Sermon for Good Friday

This sermon was preached at St Mary's on Good Friday 2014, by Simon Harvey, one hundred years after the start of the Great War. 

At the start of the service, the congregation was invited to step across a barbed wire line, which was made possible by laying  upon it a large wooden cross.

They killed Jesus.
The mob, who bayed for his death and shouted “Crucify him!” until their throats were hoarse.

They killed Jesus.
The religious elite, who hid tight-clenched fists in folds of fine robes and insisted on death for heresy.

They killed Jesus.
The empire-men, those rulers whose calculation and cowardice judged his death more expedient than any other option.

All of them killed Jesus.

But the nail and hammer work was left to soldiers. Which is what usually happens.

A dirty job, from top to bottom.

High politics and high religion, through a chain of delegation, order and command to turn cruel words into action.

So cheap wood, cheap nails, flesh and bone become the front line.

Soldiers did what soldiers do. Get on with the job. No mucking about. Making it quick makes it easy. Let others think, just do.

And did his eyes meet theirs? Him and them. All of them at their their assigned labour...
...him dying for the world, on our behalf?
...them executing for their commanding officer, for their ruler, for the priest, also on our behalf?

Barbed wire and crosses and nails. Cheap means of death. Industrial and mass-produced. Slow and economical.


Four hundred miles of trenches, garlanded with millions of miles of barbed wire, separated the boys of the Great War. Made cheap in factories that also made fortunes. The best example of technological warfare one hundred years ago wasn’t the tanks and gas shells and clever flying machines. It was barbed wire.
For a century now, those trenches have become metaphors of division and separation between enemies. Us and them. Our side, their side. Barbed wire is thin and bare but as effective at separation as any thick wall.

Or dividing curtain.

Like every partition, it was conceived for defence. And isn’t every wall so conceived?

Keeping others out, keeping me and mine safe.

But what happens to those who live behind their defences? Those whose homes have high walls and locks and alarms. Installing security measures is often the reasonable first move in the process that turns defence to suspicion to paranoia. Once the barrier is built, we grow more afraid.

Our fences make us free only in one way - free to think with dread imagination about those we hate on the other side. By our security measures, we imprison ourselves. And once you choose to keep a door locked, you’ll probably never think of keeping it unlocked again.


We did it with God.

Long ago we decided his wild love was too much. We pretended it was otherwise but we couldn’t handle all of  him in all our lives. Better to confine him and his kingdom-calling to parts of our lives - the high moments when we’re at our most charitable or the occasional Sunday morning. We feared (rightly) that he wanted all of us.

So we partitioned God off, which is all that sin really is. And in our sad delusion, we felt ourselves safer. We lived barely aware of God. We lived our own lives, defended, curtailed. We cleverly made ourselves safe by making our idea of God safe. As if you could tame God.

When Jesus died, says the apostle Paul in the letter to the Colossians, God did something decisive in our stalemated relationship with him. The waywardness of us, that estranged us from him, needed something. Then came Jesus, in whom “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.”

Temple-curtain tears. Earth shakes.

The reconciliation with God that we both feared and longed-for was won for us, done for us. Our man-made defences divinely dismantled.

Jesus did not declare cease-fire. He declared “It is finished!”

God come-among-us and dying the death we fear, so that we might live the life we were made to live.

And if in this Good Friday at his dying hour, we stand in no-man’s-land, shaking with fear, tempted to take cover, can we trust that it will soon be over? That one day… or three day’s time… the world will look different?