Sermon: Good Friday
The Rt Revd Michael Turnbull
Preached on 6th April 2012
by The Rt Revd Michael Turnbull
John 18 and 19
Some months ago a friend of mine was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He was a man I admired, a public figure and a man whose faith was real but never advertised. We decided there may come a time when he could not speak or think clearly so I gave him a holding cross like this one I bought yesterday in the Cathedral shop. He died with his fingers wrapped around the cross. That was all the speaking needed to do.
Nothing in my hand I bring. Simply to thy cross I cling.
What is it about the cross which makes it so powerful? It is of course the most powerful logo in the world. Worn by pop stars and bishops. Crowning the world’s finest buildings. Marked on the head of the millions of baptised Christians. Touched across the chest of the devout in any culture in the world. Yet in essence it is the sign of execution of a very cruel kind.
Our immediate response to the Cross are (should be?) anger as we complain about the injustice. Sympathy as we witness the pain but perhaps implicit is the thought that suffering is always bad. Is it? Thankfulness because of what we have been taught about the cross – that somehow or other it relieves us of guilt.
But even those things do not fully satisfy our search for the truth about the cross. We finish with a confusion of thought incorporating horror, fear, tears, love, sin, punishment, sacrifice, grief, hope
So any response to the cross seems muddles and unsatisfactory. And of course we are conditioned to be suspicious of mystery, which is an embarrassment to the modern mind which seek to have an explanation for all things.
Yet life is muddled – it has many lose ends and is very untidy. It would in fact be unsatisfactory of it were not muddled because it would be unreal and all too controllable. But perhaps it is because the whole thing about the cross is too bug. It is cosmic, the turning point of all history. Yet it is also personal and concerned with the big picture of you and where you are heading.
What arises out of the blood and torture and cruelty and political positioning and the betrayal of friends is a tower of love so great as to be almost beyond our grasping. No human experience equates with this quality of love. So we need to acknowledge an element of mystery; admit to silent awe; be led in to whispering worship; and overflow with thanksgiving that such a thing could happen to the world, to me, to you.
And that mystery, awe worship and thanksgiving will transform us by the sheer power of love
It is that love, Herbert reminds us, ‘bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back’. It is indeed so great, so wonderful that we find it difficult to believe that all that love can be for us.
Yet that love brings with it a realisation of our own worth; a total forgiveness of all that is past; a rebuilding of broken bridges; a healing of hurts and the acceptance of memories; a hope for the future which is beyond wishful thinking but is built upon the rock of love which is Calvary.
So that one day when an intake of breath is not matched by an outpouring, we may be thankful for the Cross which fills our empty hands.