Friday, March 21, 2008

Behold your Son, Behold your Mother, Behold Your God: A Homily for Good Friday

Sermon For Good Friday, 2008
Friday, March 21st, 2008
Preached at Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: John 18:1-19:42

“Woman, behold your son – Son, behold your mother.”

Some time ago, I heard a story on the CBC about bullet-proof clothing. Unlike the bulky vest worn by police officers, this was designer clothing that looked no different from any other high-end garment that might adorn those who grace the runways and red carpets. What I found amazing was that this was literally a booming industry. A fifteen thousand dollar suit had just been delivered to a big businessman; a twenty thousand dollar dress sold quite handily to a young starlet. And what is more, the salespeople were really willing to get behind their product: They were literally willing to take a bullet for the cause. As I drove along listening to the radio report, my mouth was agape as I heard interviews with salespeople who had worn the clothes and were shot a point-blank range in order to demonstrate their own faith in the product. And upon the conclusion of the report, two words came into my head – fear and madness.

This report brings into focus the kind of paranoia by which we can be gripped living in a world of fear. Who is it that lurks around the corner waiting to take my life? Who is it that seeks to harm me, my family, or my children? Who is it that seeks to undermine the security of our nation to the point that we happily and wilfully give up our civil liberties as if such liberties were refuse to be dusted away in a Spring cleaning? And more than the fear of whom, there is the complacent fear of when. We become gripped by a paranoia that it is inevitable that others seek to harm us, and that it is only a matter of time until that unknown person takes a shot at us or our loved ones. We become so gripped with fear that we build walls around our cities, or through their centres, across our borders, in our airports, and now apparently around our bodies in the form of bullet-proof designer clothing, all in the hope of protecting us from some inevitable attack on our person. An existence built around fear.

Is this anything other than madness? Does it not speak of the complete, and more poignantly, the voluntary separation of ourselves from each other? Were we not created as beings of relationship, of love, of compassion, of tenderness? And yet we eagerly and willingly embrace the madness of separation in the hope of survival. Instead of questioning why we might need designer bullet proof clothing in the first place; instead of living lives that might change the madness of this reality, we design it, market and promote it, sell it, and even take a bullet ourselves to demonstrate its necessity. We choose to embrace the culture of fear and madness, rather than witness to its transformation.

“Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing around it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself … One of them asked him, ‘did I not see you in the garden with Jesus?’ Are you not one of his disciples?’ Peter replied, ‘I am not.”

Fear – driven by fear, a fear for his own safety, a fear that he had followed a false prophet, a fear that he was now to be condemned for a relationship with this false messiah, Peter denied his Lord. A wall went up around him, it was as if he slipped on one of those designer bullet-proof garments so that he could stand safely in the midst of those who might seize him and put him to death. And yet, there he stood at that moment, protected yes, but by his lie, utterly and completely alone.

“My peace I gave, which the world cannot give,
and washed your feet as a sign of my love,
but you draw the sword to strike in my name,
and seek high places in my kingdom.
I offered you my body and blood,
But you scatter and deny and abandon me.”

That love is ever before us, as it was ever before Peter. Again and again our Lord comes to us. The love of the servant king banishes all fear and casts away all darkness. But do we still choose fear? Do we still choose darkness? When push comes to shove, shall we choose to participate in the culture of fear and madness because it is easier to believe in despair rather than to proclaim hope? Shall we build walls around ourselves, segregating us from each other and from our Lord? Shall we make the pretence of belonging to each other, warming ourselves around the fire, if in fact, we have denied the one who by his love transforms the world in love? Fear is easy, because it is what we see every day – but what of the way we know by faith? What of the courage of love?

Some time later, at the foot of the cross stands a man and three women. The man is without name, some believe him to be the disciple John, we cannot be sure, but we do know this – he was one that Jesus loved. And with him, stand others, beloved by the Lord, most especially, his own mother, Mary. And as he risked all for them, as he gave his life that they might have life and have it abundantly, so too, they risked all for him. They risked the derision of onlookers. They risked the likelihood that as his followers they, too, might soon be persecuted at put to death. They risked the pain and fear of seeing one they loved so much die a slow and painful death. They stood in the open, on a hill, at the foot of that instrument of death and pain, when all others had run away in fear, beneath the one whose arms were stretched wide in pain but wide in love and offered him their mutual love in spite of the stares and derision of the world, the abandonment of their friends, and the danger and fear they must have felt. Against all fear, they stood together.

And he looked down on that young man with these words, “Son, behold your mother,” and to his mother, “woman, behold your son.” These are words that shall be forever remembered as words that bound these individuals together inseparably for all time. And what is more, they are words that bind us together for all time. They are words that are spoken to us today from that same cross. Look around this place, behold your mother, behold your father, behold your sons and your daughters, behold your brothers and your sisters. And as you gaze back, behold the Man, the man who spoke these words and made that sacrifice on the cross. For these words and that sacrifice have knit us together into one great family of love and compassion, in which sin and fear and darkness are banished forever, and replaced by a love so deep and so wide that stretches out over all creation. This is what we were created for -- this is what we were meant to be -- and not just us, but the whole world: to be one great human family, drawn together through the sacrifice of love.

Our prayer must be today, that the Lord will call us into the depth of that love, turning us from fear and madness, and putting in us the Spirit of courage that we might testify to this love that casts away all darkness. We pray that we might stand on that hill, with faith as the world chooses pain, and war, and violence. We pray that we have the grace to proclaim to that same world, with actions that speak louder than words, that self-sacrificing love that binds rather than separates us. For we know that our Lord calls the whole human family to look upon each other saying, behold your mother, behold your son. Let us have the courage to stand together with each other and with him as we look to the cross and proclaim: Behold the man, behold the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. Behold our God.

Copyright 2008 by the Reverend Daniel F. Graves. This homily may not be reproduced or redistributed, either in whole or part, by any means, without the express, written permission of the author.

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