My take on the perennial question via my sermon for Good Friday.
Good Friday— John 18:1-19:42
It’s a question that gets asked every year, I suspect. Usually the younger ones are able to verbalize it, but I know that many of the adults are thinking the same thing. It was my 7 year-old niece Lily who asked it this year to my sister. “Mom,” she said, “why do we call it ‘Good Friday’? It doesn’t really seem ‘good’ at all.”
Quick answers won’t do. They leave too much unsaid. A story is better.
A long time ago the Hebrew people came to live in Egypt because there was a drought in the land where they had been staying. The man in charge of preparing for this famine was named Joseph, a Hebrew himself, brought to Egypt ahead of his family through very difficult circumstances yet by the will of God. Many, many years later a Pharaoh came into power who didn’t remember Joseph. That Pharaoh hated the Hebrew people, and he put them in bondage. He made them his slaves, and he wanted all the baby boys that were born to the Hebrew women to be killed.
Except one of those boys wasn’t murdered. His name was Moses, and when he grew up, God asked him to come before Pharaoh and ask that Pharaoh release the captive Hebrew people. But Pharaoh refused. God showed God’s power by sending plagues upon the people of Egypt, and each time, Pharaoh refused to release the Hebrews.
Until one night when God told Moses to get the people ready. They were to take a lamb and after killing it, they would take some of the blood from that lamb, put it on a branch of hyssop and mark the doorposts of their homes with that blood. Then they were to roast and eat that lamb along with unleavened bread that night, being sure to stay indoors. During the night, an angel of death passed through killing the firstborn of every family in the area that didn’t have the blood of the lamb on the doorposts. Death passed over the homes of the Hebrews who had done what Moses said.
And on that night—the night of the Passover—God delivered the Hebrews. They were never again under the bondage of Pharaoh. And they left Egypt forever.
Many, many years later, Jesus came into the world. And when John the Baptizer first saw him, he said, “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” And when John said this, those gathered around him couldn’t help but think about the Passover lamb, and the deliverance from bondage in Egypt. And they got excited, these descendants of the Hebrews, because while they weren’t in bondage to Egypt anymore, they were under the oppression of the Romans. Some of them thought that Jesus would be the one to free them from the tyranny of the Romans; some began to wonder if Jesus was the Messiah.
Jesus taught about a new kingdom and he did miracles, and he showed people God’s love. He forgave people their sins and healed them, and this made people in authority—both the Hebrew leaders and the Roman leaders—get anxious. And they decided that Jesus was better off dead than alive. So they conspired together to kill him.
They waited for a time to do this, and they worked with one of his disciples, Judas, who had become disillusioned because he thought Jesus would overthrow the government, but Jesus didn’t do that. So Judas betrayed Jesus.
And it was at the time of the Passover.
The Gospel writer named John wanted to show the connection between the Passover lamb and Jesus as closely as he could. He reminded his readers about the Baptizer calling Jesus the lamb of God when Jesus was first introduced. He writes that the day Jesus was crucified was the day of Preparation for the Passover, the very day the lambs were slaughtered in preparation for the festival. And he told them as well that when Jesus was offered a drink of water from a sponge while he hung on the cross, bleeding and so very thirsty, the stick used by the guards to give him that drink was hyssop, just like the stick used at the first Passover.
And as soon as he had taken a drink from that sponge—when his bloodied lips had touched the sponge on the hyssop—he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and died.
“It is finished,” Jesus said. His last words before he died. And I think what he meant was that his work on this earth was finished, that he had done what he was supposed to do. More so, I think he also meant that in his becoming the Passover lamb he would free his people forever from bondage. Not in the sense that some thought about freedom from earthly powers—like the Romans—but freedom from those things that bind us and put in slavery. Evil, and death, Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God, and those sinful desires that draw us away from the love of God. Jesus finished that work through his death. In giving himself on our behalf, he was victorious. And he gave to us freedom forever.
We gather on this holy night to remember the things Jesus did for us through his life and death. He came, as another Gospeler penned it, “not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” The ransom of his life opened up for us a way of freedom from slavery, oppression and bondage. While we are indeed sorrowful to see our Lord, broken, beaten, despised, alone, we cannot also overlook the freedom and release offered to us. He gave his life a ransom that we might live. We gather on this holy night, this good night, to remember, and to seek God’s love and God’s desire for our lives. So that we may no longer live as those in slavery, but as those who have been freed forever. May we remember, and may we seek repentance and life, and always see how deep God’s love is for us. Amen.