Here you will find the text from our Good Friday service, based around the seven words from the cross, the last sayings of Jesus as recorded across the gospel accounts.
Before we can come to the words from the cross, we must come to the cross itself. And so we begin by reading from Mark 15, verses 21 to 33.
And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross. And they brought him to the place called Golgotha, which means Place of a Skull. And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take. And it was the third hour when they crucified him. And the inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left. And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!” So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also reviled him. At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. (NIV)
I am always struck by the pain and the sadness behind these words. Mark is known for his rather terse style, but whereas before there was a sense of breathless excitement, now there is a sense of holding back. We get a great deal of detail about what is happening around the cross, but all we know of Jesus is that it was the third hour when they crucified him. Mark tells us where Simon is from and what his sons are called, but he doesn’t name Jesus once. It is as though the words are just too hard.
It is believed that the gospel of Mark was written by a disciple of Peter’s, who recorded what the apostle told him of his time with Jesus, so maybe what we are feeling here is Peter’s grief, still fresh and sharp even after the empty tomb and the passing of many years.
Unlike Peter, we have never lived this part of the story without knowing the ending, and so our grief is always tempered by gladness. In many ways that is a blessing, and as we go through the morning we shall see that it is right that we should rejoice in the cross, but maybe we need to recognise and even dare to feel the pain and the sadness of Good Friday if we are to truly appreciate the joy of Easter Sunday.
And so we come to hear the words from the cross. The first word is the word of forgiveness, and comes from Luke 23, verses 33 and 34.
And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (NIV)
This word comes so quickly that it almost feels as though Jesus prays for forgiveness for those who crucify him even as they drive the nails in.
Forgiveness was instinctive for Jesus, but that doesn’t mean it was something he did easily and with little thought. Forgiving can hardly have been easy at this point, perhaps that’s why Jesus called on his father to forgive rather than forgiving himself. And saying anything on the cross would have taken not only a great deal of thought, but also a great deal of effort. So no, instinctive does not mean easy. It means choosing forgiveness was a part of who Jesus was. It must be the same for us.
Today we focus on the cross, but it does not stand alone. Jesus spoke much about forgiveness in his ministry, and so here we see him living the life he taught, even to the point of death.
Perhaps Jesus’ best known teaching on forgiveness comes in the Lord’s Prayer, when he calls us to pray “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”. This reminds us that forgiveness goes both ways. Sometimes, like Jesus, we must forgive. Sometimes, like those who crucified him, we must be forgiven. It is not easy either way, but if it wasn’t worth it, Jesus wouldn’t have put it at the centre of our prayer life. And he wouldn’t have used what little strength he had to proclaim forgiveness from the cross.
Let us take a moment now to seek and to accept God’s forgiveness, knowing that if we ask we will receive.
The second word is the word of promise, and comes from Luke 23, verses 39 to 43.
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (NIV)
My sister performed with Riding Lights Theatre Company a few years ago, and in one of their sketches, the criminal who was saved arrives in Paradise, the first to taste salvation. The angels on the gates of Heaven, who were expecting to greet a prince or an emperor, aren’t sure what to do with him at first, and it takes a good talking to from Gabriel to set them right, but when they finally understand the truth they see how wonderful it is.
It seems so right that the first to be saved should be a criminal, because the truth is that Paradise is not for good people. It’s for God’s people. And all the criminal had to do to become one of God’s people was ask. It may not be easy, but it is that simple.
When Jesus said “Today you will be with me in Paradise” he was making a promise. A promise which he extends to all who say “Remember me” with a true and humble heart.
Promises were really important in the Old Testament, which is full of oaths and covenants, but in a world in which they are so easily broken, they seem to have lost their power. For us though, our faith hinges on the promise of salvation, and a promise like that is worth holding on to.
Let us take a moment now to recall the promises of God.
The third word is the word of relationship and comes from John 19, verses 26 and 27.
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. (NIV)
I think this word is about two different kinds of relationship. As Jesus looked down from the cross and saw the disciple and Mary standing there, he knew they would need each other, and he wanted to know they would be okay when he was gone. And so it is about the relationship between the disciple and Mary, but it is also about the relationship between each of them and Jesus.
As we stand at the foot of the cross, we too need each other. When there are difficult times ahead, we need people to give us a hug, or make us a cup of tea, or let us cry on their shoulder. And when times are good, we need people to laugh with us, or enjoy a meal with us, or watch rubbish telly with us. Our relationships are important.
And as God looks down on his children, he still wants to know we are okay. There are many ways in which he cares for us, but sometimes he knows only the human touch will do. That’s why he has brought us together with our friends and with our family and with our work colleagues. It’s why he has brought us together as a church. And it’s why he has brought us together here this morning.
And because God works in our relationships, it is often through them that we best understand and experience him. We recognise God’s love for us because we hear it in a kind word or see it in a thoughtful act or feel it in a warm hug. We live our relationship with God through our relationships with people, and so they are not just important, they are holy.
Let us take a moment now to give thanks for our relationships, and to hold those we love before God.
The fourth word is the word of abandonment and comes from Matthew 27, verse 46.
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (NIV)
Abandonment seems to go against everything we believe of God, and yet here Jesus cries out in the agony of separation. Perhaps it is an agony we ourselves know. We are told that “[not] anything in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God”, and yet we often feel so terribly distant from him. As we think back to Jesus’ stories of wayward sons and missing sheep, perhaps see that the truth is that we are not abandoned, only a little lost, but that doesn’t make the pain any less.
That’s why this word speaks so powerfully. It tells us that Jesus understands our despair because he has experienced it for himself. He shared our pain so that when we turn to him with full and broken hearts he can still share our pain. So that when we are lost we can cry out, knowing we cry to a God who not only searches for us, but understands why we so desperately need to be found.
Let us take a moment now to reach out to God.
The fifth word is the word of distress and comes from John 19, verse 28.
Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said to fulfil the Scripture, “I thirst.” (NIV)
If the last word tells us that Jesus understands our spiritual pain, this word reminds us that he also understands our physical pain. He allowed himself to suffer bodily as well as emotionally because he cares about and wants to understand every part of us. Every niggle, every ache, every worry.
And because he cares and understands, he wants us to take those things to him in prayer, to be honest about them as he was honest about his thirst. He already knows when we are troubled or hurting, but he wants us to tell him. There can be release in the telling, and it allows us to open ourselves to his healing power. That doesn’t mean we can pray only when we are in distress, but it should mean that when we are in distress we must firstly pray.
As Jesus thirsts, I am reminded of his encounter with the woman at the well, to whom he promised living water, saying “Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Jesus promises that he will not only give, but give abundantly. That he will not only satisfy us for a little time, but for all time. That he will not only give us our daily bread, but also the water of eternal life. And it is because we know these things that we can come to him in our distress knowing we will find relief in him.
Let us take a moment now to come before God with our pains and our needs, and those of our world.
The sixth word is the word of reunion and comes from Luke 23, verse 44 to 46.
It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun's light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (NIV)
Jesus’ words here recall those of Psalm 31:5, in which the psalmist says "Into thy hands I commend my spirit; thou hast redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God”. The rest of that psalm speaks of praise and faithfulness, and ends with a call to “Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord”. It’s easy to read this sixth word as the point at which Jesus gives up, but it’s not. It’s a positive action, an affirmation of faith and relationship, bound up with salvation and promise.
This has been known as the word of reunion, because here Jesus draws back to God after that cry of abandonment. It recognises that his sense of being forsaken was only temporary, as our sense of being lost is only temporary, because the father will always run to greet us and the shepherd will always come to rescue us. Jesus may not have been a prodigal son, but I do think it is significant that he calls God “Father” in this word of reunion. It reminds us that coming back to God is always a homecoming.
This reunion is also a renewal, as Jesus commits his life again to God. Commitment can sound like such a final thing, like a promise we can’t make until we know we won’t mess it up, and so we can hold off from making it. Or else it can sound like a promise we make once and for all, and so we make it then take it for granted. But the truth is that we will struggle and we will stumble, and we will need to recommit ourselves again and again, even as Christ did. So now as we stand in the shadow of the cross, maybe this is the time for reunion and renewal.
Let us take a moment now, if we feel able, to commit ourselves to God.
The seventh word is the word of completion and comes from John 19, verse 30.
He said, “It is finished”, and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
This is Jesus’ last breath and so it is not surprising that it is one of the shortest of the seven sayings, but there’s a lot to be said about these three words.
It seems significant that Jesus did not say “I am finished” but “It is finished”, because it was not him but his work on earth that was ended. And the word we translate “finished” comes from the Greek teleo meaning complete, so there is a sense of fulfilment in these words. I don’t believe that God sent Jesus only to die, or that this torturous death was the only way we could be reconciled to him, but perhaps there was something about the radical way in which he lived that made this death inevitable. Whatever the reason for the cross, something was ended there, and that ending made way for a new beginning.
Because if we really get into the nitty gritty of the grammar, we see that the verb is in the perfect tense, which describes an action which happened in the past but affects the present, because Jesus knew that these three words would have meaning for all time, that they would affect every present in which they were heard or read. We are caught in the ripples of the cross, and those ripples do not get weaker, only bigger.
I began this afternoon by suggesting that we must feel the pain and the sadness of Good Friday, but it seems right that we should end with a note of hope, because it is the sense that something is ending and something is beginning that gives the suffering meaning, and means that we can say that Good Friday truly is good.
Let us take a moment now to feel the ripples from the cross, the sadness and the goodness of Good Friday.
May the Father,
who so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
bring you by faith to his eternal life.
who accepted the cup of sacrifice
in obedience to the Father’s will,
keep you steadfast as you walk with him the way of his cross.
May the Spirit,
who strengthens us to suffer with Christ
that we may share his glory,
set your minds on life and peace.
And the blessing of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit
remain with you, now and ever.