A sermon given during the 10:00am Good Friday Liturgy, by The Most Reverend Geoffrey Smith, Archbishop, on the 7th April 2023.
I am pretty sure none of us here this morning thinks we are perfect. If I did a survey and asked anyone who thinks they are perfect to put up their hands I am pretty sure no hands would go up. We know we are not perfect. We all make mistakes. We all do the wrong thing. None of us measures up when we compare ourselves to God or Gods standards. This not to beat ourselves up or take ourselves on a guilt trip, it’s just reality. It’s just being honest. The first reading today put the situation like this: ‘all we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way’. St Paul says the same thing slightly differently in his letter to the church in Rome when he says: ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’.
Though we would all admit we are not perfect, part of our human condition is to downplay the impact of our imperfection especially in terms of our relationship with God. We might not think our sin is very great but if we are trying to relate to God who is perfect then our imperfection is a huge problem, a massive difficulty. We have gone astray from Gods way. We have instead turned to our own way. And that means that without help we cannot be at peace with God at all.
We see the results of human sin everywhere. Not just in terms of our connection with God. Broken relationships, abuse, unfair sharing of resources, injustice, violence, a damaged environment, wars, cruelty. It is all a result of human sin. It’s all a result of humans turning away from God and turning away from God’s way. We might like to minimise our individual sin, but the impact of human sin, people not living Gods way, is completely obvious.
But this is not God’s vision for the world. This is not the plan as far as God is concerned and that’s why God entered our world in the person Jesus, who lived our life and pointed in his ministry to a different future. A future of connection with God. Peace and healing and justice. A future described in Acts chapter 3 (21) as ‘universal restoration’. Wouldn’t that be good? Universal restoration. Restoration of relationships. Restoration of humans. Restoration of the creation.
Jesus was not just a wise teacher or miracle worker or healer for those who happened to be close enough to him, Jesus was a sign-post to this new future. Jesus was not only the sign post he was the way to that different future. He was like an arrow painted on a road; the arrow points the way, and the road is the way.
But since human sin is real, and since human sin is behind most if not all the problems of the world, human sin had to be dealt with, and that’s what we are remembering today. God being so serious about dealing with the problem of sin that God came among us as Jesus, pointing the way and being the way to the new future, and taking the full force, the full implication of human sin upon himself on the cross. God took the full force of evil upon himself and so exhaust it. Through the cross the way to the new future spoken of by Jesus was opened.
This is an incredible act of love. This is God so loving the creation that he was not satisfied with the status quo, but yearned for the flourishing of creation. This is love that God did not ask someone else to fix this but took it upon himself in the humiliation, the shame, the innocent suffering of Jesus on the cross. This is the character of the God we worship. God who yearns for the best for the whole creation. Who is not satisfied with second best. Who is humble and a servant. God showing once again extraordinary love. God chooses to be the innocent sufferer for the healing of the world. This an immense gift. Almost beyond comprehension.
How might we respond to this gift? Not by minimising our sin which put Christ on the cross. To minimise our sin mocks Christ’s gift of love. But nor is wallowing in guilt and shame an appropriate response because that says Christ’s death is not enough.
We respond to this extraordinary gift of love by turning to God. Accepting with enormous thanks the gift we have been given by God through the death of Jesus on the cross.
The second reading for today from the letter to the Hebrews includes these words: ‘therefore my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great high priest over the household of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together as is the habit of some but encouraging one another’.
That seems to me to be incredibly positive teaching. It says to us ‘be confident’. Our sins are forgiven, and they are forgiven as we receive the gift of forgiveness by acknowledging God’s gift for us through the cross of Christ. We don’t have to wonder ‘if’ or hope our sins are forgiven, they are. We can be confident they are. We can be confident to approach the throne of God’s grace. Not because we are perfect, but because God has dealt with our sin and the sin of the world. Jesus has died for us. Jesus’ death is enough and sufficient for the sins of the whole world, and we can take that on board and apply it to ourselves.
The passage from the letter to the Hebrews says two other things to us.
First, hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering for he who has promised is faithful. God is faithful to his promises. God is faithful in terms of the effect of the cross. God is faithful in his love for us and presence with us. We can persevere in our trust in God who is faithful, and that’s important.
The people who first read the letter to the Hebrews were not living in a perfect world. Christ had died on the cross, but the ‘universal restoration’ was not yet visible. They were confronting their own sin and the sin of the world just as powerfully as before. Many of them would be persecuted for their faith in Jesus and some would end up dying for that faith.
But in the cross of Christ and the resurrection that followed the cosmos had shifted. The resurrection was proof of that. People could know forgiveness now. People could know they were reconciled with God now. People could share Jesus’ ministry now by pointing to the new future that was coming. But it hadn’t come yet, so even though things were different. Even though the Holy Spirit had been given so people could know the dynamism of God’s presence and leading and guidance, even though they had the hope that comes with the promise of the kingdom of God, they needed to be faithful. They needed to persevere as they waited for the new creation, the universal restoration to come.
And that’s our situation too. Evil abounds in the world. We all know that. We see it and experience it every day. The decisive action has taken place on the cross of Christ, but its effect is yet to be seen and so we continue to trust and persevere. Confident in Gods promise. Confident that God will bring the new future to be.
The passage from the letter to the Hebrews also says: ‘provoke one another to love and good deeds’. The cross of Christ is an enormous gift of love, serving the good of the world. As we cotton on to what has been done for us we seek to follow Gods example. We seek to love each other and support each other. As Jesus pointed by his actions to a future of love and peace and healing so do we.
We who have grasped the gift of the cross share and show Gods love and encourage each other to do that too. In that way we can make a difference now. In that way we can make things better now. In that way we can show our immense thanks for what has been done for us on the cross.
Today we celebrate an extraordinary gift of love. In the cross of Christ we glory because of what God did there for the whole creation. The world was changed by Jesus’ death. His death is enough for the forgiveness of the sins of the whole world.
And that forgiveness opens up a whole new range of promise. Of connection with God and each other. The renewal of the world. A freedom that brings life.
That’s why this Friday is called good. This service is a sombre service as we remember Jesus’ humiliation and shame and suffering for us. It is a sombre service as we reflect on the enormity of what was done for us. But it is not a sad service of tragedy or grief.
Underlying this service is gratefulness and thanks for what has been done for us. Thank God for the enormous love that Jesus showed. May we accept that love and pass it on to others. Amen.