Good Friday Sermon (2024)

Good Friday
Texts: John 18-19;
Isaiah 52:13–53:12

Facebook Live (meditations at 21:40 and 45:30):


Meditation #1
In recent weeks, we’ve been talking about power. For much of human history there’s only been one kind of power, the power of force. At best, it is a power to impose one’s will on others, and sometimes one’s will might even do some good. But as the old saying goes, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Even if one starts out using force to try doing some good, the more power one accrues the more likely it is to go wrong. So, in our long human history, power as the power of force generally shows its ugly side as destruction, death, and brutal oppression of the powerless.

As I said, for most of our history that kind of power seems to be the only kind of power. If God in Jesus Christ is trying to show us a different kind of power, the power of love, can we even come to see it as power. Most would say, “There’s power, and then there’s love . . . two completely different things. And if forced to choose, give me power.” But I believe that we followers of Jesus need to challenge this view of power. I believe that when we talk about faith, Jesus is asking us precisely to have faith in love as not only another kind of power, but a superior kind of power. In Jesus, after all, we come to see that love is the power of life itself. It is the power of creation. It is the power of unity and harmony.

So in recent weeks we’ve been trying to talk about not power vs. love, but the power of force vs. the power of love. Just last night we talked about the power of force as one that relies on inequality, while the power of love brings equality. Jesus our Lord calls us friends, and through the sacrament of Holy Communion makes us into a community of friends. Where do we glimpse that power of love in history to bring equality? I proposed last night that we glimpse it in the American experiment of democracy, that for two hundred forty years we’ve been laboring to achieve true equality for all people, and that this year might be a pivotal year in that struggle.

Two weeks ago, we read the passage in John 12 where Jesus says that his being lifted up on the cross is the judgment of the world and the rulers of this world. We contrasted the power of force vs the power of love and noticed that one of the things which might make 2024 pivotal is the many Christians are calling themselves “Christian nationalists” — by which they mean that they believe in forcing so-called Christian morals on everyone. But if the Christian faith is actually about the power of love vs. the power of force, then “Christian nationalism” is an oxymoron — two words that contradict one another.

Just this past Sunday we imagine Palm Sunday as a story of two parades: a military parade with Pilate riding in from the west on a war horse, and a prophetic parade with Jesus riding in from the east on a donkey. A contrast of the two kinds of power. Tonight we see the climax of that contrast in the confrontation between Jesus and Pilate. There are two kinds of kingdoms: human kingdoms that rule by the power of force, and God’s kingdom coming into this world through Jesus, ruled by the power of love. It is a nonviolent power. Jesus states the difference clearly, “If my kingdom were from this world, my supporters would have fought to stop me being handed over to the Judeans.”

Where do we possibly see Jesus’ kind of kingdom in this world? We can begin to glimpse it in the prophesy of the Suffering Servant Song, with which we began. The frame of that song is all of history. It says that all the kings are looking on and can’t understand. They can’t see this person as someone to behold and to be emulated. But the servant is here to take away and forgive our sins. So we see this collision of powers first and foremost in the cross of Christ.

And then we saw it played out in the first several centuries, as the early disciples sometimes were called upon to stand against the powers of empire with their own lives, as they were martyred. In our time, I don’t think we see this collision of powers on a larger scale until a Hindu man clung to the principles of the Sermon of the mount and raised an army of nonviolent resisters, which we’ve begun to see more and more through the Civil Rights Movement and other acts of nonviolent resistance. So if 2024 is to be an important year, to be able to glimpse God’s kingdom coming into this world anew, it must be through that power of love and nonviolence.

Meditation #2
Jesus cried out, “It is accomplished!” What exactly was it that he accomplished? Certainly, there’s many things we can think of. That he forgives our sins and washes them away. Or as John the Baptist says at the beginning of this Gospel, “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” He defeats death in dying. In taking on death, he has defeated it.

But I think there’s one thing in particular that John means for us to think about, in the context of the whole Gospel, that Jesus has accomplished with his dying on the cross. And it’s something that looks ahead three days when we celebrate on Easter. I believe that in John’s Gospel, at the moment of death, it is the turning of the page from the old creation to the new creation. You might remember that John’s Gospel is the one that’s unique in beginning with creation itself. ‘In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Through the Word, all things were made.’

Then, in John’s Gospel you have a number of signs. I believe those signs provide glimpses of that New Creation to come, as the work of the old creation is dying down. As a matter of fact, in John’s Gospel Jesus talks a lot about doing the work of his Father. And what is the work of his Father? Isn’t it the work of creation? So that, for instance, when he gives the sign of healing the man born blind, what does he do? He takes some dirt, spits on it, making some mud, and puts some on the man’s eyes. And what does that remind us of? That story of God making us out of the dirt. Jesus is giving us a glimpse of God’s creative power, through healing, as a sign of New Creation.

So here we are at the end of the Gospel. Where are we? It’s day six of the creation story. What’s day 6? The day when we are created. Human beings. Is it a clue, like we just read, when Pilate puts Jesus on display, and says, “Behold, here is the man?” At the end of day six, he dies, and it is accomplished. On the Sabbath, day seven, he rests in the tomb. So that on the next morning, before it’s even light, on the first day of a new week, it’s the dawn of a New Creation. Behold a new creation. The old has passed away. Everything is new.

Paul J. Nuechterlein
Bethania Lutheran Church,
Racine, WI, March 29, 2024

Facebook Live (meditations at 21:40 and 45:30):

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