The power of love: A Good Friday sermon

The Tree of Light (photo by Martin Malina in Gillies’ Grove Arnprior, 15 March 2023)

In Matthew’s account of the Passion, there was an earthquake not only on Easter Sunday when the rock blocking the tomb was opened.[1] But there was a spectacular earthquake at the moment of Jesus’ death two days earlier. The emphasis on rocks and hills is consistent with Matthew’s storytelling.

During the past season of Lent we have visited the mountains which were significant places of Jesus’ life and ministry—the five mountains of temptation, beatitudes, feeding, transfiguration and the Mount of Olives. Indeed, Matthew is the Gospel of mountains. But today, we can go no farther. 

Today, on Good Friday, Jesus makes his solitary journey of death. It’s his alone to make. He is deserted and abandoned, left alone to make the final crossing from life to death by himself. He is the Son of God who has followed his call to the end. This is the final step on his earthly path.

And we watch from a distance, from the foot of this final mountain: It’s the hill outside the city gates, called Golgotha.

The mountains have something to say in Matthew’s narrative. And today, we witness the incredible power unleashed at Jesus’ death. The death of Jesus is a force that cracks open the foundations of the earth. Literally.

The earth shook, and the rocks were split.[2]

We would think the rocks that cement the very structure of mountain ranges are impregnable, unbreakable. How can the physical make-up of igneous rock be split open? What power is this?

In the world of The Lord of the Rings by J.R. Tolkien, the Dwarves are the masters and hewers of stone. They live in the bowels of the mountains mining for precious, valuable metals. 

In a scene from the recent season-one prequel of the Rings of Power TV series, a young Elrond the Elf enters the Dwarven kingdom, later known as the Mines of Moria. But instead of getting a warm greeting from his old friend the Dwarf Prince Durin, Elrond receives a cold welcome from him. In order to remain in the Dwarves’ company, Elrond invokes an ancient rite, a competition to see who can smash more rocks with a giant hammer. Exhausted at the end of the dual, Elrond concedes when he fails at breaking his last rock into smaller pieces.

This is fantasy, of course. In the real world, average human beings don’t go around splitting apart large boulders of rock. Rocks cannot be split by the force of our hand alone. 

The mountains and rocks—symbols of majesty and glory on earth—bind all creation and all creatures together. We all share the same earth, despite all that divides us. The mountains and rocks which hold all together, have something to say to us this day. Because the earth itself grieved when Jesus died. The earth broke its heart open. What are we to make of this?

Perhaps we can consider all that contributes to death in our world, all that serves only to divide, separate and isolate us from each other: Violence, fear, anger, hatred. These are the rocks that seemingly cannot be broken, destroyed. Violence, fear, anger, hatred form part of our human condition that appears on the surface as insurmountable, impossible to overcome. These are the rocks that form the foundation of human character, human nature and society. It seems.

The effect of Jesus’ death exposes the rocks for what they are. The power of everything that separates us from God and from one another is destroyed. Jesus’ death destroys the power of death. Violence, fear, anger, hatred—the recipe for human division—are rendered impotent in the face of God’s love and mercy. The power unleashed by Jesus’ death is greater than anything imaginable or created by our own hand.

No longer are we separated from God. The death of Jesus inaugurates an age where fear and death will be no more.[3] This is God’s justice at work, here. We are united, brought into everlasting union with God through Christ.

It is ironic that the chair Pilate sits on is called the judgement seat. From the judgement seat, Pilate renders the final verdict upon Jesus.[4] It is ironic because in the end it is Jesus and his Father who renders not judgement but justice, not retribution but reconciliation. This is God’s justice at work.

What is righteous, what is good, what is just, what is loving—this is the power unleashed at Golgotha. Jesus died, not to change God’s mind about us; Jesus died to change our mind about God. God is all about reconciling creation—including us—to one another in a holy union. How we view God now must change because of Jesus’ death.

God is not a judge who brings punitive judgement, punishing us for what we did. We may be punished, yes, but not for our sins. We are punished by our sins. The consequences of our sins continue to bring us suffering for which we alone are responsible. Jesus’ death exposes those rocks in our lives that keep us shackled, imprisoned, stuck, and bound.

But Jesus’ death also splits open those very rocks so that we can now turn every new day to a God who loves us beyond any measure of our own undoing.

Thanks be to God. Thank you, Jesus, for what you did for us.

[1] Matthew 28:2

[2] Matthew 27:51

[3] Revelation 21:4; see also Romans 8:35-39

[4] Matthew 27:19

“The Power of Love” by Rev. Martin Malina

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