Good Friday 2018

Preacher: The Rev’d Jenny Wilson, Canon Precentor

In the name of God, creating, redeeming, sanctifying, … Amen. Behold the wood of the cross, behold the wood of the cross on which hangs the saviour of the world.

I wonder if it would not be better if we sat in silence. We have heard the choir sing from the balcony, their anthems about the faithfulness of this cross. We have heard John’s Passion read. We have one another’s company in which to encounter the silence, after all. We have wood and stone, fabric and glass in which the story is told, surrounding us in our cathedral. Might we not sit and contemplate, allowing the stories of our lives, with their sins and their frailties, to be encountered by this wild truth. That Jesus of Nazareth died that we might know the fiery and unquenchable, forgiving and enabling, love of God. Might we not sit in silence?

Only Jesus spoke. He was pretty well silent through his trial but on the cross he spoke. Seven Last Words as tradition has it, these seven words garnered from the gospels, none of them containing all the words. As he hung dying on his cross, Jesus spoke. And so this Good Friday morning we will ponder three of the things he said.

Jesus’ first and final words begin with him addressing his Father.

Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing,” (Luke 23:34) Jesus says, as he gazes upon the ones who have nailed him to the cross. A lot of unhelpful things are said about the way in which, in Jesus’ crucifixion, God takes away the sins of the world. God gave his Son, people say. But this is not a transaction in the heavenly realm. Not some sort of prisoner exchange. Jesus’ life handed over that our lives might be handed back. That’s not what is going on here.

Michael Mayne, the former Dean of Westminster Abbey, in his Lent Book Dust that Dreams of Glory puts it this way:

“Let me tell you what [Jesus’ death] does not mean, for over the centuries there have been some strange and distorting theories about the sacrificial death of Christ. It does not mean that God sent an innocent man to death because he requires blood. The Passion and death of Jesus are not a pagan sacrifice. It does not mean Jesus came to placate an angry God, nor to show us how we must submit to an inscrutable God … Jesus came to do one thing: to embody the love of God for his creation.”[1]

Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing,” Jesus says, as he gazes upon the ones who have nailed him to the cross. And he remembers Judas who betrayed him, and Peter who promised to follow him but denied him, and all the others who have fled in terror. Jesus looks at the men before him and, in pain and agony and with his few final breaths, he forgives them. And as he forgives them he forgives us all. All the petty betrayals and denials and all the violence and jealousies. He forgives them all. And then when the resurrection comes in all its mystery and the crucified Jesus stands with the marks of the nails in his hands and the marks of the spear in his side, when he comes and speaks his words of peace and he breathes his spirit on creation, it is the spirit of the one who dying forgave, dying forgives. The spirit of Christ is the spirit of forgiveness. This is something of the way in which God, in Jesus’ death, forgives the sins of the world.

He has been so close to his Father. He called his father Abba, the word as little child would use as he snuggled onto their utterly trusted parent’s lap. Jesus lived and breathed, loved and healed, taught and set free, those who he encountered in his three short years of ministry, out of that deep closeness to God.

On the cross that closeness is gone. Probably for the first time in his life, he feels abandoned.

My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” He says. (Mark 15:34) Jesus here embraces human despair, human terror. Jesus hangs in solidarity with all who have felt abandoned by God. Jesus knows acute physical suffering and the terrible mental and spiritual suffering that can go at its side. Jesus endures what we endure, chooses to endure what we endure when terror and pain wrenches us apart and we have nothing on which to cling. And where is the loving Father? What is happening in the life of God? Has God the Father abandoned God the Son? I don’t think so.

It is as if the Father is standing at a distance helpless, for comfort cannot be allowed here. It is as if the Father suffers the Son’s dying as the Son suffers the Father’s absence in his death. It is as if there is anguish in the very heart of God, as if the heart of the Trinity is broken. The very being of God endures brokenness. That the world might be redeemed.[2]

My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus says.

Michael Mayne says, “What Good Friday does is invite us once again to open ourselves to the God who doesn’t answer our Job-like questions about the “Why?” of evil and pain and suffering: instead he enters into the heart of the questions himself. The crucified Jesus is the only accurate picture of God the world has ever seen.”[3]

This picture is mirrored across time and place where in human and created life the question “Why?” is cried out.

On February 14th , this year, Valentine’s Day, in Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Florida, a student gunman killed 17 students in the deadliest high school shooting in the country’s history.

A newspaper report stated: “Just a month later, thousands of students poured out of classrooms in the United States on Wednesday 14th March in an unprecedented expression of mourning and a demand for action to stem the country’s epidemic of gun violence.

In a stunning visual riposte to the public inertia that has followed mass shootings in the US, crowds of students at an estimated 3,000 schools across the country marched on running tracks, through parking lots and around building perimeters, carrying signs that read “Enough” … [4]


And then there is the cry from the natural world:

Each one of us have seen pictures in social and news media of whales with their stomachs choking in plastic bags, of birds with their stomachs filled with tiny pieces of coloured plastic that they are enticed into believing is food. Are these sea creatures, these birds, created and beloved by God, crying out “Why?” to our neglect of them? Crying out “Enough” to those of us who have caused this neglect? Is Jesus in solidarity with these dying creatures on his cross?

The well known Cambridge physicist, Stephen Hawking, suffered from what is surely one of the cruellest diseases that a human being can endure, motor neurone disease. He died on the 14th March, aged 76. His biographer described the scene in his university office over twenty years before.

“The figure in the [Physics students’] midst is pitiful by all normal standards, …He wears a bib, and a nurse holds his forehead and tips his head forward so that he can drink his tea out of the cup she holds under his chin. His hair is tousled, his mouth is slack, and his eyes are weary over the eyeglasses that have slipped down his nose a little. But at a disrespectful [joke] from one of his students his face breaks into a grin that would light up the universe.”[5]

A broken body shot through with redeeming life.

Like this one, the one who hangs before us. This Jesus who stands alongside students grieving their dead friends crying “Enough” about gun violence. This Jesus who stands alongside whales and sea birds choking on plastic their broken bodies crying out to us “when will you see?” about the damage caused by plastic waste on our planet. This Jesus who stands alongside those like Stephen Hawking who suffer the cruellest of diseases. All of us, in our different ways, broken but shot through with redeeming life because Jesus died in this way so we might know that he enters into the heart of the questions himself. Yes. The crucified Jesus is the only accurate picture of God the world has ever seen. And our redemption is found there.

Jesus’ final word on the cross is again addressed to his Father.

Father into your hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke 23:46)

Jesus first and final words are spoken to the one in whom he lived his life, the who whose love his life and death made known. His Abba, his Father.

A Jewish child, Jesus would have said his prayers before he went to sleep. The prayer at night time came from Psalm 31: Father, into your hands I commend my spirit. As he dies, Jesus prays. He has prayed for forgiveness, a forgiveness that sends ripples throughout creation and restores us whatever we have done, of whatever we are ashamed; he has endured and prayed in his abandonment that we might know he is alongside us and brings healing in all our pain and suffering and loneliness; and now with his final breath, his final word, he shows us how to die. When his work is accomplished, when our work is accomplished, there is only one thing to do. Only one more word to speak. And that is to pray one last prayer. The night prayer. That verse from the psalm. The prayer of utter trust.

Father into your hands I commend my spirit.”

This is God. This is what God looks like.

Behold the wood of the cross; behold the wood of the cross on which hangs the saviour of the world.


[1] Michael Mayne Dust that Dreams of Glory pp48-9.

[2] See Jurgen Moltmann The Crucified God SCM Classics, 1974, pp251-2.

[3] Michael Mayne Dust that Dreams of Glory p60.


[5] Kitty Ferguson Stephen Hawking: Quest for a Theory of Everything p161.