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Bishop Russell's Sermon for Good Friday, April 10, 2020

At a church I once served, we placed cards and pencils in the pews for children to draw on. We called it Kids Art, and we even had a bulletin board where the children could post their creations. One year after a Good Friday service, a little boy proudly presented to me his drawing he had sketched during the service. It was a drawing of Jesus on the cross - complete with soldiers, dark skies and big drops of blood - but there was one detail that was not a part of the story. Jesus had a great big ‘S’ on his chest. I asked him what the 'S' meant, and he answered, “Oh, that’s because Jesus is like Superman. As much as they tried, they couldn’t hurt Jesus.” “But Andrew,” I tried to explain, “I think it did hurt Jesus. It hurt him a lot. In fact, it killed him.” After a long silence, Andrew whispered, “that’s really sad.” In that instant this young boy was confronted by the most profound mystery of the Christian understanding of God. It is the mystery that even adults find hard to understand. It is a mystery made even more difficult this particular year. This is not just a story for once upon a time. It is the story of our time. The world is full of hurt and it hurts a lot. I know there are many fine theories and theses that try their best to explain what the cross means. At least for me, all these theories tend to fall short of what is going on today, because today is not a day for reason and logic. Today is not a day for our minds alone. In fact, all these theories might just get in the way of what we need most to do and that is to experience it. To let it wash over us, to feel it. It hurt Jesus, a lot. There is the pain of betrayal and denial by his friends, the anger of the crowds, the injustice of the powers and principalities, the physical torture, and there too, is the cross. Today is a day for our hearts to hurt and our souls to break. Today is a day to grieve. Each Tuesday, I invite our clergy to meet via Zoom. This past Tuesday, I invited two chaplains from Episcopal Relief and Development to share with us something they shared with us after Hurricane Michael. It’s a graph called the Lifecycle of a Disaster. It represents the highs and lows that one experiences after a disaster. It also reflects how the process of grief can play out. As we listened, I suddenly realized that while this pandemic disaster is not over, grief has already begun. There is denial, blaming, bargaining, anger, coping and acceptance, and all that hurt is swirling around us just as it was all swirling around on the first Good Friday. Grief is all over the place at the foot of the cross and grief is all over us. And it is very sad. This is the one day of the year that I hope we can be honest enough to say such things out loud and to pray them to God. To grieve all that is wrong, and all that has gone wrong and to dare to grieve that we are not just victims of all the hurt in this world. We can be the reason. We hurt. And we hurt others. But this hurt is not all that we are asked to experience and feel on this day. Something more holds this hurt, something even more remarkable to experience this day. That for all this hurting, there is also healing. “No one has greater love than this,” Jesus said on the last night of his life, “to lay down one’s life for his friends.” Having said it, today Jesus does it. Yes, there is all that hurts---the pain and sin and tragedy---that nailed Jesus to the cross, but it is a stronger power that keeps him there. And that is the power of his love for us. “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” It is only now that we begin to fathom what lies at the heart of God. For the cross of Jesus is not simply about hurting, but it is about what Jesus did with all that hurt and pain. “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” For all the pain we endure, for all the hurt we inflict, for all the agony of the world, there is love. And in that love, there is hope. In that love, there is forgiveness. In that love, there is healing. Frederick Buchner speaks of this way of love when he wrote: “The love for equals is a human thing…of friend for friend…. It is to love what is loving and lovable. The world smiles. The love for the less fortunate is a beautiful thing… the love for those who suffer, for those who are poor, the sick, the failures, the unlovely. This is compassion, and it touches the heart of the world. The love for the more fortunate is a rare thing… to love those who succeed where we fail, to rejoice without envy with those who rejoice, the love of the poor for the rich, of the black man for the white man. The world has always been bewildered by its saints. And then there is the love for the enemy… love for the one who does not love you but mocks you, threatens and inflicts pain. The tortured’s love for the torturer. This is God’s love. It conquers the world.” +Russell


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