When the light went out (Good Friday Sermon 2016)

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March 21, 2016 by jmar198013

Manuscript of my Good Friday sermon for this year.

Scriptures: Isaiah 52.13 – 53.12

Psalm 22

Hebrews 10.16-25

John 18.28-40; 19.1-42

I’m reading the events of the Gospel lesson for Good Friday from John in contrast to the first chapter of John’s Gospel: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

An audio link is embedded below for those who would rather listen.


John began his Gospel at the beginning. When there

was the Word

    and the Word was with God

    and the Word was God.

The Word was with God in the beginning.

Everything came into being through the Word,

    and without the Word

    nothing came into being.

What came into being

     through the Word was life,

    and the life was the light for all people.

The light shines in the darkness,

    and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.

When God said, Let there be light!; and light tore through the curtains of primal darkness and danced with the Spirit-wind hovering over the face of the waters. That was the Word of God.

And John says—almost matter-of-factly; Oh, didn’t you know?—he says:

The Word became flesh

    and made his home among us.

We have seen his glory,

    glory like that of a father’s only son,

        full of grace and truth.

John doesn’t tell us how the Word became flesh. That’s none of our business, really. But John wants us to know that the Word by which God spoke everything into being became a human. A flesh and blood and breath and bone human. Who lived and moved and had his being. With us. In the world that had been made through and by and for him.

The Word of God became a Galilean carpenter with a mother and everything! The Word of God became an underprivileged child who grew up in a nowhere town, under the thumb of the Roman empire.

And he was called Jesus by his family and friends and disciples and even people who hated him.

* * *

We have heard John say that:

The light shines in the darkness,

    and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.

But tonight we heard John tell another story.

We watched, we listened, we stood by in shock as the light was extinguished by the darkness.

We watched the light go out.

We saw creatures murder their creator.

We heard the Powers-That-Be pass their final judgment on the wisdom that conceived the cosmos.

We saw the One in Whom All Things Hold Together torn apart.

How can we kill the very source of our being, and still live?

We have just watched helplessly while the light that gives life to all people—the light that had shined in our darkness—was snuffed out.

We have watched as the light of the world was hidden, sealed up in the darkness of the tomb.

How can we go on living, when we have killed the very Word who gives life?

* * *

But of course, while it was all going down

while Jesus was being interrogated by Pilate

while the authorities were justifying the murder of an innocent man

while the hyper crowds were demanding that the outlaw Barabbas be pardoned, and Jesus be condemned

while Jesus was dragging his cross toward Skull Hill

while the soldiers—just doing their jobs—were nailing him up

while the soldiers—they don’t pay us enough for this—were gambling for his clothes

while he was crying out, wounded and thirsty

while he bowed his head and died

While it was all going down, nobody knew that it was the light of the world being snuffed out.

The Romans crucified Jews all day every day. We now know that this one was different. This one was special. This one was catastrophic at the cosmic level.

But what his mother Mary knew

What the other Marys knew

What his beloved disciple knew

What everyone he had ever loved and welcomed and fed and healed knew

What Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus the Pharisee knew

was that the light of their world had been snuffed out.

In the deep darkness of a world that alternates between being brutal and boring, Jesus was a light shining brightly. A light that had drawn them all out of the darkness. He had become for so many the glow, the radiance, the brilliance that allowed them to see.

There are some who say that the Good News of Good Friday is that Jesus was on that cross to take care of the problem of sinners in the hands of an angry God. That this ugly and wrong and tragic happening was necessary to appease God’s justice. To spare us God’s wrath.

I say that all I can see when I stand at the cross is Jesus in the hands of angry sinners. The failure of human justice. The only wrath I observe is a bunch of angry humans demanding: Crucify! Crucify!

And I’m certain that as Jesus’ mother and the beloved disciple huddled together in the shadow of the cross—watching the light going out, and helpless to do anything to stop it—that’s all they could see, too.

And I say if our Good News isn’t something we could softly whisper to Jesus’ mother and best friend right there at the foot of the cross, it isn’t Good News.

So here is my Good News from the shadow of the cross. Watching the light go out.

The cross is how God descends fully and finally into the human condition. God experiences weakness firsthand. And helplessness. And humiliation. Shame. Injustice. Betrayal. Abandonment. Brutality. Woundedness that cannot be healed. And finally, death itself.

At the cross we watch God become fully one with the human condition. If the Word truly is flesh, the Word must die as flesh.

So from now on, when we cry out to God from our darkness. When we are weak. When we are helpless. When we have been put to shame. When we suffer injustice. When we have been sold out. When we have been left alone. When our bodies and our minds still bear wounds that time has not healed. When we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. We can now cry out to a God who can say to us, My child, I know. Oh, how do I know! They did it to me, too.

The Good News from the shadow of the cross is hidden in the Psalm we heard tonight. According to the other Gospel writers, Jesus cried out its words before he died: My God! My God, why have you left me all alone? Yes, there’s Good News hidden there! Because that Psalm ends quite differently than it began:

All who are descending to the dust

    will kneel before him;

    my being also lives for him.

Future descendants will serve him;

    generations to come will be told about my Lord.

They will proclaim God’s righteousness

        to those not yet born,

        telling them what God has done.

The Good News I might be able to whisper to Jesus’ mother and beloved disciple at the foot of the cross is, This is not the end. I don’t believe God won’t let this be the final word.

I might also say, God hasn’t forsaken him. God hasn’t forsaken you. God hasn’t forsaken us. He is right here. In the middle of all this. In this darkness with us. We are not alone. God is present right here, right now.

And that’s the Good News of Good Friday. We have to wait for Easter—for the fulfillment of God’s promise that the cross does not get the final word. But until then, the Good News of Good Friday is that even when the light is going out, God still clings to us in the darkness.


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