Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday Evening Sermon

There are little bits of this sermon that are repeated from the noon reflection - but not that many. The related scripture texts are in the body of the sermon.

In Luke’s Gospel, in the recounting of the events of the day that we now know as Good Friday, at the moment when Jesus dies on the cross, the curtain of the temple is torn in two.

That curtain, a feature of the Jewish temple, was designed to keep the people separate from God. Jewish people believed that God could be found, literally, in the place in the temple called The Holy of Holies. Only one High Priest could venture there, and even then only at certain times and under certain circumstances. The curtain was the dividing line. God lives here, and no one else is worthy to enter.

At the moment of Jesus’ death, that curtain, designed to keep humans and God separated, is torn. Torn by Jesus’ death.

And we are the beneficiaries of the tearing. God is no longer distant. No longer locked in a room. God is no longer separate and apart. God and we are set free and we are able to be directly in relationship with God. In Jesus’ death, God and humanity are reunited.

I tell you this because that torn curtain is the one referred to in the Epistle reading for tonight - from the letter to the Hebrews. Hear again what that author wrote concerning the curtain: Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh),

and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

This biblical letter to the Hebrews isn’t really a letter. It’s more like an essay. And none of the biblical scholars are certain to whom it was originally written. The best guess is that it was to a community of Jewish Christians, living in exile, far outside of Jerusalem, and suffering persecution. Those folks would have known about the High Priest and the Holy of Holies. They would have known, instantly, the significance of the writer’s words.

This author of this text goes on to suggest to that gathered group of exiles what living out life in this new reality might look like. The author writes: Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

We are the beneficiaries of the events of that Good Friday long ago. Like the Hebrews first addressed in this letter, we no longer need to live apart from God. When that curtain was torn, the great divide between God and humanity was breached.

We are no longer separated from God by a curtain.

And, like the Hebrews addressed in this letter, we have responsibility because of this. We are called to speak of the hope that is within us. To proclaim the Good News of God in Christ. Even in the midst of hardship. Of recession. Of fear. Of death.

We are also called to “provoke one another to love and good deeds.” I love that. My dictionary says that to provoke is to stimulate or give rise to a strong emotion, often a negative or unwelcome one. In our new reality, provoking is transformed into a blessing or benefit.

And finally, we are to “meet together.” Or, in the words of our baptismal promises, to continue in the Apostle’s teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers.

When that temple’s curtain was torn, we were brought into new and closer relationship with God. And with that relationship comes responsibility. Therefore, let us strive, like our “Hebrews” forebearers, to proclaim the source of our hope, to provoke one another to greater love, and to gather together regularly, in Christ’s name.

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