St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church

Vancouver, B.C.

Phone: 604-877-1788


The Anglican Parish of St. Mary Magdalene

2950 Laurel Street at West 14th Avenue

Vancouver, BC, V5Z  3T3

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Diocese of New Westminster Anglican Church of Canada

Home Who We Are UAM What Is On Sermons Contact Us


April 10th Good Friday 2020                       John Marsh

As we approach the Triduum, standing before Good Friday, The Great Vigil and The Celebration of the Resurrection, we need to understand that these liturgical occasions need, as with religion itself, to be interpreted. There is no room for literalists or the new atheists who in ham fisted ways remove nuance, flatten subtlety, at times confusing poetic proclamation with historical fact or delusory debris best disposed.¹ Holy week and religion itself require love, the hermeneutics of love, a delicate art of interpretation, possessing the right touch, a learned wisdom to navigate treacherous waters.

At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”²  

Mark 15:33-34

When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  

Luke 23:33-34

Buried under layers…

Something, something stirs within, deep, deep within…

Is it an event expressive of Anselm’s answer in which a death, the death of one latterly understood as infinite, satisfies a infinite debt, a debt paying sin’s cost, satisfying God’s offended honour, an offense satisfied by the death of his child?³

Imaginatively, Isaac – you remember Abraham’s son - is rightly troubled and raises questions:

“Is this the god of Yeshua bar Yosef or the thoughts of one engaging in an economic exchange?”

Does this not undercut whatever is going on in the parable of the prodigal son?”

“How can a father whose name is love do this?

“And as one who has been in similar place, isn’t this abuse?”

As Isaac grows quiet, receding into dark imaginative depths, we may raise another point, a different perspective...

Is this an event, bloody and violent though it may be, in which there is a victory over the powers and principalities?

Is this not a cosmic victory, where the powers will not hold sway in eternity, with the principalities but fading grass, here today and gone tomorrow?⁵

Imaginatively, the voices of today, the voices of yesterdays todays make a point…

“All we know, everything we feel, is known and felt today, here in this world, our world. The powers still hold sway! The principalities may not be everlasting but the more they change the more they remain the same. If they have been defeated, they seem not to have noticed. Did you bother to tell them? Are not our lived lives, the burdens, the complexities, the fears, the threats, the births, the deaths of our lives worth noting here and now?

Imaginatively, a holocaust hope, a Rwandan roar, Armenian angst, a Bosnian bellow, a coloured cry, swells and builds, coming to voice…

“Do not demean our lives, our suffering, our deaths by consigning us to eternity, do not forget us by consigning us to a heavenly ghetto where immateriality turns us to dust, our materiality, our bodies, our lives, our loves, our possibilities but ash! Remember. Remember! Remember our faces, our stories!”

Imaginatively, the voices of those still breathing, women, children and men, those living after, after loss, after death, those who awake to yet another day to live, work and try to survive, those who hope against hope, coalesce into a voice, perhaps the voice of a young Swede with Asperger’s, I pray not a voice in the wilderness crying:

“And if you choose to fail us, we will never forgive you!”

And - dare I say it - in the face of their pain, their lives, the hopes and horrors of life, to those who minimize, condescend, patronize by promising a better day tomorrow in eternity, again in the words of one young:

“How dare you!”

Once again, a differing perspective is raised:

Is this not an event in which one dies, an event in which one innocent is arrested, tried, beaten and executed on trumped up charges?

The dusty, bloody horror of a death, state sanctioned, duly executed. The death of one Yeshua bar Yosef, sometime healer, teacher, a charismatic prophetic voice speaking truth to power, addressing the populace inclusive of the great unwashed, rousing their imagination of an alternative reign, freeing their dreams of what the world would look if god reigned. Systemically, structurally, his death was required to still these dreams, to quench the fires of their imagination, to defend the normalcy of civilization.

Truth to tell, god did not kill Jesus, we did!

Is this not an event in which one, the object of projections, became the systems project, hung on tree,⁹ hung on a lynching tree, lynched, crucified, Yeshua’s death echoed in the lynching of thousands, the deaths of so many throughout time, dying, dead, ground down by the groaning of creation?¹⁰

Is not his death an invitation to recall a dangerous memory, the dangerous memory of the crucified Yeshua, an invitation to remember all mutilated bodies of whom he is an icon?¹¹

(Emmett Till, stirs, raising his bloodied beaten head…Don’t know his story? Google it.)

Is this not an event in which Yeshua’s face inspires faith, hope and love, not because his death pays sin’s price but because his death pays his life forward? They certainly killed him, but he did not, would not stay dead. His visage, his invisible face haunts, haunts us in memories of healings, memories of inclusive meals, memories of work with the poor, the lost, the burdened...

Is this not a death in which Jesus is martyred (made a witness) to the promise, the promise of god’s reign, the promise of life and are we not the inheritors of the promise, shouldering responsibility for the work, the work of the promise?

On the cross, the story, whether it happened that way not, witnesses a truth…¹²

He died forgiving those who killed him, ‘father forgive for they know not what they do?’

His is death which does not betray his life, his faith, his hope…

His is a death in which love cannot be stopped by death…

His is a death reaching beyond the grave, stirring within the realities of death, stirring hearts and minds; his life, while swallowed, calls to those alive to honour life by responding, responding to life’s call, honouring others cry for justice, compassion and respect…

Is this not the impossible possibility of salvation, redemption’s call laid upon our hearts?

Is not his death a messianic call to us to risk life’s vocational conversion to hear and respond to other voices, those lost and left, those voices inside and out?

Is not his death a messianic call to attend to the cries of those before us, those dead, those alive?

Is not his death a cry, a magnification of the sinfulness of every unjust death?

In that cry, that call, is not sanctification astir?

Is there not within his death – life; his life stirring within our lives, within the life of the world, life inviting us, luring, haunting us to shoulder the cross?

Is not the crucifixion an elegy sung to the living, a lament luring longings for life?

God lets himself (sic) be pushed out of the world on to the cross. He is weak and powerless in the world, and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which he is with us and helps us…The bible directs man to God’s powerlessness and suffering; only the suffering God can help.”                           Dietrich Bonhoeffer¹³

 ¹ An example of new atheists would be the work of Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens.

 ² I agree with James Cone that this line, “My God, my god…” may be one of the greatest blues lyrics of all time.

 ³ Let’s be frank, St Anselm’s answer, his satisfaction theory, is not his finest moment, his response unworthy of the cross. Jesus’ death did not pay off anything rather he is made to pay the price for proclaiming god’s reign of peace and justice.

 ⁴ See the Ruth Duck hymn How Could a God Whose Name Is Love.

 ⁵ The Christus Victor theory of atonement, the earliest understanding of atonement of which this is an expression, is more than acceptable if it is proclaimed not as a metaphysical event nor as a historical episode but as a dream, a haunting, persistent, insistent, recurring dream concerning nightmares lived, a dream of what may come, what is always coming…

 ⁶ John Caputo, in his book Cross and Cosmos refers to one of James Cone’s most pointed observations that if god in the cross was reconciling the world to godself, why hasn’t someone told white people. See John Caputo Cross and Cosmos: A Theology of Difficult Glory Indiana University Press 2019, p. 8. See also James Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree Maryknoll: Orbus Books 2011, p.208.

 ⁷ A brief excerpt from Greta Thunberg’s speech at the UN’s 2019 Climate conference, admittedly used here in different context yet one, so I hope and pray, reinscribed in a manner respectful of the original context.

 ⁸ Again, from Greta Thunberg’s aforementioned UN speech.

 ⁹ See Acts 5:30.

 ¹⁰ See Romans 8:22. Hear also the poignant pain in the lyrics of the song declared “the best song of the century”, “Strange Fruit”, powerfully performed by Billie Holiday:

Southern trees bear strange fruit,

Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,

Black body swinging in the Southern breeze.

Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

 ¹¹ See John Caputo, Cross and Cosmos p.65-66.

 ¹² The cross is a symbol but not just a symbol. A symbol is not a fiction, an empty marker occupying space. If it is, it is dead! A symbol has power to inspire for good or ill. It may inspire unbelievable acts of hospitality, compassion and justice amongst those poor, forgotten, excluded or it may be set ablaze illumining the Klan’s bigoted racial frenzy, twisted into the Nazi symbol of hate and death. Are we surprised Jewish folk see the cross differently than we?

 ¹³ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, ed Eberhard Bethge (London: SCM, 1971) p. 360-61.