Are you ready church? We are here. The most confusing day is here, the day God died. 40 days of silence have morphed into 7 days of kaos, the Hosannas have been shouted, the palms are wilted, the supper consumed, the feet washed, and the disciples have abandoned us. And yet, here we are. Sitting in this church, gathered on the darkest of our days- peering up at the hard wood of the cross, wondering what to do. To acknowledge that this is the day that God died is a bold statement, especially when we remember that it was our hosannas which also lead to shouts of Crucify Him! That is the mystery of this day, that we are capable of incredible life and immense death at whose center is the call from the Cross to be in community. Good friday is about an awakening to the reality that as hard as we might try, we can’t do this thing called life on our own. We tried, in the early hours of this morning when we dragged Jesus before Pilate and denied him. We tried in our fear to silence the life that brought us community and purpose, but we failed. We need each other. And Christ knows that, so in the abject tortured humanity of Christ’s last moments he says “Mother, here is your son, and to the disciple, behold your mother. He gives us the community of the Cross.
As we gathered in the upper room last night, there is a portion of the service where I kneel down in the sanctuary, facing the altar, as members of the parish recite with me Psalm 22, at different speeds, that amazing lament of the body which for me remains the soundtrack to this Good Friday. The kaos of those great and hard questions are uttered as the altar serves strip me of my chasuble, stole and alb, the altar washed, the light blown out, and the full destitute nature of this great day is unveiled as we physically see the darkness over shadow us. Yet within each grand movement of this day there are consistent invitations into community, into relationship, into the pain and reality of the cross which sets us free for life together. The word behold has a function which can be to draw attention, but is also about keeping hold of, or belonging too. Behold, to belong to. When we look through this lens into our Gospel from John this morning, chapter 19, we see just how that alters the words we hear. Its as if at every stanza, God is reaching through the text this morning to us and saying “ behold the Christ-you belong to this story, this is a story about you and your life. Behold your belonging!
John’s Gospel, unlike our synoptics Matthew, Mark, and Luke, move beyond the detail oriented life of Christ’s existence and into the deeper experience of a real and lived relationship between us and God which offers eternal life through Christ. This human side of the gospel, this relationship, helps us orient ourselves to the challenges of this day. Hung on the cross is the beaten and battered body of a mid 30’s man who had dared to preach the closeness of God’s kingdom and the coming fulfillment of the laws in him. He was believable, he was passionate, he was grounded, and he was one of us. It is easy to other the hardness of today as a distant memory, or a far away time, an experience we never can have today, and indeed the church for centuries othered this experience by blaming the jews for this atrocity- an accusation which is both lazy and false. And yet, our daily lives are full of Good Fridays. Those moments of pressure or pain, choice and accountability, challenge and relationship, our life is full of the sweat, blood, flesh and aching bones that hang upon the cross this morning. You and I, we together, are capable of great pain and great joy, which makes this story one about us- rather than just a story for us. Throughout our Gospel this morning, we hear of places where we are given the option to hold onto Jesus, when the officials and priests see Jesus for the first time at Pilates, when Pilate presents the option of barabas, when pilate presents us our king, when the inscription was written, and finally when his broken body is presented on the cross. In this final act, when he is hung on the cross, it becomes for us an eternal invitation into the community of the cross with Mary his mother and the Disciple whom he loved, holding open the door for us to behold who and what we are.
At the foot of the cross, as we crane our necks in sorrow and grief to see the tortured face of Christ we are called into a community of that cross, but what does that even mean? The Cross is the ultimate symbol of failure and control, and Rome knew that. We should have been silenced by the cross, and yet our story did not end there- it only began. You and I have been called into the community of the cross through our baptism- a baptism which does not frame us for posterity as the chosen frozen, but sets us free for the work of the kingdom. This animating and alive force in the world is one which stands at the margins, feeds the hungry, tends the sick, and safeguards creation. This community of the cross has existed for generations and has overcome oppression, fear, hate, defended the rights of minorities, and challenged the powers of this world. This community of the cross has also been a power in this world, colonized the indigenous, supported dictators, advocated hate, violence, and supremacy all in the name of money, greed, and worldly power. Mother, behold your son. We are capable of amazing things, and we are capable of terrifying things in the name of Christ. Yet even in the depths of human pain, Christ gives us refuge from the cross by ensuring we are never ever alone again, when he could have easily turned away from us his tormentors and just died silently. It is this refuge that we are called to live into today as the community of the cross.
We gather here today, on this unceded musqueam land in the long shadow of this great cross, the ultimate symbol of hate and fear, which is our refuge. For years now, our two communities have been sharing this refuge together on Good Friday alternating services every year. We share a similar context, living on a university campus, we are destination parishes, and share remarkably similar building designs. There are many reasons why this is something we should do, but there are also many reasons why we should not assume to do it either. Our presence here is at a cost, because by showing up we are saying yes to this community. Look around you, brother and sister united here in the shadow of this great cross- this is the cost. These faces here present are the community we are called to live in as members of the Cross, and it presents to us a challenge this Good Friday. Let us challenge ourselves to find ways to be together, pray together, share life together, lean into ministry together, to be in the gospel together. Let us not make this the only time we gather this year, because the Cross of Christ, in whose community we are instituted, needs us to share with the world around us what we are about in ways to deep for words. For the sake of the Cross, and the the community which it calls us into, let us dare to dream about what life together on this campus can look like in our own parishes. While we will always remain separate parishes, but this morning dares us to dream and accept the challenge of this day as we seek to pattern our lives as members of the community of the Cross together at UBC this year. Here are a few of the ways I think we can begin that work together;
- Let’s find ways to share in the joys and struggles of our baptized life together in fellowship. Come together for BBQ’s and parties throughout the year, celebrating the community we are given today at the cross. Our parish has great parking and an amazing BBQ, you have a wonderful convertible sanctuary. What would it look like with a swing band in here, dancing into the wee hours together for Reign of Christ. What would it look like to have a huge block party BBQ at St. Anselm’s together, roasting smores, singing hymns, sharing stories, and exchanging recipes for the perfect potato salad this Pentecost? What would it look like if our individual and parish social calendars reflected the community of the cross?
- Let us find ways to share in the teachings of the church and in the formation of disciples in this neighbourhood. What would it look like for us to partner in Christian education events? Co host speaker events, share in the development of an artist guild? What would it feel like to share bible study together with our neighbours? What would it look like for us to feed, clothe, and house the homeless together? What would it look like if we engaged in reconciliation with Musqueam nation together, or shared a booth at Wesbrook days? What would it look like if we shared our talents together in forming disciples for God’s kingdom in this place?
- Let us ground ourselves in the crucified one. Through bread, water, and prayer, come and see the places in which God is calling you and me together into new places, new challenges, and different opinions. Through communion, baptism and prayer, we are presented with the food, grace, and language to both see and enable the transformative conversions of faith that God gives to us daily. Through these conversions, or the daily dying to our pride/ego/self-dependence, we are brought into new life through an awareness of God’s presence in our life and sent into our shared ministry which transforms the world because of our presence within it. What would it look like for us to ground ourselves in the Crucified one?
Behold friends, today is about our life. Behold a story which is written for and about you and me together. Behold the cross, on which hung the saviour of the world. Behold, this is your community. The community of the Cross in which we now live will be a mess, it will be hard, it will be crushing- because at its root is a human life whose heart beats with the same flesh and blood as our own. The story of our Inauguration into the community of the Cross this morning can no longer be a speed bump on the way to Easter, because of the human and lived nature of its invitation this morning. At the greatest moment of Christ’s trail, in the depths of his human pain and suffering, he opens the door through mary and the beloved disciple to a community which transforms the world. The community of the Cross is about you and me together, it is about our life, our love, and our fear. It is, at its depths, a story about our relationship with each other and with God. The story of good friday has no united church, roman church, anglican church, methodists, or presbyterians. The story of good friday has humans, knit together in the shadow of the arms of the cross for the transformation of the world. You and I are called this morning into a relationship that will transform the world in which we live, because of the community to which we are called to meet- which is the Cross. Friends, behold your belonging- says Jesus from the Cross. Behold your community, grounded in the cross and empowered by the arms which hung upon this wood.
Behold your belonging, hanging on the wood of the Cross.
How are you going to respond?