This is a shortened version of the homily I preached at Grace Anglican Church at the Good Friday evening worship service.
What’s the big deal about the death of Jesus? Well, it’s one of the key ingredients in the Christian Gospel. And I’ve got to start off by saying this about the Gospel: the Gospel isn’t just something we apply to our lives; Jesus isn’t someone we just invite into our hearts. Rather, the Gospel is something we enter into; Jesus is someone we seek out and follow. So if we want benefit or grow from Jesus’ experience of death, we have to join in, follow him, and go to dark Gethsemane. Joining with Christ we can learn all things, but I just want to focus on three tonight: learning how to pray, learning how to bear our cross, and learning how to die.
Part I – Learn of Jesus Christ to pray.
When Jesus was worried, troubled, in danger, afraid, he went to pray away from distractions. He does this many times in the gospel, but especially so at this point in the Garden of Gethsemane. He had a small number of chosen intercessors to stay nearby and pray for him. They weren’t directly with him – he was basically alone – but they were within eye-shot. We, too, should seek Christ out in prayer when we’re troubled, and we also should seek out intercessors. The heavier the burdens upon us, the more important this is. And of course we must never lose sight of the cross: Jesus has already suffered for us there. We add nothing to the cross; it was a full and complete deal that he accomplished.
Part II – Learn of him to bear the cross.
When Jesus was in danger, he did not run away, but faced up to it, challenged it, and won. As I said on Sunday, the cross was not his defeat, but his victory and enthronement. We share in that victory. But, as it was a costly victory, we also share in that suffering. The cross that he bears sets the example for the cross that we each bear ourselves. Look at the crucified Lord; meditate on his humiliation. If you’re in Christ, your sufferings are his sufferings. This is one of those spiritual exercises where a crucifix is a really powerful image. Before the cross the was empty, the cross was occupied, with Jesus! He suffered and died there, and if you’re in Christ, you’ve experienced it too.
Part III – Learn of Jesus Christ to die.
When Jesus died, he was not in despair, but continued steadfast in God’s purpose. “It is finished,” he cried out, because his work, ministry, battle, and victory were done. You could almost dare to imagine him saying that with a weary smile – this was not a quiet whimper, but a triumphant declaration! He knew what he was doing on the cross; he knew what he had just accomplished, and he made that announcement. Taking this further, if we have died with Christ, then we share in his victory. So again, don’t ignore the crucifix, but be inspired by it! That man on the cross, Jesus, is our triumphant king, and that’s when he defeated Satan and kicked him off the throne. Meanwhile, yes, death is a scary thing. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: death is unnatural! God didn’t create us to die; death doesn’t belong in this world. It’s only here because of sin. So naturally we fear it. But as we follow Christ in, we’ll know we’ll also follow him out.
And so, we follow him. And when you die, do not despair. Just follow Christ. He will be there for you.