A series of essays in the Episcopal Church
A Good Friday Sermon
by The Rev. Bill Carroll,
The new rector of Church of the Good Shepherd, Athens, OH
O Lord, you have enticed me,
and I was enticed;
you have overpowered me,
and you have prevailed.
I have become a laughing-stock all day long;
everyone mocks me.
For whenever I speak, I must cry out,
I must shout, ‘Violence and destruction!’
For the word of the Lord has become for me
a reproach and derision all day long.
If I say, ‘I will not mention him,
or speak any more in his name’,
then within me there is something like a burning fire
shut up in my bones;
I am weary with holding it in,
and I cannot.
For I hear many whispering:
‘Terror is all around!
Denounce him! Let us denounce him!’
All my close friends
are watching for me to stumble.
‘Perhaps he can be enticed,
and we can prevail against him,
and take our revenge on him.’
But the Lord is with me like a dread warrior;
therefore my persecutors will stumble,
and they will not prevail.
They will be greatly shamed,
for they will not succeed.
Their eternal dishonour
will never be forgotten.
O Lord of hosts, you test the righteous,
you see the heart and the mind;
let me see your retribution upon them,
for to you I have committed my cause.
Sing to the Lord;
praise the Lord!
For he has delivered the life of the needy
from the hands of evildoers.
May God give you peace!
Our lesson from Jeremiah moves us to brink of terror. In just two days, we will celebrate Palm Sunday, the Sunday of the Passion. Once again, the Church will enter into Holy Week, into the suffering, death, and resurrection of the Lord. We dare not ever minimize or sanitize the crucifixion of Jesus. It is an act of brutality, of merciless cruelty, of imperial domination. Time and time again, it has been repeated in the torture chambers of the world. It is repeated even today in places like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. It is the hangman’s noose, the burning cross, the assassin’s gun. It is a fence post in Laramie, and the post where Jesus was whipped and spat upon.
Jeremiah’s protest comes right after he is struck by the hands of God’s priest earlier in the same chapter. Hands anointed to bless may also wound—even kill. He has been placed in the stocks, because he refuses to shut up about the coming destruction at the hand of Babylon. He is not afraid to accuse his God: “For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long.”
The reproach that Jeremiah bears is like what Jesus faces in today’s Gospel. Jesus is nearly stoned to death for doing his Father’s good and perfect work—and for telling the truth. It is his fidelity to his vocation that will lead Jesus to the cross.
In the midst of profound lamentation, Jeremiah keeps faith with his own calling, and he finds in it the presence of God. By the end of our lesson, he knows that God is with him, that God will never abandon him, and that God will uphold the rightness of his cause. The passage ends with lyrical praise: “Sing to the Lord; praise the Lord! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hands of evildoers.”
This is our hope too, grounded in the resurrection of the crucified. In the resurrection, God vindicates Jesus, who has been beaten, shamed, and killed. God sets a seal of approval upon him. In so doing, God sets a similar seal upon the crucified and forgotten ones, the nameless ones of history, upon all who have been beaten, put in their place, and murdered. God says, “These are my children. These are my beloved. They are holy and precious to me.” In God's sight, they will never be forgotten. Never.
As we enter this holy week and the remembrance of Christ’s passion, may we have the courage to look and see—and to be appalled by what we witness. May we never avert our gaze from the horror of the crucified. And may we all be renewed with the fire of the Spirit of Truth. The same fire that burned in the bones of Jeremiah. The very same fire that rests on Jesus Christ. This fire is the Spirit of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit can be neither quenched nor silenced.
No matter what.
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