Sermon for Good Friday – Years A B & C

What is Truth?
This sermon was preached on Good Friday 2011 (22/4/11)

Isaiah 52.13-end of 53
Hebrews 4.14-16; 5.7-9
John 18.1-19.42

It used to be said that a camera couldn’t lie. When we looked at a photograph, on the whole we would believe we were seeing a true representation of someone or something no matter how unlikely it seemed.

Those days are long gone and we know that in this age of digital cameras and advanced technology a photograph can be edited to such an extent that we can no longer be sure about the truth of what we are seeing.

This extends, of course, to video cameras filming anything from a family wedding to a blockbuster movie with special effects portraying, for example, the Statue of Liberty struck down and broken by a huge tidal wave.

We have grown so used to such spectacular scenes at home and in the cinema that when some of us first saw video footage of two planes crashing into the towers of the Trade Centre we thought it must be another disaster movie.

Once we recognised the truth of what we were seeing we also had to recognise the almost unbearable truth about human nature and what we are capable of doing to each other.

This morning the children, and some grown-ups, put symbols on small crosses to remind us of what Jesus suffered in that first “Good Friday experience”. We could spend some time today looking at those symbols on this large cross and thinking about what they mean.

A cockerell because his close friend, Peter, denied even knowing Jesus.
A whip because Jesus was flogged
Hammer and nails because Jesus was nailed on to the cross through hands and feet.
A goblet, because Jesus was give sour wine when he was thirsty, and so on
As we hear the story of the betrayal, trial and death of Jesus we are again faced with an almost unbearable truth about the way we are capable of reacting to one who is innocent of any wrongdoing. Someone who has shown only love and compassion to those who have followed him and looked to him for healing.

In his encounter with Pilate Jesus speaks these words:
“For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

Jesus is the prisoner, the accused and the one who faces a possible sentence of death but somehow we sense that in another dimension it is Pilate who is on trial. In the way he responds to these words of truth he will bring his own judgment on himself.

We can say the same about the other characters in this narrative – that in their relationship with and reaction to the Truth they bring about a judgment of themselves.

Judas turns against Jesus because the truth Jesus is speaking
isn’t the truth Judas wants to hear. In his anger he betrays Jesus.

Peter saw the truth about Jesus and declared him to be the Christ. He pledged his loyalty saying he would die rather than allow Jesus to be harmed. His loyalty and courage soon slip away from him and in his fear for himself he denies knowing Jesus.

Pilate seems to be seeking the truth about Jesus, who he is, what he’s done and why his own people want to kill him. Pilate does try to act on what he believes the truth to be. But in the end, the popular vote and political expediency win and Pilate gives Jesus over to be crucified.

In the way Jesus is treated we see the way in which men and women can react to the voice of Truth when it challenges them and calls into question what they believed to be true.

In our world it’s sometimes impossible to discern the truth of things we see and hear but it seems to remain important to us to know what the truth is and who we can trust. If only we knew who we could trust. If only we knew for sure that we were hearing the voice of truth surely we would listen to it and take notice of what it said?

Perhaps this Good Friday is a time to ask ourselves, and answer honestly, where we are in our relationship with Jesus who is “the way, and the truth, and the life”. We might imagine ourselves present throughout the events of the first Good Friday and be challenged by the way we are reacting.

We might sometimes, like Judas, be disillusioned and angry  that the Truth asks us to forgive someone who has hurt us or let go of a grudge we’ve hugged to ourselves for years.

We might sometimes, like Peter, be excited and enthusiastic about our faith in Jesus until we realise that Truth asks us to bear ridicule, insults or even physical danger.

We might sometimes, like Pilate, genuinely want to know the Truth but back away when Truth asks for first place above everything else in our lives.

But if Truth does ask for first place above everything else in our lives he is not asking for anything he has not been prepared to give.

For if Jesus is the Truth then he truly reveals to us the love of God which remains strong and faithful no matter how much it costs.

The biblical scholar William Barclay says this:

“In Jesus God says:
‘You may disobey me;
you may grieve me;
you may be disloyal to me;
you may misunderstand me;
you may batter, bruise and scourge me;
you may treat me with savage injustice;
you may kill me on a cross;
I will never stop loving you’ “

Jesus goes on loving until his very last breath. And he invites us to bring to him on the cross all those things we carry with us which do untold harm to ourselves and others. To bring them to the cross and leave them there, allowing him to fill us again with his life-giving spirit.