Sermon Archives

Friday, March 25, 2016
Good Friday 2016
The Reverend Dr. Sam Portaro, Jr., Guest Preacher
Good Friday

Death dominates this day, towers above us. On Good Friday the portal to Eden, the gateway to all that life can be in God is barred vertically and horizontally by crossed timbers, fortified against our entry. As added macabre warning, Jesus—the New Adam— is crudely nailed there, literally suspended within and upon the span.

Thus we come to the cross, and to Jesus impaled upon it, to do what humans do at any death: to reflect. We come to the bloody end of a tragic story begun in Eden, and the threshold of a new story of what it means to be human. Looking deeply and intently upon Jesus, pinioned to the cross, we see one who’s determined to be fully and yet simply human. As Barbara Brown Taylor tells it

Whereas Adam stepped over the line and found humanity a curse, Jesus stayed behind the line and made humanity a blessing. One man trespassed; one man stayed put. One tried to be God; one was content to remain a human being. And the irony is that the one who tried to be God did not do too well as a human being, while the one who was content to be human became known as the Son of God.(1)

Nor do we come here solely to ponder our own mortality. We’re keenly aware of death’s lengthening shadow over the Church, especially enjoined in this gathered contemplation of death to reflect upon our shared life as people of God. Not for our sakes, but for the sake of the world to whom we, the Church, are called and given.

The Church is God’s gift to the world, and that’s cause for trepidation, especially in a world not given to writing Thank You notes. We—the Church—ought to be justifiably afraid, because Good Friday proclaims loudly and irrefutably that to fulfill God’s generous purpose, if we’re to be the Body of Christ, that body impaled before us should give us pause. If we are who we claim to be, then like Jesus before us, we have to die. Not a pleasant prospect. Listen again to Barbara Brown Taylor’s bold and honest reflection upon this necessary death demanded of sacramental sacrifice:

All I can figure is that any body of believers whose faith is funded by a giving God will find their lives by giving too—not reasonably, so that there is plenty left for sheet music and utility bills, but lavishly, so that the survival of the institution is always and blessedly in question.

What I cannot figure is how any church organized around the selfdonation of Jesus can stay invested in self-preservation. What would it look like for a church to lay down its life for its friends? If Philippians 2:5-8 were rewritten for the congregation, how might it sound?

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus—
you who, though called to be God's body in this world
did not regard your dearness to God as something to be exploited,
but emptied yourselves,
taking the form of slaves,
being born in the likeness of Christ himself.
And being found in human form like him,
you humbled yourselves
and became obedient to the point of your own dissolution—
even death before your time.

Leaving church, [she continues], is what church is for—leaving on a regular basis, leaving to see what God is up to in the world and joining God there, delivering all the riches of the institution to those who need them most, in full trust that God will never leave the church without all that it needs to live.(2)

Leaving church means stepping out beyond the fear that causes us to cling so tightly, to spend so much of our time, our energy, our resources, our precious selves and the fleeting hours of our too-short lives on the preservation of this institution. And mark well that though we refuse to leave, Jesus will not remain here with us.

In one of the most powerful symbols of this entire week, on this occasion Jesus departs; the Tabernacle is empty, the light is xtinguished and remains so till the Vigil of Easter’s dawning. On Good Friday, we’re abandoned, bereft. We’re pushed out, forced into the dark streets beyond, bearing witness to the fear we inherit in the horror of the Crucifixion and the terror it engendered in those at the foot of that cross so long ago.

Anne Lamott captures this anxiety well when she asks,

What are you supposed to do, when what is happening can't be? When it's all too scary and weirdly fascinating and grim, and the old rules no longer apply? I remember this feeling when my mother was in the last stages of Alzheimer's, when my brothers and I needed so much more to go on than we had— explanations, plans, a tour guide, and hope that it really wasn't going to be all that bad. But then it was all that bad, and then some, and all we could do was talk, pray and stick together. We somehow managed to laugh a lot, the great miracle, and we sought wise counsel—medical, financial, spiritual. A nurse from the Alzheimer's Association finally entered into the mess with us. We said, "We don't know what we're doing; we don't know if we should put her in a home; we don't even know what's true anymore," and the nurse said gently, "How could you know?"

And so we kept hobbling forward, and all we could do was the next right thing. I kept remembering an old Xeroxed photo of Koko the signing gorilla, with a caption beneath it that read, "The law of the American jungle: Remain calm, share your bananas." That's what we did—cried, tried to make each other laugh and stay calm, shared our bananas. And when the time came to know what to do, we did. I took the cat out of her arms; we put her in a home. It was a nightmare. It killed something in us, and we came through.

I asked a hopeless friend today, "What story would help you most? A story about God? A nice story about quirky miracles?"

"No, thank you," she said. "I'd like to hear the story about how we don't know what's going to happen, and how it all sucks, and that we are scared to death, and we don't know how we're going to get through it."(3)
That’s the story at the center of this day. It killed something in us. That death, Jesus’ death: it killed something in us. Unless we die like him, we cannot share a resurrection like his. We can’t get around it, we can only go through it. Submit to it. That’s the challenge of faith—it demands hand-to-hand, face-to-face engagement with fear.

“The problem is,” says Anne Lamott, “I'm not really one of those Christians who has the right personality for Good Friday, for the crucifixion part. The resurrection … isn't for two more days, and of course you have to go on faith that it will take place at all. Your mind tells you that it could all be a trick—crucifixion Friday, descent into hell Saturday, root canal Sunday. I don't even actually have the right personality for the human condition.”(4)

Yet, this is the human condition: That we must die and that it scares us at every level. So we come to dare the lion in his den, to sit in the presence of our foe that we may with greater confidence arise and do what’ s demanded of us. We embrace the scary, humiliating, shameful public death that is the crucifixion in confidence that God’s life will prevail and, in prevailing, reveal to the world that death is not now nor ever has been the final answer.


1 Barbara Brown Taylor in The Christian Century, February 7, 1996; http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1058/is_n5_v113/ai_18023704/?tag=... accessed 3/1/2010.

2 Barbara Brown Taylor, “The poured-out church,” The Christian Century, May 29, 2007.
found at http://www.christiancentury.org/article.lasso?id=3396 (accessed 3/1/2010)

3 Anne Lamott, “Good Friday World,” Salon, March 28, 2003.
http://www.salon.com/mwt/col/lamott/2003/03/28/good_friday/print.html (accessed 3/8/2010)

4 ibid.