Sermon for Good Friday + April 19, 2019
Trinity Lutheran Church, Worcester

In the name of the crucified Christ. Amen.

One of the details in the passion story told by all four gospel writers, is Peter’s denial of Jesus. Have you ever considered why that might be an important detail in the telling of the passion? Why, of all the details that the Gospel writers include, does Peter’s denial play so prominently in each?

Some possibilities …

  • Perhaps it’s told to proclaim the way in which Jesus was utterly abandoned by his friends.  Jesus had to endure the passion entirely alone. Perhaps Peter’s denial underscores the forsakenness Jesus experienced in his passion?
  • Or, maybe there is an inside story here that early Christian community would have known? Struggling against Empire and culture, perhaps Christian community needed to see Peter struggle to keep his faith against threats and obstacles, as early Christian community struggled to keep their own faith against the challenges they faced?
  • Or, maybe the story of Peter’s denial was needed in order to magnify the grace and forgiveness of Jesus? According to John, the resurrected Jesus would forgive and restore Peter in a moving three step process of restoration, as Jesus commissioned Peter to feed Christ’s flock. Maybe Peter’s denial is central for the reconciling and forgiving ministry of Christ?

Whatever the original reason, perhaps there are several, I think it’s helpful to push a bit deeper into Peter’s denial. As we do, let’s be charitable towards Peter. Might we imagine Peter continuing to love Jesus even as he denied him? Might we trust that Peter wanted to continue following and serving Jesus, even as he denied knowing him?  Could we receive Peter’s denial as having to do less about faith, or lack of faith, or a failure of faith, and much more to do about Peter’s humanity?

The truth is, in our humanity, we go to great lengths to avoid suffering. We do more to avoid pain, than we do to gain pleasure. To avoid suffering, Peter denied what he had devoted his life to. As we consider Peter’s denial, a conversation opens up about our own approach to pain and suffering and about who and what we deny, as we do what we can to avoid pain.

On this day, in honest and somber reflection, we are honest about the pain and suffering of Jesus on the cross. We do not deny it. We experience it. We face it. We confront it. And in our recognition of Christ’s suffering and death, we can be honest about our own suffering and death.

Theologian, and participant in this community of faith, Christopher Frechette, has done theological reflection on trauma. Specifically, Christopher has written about the Book of Lamentations in the Old Testament.

The Book of Lamentations give voice to the people’s cry in response to unimaginable pain and suffering they experienced in the Babylonian assault on Jerusalem: violent death, sexual violence, starvation prompting cannibalism, forced migration, the loss of the monarchy, and the destruction of the Jerusalem temple.

Christopher’s profound insight, is that the Book of Lamentations, while it does not explain suffering, it does provides a way to be both honest about our suffering while remaining in relationship with God … to both submit to God and protest against God.

He writes, “Lamentations represents an emotionally engaged and honest process for remaining in relationship with the God of Israel amid the kind of suffering that overwhelms the normal coping capacity of individuals and collectives.” 

Christopher points out “the vivid images of suffering voiced in Lamentations become for Christians a means of engaging emotionally in the mystery of the suffering of Jesus. By taking in the emotional weight and depth of Jesus’ suffering and abandonment, and doing so in communal solidarity with one another, Christians advance in their capacity to experience the Risen Jesus as seeing them and loving them in their own suffering, shame, and alienation.”

 If the book of Lamentations outlines a way for us to be honest before God about suffering, and to remain in relationship with God in our suffering, then the cross, is the proclamation of the way God remains in honest relationship with us as we suffer!

Jesus’ death on the cross is the way God vocalizes to us, and to the world, God’s acknowledgment and understanding of human pain and misery. On the cross, God says to us in the crucified Christ, “I get it. I know it. I feel it.” Jesus’ death on the cross is God’s promise of relationship with us, in our pain, in our wounds, and in our hurts.

This day has been called “The Triumph of the Cross Day.” The triumph of the cross is not the cross’s ability to eliminate pain and suffering and to prevent trauma. Rather the triumph is, as Christopher writes, “the conviction that Christ’s suffering represents God’s sharing in the suffering of humanity, and so Jesus’ suffering evokes the people’s suffering.”

Back to Peter’s denial. The sadness of Peter’s denial of Jesus, was not that Peter lost his faith or lost his desire to follow Christ. Rather, the sadness, was that Peter could not imagine the full expression and revelation of God precisely in the suffering. God is not just with us some of the time, not just when all is happy, and rosy, and wonderful, God, in the crucified Jesus Christ, promises to be with us all the time!

Because of the cross, pain and suffering is not a sign of God’s absence. In the crucified savior on the cross, we have the promise of Jesus who, in his own pierced and wounded hands, and feet, and side, enters into our pain, suffering with us and dying with us, remaining in relationship with us in life and in death.

Indeed, that is the triumph of the cross.

In our suffering, and in our death, may we experience the living Christ.