Good Friday

Good Friday 2016 – Seven Last Words

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”


At a first glance, and admittedly at a surface level, they certainly do seem to know what they are about.  These are professional executioners.  They know this prisoner has been found guilty of a capital crime.  They know that he has been sentenced to death.  And they know that they are the death squad. 

They know how to stretch the prisoner’s body across the instrument of torture.  They know how to angle his limbs to assure the greatest suffering.  They know how to secure hands and feet to the wood.  They know what it takes to raise the cross, with its living burden, upright.  They know how to keep watch and how long it usually takes for the death throes to move to the silence of death itself.

With the possible exception of the youngest among them, the newest recruit to their team, who may feel a bit squeamish, they know what they are about.  And they set about the work, again.

But he, the condemned one, the Nazarene, breaks the usual script open.  Others used their dying breath to curse the empire and the emperor and the soldiers beneath.  This one breathes words of . . . forgiveness. 

He addresses an unseen Father, but in tones of confidence that there is a Father and that he does hear.  He asks forgiveness for his executioners, for the ones who brought him to arrest and trial, for the one who betrayed him, and for we who stand at a distance two millennia later, but still in the shadow of his cross.  “Forgive them.”  He prays, from that time and place, for a universal gift of forgiveness.

The 20th century Austrian priest and author Karl Rahner wrote that the soldiers who placed Jesus on the cross to die in fact did not know what they were actually doing for this seminal reason: they did not know they were loved, each one, by God, by this Father upon whom Jesus called.  They did not know how much they were loved.  They did not know that God loved them with a love as bright and lasting and transformative, as that moment on Golgotha seemed dark and of passing significance, and unlikely to change anything, except the presence among the living of one Jesus of Nazareth. They did not know that this Father Jesus called upon knew each of their names and their stories, and how they came to be a part of this chain gang of executioners, and what else they might become in days to come. And not knowing that they were so truly loved, they could not be guilty of sin, even there and then as the Son of God died on the cross.  And so, he asked for them what should be theirs: forgiveness.

How completely do we know God’s love for us?

How truly do we know that we are forgiven, that we are caught up in this stream of forgiving love that becomes a river running from the cross to every time and place, to every generation, to every man and woman and child, to this moment on this Good Friday as we come together in prayer?

Fastened to the cross, Jesus is still supremely free.  In the face of hatred, misunderstanding, and fear, Jesus accepts the violence brought against him into himself, into his own body.  He freely allows that violence to kill him, and in return he gives not more violence, not deeper misunderstanding, not paralyzing fear nor confirmed hatred.  In return rather, from the cross Jesus pours out peace, compassion, comfort, forgiveness – all of these founded on limitless love, the revelation of the very heart of God.

Where retaliation might be expected, instead he pours out amnesty, grace, vindication.

We receive this forgiving grace, we who are blessed to know that we are loved, as Jesus taught us in the prayer that is his and ours.  Deep in the Lord’s Prayer we say, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” 

The grace of forgiveness flowing from the cross of Christ calls us to become channels of that same forgiving love.  On our willingness to forgive, rests the gift of our own forgiveness. 

And so.  If we are ridiculed, we are called to forgive.  If we are attacked, verbally or emotionally or spiritually, we are called to forgive.  If we are betrayed, by friend or spouse or son or daughter, we are called to forgive.  If we are shut out, left alone, ignored, we are called to forgive.

. . .

In this world, today, at this moment, there is much suffering.  There are many crosses, some borne with courage and love, some cursed and rejected. 

We are the people of this cross, the cross of Christ, the cross from which flows the unexpected and real gift of forgiveness.  We accept that gift, for we all deeply require it.  And in turn, as Christians we say of others, of all others, echoing our gentle Lord:

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

~ Preached at Trinity-St. John’s Church | Hewlett NYimg_8484

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