March 29: Good Friday

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews is the vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick. The sermon for March 29, 2024 was preached in response to John 18:1-19:42 based on the manuscript below.

The folk opera Hadestown
begins with Hermes —
both a character and narrator —
singing about the road to hell
with a railroad line.
He sings,
“Someone’s got to tell the tale
Whether or not it turns out well
Maybe it will turn out this time
It’s a sad song…
We’re gonna sing it anyway.”

After introducing us to Eurydice and Orpheus,
Hades and Persephone,
Hermes tells us that this old, sad song
is a love song.

As we work our way through the triduum,
this one liturgy scattered over three days,
we’re working through God’s love song
to humanity
made known to us in Jesus.
God’s love for us is incomprehensible,
extending to and through
whatever we might do:
including killing God himself,
in Jesus’ crucifixion.
The gospel writers don’t explain,
they don’t theologize
how Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection
bring salvation,
except that in facing and embracing death
Jesus defeats it,
thus defeating death
for all of the world.
God’s love song to us in Jesus,
like the old, sad song that Hermes tells
in Hadestown
shows us how far God is willing to go
for us to know our faults
and to know that we are loved.

As we gather again and again and again
to sing God’s love song to us,
it is old and sad.
Woven throughout this song, however
are experiences of Jesus showing us something else.
In Hadestown,
all the souls in Hades
are mindless.
They’re artistically portrayed
as living in a Depression Era factory town,
where Mr. Hades is the boss,
and all they can do
is keep their heads low.
After Orpheus has gone to Hadestown
perhaps reminiscent of the harrowing of hell,
he makes a deal with Mr. Hades:
if he can walk back from the underworld,
with his love – Eurydice –
behind him
they can both go.
In Anais Mitchell’s telling of this myth,
it’s not just Orpheus and Eurydice.
In pursuit of his love
Orpheus has gone to Hadestown
and winds up being something of a revolutionary
and a union organizer.

Needless to say,
there are countless differences
between the salvation story
of God in Christ
and classical or reimagined tellings
of the myths
of Orpheus, Euridyce, Persephone, and Hades.
Having seen Orpheus stand up to Mr. Hades,
the souls in Hadestown look to him,
and they follow him.
As he makes his way back from the underworld,
trusting that Eurydice is behind him,
the workers sing their hopes:
“Show the way so we can see
Show the way the world could be
If you can do it, so can she
If she can do it, so can we
Show the way

Show the way the world could be
Show the way so we believe
We will follow where you lead
We will follow if you
Show the way.”

When we come to Jesus this evening,
starting in the garden in prayer,
he’s done his best to show the way.
We heard last night about how he showed them
that being God means
washing their feet
and asking them to wash one another’s.
He’s tried to show them and teach them
that following him means loving one another
the way he loves us –
with God’s perfect, inexhaustible love.
Peter has promised,
like the workers following Orpheus,
that where Jesus leads he’ll follow.
Jesus knows he won’t make it the whole way.
Jesus has tried to show the way.

This doesn’t end
with Jesus going to the Kidron Valley
to pray before his glorification.
The soldiers make Jesus a crown of thorns,
but nevertheless it is a crown.
They mock him when they robe him in purple,
but nevertheless they are robing
the king of all eternity.
the one who orders Jesus’ crucifixion
and the only one who can be blamed for Jesus’ death,
despite centuries of antisemitic action on Good Friday
and poor readings of these texts,
has Jesus labeled in his death
“The King of the Jews.”
The king whose entrance procession
whose last actions with his friends
included washing their feet
is crowned, robed, and enthroned.
Jesus tells pilate that his kingdom is not from this world,
and thus his throne is not carved stone
or rare metals.
As Jesus shows the way,
shows that his love
goes beyond betrayal and being denied,
Jesus is enthroned on a wooden cross,
the implement of state-sponsored execution
reserved for criminals, terrorists, and revolutionaries.

Jesus takes on our sins
not because God needs a whipping boy
but because God loves us.
In our offenses against God and one another,
in the actions of our forebears putting Jesus on the cross,
God’s love doesn’t give up on us.
Jesus has taken the punishment we deserve
and taken it from up
not to satisfy the wrath of God
but to magnify the love of God.
This is an old song.
It’s a sad song,
and it’s a love song.
Our tongues sing the glorious battle
they sing the ending of the fray.
“Now above the cross, the trophy,
sound the loud triumphant lay:
Tell how Christ, the world’s Redeemer,
as a victim won the day.”

The sinless God incarnate
has taken our sins
and delivered us from them.
He’s shown the way that we can see,
shown the way the world can be.
A world where true love is service,
where power is humility.
The songs we sing today
are an old song.
Jesus’ song we hear today
is an old song, a sad song,
a tragedy.
But it’s a love song.
But we’re going to sing it anyway,
and sing it again and again and again. Amen.

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