Good Friday Sermon from Jenny Wilson

Added about 4 years ago by Jenny Wilson

WATCH: Here is Jenny Wilson’s sermon broadcast from St Peter’s Cathedral, Adelaide, on Good Friday.

Jenny Wilson is Canon Precentor of St Peter’s Cathedral, Adelaide, with responsibilities in liturgy, music and pastoral care.​ She is the author of Keeping Watch for Kingfishers, a collection of sermons that explore how we can learn to hear the voice of God in prayer, in the life of Jesus and in the human voice.


In the name of God, creating, redeeming, sanctifying, ... Amen.

He loved being with people. He went up his mountains to pray alone, often, that is true, but Jesus loved being with people. We saw this as we read, this strange Lenten time, through stories from John’s Gospel. We saw him meet with the religious leader Nicodemus, who, at the time, did not understand him, and the Samaritan woman at the well who knew him almost straight away; we saw him heal a blind man, and cry the dead Lazarus into life. Jesus loved being with people. He taught them, he ate meals with them, he healed them, he confronted them with the truth that following him meant taking up their crosses as he was about to take up his own.
And we know from the scene in the garden of Gethsemane that giving up his life spent bringing God’s love and healing and forgiveness to people was a bitterly difficult thing for Jesus to do. “Take this cup from me,” he said. But knowing that his Father’s will was that life would come through his giving up his life, Jesus said, “Not my will but yours be done.”

And so, this day, Good Friday, we look at the cross. It is, perhaps, one aspect of our own crosses, this year, that we find ourselves doing this alone, at home. Here in our cathedral, on Good Fridays past, we would have been gathered together gazing at a large wooden cross draped in red silk. We would have heard our Cathedral Choir sing from the gallery of the cathedral, and we would have gathered kneeling at the foot of the cross bringing Jesus our thoughts and our tears, and our guilt and our grief. And then we would have walked, in silence, to the high altar, and we would have received, in silence, the body and blood of our crucified Jesus, reserved at the altar of repose in the Lady Chapel from our Maundy Thursday service the night before. This year, when our world is fighting a virus unlike any other seen before, we will do none of these things. This sermon is being recorded on Maundy Thursday in our empty cathedral that we might be together in worship on Good Friday, though we are physically alone. This year we live our own cross. The cross that Covid-19 has inflicted on the whole world.

Jesus loved being with people. So do we, especially on our most holy days. But we cannot, here and across the world; at this time of pandemic we must live and grieve and pray and ponder Good Friday alone. Our cross is to pray for front line health workers, to grieve with those bereaved, to worry for our loved ones, alone.

Jesus endured unjust trials and flogging and humiliation, his back being draped with a purple robe, his head being adorned with a crown of thorns. Jesus was nailed to his cross by Roman soldiers in the cruellest form of execution that humanity had invented at the time. Jesus was silent through his trials but as he died on the cross he spoke. Seven last words, as tradition has it. 

So, as we sit this year at home, we will spend a little time with a few of these last words, a few of the things Jesus said as he hung dying. His words begin and end with the word “Father”. 

“Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing”, Jesus says as he looked at the men who have nailed him to his cross. It may be that as we spend long periods of time at home, what plagues us is guilt and regret. It may be that we have committed a sin of which we are deeply ashamed; it may be that it is more a way of being, out of which we wish we could grow. It may be that, as we are so constrained, we feel that we have wasted much of our life.

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. The words in Greek tell us that. This is not a once-only event, it is a once-for-all event. As he forgives those soldiers he forgives us all. And then when the resurrection comes in all its mystery—as it will this year—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, forgives those things that plague us as we have so much time to ponder our lives, alone.

On the cross, Jesus sees before him his mother and he sees before him his disciple, John. “Jesus said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’” Are we separated from our sons and daughters, our mothers and fathers, are we unable to see them as they need the sort of care we cannot give and the place where they live is closed to all visitors, even those who love them as we do? Jesus sees all pain, all suffering, all loss. Even at the time of his pain and suffering and loss. Here we see, from Jesus’ cross, whispers of a new home created, motherhood, sonhood, re-imagined, loneliness healed. 

Jesus was so close to God, the God he called Abba, Father. And I do not think that he ever expected that closeness to go away. On the cross, Jesus feels that his Father is absent. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” he cries. 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. Jesus endures our loneliness now. Is the separation from those we love, and the work that gives our life meaning, and the church community that helps us know God’s love almost unbearable some days? Do we cry to God, “Why have you forsaken me? Why have you forsaken us?”

And where is the loving Father, as Jesus hangs dying? What is happening in the life of God? Has God the Father abandoned God the Son? I don’t think so. 

The theologian Jurgen Moltmann writes in his book The Crucified God

In the surrender of the Son the Father also surrenders himself …The Father who abandons him and delivers him up suffers the death of the Son in the infinite grief of love. …The Son suffers dying, the Father suffers the death of the Son. The grief of the Father is just as important as the death of the Son… The deep community of will between Jesus and his God and Father is now expressed precisely at the point of their deepest separation in the godforsaken and accursed death of Jesus on the cross. 

Jurgen Moltmann, The Crucified God (SCM Classics, 1974), pp. 251-2

The Father that Jesus knew as “Abba” looks at the dying Son from a distance and cannot …? …must not …help him. There is separation in the life of God, in the Trinity, that the world might be redeemed. In the dying of Jesus, God endures separation. We are not alone in this.

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 one 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 shows us how to commit to God wherever it is we find ourselves, in whatever pain we find ourselves. At this time when our world is in the grip of this Covid-19 pandemic, Jesus shows us how to pray. With his final breath, his final word. He shows us how to hand our lives and our fears and our loneliness to God. Praying the prayer of utter trust. 

“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

Jesus loved being with people. But he gave this up. As we gaze at Jesus dying, speaking words that echo across creation, reaching out to us in those words, one thing we know. 

This is God we see on the cross.

One writer put it this way:

The crucified Jesus is the only accurate picture of God the world has ever seen, and the hands that hold us in existence are pierced with unimaginable nails.

John Austin Baker, quoted in Michael Mayne, Dust that Dreams of Glory (Canterbury Press, 2017), p. 52

Behold the crucified Jesus. Behold the hands that hold us in existence. Behold God.

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