Good Friday 2019

Good Friday – April 19, 2019 – Trinity, Winchester

Pontius Pilate entered his headquarters and asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. Pilate said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above.” John 19:9-11


Pilate asks Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus remains silent. 

This utterly baffles Pilate. “Don’t you know that I have the power to either release or crucify you?” Jesus replies, somewhat calmly as I imagine it, “You have no power over me unless it was given to you from above.”

“You have no power.” 

Jesus is right. Pilate has no power. It is easy to see why Pilate thinks he has power over Jesus. In his mind, he can either have Jesus killed or he can set him free, but in reality, it’s not so simple. Nor does Pilate have power over the angry mob outside. He has no control over the hate welling up in their hearts and spewing from their lips.

Something far greater than human power is at work in the events of Jesus’ arrest and trial. Evil forces conspire to create divisions that Pilate and the angry crowd are completely unaware of. Only Jesus recognizes them as the work of Satan plotting to get exactly what he wants. 

Jesus sees Satan at work in the mob mentality. Tensions arise and instead of trying to discover their underlying causes, the group casts all the blame on one person: Jesus. They identify him as a scapegoat. He has been putting some crazy ideas in the minds of the poor, the widowed, and the sick. They consider him the source of their problems. If they can only kill Jesus, then all of their problems will go away.

Satan still works like this in the world. Truth be told, I get nervous throwing around words like “Satan.” Some of you might wonder, “What in the world is he talking about?”

I’m talking about systematic evil in the world. All around us the devil’s scandals run riot. Some develop quickly, others over long periods of time. They carry us unknowingly along with them, and all the while we are complicit in evils of which we are often unaware. [1]

This was the story of the United States during the Civil Rights Movement. “If only that black family would move back to their side of town! People would walk around the neighborhood again. Parents would let their children play in the yard. We could leave our doors unlocked.”

It’s still the case today. “If only we could keep the immigrants on that side of the border! Our jobs would be safe, our economy would be thriving, and our streets would be free of crime.”

That’s not the only example of our modern tendency to scapegoat. Think about the human impact on climate change or the societal acceptance of school shootings. Even as we cry out for solutions, systemic forces of evil keep us from working together to find them. 

We would much rather attack each other than work together to solve the problem. “If we got rid of Trump, everything would be so much better!” “If Nancy Pelosi disappeared, we wouldn’t have these problems anymore!”

As toxic partisanship takes over the political landscape it’s nearly impossible to have civil dialogue. Fear has become our only motivator. When we respond out of fear, we vilify people who are different from us. We lose sight of the real issues and instead mistake each other for the problem. We begin to think that if we can suppress our rivals, then all of our problems will be solved. [2]

As long as that’s our attitude, then the devil has us right where he wants us. As long as Satan keeps us afraid of each other, then we’ll forget about God. As long as Satan keeps us focused on destroying each other, then we won’t notice Jesus hanging over there on that tree. And as long as the devil keeps us at each other’s throats, then we can ignore the fact that we hung him there. 

Three years ago, during Holy Week of 2016, the House of Bishops issued a statement to the church reminding us to reject hatred and fear. They wrote, “We reject the idolatrous notion that we can ensure the safety of some by sacrificing the hopes of others.” [3]

Their sentiment is, unfortunately, still relevant. Even in a country that stands in the shadow of the lynching tree, we continue to turn against our neighbors. As long as we seek safety and security at the expense of others, and as long as we engage in dialogue only with those who agree with us, then we have not learned our lesson. 

It’s as if we have forgotten about Good Friday. It’s as if we’ve forgotten that today is a crucial part of our Christian story. Today Jesus teaches us one of his most important lessons: fear has no power. 

Today Jesus refuses to play by the devil’s rules. Today Jesus refuses to lower himself to cheap scare tactics and manipulation. Instead, he does the one thing that Satan never expected. He gets up on the cross and he dies. 

He dies. 

Not because he’s weak. Not because he’s stupid. Not even because his Father willed it. No, Jesus does not die out of guilt or necessity or coercion. 

Jesus dies out of love. Jesus dies to show us what it looks like when you refuse to fight fear with fear. 

By dying Jesus upends our worldly expectations. By dying he teaches us that what we consider to be power is not power at all. By dying he teaches us that no matter how afraid we are, we cannot solve our problems by eliminating our neighbors; by dying he teaches us that fear never gets the last word; by dying he teaches us that love triumphs over death. By dying Jesus teaches us that we have no power to save ourselves. 

No matter who we persecute, no matter who we lock up, no matter who we expel, we can’t save ourselves. 

Only God can do that. 


[1] Rene Girard, I See Satan Fall Like Lightning (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2001), 41.

[2] Ibid., 38-41.

[3] The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church, A Word to the Church (Holy Week 2016).

Maundy Thursday 2019

Maundy Thursday – April 18, 2019 – Luke 22:14-30 – Trinity, Winchester

On the night he was betrayed, in an act of ultimate servitude, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and sat down at table with them, the very friends who would betray him. Even as he faced death, due in part to their actions, he served them a meal that would become the source of his relationship with them long after his earthy body was gone. 

Imagine with me, if you will, the scene. Jesus is going around the table offering himself to each of his friends. “This is my body, this is my blood.” 

To James and John, who have been with him from the beginning, “This is my body, given for you.” To Andrew and to Thaddeus, “This is my blood, shed for you.” 

To Matthew, Bartholomew, Philip, and Simon, “I am broken for you.” To Thomas, who always was a bit of a glass half-empty guy, “This is my body. You will believe.” Then Peter. Jesus knows he will deny him. Even so, he hands him the bread. “Remember this, Peter.” 

And lastly, Judas Iscariot. The man who is about to set this whole thing in motion. “Take, eat, remember me.” 

These twelve are about to fall asleep on him. One will deny him and one will sell him out. But he wants them to know, even though they cannot quite understand it yet, that he will always be with them. No matter what. 

Just as Jesus shared this holy meal with his apostles before his death, he shares it with us tonight in the fullness of his resurrection. Alas, betrayal, it seems, is in our blood, too. Like the first disciples, we still falter, we still fail. These twelve turned their back on Jesus, but our hearts still dare to overthrow him.

If you need examples, I’ve got plenty. We don’t always love our neighbors as ourselves. We reject our brothers and sisters because they are different from us. We unwittingly contribute to the destruction of the earth and the proliferation of nuclear weapons. We don’t recycle. We tell racist jokes, and, when given the chance, use people as stepping stones to our own success. We spend our money on sex, drugs, and war, while the least of God’s people starve and freeze in the streets. 

Our failure is so ubiquitous that we even built into our liturgy formal ways to acknowledge it: “Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed.” “We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table.” 

These prayers are about admitting that we mess up. We are not worthy to approach the Lord’s altar and receive his body and blood except through God’s great mercy. We can’t get there on our own merit, and yet Jesus still bids us come. 

It makes me think of the final scene of the movie Places in the Heart. Maybe you’ve seen it. The whole cast of characters sits together in the pews of a little country church passing trays of bread and wine.

The viewer is surprised to see that every character in the movie is present and accounted for in the final scene. Not only the main characters, or the pious characters, or the innocent characters. The congregation of the faithful is not even limited to the characters that remain living at the story’s end. The scene includes everyone. Living and dead. White and black. Young and old. Betrayed and betrayer.

In one pew sits a husband next to the wife he cheated on. In another pew sits the local sheriff along side the young black man who was lynched for accidentally shooting him.   

This must be the definition of “mystic sweet communion” if there ever was one. Even with all that baggage of sin, betrayal, and broken trust, all are welcome at God’s table. 

Even you. Even me. 

Jesus invites us to his holy table not because the Eucharist magically inoculates us from the temptation of sin, but because it calls us back into relationship with God. Jesus genuinely wants our company. No matter what we do or how far we stray, Jesus calls us into deeper relationship because he loves us—all of us—no matter what. 
I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine acting so lovingly toward anyone who would do me so much harm. Serving them a meal certainly seems a step too far! Holding a grudge, shutting people out, and refusing to forgive them sounds much more like our culture these days. 

But the truth is, even when we can’t bring ourselves to be civil, much less forgive; even when we can’t imagine serving a meal to those who betray us; Jesus sees our choices, knows who we are, and loves us anyway because he understands what it feels like to be a human. We don’t have to serve a meal. Jesus offers us his meal. 

All we have to do is come. Receive God’s grace right from the source. It will transform your life. It will wash away your sins. It will free you from sin and death. 

All you have to do is come. 

Well, there is one more thing. When you’re finished, go forth, and make him known.