The Greatest Sermon Ever Given
“It is finished.”
And so–the vigil that we began yesterday evening—at the time when Jesus and his disciples entered the Garden of Gethsemane—is over:
“It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him.”
And now, we have come to stand at the foot of His cross, to wait:
“When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land . . .”
Earlier this morning, as I was praying, meditating in the Chapel of the Holy Innocents, keeping vigil with disciples of Jesus, I gazed at the ambry on the wall. The door of the ambry—as is the custom after Maundy Thursday– was open, the curtain pulled back—revealing a dark, empty tomb-like hole in the wall. The light of Christ—the sanctuary candle was unlit—because of the absence of Jesus’ body.
I began to imagine—I invite you to imagine with me—a life without Jesus.
Imagine living a life that was untouched by the sacrifice, the suffering, the death, of our Lord. Imagine a life that had never experienced the impact of God–the Son’s–incredible, overarching love for us.
Is this unthinkable? Does this seem impossible to ponder? Well, think of all those in this world who do NOT know Christ Jesus. Think of all those whose lives are empty, void of that presence in their lives.
This beautiful place where we are at this moment is–for so many–a spiritual place. This sanctuary is a place of peace and hope. That is what the word sanctuary has come to mean for the larger world as well.
But consider those without sanctuary today. Imagine the 147 people, mostly students in a college dorm in Kenya yesterday, hunted down, shot and killed because they were Christians. At that moment there was no sanctuary for them.
Imagine others, hungry children at a school only a couple miles from our door.
Imagine the neighborhood to the south of that school where hundreds stand in line every week for a plate of food. Why can’t we create a just world where everyone willing to work a 40 hour week can earn enough to purchase the minimum requirements of life?
Imagine the men and women who go to Episcopal Social services day after day in search of jobs, hygiene products, job coaches, life skills—in search of sanctuary from lives where there is no peace.
And it occurred to me, here, in this safe place, this beautiful sanctuary where we sit and kneel and pray today,
this is not where our faith is proved. This is not where our faith is lived out.
We come here for rest—and for renewal—We come here for solace – and for strength—We come for fraternity—and for friendship. We come to be fed.
But our faith is not proved, is not lived, within these beautiful walls.
Our faith is proved out there—wherever there is a hungry child,
Out there—wherever there is a person with a mind tortured by mental illness, by past transgressions, by histories of abuse.
Our faith is proved out there– wherever there is an unjust law or a failure of laws to protect the marginalized, the oppressed, the weak, the poor.
In a little while we will re-enter the world, our lives. It will be hard, as we stand outside, our bodies bathed in sunlight of spring,
Our faces brushed by the brisk wind that follows a spring rain—
it will be hard to imagine exactly how dark the world really was all those years ago—as Jesus hung there on the cross, dying—the world on the brink of losing the most incredible gift we had ever been offered.
It will be hard to imagine how dark the lives of millions of people still are today.
When we say we believe in the incarnation, we are saying that Our God willingly became one of us. Jesus was no human scapegoat sent in God’s place. So God, the Son, experienced completely—the physical, emotional and, yes even spiritual suffering at that moment in the way the any human would.
And during His passion—through the various accounts in the Gospel, we witness both the weakness and well as some of the beauty of humanity:
On one hand, we hear anguish: Anxiety and Fear: “Let this cup pass from me . . .”
On the other hand, we hear absolute obedience: “ But your will, not mine, be done.”
On one hand we hear anguish: Despair and sense of utter abandonment by God: ”Eloi, Eloi. Lema sabachthani? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
On the other hand, we hear the perfectest demonstration of love: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
And why did God do this? Why was it necessary for the Word to be made flesh? Why was it necessary for God to stand with us in this world?
God used a physical body to give us the final Word—the Word made flesh.
God stood with us, suffered and died as one of us, for us so that we would never again have reason to doubt God’s love for us. And, as God so loved us, God has asked us to similarly love others.
We stand at a crossroads—literally a road with a cross in the middle of it—the cross of our Lord planted for us. Jesus issued us a challenge. Will we take up His cross to be his hands, his feet, his eyes, the mouthpiece for his words?
Or will we, leaving church today, next Sunday, and all the Sunday’s after that, leave Christ’s commission to us in here, at the foot of our Beloved Brother’s cross?
Are we willing to change our lives—our very selves? Will we push ourselves—drive ourselves—offer ourselves up to the glory of God, offer our lives up to build God’s kingdom?
A couple of Saturdays ago, I gave a homily with this title: The Best Sermons are not Preached, but lived.
Today, we remember the greatest sermon that Jesus ever gave, the one he gave without speaking a single word. On this day, at this very moment, all those years ago —Jesus taught us—exactly—what GodLove looks like.
Jesus said, “It is finished.” But the truth is that the narrative of Jesus’ story was not finished on this day, all those years ago. The truth is that the real story of Jesus’ life and work, had only just begun.