April 14, 2017, Good Friday. What’s So Good about It? – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
To listen to this sermon, click here: Z0000017
Every Friday during the season of Lent, we come together and kneel at the altar rail to prepare our hearts for following the Stations of the Cross, from Jesus’ unjust condemnation at the hands of his own people, to his burial in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea – the true story of our Lord’s Passion, the story we read again tonight. It’s a story of cruelty and betrayal and despair and death, and yet strangely, we begin the service together by praying this prayer, “Assist us mercifully with your help, O Lord God of our salvation, that we may enter with joy upon the contemplation of those mighty acts, whereby you have given us life and immortality….” Have you ever wondered what on earth is good about Good Friday? How can we contemplate Jesus’ Passion and death with anything like joy?
When I was seven years old, my baby brother was born. It was a time of great celebration for all of us, because my mother had suffered through five pregnancies that ended in grief – four early miscarriages, and one terribly painful stillborn birth of a little girl, who we named Veronica. But at last my brother Timothy had been born whole and healthy – and the first boy, which my Dad was very happy about.
One day, shortly after she brought my new little brother home from the hospital, I accidentally overheard a telephone conversation between my Mom and a good friend. And, as women’s conversations often do, this conversation contained a lot of graphic details about the process of childbirth, details I was entirely ignorant of as a mere second-grader. I was absolutely horrified to learn that the birth of a child involved pain and blood and cutting and stitches. It took me days to gather the courage to ask all the questions I wanted to ask, but finally I went to my Mom in fear and trepidation and got the whole story – or as much of the whole story as I could handle at seven, anyway.
And the one thing I remember most clearly from all that my Mom explained to me was this: that even though childbirth is a painful and messy process, for her, all pain and weariness was forgotten at the sight of her new child. And she told me that if she had to suffer all that over again to bring new life into the world, she would do it in a heartbeat. Love for this tiny person she had waited so long to meet carried her through the pain, and bringing new life into the world turned her sorrow into great joy.
It isn’t a perfect analogy for the Cross, of course, because the suffering of Jesus Christ far surpasses the ordinary suffering of something like childbirth. And yet, we find that God himself uses the analogy of childbirth and labor over and over throughout the Bible. At the Last Supper, when Jesus was preparing his friends for the horror of the days to come, he said to them, “Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.”
Isaiah describes God’s judgment in terms of childbirth, too: “Terror will seize them, pain and anguish will grip them; they will writhe like a woman in labor.” And surely, God doesn’t compare judgment to childbirth just because childbirth is something we recognize as painful – because there are a lot of terribly painful things in the world he could have used as images if he just wanted to scare us with something painful. God chooses the analogy of childbirth because the ultimate purpose of his judgment is not to punish, and not to take vengeance; not to scare us, and not to destroy life, but to restore and give new life. As John wrote: “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might have life through him.”
And again, Paul describes the suffering of the whole creation, as it longs to be healed of war and hatred and disease and pollution and injustice: he describes that suffering too in terms of childbirth, writing, “the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.”
God himself chose the image of childbirth as a sign of the way he works to bring new life into his broken creation. Jesus, who is God himself, willingly entered the darkness of betrayal and pain and sorrow and death because it was his good purpose, in the abundance of his love for us, to bring forth new and incorruptible and unstoppable life. It is our Father’s desire for us to view the sorrow and horror of the Passion of Christ through that particular lens – the lens of new birth, which is the lens of joy – because that is the only true way to understand the Cross.
The Risen Christ came forth from the tomb full of joy, not regret, not bitterness, not recrimination. He laid all condemnation, all judgment, all shame, all guilt, to rest on the Cross when he prayed, “Father forgive them; they know not what they do.” He went to his friends and greeted them with these words: “Peace be with you; my peace I give you.” And on this day of all days, this Good Friday, when we call to mind his great suffering and loss, Jesus says to us, “My beloved children, I want you to know that I suffered every step of the way gladly, for the sheer joy of bringing new life to you.”
And that is why we call this day Good.