Powerful Questions

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks–Good Friday—Year A
Isaiah 52:13-53:12
Psalm 22
Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9
John 18:1-19:42

This day is a day of powerful questions. Some arise from the texts we hear—
“Whom are you looking for?”
“Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?”
“You are not also one of his disciples, are you?”
“What is truth?”
“Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?”
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

And some arise from our own hearts
“Why does this innocent man whose only crime was to love, why does he have to die?”
“What does it mean to say that Jesus died for our sins, and what does saying that say about God, about Jesus, about us?”

Some of these questions have answers, some do not.

Whom are we looking for on this day? As everything goes horribly wrong, we are looking for God. Where is God when the innocent suffer? Where is God when someone is unjustly charged, convicted, and executed? Where is God when the religiously powerful collude with the politically powerful to ensure that everyone’s power stays intact? Where is God when truth is slippery?

Where is God when, in our fear, we strike back with violence? Where is God when, in our fear, we deny the One whom we have loved and followed with all of our heart? Where is God when given a chance to change course and release the Lord of Love, we cry “Crucify him!” instead? Where is God when you can’t find a shred of God’s presence anywhere and your reality leaves you feeling totally and completely forsaken?

Where is God on this day? Firmly, wholeheartedly, completely immersed in all of these questions, in all of these actions, in all of these relentless why’s that haunt us—not as an answer, but as sheer Holy Presence that knocks us to the ground with the force of Life and Love that will not be denied.

When those who’d come to arrest Jesus declare that they are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus responds with “I AM,” not “I am he,” but simply “I AM.” The great I AM is here. The God whose name is “I AM WHO I AM, I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE, I AM BECOMING WHO I AM BECOMING”that God manifests the fiercest of steadfast love by simply declaring, in the face of all that would deny that love, “I AM.” Which makes it all the more painful when Peter responds to the question of whether or not he is one of Jesus’ disciples with the consummate denial of Presence, “I am not.”

Where is God? Telling all of our human impulses that long to retaliate to put our swords back into their sheaths; committing with body and spirit, mind and heart to the cup of nonviolence. And though that commitment will be tested to the max, in the end, when Jesus cries, “It is finished,” the ways of violence will rest in his outstretched arms and be buried with him that we might be released from this spiral of death.

Where is God? In the voice of the one who cries, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When the Word made flesh gives voice to those words, the gap is closed forever and even the most Godforsaken places of our human journey are filled with Divine Presence. There is NOWHERE we can go—in life, in suffering, in death—that Jesus has not gone before us and imprinted with the power of his Divine Presence, so that when we enter our Godforsaken places, that Presence is waiting to embrace us and hold us—in those spaces when words fail us, the Word made flesh simply holds us.

Why does Jesus have to die? Because when God took on human flesh in Jesus, God went all-in with the entirety of our human experience. To say “Jesus died for our sins” can so easily turn God into a tyranical father who had to be appeased by the pure sacrifice of his beloved Son to make God fall in love again with a depraved and hopeless humanity.

Today is not about winning God’s love back; today is about revealing the depth of God’s love for the whole human enterprise.

All the forces that would separate us from God—our hunger for power, our insatiable desire for esteem, our obsession with our own security, the violence we inflict, the innocent suffering that wrecks us with despair—each of these is a nail that goes into Jesus’ flesh. Each of these swirls in the cup that is his to drink, and drink it he does, completely into his being.

Jesus will stretch out his arms in complete love, not retaliating, but yielding.

The darker sides of power don’t know what to do with a love that simply loves in return. But this is the love of the great I AM. Divine Presence has planted itself in the center of suffering, and there Presence will remain, even unto death.

We come looking for answers on this day, but we are given something much more powerful—the Word made flesh who gives his living body and his dying breath that we, and this suffering world, might know the Presence of God that will never, ever let us go. Amen.


The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
April 14, 2017