The Rev Cynthia KR Banks; Good Friday—Year A; Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9; John 18:1-19:42
So much of this week, it is about us. We walk through this hall of mirrors catching a glimpse of our face in all of these characters that we encounter. And each gospel takes us down a different hall, showing us yet one more facet of our character.
We feel the disciples’ bafflement as they can’t conceive of a situation where they would ever betray their Lord—“Surely not I,” forms on our lips just as easily as it formed on theirs.
We see our hesitancy to receive love as Peter balks when Jesus kneels before him to wash his feet.
We know what it is to be so tired, so heavy, so weary that, try as we might, we just can’t stay awake.
All of us, at one time or another, have put someone on a pedestal, and when they fall and disappoint us, as they inevitably will, we also know how quickly our admiration can turn to rage—Judas, we know Judas.
And then there are our various levels of panic. There’s the panic that comes when you sense that something is about to unravel in a big way, and you strike back with some futile sort of an act thinking that this will somehow keep it from unraveling. But, it’s still going to go right on unraveling, and Jesus tells you to “put your sword back into its sheath.”
Or, the panic that sets in when it really starts to go south, and you see where all of this is heading, and it’s just way too scary, and so you deny the deepest parts of your being, you deny the most essential parts of your journey, you deny that which has made your heart come alive—it’s just easier to fall back asleep to your deepest longings than face the pain of dying and rising.
Then we turn down that hall that is all too familiar in our day and time—that’s the hall filled with posturing and positioning and dividing and conquering and plotting, always plotting to come out on top. We can swap out the faces of Annas and Caiphas and their minions for any number of politicians and their operatives, but remember, we are in a hall of mirrors, and behind all of those contemporary faces that we love to ridicule, we catch a glimpse of our own. Every time we pass a judgment that makes us feel just a little bit superior, a little bit more righteous than they, we have just jockeyed for our position.
And what of Pilate? “What is truth?” he asks. It’s an honest question, one that has surely swirled around our hearts and minds, and yet, it is costly to pursue that question to its end. It is costly to follow that question wherever it leads. Too costly. Too costly. Too risky. Too unpredictable. Too vulnerable. No, better to wash our hands of that pursuit now and maintain control.
And, this hall of mirrors also reflects back to us our better angels.
The part of us who is willing to take on a great responsibility because we’ve been asked to.
The part of us who refuses to leave even as our heart breaks.
The part of us that knows there is no fixing this, that knows our world is falling apart, and yet, also knows that there is no place else for us to stand.
And there is that part of us that knows what we must do when the earth finally stops shaking and everything is in a shambles; that’s the part that knows how to lovingly care for that which is dead; that’s the part that knows how to bury that which must be buried.
This week is so much about us—the good parts of us that possess courage that surprises even us, and the parts of us that we keep locked up in the shadows, those parts that we’d just as soon never saw the light of day.
But if this week so far has been so much about us, today, today, is all about God.
In this confusing hall of mirrors, there is a face who looks back at us with piercing clarity. One who loves us. Period. One who forgives us. Period. One who walks into the depths of our suffering and sets up residence there. One who refuses to let us go.
This is the One who proclaims, “It is finished.” The cycle of violence that put Jesus on that cross—in his arms outstretched, in his refusal to retaliate, that cycle of violence “is finished.”
That space of total abandonment, of feeling utterly forsaken—Jesus has occupied that space; God has occupied that space—that despair of feeling utterly alone—“it is finished.” Sometimes, we might still feel forsaken, but today, the foundation of reality is changed—because of this day, God now occupies that space with us. Our separation from God—“it is finished.”
Even death, even that loneliest of places that ultimately we must traverse alone, even that sense that our death is ours to face and ours alone—“it is finished.” Jesus has taken his last breath; Jesus has filled even that space full with God’s presence.
The psalmist knew it well, “Where can I go then from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I climb to heaven, you are there; if I make the grave my bed, you are there also. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand will lead me, and your right hand hold me fast.”
We dare to call this Friday Good because there is nowhere, nowhere in our human experience, our human existence, our human journey that we have or will travel that God, through Jesus, has not gone before us to fill it with God’s presence. Any sense that we make our way alone in this world “is finished.” On this cross, God is in the hall of mirrors, looking at each and every one of us, and all God can see is a thousand reflections of God looking back.
Any notion that we are separated from God—today, “it is finished.” Amen.
The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
April 18, 2014