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Good Friday

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Readings taken from Matthew 26 & 27
United Service SMAS 2012
(6.4.2012)

Our family life has undergone many changes in the past year – mostly good ones I’m pleased to say. But it makes me think about the enormous changes that have happened over my lifetime. And it’s amazing how much Good Friday has changed. Because my mother was Roman Catholic, when I was a child we weren’t allowed to eat meat on Friday’s - that practice died out in the 60’s I think - but Mum never ever allowed us to eat meat on Good Friday.

There was a good reason for this - it was a sacrifice - especially for those who didn’t like fish! The whole point was about it being a hardship. So, just when you might be fancying a bacon sandwich or a nice lamb chop, realizing you couldn’t have it would make you stop and think of the much greater sacrifice made by Christ on the cross.

I expect few know of this practice today. In terms of the great British public few even know what happened on Good Friday. For the vast majority of folk today it’s just another Bank Holiday which allows the nation to participate in its favourite pastime – shopping. Possibly followed by watching a blockbuster on the box tonight!

Obviously there are many who are aware of the facts of Good Friday but I suspect that a large number may well think that what happened 2000 years ago, however sad it may seem to them, doesn’t have much impact today. Some of us do know the importance though. We’re here today aren’t we? And up and down the country many others are meeting, as we are, many are walking behind a cross through busy towns and shopping centres. And for those of us observing the day there’s the danger of our being judgmental. It’s easy to do but it’s actually rather dangerous to be judgmental.

Jesus reserved His biggest condemnation for the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Scribes; those who worshipped and obeyed Jewish law. The religious, the equivalent of us really. Those who felt that their acts of religious observance were all that was needed for salvation. And so before we condemn those of shopping and gallivanting today we need to stop, think and realize that our attendance at however many acts of worship today and over Easter gain us no Brownie points from God. Jesus was not crucified on a table between 2 candles. He was crucified on a dirty, rough old cross between 2 thieves. And, in fact, it was one of those thieves who realised that they were the one deserving the punishment - not Jesus.

I wonder if Barabbas realized that? We don’t know and probably the reason this part of the story is open-ended is for good reason. It means we can put ourselves in his position and make the decision for ourself. Have we realized that Jesus died in our place - to pay for our sins? Do we understand that we are, in fact, Barabbas?

That’s the big truth about Good Friday - we are Barabbas - the guilty one set free because the innocent one has taken our place. It seems to me that the more we realize that - the more we will have no space left over to condemn everyone else. The bible quite clearly says that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. And however uncomfortable that may make us feel it’s the truth of today. You, and I, are Barabbas.

And it should make us feel uncomfortable shouldn’t it?  But that’s another thing that’s changed so much today too. We live in a society that thinks that everything must be ‘right’ all of the time. No room for sadness. No room for failure. No room for mistakes - in our compensation ridden culture. Everything must be made perfect and pleasurable and preferably in the shortest possible time.

And to a certain extent we too in the church have bought in to this - there’s often a pressing desire to jump forward to the success of Easter Day - the resurrection. What feels bad and wrong about today has to be put right. Failure, sadness weakness - we don’t have to suffer them because the resurrection puts it all right.

And of course that’s true. But it’s also true that we cannot fully know the depth and joy of the resurrection without the cross, without Good Friday. We must be content to sit with those feeling of sadness and failure that are Good Friday, however uncomfortable that makes us feel. St Paul said that God’s power is made perfect in weakness - not exactly a slogan for today’s Britain’s Got Talent world is it?

But that’s the real wonder of Easter - of the whole Incarnation - just how much God gave up to become man and die upon a cross for Barabbas - for us. Perhaps we should think about bringing back the practice of not eating meat on Good Friday if it helps us to think more about that great sacrifice. Amen.

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