A sermon for Good Friday
April 7, 2023
The Rev. Mark Nabors, Vicar
Readings: John 18:1-19:42
Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Every family has its secrets. They’re never spoken publicly, rarely spoken privately. Yesterday evening I introduced us to Brian. Brian was in a car wreck that paralyzed him from the neck down. It transformed his relationship with his wife and children forever. Brian, always the provider, had to learn the other side of love: being provided for. His paralysis wasn’t a secret. The car wreck wasn’t a secret. Most people wouldn’t have even known there was a secret to be had. But there was one. The secret was the answer to that question, the question everyone had been asking the night of the wreck: Why was Brian out driving so late at night?
The wreck happened around 1:20 am on a state highway about 25 minutes from his home. The other driver had been impaired; it was his fault. Brian was in the clear as far as that goes. The toxicology report at the hospital proved it. His phone never left his pocket. Tread marks showed he had not fallen asleep; he was in his lane.
Why was Brian out driving so late? Mandy, his wife, had come up with an explanation well before Brian was out of the coma. He couldn’t sleep, she had said, due to some new medication he had been on. He was working and realized he had forgotten something at the office. Why waste the opportunity? But the truth was, Mandy didn’t know. Mandy had been asleep, like the kids. Mandy only found out when the police officers from the scene handed her his personal effects. Brian was having an affair, and he was on his way to see her. It had been going on for some time.
No one needed to know. She knew. Brian knew. Everyone else bought the work story. But secrets of that sort are heavy. They are a weight. There is a shame, an anger, a sadness that only Mandy knew as she watched her husband in an induced coma for two weeks, then sat with him as the doctors put humpty-dumpty back together again. And part of her wished they wouldn’t.
Yes, these secrets are heavy. It was heavy for Brian, once he came to and remembered some things. He and Mandy had the talk in his new reality, in a hospital bed, without feeling from his neck down. He asked her forgiveness. He meant it. She gave it. She meant it, too. But you don’t drop shame so easily. He carried it. The guilt stayed with him.
Sin is a powerful thing. Sin is a cosmic power, a dominion, a realm that can capture our souls. But there’s another dimension of sin: the personal side, the side we feel, the guilt, the shame, the heaviness we carry.
Sin is a powerful thing, both cosmic and personal. It could only be defeated by God in Christ on the cross. That’s why this Friday is good. That’s why Christ’s suffering is called good. Because it sets the world right. The Holy Trinity defeats that unholy trinity of sin, death, and the devil, and it happens on Calvary. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is that double cure we need: It deals with sin as a cosmic power and dominion, but it also soothes the soul and brings relief to our personal shame, lifts our own burden of guilt.
Brian had always been a Christian. He had seen the cross carried in, just as we will in a moment. He had sung the hymns, prayed the prayers. But he didn’t understand the power of the cross until he had to walk that way. Ironically, he began walking that way when walking was no longer a physical possibility. He began that inward journey into his shame, into his guilt, into his transgressions, into his sin. He carried that heavy burden as he sat bound to a bed, confronted with the consequences of his decisions. There were days he asked God why he hadn’t died. That would’ve been easier.
But he had lived. So he walked the way of the cross, the way of suffering, the way of shame, the way that Jesus walks today. Jesus’s way was a public way, down a street; Brian’s was a secret way, into the recesses of the heart and soul. But it was still heavy. He carried it until he had a dream one night. In it, he saw Christ, crucified, dying, breathing his last, at the foot of his bed. Above Christ’s head was the sign we read about: King of the Jews. And in his dream, next to that sign, there was a smaller note, stained with blood. It read, Brian’s affair. And before he commended his Spirit to the Father, Christ looked Brian in the face and said, “This is for you.”
I don’t know what your note would say, but you probably do. I know what mine would say. Christ’s message is the same for us: This is for you. Forgiveness is possible for Brian because Christ has paid the price. Forgiveness is possible for all of us because God in Christ has paid the price for sin. God in Christ has died so a new way of grace can be opened up in our lives, freeing us from the weight of shame, lifting the burden of guilt, liberating us from the curse of sin, defeating the power of death and the devil himself. God has paid the price so we can be free and have life and peace.
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