Good Friday Sermon 2015 – “The Ministry of Cross-standing”

In the Name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.   Amen.

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.  When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.”  Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.”[1]

These words from today’s Passion Gospel provide the springboard for my sermon this morning.

On Palm Sunday, we spoke of “The Ministry of Donkey-Fetching” – that much of our service as Christians is in doing the mundane and ordinary tasks of being Christian – ministry which often goes unnoticed and without fanfare.

Last night, in our Maundy Thursday service, we spoke of “The Ministry of Foot-Washing” – humbly and willingly becoming, like Jesus, servants to one another and the wider world free of prejudice, reluctance, discrimination or favouritism.

This morning, I want to talk of “The Ministry of Cross-Standing”. By this I mean our willingness to stand by the cross of suffering and pain which is being experienced by those around us.

One of the most personally rewarding and challenging types of ministry in which I find myself involved is that of being with people who are dying. In the mid-2000’s, I worked for a couple of years as Chaplain to the Silver Chain Home Hospice Care Service, based out of the Murdoch Community Hospice. This was a time of meeting terminal patients in the last stages of their life and illness. It was a wonderful experience, working not only with the dying, but also with their families and carers and being a resource for the Silver Chain staff.

I was often in awe of the nurses, doctors and ancillary staff of the Service, in their unstinting willingness to be alongside these patients, and I learned a great deal about such care, which is frequently of help to me in my daily ministry.

On the night we call Maundy Thursday, when Jesus was arrested and taken off for his “kangaroo court” trials, all of his close disciples ran away and left him. John apparently attends some of the trial and Peter sits outside taking every opportunity to deny Jesus that comes his way.

When people come down with terminal illnesses, there are often friends and family members who “run away”, unable and/or unwilling to be around in such a situation. Precious indeed are those who willingly stay around to listen, to talk, to encourage, to feed and give fluids, and to help with necessary personal hygiene matters.

This “ministry of cross-standing” encompasses much that it means to be a true follower of Jesus.

Precious indeed were the women and John standing by the cross. Crucifixion was one of the most evil forms of execution known to humanity, both intensely painful and intensely humiliating. To run from the sight of it would be perfectly understandable; but the presence of Jesus’ mother and aunt and Mary Magdalene and John “the beloved disciple” would have been so important to Jesus as he gradually expired on the cross – not to mention extremely costly and even risky for them.

But there is even more to this “ministry of cross-standing”: Jesus in this situation represents all who are persecuted and penalised unjustly and unjustifiably.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells of the King who rewards those who fed him, gave him drink, clothed him, cared for him as a stranger, and visited him in sickness and in prison. The Jesus we see on the cross is a victim of all the unfairness and injustice and alienation the world could throw at him.

Every disciple of Jesus is called by the ministry of cross-standing to stand in solidarity with those who are victims of society, of governments and political powers, of wars and corruption and domestic violence and sexual abuse – while never forgetting to support and care for the victims of natural disasters.

Last Sunday, many Christians marched in Perth and across Australia’s cities and larger towns in support of the many refugees who are imprisoned in our “detention centres” on- and off-shore, especially the 107 children still held in these hell-holes. And this evening there is to be a silent vigil outside Royal Perth Hospital in support of an Iranian man who is on a hunger-strike and near death because our government wants to send him back into an impossible situation in his homeland.

Christians who understand our ministry of cross-standing will always stand with victims, actively supporting them, and actively working for the alleviation or removal of their burdens.

The Good Friday story is first and foremost about the death of Jesus on the cross for the salvation of humanity. This is about the removal of sin and all that hinders and damages the relationship between humanity and its Creator. And thanks be to God for the amazing love and grace which makes this possible!

Despite its awful story of injustice and cruelty and abuse of power, we rejoice to call this day “Good Friday”, because of all God in Christ achieves through the cross.

And as we come to the foot of the cross in worship, adoration, sorrow and reflection this morning, we can commit ourselves to the ministry of cross-standing, caring for and serving and advocating for all who suffer and all who are dying – both in the natural order of things and through all forms of injustice.

The Lord be with you.

[1] John 19:25-27

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