’s Gospel. The work of God’s Love is complete in the Crucifixion. ‘It is finished’. All sin, evil, darkness, pain is taken up be Christ on the cross and their sting removed. Nothing is as powerful as this Love.
For, secondly, let us ponder the healing of the cross. John’s Gospel is clear that the crucifixion brings health and renewal. It is not a device of God’s punishment. Rather Christ takes the punishment of the Roman authorities and transforms it. This is part of what the following verse alludes to: ‘they will look on the one whom they have pierced.’ This is a quotation from Zechariah 12.10 and part of a passage of great mourning. Yet it is hard too not to hear that earlier verse in John’s Gospel which speaks of Christ being lifted high on the cross, just as Moses lifted high the serpent in the wilderness on a pole. John is pointing us to the cross as healing. Just as the serpents in the wilderness were disarmed and wholness restored to the people of Israel by Moses’ action, so God in Christ on the cross disarms all the powers of sin and evil, and offers us renewed wholeness of being. The victory is complete. Healing is offered to us. Will we take it?
Will we grasp God’s victory today, and begin to be healed as we look on the cross? It is not about us as individuals but as a new community and restored creation. For, thirdly, we may fruitfully ponder the new creation of the cross. This, for me, is symbolised so powerfully by the closing scene with others before Jesus’ actual death. ‘He said to his mother’, we are told, ‘Woman, here is your son’, referring to the beloved disciple. ‘Then’, the Gospel relates, ‘he said to the disciple “Here is your mother”. And from that hour’, we are told, ‘the disciple took her into his own home.’ What we find in the crucifixion here is therefore much more than business concerning Jesus alone, or God alone, or even Christ alone triumphing over the powers of sin and evil. It is the offer of healing in a new community. Jesus may die, but new relationships are born. The cross is thus not the end but a new beginning. We, as church, are the living signs of Christ's victory and healing, witnesses and bearers of God's new creation. No wonder , in John's Gospel, that Jesus is placed in the tomb in a garden: seeding a new beginning.
How does this speak to you, I wonder? If you are anything like me, Good Friday can bring up all kinds of sorrows and griefs and shame and pain: individual, family, church and world. And they hurt, don't they? They do, sometimes horribly, and part of what we do today is to name them, if only in the silence of the hearts, and pin them to the cross. For the good news is that Christ on the cross is ultimately victorious over them all, turns the tables on them, and unwinds all their magic. In doing so, Christ offers us healing: as individuals, families, church communities and as a world. We no longer need to feel bound by our past, or by fear of the future, or by anything at all. The cross sets us free. And, through this, we can become the new community of God once more, renewed in love and in fresh relationship with God, with one another, and with all of Creation. In doing so, we become more deeply part of God’s continuing narrative, the story of eternal life. Which is why this day is truly Good Friday.
In the name of the One who was lifted high for our salvation, Jesus Christ, Amen.
by Jo Inkpin, for Good Friday 2018