Good Friday Sermon

March 29, 2024
Preacher: The Rev. Eric Stelle

In some ways, it seems, this silence is the only fitting response to the story of Christ’s Passion – this gaping, wordless silence.

I feel it as a kind of void – a black hole of sorts – bereft of meaning and hope and confidence. Who are you, God? Who are you, Christ? What is this cross? This suffering? What is this living? This dying? This faith?

And yet, at the same time, the silence itself seems the only expression worthy of bearing the divine mystery of Christ and his passion – that silence alone is capable of holding every sorrow of this world; every truth; every hidden hope that beats within every human breast – echoes of God’s voice that spoke us into being.

So there is, of course, a kind of presumption in breaking this silence with words – words whose very nature renders them far too small to match or contain the vast mystery of God and God’s purpose in Christ and his passion.

And yet, within that vastness, we are here. Our lives may be just a speck in the cosmos, a mere fraction of a moment in eternity. But it’s the only existence we know. And whatever may be universally true of God and Christ, must be particularly true in us – in our lives, our church, our world.

At last night’s service, Andrew quoted Bishop Pike who said, “A Christian is someone who takes the death and resurrection of Jesus…” and what I thought he was going to say was, “seriously.” “A Christian is someone who takes the death and resurrection of Jesus seriously.” For surely that is the duty of faith we have all felt: “Take your discipleship seriously and earnestly. Lay down your life. Take up your cross.”

And that’s not necessarily wrong. But nor is it the wisdom of what Bishop Pike was saying.

“A Christian,” he said, “is someone who takes the death and resurrection of Jesus personally.” And what a difference that makes.

There is a time to sit silent before the mystery of Christ and his passion. And there is a time to speak (as it were) – to pair the universal story of the Cosmic Christ with our own stories, as we seek to find meaning and purpose and hope within the contours of our lives, in this world and in our Christ.

So that is what I have to offer you tonight: just a handful of stories from my life. The stories themselves are nothing exceptional. But as I consider the Christ story, held alongside my stories, they now became his, and his, mine. They become, as Bishop Pike said, personal: my life, my body, my blood, now mingling with the blood and body and life of Christ.

My life, of course, is still quite young. I’ve not yet known chronic pain. I’ve not yet confronted any real threat of mortality. I’ve hardly begun the Via Dolorosa. That time will come, I know. But as for now, the stories I have to share are all from childhood. They’re all travelling stories, in fact, stories of the frequent journeys I made between the home I lived in with my father and the home I visited with my mother. This is how it is for children of divorce: gypsies of sorts – always travelling between two worlds.

But now, as an adult, I can take these memories out of storage (as it were) and hold them alongside the story of Christ and his journey to Golgotha and find in them a kind of passion journey made together.

I remember the time my brother and I made the journey alone. We were young – maybe eight and ten – flying to our mom’s house together. The flight was full and we’d been seated apart from each other. I remember how vulnerable and alone I felt. And when the plane stopped for a layover, I saw my brother get up to ask the flight attendant if they could give us seats together. She walked off the plane with him to go to the desk inside the airport – presumably to arrange it. All I knew was that he was gone for what felt like a really long time. I remember my growing sense of panic that the plane would leave without him. And then he came back. He’d done it! We were seated together.

And as I remember this now, and the emotions I felt – it becomes a living parable, in my life, of Christ. And in particular, how Mike became as “Christ, my High Priest.” On behalf of us both, he went and did what I perceived to be this dangerous, risky thing. Just like Christ, in his priestly role as a human – like us and with us – he went before God as our advocate, pleading our case, and making what offering was needed for our redemption.

Years later, when I was grown, I again was taking a flight somewhere. It was August. Seated in front of me were two boys, travelling alone without parents. And immediately I knew what was happening. Summer was ending. They’d just said goodbye to a parent they wouldn’t see again until Christmas. The younger one was sniveling – trying to stop, but couldn’t. His big brother was doing the best he could to comfort him. And before I knew it, I was crying, too. Not just on their behalf, but with them: Their tears were my tears, tears I’d known and shed many a summer.

It was my turn to become as Christ, with them, even if they were unaware of this strange man, crying behind them. Our Christ is the Christ of the incarnation. He doesn’t just know about our lives; he has lived our lives, known our sorrows, cried our tears. And on this day, Christ has died our death, in his body – one with us.

I remember another summer. I must have been in about the third grade then. My month of summer spent with mom was coming to its end. She casually asked one afternoon, “Wouldn’t it be nice if you could stay here with me?” “Yeah,” I said, “it would.” By which I simply meant, “I love you and it’s hard to leave.” But before I knew it, everything was in motion. Lawyers were being called. Mom was hatching this plan for me to live permanently with her. And the burden was placed on me, that once I’d gotten back home with dad, I needed to tell him I wanted to leave – to leave him and my home and my family.

It filled me with dread. The burden was unbearable. And I was utterly alone in it. After a few days of being home, dad came into my room. “Eric, your mom says there’s something you want to tell me.” This was the moment – the moment that would destroy everything. And all I could do was step into it. “I was, uh, thinking that maybe I’d like to live with mom now.” He was quiet. He looked at me. He knew me. “Eric, do you want to keep living here.” “Yes.” “Don’t worry. This isn’t your problem. I’ll take care of it.” And he did. He walked out of my room and it was never mentioned again. By anyone.

It’s one of the most sacred memories I hold of my father. How much he became as Christ for me in that moment – stepping in to bear this burden that was far too heavy for me to carry. He became Christ, dragging my cross away from me, hoisting it upon his own shoulders. He became Christ, carting away my sins – doing God knows what with them. It’s beyond my knowledge or understanding. What I know is this: “Eric, do you want to keep living here with me?” “Yes, Lord, you know that I do.” “This isn’t your problem. I’ll take care of everything.”

I made one final trip to see my mom. It’s been several years now. Mike was still living in Gig Harbor then and we brothers flew down to see her again, one last trip, together. She was unconscious by that point – her pancreatic cancer nearly through with her. We said our good-byes, each in our own way. And then she died in the long watch of the night. I remember standing alone outside, in the dark, watching the van carry her body away, and seeing the taillights disappear into the night. I was surprised by what I felt. Amidst the grief, was something else: relief. How many weekend visits had ended, alone on the sidewalk, watching the taillights of her station wagon pulling away from me? And now, relief. “It is finished. Never again, will you leave me. Never again, will we need to say goodbye. This is the last one, ever.”

It was my mother’s turn, now, to become as Christ for me. As he is one with her, and she is one with him, his death is her death; and her death is his. And therein lies the hope: that Christ has conquered death. The resurrection has begun. Christ’s resurrection has already become her resurrection. And my own. Our goodbyes are over. And all that remains is the growing discovery of our union in Christ forever. We have died in Christ, together. We are alive in Christ, together. This is our gospel.

There is nothing noteworthy or exceptional in any of these stories. Some version of them has repeated itself countless times in countless lives.

What is exceptional is what binds them all together. And that is Christ. Christ’s life and Christ’s death is God’s life and God’s death, married in union with each of us and each of our stories.

There is no life – no experience, no sorrow, no hope, no death – in which God in Christ is not present. Every life is Christ’s life; every death his death.

And, please God, may his resurrection be and become every resurrection, for which he bled and died.

Amen.