The Rev. Casey dunsworth

serves as Associate Campus Pastor to the Belfry, the Lutheran-Episcopal Campus Ministry to UC Davis

and as Program Director for LEVN, the Lutheran Episcopal Volunteer Network.

Good Question -- John 18:1-19:42

Grace and peace from God our Creator, hope in our Redeemer Jesus the Christ, and the promised gifts of the Holy Spirit are with you, always. Amen.

I ask a lot of questions. My hospital chaplaincy supervisor wrote in my final evaluation that I was “naturally curious”—he was the recipient of a lot of my questions. I ask questions of my self, my friends, my pastors, my professors, my family, my government, my God. My main man Martin Luther asked a lot of questions, too. One of his most-asked was “What does this mean?” A lot of the time, he was asking as a rhetorical device and had an excellent answer. Sometimes, though, it’s a mystery. I think I excel at this aspect of being Lutheran.

The gospel narrative we enacted for Good Friday is full of questions—including some big ones.

“Whom are you looking for?”
“Are you the King of the Jews?”
“Are you not one of his disciples?”
“What is truth?”
“Shall I crucify your king?”

Good Friday seems to have a lot more questions than it has answers.

And preaching on Good Friday is always an extra challenge—every other occasion is preaching the “good news” and Good Friday, in and of itself, is not good news. We first entered into this Lenten season of death on Ash Wednesday, when we remembered that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. We know that everything that lives also dies. Death and the return to dust ends every life.[1] Even the life of Jesus.

But the good news is that Good Friday is not in and of itself! Good Friday is part of the whole story of God. Without Good Friday, there would be no tomb, so there would be no empty tomb!

Good Friday raises a lot of questions about who we are and how we live out the good news. Today, “we are invited to accompany Jesus very closely in this, his long-awaited hour, and to pray for the grace to be able to understand these events”—and ask these questions. They “invite us to become their witnesses in our own lives.”[2]

One of my favorite questions for Good Friday is “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” It’s an old spiritual, do you know it?
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?Were you there when they crucified my Lord?Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
This haunting piece of music and history invites us to the foot of the cross. It asks us this question to which of course our literally true answer is no, I was not there. But what evil has been done right in front of my face that I have watched, trembling? What evil do I confess has been done in front of my face and I have turned away?

Dr. Shawn Copeland is a black Catholic theologian, and she says, “On this Good Friday, let us kneel before the broken, crucified body of Jesus. Let us kneel before the disappeared and murdered bodies of thousands of peasants, workers, vowed religious sisters and brothers, ministers and priests in Latin America;the raped and abused bodies of young boys and girls and women who have survived sexual assault by clergy and church workers; the torn bodies of prostitutes forced to trade themselves for survival; the rejected bodies of gays and lesbians; the swollen bodies of children dying in hunger; the scarred and bruised bodies of women, men and children suffering with AIDS; the despised bodies of red and brown and black and yellow women and men. To kneel before these bodies is a first step in grasping our collusion in their suffering and death; it is a first step in grasping the gratuitous love of the crucified Jesus. Let us kneel in love and thanksgiving for the wondrous love of God.”[3]

There is so much beauty that happens in our world that we thank God for, but there is so much violence that we cannot thank God for. There is so much that goes on in our world that we need to look at, need to really see, really engage, not ignore, not pass by, and most importantly ask big questions about.

The message of Good Friday is not that God endorses violence. It is not that God needed the blood of Jesus spilled in order to be powerful. We did that. Humans did that. Humans spill the blood of other humans in order to feel powerful. The message of Good Friday is not to continue to live and die in this way.

Interfaith Youth Core published a blog post about how “Good Friday…makes plain how much we have bought into the myth of redemptive violence, and how wrong we are to do so.”[4] When Peter cuts off the ear of the high priest’s slave, Jesus says “no more of this” so we must also say “no more of this” to violence and evil in our communities.[5] As Christians, we are “here to testify that redemptive violence does not bring peace, but more violence, and that Easter shows us that another way of doing things is possible.”

The message of Good Friday is not “Crucify him!” but rather “Woman, this is your son” and “here is your mother.” These words of Jesus remind us that, even in the midst of his own torture and death, Jesus was connecting his family and friends to one another, reminding them of their inextricable link—life together in the family of God.

What death and violence can we renounce today and instead remember that each broken body we encounter is the body of Christ?

On this somber and holy Friday, “May the Lord bless you with holy anger, with discomfort with easy answers, and with the foolishness to dream of another way of being.”[6]

Amen.




[1] McEvenue, Sean. “Violence and Evil in the Bible” in International Bible Commentary, 298.
[2] Okure, Teresa. “John” in International Bible Commentary, 1494.
[3] Copeland, Shawn. “A Reflection for Good Friday” Pax Christi USA, 2014. http://paxchristiusa.org/2014/04/18/holy-week-2014-reflection-for-good-friday/
[4] Suckstorff, Hana. “Is Good Friday a Misnomer?” Interfaith Youth Core, 2012. http://www.ifyc.org/content/good-friday-misnomer
[5] Hunter, Rhashell. “Good Friday” in Preaching God’s Transformative Justice, 190.
[6] Suckstorff.

Lent/Borrowed

Spinning Clumsiness into Sunshine